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Though spoons and knives were used during the Middle Ages, it took longer for forks to catch on. In medieval England, men called forks a "feminine affectation" and used their fingers to eat instead.Public Domain
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During the Middle Ages, animals could stand trial for crimes ranging from trespassing to murder. Many of these creatures were hanged or burned at the stake if they were found guilty.Public Domain
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Thirteenth-century English philosopher Roger Bacon hypothesized that the future would see cars "made so that without animals they will move with unbelievable rapidity." He also said that humans would create "flying machines."Public Domain
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Medieval men often signaled their social status by the length of their footwear. Because of this, some men's shoes became so long that they had to be reinforced with whalebone.Public Domain
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In what is now Germany, a couple could divorce by combat. To make the fight fair, the husband had to stand in a hole while attacking his wife. Public Domain
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Landlords in the Middle Ages accepted more than just money from their renters. They also accepted eggs, ale, grain, and eels, which could be found in abundance in rivers in England. They ate the eels and used them to pay off debts of their own. Public Domain
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King Edward III of England demanded that his subjects practice archery every weekend. The Archery Law of 1363 "forbade, on pain of death, all sport that took up time better spent on war training especially archery practise."Public Domain
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Criminals sometimes faced odd punishments, like wearing animal masks or a badge that detailed their crime. For example, someone who was found guilty of perjury might be forced to wear a badge that showed two red tongues.Public Domain
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Some historical accounts suggest that a group of children took up arms and tried to join the Crusades during the 13th century. However, Pope Innocent III purportedly told them that they were too young and suggested they go home.Public Domain
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To prove a murderer's guilt, people in the Middle Ages might place a suspect in the same room as a murder victim. If the corpse showed "fresh bleeding" afterward, that was considered a sign that the suspect was guilty.Public Domain
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By some calculations, medieval peasants ate as much as two to three pounds of rye bread a day. But before the autumn harvest, they sometimes used old rye to make the bread. Little did they know, this rye could be infected with ergot, a fungus from which LSD can be extracted.Public Domain
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To accentuate their foreheads, some medieval women would pluck their eyebrows, their eyelashes, and even their hairlines.The National Gallery
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Though the story of the chastity belt being invented to keep wives faithful to their husbands was accepted for years, the truth about this curious object is much more complicated. It's possible that it started out as a medieval joke.Public Domain
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In the 13th century, Pope Gregory IX declared that cats were instruments of the Devil, which led to a feline purge across the entire continent. Many cats were burned to death for public entertainment, especially black cats.Wellcome Collection
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Toilets in the Middle Ages were often very simple, primitive versions of an outhouse. Even if you lived in a fancy castle, the toilet was just a hole that emptied straight into the moat outside.University of Reading/Facebook
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In July 1184, dozens of European nobles perished after the floor of a church in modern-day Germany — where they'd gathered to discuss a land dispute — collapsed beneath their feet. The unfortunate nobles dropped into the cesspool below. Many drowned in excrement, a disgusting incident known as the Erfurt Latrine Disaster. Pubilc Domain
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The Codex Gigas is the largest medieval manuscript in the world. And it was allegedly written with help from the Devil.
As the story goes, a monk in Bohemia named Herman the Recluse broke his monastic vows. To avoid punishment, he promised to write up all of the world's human knowledge in one night. He allegedly did so — with assistance from Satan.Wikimedia Commons
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Modern-day Americans work an average of 1,780 hours a year, according to a recent study, whereas male medieval peasants in the United Kingdom worked an average of 1,620 hours a year.
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Some medieval people purportedly believed that building someone into the walls of a fortress — a cruel torture and execution method known as immurement — would strengthen it. Perhaps most disturbingly, children were allegedly sacrificed in this manner in Germany.Wikimedia Commons
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Odd-looking "vampire fish" called lampreys were a favorite meal among British royals in medieval times. King Henry I is even said to have died from a "surfeit of lampreys" in 1135.NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory/Flickr
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No one knows what caused the dancing plague that broke out in Strasbourg in modern-day France in 1518, which caused hundreds of people to dance uncontrollably for weeks.
