What was Life Like in a Medieval Town?

The life of an individual or family in the medieval period was quite different than one might think. It possessed great superstition as well as ingenuity. Systems, like today as well as during the middle ages, had a hierarchy.

During the beginning of this era, most people were separated by well-defined classes — commoners and religious posts. These communities were protected by thick fortifications. This provided a border to protect those within and a way to screen visitors. Since literacy was scarce, most shops and places of importance used pictures to denote their purpose.

The unpaved roads and streets were narrow. As second stories towered above the roadways, they blocked sunlight. It created a rather gloomy atmosphere. The village square was crowded with people traveling by foot, in carts, and teeming with free-range animals. Since there was no specific place to discard garbage, canals and ditches were popular and unimaginably grotesque, thick with putrefaction.

After the fall of Rome (the beginning of the dark ages), the once tight-knit communities of the ancient world gave way to scattered homesteads in the countryside. As the dark ages transitioned into the early then high medieval period, there was a population boom. The art of agriculture bloomed. As new techniques were discovered and old ones improved upon, crops flourished. Each bustling center of the medieval world whether it was the Orient for spices or the Mediterranean for seafood, reaped the reward of new roads/waterways and markets. This caused merchants to take up residence elsewhere.

The beginning of the medieval period embraced feudalism or a complex system of ownership that involved land, high-ranking officials, and cultural norms. As towns grew, the townspeople craved independence. Over time, this involved something called a charter. It allowed self-governance, the ability to create laws, and the possibility to raise taxes.

By the high middle ages, the concept of the gentry affording market goods was phased out and now common people could get in on it. Most towns offered food and local delights. The next step up was a merchant market fair which offered a greater assortment of goods.

The Jewish population at this time was treated most inhumanely. The church often penned laws making commerce difficult or impossible for the Jewish peoples of Europe. They were not permitted to own land and their belongings were routinely confiscated.

However, for the Jews of the medieval world, banking and money-lending were the best bet for an ample income. The church taught charging cash for loans was sinful thus making this a taboo position in society. This further separated the Jewish population from the rest of the known world.

Guilds provided oversight in quality service pertaining to trade and the making of goods. There were two guild camps: merchant and craft. The guilds provided feedback and protection for their members as well as quality control. Those that participated as members were held to a high standard or may reap serious consequences. There was a membership fee involved which was used toward the construction of guild halls and associated affairs. Money was set aside for ailing members, their families, and anyone too sick or incapacitated to work.

It was quite the challenge to be welcomed into a guild. At 12 years of age, a boy or a girl would begin their apprentice work. This was after their parents decided to give permission to a master of the trade. Often a payment was involved to ensure the apprentice’s place. After the apprenticeship was complete, the individual became a journeyman or someone that found work by the day.

A typical medieval town was filled to the brim with people. It wasn’t unusual to witness many families living in a single home. It was also common to use a single room for life’s major activities. In terms of a wealthy family, they didn’t fare much better. The rooms in which they frequented were cold and damp unless a fireplace was present.

Childhood was hardly a breeze. Approximately half died before reaching maturity. A wealthy child would enjoy more refined activities such as music or language while a poor child might embark on an apprenticeship. It was normal for adult duties to begin around age 7.

The appreciation for routine chores/tasks was absolutely paramount during the medieval period. Many boys dove into a craft and while some girls did, they often married by age 15. They were expected to excel at domestic chores as they began a family.

What is now known as terrain theory was but a far-fetched concept in medieval life.

Originally published at http://jorgejperez.net.

Florida-based attorney Jorge J. Perez is a history buff occupied by many hobbies. Learn more at JorgeJPerez.com!