Although it was well-known that Latin texts had originally surrounded each circular combat tile, the 1970s reconstruction made by the British Museum did not incorporate any text. Instead, their physical reconstruction used crowns where the letters had been. In 2017, our team took on the challenge of photographing all known fragments of the Chertsey combat series tiles, both images, and texts, and digitally reassembling them.
The fragments of Latin texts at Chertsey, sometimes incomplete because located on a broken tile, are between one and four characters in length; for instance, FRE, RICA, IA. Many tiles also include punctuation and abbreviations. However, the order of these short strings of letters was unknown. We relied on purpose-written computer code to compare the pieces of text remaining with longer Latin chronicles describing similar military subjects. We sorted through many possibilities for each string of letters and relied on clues from other extant tiles as well as word frequency dictionaries to assemble our final reading. Through a long process and with help from many individuals along the way, we have reassembled the lost texts that may have surrounded each image..
Our completed reconstruction has enabled us to rediscover the original intent behind the combat tile floor. Although previous scholars had interpreted the floor as “a series of combats,” evidence from the reconstructed images and the texts reveal that the focus of the entire floor was the Crusades. Because art made during the period when crusades to the Holy Land were actively being pursued, c. 1100-1300, is surprisingly rare, our conclusion suggests that this floor is even more significant than scholars had previously recognized.
For a scholarly article on the methods we used to complete the textual reconstruction, see Amanda Luyster, “Fragmented Tile, Fragmented Text: Richard the Lionheart on Crusade and the Lost Latin Texts of the Chertsey Combat Tiles (c.1250).” Digital Philology, vol. 11.1, 2022: 86-120.