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medieval-tech-msg - 2/22/11

Medieval technology. References.

NOTE: See also the files: med-machinry-lnks, timeline-art, ovens-msg, clocks-msg, Med-Lighting-lnks.


This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.

This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org

I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.

The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the individual authors.

Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).

Thank you,
    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous
                                          Stefan at florilegium.org

From: danny at orthanc.cs.su.oz.au (Danny)
Subject: Book Review - The Medieval Machine
Organization: Basser Dept of Computer Science, University of Sydney, Australia
Date: Fri, 23 Jul 1993 09:04:19 GMT

[ note followup ]

The Medieval Machine -
The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages
Jean Gimpel
Pimlico 1992 (2nd edition, first published 1988)
(translated from the French)
pp. 294 (+preface, +chronology, index)
[ history of technology, economic history ]

Economic history has a reputation for extreme dryness, and probably
conjures up visions of statistical compilations in most people's minds.
On the other hand works on the history of technology are few and far
between. Gimpel's _The Medieval Machine_ is an unusual mixture of the
two, being an extremely readable work aimed at a popular audience.  It
presents a potpourri of information about the technological successes
and achievements of the Middle Ages, and should do much to correct the
still stereotypical view of the Middle Ages as backward, superstition-
ridden and technologically primitive.  The basic idea is that in the two
centuries from around 1050 Western Europe went through a kind of
industrial revolution that was as significant as that of the nineteenth
century. (The evidence Gimpel presents is drawn largely from France and
England, but Italy and Germany and to a lesser extent other countries
also get a mention.)  This is fitted into a thesis of wider scope, which
I discuss at the end of this review.  

The first three chapters deal with medieval "primary industry" - with
energy sources, agriculture and mining.  The first chapter describes the
crucial importance to the economy of different sources of energy -
river, wind and tidal.  Their most important use was in mills for
grinding corn, but they were also used to drive machinery for many other
purposes, including fulling cloth and pressing olives.  The role of the
Cistercian monasteries and the social factors leading to a more general
acceptance of machines than in classical times are discussed.  An
interesting snippet is a brief history of the worlds first joint stock
company - a French mill owners organisation formed in the late 14th
Century that survived until nationalised after World War II.

The next chapter looks at the agricultural revolution.  The introduction
of the modern harness (making horses more effective than oxen in plowing
and pulling loads), the three year fallow system, the heavy wheeled
plough and other innovations contributed to a large increase in food
production. The effects of this on the diet and living standards of
people were considerable, with records showing that students at a Paris
school had diets that are almost impeccable when subjected to modern
nutritional analysis.  Another effect was a large population increase
throughout the period.  Gimpel is also concerned to demonstrate that
medieval agriculture was to a large extent, with treatises on the
subject being extremely popular.  

Stone quarrying and iron were the most important mining industries in
medieval Europe, but tin, lead and of course silver and gold were also
very important.  Again the Cistercian monasteries played a critical role.
German miners attained a particular reputation for excellence and moved
throughout Europe (apparently this is reflected in the large proportion
of words of German origin in mining vocabulary).  The importance of
mining was reflected in the prevalence of Crown rights over mineral
wealth throughout much of Europe.  

The next two chapters deal with the broader social aspects of medieval
technology: one on environmental issues and one on working conditions in
medieval industries.  I was intrigued to discover that pollution and
resulting concern about the quality of the environment are not modern
phenomena - England had national anti-pollution laws as early as 1388!
Working conditions differed drastically between industries.  Miners and
mining communities were granted exceptional privileges while workers in
the textile industry were under the tight control of financial and
commercial interests, with working conditions foreshadowing those of the
later industrial revolution.  Working conditions in the building industry
were better in the medieval period than in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries.  Strikes in the latter two industries were not

Then there are chapters on two more specific aspects of medieval
technology: one on the role of the great architect-engineers (focusing
on Villard de Honnecourt) and their construction of the cathedrals that
were the pinnacle of medieval achievement, and another on the
development of the clock.  The final chapter looks at medieval science
and its relationship with medieval technology.  Here Gimpel is concerned
to point out that Leonardo and the other Renaissance humanists drew many
of their ideas from earlier writers, who have got a bad press from

The general effect of all this is pretty convincing, but due to the
selective and anecdotal nature of the account it is hard to tell what
bias there may have been in the selection of facts.  So I am a little
wary about basing any generalisations on the content.  However a more
"objective" and statistically rigorous approach would certainly have
detracted from the book's readability, so I can't really complain about

The last chapter is particularly controversial, as it is here Gimpel
goes further and argues that the medieval "industrial revolution" was
followed by a setback in the progress of technology.  It is worrying that
much of the evidence he presents in the other chapters for the
forward-looking and progressive nature of medieval technology in fact
dates to within the period he wants to describe as an "era of decay"
(this can be seen by internal analysis - Gimpel isn't falsifying the
evidence). It is also unclear how much bias there may have been in the
selective use of statistical materials.  The book contains many graphs
showing wages, prices, etc.  varying in a fashion consistent with
Gimpel's thesis, but perhaps there are others that could have been
included that would suggest otherwise.  

