Agricultural medieval tools | Lost Kingdom (2022)

The Importance of Agriculture

Even since the dawn of the first human settlements in 5000 BC, agriculture has played a vital role in the development of every civilisation; over 6000 years later, this remains the case today. Feudal medieval Europe was primarily an agricultural economy. Only a very small portion of the population lived in cities and they were heavily dependent on the surplus that the agrarian settlements (villages) produced.

As we will see, tools had a profound impact on the development of medieval, as well as modern, civilisation. Certain technological developmentssingle-handedly pushed the growth of population across the whole of the continent.

The Medieval Tools

Axe

In many ways the axe is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, tools in use during the medieval ages. The idea behind a simple, medievaltool like the axe is that its haftessentially works as a force multiplier, allowingits sharp, wedge-like metal blade to focus this force onto a very small amount of surface area.The axe was thus a very powerful cutting tool, that also slightly extends the reach of the user.

Villagers used the axe mainly for twojobs; cutting wood and killing animals – primarily wild boars, which threatened their families or livestock. Cutting wood was essential for a variety of tasks, from providing their house with fuel for the hearth, to building structures and even other tools. Finally, the axe was also used to humanely end the life of livestock before bleeding them (to ensure that the meat doesn’t spoil).

Flail

Europe was not the only place where theagricultural flail was used as an improvised weapon. In southeast Asia, short agricultural flails, originally employed in threshing rice, were adapted into weapons such as the nunchaku or sansetsukon.

The flail consisted of two pieces of wood – a longer handle and a shorter, thicker ‘striker’. The two wooden pieces wereconnected by a leather strap, passed through holes or metallic loops at their connecting ends.

The flail wasused to separate the grain from thehusks,in a process called threshing, after they were harvested.

The flail (medievaltool) also inspired the creation of the flail (weapon). Originally this was used as an improvised weapon, but later became a standard man-at-arms weapon. As a weapon, rather than a medieval tool, the flailwould have beenfashioned almost entirely out of metal.

Harrow

After the soil has beenturned using one of the ploughs (see below) and the seeds aresown, the earthmust be smoothed so that the seeds are covered and protected. In order to achieve this, medieval farmers used aharrow. The harrow was essentially a wooden frame composed of four to six connected beams. The lower side was set with spikes or nails, made of either wood or metal. The frame of the harrow would be dragged over the ploughed, sown fields, and the spikes would comb the earth smooth, covering over the precious seeds.

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Medieval tools: Harrow (Duke du Berry, Books of Hours, c. 1410): that guy lookslike he’s regretting not calling shotgun on the horse

Fork (Pitchfork)

The fork, or pitchfork, is probably the most popular of medieval tools today, because of its connectionwith rioting villagers “grabbing their pitchfork”. As with the flail, it wasindeedused as an improvised weapon in many cases. The fork hasa wooden handle of about five to six feet long, tipped with two or three prongs (or in some instances, as many as four or five), which were usually made of iron.

Forks were used to prepare the ground for seeding and covering, in the place of a plough or harrow, for small areas.Theywere also necessaryforthe process of making hay, which involved throwing the cut grass into the air in order to aerate and turn it. The aeration of grass prevented the grass from molding which meant that the hay dried and would have been usable as nutrition for the animals during the winter.

Plough, Light (Ard)

The ard, also known as the light plough or scratch plough, was a wooden tool that was dragged through the soil, usually by an ox or a work-horse (heavy horse), though sometimes by humans. The ard was similar to the handheld hoe, but because its wooden peak remained semi-buried in the ground it was much faster and more efficient than the hoe.

The plough was used to turn and loosen the soil, in order to bring the most fertile part of the topsoil to the topwhilst, at the same time, creating a hole where the seeds could be planted. The ard was used with great success in southern Europe and around the Mediterranean where the soil is light and sandy, but was much less efficient inthe heavy, clay-rich soil of northern Europe.

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Plough, Heavy (Mouldboard)

The heavy plough was a significant improvement on the ard, with a much heavier blade which created a deeper furrow in the ground. Another vast improvement, due to its augmenteddesign, was that theplough deposited the newly turned soil top-down, meaningthat any weeds growing would be smothered without having to be removed.

