Reply To: Inventory of Andrea di Clemente 1461

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Hans Hellinger

It’s true that of course you could find isolated and poverty stricken regions where people had very little, and you don’t have to go way out to the Faeroes or Iceland. Wllachia, Albania and a lot of the Balkans, especially after the Ottoman conquests… up in the Pyrennes and much of Granada, most of Ireland (though they could afford colored cloth – especially saffron / yellow) and many areas in England and Scotland, certain rural parts of Germany, Sicily, certain parts of France and some southern regions of Italy, a lot of Russia especially the part under direct Mongol control. And so on and so forth.

So when people say “if you look hard enough you can find a place and time that fills almost every Trope” I guess that is true but it’s also kind of meaningless. I can find people living in my own city today who live like cavemen, I pass a handful of them on the way to work every day.

But I still think the Trope is misleading and even destructive. It does not really portray the era in question, especially the towns. The thriving, clean, bustling, lively, vibrant, self managed medieval town is almost never portrayed in any of the millions of outlets of genre media (TV, video, computer games, tabletop RPGs graphic novels, etc. etc. etc.) which depict these eras which we seem so fascinated with. It’s always the filthy, ignorant, benighted caveman. And yet, where is the facility where they build all that plate armor the knights are wearing? Where is the organized group of people who built the Cathedrals, castles and great buildings? Nowehre to be found apparently. Just a bunch of wretched cavemen.

And yet there were thousands of thriving, vibrant towns and even small market villages like that all over Europe. I can find them in every country and region. (Ok maybe not in Iceland or the Faeroes but you know what I’m saying…)

It would be like if at some time in the future you did shows or games about the 20th or 21st Century and every scene was in a favella, a refugee camp, or a shanty town. Sure they do exist, and sure even in the US we had the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl where for a while in the 30’s it was fairly widespread… followed by World War II when so much of the world was smashed, broken and burned up. Even today you could go to a War-Torn place like Syria or Congo or a place in extreme economic deprivation like Venezuela or North Korea. So if you looked hard enough you could find that Trope, yes.

But this is hardly a universal or even common condition in most of the world this period, today. The point I’m making is that it wasn’t the most common condition in the Middle Ages either, in fact quite to the contrary. The last 300-400 years of the Middle Ages is basically when there was such an incredible surge of culture and technology that “Western” culture went from being roaming barbarians to pulling ahead of the rest of the world.