If the final chapter is controversial, the meta-narrative (contained in
the preface and the chapter-length epilogue) is even more adventurous
(one might even say wildly speculative).  Gimpel's central idea is that
the modern United States is going through a similar cycle to medieval
France and is now in process of decay.  In so far as this is based on a
theory of history as driven by two fundamental underlying properties of
society (namely "technological evolution" and "psychological drive") and
in so far as specific dates are given as the changeover points between
phases, this seems massively oversimplistic to me.  Some parts of the
comparison, however, are quite interesting, and the bulk of the book can
be read and appreciated even if one disagrees completely with the more
general theory.

At any rate, while _The Medieval Machine_ did manage to make me rethink
my conception of medieval Europe, the most impressive thing about it was
how much fun it was to read.  I can heartily recommend it to anyone
interested either in medieval history or in the history of technology,
but it is the sort of book that will also be enjoyed by people who have
no interest in either.  As well as being clearly written, it is nicely
illustrated with black and white photographs and makes good use of line
drawings and graphs.

Danny Yee (danny at cs.su.oz.au)

From: phefner200 at aol.com (PHefner200)
Newsgroups: rec.org.sca
Subject: medieval science listserver
Date: 23 Jul 1996 14:26:54 -0400

Calling all medieval science enthusiasts! There is a medieval science
listserver. It's at listserv at brown.edu. Write "subscribe" (without the
quotation marks) MEDSCI-L (your name) and you'll be signed on! ---Isabelle

From: LIB_IMC at centum.utulsa.EDU
Newsgroups: rec.org.sca
Subject: The Economics of the Middle Ages (Long)
Date: 27 Jul 1996 18:37:37 -0400

>Relative cost/time to produce various types of armour and weapons,
>compared to cost of bread/income from an acre of land?

Somehow, I suspect that "A LOT" isn't going to be good enough.  The
A&E program on the Crusades said that the average suit of chain for
the Second Crusade cost about as much as we would spend buying a
house today (relatively speaking), although they didn't give any
source for this comment.  This may take some time to work up.

>How hard would it be to melt-down or otherwise reuse old weapons
>and metalic armour?

Remember when reading this, that metal working is NOT my area of
expertise. All I know is based on observation and some reading,
and any decent smith's apprentice should know more than I do.

I think it depends on how hot your furnace can get.  Finished steel
requires higher temperatures than raw ore to melt.  (I believe that
you could  break down the older metal bits, get them to lose their
temper, and gradually become easier to melt, over time.)  The
furnaces needed to make large scale molten iron weren't developed
until the 1350s in Germany.

>How late did the technology for making wire cheaply get developed?
>It is my understanding that this greatly reduced the cost of mail.
>Any thoughts on why it didn't get developed earlier?

Before the 10th century, wire was made by forging, hammering out
long, thin pieces of metal.  In the 10th c. the Draw Plate was
developed, a plate made with progressively smaller holes with hot
cast iron pulled through the plate by a man with tongs.  They began
to apply waterpower to add more power to the wire-pulling early in
the 14th century.

As for why they didn't develop these techniques any earlier, they
didn't for the same reason that they didn't develop the hand gun in
Rome even though they had the materials readily available, or why
the desktop PC wasn't invented in WWII.  Invention is really an
evolutionary process, step by step, building upon the developments,
the work of those that were there before.

As a rule, people don't make wild leaps of invention, often
combining many technologies into something new and different.  They
tend to make those changes that they need in order to make
something they know work better.  Sometimes, the changes that are
required aren't going to be available because of a failure of some
other technology, or because of the expense involved.  In which
case, a development will not catch on.  For example, in Henry
VIII's armory, there are examples of many firearms.  Among them are
breechloaders and revolvers similar to the 19th century Colt
Patent. Why did they wait for the 19th century to be reinvented?
In the case of the revolver, it was the metalurgy that was
insufficient. I'm not sure why the breechloader muskets didn't
catch on, but I suspect that it was because of the expense.

>Is iron in demand in the Middle-ages?



Swords, Axe heads, mace heads, and so forth.


Also ox-shoes


The iron Plowshare really became widespread during the Roman era.
The major development in the plow which made farming far more
efficient came in the 11th century with the moulding board (to push
the dirt aside), but those were most often of wood.

As long as you are at it, bladed farming equipment (scythes,
adzes), shears, iron cutting edges on shovels (not a regular thing,
but some were made), knives, awls, files, saws, etc. are made of

>What were bags, tents and tarps made of?  
>Wasn't cotton expensive/nonexistant?

