The Great giant snail invasion of the 13th century

There was an invasion of giant snails in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. This event, not written about in any edrudite histories or commentaries, but it comes to us through the illuminations of monks.

Frankly the invasion was seriously scary. First, because the snails were huge. Second because of the obvious fierceness of the snails as an enemy.

Don’t fight the nail, my love. For you will surely die.

I mean, even when they weren’t that big, they were obviously scary:

Fortunately the apes helped, I guess out of primate solidarity.

So…. How come no one spoke of this in the chronicles and histories?

Who knows? Perhaps it was considered humiliating to be fighting snails?

So how come we haven’t found any shells from these giant snails? I don’t know. Perhaps they were all burned in superstitious fear they would come back?

Of course, we have no reason to think that snails ever invaded, and certainly not giant snails. Surely it would have made it into some history or chronicle, or who knows what?

On the other hand, why were these people so obsessed with giant snails? Why have snails all over?

Well, sometime ago I had read that they had some kind of symbolism. Look, they probably did. But the point in fact is htat we have no clue what it actually was.

I’ve spent the last couple of hours looking through everything possible and imaginary. The answer is “it can be a lot of things, but we don’t know what it is for sure.”

So what do I think this is all about?

Um…. it could be that monks got bored and doodled, and then they had seen snails in other manuscripts, and they thought this was totally the best thing ever.

There were bunnies riding snails:

But look the monks were really bored:

and of course:

Which btw meant that while we didn’t have the internet, they had lol cats. Lol snail cats.

So what is the purpose of this whole thing?

Well, there are things we definitely know are outrageous…. uh…. probably. Like I went through a museum exhibit on the formation of continents and I found there were land masses before Pangea (stop laughing. I just never had thought about it.)

So, I came home — this was in the mid nineties — and I searched the net for the continent name. I found this amazing site, with all sorts of good information on geological stuff.

And then the middle of it, I found myself reading about the great dinosaur civilization, and how they’re orbiting the Earth in a spaceship. They will eventually come back.

So, at that point, I kind of sat back and went “Da, what?”

And obviously that is completely insanely. … or is it? there is some study I have trouble finding now, that claims there was an industrial civilization in the time of dinosaurs. But then again, they were interpreting the past in the light of “Of course industrial civilization brings on global warming” which is…. uh. Assumption not proven.

I’d still wager a fair amount on the fact that there are no dinosaur-manned spaceships circling the Earth, waiting to come down and eliminate the apes so they can take the Earth back.

Other things? Well…. now. The date of the emergence of humans keeps going further and further back. And you know what, I don’t have any problem at all thinking there was Roman level civilization or better before this.

And heck, I wouldn’t wager against eighteenth/nineteenth century level civilization either. Because there are so many things that could go wrong and send humans back to the stone age, from natural disasters to … well, plague. Imagine that Pasteur had never been born. As human prosperity increases and people live together in greater numbers…. well.

Particularly if you’re positing civilizations before the ice age, which would have literally planed the continents clear of any signs of civilization.

Is that possible? I don’t know. It’s more possible than the great snail invasion of the 13th century…. probably.

Is it plausible enough to spin a story around? Heck, even the snails are, if you posit the problem occurred in an isolated area, and we just haven’t found those giant snail shells yet.

When I was little, I read science fiction that proposed the wildest sorts of things, from our ancestors having come from the stars, to our cousins being throughout the stars; from intelligent dinosaurs, to entire universes in a struck match.

Now, mind you, because of the eclectic weirdness of translation into Portuguese, a lot of what I read was pure pulp, which didn’t frankly give much of a hang about relationship to reality.

But…. ah. It was read

When I broke into science fiction, OTOH, or rather into “spec fic” I was told that fantasy outsold science fiction ten to one. I was also told that science fiction had to conform to the knowledge of the time.

…. It is just possible the two are related, you know?

Like monks drawing bunnies riding snails into battle, humans like to try their minds in ridiculous dreams. And the thing is, sometimes those dreams do come true. I mean, guys, look, we’re also spectacularly bad at seeing what will be possible to the future, just like our ancestors were.

And we’re bad at figuring out what happened back then, which is why every ten years there is a shockingly advanced something found somewhere in the world, which astonishes all the experts who know at the time humans were capable of no such thing.

