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Philip Dyer





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PostPosted: Sun 01 Feb, 2015 6:37 am    Post subject: Diet of Medieval commoners.         Reply with quote

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2yVoQ9qk72I I got into the arguement with this guy who believes than leather armor was dirt common and of high protective value in Western Europe, I brought up several things which calls this into question, and he stated that medieval commoners hunted alot and ate tons of meat. The commonality of leather armour and it's protectiveness has been done to death. I would like to know how common in was for lower class people to eat large game. How much of a medieval commoner's diet was things like dear, cow, boar, etc?
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Bartek Strojek




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PostPosted: Sun 01 Feb, 2015 6:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, I know that in Polish archaeological sites, bones identified as bones of wild animals were in huge minority compared to the bones identified as bones of farm ones. Mostly during 11th-13th centuries already.

Seeing how Poland then was still rather sparsely populated big forest, I wouldn't really suspect Western Europe to be much different.

Leaving aside the fact that in many places commoners were prohibited from hunting larger game, medieval Europe was simply too populous already too sustain itself on wild game.

Your friend needs some serious sources stating otherwise.
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Edward Lee




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PostPosted: Sun 01 Feb, 2015 6:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In on instance I read that the commoners ate more pottage, dairy and some meat. And they drank ale because the water weren't good. Hunting in the woods without permission is poaching, I think they cut off your hand?
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Mart Shearer




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PostPosted: Sun 01 Feb, 2015 7:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm fairly sure Robert Delort did a detailed analysis of the diet of 13th century Parisians in one of his books. Plenty of pork, beef, and mutton with fish for fast days. Game was reserved for those who owned the land to hunt it.
ferrum ferro acuitur et homo exacuit faciem amici sui
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Philip Dyer





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PostPosted: Sun 01 Feb, 2015 7:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mart Shearer wrote:
I'm fairly sure Robert Delort did a detailed analysis of the diet of 13th century Parisians in one of his books. Plenty of pork, beef, and mutton with fish for fast days. Game was reserved for those who owned the land to hunt it.

I bet beef was eaten allot less often than pork or sheep. Killing a cow for meat for a farmer of small plot of land probably meant cutting off his supple of milk which can be turn into cheese to store for the winter, glue for home projects,and drank. They probably ate beef the most when when of cows just died and made the most out of it they can, grinding the organs into sausages and such, smoking allot of it, etc. Pigs can help find mushrooms and help keep the soil fertile and sheep would probably bee in large supple because they would probably have ton of them just for the fact that sheep hearing is extremely productive way to create clothing, and stuffing for bedding and cushions. This of course is all just a guess, which why I made this topic, so I can gather more info
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Mart Shearer




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PostPosted: Sun 01 Feb, 2015 8:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

So is a commoner only a small-plot farmer, or does it include city burghers? The idea that there weren't butchers supplying multiple households seems odd. Bakers didn't supply only themselves.
ferrum ferro acuitur et homo exacuit faciem amici sui
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sun 01 Feb, 2015 8:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mart Shearer wrote:
I'm fairly sure Robert Delort did a detailed analysis of the diet of 13th century Parisians in one of his books. Plenty of pork, beef, and mutton with fish for fast days. Game was reserved for those who owned the land to hunt it.


I think it's worth remembering that the experience of Parisians at this time is not necessarily representative of peasants in other areas of France, nor necessarily other parts of Europe- unless we are talking about comparatively wealthy and urban areas. Hallam, commenting on Louis IX's reign, notes "The social and economic developments which took place in Louis' reign in Paris and the Ile de France provide a useful case study for one area of France. This is a region where growth was greatly helped by the size and economic importance of the capital city, with a resulting wealth in the countryside which supplied it" (p. 224-5). Hallam makes reference to the widespread disappearance of serfdom and the "semi-free status in the region", noting that "both manumission and franchises had to be paid for with substantial sums of money, but cash was widespread at the peasant level, as the numerous parcels of rented land show clearly" (225). In sum, "clearly, the proximity of Paris, the wealth of the area and the influence of the king all aided peasants [in attaining freedom from serfdom]" (225). There's no problem with citing Delort's analysis so long as the OP isn't given the impression that this sort of diet is "usual".

