For the overwhelming majority of people in the Middle Ages, daily life meant village life. Agricultural techniques had advanced significantly since Roman times, yet crop yields were still only a fraction of their modern equivalents, and mechanization of agricultural processes was virtually nonexistent, so that a very high proportion of the population—probably around 90 percent—was needed to raise food. The medieval rural community could take many forms, depending on local traditions, geography, and economy. In areas of northwestern Europe that relied on cereal crops, the community was commonly what historians term an “open-field” or “champion” village, consisting of a cluster of dwellings lying in the center of a large area of cultivated fields, the land being farmed by the villagers on a semicommunal basis. In less-fertile regions, where animal husbandry played a larger role, communities tended to be smaller and less collaborative, in some places consisting only of isolated homesteads.
On land suitable for agriculture, grain cultivation produces more calories per acre than the grazing of livestock, making it the most efficient mode of food production. In Europe's feudal heartland, grain was the main dietary staple, and since grain cultivation was the single most important rural activity in medieval Europe, we will focus here on the open-field village as representative of a characteristic medieval form of cereal-growing community. In particular, we will use the small English village of Cuxham as an example of the type. Substantial manorial records survive from which to reconstruct life in Cuxham at the end of the