University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The History Collection

Page View

Baldwin, M. W. (ed.) / Volume I: The first hundred years

I: Western Europe on the eve of the Crusades,   pp. [2]-29 PDF (56.0 KB)

Page 5

efficient. As the plows were heavy and clumsy and the harness poorly designed,
from four to eight oxen were required for a plow team. Moreover, the slowness
of the oxen made the area that a team could care for rather small. The sole
crop in the arable fields was grain. It was sown broadcast to the delight
of the birds. The seed was simply a part of the previous year's crop. The
land as a rule received no fertilizer beyond the manure deposited by the
cattle that grazed upon it while it lay fallow. Hence the production per
acre, per bushel of seed, and per man was extremely low. This meant that
if the people of the village were to have enough to eat, all land that could
be plowed had to be utilized. As good meadow should be as fertile as arable
land, there was nearly always an acute shortage of meadow and therefore of
hay. Most villages could only hope to gather enough hay to keep their plow
teams and a few breeding cattle alive through the winter. The pasture land
was usually poor and often simply waste. In summer the cattle found a meager
living in the pastures and in the fall most of them were slaughtered. 
 In some regions such as England and parts of Germany the grain grown on
the arable supplied both food and drink. It is esti mated that in England
about half the grain was used for bread and the other half for ale. The wine-growing
districts were more fortunate, as land too steep to plow would grow vines.
From the gardens behind their houses the villagers obtained a few common
vegetables. The cattle were valued for their hides, milk, and meat. The milk
was made into cheese. Every village had a few sheep to supply wool for clothing
and chickens for meat and eggs. But the chief source of meat was the pig.
Pigs could find their own food in the woods in both summer and winter. In
Domesday Book the size of a village's woodland is commonly measured by the
number of pigs it could feed. 
 Each house or tenement in the village had its strips in the fields and a
share of the meadow. The other resources of the village ter ritory were used
in common. The villager pastured his cattle in the common pasture and waste,
fed his pigs and gathered his fire wood in the common woodlands, and fished
in the village stream. All the agricultural activities of the village were
conducted by the community as a whole. The villagers decided when to plow,
when to plant, and when to harvest, and all worked together. Certain men
were assigned special tasks such as herding. 
 The villager lived in a rude hut with a thatched roof. A hole in the roof
let out some part of the smoke from the fire. His clothes were 

Go up to Top of Page