25 Unbelievable Facts About The Middle Ages

Published 3 weeks ago

If you have even a basic understanding of history, you’ve probably heard of the Middle Ages. Many people mistakenly think that it was a dull and uneventful period, but that’s far from the truth. In reality, a lot happened during this time! The entire era is often misunderstood, but the following list may prove to be an opportunity to learn more about it today.


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#1 A proper education was difficult to come by during medieval times, so if women wanted to receive a higher education, they had to join a convent. This led to the fact that many of the earliest female intellectuals were nuns. For example, Sister Juliana Morell is believed to be the first woman in the Western world ever to earn a university degree.

Image source: history, RDNE Stock project

#2 In the Middle Ages, metal sewing needles were owned only by the richest of women. Those who couldn’t afford them used needles made from natural materials: bone, boar bristles, wood, and so on.

Image source: history, Pixabay

#3 There were various punishments for criminals in the Middle Ages. Some of them might sound very weird and kind of terrifying today: apologizing while wearing a white sheet, wearing animal masks and humiliating badges, being suffocated in mud, and some others.

Image source: bustle, Mark Rz by

#4 Due to a mistranslation, medieval people commonly believed that the Bible likened Jesus to a unicorn, so a unicorn repeatedly popped up in religious medieval art.

Image source: livescience, Paul Bill

#5 In the Middle Ages, people used to host theater performances, trials, local elections, and many other social activities in cemeteries.

Image source: ghostsfreaks, pubmed

#6 Salt was very valuable in the Middle Ages, and, sometimes, it was referred to as “white gold.” And since it was so valuable, roads were built specifically for transporting it. One of the most famous of these roads was the Old Salt Route in Northern Germany.

Image source: ekaterina shishina, science howstuffworks

#7 Since the 13th century, animals, including insects, could be tried and convicted for crimes. If found guilty, they were sentenced to death. In such trials, there used to be human witnesses and even lawyers (in ecclesiastical courts).

Image source: wikipedia, Egor Kamelev

#8 During the Middle Ages, tattoos had several functions. Some of them were used as a form of punishment for criminals. Others were gotten by Christian pilgrims to show off their devotion and to commemorate their journey to holy sites. Some professions or people from certain social statuses also got tattoos. For example, knights would get tattooed to show their allegiance to a particular lord or kingdom, while sailors would commemorate their experiences at sea.

Image source: funhousetattoosd, benjamin lehman

#9 Medieval writers didn’t write down their texts themselves, as, at the time, writing or the work of a scribe was seen as a labor for not-so-clever people. So, writers used to dictate their thoughts to scribes.

Image source: historyextra, Pixabay

#10 In the Middle Ages, a disease called leprosy, now known as Hansen’s disease, became visible in communities across England. It affects the skin, mucosal surfaces of the upper respiratory tract, the peripheral nerves, and the eyes. Sometimes, during medieval times, it was referred to as the “living death,” as its victims were often treated as if they were already dead. Funerals were organized to declare those with the disease “dead” to society, and after this, relatives were allowed to claim their inheritance.

Image source: historicengland, Gerd Altmann

#11 Medieval books were made of parchment — a writing material made from specially prepared untanned skins of animals. Preparation of a single skin was done by a professional parchmenter, and it took weeks, which was one of the reasons why books were so expensive at that time.

Image source: getty edu, wikipedia

#12 During the Black Death, so many sheep died that Europe experienced a wool shortage.

Image source: history, Judith Prins

#13 The privileged class of the Middle Ages always wanted to flaunt their status through their belongings. Besides their money, they liked rare possessions that had to be sourced and transported from far away. These possessions included things such as brightly colored silk, spices, and exotic animals like monkeys, tropical birds, and tigers.

Image source: history, Waldemar

#14 In the Medieval era, spectators of public executions hunted down artifacts associated with the condemned, for example, the hangman’s noose, which was believed to hold special powers. Sick people would wrap the ropes around their heads as a cure for headaches and fevers. Gamblers and cardsharps believed that owning a piece of a noose would keep them in good standing with Lady Luck.

