The principal characteristic of medieval economic life was the self-sufficiency of each manor or villa. There was little attempt to reach outside markets as there was little effort to produce a surplus. On the contrary, agricultural produce more often fell short of the needs of the people. The proof of this is found not only in the crude methods and implements employed, but in the references by chroniclers to the constantly recurring famines. Likewise the chroniclers tell us of the devastating plagues and numerous epidemics the effects of which were due to undernourishment as much as to the lack of medical skill. The problem of making a living was always present to the tax-burdened peasantry, the least failure in the harvest putting a severe strain on the whole economic system. Too often the serfs felt the pinch of want before the next harvest could be gathered in, and the restrictions on money-lending made the raising of capital for production next to impossible.
While the documents in this section show a wide variety of goods produced it should be borne in mind that this variety was not of one locality only. Furthermore the evidence reflects rather the condition of the larger and more prosperous estates than that of the average manor or villa. Even so, though the Commercial Revolution of the sixteenth century was to supply Europe with many commodities there was a fairly constant and reasonable variety of cereals, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, livestock, and poultry.
The last document in this section illustrates the medieval practice on the part of the lord and his household of going from manor to manor, consuming the produce as they go. As long as there was a lack of a money economy this was more or less essential. In the case of lords holding distant estates the practice seems to have been