Plague was not a myth - it was a reality that could destroy entire villages and kill thousands of people within a very short timeframe. By far, the most famous plague is the Black Death, which occurred in 1347 and ended in 1350.
This, along with invasions, was the biggest fear villagers suffered in the Dark Ages. Fathers lost their sons - and wives their husbands. Plague led to a major instability across Europe when a major outbreak swept a good percentage of the population.
This is by far the most famous plague since it killed so many people. "Brothers deserted brothers" - "The cattle was moving unattended." It was such the hysteria formed through the Black Death that many people even today fear for something similar to happen in the future.
Punishment for thieves varied greatly. Medieval torture was used mostly even if the thief only stole bread to feed himself. Of course death to thieves very rarely happened and they were just publicly tortured.
Nevertheless, different kingdoms had different ways to punish criminals. As a brief example, Vlad the Impaler (AKA Dracula) was famous for impaling criminals even if the only thing they stole was bread.
For most of Western Europe, stealing was punished by torture as I mentioned above. However there were different punishments for different crimes. Unfaithful wives were considered to be criminals and they would be treated accordingly. Witches were considered to be criminals as well and heresy was one of the greatest crimes.
Imprisonment happened very frequently and sometimes inside a prison there were torture chambers to further teach people that crimes were not good.
Some kings who were especially obsessed with their kingdom's honesty, attempted to capture every criminal. If a criminal got away with a crime, a some kings went to the nearest village to kill people out of spite.
Kidnapping was very frequent during the Dark Ages. This was mostly done by foreign invaders who needed kids to work their own lands. Landlords who lacked enough workers, frequently resorted to kidnapping kids in order to populate their own villages. Punishment for these crimes were of a very high magnitude and if the kid was part of the royalty, the offender would be heavily tortured and executed in a public plaza.
Most crimes did occur to merchants. Merchants who traveled alone during the Dark Ages were very prone to such attacks. Even when merchants traveled together, they were still in danger of a large group of enemies to attack and rob them.
Most kingdoms were skeptic about this and imposed heavy penalties to captured thieves. This led to much Medieval Folklore - including the legend of Robin Hood among others.
It was during the Inquisition when criminals were heavily tortured. The most common ways to torture or execute criminals during the Inquisition was by Burning at the Stake, using The Wheel Torture, using the Head Vice Torture among others.
This, of course, helped combat criminals because during the Earlier Medieval Times, when there was much impunity, more crimes took place. Later on, when fear was inspired in the average peasant, crimes lowered considerably.
It was common for a town to express its anger against a thief by hanging him in public. When the Guillotine was introduced into medieval Europe, it was quickly used for executing criminals.
Crimes were, for the most part, done by the poor. Nevertheless, there are records of nobles and knights being hanged for robbing.
Rape was not considered a major offense because women had not as many rights as men. Nevertheless, it was a crime to marry a relative as it was strictly forbidden by the church.
For kings and high nobles, punishment was almost non-existant. They could practically get away with raping, abusing, etc. Kings even had a right to stay in whichever house they pleased and sleep with whichever woman they wanted to because they were "appointed by God." Unfortunately, punishment was mostly reserved for the poor.
Before the Black Death, health was in the hands of the church completely. This, however, changed because after the Black Death is was noticed how the church was unable to completely manage the people's health and thus; many new doctors and medicine schools opened to be able to control future plague breakouts.
For better or worse; guns, crossbows, medicines, etc. have to be attributed to the Black Death - this happened because for 150 years after the Black Death, a need to generate technology arose. William Shakespear does mention this in his work.
Fortunately not only did weapons get invented - but there was also a boom in alchemy, technology, medicine and mathematics.
As we can clearly see from this, the Black Death might have been necessary because so much death brought much more life in posterior years.
Heresy led to thousands of deaths because the church neglected any tolerance against people with different beliefs. This of course led to many innocent tortured victims and mainly; to the Crusades in which the main purpose was to evangelize foreign people and punish them if they denied.
To be accused of heresy, it was enough for an enemy or competitor to simply point someone out to the church. The church would then act accordingly and set a secret trial which almost invariantly accused as guilty the victim.
Some jewelry had religious meaning and precious stones were looked religiously by some people.
Silver was mainly produced in medieval Europe. Its production continued steadily throughout the Middle Ages and silver was even used to make coins until gold was introduced in the XIII century in France, England and Italy.
Some gold was recycled from older coins and jewels, but the vast majority of the gold used by the goldsmiths came from trade or mining. Both Hungary and Bohemia did provide medieval Europe with a lot of gold which came from mining. Additionally, panning did also happen (looking for gold in a river by filtering other materials) which was mostly done in the Rhine area.
