Sunday, February 5, 2023

What if you lived during the Middle Ages

First note : the site is one for Science, not one for History:

Closeup, the site really is mainly interested in Science:

This is important, since scientists are often not very good historians.

What If You Lived During the Middle Ages?
Pierre Köchel, July 4, 2019

After 200 years of peace and prosperity under ‘Pax Romana,’ the Roman Empire fell into crisis and decline. Thus began the Middle Ages, more commonly known as the Dark Ages; beginning towards the end of the 5th century and lasting until the start of the Renaissance in the 14th century.

First, the Middle Ages certainly didn't start in AD 200. This means, the decline of the Empire in the "second century crisis" is not the defining factor in the upcoming Middle Ages.

This was a time when,

No. These were pretty different times. When different things.

unless you were a knight, nobleman, or the King himself, life was brutal and scary.

Knights and noblemen in that feudal sense, didn't exist in the beginning of the Middle Ages. Even in 800, being a noble may well imply being a millionnaire in land possessions (today's land worth), but the public power nobles exercised was by getting elected or named by a king.*

Yet other comites served as regional officials. For administrative purposes, the Merovingian kingdoms were still divided into small Roman districts denominated "pagi" (hence the French "pays"), or similarly sized new creations "Gaue". These were smaller than the old Roman civitates ("cities", or polities) which became the basis of the new medieval bishoprics. In Carolingian times, the governor of a pagus was a Comes, corresponding to the German Graf. The King appointed the Comites to serve at his pleasure. The modern German-derived term sometimes for a count who governed a whole gau is "Gaugraf", and a gau containing several counties is sometimes called a "Grossgau".

So, you didn't inherit the title as count of a pagus, you were named to the position.

The other part of it is, everyone except the ... 5 % ? ... who were in administration or feudal nobility had a brutal and scary life .... not true. Life can be brutal or scary at times then and now or further back or in the future. But like is hardly brutal and scary for 95 % of the people 95 % of the time for 1000 years over a big part of a continent.

Hygiene was poor, money was scarce, diseases were rampant, and punishment was cruel.

Wait .... yes, sodomy was an offense and so was deflowering a virgin, especially if you didn't make it up by marrying her. I see what kind of people would consider that type of penal law "cruel" ... and death penalty was available, for more than just violent crime. Sodomy most places, and deflowering a virgin outside wedlock at least in Spain, if you go by El Alcalde de Zalamea (the incident was a century usually counted after the Middle ages). And you know what? In that incident, the plaintiff was a commoner about his own daughter, and the executed criminal who refused to marry her was a nobleman.

In some places and times denying important parts of Church doctrine could also get you burned on a stake, but that was just the end of the Middle Ages, and continued up to 1820 in Spain and in the Spanish possessions.

And most people even before that hadn't been too eager to deny Church doctrine anyway. How eager is Pierre Köchel to deny the Science doctrines like Evolution, or even the doctrines Scientists hold against the Middle Ages in the worst history available?

The parts about poor hygiene are grossly misleading. Tooth care was better before all the white sugar came along.**

The same is true of diseases, living in the country-side was usually a good way to avoid the more prominent infections. 1346 to 1353*** is hardly a large portion of the Middle Ages, that's the exception, lots of villages were swept away. It is also a short one. Divide those seven years by the roughly thousand of the Middle Ages, you get 0.007. Or zero point seven percent.

Money was less important, that is true. It became more so after the Plague. At the same time, peasants started to be less often serfs and getting less duties - since there were fewer of them, and the landowners (when not farmers) needed men to work their land.

Beds were not soft, and toilets didn’t really exist, but hey, at least you had the church, and roughly 8 weeks of holidays and festivals spread throughout the year. The truth is, life back then was difficult, but people got through it.

I've slept in hay, twice, in 2004. I recall it as a two of the more comfortable nights, once in Denmark, once in Germany. God bless those farmers and their families!

Water closet type toilets didn't exist, but that's not the only type imaginable.

Roughly 8 weeks of holidays for farmers in the Middle Ages means they were (at 95 % of the population) less overworked than now. Imagine you are 95 % and grow 100 % of the food. Not quite true, fishers weren't farmers, and some foods arrived by trade, but still. This means you grow your own food, and 19 people grow food for the 20th. Imagine you are instead 5 % of the population and grow 100 % of the food. You need to grow (on average) 20 times as much as you eat yourself. Let me quote° you something:

In the 1800s each farmer grew enough food each year to feed three to five people. By 1995, each farmer was feeding 128 people per year. In the 1800s, 90 percent of the population lived on farms; today it is around one percent.

But doesn't it mean we are better off because we have more food? No. More food doesn't mean a farmer producing more, it means an acre producing more. A farmer producing more means less work on farms.

It also means, the farmers need to hurry more than they did in the Middle Ages.

"Life back then was difficult" ... as in we all live easy lives now?
"But people got through it." - at least, better than some get through their teens now!

They even managed to have a bit of fun while struggling to survive.

Struggling ... no, if you have 8 weeks off as a farmer, you aren't struggling to survive. They had more than just a bit of fun, and didn't feel the need to get as much fun as possible out of their teens, since "getting a work" was not ending that state of things.

