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TOP-12 Myths about the Middle Ages
TOP-12 Myths about the Middle Ages

This era was not at all as dull and dirty as the authors of dark fantasy paint.

1. Medieval clothing was gray and dull

Misconceptions about the Middle Ages: clothes were gray and dull back then

Medieval extras. Shot from the series "The Witcher"

See how the characters from Game of Thrones and other fantasy movies and TV series dress up? There, everyone from kings and lords to common peasants wear the same gray, brown and black outfits. The only difference is that the commoners have worn clothes, while the rich have new clothes, as if from haute couture. The color scheme is the same.

But in fact, people in medieval Europe preferred bright and colorful outfits - if, of course, they could afford them. Then most of the garments were made from wool, linen, hemp and even nettle, and without dyeing things were just white, cream or beige.

But even the poorest peasants tried to color them with dyes made from various plants, lichens, tree bark, nuts, crushed insects, and iron oxide.

One of the most popular natural dyes was a plant called waida, which gives clothing a dark blue hue. Other colors, such as red, crimson, green, yellow and purple, were less common, but were not exceptional. And the rarest was purple, because it was difficult to make. Clothes of this color were allowed to be worn only by members of the royal family.

So a crowd of poor people in brown or black clothes is absurd. They preferred to dress up in clothes of all colors of the rainbow.

2. People were then sure that the Earth was flat

Misconceptions about the Middle Ages: people were then sure that the Earth was flat

Medieval drawing of a spherical earth with parts representing earth, air and water (circa 1400). Image: John Gower / Wikimedia Commons

It is unlikely that we will know that then ordinary peasants thought about the shape of the Earth. But the scientists of the Middle Ages were quite sure that our planet was round. And her images in scientific treatises of that time confirm this. So even then, people were more knowledgeable than today's flat-earthers.

They probably believed that the Earth was flat until the 4th century BC. e. However, then the Greek thinkers not only determined that it had a spherical shape, but also calculated the exact dimensions of our planet.

The myth of the ignorance of the people of the Middle Ages about the shape of the earth appeared in the 1800s. At that time, sentiments directed against the Church and creationists were popular in the scientific community. It was believed that the Catholic priests of the Middle Ages called the Earth flat in their sermons - they were so rigid and narrow-minded.

Historian and religious scholar Jeffrey Russell said: "With rare exceptions, no educated person in the history of Western civilization from the third century BC believed that the earth was flat."

3. "Iron Maiden" - the best torture weapon of the Middle Ages

Misconceptions about the Middle Ages: the "Iron Maiden" is the best torture weapon of the Middle Ages

The Iron Maiden at the Museum of Medieval Criminal Law in Rothenburg an der Tauber / Eiserne Jungfrau von Nürnberg, 15. od. 16. Jh. (Exponat im Mittelalterlichen Kriminalmuseum Rothenburg ob der Tauber). Image: Mattes / Wikimedia Commons

How to torture a criminal or heretic who fell into the clutches of the Inquisition? Naturally, shove him into the "iron maiden"! This is a box where a person is placed. The inside of the box is studded with thorns, and the outside is decorated in the shape of a woman. A terrible thing.

But in the Middle Ages, "iron maidens" were not used. This wonderful weapon was invented not earlier than the end of the 18th century, so it can be said to be a remake. It is assumed that the myth of the terrible "iron maiden" appeared in the Age of Enlightenment, when the Middle Ages were usually presented as a time of terrible ignorance and cruelty.

Torture did exist in the Middle Ages, but it was much simpler than it is shown in popular culture. They did not require "iron maidens", stretching the bones of beds and other apparatus, like John Kramer from the movie "Saw".

Why are there any difficulties, if there is a rope, needles and knives, as well as fire and water?

And all sorts of torture tools like the "cradle of Judas" and the "iron chair" were not as difficult to manufacture as the hypothetical "iron maiden".

Interestingly, the oldest known "virgin" - the so-called Nuremberg, first shown in 1802 - has not survived to this day. It was allegedly destroyed during the bombing of the city in 1945. A copy of it is now on display in the Museum of Medieval Criminal Law in Rothenburg-an-Tauber. By the way, she looks like a Russian nesting doll in a kokoshnik.

4. Spices were then used to discourage the taste of rotting meat

Misconceptions about the Middle Ages: spices were then used to discourage the taste of rotting meat

Cooking food in the Middle Ages. Drawing from Colchester Castle. Image: Diane Earl / E2BNGallery

A popular bike that is often found in various collections of facts about the "disgusting Middle Ages". Then there were no refrigerators, and the meat quickly deteriorated. Therefore, it was generously flavored with pepper and other spices in order to at least somehow eat it, overcoming vomiting.