Linen/flax, hemp.  Linen, btw, is actually stronger and more
durable than cotton.  It's just cheaper to produce and dye today.
Flax is also grown for its seeds, which are used to make Linseed
Oil (which some people claim can be used as a cooking oil, although
we tend today to use it as a varnish.  Until about 1300, Egyptian
linen was the best, with Spanish linen a near second.  In the 14th
century, the Dutch invented a method for cheaply and efficiently
breaking up the plant, and soon they became a center for linen

Wool was a very common cloth, coming in different grades, for
different uses.  Note that some course English wools were at times
called "cottons".

Cotton manufacture was imported into Spain by the Moors in the 8th
century, and from there spread by the 12th century to Italy and
France, and by the 14th into Germany, and by the 15th even to
England. However, cotton was, at this time, more expensive to
produce, and the European grades were really inferior to those
grown elsewhere.

>What is homespun?  (I know it is cloth spun at home!  What would
>it typically be spun OF?) Or is homespun a term from early Col.

I don't know when the term came to be used, but essentially
Homespun is cloth that was spun and made at home, rather then
produced by professional spinners and weavers.  Since (in theory)
amateur spinners can't maintain the control over the quality of
the threads they spin that professionals can, the term is used to
refer to cloth of an uneven manufacture quality.  I suspect that
the term is post-Medieval, however many people made their own cloth
during the Middle Ages.

>What do peasants wear during the summer?

This is a complicated question since you are covering a large area
of land and time.  However, the laborer's costume (in fact, most
men's costume) consists of the basic pieces of leather boots; two
wool hosen (each a separate leg covering) each tied to a belt
(these are sometimes worn untied and pushed down); a pair of linen
drawers (These are very long early on, and get shorter as the tunic
length gets shorter.  In the 12th C, they were about knee length,
and tied around the knees like knickers); a long shirt, and a
tunic/cote over that.  The tunic/cote could be (and usually was)
for doing hard work.  Sometimes, we see "Peasants" shown barelegged
and/or barefooted.  [You might try looking for a book called "The
Common Man through the Centuries" by Max Barsis].

>Did peasants typically live in town or on "their" land?
>(given hostilites most would live in town in this MUD but some may
>be moving out)

Let me see if I can do this.  A Peasant simply means that they are
a non-noble worker of the land, a countryman, a rustic.

A Serf is a Semi-free peasant who works his lord's demesne and pays
him certain dues in return for the use of land, the possession (not
ownership) of which is heritable. These dues, usually called
corvee, are almost in the form of labor on the lord's land.
Generally this averages to three days a week. Generally subdivided
into classes called Cottagers, small holders, or villeins although
the later originally meant a free peasant who was burdened with
additional rents and services.

During the Middle Ages, I believe the percentages are about 75 to
80% of the people lived in the country to those who lived in towns.

>Was the near-property-like situation of serfs pervasive throughout

By "Serf", in this case, I believe you are using the definition of
Serf as "un-free" property, i.e, "Servile".  They not only don't
own the land they work, but they are effectively *owned* as slaves
by the landowner.   This was not a universal condition throughout
the whole period you refer to, but was pervasive enough, and was
"enforced" by economic conditions, legal juggling by lawyers
ossifying aspects of the law, and so forth, that it can appear that
the people who remain on the land are trapped there.

>Things that would effect the price of weapons and armour:
>near past war and growing adventurer pop. would increase/maintain
>the # of weaponsmiths.

You might look at the wars of the Swiss and Burgundians in the
1400s as a model.

>Availability of oil for boiled leather

Not Oil, Not Wax.  Cuir Bouilli is made with water, and simply
refers to the heating of wet leather, which polymerizes it into a
much harder, thinner form.

>Availability of tanning agents for leather (oil? vegatable)

The most difficult to find ingrediant in leather tanning, I
believe, is time.

>Ring armour requires fairly low metal working skills

I assume you are referring to rings sewn or studded onto a quilted
padding or leather backing?  I am not sure that this was common, if
it was done at all.

>Raids on trading routes would reduce imports (raw materials and
>finished goods)

Or it would just make the merchants take different routes.


Padded was quite popular, particularly for the lower classes.

>preserving food:

Drying it is cheaper than salt.


Linen rags were useful for making paper.

>Cups, tableware, food storage

Not tin.  Wood, earthenware, glazed pottery, horn (not drinking
horns, mind you, although those were sometimes used).


"Bankers" as such were not really all that common in the Middle
Ages. They were more of a Rennaisance development.

