Daily Life in Medieval Europe


#1

Can anyone recommend sources on daily life in medieval Europe? The web sites I have found don’t go into a lot of depth, and the main thing that is keeping me from progressing on my medieval fantasy game is the lack of a fleshed out setting. I’d be especially grateful for books, but articles and web site suggestions are welcome too.

I’m not after anything like historical fiction, but I figure modeling the setting after a particular place and time in history will help me get past through the world building so I can get into the story.

The story is such that it could take place in a variety of places and times. I’d be especially interested in contexts where Christianity has not yet achieved complete dominance (10th century Scandinavia, for instance), but for now I’m open to nearly any setting in western Europe up to the early modern period.

Has anyone else here done research in this area? If so, what worked well for you?


#2

Well, what sites have you tried so far?


#3

I’ve tried a few sites that come up in basic Google searches.

I know I’ve been to more sites than this, but these are the most recent significant ones.


#4

http://history-world.org/dynamic_culture_of_medieval_euro.htm

http://www.thefinertimes.com/Middle-Ages/culture-in-the-middle-ages.html

How 'bout these?


#5

I know quite some things about history (one of my best subjects :blush:)

So if you have a question, I might have an answer.


#6

@P0RT3R It’s not so much that I have a question or two. It’s more like I am going to have lots of questions on certain aspects of medieval life throughout the planning and drafting of the game, to the point where I am going to need some reference materials.

Some examples of the questions I’ve found myself asking include:

  • How do people of different social standing properly behave toward each other (e.g. a commoner and a lord)? How sharp was the distinction between classes?
  • How might a noble or landed family of relatively modest means celebrate a betrothal or a wedding? What would they wear? What festivities might be involved, and what religious observances (if any) would coincide with them?
  • In a world without toilet paper, how do people wipe themselves?
  • What kinds of songs might people sing while they are working?
  • Do young children drink alcohol at dinner?

These depend on the specific time and place of the setting, but like I said I’m open to a variety of settings at this point.

@RagEgnite Thanks for the suggestions! History-world.org especially might help me narrow down the setting a bit.


#7

Younger children would drink beer yes but there were of course also other things to drink. this is mostly because there wasn’t a lot of clean drinking water (in western europe) (and back then, beer also wasn’t too tastefull)
For example in scandinavia there are more ponds from which you can safely drink than in like spain.

Who needs to wipe when you come from the toilet?

(Anybody, free to correct me if I’m wrong)


#8

Ф___Ф…

that ain’t the only way to clean up, my dude. hands and water, rags, pretty much any small thin sheet of something that wasn’t too uncomfortable. so, leaves too.


#9

Just a small note, but talking about ‘Medieval History’ as a general setting can be an exercise in futility. Medieval history covers about a millennium (depending on where you cut) and at the very least encompasses a huge portion of the Europe, let alone the Middle East. The 8th century in the Iberian Peninsula was decidedly different from the 13th in Rus (and yet, so familiar at the same time).

You haven’t picked a place, but asking other people is kinda difficult too because everyone is going to have their own opinions. Personally as you said you’re not doing historical fiction, I’d recommend just saying screw it and making it how you want it to be. But if you’re just trying to narrow things down, the ‘standard, realistic’ medieval period is often times vaguely based on HRE, mostly due to it’s highly decentralized nature (making for interesting story telling).

But on point, here’s an old demographics page I end up referring back to a fair bit (with it’s own bibliography), and from the same author, a few books (about $20 a pop, but there are samples). They’re dedicated to gaming first, but the premise, of realistic world building, seems to be what you’re going for.


#10

I’m afraid that for this, you’re really going to have to do your own research especially while you narrow down location and time.

You seem to have a slight idea already what interests you though. (Why am I thinking the Vikings tv series?) I’d actually suggest wikipedia as a good starting point. As in read as much of the articles there, bounce around the subjects that interest you until one really captures you. Then use that as a place to do some further research.

Also, what about your local library?


#11

Rocks, in Afghanistan. Because that’s just how tough they are.

I had to try to keep a Western flush toilet in good repair in Helmand once, and kept being defeated by the weekly gravel deposit that would accrue in the drains.

Medieval Europe, I’d have guessed your hand, but I’ll be interested if you get a more definitive answer. :slight_smile:


#12

@Reaperoa I feel a little silly for not thinking of looking into gaming resources (beyond a few old TSR books I have lying around, which were not useful), and these look excellent. Thanks! Definitely open to a vague HRE-ish, setting, but I do plan to narrow it down a bit from there.

@FairyGodfeather Regarding asking other people, one thing I learned during my brief stint in academia is that, when embarking on research into unfamiliar territory, the best way to find a starting point is to ask around. Of course, that is a setting in which you can stick your head into someone’s cubicle, ask them, “Hey, what’s the best ever book written on (subject)?” and get at least three titles, off the top of their head, each fulfilling a different definition of “best.” Or the name of someone else who can give you at least five. Perhaps I’m a bit spoiled.

I currently live in one of those small towns in the Southern US (population < 6,000), in which the library is only open a few days a week, and the county system has little to offer. But I have since tried other libraries. A library the next county over has a copy of Jeffrey Singman’s Daily Life in Medieval Europe. So that’s a start.

@Havenstone I haven’t found an answer to the question of how people wipe themselves in any of the medieval settings I’m looking at, though I ran across a mention of Romans in late antiquity using damp sponges affixed to sticks (hence the epithet “sponge” to refer to odious sycophants). I’ve decided I’m okay with being vague on this particular detail. I don’t want to put too much preparation into writing that pivotal butt-wiping scene.

Ew.

Ew!


#13

excuse you, the rest of the world thinks you Gosh Darned Westerners (you probably are if you think toilet paper is The Only Way) are unsanitary! d:


#14

Wikipedia knows everything https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toilet_paper [Citation Needed]


#15

I’m sorry, I had to. It was just, right there, it needed the tag.


#16

Heh. :smile:

I asked a friend of mine, who has a few degrees, one in 14th Century England, and who also taught. They’re going to dig up a list of some other books but suggested The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer.


#17

This is a wonderful book, and exactly the sort of thing I needed to get started. Please thank your friend for suggesting it. It is informative, accessible, rigorous and entertaining. It has a solid bibliography too.

I have also found a good book on daily life in Dark Ages Scandanavia (Viking Age: Everyday Life During the Extraordinary Era of the Norsemen, by Kirsten Wolf). It is much less informative, as there is much less information (hence “dark ages”). Much as I like that context as a setting, it will probably be too much work for too little gain to build a game world on it. A shame, as it was my top choice for a while.

There is much more information available on 14th century England, which means I spend less time filling in the gaps with my own suppositions. The more unpleasant aspects (marrying the girls off when they’re 12, for instance) can be tweaked with little effort. Plus, who wants to play a medieval fantasy with no castles, knights, longbows, or chivalry? The advantage of writing a game in such a setting is its familiarity to players.

From Mortimer’s book, on the garderobes of the nobility:

Wherever you go, a neat pile of wool or linen will be provided for you to “wipe your nether end” [Furnivall, Babees Book, pp. 179-80]. Some great lords insist on cotton but it is not always available. A basin and jug of water will be ready for you to wash your hands when you have finished.