The Mediecal Millennium: Objects of Desire

Lecture 15. Technology


Dodwell, C. R., Theophilus: Diversarum Artibus Schedula, Oxford, 1986

Gimpel, J., The Medieval Machine, 1976

White, L., Medieval Technology and Social Change, NY, 1966

Glass production

Theophilus, On Divers Arts

  The Middle Ages was a time of radical change and innovation. The nineteenth century -- also such a period --- found itself and the origins of Modernism in the Middle Ages, both in terms of the application of technology to the needs of everyday life and in the model of the social institutions (especially the commune) that city life generated.

Stone quarrying was the most important mining industry in medieval Europe. More stone was quarried in France between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries than in the whole history of Egypt (over 40 million cubic feet). Quarries were mostly subterranean labyrinths. There are more subterranean quarry galleries under Paris than the Metro subway lines (300 kilometers as opposed to 180).

The Iron Age only really began with the Middle Ages -- Romans still relied heavily on bronze. Iron was mined in northern Europe and Spain. Smithies existed in villages and monasteries fostering production on an industrial scale with waterpower to drive bellows and hammers.

Coal fields were exploited from the thirteenth century as a source of energy.

The agrarian revolution. The introduction of cavalry and the role of the horse stimulated the agrarian revolution. The heavy plough was a technological breakthrough.

Mills harnessed the power of water, some of whichg were in continuous use from Roman times. There was a spectacular expansion of the use of water power beginning in the eleventh century. In 1086, the Doomsday Book recorded over 5,000 mills in England for a population of a million and a half. Mostly used to grind wheat; some to make iron. This would demand a reciprocating mechanism created through cams to raise and release a pivoting trip hammer. The cam was known in the ancient world but not exploited. In the eleventh century a series of industries previously operated by hand or by foot were transformed. For making beer; for beating hemp, for "fulling" (beating) textiles; for processing leather (tanning) for making paper (first paper mills documented in the mid-13th century).

Most important of all these industries was "fulling," a component of the industrial revolution of the thirteenth century. After leaving the loom, cloth had to be cleaned and thickened by beating it in water. Originally done by men trampling it in a trough -- this process was replaced by wooden hammers raised and dropped on the cloth.

Tidal mills, not used in antiquity, were invented in the high Middle Ages.

Wind power. The first windmills were constructed in the mid-twelfth century. The invention of the post mill mounted on a vertical axle to turn with the changing direction of the wind.

Witnesses of change:
1. Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis
2. Gervase of Canterbury
3. Villard de Honnecourt.