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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Sat 27 Dec, 2008 2:14 am    Post subject: Medieval Cities, Towns and Food         Reply with quote

I understand that a village would have its fields, owned by whoever owns the land (or a common ownership), and that these fields would feed the people who lived there. If there was a manor house, the people who rented land from the noble who lived there would work his fields as a method of paying rent, and that would feed his family.

But where would the cities and walled towns that existed in the era get their food? I was reading a book called "The Lord of Vaumartin", which takes place mostly in Paris during the Hundred Years War (In fact the main character takes part in the Battle of Poiters). It mentions that there are several farms outside the walls (though he doesn't mention how far, etc), so I assumed they produced enough extra produce to feed Paris, but then I got to thinking that a city during this time would have more than 10,000 people, and producing enough food to feed them for half a year (until the next major grain harvest) would be a huge task.

So where are cities getting their food? Do they import vast quantities (in exchange for, I'd assume, goods manufactured, and with money from rents paid to the city), and supplement it with local produce (How my "city" does it today), or are huge stretches of land outside the walls mostly fields, with some sort of smaller population centers breaking it up (as a dormitorium for the workers who tend those fields, who probably do not live in the city walls)?

M.

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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Sat 27 Dec, 2008 6:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

M.,

Yeah much of it does come from the villages and surrounding areas. The Hinterlands of a city and town were crucial to its survival. While many towns had small lots behind them were some small crops and animals could be raised much came from outside the walls. Since trade of wheat and other grains was a major commodity in period I see no reason that during normal harvests this being an issue. Paris had well more than 10k people in the 100 Years War… at least 4 times that. Paris had a fair number of towns over 10k. Right on the eve of the Black Death Paris likely was around 100k (per J.C. Russell) and it likely lost less than 40% so even on a low estimate you are around 50-60k.

During famine and plagues this changes. In the end though many farmers with surplus still want ot get the best prices and towns and cities are the place for this.

War could as well. the Low Countries for example bought much food and wheat from those around them. When at War with the English one of the major wool producers (= no money) and food production for them they had to pay higher prices elsewhere at a time with less funds to spend. This created some major issues and food shortages.

RPM
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Gabriele A. Pini




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PostPosted: Sat 27 Dec, 2008 7:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

From the time of the roman empire the food for the cities was a big problem, and famine, or the simple lack of trasport of it could very well cause the decline of an imperator. They brought their grain from egypt, but in the medieval era a so far commerce was only in the possibility of the pope or the biggest kings, and even then non always.

The cities import their food from theirs surrondings, that were the better and most cultivated lands of a country, because a farmer could always sell his product, and normally at a good price, contrary to the village-farmer which generally produced only what they need (farming for sussistence). So started the first merchant, men who buy the grain, from the farmer and sell it to the cities.

Milan, for example, gived a big impulse to the rice cultivation (with the invention of the famous "risotto alla milanese") in all the Lombardy, and a variety of the same rice is call to this day "Milano".
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Sat 27 Dec, 2008 6:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I used a thread over on the Bronze Age Forum I made a long time ago to do some (probably flawed) calculations, and it seems that wheat for 800 some people for a year only takes up less than 3 square miles...so I think I'm in the clear for space. I have a rather small population, using the DM's guide for populations as a base, then marking it up by 10-40% to take into account "underage" people. They're an ocean-accessing society so fishing will probably provide most of the food for the (one) city that's on it.

How spread out are these farms, anyways? I live around a few, but they're all fairly small-time things.

M.

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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Sat 27 Dec, 2008 11:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

M.,

Even if that is true.... (which seems unlikely but perhaps, I am not a bronze age historian), it would not apply to late medieval or high medieval. Farming methods increase greatly by the medieval period. This would make land more productive and hence smaller. That said even in the medieval period you have areas of varying productivity by the 13th many mid to low productive places were being used to meet a massive increase in population. I will look into it if I have a second when I get back to work as I ams ure someone has a idea of the land needed to provide food per person.

RPM
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Wed 06 May, 2009 8:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Found this article, thought some of you might find it interesting:

http://www.history.ac.uk/eseminars/sem24.html

M.

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Gary Teuscher





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PostPosted: Sun 10 May, 2009 5:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Rabdall - was there much improvement from the bronze age to the middle ages in food production per acre? I thought this was a racther flat curve until a fair amount later.
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Sun 10 May, 2009 11:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

M.,

Interesting article indeed. I think I may have another article by the same author. In some ways it shows how little land was really needed. Brings up some good points about medieval populations. Often we have to base them off complicated sources that are indirect. This is one of the reasons why the Black Death is so hard to estimate its impact.

