In the 700s on the European continent, rule was fragmented among small kingdoms. Kings were landowners in alliance with other landowners and claiming as much figurehead authority as they could.
Wealth was largely in land and the agriculture it produced. Common people worked land owned by the wealthy, and they paid for their place on it by giving the landowner a good percentage of the crops they grew. The wealthy feasted on dazzling presentations of food in their castles while common people lived in huts, without running war for cooking, drinking or sanitation. Water had to be fetched. Common people arose at dawn and bedded down with the setting of the sun. It was rare for a common family to have candles to light their home. In the early evenings they might have light from their fireplace. They had no chimney, smoke rising through the roof. Light through glass windows was had only by the very wealthy (and churches with stained glass).
Common people did not read or write. People were connected to the past by word of mouth. They saw priests who could read as having a gift from God, and they viewed these priests as above them in understanding what the world was about. They felt they it was their place to be humble and poor. They saw their fate as having been bestowed upon them by a righteous god. They saw God as having chosen others for better earthly fortune. They agreed that God had given their king the right of power and that this right was dynastic, as something that was meant to be.
On the continent, kings might be men removed from the old German tribal culture that had governed their manner of behaving within their tribe. This old tribal spirit had been more equality-based (including more equality between the sexes than in the civilizations of the Romans or Greeks). But the tribal bonds of previous generations had been broken by conquest, new identifications and new authority. The new Germanic men of power exercised their authority as suited their passions, taking and discarding wives and concubines as they pleased and believing that they had the right to deflower a commoner's bride before he was allowed to consummate his marriage (a practice in Latin called the droit du seigneur. It seems absurd among modernized people today, but it was common in the Middle Ages because of the docility of the poor and pious.
As for life expectancy, Sarah Woodbury (author and historian with a degree in anthropology, at sarahwoodbury.com) writes:
For starters, infants and children died at a horrific rate (some say up to 1/3 of all died before the age of 5) and a significant percentage of women died in association with childbirth: 5% perhaps from the birth itself, often dying with the child, and a further 15% from childbed fever–the infections that followed a poorly managed delivery (by our standards).
Following that, if a person made it out of childhood, they could be expected to live into their middle forties, provided they maintained good health and weren’t killed in war.
CONTINUE READING: Migrations, Charlemagne's Holy Roman Empire and Feudalism
Copyright © 2017 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.