If we can’t figure out what the 13th century monks were up to, in a time that is practically a hop, skip and jump from us, we certainly shouldn’t delcare any avenues of speculation — for fiction at least — closed.

Now that trad pub is drowning in the juices of its own putrefaction, do what you want. It could be as silly as knights fighting snails. Which means five hundred years from now, your work could be endlessly fascinating to people who have no idea what you meant.

I can imagine worse fates.

…. and of course, being me, I’ve been painting things with knights fighting snails. The first was an upcycled box, and now I’ve branched out to egg gourds. All of which probably means I’m not right in the head, but hey, it’s fun. And yes, I’m copying (kind of) medieval illustrations.

I call these: it could be worse. There could be snails in here with us. (And, yes, I’m getting better at this.)

Is this completely insane? Yep. But hey, it amuses me. And who knows, it might amuse someone else. Just like my writing.

59 thoughts on “The Great giant snail invasion of the 13th century

    1. But, were they bored?
      Or, maybe, the fumes from the leather covers or ink caused some hallucinatory visions.
      Fungus? Mold? Bad mushrooms in the previous night’s soup?
      There are a lot of explanations that bear looking into.

  1. Makes me wonder if someone decreed that no one could document the Mongols. Imagine monks as 13th century IT people and I can so see giant snails catching on as surrogates. Or it might just be an earlier version of the zombie apocalypse…

  2. Thank you. Indeed, thank you very, very much… specifically for the snails, but also for the trip through “what we don’t know, versus how much we think we know.” I’m doing the outline for the fifth book in a five-book series right now, and needed something weird for a sub-plot.

    Shoes and ships and sealing wax and cabbages and kings were all missing my target.

    You hit.

    1. LOL. Glad to be of help.
      I have this bizarre “ancient lost civilization” series in my head that will out… but other things in the way.
      Meanwhile — sigh — I think there will be pillow shams embroidered with snails.
      My family is used to my being strange, and even they are scratching their heads.

  3. I recall Sagan talking about the Tunguska event and dismissing the alien craft idea with “And they didn’t find single transistor.” But the event was decades pre-transistor (earth) so would anyone have even known to look for such? NOT saying the event wasn’t a comet or asteroid, just the the dismissal seemed… weirdly put.

    Then, look at the “The World in 2000” as envisioned in 1900. (Private) flight? Sure… by balloon or such. A logical extension of then-current world without any Giant Leaps (“magic”). Amusing. Even appealing (steampunk, anyone?) but wrong in detail even if not in overall vision.

    1. Of course, why would advanced Aliens use something as primitive as transistors? 😈

    2. How many transistors do we find after a plane crash?

      What sense could ancient Romans make of an iPhone? What could they learn by taking one apart? Or picking through the bits of a smashed one? We’ve already got technology that would have been dismissed as magic a hundred years ago.

      Not that I doubt Tunguska was caused by a space rock. Meteorites are a proven fact; flying saucers are not. Until some fact emerges that can’t be explained by a meteorite airburst, there’s no need to make up alien spaceships.

      Humans are a little weird. If a known cause can explain an event, there’s no need to make shit up — but we do it anyway.

      1. Well, I think the Tunguska event may have been caused by “space ice”. 😉

        But seriously, it was (IIRC) years before the site of the Tunguska event was studied.

        Any real evidence for what might have caused it would be gone long before Russian researchers reached the site.

    3. Seen a transistor lately?

      Even if you’re an electronics tech or hobbyist, it might have been quite some time ago.

      My watch is full of them, my keyboard, my mouse, my MP3 player, my kitchen appliances, my computer and its peripherals… if I open any of them up, I’m not going to see any transistors in there. If I chisel the little black chips open I can see grids of lines, but there aren’t any visible transistors there, either. The “transistors” are just impurities in silicon, like the “resistors” and other components.

  4. In a time and place where broadleaf and root vegetables were a big part of the food supply, it was damp enough to not require irrigation, and (ahem) organic fertilizer was continually used, I can easily see snails being a major blight.
    And in especially wet years, when things aren’t growing too well to begin with, it would be near ideal conditions for them to have a population explosion.

