Top 10 Facts About The Middle Ages!

 Top 10 Facts About The Middle Ages!

From bizarre ways for cleaning wounds to partying in the cemetery, here are 10 things you wouldn’t believe about the Middle Ages!

10-Pointy Shoes Were All The Rage 

Today, if you decided to wear long, pointed shoes, you might look a little eccentric to say the least, but in medieval times – pointy shoes were all the rage! Forget Adidas, if you wanted to look cool in the 14th and 15th century, you would wear crakows, named after the former Polish capital of Krakow. These shoes might have been fashionable, but they were NOT practical. They were very pointy and elongated, making it a little ridiculous to just walk around. And if you stood too close to someone they would ruin your nice leather, or you could poke someone in the shin. There’s even a record of people not being able to kneel in prayer because of them. The whole thing went so far that, in 1368, Charles V of France banned the manufacturing of pointy shoes in Paris. But - fashion is fashion – and crakows dominated European courts for decades to come. These shoes were expensive!! You had to find a talented shoemaker and use only the best quality materials. Only the elite were brave enough to wear them. The tips were stuffed with moss and some kind of overshoe for support. The richer you were, the more extreme and lengthy the tip. Size mattered. Except in battle because no one could walk around freely or carry weapons. They hung on for awhile, but finally common sense prevailed. 

9-Urine as an Antiseptic 

This medical practice- if you could call it that- wasn’t used all the time, but there is a lot of evidence that using urine as a form of antiseptic was common in medieval times. And it wasn’t done only among the commoners or simple folk – it was actually a part of royal medical practice. Doctors could tell what was wrong with people just by looking at their urine, and during the Middle Ages it became a solid tool for doctors, providing them with all kinds of information! There is also a lot of documentation advising people to treat ulcers, bites, and stings with urine. Even to fight the plague! Thomas Vicary, who was the surgeon of king Henry VIII (the one with the 6 wives), actually advised for all battle wounds to be washed with urine, to clean them up and prevent an infection. While this was technically after the Middle Ages, the information all came from their past experience. In those days, urine was the most sterile thing around, because even the water was a little iffy. Even the Aztecs are said to have used urine to disinfect wounds. BUT don’t get any ideas because now, while you could use it to flush out your wound in a pinch, there are much, much better alternatives. After all, there are advantages to not living in the Middle Ages anymore!

8-Football Was Banned in England 

Who would have thought that the country which popularized this sport was the one that banned it in the first place? But, it’s true – at one point, playing football wasn’t allowed in England. You can imagine that medieval times were completely different from what we know today, and this goes for playing football as well. In those days, football was played everywhere, without any strict regulations, and it was gruesome and violent. It’s also known as “mob football”, as it literally involved a mob of people. This was played between neighboring towns and villages; the number of opposing players wasn’t strictly defined, and the ball was, in fact, an – inflated pig’s bladder. The rule was – no murder; but everything else was pretty much allowed. Imagine having a mob scene with everyone punching and screaming at each other in front of your house. Not a pretty sight, I can tell you that. The whole thing got so out of hand that King Edward II decided to ban football in 1314. In the following centuries - more than 20 different bans were imposed! As it turned out, no ban could stop the English from enjoying football. The only difference today is that now we also have rugby, for those of you who prefer a little more contact. 

7-No Fork 

Although the fork was invented in ancient times, this cutlery item was not used extensively throughout the Middle Ages. It’s not like no one knew about its existence – but it wasn’t all that popular. However, spoons and knives were another thing entirely! Everyone loved those! The fork just didn’t catch on. Why not? Well, there are multiple theories about this, but the general idea is that –for some reason – the fork was considered strange and uncivilized. It looked barbaric and reminded people of the devil’s pitchfork. The proper way to eat was to pick up things with your fingers, while the fork was a sign of pure savagery. Medieval Europe simply detested the idea of using forks during meals. In the eleventh century, a Venetian nobleman married a Byzantine princess and, during their wedding feast, the princess shocked everyone by using a fork! How dare she?! The local clergy said that God had already provided us with our fingers so using an artificial fork was actually offensive. It took a few hundred years but eventually, everyone started to realize how practical it was, and the fork became part of every-day life. 

