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Food, clothing and houses of the rural-agrarian population in the Middle Ages
Porridge and bread
Most of the farmers lived - in today's words - at the subsistence level, so the diet was accordingly meager. The main food was cereal porridge. Sometimes this thick pulp was also dried or roasted. In this way, a kind of flatbread was obtained without the need for an oven. If there were ovens, they were used collectively in the village. Bread - as we understand it - with yeast or sourdough as a leavening agent did not develop until the High Middle Ages. The increased production of bread ultimately promoted the development of the milling industry. Rye or spelled were usually used as bread grain, white bread made from wheat, on the other hand, was reserved for the clergy and aristocratic upper class.
Small gardens also made it possible to grow pulses and fruit, with the fruit mostly being dried and stored as a supply for the winter. Beets and cabbage were also valued. Cheese was also an important part of the peasant diet.
meat and fish
In the Middle Ages, pork was considered more valuable than beef and was therefore also more expensive. Everything from the pork was used: meat, bristles and skin, the innards were considered a delicacy, especially in the rural-agrarian population. So there were also the trades of the trippers and Flecksieder. And while the cowhide was mostly used for shoes, the pigskin could be used in a more versatile way, for example for book covers. The intestines of the animals were used as sausage skin.
Sheep were and are very grateful in keeping livestock, as they are very frugal and easy to look after. They provide meat, milk and wool. Their skin is particularly supple and was mainly used for parchment as a writing material. The intestines were twisted into strings for musical instruments, the sheep fat lanolin was used to make ointments.
The farmers did not eat chicken. The white meat was considered particularly fine and was reserved for the nobility.
From the finds of rubbish pits it can be concluded that a lot of game has been eaten since the Carolingian period, and that meat consumption was quite high in the early Middle Ages, as agricultural production was not very advanced and no intensive farming was practiced. Therefore extensive livestock farming was possible. In the high Middle Ages, however, the consumption of meat decreased massively, and the population was almost vegetarian. Meat consumption was basically limited to autumn, when animals were slaughtered, and to festivals.
There are several reasons for this development: In the High Middle Ages, more grain was grown because the growing population had to be fed; this resulted in a reduction in livestock farming. In addition, the farmers were no longer allowed to hunt freely, which greatly reduced the consumption of game meat. A similar development can be observed in fisheries. As a result, farmers were only allowed to eat things that were regarded as inferior, such as crabs at the most.
Must and water - beer and wine
Mainly water, must, whey and milk were drunk. Mead was particularly popular at festivals, although it has been replaced by beer over time because it is cheaper to produce and has a longer shelf life. Wine, on the other hand, was drunk less often, even though wine was cultivated in many regions of Austria where no viticulture is practiced today. This also affects some regions in Upper Austria, especially the regions along the Danube from the Aschacher basin to the Machland.
The peasant clothes of the Middle Ages were primarily work clothes, in which functionality and durability were crucial. But it was not only a practical function, but also and above all a symbolic character. Clothing was the hallmark of the booth, evident in the cuts as well as the fabrics and colors used. From the beginning of the late Middle Ages, dress codes increasingly came into being, which made precise regulations in this regard. However, exceeding these regulations was quite common. Wealthy farmers in particular imitated the nobility in clothing - Wernher der Gaertnere took up this thematically in his Helmbrecht on -, whereas in the lower classes hardly any change in clothing can be attested. Especially in the 15th and 16th centuries, it seems that rural festive clothing has developed to the greatest possible expense. Even the dress codes took this development into account. B. allowed the decoration of their clothes with braids made of silk. The great difference in clothing within the peasant class is also a sign of the increasing social differentiation that spread in the course of the high and especially the late Middle Ages.
The clothing of the rural-agrarian population also showed different regional characteristics. These differences represented the first approach to developing traditional costumes.
Work and everyday clothes
In general, the raw materials for rural clothing were mainly linen, flax or wool. The clothes were mostly natural colors.
The men wore shirt-like smocks with long sleeves that were usually held together with belts. The outer clothing was incised on the side to allow more freedom of movement at work. This smock as characteristic male work and peasant clothing can be proven throughout the Middle Ages. The footwear was designed in a particularly simple way: it usually consisted of a piece of cowhide that was tied with a strap above the ankle. Boots were also used.
Headgear and hairstyle
The straw hat was particularly widespread as headgear. In the 14th century, the so-called Gugel developed as a fashionable headgear for men, which was finally even adopted by women from the upper class and here mostly had bright colors. The Gugel was created from the short throw with hood (medium lat. Cucullus), which was originally mainly worn by farmers. The Gugel itself was essentially a hood-like headgear made of sturdier material with an attached collar, which was supposed to protect against wind and rain.
As for the hairstyle, the peasants had to shear their hair short, a long hairstyle was reserved for the nobility.
Women of the rural rural-agrarian population mostly wore ankle-length skirts with sometimes elaborately designed belts. Colored clothing was forbidden to them as well as to the men, rather it was reserved for the nobility.
From the 11th century onwards, a kind of warming underwear in the form of linen shirts and underpants gradually developed for all social classes. The pants were divided into two parts: one wore them Bruoch (Break), canvas trousers placed around the hips and thighs, which were initially only knotted together, later sewn and held with the break belt. The Bruoch usually reached to the knee, but became shorter and shorter over time (especially from the 15th century). In addition, one wore leg warmers that were attached to the doublet. The leg warmers were originally worn separately, but it was not until the 15th century that shapes developed in which the two trouser tubes were connected backwards and finally also in front. This is how the shape of the trousers known today developed, which initially had a front bib. The leg warmers usually also encompassed the entire foot, some of them even had leather soles sewn on.