Mouldboard ploughs were mainly used in heavy clay areas, where extra measures were necessary to turn the soil, and reaching deeper into the top soil was important in order to make the soil suitably fertile. They would have been much more arduous to draw than light ploughs, but the pay-off in improved yieldswas significant.

Plough (Wheeled)

Wheeled, heavy ploughs werethe last upgrade on ploughing technology during the Medieval era.They were an adaptation of the heavy plough, which made it suitable for the lighter soils of southern Europe and the Mediterranean. The wheels prevented the heavy plough from burying itself in light soil, and the heavier plough blade led to increased cropyields by ploughing more deeply.Wheeled ploughswere not necessary in clay-soil areas, because the viscosity of the soil prevented the plough from burying itself, and nor were they useful; the wheels ended up buried in the cloying soil, halting the plough. However, they were widely used in territories with more sandy soil to increase the fertility of the farmland.

The wheeled heavy plough replaced the wooden driver of the mouldboard plough, with two wheels left and right of the plough (see image below).

Agricultural medieval tools | Lost Kingdom (7)

Medieval tools: Heavy wheeled plough (Duke du Berry, Books of Hours, c. 1410): Yup – that’san actual DRAGON flying over the castle (top right-hand corner). Iconographicevidence, perhaps?

Rake

For those who didn’t have the resources or the ability to use a harrow, or for smaller areas like vegetable gardens, the rake was a low-tech alternative. The rake worked exactly as the harrow, but on a smaller scale, covering over seeds and smoothing the topsoil. The rake was also used during haymaking to spread and collect grass.

Rattle, Bell & Drum

Birds – beautiful singing, heralds of spring, winged-disasterfor newly planted seedbeds. The average yield of a good field was 1:5, meaning that for each plantedseed, you would yield five (nowadays this is closer to 1 to several thousands). Birds could easily lower this proportion to 1:3, which would mean starvation forthat serf’s family. In order to prevent this from happening, villagers would equip their childrenwith all sorts of rattles and bells to scare away the birds. For all theirsimplicity, these medievaltools had a huge impacton the productivity of a field.

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Scythe

Barley, oats,grass (and the occasionalsoul) were no match for the mighty two-handed scythe. The scythe transformed the serf’s life, making itmuch easier and less tiring, when itappeared in Europe during the 12th and 13th centuries. With a scythe, one could reap a whole area of stalks quickly by using a simple circular movement;the clever design of the bent haft and side handle made the movement quite intuitive.

Agricultural medieval tools | Lost Kingdom (10)

Medieval tools: Scythe (Duke du Berry, Books of Hours, c. 1410). Interestingly, the men are working in the field but the women are shearing the sheep.

Shears

Shears were mainly used to shear the adult sheep of the flock once a year, cutting their wool for spinning. They were designed like a pair of tongswith knives attached to their edges, and used the thin iron’s malleableproperties to return to their original, open position. You can see them in action the picture above (bottom right-hand corner).

Sickle

The sickle was used as a cheaper, more precision-centric scythe, probably for smaller areas and awkward corners. The inner side of the curved iron was sharpened. Sickles usually,as with scythes, had smooth blades; formore robust or hardened vegetation, though,they wouldhave used asaw-toothed blade.

Spade (Shovel)

Spades were possibly the most versatile of medieval tools, andalso have had the most iterations and specializations throughout their history. The shovel was a long, hardened wooden pole with a flat, and sometimes sharpened, metallic head, was used for shovelling manure, digging ditches, preparing vegetable beds in the garden, preparing irrigation and, in some cases when a plough was not available, in order to plough the fields.

Winnowing Basket

After the grain crop was thoroughly flailed, the grain seedswereseparated fromtheir husks and chaff. The thresherwould put all the material in the winnowing basket and then launchit up into the air. The heavy grain seeds would fall right in front of him on the ground (or back into the basket) while the chaff and husks, light as they were, would be blown a few feet away by the wind.