However, theories have ranged from mass hysteria to LSD-like effects triggered by ergot-infected rye bread. By the time this strange chapter of medieval history ended, up to 100 people had died from too much dancing.Public Domain
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People in the Middle Ages believed that trepanning could also cure headaches and even possession by evil spirits.Public Domain
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Medieval people came up with numerous ways to torment each other, but one of the worst was rat torture. The torturer would place a rat in a half-opened cage on the victim's abdomen and heat it from above. The rat, desperate to escape, would then burrow straight into the victim's gut.Public Domain
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Gong farmers, also known as
"nightmen," harvested human excrement from castle moats in Wales and England to sell to local farmers, who used it as fertilizer to grow crops.Public Domain
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Across South and Southeast Asia — especially in India — enemy soldiers and even locals who were found guilty of crimes like tax evasion were sometimes subjected to death by elephant. Public Domain
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Of all the medieval execution methods, gibbeting was among the worst. Some condemned criminals were locked in gibbets, or human-shaped cages, and left to hang in them outside, eventually dying of exposure or starvation. But sometimes, the gibbets showcased already-deceased criminals as a warning to others.Public Domain
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There's little evidence that Vikings wore horned helmets — or any helmets at all. And the concept of the horned helmet might actually originate from the 1876 opera Der Ring des Nibelungen.Public Domain
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Viking women had a say in who they married and could own property, request a divorce, and reclaim their dowry if their marriage ended.Public Domain
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Bran Castle in Transylvania is popularly known as "Dracula's Castle" because Vlad the Impaler was allegedly once imprisoned there. Historians believe that this draconian ruler of Wallachia (located in present-day Romania) killed 80,000 people and impaled 20,000 of them.Todor Bozhinov/Wikimedia Commons
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A famine at the beginning of the 14th century wiped out huge percentages of medieval Europeans. It also forced some mothers to make agonizing choices, which may have inspired the Brothers Grimm to write Hansel and Gretel.Public Domain
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The so-called defenestration of Prague led to the Thirty Years' War. During that conflict, eight million people lost their lives to violence and famine.Public Domain
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Of all these medieval dishes, peacock was perhaps the most impressive, as the bird was often served with its illustrious plume intact.Public Domain
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In addition, the Groom of the Stool recorded the king's bowel movements and transported the royal toilet. This was considered a powerful position, as whoever held it had the king's ear. Public Domain
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This muzzle-like device humiliated the gossiper — and kept her from spreading more rumors.Public Domain
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After William the Conqueror was fatally impaled by the pommel of his own saddle, his body was laid to rest in a too-small grave. Unfortunately, this caused the king's corpse to explode at his funeral. One account describes the horrific event, writing: "the swollen bowels burst, and an intolerable stench assailed the nostrils of the by-standers and the whole crowd."Public Domain
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In the 14th century, the plague killed an estimated 30 to 60 percent of all Europeans.Public Domain
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While copying out medieval manuscripts by hand, monks often left shocking notes and drawings in the margins, which have complicated modern scholars' views of the Middle Ages.Public Domain
37 Facts About The Middle Ages That’ll Make You Glad You Live In The 21st Century
The medieval period is often thought of as a time of kings, castles, knights, and damsels. But this era was far more violent and bizarre than most realize — as these 37 facts about the Middle Ages will prove.
The medieval era, which stretched from roughly the 5th century C.E. to the 15th century, was a period of strange customs. Just like today, people eagerly followed the latest fashion trends, no matter how questionable. Take women's beauty standards. Hoping to achieve a round, smooth face, women took to plucking their eyebrows, eyelashes, and even their hairlines.
Public DomainWomen took extreme steps to achieve medieval beauty standards.
However, women weren't the only ones who kept an eye on new trends. Men — especially men of a certain class — also made sure that they flaunted the latest fashions. During the medieval period, the length of men's shoes reflected their social status. Because of this, some men's shoes grew so long that they had to be reinforced with materials like whalebone.
But while fashion crimes may have been sneered upon during the Middle Ages, that was nothing compared to the punishment for actual crimes. Then, even animals like pigs and roosters could be put on trial and executed for their actions. Still, the worst punishments were reserved for people.
The Darkest And Strangest Facts About The Middle Ages
During the medieval era, people suspected of committing a crime might be subjected to a variety of grisly torture methods. Among these, rat torture was one of the worst. This involved a torturer placing a rat in a half-cage on the victim's abdomen, and then heating the cage from above. The rat, desperate to escape the heat, would claw its way through the victim's stomach.
Those found guilty of a crime often faced an even more gruesome fate. Throughout South and Southeast Asia, especially in India, people were sometimes put to death by elephants. Even someone found guilty of a crime like tax evasion could get crushed to death by the massive animals.
Public DomainOne disturbing fact about the Middle Ages is that some people in South Asia were executed by elephants.
And even people who were known to be innocent could suffer a terrible end due to widespread disease and lack of modern medicine. An estimated 30 to 60 percent of Europeans lost their lives to the plague in the 14th century.
But of course, not everything that happened during the Middle Ages had to do with torture and death. There were also moments of levity, like the bizarre notes and raunchy drawings that medieval monks left in the margins of manuscripts while painstakingly copying out the texts by hand.
These additions, known as marginalia, ranged from rude illustrations to complaints from the scribes, according to The Guardian. In one instance, a monk complained about the cold. In another, a scribe drew a tree full of penises. These notes and drawings were often added to religious texts that the monks were copying, complicating historians' views of medieval people.
Roman de la Rose/Bibliothèque Nationale de FranceMarginalia like this suggests that medieval people had a sense of humor, even while copying out manuscripts.
Indeed, the medieval era — like any age in human history — is impossible to define in one way. Over the course of several centuries, people ate strange meals like peacocks, viewed archery as one of life's most important skills, and plucked out their own eyelashes just to be fashionable.
The 37 facts about the Middle Ages in the gallery above may seem outlandish today. But for medieval people, it was just normal life. Maybe in hundreds of years, future scholars will puzzle over our habits as well.
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a double degree in American History and French.