Apr 25, 2011
Real crystal balls from the Middle Ages
These aren't the giant county fair crystal balls you get your fortune told from, but rather small objects of jewelry usually less than an inch across. Starting in the 7th century they were popular from Anglo-Saxon England all the way east to Hungary and south to Lombardy in Italy, and were especially popular in Germany.
So what were they for? Nobody knows! People have been gazing into crystal balls to tell the future since ancient times, so archaeologists assume they were for scrying. Another possibility is that they were crude magnifying glasses to help people read the tiny writing in personal Bibles or missals. Contrary to popular belief, most of the upper class, even women, were literate in the Middle Ages, and people understood some basic optics. Nero has a carved emerald he used to help him read.
Thanks to Kotomicreations from Flickr for this great shot!