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The Beast of Burden

Though perhaps not technically a medieval tool, the ox was possibly one of the most significant forces that changed the landscape of the medieval world. Oxen were strong, hardy and unwavering beasts whichworked all day, under almost any circumstance. As a serf, owning an ox was a indicator that things were going well. In many cases though, oxen could not be owned by just one serf and they were shared amongst the whole, or part of, the village – this was due both to their worth and their food requirement. Oxes were stronger than aheavy horse, and certainlyindefatigable compared toany man. They were able to carry large weights and pull the heavy plough for hours every day. The domestication of oxen was an art that not many mastered, and required fine tuning in order to create a creature which was domesticated, yet stillretained its raw strength and physique.

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The discovery of the heavy plough

We often talk about the importance of the industrial revolution and how it changed the world around us, but not many know that such arevolution occurred during the high middle ages. The invention of the heavy plough (described above) presenteda unique implement which transformed the difficult, low-yielding, clay-rich soil of northern Europe from a clearly inferior soil to the most high-yielding farmland a farmercould wish for. Clay is naturally an incredibly fertile soil, but due to its heaviness it was difficult to turn andrenew, and thusclay-rich farmland became graduallymore infertile. The invention of the heavy plough changed this;in fact it was, almost by itself, entirely responsible for anexplosion of population innorthern Europe. It was probably the reason that, even with the diminished number of farmers after the outbreak of the Black Death plague, the population managed to re-stabilise and eventually sky-rocket. You can read more about this phenomenon in the article “The Heavy Plough and the Agricultural Revolution in Medieval Europe”, linked in the references below.

Can you think of a medieval tool used in agriculture that we forgot to mention? Arethere other collections of items you’d like to see or learnmore about? Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll try to publishit for you (artwork and all)!

All assets created by us are free to use and authorised by the Creative CommonsAttribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International. This means you can use them as you wish for non commercial use by attributing somewhere the creators. If you want the PSD or PNG transparent versions of them, let us know, we are more than happy to share.

Medieval Tools by Lost Kingdom Project is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://www.lostkingdom.net.

Agricultural medieval tools | Lost Kingdom (15)

References

“Medieval Farming”.HistoryLearningSite.co.uk.2014. Web.

Simkin, J.Medieval Farming Tools.Accessed2015.

Andersen, Thomas Barnebeck and Jensen, Peter S. and Skovsgaard, Christian Volmar, The Heavy Plough and the Agricultural Revolution in Medieval Europe (December 3, 2013). Discussion Papers on Business and Economics, University of Southern Denmark, 6/2013. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2362894 orhttp://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2362894

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FAQs

What tools did farmers use in medieval times? ›

The tools available to medieval farmers were rather crude and rudimentary. They consisted of the ax, the moldboard plow, flails, and hay forks.

What tools did serfs use to farm? ›

The serfs carried their bag of seeds to the field and sprinkled the seeds into the plowed earth. Then they used their harrow, a tool something like a big rake, to cover the seeds with soil. The summer months were the time for hay-making. Serfs used a long scythe to cut the tall grass.

How did agricultural technology change medieval society? ›

The agricultural technology that was invented during the medieval ages resulted in social and economic developments which affected the lives of those living in that period. The new machinery allowed the townspeople to grow a surplus of food and in result learn new specialties and trades.

What did medieval peasants use to farm? ›

Barley and wheat were the most important crops in most European regions; oats and rye were also grown, along with a variety of vegetables and fruits. Oxen and horses were used as draft animals.

How did peasants farm in the medieval times? ›

Medieval farmers/peasants had no access to tractors, combine harvesters etc. Farming tools were very crude. Peasants had specific work they had to do in each month and following this “farming year” was very important. Farms were much smaller then and the peasants who worked the land did not own the land they worked on.

What was the first agricultural tool? ›

Plows are considered the oldest farming tool in Colonial America. The scythe and horse-drawn cradle were introduced in the 1790s to help farmers achieve more efficient farming.

How did medieval farmers farm? ›

The three-field system of crop rotation was employed by medieval farmers, with spring as well as autumn sowings. Wheat or rye was planted in one field, and oats, barley, peas, lentils or broad beans were planted in the second field. The third field was left fallow.

What is a medieval rake? ›

In a historical context, a rake (short for rakehell, analogous to "hellraiser") was a man who was habituated to immoral conduct, particularly womanizing. Often, a rake was also prodigal, wasting his (usually inherited) fortune on gambling, wine, women and song, and incurring lavish debts in the process.