With the discovery of America, much more gold was brought to Europe. Nevertheless, this happened after the Dark Ages. However, in the early Middle Ages, most jewelry was imported from many countries.
Diamonds were imported from India and Central Africa which had a vast production of this metal. Nevertheless, diamonds were not given as much value as they are given today because they were somewhat ignored. What people were after the most was gold because finding it meant almost invariantly a lot of wealth (as coins were made of gold).
Egypt was also a major provider of jewelry and precious materials. Some old jewelry was also imported from Egypt which dated as back as the time of the pharaos. Infortunately, we will never know because most of this gold was melted by goldsmiths.
The Middle East also played a very important role in the exportation of jewelry. When medieval Europe was at piece with the Middle East, many trades were sure to take place. Additionally, during the Crusades, a lot of jewelry was stolen from Jerusalem and other towns. This was also brought to Europe.
Kings wore many jewels made of precious materials. For this reason, jewelry was looked up to the higher social classes and this tradition still remains today when having a diamond or gold makes one look wealthier and overal better.
Gold continued to be the major trade resource in the Middle Ages.
Goldsmithing was very important. So important that in Paris alone there were over 115 goldsmiths in the XII century according to a tax report dating from that same year.
The Black Death itself had a massive impact in the trade of gold. This was caused because of economical instability and the death itself of many goldsmithers and even more clients and traders. This however, changed by the Fifteenth century when gold was as powerful as it had been before the Black Death.
The church frequently hired artisans to make crosses or other religious figures out of gold or other precious materials. It was very common for an abbey or a church to have many of these adornment which turned out to be bad because of robbery. Nevertheless, the pope and the church itself was sure that having previous materials inside a church or even a house meant respect to God. The church did a great job at convincing people of this and thus; gold was even more wanted.
Some weapons were made of precious materials. These weapons were rare, but nevertheless; what was common was to have weapons with adornments showing to which family one belonged to.
The most common cause of killing witches was to be burnt at the stake. This was easy, cheap and was said to "burn away evil spirits".
The Dunk Stool was also widely used as a witch could last many hours suffering and the townspeople could watch from a distance.
Of course torturing witches was a common practice as witches were very common themselves! Unfortunately, most of them were never proven guilty and they were just tortured and killed to force them to prove themselves guilty.
The inquisition was full of such false trials and witches were said to be everywhere.
People during the Dark Ages were very superstitious.
This, itself, led medieval people to discomfort as they felt to have had their freedom taken away by a superior force. This of course was not liked and it was a cause of many internal battles. Nevertheless; most people who were involved in such battles were often sent to medieval torture which increased the fear inspired and made sorcerers or witches think twice before attempting to do any such practices.
The most common form of punishment for witches was to be burned at the stake. Afterwards, it was more common for them to be hanged (specially during the inquisition). Nevertheless, this varied greatly from town to town as bigger cities had bigger torture equipment which led to more suffering whilst a smaller town was usually unavailable to use such devices and simply resorted to fire.
The origins of medieval sorcery are unknown to this day. Nevertheless, it is believed that these traditions come from as early as the Romans and from the East (which seems most logical because of its resemblance).
Scrolls were widely used for witchcraft and some of them even survive to this day. Witches were very prone to using certain herbs and animal parts in order to make potions which, they thought, could heal the wounded or extend life as well as other spells.
Medieval people were especially scared of this because of natural disasters and phenomena including eclipses, earthquakes, etc. most times they would blame this happenings on witches or sorcerers because it was believed that through their rituals, witches triggered them.
Witchcraft and religion were both totally against each other. Ultimately, religion commanded much more power than the witches per se and thus they could easily exterminate that minority. To set an example for the rest, most medieval priests would themselves send a witch to the stake to be seen by all the locals.
Everyone was happy when witches were killed, but nevertheless; this also led to injustice as many peasants would blame each other of inducing witchcraft in hopes of staying with their victims properties and goods. Of course, such cases were investigated, but investigations could be easily misled and even sometimes the trial could be simply forgotten and the victim hanged without any prior investigation.
Satanism is also greatly linked to this same topic as many satanists would invoke the Devil in hopes of achieving greater power. They were very often allied with the witches and sorcerers in order to command more power within the dark sect of the Medieval Times.
Ultimately, this led to much fear and anguish because there were so many witches that it was in a way impossible to get rid of them. This was also a major cause of battles between the church and the state as so much fear almost invariantly ended up in war - hence the death of thousands of witches.
