Common Accidents in the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages are justly characterized as a chaotic time. As Rome fell in the late 5th century, so too did the societal institutions and infrastructure it had brought to its western territories. Travel, trade, manufacturing, even land ownership- all of which had once been dictated by Roman governors- became anarchical. The result made life in the Middle Ages extremely difficult. Maintaining a household and a livelihood became hazardous.

Children were especially vulnerable. Drowning and animal bites were incredibly common causes of death. Fire, though, was by far the most prevalent cause; coroner's records from mediæval England claim one third of infant deaths were the result of fire in their cradles. Fully one fifth of children under three died from fire. Their older siblings became the victims of their stations in life. Girls were often injured in the home, while boys were more likely to be injured by animals or tools while tending the fields with their fathers.

Serfdom involved not only farming, but also mining, forestry and fishing. Though crude by modern standards, mediæval farm implements were still dangerous. Fingers, or even limbs, could be lost with the swipe of a scythe. Wooden ploughs were pulled by animals who often disobeyed their masters. Mining was dangerous for obvious reasons: time spent underground exposed to various gasses was often fatal. If a land-owner decided to hunt in his forest while his serfs were present, flying arrows (sometimes tipped with poison) were always a hazard, to both the hunter and the serf.

Those fortunate enough to outrank serfs were still at risk for injury. The arming squire was tasked with charging into battle, unprotected, to replace the broken armour of the knight he served. Travel posed its own risks. A professional body-guard of sorts, known as the "link boy", escorted lords and ladies through the streets of the city to protect them from thieves and murderers. The height of the castles and cathedrals stonemasons were tasked with building created incredibly dangerous working conditions. And the nobleman was always in jeopardy of being injured in combat.

Royalty was not exempt from accidents. Sigurd the Mighty of Orkney died when the teeth of the decapitated head of his enemy grazed his leg; the resulting wound became fatally infected. King Bela I of Hungary perished when his throne's canopy collapsed on him. Incredibly, it's claimed Martin I of Aragon died from a combination of irrepressible laughter and indigestion. But injuries received in battle were a much more common cause of death to kings. Hazards knew no class in the Middle Ages.

Avoiding illness, death in childbirth, or accident was almost unheard of in this period of history. Life was difficult and life expectancy was short. The perils of one's job, or even one's home, were numerous. The Middle Ages were rife with opportunities for accidental injury.



Copyright 2008