7 Myths and Facts About the Middle Ages

Unfortunately, sometimes the middle ages get a bad wrap. Some modern people call them the dark ages and believe that the people were ignorant and the cultures unsophisticated and cruel. The truth is that later generations created many myths in order to romanticize the period or make it look bad. With a little historical accuracy, you can have a better understanding of what medieval times were really like.

1. Vikings had helmets

This myth about the middle ages took hold when nineteenth painters created romanticized portraits and war scenes depicting the vikings as they imagined them. Horned helmets would have been dramatic and frightening, but not helpful in a real battle, which viking were skilled at.

2. Education wasn’t valued

While it is true that many families had to work for a living and not everyone was able to go to school, higher learning was important to the people of the middle ages. Many people couldn’t read, because books had to be hand written. However, monks tutored pupils and the first universities in Europe were established.

3. They thought tomatoes were poisonous

One myth states that people in the middle ages were afraid to eat tomatoes, because they are a member of the nightshade family and were thought to be poisonous. In truth, the tomato is actually indigenous to South America and wasn’t brought to Europe until after medieval times.

4. They didn’t travel

Some hold the belief that people in medieval times didn’t travel past the confines of their own communities. While it is true that they would not be able to travel as much as we can in modern times, with airplanes, trains, and automobiles, they did travel. It was popular to travel around the country and even go on pilgrimages to other countries.

5. The people were starving

Times of famine and war can’t be denied, but most of the common people in medieval times ate well. They lived an agrarian life, which means they kept gardens and raised game for meat. Most people had several filling meals a day and regularly drank beer. Meats, both fresh and cured, grains, vegetables, fruits and nuts would all have been normal. Spices were, however, only for the rich, so while their diets would have been much healthier than the average modern person’s, we might have found it a tad bland.

6. A round earth

Most scholars in the middle ages knew that the earth was round. Many texts from the period support this. Scholars of the day had sophisticated tools for watching the stars and measuring the heavens. They may not have been able to prove it with pictures from space, but it was understood that the world was not flat.

7. Jousting was just a party sport

It is true that by the end of the middle ages, jousting was an established part of days-long festivals thrown by rich families to bring the community together. However, it was still dangerous and was sometimes used to settle differences. It also originated in the early middle ages as a war training tactic.