To this day, it is evident how witches are looked at as evil - and some people even fear them. This has been orally transmitted from generation to generation up to us which shows us what the true belief of witches was. We frequently portray them as ugly and old, but the reality was that they were very common and frequently pretty - which is a contradiction of what we believe. This is probably because of a desire for medieval authorities to make witches less-liked.
All of these traditions were transmitted to America as early as in the XVIII century when, in the Northern United States, practices against witches were common. This was a link of what was believed during the Dark Ages and it was mainly ignorance and intolerance against that minor part of society.
This, of course, can still be seen today; but not as strongly since we know much about natural disasters and what causes them. Additionally, a few third world countries still feature trials against witchcraft and sorcery as they are equally feared today as they were 500 years ago for them.
Witches used many tools to aid them in their practices. Such included, but were not limited to:
It was used to brew herbs, animals and substances in order to combine it properly. They were frequently made of wood, but other materials; such as stone were employed as well.
It has been widely discussed why our stereotype of witches is them flying on a broom at night. The most common answer dates back to the Dark Ages when peasants would use brooms to fertilize the crops. They would then ride on top of them as horses; and since most of them were women, the image stayed and was transmitted by images, cartoons, etc.
A witch per se would supposedly use a broom in order to 'fly' - but the most common reason why she would use it is to employ it within her spells somehow. This is still unknown as there is a lack of scrolls to support this.
Of course dolls were a very important part of a witch's arsenal as they could use them for many dark purposes. They were employed with the victim's hair or other human part in order for the doll to work effectively. The witch could then torture the doll and what happened to the doll would happen to the victim. This was a very common practice, but of course, there is no evidence to support this - other than the casual coincidence.
Of course witch balls are very famous today - but why were they made? They were made for witches to predict the future and reveal hidden answers for a person's life. Their use was mostly in good faith - but sometimes they were employed for evil practices.
Witch balls were usually seven inches in diameter and very heavy because of the material they were made of. Before they could be used, they had to be touched by the full moon's light for one night - or it wouldn't work. When not in use, a witch ball had to be kept in a dark box because if the sun light touched it somehow, it would be rendered useless.
I have previously discussed how witches are believed to have been totally bad and evil. Even though this stereotype of them is exactly how they were portrayed back in the Medieval Times, it is still worth mentioning that witches almost never proclaimed themselves to perform witchery because of fear.
Nevertheless, there were groups and complete guild of magicians, witches, sorcerers, satanists, etc. who would together look for new spells and make scrolls. When such a guild was found, the church would instantly be in a conflict against them which could last very long and could result in the demise of hundreds.
Witchery was not a major issue until the XV and XVI century when more conflicts began to arise. This hatred towards witchery can be seen in the numerous books which were written at the time - showing plenty of hate expressed directly by the respective authors.
It shall be noted that we can't simply state that witches existed or not - in order to believe what was believed back then, we should have an open mind to understand how they were treated - what they believed in and for which reasons they were killed.
After the division of the old Roman territory, many problems began to emerge. First, barbaric invasions were numerous. The church was too powerful, and so were kings - this made a peasant's life very hard. In addition, castles did not appear until the X century which meant that the local populace was unprotected against sudden barbaric raids.
The Viking Invasions to Europe were numerous. They marked the need of protection which was later addressed by a practice known as Feudalism. In addition, after the Norman Conquest of England, castles began to appear which completely eradicated Viking and most foreign invasions.
Medieval Life was not good. Women were badly treated and diseases were numerous. This combined with the fear of an invasion, made most peasants skeptical about their fate. An outlet for this was the church, which was so important that for every 200 inhabitants a religious building had to be built.
Numerous lengthy sieges occurred during this period and unfortunately, all of them led to disaster in one side or the other. It took years to build a castle, but only weeks to destroy it which unfortunately was frequently the case.
In the XI century, a remarkable event happened - the Crusades. It is a remarkable event because it shows how the church could send tens of thousands of soldiers to their death for a common goal which was "Heaven".
The Crusades also changed Medieval Life because many customs from the Middle East were brought to Europe including architectonical styles, ways to preserve food and many scientific discoveries.
It was also during the XI century when Knighthood reached its peak. Along with the Middle Ages, knighthood declined until the XV century when both were changed for a new way of thinking.
-Life in a Medieval Castle
The Dark Ages are a 1,000 year period from the V century to the XV century. They are characterized because, supposedly, art and science did not flourish as much as in previous ages.
This is a misconception - there was art and there was science - probably even more than during older times. Nevertheless, during the Dark Ages, there was torture, war, plague and other bad situations which made the Medieval Times seem dark - and thus called the Dark Ages.
Find out more about the Dark Ages for informative purposes.
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