Gary,

Yes. Over the bronze ot iron to medieval period there were several developments that increased land productivity. I have an article somewhere on it but I am afraid it is packed up. I am sure this is one reason why they were able to often times have so much surplus. That said famines were not unique and at those times food could get very expensive.

RPM
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Gary Teuscher





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PostPosted: Mon 11 May, 2009 7:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would just guess there was not much of an increase from roman times to the middle ages (Say 1200 AD or so). The 3 field rotation is one I can think of as an advance, though I'm not sure of the time period.
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Mon 11 May, 2009 9:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The Romans didn't have a heavy plough, so in some areas there would have been an increase.

M.

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Gary Teuscher





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PostPosted: Mon 11 May, 2009 12:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would think the Romans were more advanced in other areas, like irrigation, perhaps they practiced the ideas of selective breeding better as well like they did with horses.
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Mon 11 May, 2009 2:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Unless you break the soil well enough, your irrigation isn't going to help.

However, their plough was perfect for their own looser soils, so not to despair.

M.

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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Mon 11 May, 2009 11:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gary,

In much of medieval Europe irrigation is not a big deal as they have enough water to keep things working without it. Places that needed irrigation, spain and italy come to mind, had it. If anything medieval breeders improved on the breeding as well as plot use. Some of these thing began as Roman techs but were adopted, some improved, later. The heavy plow and other agri techs continued to improve in the period.

RPM
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Helge B.





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PostPosted: Tue 12 May, 2009 12:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Does anyone have any figures about the productivity of medieval agriculture?

How many land could a farmer work on? What surplus could he produce (after reduction for the next sowing and own consumption)?

I once read that the medieval grain-to-seed surplus was as low as 2:1.
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Tue 12 May, 2009 6:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Helge,

There are loads of works that have varying amounts. I think that estimate would be a bit low but off the top of my head I could not give you a detailed bibliography. I am in my final reviews on my PhD thesis as well so I may not have time to get anything of real help done soon but can recommend these-

http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=DU8z0Ve-zS...griculture
http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=lL_SUheAuD...griculture

I am more familiar with # 1 and Astill's works in general but there you are.


RPM
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Tue 12 May, 2009 6:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

"Life in a Medieval Village" by Joseph and Frances Gies is also good for getting the flavour of rural life in High Medieval France, although its a bit old. I don't remember how many statistics it has.

Productivity varied quite a bit depending on time, place, and the type of farm.
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Steven H




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PostPosted: Wed 13 May, 2009 9:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sean Manning wrote:
"Life in a Medieval Village" by Joseph and Frances Gies is also good for getting the flavour of rural life in High Medieval France, although its a bit old. I don't remember how many statistics it has.

Productivity varied quite a bit depending on time, place, and the type of farm.


I just read this book and definitely recommend it if you're interested in this topic. Their aren't a whole lot of statistics and no tables etc. However, one still gets a general impression. Surpluses did happen and they were sufficient at times for even serfs to acquire land and even tenants. But variability was significant.

For more information on Medieval demographics you can read "A Farewell to Alms" by Gregory Clark. The first part of the book goes into some detail on the births, deaths, income etc.

Cheers,
Steven

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Kel Rekuta




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PostPosted: Wed 13 May, 2009 10:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If you are still looking into this, I recommend Georges Duby "Rural Economy and Country Life in the Medieval West."
More detail at: http://www.librarything.com/work/97821

Some of the other suggested books are easy to find as well. The Gies books are good primers but you need to follow up using their bibliographical notes. Good hunting.
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James R.Fox




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PostPosted: Wed 13 May, 2009 12:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sirs-Professor Sumption points uot in his book" The Hundred Years War Trial by Battle" that Paris has formed a consortium of food merchants on the Seine and it's tributaries. These merchants had first right to seel food in Paris, and no one else could untill their stocks were gone.He also states that a medieval city needed 8,000 tons of grain a year per 1,000. This included the feed for animals,i assume since the citizens kept chickens, pigs cattle and horses. I do not know where he got his figures. I think any city that had access to water transportation would do this as bulk overland trave was nearly impossible.
Ja68ms
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James R.Fox




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PostPosted: Wed 13 May, 2009 6:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sirs-Rhere is a mis-print above I meant 8,000 pounds of grain per person, not 8,000 tons. But he does not split it up into the staple food,bread,and how much went to transportation i.e. horses and oxen
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