6-Cemeteries Were Lively Places 

This is the last place you would associate with fun and games, but it turns out that in medieval times – the cemeteries were pretty different places. They were more than places to bury your dead – they were actually full of social activity. Many of the important town or village events took place in cemeteries. For example, things such as elections, sermons, public debates, trials and even plays were conducted in cemeteries, or next to them. At night, they became the place of business for women of the night if you know what I mean... The historian Philippe Aries claims that medieval cemeteries were places of trade and commerce, because they belonged to the church and were thus exempt from taxation. This is why many small-business owners didn’t shy away from conducting their activities in these places. Imagine a world where the best place to do business is the local cemetery – crazy, right? .
5- Cruentation 

What the heck is that? This is definitely one of the weirdest medieval beliefs. It was actually a method for proving that a suspected murderer was indeed guilty. The idea behind it was as follows: if you bring a body of the murdered person in front of their alleged murderer – the body will let off blood. Yup, that’s the whole concept! If it was difficult to prove that someone was guilty of murder, the victim’s corpse was brought to them, and they were ordered to put their hands on the corpse. If the corpse bled, or if there were any other unusual signs, it meant that the accused was guilty. This method was a part of a group of laws called the Germanic Laws, used in the Middle Ages, and it was used in countries such as Germany, Poland and Bohemia (present-day Czech Republic). In Germany, it was used as a legitimate legal method until the mid-18th century! King James of England also approved of this method as a legitimate way to condemn the murderer. After the Protestant Reformation, things slowly started to change. In countries such as Denmark and Norway, Cruentation was seen as unwarranted from a legal standpoint, and a lot of priests even forbade its use. Which, good thing because otherwise we would all be in trouble!

4-No Peasants 

Contrary to popular belief, peasants as such actually didn’t exist in medieval times. When we now think of a peasant, often people imagine a person living off the land in a tiny little house with a large family and a bunch of domestic animals. But, in the Middle Ages, the social class system was completely different, and “peasants” as we view them today – were nowhere to be seen. At least they didn’t identify themselves as such. The actual term peasant comes from French, but it didn’t come around until the 15th century. Before that, everything was different. People working the land were divided into several distinct categories, following a strict hierarchy. If we look at the famous English land survey from 1086 – the Doomsday Book, the country folk can be divided into several categories, including freeman, serfs, and some slaves. But all of these people lived under feudal lords, and they had to pay rent. And go to war for their lord if necessary. Being a farmer could be less than idyllic and living in the Middle Ages for the average Joe was pretty tough. 

3-Becoming A Knight Was Hard 

The joy of fighting in tournaments, the code of chivalry, and the glory of winning battles – all of it is now associated with medieval knights. However, the problem is that it wasn’t at all easy to become a knight in the first place. First of all, you had to be filthy rich to even attempt it. It’s like becoming a professional athlete today: if you don’t have solid financial backing, chances are you won’t make it to the top. In order to become a knight, you had to be of noble origin and have enough money to afford a horse, armor, and weapons. And it wasn’t petty cash, let me tell you that. It was like owning a Ferrari today. Wealthy families would send off their boy to a noble’s house around the age of eight; there, he would become a page (which is basically a servant running errands for his noble). Then, at the age of 14, he would become a squire, going through rigorous training until the age of 21, when he would finally be dubbed a knight, taking the oath of chivalry. Being a knight was really a great honor because becoming one was - an ordeal. Also, Knights were not always charming. It was more like Game of Thrones than King Arthur.  

2-Bloodletting Cures Everything 

Bloodletting, along with leeching, was a common practice during these times. And afterwards, because the Victorians really loved this too! Since blood circulation is essential to our well-being, medieval physicians believed that by getting rid of bad blood (literally) they would cure a patient and help them feel healthy again. How they knew exactly how much blood is enough, and why only the bad blood would go out – is anyone’s guess, but they sure did it. And they went so far as to assume that bloodletting was generally beneficial for the body. Feeling depressed, got a cough, typhoid fever? The Plague? If you didn’t have an open wound to spill some urine on, then bloodletting was definitely the solution to all of your problems! 

1-Bone Houses 

In medieval cemeteries, there was a big problem of overcrowding and, to make up for the much-needed space, bones of dead people were exhumed and put in places called ossuaries or bone houses. Now, mix this with the human need for creativity – and you get nice little works of art. Bones were often arranged in ossuaries for esthetic appeal and religious messages. In these times, the church had an integral role in society, and the idea of the afterlife was nurtured and discussed all the time. The idea behind making ossuaries was to have believers contemplating their mortal condition and the approach of death. By looking at these arranged bones, a person would see all the fleetingness of life and futility of earthly delights, since of course we are all headed that way. Today, this sounds pretty morbid, but in those days – it was more common that you‘d believe!

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