Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Life in a Medieval City by Joseph & Frances Gies

book cover

Life in a Medieval City
by Joseph & Frances Gies

Trade Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Harper & Row, Publishers
First Released: 1969

Source: My personal library (as a book I inherited from my grandpa, but only just now read).

Back Cover Description:
Life in a Medieval City evokes every aspect of city life in the Middle Ages by depicting in detail what it was like to live in a prosperous city of Northwest Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The time is A.D. 1250 and the city is Troyes, capital of the county of Champagne and site of two of the cycle of Champagne Fairs--the "Hot Fair" in August and the "Cold Fair" in December. European civilization has emerged from the Dark Ages and is in the midst of a Commercial Revolution. Merchants and moneymen from all over Europe gather at Troyes to buy, sell, borrow, and lend, creating a bustling market center typical in the feudal era.

Life in a Medieval City is an educational nonfiction book. It covered all aspects of city life in the 12th and 13th centuries in Europe. The focus was mainly on what life was like in Troyes, France, but the authors also compared Troyes to various other European cities.

The content was technical (as in, serious research rather than interesting trivia), but the writing wasn't dry. I liked the depth of information and the quotes from documents written at that time. There were some black and white photos, illustrations, and maps (including one of Troyes in 1250 A.D.).

The book covered what a burgher's home was like, what life was like for the housewife, childbirth and children, weddings and funerals, small and large businesses, the doctor (and some about the medicine), the church, the cathedral, schools and scholars, books and authors (and poets), theater, disasters (including flood, famine, plagues, and war), how the town government worked, and the Champagne Fairs held in Troyes and other towns.

Overall, I found this book very interesting and informative. I'd recommend it to anyone wanting to know the details about what life was like in a European city in the 12th and 13th centuries.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter Two
In a thirteenth-century city the houses of rich and poor look more or less alike from the outside. Except for a few of stone, they are all tall timber post-and-beam structures, with a tendency to sag and lean as they get older. In the poor quarters several families inhabit one house. A weaver's family may be crowded into a single room, where they huddle around a fireplace, hardly better off than the peasants and serfs of the countryside.

A well-to-do burgher family, on the other hand, occupies all four stories of its house, with business premises on the ground floor, living quarters on the second and third, servants' quarters in the attic, stables and storehouses in the rear. From cellar to attic, the emphasis is on comfort, but it is thirteenth-century comfort, which leaves something to be desired even for the master and mistress.

Entering the door of such a house, a visitor finds himself in an anteroom. One door leads to a workshop or counting room, a second to a steep flight of stairs. The greater part of the second floor is occupied by the hall, or solar, which serves as both living and dining room. A hearth fire blazes under the hood of a huge chimney. Even in daytime the fire supplies much of the houses' illumination, because the narrow windows are fitted with oiled parchment. Suspended by a chain from the wall is an oil lamp, usually not lighted until full darkness. A housewife also economizes on candles, saving fat for the chandler to convert into a smoky, pungent but serviceable product. Beeswax candles are limited to church and ceremonial use.

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