Summary of Gimpel’s “The Medieval Machine” chapter 3: The Agricultural Revolution

Agriculture was the first “industry” that was effected by the the new sources of energy during the Middle Ages. There was also a slight climate change (only a few degrees). However, although quite small this change in temperature and humidity created a better climate for growing throughout Europe. The people of Europe, especially modern France realized the true power of animals and how much more work they could do than in the past.

In the times of the Roman  Empire the amount of work that animals could do was greatly limited by laws and societal views. During the Middle Ages however, horses were used to pull much larger and heavier loads allowing workers to be more efficient in time and energy. Part of this larger pulling weight came from the use of proper harnessing. This modern harness was more humane to the animals than the harnesses from ancient times.

Roman Cart:

Image result for horses pulling in roman times

Medieval cart:

Image result for medieval horse cart

Horses slowly replaced oxen for plowing because although they do have very similar power horses are much faster and therefore much more efficient, sometimes even allowing a farmer to do twice the amount of work in one day.

In the Middle ages were different idealistically as farmers were encouraged to use experimental methods in their practices.  This goes along with the idea of progress that was being developed during this time.  Farmers would try new types of plows or techniques, knowing that the yield may not be as good with the hopes that they would be rewarded. This experimentation increased the progress of technology and was one of the factors that pushed towards the original industrial revolution.

One of these experimental techniques that was slowly employed throughout Europe was the “three field” method.  It was discovered that if you rotated the types of crops on two fields and left one fallow the yield in the long term would be much greater.  This says a lot about the mentality switch during this time period.  While it would be tempting to plant on the third field to have a better harvest that year it is necessary to let one field fallow to have a better yield the next year.  This shows foresight and that farmers were thinking years into the future.

There were also new techniques being tested, developed, and employed for plowing and the types of plows.  Farmers were encouraged to change to a two plow system where first they would plow very deep to turn fertile soil and then to plow more shallow on the second pass.  This new technique saw a large increase in yearly yield.

Image result for medieval plowing

The Middle Ages also saw an increase in breeding animals, specifically sheep.  This caused an increase of wool and profitability.

Because of these advancements in agriculture technology food was no longer in shortage for most Europeans.  Now that food was not an area of worry the population grew exponentially and allowed for more specialization which caused greater advancements in farming and technology as a whole.