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The Economics of Medieval Farming

The worst of the Famine is over. Wheat prices remain high. Wages are higher but have not kept up with prices. The economies of Europe and England remain unstable. Wars continue unabated and that means crippling taxes to fund the wars since the aristocracy have no other way to fund wars. The Famine hit the poor the hardest which means a labor shortage. Handing down one's estate to a son has been disrupted since about a third of those sons are now dead, passing those assets to distant cousins. Crop yields are poor even at their best because the farmers do not use modern methods of farming. Winters are longer and the temperatures are cooler thus shortening the growing seasons. Some scholars think that the Great Famine may have killed more people than the Black Death will in a few years. [1]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
I was curious about the average yields for a medieval farm and I was shocked at what I found: about 1/3 the yield of a modern farm. The average medieval farm is an open field of 18 acres divided into three lots in rotation and 2 acres of meadows in the common. 6 acres are fallow. 6 acres are in wheat: yielding 66 bushels. (For comparison: a modern yield is 180-300 bushels of wheat for 6 acres, unirrigated.[2]) Medieval farms have 3 acres in oats: yielding 38.5 bushels and 3 acres in barley: yielding 49.5 bushels for a total yield of 154 bushels. The farm would also have 3 cattle, 10 sheep and 1 pig along with chickens and geese. After tithing, selling and setting aside seed for the next planting, 40 bushels of grains are left for family consumption, 154 pounds of meat, 60 pounds of cheese, vegetables from the garden and wool to spin and sell. Average caloric intake per person is 1700 kcals a day, 1,338 calories of it in grains. See the journal article below for eye-bleeding detail about the average medieval farm budget.[3]

The Light of Wonder Is Extinguished

After a damaging earthquake in 1303, and another one now, the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World are minus 1 Wonder. The Lighthouse of Alexandria was 450 feet tall making it one the tallest structures in the ancient world. The blocks were interlocking and held together with melted lead. It's construction was completed around 247 BCE and used fire with a mirror at night and smoke during the day to warn ships off. A miniature replica named the Abusir Tower still stands near Alexandria. [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
I mention this story because of the interesting building technique using lead for mortar and because I find the Seven Wonders... wondrous.

Thomas, the Saint

This is the year that Thomas Aquinas was made a saint. In 1270, Thomas Aquinas completed his "Summa Theologica" which contained, in part, a logical proof of the existence of God and remains an important part of philosophical thought to this day. Pope John XXII declares him a saint. When someone complained that he had performed no miracles, one cardinal replied, "there are as many miracles (in his life) as articles (in his Summa)." [9] [10]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
I find Pope John XXII to be good and bad for the Church. Politically, vis-à-vis the King of France, he is brilliant. He is defending himself well against the various groups within the Church. Canonizing Thomas is controversial in many circles at the time but to me it seems inspired. During the Great Famine, donations to the Church went up, partly because of petitioners hoping for Divine intervention, and partly because of the dying willing their property to the Church. The Pope has used that money to glorify the Church with buildings and pomp which is considered normal for the Middle Ages but many groups that we would consider normal today criticized the Pope for this sort of spending.

See Also


  1. Jordan, William Chester. "Part II: The Economics and Demography of the Famine in Rural Society". The Great Famine: Northern Europe in the Early Fourteenth Century, Princeton University Press, December 15, 1997. pp. 43-126. (BOOK)
  2. What is the average yield of wheat per acre?, Answers.com, 2014 [last update]
  3. Kitsikopoulos, Harry. Standards of Living and Capital Formation in Pre-Plague England: A Peasant Budget Model. The Economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 53, No. 2 (May, 2000). Economic History Society. pp. 237-261. (JOURNAL)
  4. Krystek, Lee. The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: The Pharos Lighthouse, unmuseum.org, 1998.
  5. Lighthouse of Alexandria, TheWondersoftheWorld.net, 2011.
  6. Gill, N. S. (graduate level coursework on classics, University of Minnesota) Pharos Lighthouse - Information on the Pharos Lighthouse, about.com, 2014 [last update]
  7. Hirst, K. Kris. (MA in Anthropology, University of Iowa) A Miniature Pharos Lighthouse, about.com, 2014 [last update]
  8. Lighthouse of Alexandria - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  9. Hampden, Renn Dickson. The Life of Thomas Aquinas: a Dissertation of the Scholastic Philosophy of the Middle Ages. Forming a portion of the third division of The Encyclopaedia Metropolitana. 1833. p. 54. (BOOK)
  10. Thomas Aquinas - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]

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