7 Everyday Objects Invented In The Middle Ages (and Their History)

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We already know that the Middle Ages are the most reviled era in history. It seems that, in the thousand years that it lasted, human beings did not invent anything of importance, since, according to the vox populi, humanity suffered a considerable setback.

What’s the true about all this? Not much. The Middle Ages was not only a period interested in discoveries and invention, but also laid the foundations for what would later become the Scientific Revolution. Reluctant to believe it? Keep reading. Today we present to you several elements that we currently use that have medieval origins.

Everyday objects of medieval origin

Lenses (predecessors of our modern glasses), books, buttons… there is a long list of everyday objects that were invented in medieval times. We present 7 of them, along with a summary of their history.

1. The lenses

The 13th and 14th centuries are the centuries that laid the foundations for the subsequent scientific revolution of the Renaissance. In those years, and partly thanks to the arrival of Aristotle to Europe, traditional Scholasticism began to be questioned and a separation between reason and faith and the empirical began to emerge. With William of Ockham (1287-1347) and his famous “razor”, the separation will be irreversibly definitive.

It is precisely at this time of promotion of empiricism when, with the help of scholars such as Roger Bacon (1214-1294), serious studies on optics began to be carried out (which, most likely, would also have an effect on the development of perspective in the art). But, above all, this revolution resulted in the invention of lenses, which solved the vision problems of many people. At first they lacked sideburns and were held with clips on the nose, the famous pince-nez, and were a real relief for intellectuals who wanted to continue reading and studying at an advanced age.

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2. The buttons

Fashion has always existed, of course. Since human beings have lived in a cultural and social context, clothing has played a predominant role in expressing the status of the individual and also in vindicating the sense of beauty.

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However, “fashion” as we know it today began to develop from the 13th and 14th centuries. And an element that was invented then and that, without it, we would not be able to understand our daily lives, played a crucial role. We are referring to the button.

In the middle centuries of the Middle Ages, the economy began to develop, with emerging cities as the epicenter of power and wealth. This is reflected in the way people dress: from the loose, shapeless suits of the first medieval centuries (heirs of the classical era), fashion evolves towards a much tighter figure, both in men and women. This would not have been possible without the button, which allowed the garments to be adjusted to levels unsuspected in previous times.

3. The fork

It seems like we have had this instrument forever, but the truth is that it is an invention from the 11th century. The fork, which at that time only had two prongs, was made fashionable in Europe by the Venetian duchess Theodora Selvo (1058-h. 1075). That is to say, although the Duchess did not invent it, she was an enthusiastic defender of the fork as an essential utensil at meals.

Before the fork came into our lives, people took food with their hands. The only cutlery was spoons (for consuming or stirring liquids) and sharp objects that were often also used to prick and bring food to the mouth.

Of course (and as always happens with innovations), at first the object caused admiration and rejection in equal parts. Some saw in its shape a disturbing resemblance to the devil’s pitchfork (forca), so it was quickly branded a demonic instrument. In fact, in many languages ​​the memory remains in the name of the instrument: in Catalan it is forquilla and, in Italian, forchetta. Fortunately, the fork overcame these vicissitudes and, now with its three or four-pronged shape, has survived to this day.

4. The soap

The era most unfairly labeled “dark” and “dirty” is the one in which soap became widespread. It is true that he did not invent it, but it is true that the medieval centuries are the centuries in which soap expanded with unprecedented speed throughout Europe. The Romans, despite being extremely clean, did not use it profusely, although, of course, they had other hygienic methods.

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In their interesting essay The Smell of the Middle Ages: Health and Hygiene in Medieval Europe (see bibliography), the historians Javier Traité and Consuelo Sanz de Bremond affirm that, in the Middle Ages, everyone made soap, whether for private use. , good to market. Soap shops abounded in the towns; Soap was an element that caused a real sensation in the medieval centuries, as well as perfumes and essences for burning, which were used to aromatize the rooms of the houses. So no; Let us discard once and for all the concept that “in the Middle Ages they were dirty…”.

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5. The book

Yes that’s how it is. If it weren’t for the medievals, you wouldn’t be reading books now. That is, you would read, but in another medium; specifically, in the endless scrolls used by the Romans, whose pages only had one side and which had to be unfolded as they were read.

The book as we know it (the medieval codex) is an invention of the Middle Ages, which emerged in the monasteries. Its binding was laborious and very expensive, in addition to the fact that the parchment, which was obtained from the skin of sheep, represented an enormous expense (not counting the illuminations of the monks, made with equally expensive pigments, which often included gold). For all this, To possess a book was to possess a true treasure. Later, with Gutenberg’s printing press, the medieval book reduced costs and could reach many more people.

6. Musical notes

Those of you who dedicate yourself to music should be especially grateful to the medieval era. And there has always been music, but its expression in a language that could be interpreted later is genuinely medieval. Previously, melodies were transmitted orally, and musicians performed them by ear.

During the Middle Ages, Gregorian chant reached its peak. When several vocal lines began to be added to the main melody, it soon became evident that the tonalities needed to be written down; Otherwise, the monks often got lost in the middle of the chanting.

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It was then, in the 11th century, when a Benedictine monk, Guido of Arezzo (c. 992-1050), invented the tetragram, a set of four horizontal lines, predecessor of our modern pentagram, with the aim of placing the elements as closely as possible. singing sounds. And what is perhaps even more important: Arezzo “baptized” the musical notes, whose name he took from the first syllables of a song (the famous Hymn to Saint John the Baptist), whose lines, precisely, began with each of the notes. .

7. The university

Well, it is not an “object”, but it is a fundamental element in our society. Universities, as we know them today, are the result of the Middle Ages; specifically, from the urban Middle Ages that emerged in the 12th century.

Mostly subject to the Church, the universities taught the liberal arts and, at a second level, and depending on the university in question, Medicine, Theology and Law were taught. These medieval universities were very similar in their organization to ours, and, just as now, they used to be the focus of student revolts.

It was in the universities where most of the great scholars of the Middle Ages were forged: Peter Abelard, Thomas Aquinas and, of course, those related to the Oxford University circle (Roger Bacon and company), who laid the foundations of the future modern science.

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Conclusions

There are many more elements that we use in our daily lives that have their origins in the Middle Ages. We could cite many: the stirrup for riding, the sleeves of clothing, the compass, the hospitals… As you can see, nothing to do with that “dark era” lacking inventiveness and ambition.

Western civilization is the daughter of Rome, of course, but it also owes a lot to the medieval centuries. We hope that this brief review has helped you see the Middle Ages with different eyes and, if possible, increased your curiosity towards the reality of this absolutely fascinating period.