Today’s Friday Photo depicts a mural and collections in the agricultural gallery in the Science Museum of London. The cultivation of the land was the single most important activity undertaken in the mediaeval economy, and one to which the majority of the population was devoted. During the Middle Ages, several developments in farming technology–including the invention of the heavy plough and the refinement of horse harnesses–allowed farmers to increase yields. On the whole, though, farming was uniform in its basic elements throughout western Europe, and depended on the cultivation of wheat, barley, oats, and rye. Surpluses were achieved largely through the clearing of new land, an activity so prevalent that, according to historian N.J.G. Pounds, ‘the density of rural population was probably as great as at any time in Europe’s history‘ by the end of the 13th century. Although agricultural activity often passes unseen in the history books, therefore, it’s role in mediaeval–and even more broadly European–history is truly unsurpassed.
Pounds, N.J.G., An Economic History of Mediaeval Europe, (London, 1974), p.188.