Not for nothing is the Medieval period often referred to as the ‘Dark Ages’. Not only was it incredibly gloomy, it was also quite a miserable time to be alive. Sure, some kings and nobles lived in relative splendor, but for most people, everyday life was dirty, boring and treacherous. What’s more, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476AD, things only really started getting better for normal people some 1,000 years later, with the start of the Renaissance and the dawn of the Age of Discovery.
Of course, life wasn’t all that bad. People were in touch with nature and stayed close to their loved ones. Family values were strongly embraced, and the everyday drudgery was often eased with the occasional festival or party. But, on the whole, life was a grim as we think it was. Few people lived to a good age, which might have been something of a blessing given how hard they had to work and the stresses and dangers they faced on an everyday basis. Here are just ten hardships the average man or woman had to put up with in the Middle Ages:
You might never leave your village
When we think of Medieval times, we often think of knights on their horses setting off on adventures to lands afar. But, while there certainly was a tradition of knights and kings traveling vast distances (well, vast by the standards of those days), the life of the average person didn’t involve much travel at all. In fact, written records from the time show that a sizeable proportion of people not only didn’t travel to other countries, but they never even left their region or even the village they were born in!
Even if you did manage to travel, being on the move was fraught with dangers. The average traveler would often sleep out in the open air. Inns or other forms of accommodation were few and far between and usually too expensive for the typical Medieval person to afford. As well as running the very real risk of freezing to death overnight, travelers in the Middle Ages might be robbed or attacked on the road. Many people, therefore, chose to travel in groups. But even then, you weren’t entirely safe – there are countless tales of people being attacked or even killed by their traveling companions.
But even if you were lucky enough to steer clear of bandits, there was still no guarantee of getting to your destination safe and sound. Roads and pathways were rough and even spraining an ankle could prove to be fatal. What’s more, bridges were quite rare, especially outside of big cities, so you might have to cross rivers. Drownings were all too commonplace – even the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I died while attempting to cross a river in the year 1190. Small wonder, then, that so many people didn’t stray far from their homes – better a boring but safe life than hazardous adventures on the open road.