According to the legend, it is dark, closed, dirty and backward, what was medieval Europe like?

When it comes to medieval Europe, people often get the impression of cholera, war, superstition and ignorance, and even directly use the dark ages to describe it. It can be seen how terrible medieval Europe is. It has witnessed the traces of the backwardness and decline of Western civilization. So how scary is it?

Today we will take a look at what medieval Europe looked like from several aspects as comprehensively as possible.

When did the term “Middle Ages” appear in medieval Europe? According to records, it was the Italian humanist Biondo who started using it in the late 15th century.

Medieval Europe did not have a strong political power to rule.

Feudal separatism brought frequent wars, and Catholicism imprisoned people’s thoughts, resulting in stagnation in the development of technology and productivity, and people lived in hopeless pain. Therefore, the Middle Ages or the early Middle Ages were generally called “Dark Ages” in Europe and the United States. This is traditionally considered a period of relatively slow development in the history of European civilization.

medieval dress

Although it has been said that the dark middle ages are backward, we cannot think of it as primitive society. Although it is the dark age, they wear many tricks.

Dyes were already common at that time, and even lower-class peasants often wore brightly colored clothes. They get almost every color from plants, roots, lichens, bark, nuts, crushed insects, molluscs, and iron oxide. Even humble peasants can wear brightly colored clothes.


Silk is an extreme luxury. It was the most luxurious fabric available to medieval Europeans, and it was so expensive that only the upper classes and priests could afford it.

Its beauty made it a highly prized status symbol, and the utility of silk made it highly sought after. It is light and thin, has excellent dyeing properties, and is cool and comfortable in warm weather.

Fur is modern fur.

At this time, people did not wear furs to keep warm and cover their bodies. At that time, Europeans urgently needed expensive furs to show their status and wealth. Moreover, the nobles in Europe will issue various laws and regulations to limit the consumption range of civilians, forcing only the nobles to wear fur clothing.


Wool was the most common fabric at the time.

Wool textiles are still very expensive now, but they were more common in the Middle Ages. The wool textile industry in the Middle Ages was quite developed. Peasant women could weave or crochet wool into whatever they wanted at home. Because of the comfort of wool, it was popular in northern Europe. Can be made very warm and heavy, or light and airy in Southern Europe.

Some wool was even made into felt hats and other accessories, and in the Middle Ages, wool was a friendly material for commoners. Even the poorest commoners can afford to wear them.

As common as wool is linen.

The cultivation of flax was an important industry at the time, and because of the time it took to grow flax, and the fact that linen was prone to wrinkling, it was not commonly used in poorer ethnic clothing. It is generally used as yarn for women’s underwear, various clothing and household items.

Cotton is a regional product

You may ask, do they use cotton? Before the 11th century AD, almost no one in Europe had seen cotton. It was not until the cotton industry in southern Europe in the 12th century that cotton occasionally became a substitute for flax.

Since cotton did not grow well in the cooler climates of the time, it was less common in northern Europe for medieval clothing than wool or linen.


There are many types of shoes in the Middle Ages, including leather shoes, boots, short boots, sandals, slippers and so on. Leg straps and wrist straps are made of leather, hemp and wool fabrics. Farmers often wear wooden shoes.

Aristocrats wore pointed shoes, sometimes with extremely long toes, and the length of the toes represented the status of the wearer.

The general regulations are six inches, twelve inches for gentlemen, fourteen inches for nobles, no restrictions for royal families, and no restrictions for poor people.

Eating and drinking at that time

After reading the contents of the above articles, you will find that no matter what region, no matter when, the poor and the rich will be distinguished. Eating and drinking is no exception.

The food between commoners and nobles is different, which is the difference between classes, and the emergence of classes is the inevitable result of the development of productive forces.

Let’s talk about the nobles first. Compared with the common people, the nobles enjoy a relatively wide range of food types.

They are able to obtain a large amount of meat in their diet, mainly from domestic animals, such as beef, pork and chicken are common. Their aristocratic status allows them to hire a large number of farmers and others to breed for them.

