If I were to ask you which period in history you would like to visit if the time machine was ever invented, there is a very low possibility that your answer would be “the middle ages,”; this is the same for most people. There is a simple reason behind this: humanity does not remember the middle ages as a kind and comfortable time.
The middle ages are essentially used to define a time in European history between 500 to 1400-1500 CE. And this age can be further divided into early, central, or late middle ages. We have a general opinion of those times that it was fraught with superstitions and diseases. Society was highly fragmented, and being born to power meant everything.
Indeed, a modern man is not entirely free from societal divisions, but the divisions we see now are nothing compared to those prevalent during the middle ages. Not to mention the lack of any modern amenities, especially medicines.
History remembers the middle ages as indeed a difficult time for humanity. Even the people born and raised in those times barely made it to their 30s. Therefore, one must wonder how a modern man would fare in such difficult times.
While it may seem highly unlikely that a modern man could endure the harsh life of the middle ages, it would be wrong to conclude just yet. Let us first look at what the middle ages were like.
Life in the Middles Ages:
Photo by Krzysztof Kowalik/UnsplashBetween 500-1500 CE, the time is called the middle ages because it falls in the middle of two significant events in European history. These events were the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the European Renaissance.
Despite the modern opinion of the middle ages, it was not completely bad. Many historians have considered it a busy time in European history. The population of Europe during the early middle ages showed significant growth compared to the previous age. The total headcount had gone up from 30 million to 80 million. The leading cause behind this growth was the development of agriculture and agricultural techniques.
During the middle ages, most of the European population were peasants, almost 90%. Agriculture and cattle rearing as their primary means of sustenance. However, as mentioned before, the middle ages were not precisely uniform and can be divided into 3 distinct parts.
The Early Middle Ages:
This period began right after the fall of the mighty Roman Empire. This period is also referred to as the Late Antiquity. Many scholars have given this period an unfortunate name – ‘The Dark Ages.’
It lasted roughly between the 5th and 10th centuries. One of the integral events during this period was the rise of Islam. This was one of the positive points of the age as both the prophet Muhammad and the Quran emphasized the importance of science and education. Due to the rise of Islam, significant advancements were made in math, science, and philosophy.
This age also experienced a power vacuum after the fall of the Roman Empire. Being a highly theocentric age, most empires turned to the church to rule over them as their new leaders. Thus, began the era of the Holy Roman Emperors.
Indeed, naming the early middle ages the ‘Dark Age’ gives negative connotations. However, the main reason for naming them so was that there are not many historical records or evidence from that time. Therefore, the early middle ages were called the ‘dark age’ mainly due to its ambiguity and the fact that it remains a highly inconspicuous time in history.
The High or the Central Middle Ages:
One of the most impactful events of the High Middle Ages was the crusades. This period lasted less long than the early middle ages and fell between 1000 and 1300 CE. With the fall of the Roman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire in the West and the Byzantine Empire in the East started fighting to claim power which ultimately led to the crusades of the holy wars.
The High Middle ages was essentially a feudal society. The king eased his burden of land ownership by giving large amounts of land to Lords and Barons. These high-ranking Lords or Barons would employ villagers or peasants to tend and take care of their lands.
The Late Middle Ages:
The Late Middle Ages came just before the European Renaissance. It lasted between 1300 to 1500 A.D. It is not usually a part of the dark ages, but it was the most challenging time for livelihood and survival. It is that infamous time when the 100 years of war took place. This war, along with the Great Famine and Black Death, descended upon the European society as a deadly triple threat.
Since the most significant part of the population during the middle ages was formed by peasants who depended primarily on agriculture, one can only imagine the Great Famine’s dire effects on them.
The Black Death or the Bubonic Plague was one of the biggest plagues that Europe had faced yet, and it took a more significant toll on life than any other epidemics up until then. The Bubonic Plague and the Great Famine stopped the merry rise in population that Europe had seen in the early middle ages.
Thus, no matter which part, the middle ages were undoubtedly a difficult time as far as survival is considered. Life saw a little hope during the early middle ages, but it was soon lost. Without proper technology and modern amenities, man, back then, had to survive at the mercy of nature, which can often be cruel.
The political system was not as advanced either, so oppression and inequality were the rules of the day. Once born a peasant, a short life fraught with hardships and oppression was almost guaranteed. Let’s see how a modern man would fare in the face of such challenges.