Hallam, Elizabeth M. Capetian France: 987-1328. New York, Longman, 1980.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sun 01 Feb, 2015 9:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

William Chester Jordan offers the following for the early 14th century:

"It is sometimes said that peasants ate little meat or animal products. This would be true for seventeenth and eighteenth century peasants, many of whom were forced into monoculture, but it was not the case in the early fourteenth century. Peasants kept sheep and cows, from which they got milk and made cheese... [oxen] were eaten when they got too old to work."

..."Peasants ate large amounts of fish. Fish farms- artificial ponds stocked with carp- were ubiquitous in northern Europe, and although these provided aristocratic fare, some peasants benefited as well. Fishing in mill ponds was also productive, with nearly 10,000 watermills in England, 40,000 in France and a comparable number in Germany. Vast numbers of eels were harvested annually at the mouths of rivers. Finally, villagers harvested the rich schools of fish in the coastal fisheries, especially pilchards, sardine-like fish, and herring."

"Peasants and estate managers also kept rabbits in hutches (the peasant way) or in park-like warrens- protected or enclosed areas of wasteland on estates. Beehives provided honey and wax. Men and women kept doves and pigeons in dovecotes in their attics... But the ubiquitous animal was the pig. They were everywhere and provided nearly everything a Christian man would need: leather, the tallow for soap and cheap candles, grease for cooking and manufacturing, bristles for brushes, and, of course, food- ham, bacon, ribs, roasts, maw, sausage" (p.291-292).

Of course, all of this is before the famine and weather crises of 1315 to 1322, which obviously affected eating patterns. Jordan notes that pig populations drastically declined at this time, since people tended to eat more pork, due to declines in grain, lamb and beef (293).

Jordan, William Chester. Europe in the High Middle Ages. London: Penguin Books, 2001.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sun 01 Feb, 2015 9:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I guess the pattern from the 13th century to the early 14th century, in very general and broad terms, is that there was a fair amount of consumption of animals or animal products. We should keep in mind that we don't know how much meat or how frequently peasants ate meat. We should also keep in mind that the poorer the family, the less accurate these generalizations will be. We also should not conclude that these are representative of earlier centuries.
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Sun 01 Feb, 2015 9:54 am    Post subject: Re: Diet of Medieval commoners.         Reply with quote

Philip Dyer wrote:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2yVoQ9qk72I I got into the arguement with this guy who believes than leather armor was dirt common and of high protective value in Western Europe, I brought up several things which calls this into question, and he stated that medieval commoners hunted alot and ate tons of meat. The commonality of leather armour and it's protectiveness has been done to death. I would like to know how common in was for lower class people to eat large game. How much of a medieval commoner's diet was things like dear, cow, boar, etc?


Well commoner would be between 90-98% of the population and within those you would find the poorest blind beggar and rich goldsmiths and merchants which were richer than a large chunk of nobility. Then there is the issue of time and place. People from the Northern Netherlands and Germany (possible Ireland) lived primarily on cattle raising and would have a few calves each year to sell and or eat. They wouldn't hunt wild game since it was either forbidden, not necessary or there was no wild game. A 15th century cooper from Flanders is going to have a different diet than a grape grower in Bordeaux or a peasant in Poland.

Then there are god knows how many days on which meat eating was forbidden. All in all I think cheese and pottage made up the biggest part of their protein intake but they probably had fish, fowl or meat a once or more a week (rabbits could be snared, fowl sometimes hunted or raised as chicken and a pig can forage in nearby woods and grow to butcher weight in a little more than a year).

[/u]
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J. Nicolaysen




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PostPosted: Sun 01 Feb, 2015 4:04 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig Peters wrote
Quote:
We should keep in mind that we don't know how much meat or how frequently peasants ate meat. We should also keep in mind that the poorer the family, the less accurate these generalizations will be. We also should not conclude that these are representative of earlier centuries.


As far as earlier centuries, The Early Germans by Malcolm Todd has a good synopsis of diet from about 1000 BC in Germania to about 5th century AD. The following is an excerpt from the later part, say around 4-6 century AD. This is from findings of various settlements along the Rhine, Netherlands, Germany and so on.