While clothing slowly changed and became more body-hugging in the late Middle Ages, peasant work clothing remained essentially the same. It was largely unaffected by fashion influences, as it primarily fulfilled practical tasks.
The houses in the village settlements of the Middle Ages - in the Austrian area mainly clustered villages and Angerdörfer - were primarily built of wood, so they usually did not last long, but mostly only existed for one generation. As a result, hardly any buildings of this type have survived. Archaeological research can, however, provide information about the various forms of living and house. For example, marks from the wooden posts of the houses can still be seen in the ground today.
But also written records can sometimes serve as a source for rural dwellings. the shapes of the farmhouses and various forms of villages and settlements are mentioned. The Thuringian law in turn contains z. B. Lots of information about fences surrounding the houses. It also mentions that anyone who entered the fenced-in area would face punishment. The landlord had no rights whatsoever within the house or the fencing, rather the landlord exercised them. Fence shapes were among others. the wattle fence or - more rarely - picket fences are common.
In general, it should be noted that there were very strong regional differences between the medieval house forms. However, some more or less generally valid statements can still be made, especially because the development of the farmhouse cannot be seen in isolation from that of the rest of the house development.
In the early days, the houses were often deepened - sometimes up to a meter - because stable walls were relatively difficult to open. In return, these mine workings had fairly large roof areas, as roof structures were comparatively easy to build. Some of the houses were even entered through hatches in the roofs; the roofs themselves - depending on the region - were covered with straw, grass, reeds or wooden shingles.
In the early Middle Ages it was also common in Central Europe to build almost all farmsteads with numerous outbuildings - stables, storerooms, barns, and bakery. A special form was the weaver's pit house, in which the loom was located. This usually also had a small oven, as weaving was often done in winter and the interior therefore had to be at least slightly tempered. In addition, the Werberhaus sometimes served as a bed for maids and servants.
Although the construction of walls posed some problems for people, the pit house type was slowly being replaced, the roof areas became smaller, the walls higher and more massive. Different regional possibilities for the erection of stable walls developed. Block buildings were often built, especially in the north of the German-speaking area. Simpler constructions are the wattle wall, in which the spaces between the wooden posts rammed into the earth are filled with wattle and smeared with clay, as well as the post pile or bar wall in which pieces of wood are inserted in a horizontal or vertical direction between the individual vertically erected wooden posts were. In Austria, stone walls were the most common. Instead of wickerwork, stones were inserted between the wooden posts stuck in the ground. Sealing with mortar was usually not done.
In the early phase, the one-room house with several surrounding huts was common. The living room was heated with an open fire, with no fireplace; this was not used until later and was usually made of wood. The smoke collected under the roof or escaped through a hatch, as the one-room houses had no ceilings and were open to the top. Attempts were also made to use the rising smoke, for example to dry the grain stored under the roof. From the 11th century, the house was started to be divided into two or more rooms - mostly a living room and a bedroom - although this development spread very slowly. From the 14th century onwards, simply built tiled stoves that were heated from the outside as much as possible and thus significantly improved the indoor climate became popular for the rooms that were created in this way.
The houses hardly had any windows, as they would have caused too much heat loss. Existing window openings were covered with animal skin, because glass was unaffordable. Pine shavings provided the interior lighting. It was certainly a lot darker in the medieval farmhouses than in the townhouses.
Furniture and household items
The furnishings of the houses, like the household items themselves, were extremely sparse. In addition to a chest for smaller belongings and shelves on the wall, there was a table, which mostly consisted of shelves and a board. Thus it could be easily dismantled. The furnishings were complemented by benches, which often ran along the wall. These benches were also used as sleeping quarters, as beds were hardly known in our sense of the word. Sometimes you just lay on straw that was strewn on the ground. The ground, in turn, consisted of bare earth or of tamped clay. Crockery was mostly made of wood; Iron knives and clay jugs were an exception. Later, mugs made of green forest glass and pewter jugs appeared.
Single house types
Since the wooden houses fell into disrepair very quickly, it happened in the 12th and 13th centuries. Century led to a significant change in the construction method: Foundations made of stone on which the wooden walls were built, the development from post to post construction progressed. Due to the stone foundation, the wooden posts did not weather as quickly as they were not stuck directly into the earth.
In addition, a new type of farmhouse was developed: the larger building, which is divided into several rooms. This is how rural single-house types emerged, such as the Low German hall house. The living room, stable and storage room were housed in one building complex, with the individual areas being separated by walls. The animals served as "heating" for the living space. Ceilings were sometimes drawn into the houses, and the space created in this way could be used as storage.
However, the tendency towards the unit house was not present in all regions. The Paarhof, which consisted of two buildings - a house and a stable - was already found in Austria in the Middle Ages. In any case, more stabilizing elements were necessary for the erection of buildings on stone foundations, which in turn required more carpenters. It was no longer so easy for the farmers to build the houses themselves.
The text was written on the basis of the publications specified in the literature list.
Editing: Klaus Landa, 2009
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