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City life in the middle ages – Medieval Madness

Welcome to Medieval Madness, where we try
to shed some light on the dark ages of human history…
Because there are many fascinating things about the medieval times, aren’t there?
Life, well simply was different back then, not only technologically – I mean try and
imagine living without cat videos, duckface pictures and Pokémon – but it was also different
in the matter of social structures, the pursuit of professions and of course living conditions
in general. Many differences can for example be seen between the mostly free population
of cities and those who lived under the rule of a feudal lord in the country.
But what was life in a medieval city like? Was it all about knights and kings and was
the common man but a mere tool of the nobles as it is mostly portrayed in movies? Let’s
take a look! Side note: The contents of this video do not
apply to every single medieval city, obviously. You won’t be able to find two cities that
shared exactly the same characteristics. But it can be said that the features that are
to be mentioned here could have generally been seen in many cities.
We will focus on the average central European city in the high middle ages and the late
middle ages. Now where and how cities developed had many
different origins. So called mother cities slowly developed over many hundreds of years
for example in the vicinity of a bishop’s see. Other important landmarks such as a castle
or a monastery could have caused a city to emerge in its surroundings as well. Whenever
these landmarks were located near a river, ocean or an already existing trade route,
this increased the chances of urban development massively. Just think about playing Age of
Empires or a comparable strategy game – you usually start your city close to water, right?
However trade routes on land were rare during the early middle ages and in the beginnings
of the high middle ages. In continental Europe the only existing roads were leftovers from
the Romans after all and only in the following centuries a road system was developed. The
reason for that – well it was mostly the trading between cities.
Markets were the backbone of the medieval economy. They were of central importance for
travelling merchants, artisans and the townspeople who bought cloth, tools and of course food,
naturally. Markets were mostly located in the vicinity of a church, either on a square
or in the form of a market street and even for farmers living in the country a city’s
market was the opportunity to sell grain, animals and stuff like that, at least, well,
that part of their belongings which they weren’t forced to hand over to their feudal lord.
Townspeople and rural inhabitants usually disapproved of one another. Rural inhabitants
were dumb and townspeople were just arrogant – at least that’s what they thought of
each other. The pretended arrogance was mostly caused by better education possibilities in
the cities. Of course it can’t be compared to public education systems we have in the
industrial countries nowadays but for trading it was very common for townspeople to have
at least basic knowledge like being able to read and do calculations, something that we
take for granted nowadays. Most townspeople would be craftsmen, like tailors, locksmiths
and tanners – or they would be merchants and buy goods from the craftsmen to sell them
on the markets for profit. What kind of profession would you choose if you had to? Just leave
a comment and let us know. What? What was that? No… See, Spencer…Spencer…
Dragonslayer is not a profess… No, just …This is not up for discussion. No it’s not…Fine…Fine,
be a dragonslayer, whatever dude, whatever. Okay, however. Uhm, back to the serious stuff.
Walking around in the streets of a medieval town would be very different to us than walking
through a city nowadays. It kind of stinks that we can’t simply go back in time and
experience it ourselves, but what would stink even more is probably the city itself. Feces
and waste were mostly thrown into the streets or rivers and most of the townspeople only
owned one or maybe two pieces of clothing – well clothing which they rarely washed,
so they stank too. As a result of the bad – let’s call it – “waste management”
rats were a constant plague. To fight them it was not unusual for citizens to have several
cats in the household. So you see… the internet’s favorite animal was pretty popular back then
too… But after all this I don’t wanna give you the impression that the townspeople
approved of the stinking roads and bad general state of public space. In fact they constantly
complained about it to the city’s council but it remained a lasting problem in most
cities. Hygiene was of course a different topic for
children of wealthy merchants or of noblemen. Also their chances to enjoy a higher education
than the common folk were enormously higher. The main source of education was provided
by the churches and monasteries in which it was possible to learn to read and write in
Latin and have access to the church’s libraries. Being rich sure made things easier, that doesn’t
seem to have changed, but it was not impossible for commoners to emerge and become wealthy
too. However being noble or a wealthy merchant was extremely important in order to become
a member of the city council. This council was a committee of townspeople
who were elected in complicated procedures from among the townspeople, but…well as
it is still custom in politics – it’s easier to get in if you know the right people
and have resources. The city council had many tasks like granting permits, observing tax
collections and they also constantly tried to take steps to gain more independence from
the King or the religious leaders like for example arch bishops who had a great influence
on a city’s politics. To gain more independence sometimes even meant throwing a bishop out
of the city and waging war against the feudal lords or even the King himself. As you might
imagine – well -some failed and others succeeded and the outcome changed the city for the worse
or the better. There’s so much more interesting to tell
about medieval cities but this should be enough to summarize the most important facts of the
everyday life in a nutshell. I do hope you enjoyed this video, if you have
a question about the Middle Ages then don’t hesitate to leave a comment or visit my facebook
page and leave a message on my timeline.

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