    Guard your turnips, rutabagas, and cabbages well, for the armored horde is pillaging throughout the land.

    (I like your idea better. Mine’s boring, and harder to fight.)

    1. Chickens eat snails and bugs. Grandma used to let the chickens into the garden up until things started to ripen enough to look like food to the chickens.

  5. Nah, those aren’t giant snails… they’re teeny tiny humans (and rabbits).

    The Romans had working models of basic steam engines. What they didn’t have was enough fuel to make them do anything beyond being toys. Wood was becoming scarce and coal had not yet been discovered as a useful fuel (not to mention it would have had to come a long way).

    I’m of the opinion that we’re missing an entire layer of pre-Bronze Age civilization, with only teeny tiny remnants having the luck not to have, say, London or Rome built atop the same site, burying them beyond all recall (given that generally if the spot was good to build on once, it’ll be good to build on again). But archeology is heavily invested in their standard timeline, which insists that we were exclusively hunter-gatherers until relatively late, and has become incapable of seeing contrary evidence. So everything is painted in that light. Hence insane theories like “hunter gatherers built Göbekli Tepe for ritual purposes”. Er, yeah, and how did they feed the swarm of laborers and craftsmen [read: slaves] needed just for the obvious construction? feeding ’em would have denuded the land of game for a hundred miles in all directions. Show me ANY “hunter-gatherers” EVER who build anything that permanent and with no visible benefit to themselves. I’ll wait.

    Conversely I look at Göbekli Tepe, and I don’t see a “ritual structure” at all; I see a granary and tax office, implying a settled civilization already well-established. And to an architect’s eye, those mysterious decorated verticals with the broad tops are not religious stelae, they’re roof supports (and note how by the Ancients, er, Egyptian era, every vertical surface is totally decorated by all manner of fanciful stuff; plain flat walls are a modern anomaly). And the “deliberate fill with stacked stones” between those supports is the obvious remnant of well-built walls, not of “someone ritually buried the site”. I also predicted that a surrounding village was likewise present, and lo and behold, ground-penetrating radar has found around 100 stone huts in the immediate surrounds, buried under the same ten thousand years of blowing dirt.

    Funny how its “abandonment” is coincidental with a deep-cold period, which leads to drought and desertification over vast swaths of the Earth, and settled people moving on to where there’s still water and grass… and a new desert’s blowing dirt can completely cover such structures in less than a century. And guess what, there’s another similar structure only a couple miles away, visible via satellite (and several more suspiciously similar spots on down the way). This wasn’t hunter gatherers at all; it was well-established villages with livestock and crops sufficient to support perhaps a thousand people each, and far enough advanced to support an artisan class. That the livestock were (per the few bones found) still what we think of as wild animals — I give you that modern example, reindeer. Sheep and goats didn’t spring fully-formed from Athena’s brow; they took millennia of selective breeding from whatever could be caught and corralled and taught that humans feed them. (Deer have been selectively bred, too. And sheep as we know them don’t exist in the wild, so where did they come from, hmmm?? Hint: domesticated sheep go back about 11,000 years. That we know of.)

    Likewise, those mysterious stonewalled rectangles out in what’s now Middle Eastern desert, but as little as two thousand years ago was arid pasture… ritual my ass. Those are what’s left of ancient sheepfolds. Necessary because their world used to have a lot more wolves.

    No evidence of grain, manure, wooden roof beams, etc.? (or for that matter, latrines) You people need to get more familiar with the desert ecology. Between the ground termites and the stink beetles. NOTHING organic survives more than a few months, never mind a few millennia. I had five thousand sheep come through my desert place twice a year, and a week later not a scrap of evidence remained. And any wood (or plant material of any sort) that touches the dirt and wasn’t first charcoaled or oil-soaked gets eaten so fast it looks like magic.

    /peeve /rant

    1. There’s a reason that Motel of Mysteries was written. (Also see the knitter who figured out the weird Roman dodecahedra were perfectly designed for knitting glove fingers.)

        1. That’s clever. And as someone points out in the comments… modern knitting may only go back a thousand years or so, but we’ve got these scraps of knitted socks from the Roman era… then there’s the contention that heels on boots didn’t arrive until that late either. Scrounged around and promptly discovered a Roman-era boot… with a heel. Doubt it was especially new even then.