Contrary to the nobles, the common people in the Middle Ages were usually reluctant to kill livestock, because livestock was very precious to the farm, so what did they eat?

These civilians will find another way, usually through hunting to increase their meat diet.

But because they are civilians, there are restrictions on eating meat from hunting. Commoners could only eat meat four days a week, because Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday were the fasting days stipulated by the church, which needed to be strictly observed, but most nobles at the time completely ignored this rule.

The nobles ate refined wheat, which was carefully selected and ground before use. Using refined wheat produced softer, sweeter flour products somewhat similar to the cakes people eat today.

The common people were not as rich as the nobles and could use refined wheat, and could only eat buckwheat, oats, turnips, reeds, barley, rye, brambles, and peas. When the harvest is bad, they will be eaten early even when they are still green and immature.

Living Environment

If you were a nobleman in the Middle Ages, you probably owned a big castle.

In the case of an English medieval castle, assuming it was large, there would likely be a domestic staff of at least 50 people, including a variety of specialized and skilled workers such as cooks, grooms, carpenters, stonemasons, falconers and musicians , and respected knights, archers and crossbowmen.

Most staff are paid by the day, and job security is often precarious, especially for the lowest tier of servants, who are fired when the castle master leaves the castle.

More skilled employees, such as castle chaplains, castle or manor stewards, and valets who oversee the hoplites and stables, were paid annually and might receive money and land in return for loyal service.

During the Middle Ages, all household employees worked as a team to meet the castle’s extensive needs in terms of food, defense, and entertainment.

But if it’s a commoner, you might have a stone house.

There is another special feature about the houses of common peasants in Western Europe in the Middle Ages.

The inside is roomless, consisting of stone walls, mud floors, and thatched roofs.

The most important piece of furniture in the house is that bed, and there is often only one bed, and the average person cannot afford a second bed. The bed itself is often an important legacy passed down from generation to generation.

This also led to the fact that in the Middle Ages, due to the shortage of beds, three or four people usually slept together and shared a quilt. The more people there are, the warmer the bed will be.

Some British families put livestock to bed, this is to protect them from thieves, predators, and to generate more warmth.


Again, as in other realms, wealthy medieval travelers could afford horses to ride.

The horses they ride are of several different breeds. Knights and nobles rode tame horses, handsome horses with a steady gait, chiefly for ease and comfort.

Squires ride strong, intelligent, multipurpose horses called “riding horses.” The male servants rode a Hackney—a rough, crossbred horse that was often wayward or unreliable.

Speaking of which, you may want to ask, don’t they take a carriage?

Most medieval two- and four-wheelers were heavy, unwieldy, and slow.

Their wooden wheels and iron tires were easily damaged on rocky ground, and they quickly sank and got stuck in the mud. And early medieval carriages were difficult to drive.

After about 800 AD, new designs of harnesses and shaft rods meant that horsepower could be used more efficiently and horses could be guided more easily.

In addition to riding, you can also choose to walk.

Walkers equipped themselves for their journey with stout leather boots, thick woolen cloaks, wide-brimmed hats, and long, sturdy sticks called staves or staffs. These things provide support when walking on uneven ground and can also be used as defensive weapons.

In addition to these necessities, people in the Middle Ages “traveled lightly”, taking as few things as possible to save energy. They carried coins in leather or cloth pouches hung from their belts or around their necks for added security. The rest of the luggage such as a water bottle, some food, and maybe a clean shirt or smock are carried in a sack on the back, or in a leather shoulder bag called a “pouch”.

medical environment

Era of cannibalism

Take the brain of a young man who has been violently killed, along with the meninges, arteries, veins, nerves…put it in a stone mortar and make a paste, then add spirits to it until the wine completely covers them …and then stored in horse manure for half a year.

This is the recipe for “The Essence of the Human Brain” in John French’s The Art of Distilling (1651). Medieval doctors became so obsessed with human corpses that they believed that corpses could cure diseases, and even almost ate up mummies and exterminated them.