What are farming tools? ›

While a truck is often a staple of farming life, there are several other farm-specific vehicles, too.
  • Tractors. To say that "tractor" is a broad category is an understatement. ...
  • Combine or Harvester. ...
  • ATV or UTV. ...
  • Plows. ...
  • Harrows. ...
  • Fertilizer Spreaders. ...
  • Seeders. ...
  • Balers.

What did medieval farmers do in winter? ›

While winter was a time for rest, farms still required work. Peasants spread manure to fertilize their fields; they harvested cabbages and leaks; they planted new vines and pruned their older ones; they cut and pruned their trees.

How did changes in agricultural production affect medieval Europe? ›

How did changes in agricultural production affect medieval Europe? Fields became more productive, spurring population growth.

How did the medieval Warm period affect agriculture? ›

The Medieval Warm Period allowed the farms of Northern Europe to out produce their Mediterranean counterparts. This, in turn, resulted in a shift of power and importance away from the Mediterranean basin, which no longer enjoyed its old surpluses, and to the untapped fertile lands of Northern Europe.

What was one consequence of the new agriculture of the early Middle Ages? ›

one consequence of new agriculture of early middle ages was the destruction of the forests.

What did a medieval farmer do? ›

Medieval farmers worked with crops such as wheat, rye, barley, and oats (and from the 13th century, peas, beans, and vetches used for fodder or as fertilizer). Crop yields peaked in the 13th century and remained steady for over 400 years.

Did medieval castles have farms? ›

They did not enclose corn fields and cattle pastures inside the walls of a castle. Such walls would be too long and need too many people to defend. Most of the food during a siege came from supplies. But supplies (of grain and other products like this) can be stored for very long time (for years).

Why did the medieval farmers let a field lie fallow? ›

Farmers rotated the fallow fields every year, the idea being that after two cycles of farming, the soil needed time to replenish and restore lost nutrients. When a field lies fallow, it doesn't look like much is happening.

How many hours a day did peasants work? ›

Peasant in medieval England: eight hours a day, 150 days a year.

How much did medieval farmers get paid? ›

Most peasants at this time only had an income of about one groat per week. As everybody over the age of fifteen had to pay the tax, large families found it especially difficult to raise the money. For many, the only way they could pay the tax was by selling their possessions.

What tools did the first farmers use? ›

This included polished flint axes, harvesting tools and more developed pottery making. The first farmers had effective tools to fell the forest's trees and construct houses and fences. The new polished flint axes had a “point-butted” shape.

What tools did ancient farmers use? ›

A total 32 tools were documented and tools like khurpa, spade, Axe, sieve, sickle, daw, silnora, kula, jhuri, Nanda and paniki were found in every household. The study also revealed that use of traditional tools was maximum in Uttar Simlabari followed by Mobarakpur, Baredeswar and Phatepur.

Who invented farming tools? ›

Jethro Wood patented an iron plow with interchangeable parts. The agricultural revolution picked up steam during these years, with notable agricultural developments including: 1819: Jethro Wood's patenting of the iron plow with interchangeable parts; 1819–25: The establishment of the U.S. food canning industry.

What made medieval farming sustainable? ›

Medieval farmers and agronomists had developed a large number of recipes to pulverize, fumigate or pour on crops to cure their diseases and to repel pests. Their repellents were often plant-based products, but mixtures with sulfur, urine and vinegar were common.

What is a female rake? ›

The rake essentially strokes the part of a woman (and anyone, indeed) which is most susceptible to praise; her vanity. Here is a man who is beside himself with desire, relishing the chance to overcome any obstacle keeping him from the object of his passion.

What is a Rakefile Ruby? ›

Rake is a tool you can use with Ruby projects. It allows you to use ruby code to define "tasks" that can be run in the command line. Rake can be downloaded and included in ruby projects as a ruby gem. Once installed, you define tasks in a file named "Rakefile" that you add to your project.

Is rake an insult? ›

a dissolute or immoral person, especially a man who indulges in vices or lacks sexual restraint.

What are the 5 farm equipment? ›

The most common types of equipment and machinery used on farms include tractors, balers, combines, plows, mowers, planters, and sprayers.

Why are farm tools important? ›

Farming tools and equipment are critical to the success of a farmer. These tools help make farming easier and more efficient. Many farming products are created for a single task, while some are used for a number of purposes across the farm.