Quote:
The range of meat available to the household was thus considerable and the fact that a relatively high proportion of animals was slaughtered at an early age is a clear proof that succulent meat played a major part in the diet. About a third of sheep in several settlements were killed in their first eighteen months. Young pigs were also slaughtered in some numbers, calves somewhat less so. Cattle were clearly kept for their milk and the products derived from it. The skins of mature animals were in due course turned into leather for a variety of uses.

Surprisingly, the hunting of wild animals played an extremely minor role in the supply of food. On the most fully studied sites, the remains of wild mammals amount to less than 1 per cent of the total. And yet there was an abundance of wild meat on the hoof in Germania, notably the aurochs, wild board, roe and red deer...Fishing made a more significant contribution to diet than the hunting of mammals.
page 78, 2nd edition.

So it is earlier by far than the thread discussion, but I thought it was interesting information. At least it is some context for what was happening before Christendom and the development of royalty.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sun 01 Feb, 2015 10:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Robert Bartlett provides an important partial contrast to Jordan's description above. I should note that the book I am citing is not a scholarly monograph by any stretch of the imagination, yet the fact that it was edited by someone such as Dr. Bartlett (in this case, he supplied all the text) means that the book is still of value as a reference. Bartlett writes:

"For most of the population [during the middle ages] meals were fairly monotonous. There were vegetables as they came into season- peas, beans and onions and a few root crops (though not potatoes)- but the main source of carbohydrate was bread, made of wheat, barley or rye. Protein came in the form of eggs and milk. Meat was a luxury, enjoyed in any quantity only by the rich. The well-known medieval cookery-books, such as the 14th century Menagier de Paris in which meat figures prominently, give a misleading impression in this respect. Ways of preserving food for winter were limited to drying, smoking and salting.

In practice, whatever was available would probably be combined together into pottage, a thick soup or stew cooked in a large pot over the fire, and made tasty by herbs or spices... The fullest records of medieval diet that survive relate to the monasteries which tended to be towards the upper end of the social scale. Monks in a wealthy monastery like Westminster could expect to eat fish fairly often, and had meat once or twice a week."

Alongside one of the accompanying period illustrations, the text reads "Tripe and chitterlings, the poor man's meat- preparation, cooking and eating; Italian, 14th century." Evidently, if peasants wanted to buy meat and they did not have much money, buying the lower quality parts of the meat was the most economical way to add protein to a meal.

Bartlett, Robert ed. Medieval World Complete, The. London, Thames and Hudson, 2001.
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Mon 02 Feb, 2015 5:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'd be wary of using meat a luxury for commoners. No it likely is not as common as it is now in western culture but compared to their contemporary (and many modern) cultures medieval commoners do seem to have had access to meat in a higher proportion.

But yes. Many more grains and veggies and such. but many smaller animals were comparatively not super expensive and we have a great deal of archeological remains of trash pits that show meat was indeed consumed. I'd also say that yes there were many days meat-meat was prohibited but it was not an everyday prohibition most of the years besides around lent and such.

And with hunting. Hunting on others lands was a big no-no. That said on royal lands certain critters were indeed fair 'game'.

Which I assume is where they saying comes from.

Of course the top percent of commoners ate meat fairly often. I have loads of inventories for big festivals that give special occasion foods and their quantities. Some are pretty overwhelming.



RPM
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Philip Dyer





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PostPosted: Mon 02 Feb, 2015 10:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randall Moffett wrote:
I'd be wary of using meat a luxury for commoners. No it likely is not as common as it is now in western culture but compared to their contemporary (and many modern) cultures medieval commoners do seem to have had access to meat in a higher proportion.

But yes. Many more grains and veggies and such. but many smaller animals were comparatively not super expensive and we have a great deal of archeological remains of trash pits that show meat was indeed consumed. I'd also say that yes there were many days meat-meat was prohibited but it was not an everyday prohibition most of the years besides around lent and such.

And with hunting. Hunting on others lands was a big no-no. That said on royal lands certain critters were indeed fair 'game'.

Which I assume is where they saying comes from.

Of course the top percent of commoners ate meat fairly often. I have loads of inventories for big festivals that give special occasion foods and their quantities. Some are pretty overwhelming.



