One thing that is becoming increasingly obvious to me as I research information for King Arthur and Her Knights is how badly my elementary and high school education maimed and brutalized the middle ages. I’m not saying the middle ages were a fun time that I totally wish I had lived in, but they also were not the sloven, scientifically stupid times most of our textbooks teach us they are. Below are two myths about the middle ages, and their corrections. I got most of my information from books, but I’m including links to public websites like wikipedia so you can see that I’m not trying to pull one over you.
Myth: Everyone thought the world was flat
The Truth: No. No they didn’t. The scientific community already knew the world was spherical, but they didn’t know how big it was. Yes, once upon a time people thought the world was flat, but we’re talking early BC years–before the Greek and Roman cultures bloomed.
Myth: Hygiene was nonexistant
The Truth: No. Everyone knew about the practice of bathing. Bathing regularly was not a matter of superstition, but a matter of ability. Peasants couldn’t easily take baths in the winter because heating that much water required a lot of firewood. Nobles were able to bathe more regularly–and they did!–and washing hands before meals was common practice. The soap industry first boomed in the middle ages because they were the first to use it as the Greeks and Romans had used essential oils.
The takeaway for me is that sweeping generalizations are what create the falsehoods. There were times when peasants starved, there were times when crops were bountiful and they ate well. There were times of bloody wars, but there was also times of peace. You can’t look at an entire era and make a generalization about it, you have to go decade by decade, or in some cases year by year.