Agriculture in the Middle Ages: Technology, Practice, and Representation

By Del Sweeney | Go to book overview
Save to active project

I. Introduction

Del Sweeney

No sphere of activity was more important or more central to life in medieval Europe than farming. Throughout the Middle Ages the overwhelming majority of the population lived off the land. The demographic expansion of the eleventh century and the rise of urban centers would have been impossible without an increasingly productive agricultural base. The great contribution of the past fifty years of scholarship on the economic and social history of northern Europe in the Middle Ages has been to demonstrate the diversity of responses to broadly similar challenges.1 A notable feature of recent investigations has been the focus on regional studies. Medieval Europe was characterized by important differences in climate, soils, topography, and culture; historical patterns of settlement and agricultural production varied considerably. The pattern that typified the English Midlands, perhaps the most widely known model in the English- speaking world, cannot be used to characterize the French Midi or eastern Saxony. Within these larger geographical areas, considerable internal variation existed--for example, Normandy versus Burgundy, or northern England versus the southeast. Significant regional differences also are observed in the relationship between arable, pasture, and forest, each of which sustained the human and animal population in different ways. Where the documentation permits, studies have been made even of individual villages. Yet we are, perhaps, on the verge of new syntheses. Medieval historians are again asking broad questions. How do agricultural populations adapt to different ecological conditions? In what circumstances is new technology adapted or rejected? What were the realities of medieval peasant life? What did peasants themselves believe about the world in which they lived?

The limitations of medieval sources for investigating economic history are well known. As Carlo Cipolla has written:

We would like to know the size of the population, the patterns of consumption, the level of production of, let us say, the province of Reims in France at


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Agriculture in the Middle Ages: Technology, Practice, and Representation


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 378

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?