          Earlier today had tripped over some site claiming that the T-shaped entrances to various cliffside dwellings must have some religious significance. Er… no, that’s probably to keep the village livestock outside … too narrow for big horns or fat bodies to fit through, but a convenient enough shape for human legs and torsos.

          1. An awful lot of Roman pots and pans look just like what you’ve already got in your kitchen. The basic, useful ones.

    2. I know.
      One of the things that they’re finding is that the horses have been domesticated FAR longer than we thought. Possibly the dogs, too, though they mate regularly with wolves, so it’s harder to tell.
      Cats, otoh aren’t domesticated at all, but I have a theory we go a LONG way back togehter.

      1. If those dinosaurs were advanced enough, and aware of the impending asteroid, they might have left earth on a really long sublight orbit, counting on time dilation to carry them past the Event. By now, they could be on their way back, and wondering why we’re screwing around with the CO2 when the place was just getting comfortable again…

    3. Lucio Russo is both a physicist and a classics scholar–he finds evidence that the Hellenist era was quite technologically advanced–and not just the antikythera mechanism.
      (Interlibrary loan is your friend.)

    4. The Romans also found human labor to be far cheaper (in all senses of the word) than machinery. Only when you get to things line the Roman mines and ore processing on the Rio Tinto in Spain do you see mechanization (much less cheap labor, so stepped-waterwheels it is.)

      I shake my head at the proclamations that the Danube Valley Culture had to be proto-femenists and communitarian because . . . we have not found graves, and thus have not found grave goods suggesting otherwise. And because all the houses and other things seem to be roughly the same size, without any palaces or hovels. I’d incline to there being a hierarchy, with status displayed by some sort of good that did not survive over time. Again, archaeologists are looking through the evidence with a certain lens, and hope, that might change with new technology and more finds.

    5. Thank you for mentioning Göbekli Tepe – I had never heard of it before! It was quite interesting reading several different articles about it.

    6. “Conversely I look at Göbekli Tepe, and I don’t see a “ritual structure” at all; I see a granary and tax office….”

      Doesn’t that count as a ritual? 😉

  6. I’ve seen references to passing mentions of three great preceeding civilizations by ocultists. One in the islands around the arctic pre-ice age, one during the ice age when the ocean waters were much lower, and I forget the third. Not oil powered civilizations, of course, but oil power is such a recent development in our times, too.

    So there’s some more story fodder for anyone.

  7. Sure, humans, laugh while you can. But you won’t be laughing when the snails come back and we don’t have sword-wielding rabbits to defend us.

  8. > “Of course industrial civilization brings on global warming” which is…. uh. Assumption not proven.

    [points] “DENIER! REEEEEEE!”

    Actually, the planet had a quite-nice nitrogen atmosphere until those nasty bacteria polluted it with free oxygen. There’s so much of it now that under some circumstances solid objects will suddenly go exothermic and decompose with a rather spectacular display of light and ionized gasses.

    A little CO2 is hardly anything to worry about, by comparison…

    1. One of the “Drako Tavern” short stories was about just that . . . And how a different civilization tried to save the pre-oxygen civilization, but were too late.

  9. > The date of the emergence of humans keeps going further and further back.

    It’s sort of depressing, too. All those generations, and even if they *did* accomplish something grand, we’ll probably never know.

    “All these things, lost. Like tears in rain.”

    Some Woke future civilization might dynamite Rushmore and Crazy Horse, pull down the Arch and the Pyramid, and try to return Earth to some idealized “pastoral” technological level, but our landers and used cars will still sit on the Moon into the far future, and our robots will be waiting for us on Mars for at least a few centuries. And there’s a *very* high mileage Tesla roadster in a solar orbit that should last at least 20 million years.

    Maybe we never managed Moonbase or Bradbury City, but did make those first steps.

    1. Except… the descendants of all those people, all those generations, built the next civilization and the next and the next. We see echoes of them even if we don’t realize it.

    2. And if we go to Mars….. and find the remnants others left?
      For dark they were and golden eyed.
      Honestly, I expect when we get to space we’ll be the latest in a long line of diasporas from Earth. Some of which will have become unimaginably alien.