Would a Modern Man Survive in the Middle Ages?
A modern man is essentially a creature estranged from nature. He is used to the comfort of a steady home and, in most countries, enjoys democratic rights. With the advancement of modern medicine, he now has a greater chance of surviving the cruel plagues and diseases in nature. He also lives in a society where his rank at birth does not determine his future, as today’s society provides everyone with some chance to rise in life.
A man used to such benefits would not find it easy to survive in the harsh middle ages.
Before we go into deeper troubles, let’s focus on the primary challenge that a modern man would face in the middle ages – communication. The language spoken during the middle ages is unlike any spoken during our age. Even if you were to travel back to England during the middle ages, the English we speak today is vastly different from the English spoken then.
Since wars were widespread during that time, a man behaving differently or being unable to speak their language was considered a threat to most people during the middle ages. Therefore, there’s a good chance that he might get executed due to a gross misunderstanding.
Robbers and Thieves:
The roads were not as secure during the middle ages as they are now. If you do not speak their language, it’s doubtful that the villagers of that age would let you settle in as a part of their community. This might lead the modern man to become a lone traveler. He would likely fall prey to highway robbers and thieves. Even if they do not find anything valuable in him, there is a good chance that he can still sustain a deadly injury in an encounter with them.
Food and water:
A modern man is not exactly skilled in slaughtering animals or farming. Unless one is born a high-ranking lord, one would need the skills mentioned above to secure food for themselves. Since a modern man would not have medieval currency, he cannot hope to buy edibles either.
As for water, most water sources that he would find in nature would be contaminated. Being a modern man used to clean drinking water, drinking that contaminated water will prove fatal to him.
The Middle Ages were the time of wars. During the High Middle Ages, the Holy Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire fought deadly crusades, and during the late middle ages, France and England began their 100 years of war with each other.
When the war was fought during those days, every non-disabled man was considered eligible for the role of a soldier. Therefore, there’s a good chance that the modern man would be kidnapped and forced into becoming a soldier. Being unfamiliar with medieval weaponry, there is a meager chance that he would make it out of a fight alive.
Last but not least, the mortality rate was scathingly low in the middle ages due to the prevalence of numerous diseases. This includes dysentery, malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, diphtheria, typhoid, smallpox, etc. Many of these diseases may not prove fatal now due to advanced modern age medicine, but they were undoubtedly fatal back in the middle ages.
The modern man may probably contract a disease that he has not been vaccinated for, or worse, he can get caught in the Black Death pandemic.
Things that can Improve Chances of Survival:
Ability to Write:
Indeed, a modern man’s language wouldn’t be helpful for communication during the middle ages, but there was still a way in which he could win over the medieval people – by showing them that he could write. When people see that he can write, there is a good chance that they will think he is a foreign scholar who got lost. He can take a stick and start making patterns on the ground or find another way. This can help him win over the fascination and respect of villagers.
Try to Befriend the Church:
Churches held the most power during the middle ages. The modern man’s best bet would be to find a way to communicate with the churches or the local monasteries. It is true that initially, communication will be difficult, but he can pretend to be a foreigner from a distant land who got lost on a voyage or something similar.
Forming any connection with the church or a dominant religious institution will significantly improve the chances of survival.
Using basic skills:
Indeed, computer science or advanced knowledge of modern fields will not be of much importance in the middle ages, but a modern man still holds a skill that could get him a job during those times. This skill is basic arithmetic. Arabic numerals were prevalent during the middle ages, and most churches needed accountants or bookkeepers. Thus, a modern man can secure a well-paid job simply with basic maths knowledge. And once you have money in your pocket, the other aspects of survival are bound to get easier.
Previous Knowledge of the Plague:
Being a modern man, it is highly likely that you will already know that a plague is about to hit and the nature in which it will spread. As someone who has prior knowledge of such a disaster, the modern man is less susceptible to its dire effects. He can use the money he makes from his job to secure supplies and live out his days in as much isolation as possible. This does not guarantee his survival but raises the chances of it.
To conclude, this is all just a conjecture. Time traveling is still an improbable phenomenon. Therefore, there is no sure way to find out whether or not a modern man would be able to survive in the middle ages. However, suppose we were to speculate via logic and reasoning. In that case, it is clear that even though a modern man’s chances of survival were meager in the middle ages, it is not impossible.