It sounds creepy and naturalistic, but in reality nothing like this has happened. First, no spices will make spoiled meat suitable for eating and will not save you from stomach poisoning. And secondly, they were very expensive - more expensive than meat. Only really rich and noble people could afford them, and they did not need to choke on rotten stuff.

5. In the Middle Ages, chastity belts were often used

Misconceptions about the Middle Ages: Chastity belts were often used in the Middle Ages

"Chastity Belt", XIX century. Image: peter schmelzle / Wikimedia Commons

Knights and lords supposedly have such a good tradition: when you leave for the Crusade, put on your lady a chastity belt. So it will be more reliable. The wife will not change, having walked up the heiress on the side, and will be protected in case the castle is captured by enemies. The spouse still has the key to the lock. True, if he dies somewhere in the Holy Land, the lady will be in trouble …

In fact, there were no “chastity belts”. Long-term wearing of such a thing would cause genitourinary infections, abrasive wounds, sepsis and death. Women in those days were treated somewhat more severely than they are now, but still, the wife is a rather valuable representative of the noble family. And to kill her just like that, and even in such a disgusting way, would only occur to a real madman.

And numerous photographs of "chastity belts" that can be found on the Internet are relative remakes. From the 1800s to the 1930s, masturbation was considered harmful in medicine, and in order to wean boys and girls from it, they were put on such things - naturally, as prescribed by a doctor.

6. The contents of the chamber pots at that time were thrown out directly from the windows

Misconceptions about the Middle Ages: the contents of chamber pots were thrown out of windows at that time

A woman pours the contents of a chamber pot onto the street musicians. Image from Flushed with Pride, Wallace Reyburn (London: Pavilion Books, 1989, p. 49)

And what else to do with the waste products accumulated in the night vase? There is no sewage system.

Before that, you just need to warn the passers-by walking below. Otherwise, you just throw yourself at some lord who wants to walk (this is rare, but it happened). He will certainly be offended, and the angry aristocrats with the rabble were not particularly almond-shaped at that time.

So was the Middle Ages really that dirty? No, not at all.

It is possible that sometimes the contents of the pots were indeed thrown out of the windows, but this was prohibited by law.

For example, if at the beginning of the 14th century you threw human feces or any other rubbish out of a window onto a London street, you would be fined 40p. This is now roughly equal to $ 142. But what is there, there is a record of how neighbors almost killed one man for throwing a rotten fish out of the window.

People dumped waste into public cesspools or ditches, which were then cleaned out by sewer trucks. Wealthy citizens had their own septic tanks. And the brave men who raked it all up were called gongfermours and earned more per day than any other hard worker per week. Although they smelled naturally not very good.

7. The water was then so dirty that people had to drink only beer and wine

Misconceptions about the Middle Ages: the water was then so dirty that people had to drink only beer and wine

The monk brews beer. Drawing from 1437.Hausbuch der Mendelschen Zwölfbrüderstiftung. Band 1, Nuremberg 1426-1549. Stadtbibliothek Nürnberg, Amb. 317.2 °. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Those who believe in this myth should try for a week to replace all the drinks in their diet with spirits. You can't stand it for long, unless you have a steel liver. Drinking can cause dehydration, so quenching your thirst with it alone is a dubious thing to do.

In fact, people built their settlements, castles, villages and cities near fresh water sources. In every settlement there was a well, for the pollution of which very severe punishments were imposed. So it was water that was the main drink of the Middle Ages. It was sometimes mixed with sweeteners such as honey or berries.

Beer in the Middle Ages, however, was also loved. It was not nearly as strong as it is now, but it was thicker and more nutritious. People who were engaged in physical labor drank it then for satiety. But wine was expensive and available only to aristocrats.

8. Middle Ages - the era of technological stagnation

Misconceptions about the Middle Ages: it was an era of technological stagnation

Windmills and Consuegra Castle. Image: Michal Osmenda from Brussels, Belgium / Wikimedia Commons

The Middle Ages can hardly be called a time of stagnation: in fact, then they invented a lot of things that the ancient Greeks and Romans did not think of. For example, a mechanical clock, a printing press, windmills, spectacles, public libraries, buttresses (these are such supporting arches on the sides of buildings), a quadrant and an astrolabe. And also pumped firearms, turning them from Chinese amusing fireworks into a real fighting force.

