HIST 203 Lecture Outline (Fall 2016 – Week 14)




Plowing with oxen at Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts, 2009 (1:24 min.):

How to mow with a scythe (Wilson, Wisconsin, 2009; 3:36 min.):

Reaping wheat with a sickle (2011; 6:16 min.):

Threshing with flails (0:21 min.):


Riché, pp. 47-56, 61-3 (demography, sex, and marriage), 159-77 (housing, clothing, hygiene, food)

Tripartite society (“the three orders”):

Those who fought (aristocracy)
Those who prayed (clergy)
Those who worked (peasants and artisans)

Seasonal labors included:

Winter months (from Carolingian “labors of the months,” c. 818, Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek; Codex 387, fol. 90):

livestock slaughter, and meat-preservation
candle- and soap-making
combing, spinning and weaving wool and flax (compare the Viking loom with the classical Greek loom)
making and mending tools and clothing
tending livestock and poultry

Spring months:

plowing, fertilizing, harrowing and sowing spring crops (barley, oats, peas, beans, lentils, flax)
(photo of sowing and harrowing flax seed in 2006 at the Weald and Downland Museum in Singleton, Sussex)
weeding and tending field crops
pruning and staking grapevines
caring for newborn animals
butter- and cheese-making
planting gardens
tending livestock and poultry

Summer months:

shearing sheep
; washing and sorting wool
picking fruits and berries
weeding and tending field crops
butter- and cheese-making
tending livestock and poultry

Autumn months:

harvesting field crops
picking fruits, nuts, and berries
threshing and milling grain
harvesting flax in ancient Egypt and in Ireland in 1948  (pulling it up by the roots to preserve ends)
retting flax  in a gently-moving stream or river
drying and dressing flax  in Dorset
scutching flax (breaking to remove woody center; click here for view of modern re-enactor scutching flax)
hackling flax (combing to separate fine linen fibers from coarse tow fibers)
harvesting grapes and wine-making
butter- and cheese-making
plowing, fertilizing, harrowing, and sowing winter crops (wheat, rye)
drying herbs and vegetables
tending livestock and poultry

Walafrid Strabo (“squinty”), scholar, poet, and gardener, tutor to Charles the Bald, and abbot of Reichenau (d. 849), wrote a poem describing his garden; click here for a plan of his garden (in Latin and French)

Artisanal crafts included:

Metalwork: Carolingian sword; Viking sword hilt (from Hedeby boat burial,  9th cent.);
front cover and back cover of Lindau Gospels (c. 870; J. P. Morgan Library, New York City)

Building construction:  Carolingian gatehouse at Lorsch, and a detail of the construction; carved wooden church portal (Norway, 11th cent.)

Textile production: remains of tools and textile fragments and from the Oseberg ship burial of a Viking queen, 9th cent.;
reconstruction of a Viking loom

Demographic factors included:

Abortion and infanticide
Contraception (illegal) and sexual abstinence (required on many holy days)
(click here for Prof. James Brundage’s flow-chart on when it was licit to have sex, based on early-medieval penitential manuals)

Important primary source on early medieval sexuality:


Marriage requirements:

No consanguinity between spouses (click here for a table of consanguinity from the late 1100’s, and a modern table in English)
Public nuptials
Morgengab (“morning-gift”)

Furnishings included:

Beds – Wooden and pottery dishes
Benches – Pottery and metal cookware
Stools – Cushions, curtains and wall-hangings
Chairs – Pottery oil lamps (especially in S. Europe) or torches and tallow candles (especially in N. Europe)
Chests – Miscellaneous tools and utensils (wood, stone, horn, metal, bone, etc.)

Male clothing:

Linen shirt and drawers, leggings or stockings, shoes, short belted tunic, trousers, mantle

Female clothing:

Linen shift (chemise, smock), stockings, shoes, long belted tunic, veil (if married), mantle

Some examples of clothing:

Monks presenting bible to Charles the Bald (“Vivian Bible,” Tours, 846)
Man, woman, and two fighters (English, 10th cent.?)
Warrior (English, 10th cent.?)
“Patience,” from the Psychomachia of Prudentius (English, late 10th cent.)
Adam and Eve (English, c. 1000)
King Cnut and Queen Emma of England (Winchester, 1031)
Two women and a man, Biblical scene (English, 11th cent.)
Farmers digging and sowing seed (English, 11th cent.)

Health practices included:

Baths (click here to see a strigil), bleeding (phlebotomy and leeches), medicinal herbs, laxatives, emetics, diet, charms

Food and drink included:

Bread, porridge, gruel
Meat, poultry, fish
Eggs, butter, cheese, milk, cream
Legumes (beans, peas, lentils)
Root vegetables (leeks, onions, parsnips)
Fruits and nuts
Wine, ale, mead, cider



Sheep-shearing with hand clippers (5:00 min.):

Spinning wool into yarn with a drop spindle (Tibet, 1:03 min.):

Spinning wool into yarn with a distaff and spindle (Romania, 0.30 min.):

Weaving on a warp-weighted (vertical) loom, from the beginning of Utlaginn (Gisli the Outlaw: 1:40:29 min.; view 3:09-4:56 min.):


Riché, pp. 24-8 (landscape), 76-81 (war), 249-54 (hardships)

Aelfric, Colloquy (“On Laborers”), c. AD 1000



Forests and wild spaces dominated the landscape

Forest animals were game to aristocrats, but dangerous to others

Weather extremes (hot, cold, wet, dry) represented dangers and difficulties, e.g.:

damaged or destroyed the harvest
caused flood
made roads, fords, and bridges unusable

Warfare was constant; the victors looted, destroyed, massacred, and enslaved unrestrainedly

All free laymen (after 807, holders of  c. 80 acres or more) were liable to army service each summer

Epidemics and plagues ravaged human and livestock populations

Beggars — many disabled, invalid, or elderly — were ubiquitous

Brigands infested the roads and were often protected by powerful landowners

Physical brutality was common (see, e.g., lists of mutilations covered by Germanic laws)

Important primary source on daily work:

Aelfric, Colloquy (“On Laborers”), c. AD 1000  (Aelfric, a monk, wrote this as a dialogue for teaching Latin.  Click here to see part of a manuscript of Aelfric’s Latin grammar. British Library, Harley MS 107, fol. 63r, English, c. 1025-75.)
Click here to see a drawing of a medieval wheeled plow and a reconstruction of a Roman plow