An early Arabic medicine containing tar was called mumiya, derived from the Persian word mūm, which means “wax oil.” It’s a sticky, sometimes semi-solid, black oil that’s used as an ointment and antidote.

Coincidentally, around the 11th century, people also discovered a black liquid from the heads and body cavities of ancient Egyptian embalmed corpses. At first, people mistakenly believed that this was also one of the sources of that mineral oil. It soon came to be used to refer to embalmed corpses and the medicines derived from them.

Medicines incorporating the ingredients of mummification were used to treat snakebites, syphilis, headaches, jaundice, joint pain and, of course, epilepsy.

In 1585, the French Royal Physician Ambroise Palay believed that mummy medicine was “the first and inevitable remedy of all physicians” when it came to treating bruises.

Hygienic environment

According to ancient British documents, 50 tons of excrement per day caused the fall of medieval London. Historian Dan Snoo described it this way: the streets of London are very crowded, and animal viscera, fur, and excrement can be seen everywhere on the ground. The “garbage dump” where various kinds of filth are mixed in, and the sewage mixed with blood in the ditch beside the street flows freely in the city.

Can you imagine? At that time, ordinary families in London did not have toilets at all, so what should we do if we want convenience? People in the Middle Ages were also unrestrained, and many people defecated directly on the streets.

But there are not only people on the street. Many citizens in London have pigs and horses in their homes, so there are often pigs and horses running around and defecating on the street. In summer, the streets of London are filled with a Disgusting human stench.

“No bathing” became a secret recipe for life preservation, and later gradually evolved into a social custom in Europe.

People in religious circles especially regard bathing as a “scourge”.

For example, there is a saint in Sylvia who is over 60 years old and has hardly ever taken a bath in her life. When you are seriously ill, you only wash two fingers symbolically. Other body parts are unwilling to be washed even if they are killed.

St. Simmons Stiletto, let maggots crawl on his inflamed wounds, and did not wash them with antiseptics.

There was also a nun in a convent who threw up after hearing the word “bath”.

If it is only the ignorance and ignorance of the people at the bottom of society, it is understandable not to pay attention to hygiene.

But in that chaotic era, even the feudal monarchs and nobles in Europe did not like to be clean.

Louis XIV, the longest reigning monarch in European history, often smelled bad because he seldom took a bath in his life.

But as a king, he sees people covering his nose when they see him, and he wants to save face, but he still can’t deal with the hygiene problem, what should he do? In order to cover up the bad smell on his body, he asked craftsmen to invent perfume. And what you don’t expect is that he also invented high heels. A large part of the role of high heels at the beginning was because people defecated freely at that time, in order to prevent stepping on feces.

Speaking of European ladies, do you immediately think of tutu skirts, but do you know the function of this skirt at the beginning?

When aristocratic women attended banquets, they usually wore wide skirts, and their servants would carry a urinal with them. When they need convenience, they will put the basin into the skirt.

For example, during Anna Boleyn’s inauguration ceremony as Queen, two maids squatted under the table all the time, holding a urinal and paper towels, ready to take over her excrement.

Don’t they feel shy then? In fact, not at all, and since everyone is like this, no one will be surprised.

Queen Elizabeth I, who is the “most clean” in Europe, only takes a bath once a month. Even so, she was slammed by the nobility of the time.

In addition to these, there are many other strange things in the Middle Ages. For example, the way the court judged the guilt of the criminals at that time was also quite weird.

In the early days, when encountering general disputes, the court would let the two parties have a duel, and the winner would win the lawsuit;

Sometimes the criminal suspect has to eat a whole piece of bread, if he is not choked, he is innocent;

What is more unfortunate is that the defendant is allowed to hold a hot iron, and if he is not burned, he is innocent;

If you throw a woman into the water, it is not a witch who sinks (it is rumored that a witch can fly, so her body is very light);

The murder suspect walked by the body of the murdered person. If the dead body is bleeding, it is a crime…

This is probably the content about the Middle Ages. If there is anything to add, you can discuss it in the comment area.