What is sickle tool? ›

sickle, one of the most ancient of harvesting tools, consisting of a metal blade, usually curved, attached to a short wooden handle. The short handle forces the user to harvest in a stooped or squatting position. The longer-handled scythe, the user of which remains upright, evolved from the sickle.

What did farmers do in medieval times? ›

Medieval farmers worked with crops such as wheat, rye, barley, and oats (and from the 13th century, peas, beans, and vetches used for fodder or as fertilizer). Crop yields peaked in the 13th century and remained steady for over 400 years.

What are farming tools? ›

While a truck is often a staple of farming life, there are several other farm-specific vehicles, too.
  • Tractors. To say that "tractor" is a broad category is an understatement. ...
  • Combine or Harvester. ...
  • ATV or UTV. ...
  • Plows. ...
  • Harrows. ...
  • Fertilizer Spreaders. ...
  • Seeders. ...
  • Balers.

What is a medieval rake? ›

In a historical context, a rake (short for rakehell, analogous to "hellraiser") was a man who was habituated to immoral conduct, particularly womanizing. Often, a rake was also prodigal, wasting his (usually inherited) fortune on gambling, wine, women and song, and incurring lavish debts in the process.

How did they make tools in the Middle Ages? ›

The building tools of the Middle Ages were largely made of wood, though some incorporated iron tips for cutting and sharpening, and most were hand operated. There did exist, however, some larger tools like the tread wheel crane which utilized a pulley system and required several men to operate.

How did medieval farmers make money? ›

A peasant could pay in cash or in kind – seeds, equipment etc. Either way, tithes were a deeply unpopular tax. The church collected so much produce from this tax, that it had to be stored in huge tithe barns. Some of these barns can still be seen today.

What did medieval farmers do in winter? ›

While winter was a time for rest, farms still required work. Peasants spread manure to fertilize their fields; they harvested cabbages and leaks; they planted new vines and pruned their older ones; they cut and pruned their trees.

Did medieval castles have farms? ›

They did not enclose corn fields and cattle pastures inside the walls of a castle. Such walls would be too long and need too many people to defend. Most of the food during a siege came from supplies. But supplies (of grain and other products like this) can be stored for very long time (for years).

What are the 5 farm equipment? ›

The most common types of equipment and machinery used on farms include tractors, balers, combines, plows, mowers, planters, and sprayers.

What tools did early farmers use? ›

Before the evolution of mechanized equipment, farming in the colonial period was mainly done through the use of the plow, ax, scythe, and the hoe. Colonists drilled fields using iron-blade hoes while plows were used by those individuals that are wealthy enough to own horses.

What tools is used to harvest crops? ›

Harvesting tools:

The most common type of harvesting implement are small sickle, big sickle, darat, gandasa and small axe etc., (Fig. 9.9a, b, c & d). The hand sickle is used to harvest crops like wheat, maize, barley, pulses and grass etc.

What is a female rake? ›

The rake essentially strokes the part of a woman (and anyone, indeed) which is most susceptible to praise; her vanity. Here is a man who is beside himself with desire, relishing the chance to overcome any obstacle keeping him from the object of his passion.

What is a Rakefile Ruby? ›

Rake is a tool you can use with Ruby projects. It allows you to use ruby code to define "tasks" that can be run in the command line. Rake can be downloaded and included in ruby projects as a ruby gem. Once installed, you define tasks in a file named "Rakefile" that you add to your project.

Is rake an insult? ›

a dissolute or immoral person, especially a man who indulges in vices or lacks sexual restraint.

What were medieval tools made of? ›

Most medieval tools consisted of iron and/or wood, and could be easily repaired on the premises where they were being used. Shovels and spades were made of wood, but some cutting tools were tipped with iron. Poorer quality wood was used for wicker and basket-work.

What are the oldest tools? ›

Oldowan stone tools are simply the oldest recognisable tools which have been preserved in the archaeological record.

Where did they get iron in medieval times? ›

Medieval Iron. Iron manufacture in the Middle Ages was comprised of essentially three practices: mining, smelting and smithing. As will be argued in more detail below, these practices were basically identical to those used in colonial America.

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