Some Sources used for this:

Baris. The Common Man Through the Ages.
Embleton and Howe. The Medieval Soldier.
Morgan. The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain.
Oxford English Dictionary, 2d Ed.
Singer, Holmyard, Hall and Williams.  A History of Technology (v.2)

I. Marc Carlson, Reference Technician   |Sometimes known as:      
McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa   | Diarmuit Ui Dhuinn
2933 E. 6th St., Tulsa, OK  74104-3123  | University of Northkeep
LIB_IMC at CENTUM.UTULSA.EDU (918) 631-3794| Northkeepshire, Ansteorra

Date: Sat, 14 Mar 98 12:25:27 PST
From: "Alderton, Philippa" <phlip at morganco.net>
Subject: SC - Fw: [Mid] Greek Fire (Stolen from the Arabs)

Hey, folks, this looks like an interesting resource. Anybody on Cooks
checked it out? I'd be interested in finding out if it has anything
interesting on early ovens.

phlip at morganco.net

: To learn more about little known technology of earlier times, please
: check out _Ancient Inventions_  by Peter James and Nick Thorpe (1994)
: ISBN 0-345-40102-6.  It is cram-packed with information about devices
: and techniques from many cultures, including:
: plastic surgery (nose reconstruction)--India, last few centuries BCE;
: primitive lodestone compass--China, 2000 BCE;
: the Baghdad battery--Parthia, 250 BCE-250 CE;
: pregnancy test--Babylon, 700 BCE;
: lunar calendars--France, 13,000-11,000 BCE
: Rest assured that this is no Von Danken clone book.  Thorpe is a
: lecturer at King Alfred's College, Winchester, and James is a
: professional writer specializing in ancient history and archeology.
: The book itself is written for the general public.  It is divided into
: chapters on such divers subjects as food, drink and drugs, urban life,
: high tech, etc.  There are plenty of eye-opening pictures (b/w) and line
: drawings.  This is a must for anyone interested in the history of
: science and technology.
: --Kyle of Tara, AOA, CSO, CW

Date: Sat, 14 Mar 1998 12:45:32 -0600
From: "John E. St.Lawrence III" <jes at mail.utexas.edu>
Subject: Re: SC - Fw: [Mid] Greek Fire (Stolen from the Arabs)

Hey, folks, I know this is off-topic, but as for Greek Fire being stolen from
the Arabs, check out

Lewis, Bernard. The Muslim Discovery of Europe. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.,

Judging from what the Arabs themselves *wrote* about their first encounters with
Greek Fire, cited in this work, I'd say it was pretty new to them!

Date: Sun, 15 Mar 1998 07:06:24 -0600
From: "Decker, Terry D." <TerryD at Health.State.OK.US>
Subject: RE: SC - Fw: [Mid] Greek Fire (Stolen from the Arabs)

> Hey, folks, this looks like an interesting resource. Anybody on Cooks
> checked it out? I'd be interested in finding out if it has anything
> interesting on early ovens.
> phlip at morganco.net
> : To learn more about little known technology of earlier times, please
> : check out _Ancient Inventions_  by Peter James and Nick Thorpe (1994)
> : ISBN 0-345-40102-6.

You might also try Gies, Frances & Joseph, Cathedral, Forge and Waterwheel;
Harper Collins, New York, 1994.  ISBN 0-06-016590-1.  It covers technical
innovation and technology transfer in the Middle Ages.  Popular, but good.
The bibliography points to more scholarly works.  Unfortunately, nothing
about ovens.


Date: Fri, 22 May 98 09:22:23 MST
From: rmhowe <magnusm at ncsu.edu>
Subject: Another interesting idea from Magnus
To: stefan at texas.net

Leonardo Da Vinci's Drophammers:
I suspect some folks would be interested in trying this:

Date: Tue, 6 Oct 1998 05:20:05 -0400
From: Melanie Wilson <MelanieWilson at compuserve.com>
To: LIST SCA arts <sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu>
Subject: Forbes Info

Here is the info on the volumes I have

Studies in Ancient Technology by R Forbes

Volume I
Bitumen, Petroleum, Alchemy and Water.

Volume II
Irrigation,Drainage, Power, Land transport, and Road Building.

Volume III
Paints and Pigments

Volume IV
Fibres and Fabrics.

Volume V
Leather and Glass.

Volume VI

Volume VII
Mining and Quarrying, Geology.

Volume VIII
Metallurgy, Tools, the Smith, Gold, Silver, Lead,Zinc & Brass

Volume IX
Copper, Tin, Iron, Bronze, Antimony, Arsenic


Date: Tue, 24 Nov 1998 09:18:11 -0500
From: "Gray, Heather" <Heather at Quodata.Com>
To: "'sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu'" <sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu>
Subject: Medieval Dreams at Medieval Technology Centre, Copenhagen


The Medieval Technolgy Centre is a living history museum, located in
Nyk=F8bing F (south of Copenhagen).  Their main web site is mostly an
advertissement of the activities and goals of the museum, but they have
a news section, which currently is featuring something called Medieval
Dreams. The focus is on a working diving suit, made with medieval
technology and materials, based on drawings and writings from the middle
age and renaissance.  They're not saying that diving suits actually
existed, but their challenge is to review these ideas and see which ones
could have been done at the time.

