The story

Daily life, mentalities and cultural aspects in the medieval period


As the medieval period was quite long (approximately one thousand years), all aspects of everyday life - housing, clothing, food, etc. - underwent major changes and varied greatly from one place to another.

Overall, the population was concentrated in the countryside (about 80% of people lived in the countryside) and, despite some periods of higher population growth, the number of inhabitants was small. It is estimated that in Paris, the largest European city of the time, it had a population of 160,000 by 1250. And by 1399 the total number of inhabitants of the European continent was no more than 74 million.

The low population growth resulted from the high number of deaths, since the average life at the time did not exceed 40 years of age. Historians estimate that of every 100 live births, 45 died in infancy. The death of women during childbirth was common and young men died in wars or victims of diseases for which no cure was yet known.

In medieval society, deeply dominated by religiosity and mysticism, it was common sense to interpret the emergence of disease and epidemics as the result of divine wrath for human sins.

Poor hygiene, clean water and a sewage system have triggered outbreaks of epidemics that killed thousands. The Black Death (link to attachment Black Death READY), for example, which spread throughout Europe in the period 1348 to 1350 alone, killed about 20 million people.

In addition to the pests, at this time, other diseases caused high mortality rates: tuberculosis, syphilis and widespread infections caused by lack of asepsis in the treatment of wounds. Very limited, medicine had not yet developed adequate treatment for many diseases. In addition, distances, walking difficulties, and reduced numbers of doctors made the situation of the patients who were most often attended at apothecaries or healers and treated with herbs and prayers all the more critical. In fact, these women healers, whom the Church treated as witches, were also harshly persecuted and killed by the Inquisition from the twelfth century.

Even more dramatic was the plight of children, often abandoned on roads, woods, or monasteries by their parents, who could not support them. In addition, there were also large numbers of orphans due to the high mortality rate at birth: poor hygiene caused the so-called puerperal fever, which caused the mother's death, and the incidence of blenorrhagia (sexually transmitted disease) often contaminated the child. son, causing blindness.

In a superstitious population that interpreted all natural events as an expression of divine will, disease was seen as punishment for sins. To get rid of these sins, people would then do penance, buy indulgence, and seek to live according to the commandments of the Church. But since they could not always maintain a ruled, chaste, detached life from material things and pleasures, men and women lived in constant preoccupation with death and God's judgment.

Being practically the only reference for the population in almost all matters, since there were no organized states and public norms, the Church assumed the task of controlling and organizing society. An example: as there was no public record of births, the person's only document was the baptistery (dictionary link). Due to the high infant mortality rate children were baptized as soon as they were born, as parents wanted to secure their children a place in Paradise. The names of babies were mostly derived from the names of saints, Bible characters, or influential grandparents or friends, and in many regions the family name was not used.

There was also no marriage, no civil marriage, as today, but only a contract between the families of the couple. In general, and especially among nobles, marriage was negotiated by families according to their interest in increasing land tenure, wealth and power, or in strengthening military alliances. The bride and groom did not participate in these arrangements and, in many cases, only knew each other on the day of the ceremony (the woman, about 12 years old, and the man more than twice her age). Marriage for love, in fact, only came into existence in Europe around the seventeenth century.

Generally, in noble families, only the eldest son married, and the others became members of the wandering clergy or knights who set off for war or for adventure and fortune, since all the inheritance of their parents was reserved for the family. firstborn son. Women who did not marry went to convents or became bridesmaids of married women.

Marriage only became a sacrament of the Church from 1439, by decision of the Council of Florence, which also made marriage indissoluble and prohibited polygamy and concubinage. For the Church, the sole purpose of sex was procreation, so Christians should regulate the frequency and limits of the sexual act.

Marriages like this, unbeknownst to the couple, eventually made room for a large number of extramarital affairs, although priests threatened adulterers with the "fire of hell." This is why medieval literature is so fertile in forbidden novels.