Many modern historians and textbooks portray the Middle Ages as a time of poverty, backwardness, and religious arbitrariness from which the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution only freed people.
Yet, some painted a very different picture and insisted that the Middle Ages were not such a wrong time and that, in some respects, they were even better than most other historical periods. Here are facts about this “dark” and controversial era that will help everyone decide what life was like at that time.
Women could not even choose their partners
Marriage in the Middle Ages was very different from what is understood today. Women had no choice who to marry and often did not even know the man until the day of marriage. Most marriages in those days were not based on love and romance.
Women had no rights
Although rape was considered a crime in most parts of medieval Europe, it was different in marriage. The wife could not legally refuse her husband’s sxual demands, but neither could the husband deny his wife’s claims. There was a widespread belief that women always craved sx and that it was terrible for their health not to have regular intercourse. In short, women were viewed (and used) strictly for bedding, having and raising children, cooking, and cleaning.
The penitentiary system was barbaric
The penitentiary system of that era was by no means as civilized and humane as it is today. If a person went to prison, there was hell waiting for him. To begin with, prisons were usually housed in castle dungeons or towers. Prisoners were not fed or given water every day, and of course, there were no social activities or walks in the fresh air. Most prisoners were locked in their cells to prevent escape attempts, and many of them either starved or died of disease.
People with mental problems were treated like animals
The presence of mental illness in the Middle Ages was a real problem. The mentally ill were brutally beaten for “inadequate behaviour” (as well as to “teach them wisdom”). Others considered dangerous were chased out of cities, thrown into prison, or executed for being “possessed by the devil.”
Medieval food was unhealthy
The Middle Ages were utterly devoid of elegance and refinement, and the diet was no exception. The mainstay of the daily diet at this time was homegrown produce. Most people ate large quantities of bread, low-quality meat (mostly pork, high in fat) and grains, and almost no fruits and vegetables.
Medicine was based mainly on superstition
Medical diagnosis in medieval times included astrological predictions and other wild theories that would sound utterly insane today. For example, bloodletting was one of the most common and respected treatments because most doctors believed that the body would eliminate all diseases or ailments by removing “bad blood” from it.
Life expectancy was much shorter than it is today
According to modern scholars, the average life expectancy of a man born in Great Britain between 1276 and 1300 was about thirty-one years. As for women, things were only slightly better.
The vast majority of people were constantly drunk
In medieval times water was rarely drunk because of problems with its purity. If one had to drink water, spring water was preferred because it was less likely to be contaminated than river water. Water was also thought to be bad for digestion, and for all these reasons, people mainly drank wine, beer, cider, etc. Daily consumption of alcohol in large quantities was the norm in England.
People did not shower or even wash their hands
Although public baths and sanitary standards were shared in Rome, Athens, and the most significant cities in Europe, this all changed in the Middle Ages. Christians were forbidden to bathe naked, and the Church proclaimed that sanitary and public bathing led to immorality, promiscuous s*x, and disease. These “unwritten laws” of religion became part of the daily life of most citizens, who gradually began to avoid any self-cleansing.
It was a very dirty era
It has been estimated that the inhabitants of medieval London (both humans and animals) produced fifty tons of excrement a day. For example, in the fourteenth century, Sherborne Lane in East London was so disgusting that it was unofficially called Shiteburn Lane (the street was drowning in excrement).
Bread could cause hallucinations or even death
The bread was the basis of life in the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, the villagers had difficulty baking bread in the summer because they ran out of grain, and the new crop was not ready for harvesting. For this reason, they were forced to make bread from old rye contaminated with the ergot fungus, the effects of which are very similar to LSD.
Anyone had a 50% chance of dying from the Black Death
The Black Death is considered one of the deadliest epidemics in human history. According to historical records, the plague killed about half the population of Europe in just three years. This means that if a person lived in medieval Europe around the 1340s, they had a 50 per cent chance of dying from the plague.
People had terrible manners
Except for most royalty and a narrow circle of nobility, the vast majority of people did not know what good manners were. Most regularly used profanity, thought kindness was terrible and had awful table manners (for example, it was pretty normal to burp at dinner and throw bones and scraps on the floor).
The architecture was “depressing” and creepy
The castles considered the best examples of architecture of that era belonged to rich, meaningful and influential people such as kings, nobles and knights. However, courts were designed and built primarily to protect their owners from detractors and invaders. What mattered most was not how “beautiful” the structures were but that they were impregnable to attack. This is the main reason why most surviving castles look so bleak and grey.
Anaesthetics were virtually unknown
Today, everyone uses anaesthetics for granted, whether in the dentist’s office or on the surgeon’s table. However, this was not the case in the Middle Ages. Surgeons had a poor understanding of anatomy, anaesthesia, and antiseptics, which led to many deaths from infection and horrible pain during surgery.