Here's a short excerpt from one of the pages about the diving suit (link
name for this page in the TOC is Hose from Surface):
"The first depiction of a diver with a hose from the surface is that
which appears in an engineering and military treatise of circa 1425 - 1430. known as the Anonymous of the Hussite Wars ( Codex latinus monacencis 197 part 1) Bayerishe Staatsbibliothek MYnchen. The coloured drawing (fol. 14r1) is well executed however it unfortunately has no accompanying text.

The rest of the manuscript features a number of drawings of carefully
thought out mechanical devices, gearing systems, lifting machines and siege warfare equipment - even buoyancy aids equipped with inflation valves, for both man and horse which would enable a fully armored knight to safely cross a moat! The degree of detail which is apparent in these illustrations would suggest that the diving dress design is also carefully considered. The diver is clearly engaged in the salvage of sunken goods, perhaps from a shipwreck."


Heather Gray
Heather at quodata.com                             Fiat Lux

To: meridies_metalsmiths at egroups.com
Date: Wed, 3 Jan 2001 16:08:24 -0600
From: "Jason Duffey" <jduffey at mindspring.com>
Subject: Article on steel making in the 5-6th century from the New

I saw this on the Armour Archive, and thought you might be interested.


New Findings on Old Foundries
Foundry Fathers
Dark Age blacksmiths forged their own Industrial Revolution
Mick Hamer (in New Scientist for December 23/30, 2000)

It took the industrial steel makers of Sheffield a thousand years to catch up with the Saxons of Southampton, says archaeologist Gerry McDonnell of the University of Bradford. Saxon blacksmiths in the Dark Ages developed the same sort of high-quality steel that made Sheffield famous during the Industrial Revolution. The finding "turns the conventional idea about early iron-making on its head", he says.

In the 1740s, Benjamin Huntsman found that he could purify steel by melting it and allowing the slag to rise to the surface so it could be skimmed off. The resulting high-quality steel, an alloy of iron with about 2 per cent carbon, was perfect for making watch springs, which was Huntsman's profession. But the discovery of small steel ingots and steel-edged knives in Hamwic, a Saxon port buried under Southampton, proves that blacksmiths made "Sheffield" steel in the middle of the Dark Ages.

McDonnell believes that the Saxon smiths used a two-stage process to make the steel. First they dropped iron ore and charcoal into a small "bloomery", a clay furnace about 1.5 meters high. Heating this mixture produced cast iron - a compound with about 4 per cent carbon.

Secondly, the smiths heated the cast iron on a hearth, using bellows to pump air over the iron. The iron melts at 1100 C but as the temperature continues to climb, the air from the bellows oxidizes the carbon, which escapes as carbon dioxide. When the molten metal has reached 1200 C, and its carbon content has fallen to 2 per cent, it suddenly solidifies. This is because the decrease in carbon raises the metal's melting temperature. The result was a blob of steel "about the size of a currant bun", says McDonnell, which could then be worked into knives or other tools.

The ancient world did have other ways of making steel but none of these produced a homogeneous lump of steel of this quality, says McDonnell. Analyses carried out at Bradford show that the steel from Hamwic is two to three times as hard as steel made by other techniques of the time.

Some archaeologists doubt the Saxons had the technology to reach temperatures high enough to melt iron and produce high-quality steel. The blast furnace was not introduced to Europe until the 15th century. When solidified lumps of molten iron were found at other ancient sites, researchers dismissed them as mistakes or more recent contamination.

Hamwic was only occupied in the 8th and 9th centuries, so later contamination can be ruled out. Paul Craddock, a metallurgist at the British Museum in London, says: "It's not impossible. There are big advances being made in our understanding of iron and steel in the Roman and early medieval period."

So why was the secret of modern steel lost for a thousand years? The most likely answer, says McDonnell, is that it was only made in small quantities and was very expensive. When the demand for steel increased in the Middle Ages, mass production of poor-quality metal forced out the higher-quality product.

