Monday, June 15, 2015


From Technology in the Medieval Age: Agricultural Tools:
... the way the crops were grown changed in Medieval Europe when farmers changed from a two-field crop rotation to a three-field crop rotation beginning in the 8th century. According to White (1962), Charlemagne himself thought of this agricultural innovation...

Under a two-field rotation, half the land was planted in a year while the other half lay fallow. Then, in the next year, the two fields were reversed. Under three-field rotation, the land was divided into three parts. One section was planted in the Fall with winter wheat or rye. The next Spring, the second field was planted with other crops such as peas, lentils, or beans and the third field was left fallow. The three fields were rotated in this manner so that every three years, a field would rest and be unplanted.

Under the two field system, if one has a total of 600 fertile acres of land, one would only plant 300 acres. Under the new three-field rotation system, one would plant (and thereby harvest) 400 acres. But, the additional crops had a more significant effect than mere productivity. Since the Spring crops were mostly legumes, they increased the overall nutrition of the people of Northern Europe.

This, too:
The plow is considered to be one of the most important (and oldest) technologies developed. In fact, the history of the plow stretches back to the Neolithic (New Stone) Age that began about 8000 BC in Mesopotamia. In the Middle Ages, however, the plow was radically improved and was used with multiple-oxen teams. This innovation facilitated the clearing of the forests of fertile northwest Europe (Gies & Gies, 1994). Before this time because of the nature of the soil, it was difficult to plow these fields. And, obviously, this inability to cultivate these fields reduced the population of northwest Europe. After the redesign of the plow, allowing the plow to plow the heavier and wetter soil of northwest Europe, there was a dramatic increase in agricultural productivity, and subsequently, the population of these areas.

Finally, from Medieval Technology Pages - Horse Harness:
The horse collar seems first to have been used in Europe around the 8th or 9th century [White, p. 61]. This may have been a northern European development or, as both White [White 1962. p 61] and Usher [Usher 1954. p 183] suggest, imported from the east. The horse collar rests on both the shoulders and the breast of the horse. The traces and thus the traction points, are over the horse's shoulders, not high on the horse's back. This allows the horse to develop much more power without putting any pressure on its neck.

Use of the horse collar seems to have spread rapidly though not uniformly through European agriculture and heavy freight hauling -- though in neither case did the use of oxen ever totally vanish. [Langdon 1986. pp 19-20] Oxen were cheaper than horses, but horses are 50% faster than oxen and can work more hours during the day. But they were no stronger than oxen in total pulling force, were more difficult to care for, and required specialized (and more expensive) food. Nevertheless, by the late Middle Ages the use of the horse in agriculture became very common. [Gimpel 1976. p 35]

Three-field rotation, an improved plow, and the horse collar. I love this stuff.


The Technology in the Medieval Age page is under the supervision of Dr. Patricia Backer, the chair of the Department of Technology and the Department of Aviation at San Jose State University in San Jose, CA.

(That page links to the Horse Harness page.)

The Medieval Technology Pages - Horse Harness page is maintained by Paul J. Gans. Copyright (©) Paul J. Gans, 1997-2002.

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