      1. A few years back (pre-ebooks), I read a SF novel that had Earth Astronauts discovering One-Eyed Martians living underground on Mars.

        In spite of only having a single eye, the Martians were apparently related to humans.

        It was explained that the Martians’ ancestors came from an Earth Island that developed High Tech (Atlantis wasn’t mentioned) but some sort of disaster cut the Martians off from Earth.

        Unfortunately, I don’t remember the author or title.

  10. I love that Tesla roadster. A documentary about Voyager satellite came out right around the same time, Voyager being the satellite that has a “golden record” with a lot of “knowledge” on it. The contrast between the pompous pronouncements about the record and the sheer fun of the Tesla was striking. Don’t get me wrong. Voyager is a wonderful thing. But some of what surrounded it was/is/ always will be silly.

    1. My only regret from my visit to London is not taking a picture of the polished stone rings labeled “baby bracelets” in the Romans in Britain exhibit at the British Museum. I’m not sure what the polite term for that device is, so I’ll just call it a male enhancement ring (that works as an Amazon search; I just checked). It was SO obvious that I laughed and laughed – but didn’t take a picture! Especially since they were right there next to all these letters that could have been written by soldiers deployed, today (if they were writing in Latin), that highlighted how little had changed (send money, food is bad, miss home, etc…). Yep. Everyone was just like now, but they were putting stone bracelets on infants.

    2. WordPress seems to have eaten my post. Trying again (shorter this time):
      My one regret from my visit to London is not taking pictures of the polished stone rings labeled “baby bracelets” in the Romans in Britain exhibit at the British Museum. They were very obviously, um, male enhancement rings. I laughed and laughed, but didn’t take a picture!

  11. I think part of believing the people before us can’t have done/built/designed such wonderful things is it implies they might be as smart as us.

    Or horrors, smarter, despite not being nearly as sensitive and emotionally advanced as we are today.

  12. — Of course, we have no reason to think that snails ever invaded, and certainly not giant snails. —

    What?! Are you completely discounting the contemporaneous continent-wide shortage of garlic butter? (:-)

  13. Re: funky marginalia, part of the reason they drew weird pictures was because weird pictures were an integral part of the Ars Memoriae. They were usually supposed to be related somewhat to the subject of the text on the page, albeit usually by some kind of horrible pun that would help you remember better. A lot of times, it was a multilingual pun, like Latin vs. vernacular of the area.

    But the more bizarre the mental or physical picture was, the easier it was to remember concepts associated with it. That’s called “the method of loci”, or something like that.

    The snail has two Latin names. One is “cochlea,” and one is “limax,” and they both sound like horrible puns should be in order.

  14. I think I see what is going on with some of the snails. Look at the ape picture. The snail has the same shape as the leafy design behind and below him, and so does the capital letter below him. Many of the other fighting snails are in similar positions. Some snails are shaped the same as letter Q, letter D, letter B (or two snails in the same positions as the holes in the B), and so on.

    A lot of times, one of the figures or an element in the silly picture does refer to the text or is a pun on it, and sometimes the weapons act like the old pointed finger drawings in the margins. I think part of the point is to make you look carefully at the book and actually study each page. This goes along with lectio divina as a prayer practice.

    And then, the funny drawings are tied to the text in your memory, and you can place it all in your memory palace of the book.

    Oh, and Shadiversity has a video on shields with facial expressions, which were a real thing, and those big chopper swords, which were also a real thing.

  15. Also, if you have a compass you can draw nice spirals, but there are not many spirals in the Bible. Whereas if you use snails as a design element for ars memoriae, you can draw lots of spirals.

  16. The big chopper swords have the same blades as butcher knives and hedge trimming tools, basically. Lots of personalization of those sword shapes, just like for the butcher knives and hedge trimmers.

    The face shields were shaped leather type things. You’d make a big face shield mold out wood, and then you’d fit the leather over it, and it would take on the face shape pretty quickly in a boiled leather way.. Any flaws were covered by the painting of the face (everybody loved to paint the faces, apparently). And instead of kicking off the swords in inconvenient directions, like metal tourney armor in weird shapes, the shield faces actually worked pretty well in leather.

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