(more at: Journal of the Historical Metallurgy Society, vol 34, p 87

Subject: ANST-Announce - The Medieval Technology Pages
Date: Tue, 10 Apr 2001 11:31:50 -0700 (PDT)
From: Ashlin Chrystal <ashlin_c at yahoo.com>
To: Bjornsborg at yahoogroups.com, ansteorra-announce at ansteorra.org, ravensfort at ansteorra.org, bryn-gwlad at ansteorra.org

Something interesting I thought I'd forward.
                                   Lady Ashlin

> This is a great history site shared by a chemistry professor.
> Medieval Technology Pages
> http://scholar.chem.nyu.edu/technology.html
> The Medieval Technology Pages are an attempt to provide accurate,
> referenced information on technological innovation and related subjects in
> western Europe during the Middle Ages. There are several ways to access
> this information. The most direct method is through the Subject Index
> http://scholar.chem.nyu.edu/~tekpages/Subjects.html

> which provides direct access to all the technology pages. Many of the articles > are also present in a historical Timeline
> http://scholar.chem.nyu.edu/~tekpages/Timeline.html
> And material can be found by examining the References
> http://scholar.chem.nyu.edu/~tekpages/Refs.html
> which back-reference all articles through the sources used.
> Try the subject index at
> <http://scholar.chem.nyu.edu/~tekpages/Subjects.html>;

From: Theron Bretz [tbretz at montroseclinic.org]
Sent: Friday, April 12, 2002 10:12 AM
To: ansteorra at ansteorra.org
Subject: Re: [Ansteorra] SCA slang

>     I agree with everyone on this. It is wonderful to try to recreate as
> accurately as possible. But, four hundred years ago +, people didn't really
> understand science and physics and many times explained away normal phenomena
> with magic and witchcraft. When I hear terms such as magic time pieces, it
> makes some sense to me.

The mechanical clock was introduced to Europe in the 11th century.  A clock
with a face on it was called a watch in period (the earliest clocks simply
tolled the hours).  When they got small enough to put on your wrist in the
20th century, they were dubbed 'wristwatches'.

Medieval people (not necessarily the villeins in the fields, but certainly
those of the middle and upper classes, the ones we choose to portray) were a
good deal smarter than you credit them.  Medieval European hydrologists were
probably the best ever produced (they used water to power things in much the
same way the Victorians later used steam).  Did idiots build Notre Dame or
Chartres? Did people with no concept of engineering other than "magic"
build 2000+ foot long bridges that still stand today?  Of course not.  Take
a gander at Gies and Gies, _Cathedral, Waterwheel, and Forge_, it's very
accessible and gives a tremendous look at how sophisticated our medieval
forebears truly were.

The problem is that our Victorian forebears were so ardent about seeing the
medieval period as Dark Age that much of their accomplishments were wrongly
attributed to the Romans (great adaptors, lousy innovators), or the
Renaissance (accomplished folks in their own right, but they built on what
was already present).  The problem is that the knowledge of medieval man is
largely apparent only through his works.  Engineers didn't have manuals
because they had an uninterrupted line for transmission of information
through their guilds and apprenticing methods.  When written works do
appear, they are masterful.  Look at Agricola's De Re Metallica (Basel,
1550), still considered an important work in the field of mining and it's
452 years old.

Certainly, in some areas, there was ignorance (medicine and the life
sciences in general), but these people had practical knowledge that could
tell you the what, if not the why of their work.

Was their superstition in the middle ages?  Certainly, but by and large, it
was either a case of the same level of superstitions we see today, or (in
the case of witch trials and the Inquisition) educated people preying on
provicial superstition to achieve their own ends.  In either case, to use
medieval belief to justify calling a wrist watch "a magic time-piece", or
cars "dragons", is pure sophistry.

Luciano Malatesta

From: "spider" <synovial_98 at yahoo.com>
Newsgroups: soc.history.medieval
Subject: Interesting site...
Date: 8 Jul 2006 10:20:15 -0700

Just doing some reading on Da Vinci and his inventions, etc. Ran across
a website that has downloadable version of his notebooks, about 1100 page's worth, according to the website.
Sounds as if it might be worth a look, who knows??

URL is http://www.davincinotebooks.com

Date: Fri, 29 Jan 2010 13:13:41 +0800 (WST)
From: jtstewart at westnet.com.au
Subject: Re: [Lochac] Milling was Knockers, was Grinding Balls in
To: "The Shambles: the SCA Lochac mailing list"
<lochac at lochac.sca.org>

Some basic researching latter it appears that the first patent for a mill with cast iron balls went to Issac Wilkingson in Italy in 1753. More efficient ball mills were created about the mid 19th century for use in the cement and gold mining industries using steel balls. Autogenus mills use the ore by itself to grind itself. There is mention of pebble mills which are longer than ball mills for the same output and may use non-metalic balls of porcelain, flint or small rocks to avoid iron contamination of the material being ground. So probably not period.

