5 Reasons Why You’ll Fall In Love With The Middle Ages

Think of the Middle Ages, you think: gallant knights galloping along, women in long, overflowing attire, a sea of plagues, lots of filth, lots of wealth, pretty maidens, battles, castles and dingy huts.

Most of us who learn even a little about medieval times think of castles in faraway lands and begin to study everything there is to know about medieval living. Once we do that the dress, the food, peasant and aristocratic lifestyles, knights, crests and battles.

Why once you learn about the Middle Ages you will fall in love with these times? Here are five pretty good reasons.

The Clothes

Many in the Middle Ages wore woolen clothing, with undergarments made of linen. More wealthy people at the time were quite colorful with brighter colors and better materials. The clothing tended to be quite elaborate with men of the wealthy sporting hose and a jacket, often with skirting, or a tunic with a surcoat. Women wore flowing gowns and elaborate headwear, ranging form headdresses shaped like hearts or butterflies to tall steeple caps and Italian turbans.

The Stories

We’re fascinated by the many books we’ve read and movies we’ve seen. There’s King Arthur and George Martin’s popular Game of Thrones. Americans don’t tire easily of consuming exciting stories of knights and maidens, ladies and squires battling life and each other in drafty castles and rat-infested huts. Jobs and occupations dictated the quality of life during the Middle Ages. It was a time of enormous changes, prompted by the Crusades and travel to strange lands that always offer high drama.

The Battles

Knights and swordsmen, archers and foot soldiers went at each other with war and death a constant thing. There was always a fight for power. Keeping it and taking it. Lords, earls and dukes were all in the running, landgraves and various clergy fought for power and money. Villages and their peasants were owned by the rich and fought over, sold ad borrowed against.

Everyday Life

Even the wealthy had to deal with drama. Their castles and manors were cold and drafty, their diets made them sick. Lice and other vermin were a fact of daily life, hygiene was pretty much non-existent. The fastest communication happened via horse and courier. Would we survive at that time? It’s fascinating to look at our lives now and know they had no running water, electricity, heat. We romanticize the knights who fought for the honor of women.

Those Knights

When we think of Medieval times the first thought is often Knights and their ladies. Knights fought to serve their Lord according to the Code of Chivalry. Weapons practices included enhanced skills in two-handed swordplay, battle axe, daggers and lances. Knights were expected to guard a Castle, particularly during Medieval warfare.

Peter the Great – A Great Emperor Who Engineered the Rise of Russia

Peter I of Russia (1672-1725), commonly known as Peter the Great, was one of the greatest czars (rulers) of Russia. He is famous for introducing Western civilization and technology to Russia and for making Russia, till then regarded as a weak and backward country, into one of the great European powers.

Early in his life Peter reigned Russia jointly with his sickly half-brother Ivan and then, after Ivan’s death, he ruled alone. Peter was a supremely energetic man but harsh, even brutal, in his ways, even to family members. He forced his first wife to enter a convent (the equivalent of a divorce) and sent his son, Alexis, to jail where he died of torture.

During his youth Peter studied practical skills, such as carpentry, stone masonry, blacksmithing and printing, along with military science and sailing.

In 1697 Peter went to see the countries of western Europe. He traveled incognito and spent 13 months in Belgium where he studied shipbuilding.

Peter decided to undertake a massive development program to increase Russia’s economic, technological and military strength. So while overseas, he hired over 700 foreign technical specialists – in such fields as manufacturing, shipping, mining and gunnery – to come to Russia and teach their skills there.

He modernized Russia’s army and founded a navy on Western lines. He then:

  • crushed a rebellion in 1698
  • fought wars against the Ottoman Turks
  • launched a long war against Sweden (1699-1721), which first resulted in a disastrous defeat at Narva (1700) for Russia but then won a memorable victory for Russia at Poltava (1709)
  • signed the Treaty of Nystadt (1721) in which gained Baltic territories and access to the Baltic Sea.

As a result of all these wars, Russia gained vital access to both the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea and became the dominant power in northern Europe.

Peter undertook a series of administrative, financial and cultural reforms, partly with the aim of producing better trained personnel and better equipment for his army and navy.

He also introduced a large range of taxes in order to increase the revenue required to maintain his armed forces.

Under Peter government enterprises became greatly involved in the fields of mining, smelting and textiles – again to supply the needs of his army and navy. The labor force for these enterprises came from the peasantry with whole villages being “inscribed” (conscripted) to work in nearby mines or factories.

Administration was improved with the assistance of foreign experts. The civil and military services were reorganized, with personnel being promoted through a series of grades and becoming members of the hereditary nobility when they reached the eighth grade.

Education was improved under Peter with schools for the training of military officers and civil servants being established. The Russian Academy of Sciences was set up in 1752 to promote science and higher learning. The Russian alphabet was reformed and Arabic numbers were introduced.

The Russian Orthodox Church, formerly a powerful player on the political scene, was brought to heel. Peter left the office of the Patriarch vacant for over 20 years and then abolished it, substituting for it the Holy Synod which was led by a layman chosen by the czar.

In 1703 Peter founded a new city, St Petersburg. This city replaced Moscow as the capital of Russia.

Under Peter the Great, Russia was raised from a weak and backward state to one of the great European powers. The nobility was partially reformed but the serfs continued to live a hard life – in fact, a harder life than before as they now had to pay capitation taxes. Education was developed but mostly for the nobility. The harsh measures that Peter used to force through his reforms were to encourage discontent and revolts among the population.

Bushido and Seppuku – The Code of the Samurai and Ritual Suicide

The concept of Bushido, the Way of the Warrior, probably began sometime in the 7th century in Japan. The idea of a warrior poet was conveyed in Japan’s oldest existing book, the Kojiki. However, it was not until late in the Muromachi period (1336-1573) the term actually appeared in texts. During this period there is an abundance of literary references to Bushido ideals.

Loyalty to ones master, filial piety, and reverence to the Emperor were all common concepts in early Bushido writings. These concepts clearly show the influence of Confucianism on Bushido philosophy. Samurai were expected to be fair, polite, calm and always learning to better themselves as samurai. In the Bushido philosophy the ultimate goaled for a samurai is finding an honorable death in battle.

Failing to abide by the Bushido code would bring dishonor upon a samurai and their family. Sometimes a shamed samurai would be allowed to commit seppuku, or ritual suicide, by his master. Samurai who had shamed themselves would need to request permission to commit seppuku as it was considered an honorable death. Seppuku was also used by samurai as an honorable alternative to being captured by enemies.

Samurai were usually washed and dressed in white robes in preparation for seppuku. It was also common practice to compose a “death poem” which would likely be prepared in advance. The samurai would then sit down in front of a prepared knife, called a tanto. To facilitate the act a kaishakunin, or attendant often referred to as a “second”, would be present with a long sword. After the samurai plunged the tanto into the abdomen, the kaishakunin would then proceed to decapitate the dying samurai.

In the west the term “hari kari” is often mistakenly used to describe seppuku. This term originates from the Japanese word, “harakiri” which literally translates to “stomach cut”. It is a reverse of the kanji characters used in seppuku (lit. cut stomach). Seppuku is considered more formal and is typically used in writing while harakiri (not hari kari) is used in speech.