Jean Gimpel’s Chapter 3: Agricultural Revolution in “The Medieval Machine”

In this chapter, the historian, Jean Gimpel, discusses the developments relating to agriculture that were developed during the Medieval period. Gimpel seems to consider animals and their use on farms to be incredibly vital to the Agricultural Revolution. Especially the use of horses as opposed to the oxen that were traditionally used. Gimpel provides a table in order to support this showing that an average draft horse generated 432 ft-lb/s of power as opposed to the conventionally used ox at that time which generated on average 288 ft-lb/s of power. Despite this increase in power generated by the horse, there were setbacks to its use as demonstrated by Gimpel. Firstly, the technology to properly harness the horse did not come around until the medieval period and agronomists like Walter of Henley encourages the use of oxen as opposed to horses mostly due to the cost of the horse and of its maintenance. However, in terms of value, it is noted that sheep was the most valuable since it provided meat, wool, and dairy.

Another significant aspect of medieval agriculture highlighted in the chapter was the use of a three field system as opposed to a two field system, where one field is left unused while the other two are used, as shown below, proved to be much more efficient than leaving one field unused and the other used as would be the case in a two field system.

Image result for three field system

Plowing further increased the efficiency of medieval farming as it allowed the plants to receive more nutrients

One final main aspect discussed in this chapter would be the use of wine in daily medieval life. Even religious groups would cultivate vineyards for sale and consumption of the wine that was produced. Everyone from students to clerics consumed wine with wine being consumed most by the laybrothers and least by the cowherds and students. In addition to wine, the medieval diet also differed by class, with those higher up in society consuming less bread and more “companagium,” or things to be eaten alongside bread such as meat, fish, or eggs.

2 Replies to “Jean Gimpel’s Chapter 3: Agricultural Revolution in “The Medieval Machine””

  1. Your post does a great job of summarizing the advancements made during the agricultural revolution. The ability to harness the power of the horse, the use of the three field system, and plowing. All of these advancements made agricultural production much more efficient and led to an increase in population. Great post!


  2. Overall, you did a great job of summarizing the agricultural developments made during the Medieval period! I especially like the graphic that you used to demonstrate the “three field system.” It really helps to visualize the process of rotating the fields. You briefly note that a three field system is more efficient than a two field system. I think it’s also important to elaborate on why this system was more efficient. That is: it allows for more crops to be planted in one rotation, and the type of crops selected for each field allow for different nutrients to replenish in the soil for the next crop in the rotation.

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