Image source: history, Evelyn Chong

#15 During the medieval period, the length of a man’s shoes reflected his social status. So, to extend their shoes, some men used materials like whalebone.

Image source: allthatsinteresting, Thomas Quine

#16 Charlemagne, a medieval emperor who ruled much of Western Europe from 768 to 814, is now sometimes referred to as the father of Europe. But he is not only the father of Europe — he was a father to as many as 18 children of his own. Reportedly, he was a devoted father who encouraged his children’s education and loved his daughters so much that he didn’t let them marry while he was alive.

Image source: history, Herman Pijpers

#17 Between the years 1315 and 1322, western Europe suffered from incredibly heavy rainfall – up to 150 days of rain at a time. This made farmers struggle to plant, grow, and harvest crops, which meant that the staple food, bread, was in peril. Combined with brutally cold winter weather, around 10-15% of people in England died during this period.

Image source: historyextra, Alex Dukhanov

#18 In the mid-14th century, both men and women wore shoes called crakow. They were named after the city Kraków in Poland. They also had other names, such as poulaine or pikes. The shoes were long, pointed, and spiked. Occasionally, these shoes were condemned by Christian writers of the time as demonic. Kings liked to tax them as luxuries, restricting their use to the nobility.

Image source: wikipedia, britannica

#19 In medieval England, eels were a currency. The transactions varied from single digits to tens of thousands of eels. Peasants would use this fish to pay for a variety of things, including their rent. Eels were described to be “somewhere in between a delicacy and an everyday item.” The reasons why the transactions of eels died down are unknown.

Image source: atlasobscure, Daniel Torobekov

#20 In 1314, football was officially banned in England by more than 30 royal and local laws. This was due to complaints by London merchants to King Edward II of England about “great noise in the city caused by hustling over large balls from which many evils may arise which God forbid[s].”

Image source: wikipedia, wikipedia

#21 In Medieval Europe, inflated pig bladders were used as early footballs. Eventually, the bladder started getting covered in leather so it would stay round for longer.

Image source: pandlesportswear

#22 Up to the Tudor/Elizabethan ages (1485 – 1603), swans used to be eaten by the aristocracy. Their popularity as a dish ended when all swans in England were declared the property of the monarch.

Image source: the guardian, collinsdictionary

#23 The term Dark Ages originated from Renaissance scholars who viewed ancient Greece and Rome as the most successful time period for humanity and looked down on the Middle Ages. They dismissed the latter period as a chaotic time of no great leaders, no scientific accomplishments, and no great art.

Image source: history, George Hiles

#24 Around 1000 A.D., bezoars (hardened, pearl-like clumps of indigestible matter that form in the stomach lining of animals) became known as mystical good luck charms in Europe and Asia. They were worn as protective amulets, mounted in gold settings, and believed to have curing powers, or to be more precise, to contain a small remnant of toxin that could serve as an antidote to poisons. They were also believed to help with dysentery and epilepsy. During the Black Death, they were even laid on the bodies of plague victims in the hope of curing their sores.

Image source: history, Dr. Alexey Yakovlev

#25 In medieval times, mirrors weren’t as reflective as they are now, so people went their lives only having a hazy idea of what they looked like. Also, mirrors were considered luxury items and were owned mainly by upper-class women.

Image source: history, Tuva Mathilde Løland

Shanilou Perera

Shanilou has always loved reading and learning about the world we live in. While she enjoys fictional books and stories just as much, since childhood she was especially fascinated by encyclopaedias and strangely enough, self-help books. As a kid, she spent most of her time consuming as much knowledge as she could get her hands on and could always be found at the library. Now, she still enjoys finding out about all the amazing things that surround us in our day-to-day lives and is blessed to be able to write about them to share with the whole world as a profession.

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facts, historical facts, history, interesting history, medieval times, middle ages, weird history
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