In addition, it was in the Middle Ages that a heavy plow was invented, which made the agrarian revolution, wheelbarrows for transporting small loads and aft ship rudders, thanks to which the shipping business developed and the great geographical discoveries became possible.

Therefore, the time period of eight thousand years, which in "Game of Thrones" is presented as an analogue of the Middle Ages, looks completely unconvincing. During this time, the Westeros would have time to colonize Essos and invent advanced technologies, or even fly to other planets.

9. Lords used the right of the first night

Misconceptions about the Middle Ages: Lords used the right of the first night

Medieval entertainment. Image: Book of Hours France 15th century / public domain

There is a myth that the peasant was obliged to seek permission from his lord for the wedding, as well as provide him with his future wife for one night. This was called the Primae Noctis, or "the right to lay on the thigh." Some commoners were allegedly proud that an innocent girl would lie with a noble lord for the first time, because then her offspring from her husband would also have a bit of blue blood.

But in fact, there is no clear evidence of the existence of the right of the first night in Medieval Europe.

Some tribes in Africa and South America had similar customs. A young girl was ritually deprived of her innocence by a specially authorized person, for example a shaman, since contact with female blood was considered something bad and even dangerous. Or she was conceded to a guest, and this was considered an honor for the family. But in Europe, such customs were not common.

The "right of the first night" appeared in culture thanks to a document of 1419, compiled by Lord Lariviere-Bourdeau of Normandy. In it, he announced that he would consent to the wedding of the subject only if he treated him to a gallon of booze, a piece of pig from back to ear and paid him 10 sous (this is such a coin). In the end, the lord announced that if he did not receive his own, he would lie down with the girl who was being taken in marriage.

However, the historian Alain Bouraud believes that this document is just a kind of aristocratic joke. In other historical sources, the right of the first night is not mentioned - the peasants simply paid the wedding fee.

10. People then lived up to 40 years …

People then lived up to 40 years …

Danza macabra, or "Dance of Death". Fresco on the external wall of the church of Disciplini, Clusone, Bergamo, Italia. Image: Paolo da Reggio / Wikimedia Commons

It is believed that due to the terrible living conditions, people in the Middle Ages were dying from endless diseases, unsanitary conditions and wars by the age of 40.But this is not the case.

Yes, the average life span then was 35–40 years due to the very high infant mortality rate. But those who lived through childhood and became adults had a good chance of surviving into old age. At that time, those who were 60–70 years old were considered old.

Therefore, to take literally the character of "Real Ghouls", who looks 40 at his supposedly 16 years old, justifying this with the phrase "life was hard for us then …" is not worth it.

11. … and were incredibly dirty

… and were incredibly dirty

Medieval bath. Drawing from 1400. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Middle Ages were not at all as dirty as described in the novel "Perfumer". Of course, people then were much less clean than we are, since there was no piped hot water in every house yet. And collecting firewood and heating water on a fire is a rather tedious task.

However, people quite washed themselves - in public baths and baths, at home in basins, and who are richer - in bathtubs, and just in natural reservoirs. If it was not possible to plunge entirely, at least they washed their hands and face.

There is even a medieval Latin expression "Hunting, playing, washing, drinking is living!" (Venari, ludere, lavari, bibere; Hoc Est Vivere!), Confirming that Europeans then had nothing against bathing.

Yes, there is a story about Queen Isabella I of Castile, who allegedly washed herself twice in her life, because she made a vow to neglect worldly comforts until she liberated the city of Granada from the Moors, which took about 12 years. But, most likely, this bike was invented because the queen spent a lot of time on hikes and she had one more vidocq.

Louis XIV, who for some reason is also considered a terrible slob, was ridiculously clean and also washed in the bath - although he had a habit of doing this in the company of the ladies of the court.

12. Female pleasure was not interested in medieval men

Feminine pleasure was not interested in medieval husbands

Ramsey Bolton and Sansa Stark after the wedding. Shot from the series "Game of Thrones"

Films and books, created in the spirit of "historical realism" or dark fantasy, demonstrate the complete disregard of men for the feelings of their spouses during intercourse.

But in fact, the people of the Middle Ages were not so indifferent to their wives. Doctors of that time believed that a female orgasm was necessary for the conception of a child no less than a male one. And the husband, who wanted to acquire heirs, had to please the lady. It doesn't matter if he was a nobleman or a commoner.

However, this does not mean that the life of medieval women was so wonderful. Firstly, they could not refuse her husband's intimacy. And secondly, rape that ended in pregnancy was considered voluntary acts of love. Since there is a child, then there was an orgasm, which means that everything was by mutual agreement, and legal proceedings are impossible. Such was the time.

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