However roller mills are period from very early on as they were the big stone wheels (known as edge rollers) being pulled around a circular trough by a donkey, usually to crush grain or cinnabar. By the 16th century they were being used to crush silver ore in South America. Also the conical stone mills of Pompeii for turning grain into flour.
In Sicily 1449 Pietro Speciale developed a 3 roller mill to crush sugar cane. The wooden rollers were mounted on vertical axes.  
In 1558 Giovanni Turriano developed a very efficient conical roller with spiral grooves cut into it. The roller rotated in a grooved cone and was hand powered and small enough to fit in a monk's sleeve. (Ramelli 1588)  

That is probably more than you really wanted to know about mills.
John of the hills

Date: Fri, 29 Jan 2010 21:39:52 +1100
From: Ian Whitchurch <ian.whitchurch at gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [Lochac] Milling was Knockers, was Grinding Balls in
To: "The Shambles: the SCA Lochac mailing list"
<lochac at lochac.sca.org>

On Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 6:59 PM, Stefan li Rous <StefanliRous at austin.rr.com>
<<< One of the big changes in the Middle Ages from Roman times was the
substitution of animal, water and wind power for slave muscle power. The
Romans knew of water power but had plenty of cheap slave power so felt no
need to develop it. >>>

On the other hand, the Roman use of water mills is clearly shown by this
series of archeological excavations outlining physical evidence


Next, as far as documentary evidence is concerned Cato the Elder (*)
recommends this for a small olive yard in his On Agriculture.

Quo modo oletum agri iugera CCXL instruere oporteat. Vilicum, vilicam,
operarios quinque, bubulcos III, asinarium I, subulcum I, opilionem I, summa
homines XIII; boves trinos, asinos ornatos clitellarios qui stercus vectent
tris, asinum molarium9 <http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/L/Roman/Texts/Cato/De_Agricultura/A*.html#note9>
I, oves C;

If your Latin isnt too good, this is the translation Bill Thayer provides

This is the proper equipment for an oliveyard of 240 iugera:
overseer, a housekeeper, 5 labourers, 3 teamsters, 1 muleteer,
1 swineherd, 1 shepherd ? a total of 13 persons; 3 yoke of oxen,
3 pack-asses to carry manure, 1 ass for the mill, and 100 sheep;


Again. Cato the Elder tells you to get yourself an asinum molarium.

Anton de Stoc
At Southron Gard
XXIX Januarie b+l

(*) The guy who once arrested a Senator for kissing his own wife in public.
Cartago Delanda. *That* Cato the Elder.

Date: Fri, 29 Jan 2010 19:49:16 +0800 (WST)
From: jtstewart at westnet.com.au
Subject: Re: [Lochac] Milling was Knockers, was Grinding Balls in
To: "The Shambles: the SCA Lochac mailing list"
<lochac at lochac.sca.org>

Alas the whole idea of the Romans having cheap slave power and not developing other power sources is an urban myth. Or rather it is much more complicated than that. Slaves are not cheap. You have to buy them, house, clothe and feed them and bury them when they die. So if a cheaper more economical alternative was available they would have and did use them.

There are donkey powered rotary grain mills found in Pompeii and I believe that even a donkey or two were discovered still harnessed to these mills.  There was an export industry of grinding stones because of the easy to carve rock found at Pompeii.

The Romans are well known for their aquaducts, sewers and the movement of water so it should come as no surprise that they used its power in other ways. Water wheels were used throughout the Roman Empire. Both undershot and overshot water wheels and even the remains of a water turbine have been discovered. The largest water wheel complex discovered so far is in Barbegal in France consisting of a complex of 16 overshot water wheels grinding enough flour to feed 12,500 people in the 4th cent AD. Two other smaller multiple water mills are now known (Tunisia and Israel) but as the largest was only found last century in a heavily populated area of France there are certainly more to be discovered.  There is also evidence of water powered vertical pounding mills for fulling, grain hulling and ore crushing. Also water powered saw milling of marble blocks. Water wheels were used for pumping water out of mines. Ox powered (oxen being shorter than donkeys or people and so less rock mined to install them) bucket chains were also used for draining mines and moving water for irrigation.
There are carvings and writings about donkey powered stripper harvesting machines developed in Gaul during the 1st cent AD and were used until Gaul was invaded by the Huns some 3 to 4 centuries latter. These harvesting machines greatly increased the productivity of the farms as they not only took more heads of grain in a given time but also made winnowing easier too.

Roman seagoing vessels used sails to take advantage of the wind.

I hope that these examples show that the Romans did indeed know how to substitute animal, water and wind power for slave muscle power. The search for Roman technology continues and more is found or recognised all the time.

