3. Women in the Middle Ages were not forced to wear chastity belts to maintain their virtue, with their invention actually a joke by Middle Age satirists.
Part of the aforementioned romanticizing of chivalry and knights, recent centuries have seen the inclusion of chastity belts in historical stories as a means to induce sexual abstinence among women. A product of woeful misunderstanding, the earliest references to these devices were, in fact, not genuine recommendations of their usage but a means of satirizing the obsession of the day with purity and virginity. First appearing in Konrad Kyeser von EichstÃ¤tt’s Bellifortis (c. 1405), it detailed how Florentine women wore “hard iron breeches” that “are closed at the front”, including an accompanying illustration.
However, subsequent generations centuries later failed to grasp that EichstÃ¤tt was not being literal in his account but rather satirical. It was not until the 18th century that the first “real” chastity belts were created and used for the intended purpose. This was due to the emerging medical belief in the 1700s that masturbation was harmful to the human body, demanding a mechanism to prevent action upon primal urges. The U.S. Patent Office filed many requests for anti-masturbation designs throughout its existence, until, in the 1930s, it was eventually proven that engaging in solo sexual pleasure was not a cause of serious mental health problems.
2. People in the Middle Ages did not believe the world was flat, having been determined centuries earlier it was, in fact, spherical in nature.
A common misconception repeated still today is the belief that people in the Middle Ages thought that the Earth was flat. Even in 2012, President Obama compared “Flat Earthers” in the time of Columbus to climate change deniers in the 21st century. In contrast to this modern understanding, there is no serious recorded belief in a flat Earth during the Middle Ages. As early as the 6th century BCE, Greek scientists had successfully determined the shape of our planet, as well as almost exactly calculating the circumference of the Earth long before the start of the Common Era. By the Middle Ages, this was common knowledge, with even the Church teaching that the Earth was round.
The myth of Middle Age belief in a flat Earth, originating during the 19th century, has two individuals to blame, acting almost concurrently yet independently. Frenchman Antoine-Jean Letronne sought to disparage the Catholic Church in his 1834 study “On the Cosmographical Ideas of the Church Fathers“, seeking to depict the clergy as anti-science and ignorant. Meanwhile, American essayist Washington Irving, in an effort to embolden the myth of Columbus, introduced to the United States the erroneous concept that Europeans thought the folk figure was acting in defiance of popular opinion; Irving’s work has become a staple of the American education system, even after it has been widely debunked as incorrect.
1. Despite common representations in media, Europe was not homogeneously white but was surprisingly ethnically diverse during the Middle Ages.
When author George R.R. Martin was criticized for depicting his fantasy reproduction of Medieval Europe as overwhelmingly white, the author replied that his creation “fantasy analogue of the British Isles in its world” and was historically accurate. Despite being a widely held idea of Europe, regarded as only diversifying in recent decades, Europe has, in fact, always been a melting pot of demographic diversity. Race was not viewed conceptually in the same manner that much of humanity does today, with racial slavery not yet introduced, and whilst tensions and discrimination existed communities co-existed relatively peacefully.
Large portions of Iberia remained under Islamic, namely Arabic and Berber, control for much of the Middle Ages, only ending in 1492. Throughout this period Jews, Muslims, and Christians co-existed throughout Spain. When Jews were expelled from Christian Spain after the Reconquista, they migrated throughout Europe and North Africa. Meanwhile, migrants from Central Asia, fleeing the Mongol hordes, entered Eastern Europe, forming communities in modern-day Russia, Ukraine, and the Caucuses. Shakespeare’s Othello, among other works, makes notable reference to the existence of non-whites throughout European society, with individuals like Saint Maurice celebrated in spite of their physical diversity.
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