Johann Muller Regiomontanus
- Who he was: A mathematician and astronomer.
- What he did: Re-translated ancient texts on mathematics and wrote the first book on plane and spherical trigonometry.
- Why he's interesting: He was a child prodigy who was involved in numerous astronomical, technological and scientific projects.
Regiomontanus started college at the tender age of 11, and he earned a baccalaureate at age 16. Intensely interested in astronomy, he began re-translating texts because he recognized problems with the works of Ptolemy, which had become standard for medieval astronomers. Johann's translations would help a later astronomer do something very important.
Saint Isidore of Seville
- Who he was: A theologian and writer.
- What he did: Compiled the first known encyclopedia in western scholarship.
- Why he's interesting: He's the patron saint of the Internet -- among other things.
Isidore's accomplishments were not merely literary. He presided over church councils, protected monastic brotherhoods, worked with Visigothic rulers and ultimately converted the Visigoths to Catholicism from Arianism. But he did write quite a lot; though best known for his encyclopedia (the Etymologiae), that was just one of his many works. Many, many works.
Christine de Pizan
- Who she was: A 14th- and 15th-century writer and teacher.
- What she did: Wrote poetry and prose that made her a notable literary figure of her times.
- Why she's interesting: She is the first woman known to make a living from writing in western Europe.
Christine married young and was widowed young, and with her poems and books she was able to support her mother as well as her three children. Much of her writing championed women, and her last notable work was about another notable woman of her time.
Emperor Anastasius I
- Who he was: A sixth-century emperor of Byzantium.
- What he did: Perfected the monetary system of the Eastern Roman Empire.
- Why he's interesting: His rise to the throne was somewhat unusual.
Anastasius, who had been Emperor Zeno's finance administrator, was sixty when he became emperor, and he ruled for 27 years. His long reign saw considerable turbulence, and at one point he had an important fortification built to defend against raiders. How did he become emperor? His predecessor's widow had something to do with it.
Pope Nicholas V
- Who he was: A 15th-century pope.
- What he did: Put an end to a schism in the church, helped bring peace to a war-torn Italy, and initiated a building program to repair and reconstruct Rome.
- Why he's interesting: If rebuilding the Eternal City and healing both Church and Country isn't enough, Nicholas V was such a firm patron of the arts that he became known as the Humanist Pope.
- Who he was: A 13th-century monk and writer.
- What he did: Kept a record of the notable events of his times, providing an important primary source for later scholars.
- Why he's interesting: Unlike most monks, Matthew Paris was personally acquainted with kings.
Paris was not only a presence at the court of King Henry III for a time, he also became a close friend of King Haakon IV of Norway. He was therefore in a position many chroniclers did not enjoy: he could ascertain for himself the facts of recent events, hear for himself what had happened when the king heard, see for himself what the king and others at court did and said. This makes his works particularly valuable as sources of information.
And writing wasn't Matthew's only talent.
- Who he was: A sixth-century Visigothic king.
- What he did: Expanded and consolidated the kingdom of the Visigoths in Spain.
- Why he's interesting: He made a martyr of his own son.
Leovigild was an Arian Christian, but his son Hermenegild married a Catholic girl and converted to Catholicism. The relationship between father and son was further strained when Hermenegild allied with his father's Catholic enemies. Eventually, Leovigild took his son prisoner, and gave him a terrible choice.
Hey, I said he was interesting, not nice.
- Who he was: 12th- and 13th-century Doge of Venice.
- What he did: Played a significant role in diverting the Fourth Crusade from the Holy Land to Constantinople.
- Why he's interesting: He was past eighty when he was elected Doge, and well into his 90s when he personally led forces to the Byzantine Empire.
Dandolo did a great deal to expand Venice's prestige and influence. He negotiated favorable treaties, issued new currency, increased trade, and advanced the legal system. But he's best known for the infamous course taken by the Fourth Crusade, and what he did on the expedition.
I hope you enjoyed meeting these figures of medieval history and found them as interesting as I do. Come back in 2013 to see more people added to our Who's Who resource.