John of the Hills

From: Terrell Alderman <terrellalderman at gmail.com>
Date: February 11, 2011 6:40:09 PM CST
To: the-triskele-tavern at googlegroups.com
Subject: Re: {TheTriskeleTavern} Water Raising Machines

2011/2/11 christopher chastain ‪<ckchastain at hotmail.com>‬ said:
<<< Water Raising Machines

Pomestnik Dmitrii Ivanov >>>

Date: Wed, 20 Apr 2011 07:47:31 -0400
From: "Garth G. Groff" <ggg9y at virginia.edu>
To: Atlantia at atlantia.sca.org, isenfir at virginia.edu
Subject: [MR] New Book: Da Vinci's Giant Crossbow

Just received at the UVA library: LEONARDO DA VINCI'S GIANT CROSSBOW by
Matthew Landrus (ISBN 9783540689157; our call # T40 .L46 L36 2010). Wow!
Talk about cool! Many of you have probably seen Da Vinci's drawings for
his giant crossbow, which are often reproduced in books and magazines.
Was it for real, or just the mad scribblings of a frustrated engineer
looking for a job? The author, who assisted with the design on a
near-full-scale replica for an ITN/PBS television program, certainly
thinks Da Vinci was serious. He makes the case that the design is
carefully based on Euclidian and Archamedian geometric principals, and
was intended to be a working plan. The author also examines Da Vinci's
design from a modern engineering standpoint, and from the techniques and
materials of the time. Along the way he compares Da Vinci's work to
contemporary crossbows and ballistas, as well as other seige machines.
While technical, the text is well within the reach of a lay reader. The
book is lavishly illustrated with many drawings, including geometric
overlays on top of Da Vinci's original, as well as views of other
Renaissance machines. Truly a fascinating book, and extremely useful for
any Scadian seige weapon engineer.

Lord Mungo Napier, Who Would Love to Make a Ballista

Date: Wed, 20 Apr 2011 13:32:23 +0000
From: John Gahrmann <twosword at hotmail.com>
To: <ggg9y at virginia.edu>, <atlantia at atlantia.sca.org>,
<isenfir at virginia.edu>
Subject: Re: [MR] New Book: Da Vinci's Giant Crossbow

Just for fun check out this link to Da Vinci's "resume"


Johann VR

From: gottskrieger at GMAIL.COM
Subject: Re: [CALONTIR] Period engines, was Re: [CALONTIR] Silk Banners
Date: September 16, 2011 8:08:15 PM CDT
To: CALONTIR at listserv.unl.edu

On Fri, Sep 16, 2011 at 9:22 AM, Mathurin Kerbusso <mathurin at gladiusinfractus.com> wrote:
>Nor can you argue that *any* reciprocating engines, including steam
>engines are plausibly Period. There are fundamental concepts that they did
>not have, and would not discover, until post-Period. Less than a century
>post-Period, but post-Period nonetheless.

In 1106, a Muslim by the name of Al-Jaziri published a tome of 1000 mechanical devises. Included in this book was a water wheel driven water pump for moving water from the river to the irrigation ditches in the field. (Unfortunately, I haven't found an english translation of the original arabic)

This pump had several innovative features.

First, it actually used a vacumn draw, pulling the water into the cylinder from above the water level. This was thru an effective "piston in cylinder" design with adequate ring seals to actually have a water/air tight unit.

Second, it connected two such pistons to opposite ends of the same rod, creating a system where the draw stroke of one cylinder created the compression stroke of the other. IOW, a "reciprocating piston".

Third, it was the first application where a circular motion was effectively transfered into a lateral motion, thru the use of a rocker arm with a slide slot for a pin on the wheel to travel thru as the wheel spun.

The ONLY reason this cannot be considered a reciprocating engin is the wheel drove pistons rather than the other way around.  Since the science of steam power, valves and cams had been understood by the greeks, had anyone put two and two together, reversed the process, the technology was there to have an effective reciprocating piston steam engine.  They just never reversed their thinking from the water wheel being the driver to being the driven.

So, in the interest of academic debate, what other "fundemental concepts" are you thinking is required?


Subject: Re: [CALONTIR] Period engines, was Re: [CALONTIR] Silk Banners
Date: September 17, 2011 8:20:39 AM CDT
To: CALONTIR at listserv.unl.edu

<<< Third, it was the first application where a circular motion was effectively
transfered into a lateral motion, thru the use of a rocker arm with a slide
slot for a pin on the wheel to travel thru as the wheel spun. >>>

Exactly. The fundamental principles involved here -- the piston, the
valve, and the crank -- were just being discovered, or rather
rediscovered, in the 12th C.

<<< The ONLY reason this cannot be considered a reciprocating engin is the
wheel drove pistons rather than the other way around >>>

That is a necessary and sufficient reason :-)

<<< had anyone put two and two together, reversed the process, the technology was there to have an effective reciprocating piston steam engine.  They just never reversed their thinking from the water wheel being the driver to being the driven. >>>

That was the biggest fundamental concept they didn't have, that they could
turn the system around. Other things are technical, in that dealing with
steam is a whole lot different than dealing with water.

<<< So, in the interest of academic debate, what other "fundemental concepts"
are you thinking is required? >>>

Some others are dealing with the explosive and corrosive natures of gases
at high temperatures and pressures, the ability to machine metals capable
of withstanding those forces to close enough tolerances to be effective,
at a cost that was not prohibitive. It was a long and discouraging list.

<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
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