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

By Del Sweeney | Go to book overview

3. The Development of Stockbreeding and Herding in Medieval Europe

Sándor Bökönyi

Medieval animal husbandry played an important role in the evolution of domestic animals. On the one hand, these domestic species were, in fact, the descendants of those that survived from Roman times, which had then merged with ancient European stock and another group introduced by the peoples of the Germanic migrations. On the other hand, these species formed a connection with those post-medieval breeds on which the breeding experiments of early modern times were based.

In the first half of this century, our knowledge of domestic animals in the Middle Ages was obtained largely from contemporary descriptions, written documents, and artistic representations. However, these descriptions can only be considered secondary evidence, easily manipulated or misinterpreted. For several reasons, a real change occurred in the field after World War II. In Germany, the Soviet Union, and Hungary, as a result of heavy bombing, whole quarters of cities and towns were destroyed, and thus a green light was given to excavate the early medieval layers lying under the ruins. Also, some countries that regained their earlier territories after foreign domination decided to carry out large-scale excavations to reveal their own past or to find the first traces of their independent states-- for example, in western Poland. In addition, the study of rural archaeology began all over Europe, particularly in Denmark and Great Britain, with the aim of reconstructing the early phases of village development. Finally, with the rebuilding of city centers, especially in Great Britain, a great opportunity arose for large-scale excavations, which yielded large samples of archaeological remains, including animal and plant remains. As a result of all these activities, the study of the development of domestic animal species and its connection with animal husbandry in human settlements developed rapidly.

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