RPM

^I would look to see those inventories, may they will explain why hollywood thinks that everyone in medieval times ate enormous amounts of boar, dear and steak all the time. This whole discussion reminds me of the early 20th century movie, the Immigrant, where after going through Ellis Island, the Immigrant goes into a restaurant and orders some food and all he can afford is beans. To cheer himself u, he eats his beans like a person would eat steak. I don't this scene would make any sense or the fact that thousands of different recipes for sausages if being able to regularly eat large game wasn't a sigh of wealth.
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Kyle Glover





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PostPosted: Mon 02 Feb, 2015 5:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The Vision of Piers Plowman describes how he has no meat or eggs but several different dairy products, loaves/cakes and plenty of vegetables that must last him until the harvest.

" I have no penny," said Piers, " to buy pullets, neither geese, nor pigs, but I have two green cheeses, a few curds and cream, and an oat-cake, and two loaves of beans and bran baked for my children. And yet I say, by my soul, I have no salt bacon nor no eggs, forsooth, to make collops, but I have parsley and leeks and many cabbages."

But then again, it is allegorical.,,
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Tue 03 Feb, 2015 5:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Philip,

It for sure could. For example in Southampton for the high feast days these guys could go through prodigious amounts of meat. Usually we only have the meat listed as they are buying it (and alcohol) for all the guests, not sure if the grains and other foods were brought by guests or just not eaten but I suspect they had bread as well.

I will see if I can find a good one. Years ago I posted a full meal inventory for one of their feasts and it was fairly massive.

Kyle,

Allegorical and basically at this point trying to show how poor her was. I suspect like I am so poor I do not have two nickels to rub together. Which is largely untrue but the idea is what is being promoted by only having one nickel.

RPM
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Mart Shearer




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PostPosted: Tue 03 Feb, 2015 11:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm reminded of the song from Colin Muset --
Quant je voi yver retorner,
Lors me voudroie sejorner.
Si je pooie oste trover
Large, qui ne vousist conter,
Qu’eüst porc et buef et monton,
Maslarz, faisanz et venoison,
Grasses gelines et chapon
et bons fromages en glaon


Trouvère, hoping to settle in for winter with a generous host who has pork, beef, mutton, mallards, pheasants, venison, fat hens, capons, and good cheese.

ferrum ferro acuitur et homo exacuit faciem amici sui
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J. Hargis




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PostPosted: Tue 03 Feb, 2015 1:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Another angle may be to guestimate the frequency of dogs in commoner households; I assume that meat for Rover meant meat for the family.

I'm not sure, but perhaps dogs themselves were more of an upper class possession as suggested here:
'Pet Care Advice from the Middle Ages'
http://www.medievalists.net/2013/08/11/pet-ca...ddle-ages/

Any thoughts?

- Jon

Such good boys.

A poorly maintained weapon is likely to belong to an unsafe and careless fighter.
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Erica H.




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PostPosted: Tue 03 Feb, 2015 8:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I am pretty sure that if you were peasant in the feudal system back then, you would've have been rather lucky to have meat even on occasion. Yes, they did have hunters and such people, but typically all the large game like deer were reserved for the nobles. Also tanning leather took a long time, and I'm assuming that the peasants who worked day and night in the fields didn't have the time needed to make many leather garments. Mostly their diet would have consisted of what little surplus of grain that they produced.
"The Night has a thousand eyes, the Day but only one. Yet the light of the bright world dies with the dying sun." ~ Francis Bourdillon
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Neal Matheson




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PostPosted: Tue 03 Feb, 2015 11:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Research I have done for later periods suggests that meat was fairly commonplace for most people. I work in farming, and though far from medieval can say that sheep and especially pigs are not too much bother to raise. Traditionally livestock (save poultry) did not compete with humans for food. To add another example to those above Danebury in the iron age featured only a small amount of hunted food. Frankly hunted food may have been more effort than it was worth, especially before firearms. Isotopes and detectable vitamin or mineral deficiencies may provide more scientific evidence. In a context of traditional European agriculture and in the absence of extensive trade or supplements largely vegetarian diets (especially coupled with manual labour) rapidly produce deficiencies.


I believe Barbara Tuchman used diet to illustrate "Tuchman's law" in "A Distant Mirror".

http://www.seeknottheancestors.com/
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