Your typical day in a Medieval town starts at 4 am.

Is this referring to dawn in summer? On June 25, sunrise and sunset°° are going to be 5:48 am to 10:00 pm GMT+01:00. Translated to strictly local time, as before the time zone agreements, that would be 3:55 am to 8:06 pm ... yes, on June 25, the day would start on 3:55 am. But December 25, by contrast, you could sleep to 7:53 am.°° Early up means late to bed, late up means early to bed. And on long days, you arguably could sleep at noon.

The church bell tolls, announcing the first mass of the day.

I think it's more like first service. Lauds. And depending on your profession you might have the time to go there too. The first Mass would be after Prime, one hour later. As hours were exactly 1/12 of the time from sunrise to sunset, in Summer Prime would be 5:17 am, and in Winter 8:35 am.

Instead, you’ll be preparing your goods for sale at the market, which opens at 6 am. And there you’ll stand for the next 9 hours, hoping you’ll make enough to buy a chicken for dinner, instead of the same old cabbage and beans.

I'm not sure anyone ever stood 9 hours at a market. I know a market which opens at (5 -) 6 am and closes by 2 pm. Wait, that's 8 hours, so, fair enough.

Dinner at your house might not be very special, but up at the castle, the King is having a feast! All you can eat, all you can drink, and not a single dull moment [jester]. The fun doesn’t stop with dinner. When the plates are cleared, the town’s elite take to the dance floor – even the knights.

Considering the following day is a festival, your dinner arguably would be special.

I wonder what exact town you are thinking of when the king and the knights are in the castle ... in capitals, this would be the case, Paris was one, and the élite of Paris as a town usually was not in the Royal castle, more like in the town hall.

While a lot of these festivals were tied to the church, the town also hosted tournaments, which the church did not approve of. That’s probably because tournaments made a spectacle of violence from jousting to swordplay to making prisoners duel to the death!

The Church initially did approve of jousting, as a training for military exploits (once jousting was forbidden, duels took the place). Jousting did not involve duels, let alone duels to the death, and prisoners certainly wouldn't do the jousting, it was an honour for free people. They eventually did°°° get banned ...

In 1559, Henry II of France died during a tournament when a sliver from the shattered lance of Gabriel Montgomery, captain of the Scottish Guard at the French Court, pierced his eye and entered his brain. The death of Henry II caused his 15-year-old son Francis II to take the throne, beginning a period of political instability that ultimately led to the French Wars of Religion.

Back to Pierre Köchel:

If you think that’s cruel, it doesn’t really get any better. Most serious crimes were settled by a trial by ordeal.

For example, if you were accused of a crime, you might be subjected to a trial by water. Bound hand and foot, you’d be tossed into a body of water.

Ordeals were used in Merovingian times, in case there were no witnesses. The water ordeals here spoken of is more like witch trials in Early Modern times.

While the physics of buoyancy wasn’t exactly their strong suit, science did exist in the Middle Ages. For example, even in Medieval times, the well educated were well aware that the world was round.

The physics of buoyancy arguably have a lot to do with what clothing a woman is wearing. Wool gets soaked and heavy quickly. And a philosopher of 1200 (in the Middle Ages) would have known it, even if an excited crowd in 1600 (after the Middle Ages) wouldn't have known it when contemplating a suspected witch being tried.

This period also saw the inventions of many items we still use today, such as the mechanical clock and the printing press. Too bad they didn’t invent the toothbrush! In fact, if you were wealthy, it was fashionable to have rotting teeth, since it showed that you could afford sugar.

That's if anything Renaissance, not Middle Ages.

Obesity was also a sign of prosperity, since it showed that you could afford meat and other luxury foods.

Renaissance and Baroque, not the Middle Ages.

But if the nobles lived well, the peasants were in the best health.

Their well balanced diet of bread and beans, paired with full days of physical labor, kept them in great shape.

Correct. For once.

And as for their teeth, well, they didn’t have toothpaste back then, so the common practice was to wash your mouth out with wine or vinegar after a meal.

Not very hygenic, but that’s not what the Middle Ages were about.

Alcohol (even as low a degree as undistilles but strong wine) is antibacterial. Washing the mouth out eliminates pieces of food that could otherwise nourish less killed caries bacteria. And the Middle Ages in fact had a high degree of hygiene.

You kept your hands and face clean to keep up appearances, but, aside from the rich, no one really had toilets or bathtubs like we do today.

This is not correct, unless you insist on the technicality "like today" since models have changed.

Here comes an actually correct description of the Black Death, which I won't quote, since I already linked to the wiki page.

But over the next few centuries, Europe underwent a renaissance, a time when people pursued truth and accuracy through skepticism and scrutinizing empirical evidence. This period initiated a scientific revolution that continues to this day.

Er, no. This was the exact time of bad teeth showing lots of sugar was consumed, and of nobles being proud of being fat, and of only hands and faces being washed. George Washington and George III arguably both had lower standards of hygiene than Lewis IX or Henry III.

Hans Georg Lundahl
Septuagesima, 5.II.2023

** It was in the Middle Ages known mainly in ex-Arabic countries, like Southern Italy or Spain.

° A Sustainable Future?
by Beth Waterhouse



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