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What did medieval peasants do on a farm? Some documents from the period offer insights into the agricultural activities throughout the year.
One of these works was the Liber ruralium commodorum, written by Pietro de’ Crescenzi around 1304-09. This treatise about agriculture offered advice on all kinds of things to be done on the medieval farm, ranging from beekeeping to winemaking, and includes a chapter detailing a monthly calendar of tasks.
This work became very popular in the later Middle Ages, with numerous manuscripts and print versions coming out. These illustrations, from a manuscript made around 1475, show the ‘Labours of the Months’ that medieval peasants did around the farm during a typical year.
Harvesting clay from under the snow – the peasant using a hoe to break clay from the ground beside a riverbank. Clay could then you be used for building or creating goods.
Spreading manure – to help the fields prepare for crops, the peasants would be dropping manure on them to act as fertilizer.
Pruning – here the peasants are working over the branches of these plants, getting rid of dead branches and working to keep the plants healthy.
Sheep Shearing – using a large pair of scissors, the peasants is taking off the wool from a sheep.
Falconry – this is a more noble activity, as the white bird helps in hunting.
Haymaking – in the summer months the peasant would be collecting hay. This field was enclosed by a fence to protect it from the farm animals.
Harvesting – using sickles, a man and a woman are cutting handfuls of wheat.
Threshing – in another small enclosure, the peasants are separating the grain from the chaff.
Sowing – after ploughing the fields, the peasant is scattering seeds into ground.
Crushing grapes – the peasant is standing in this tub, stomping on the grapes to turn them into juice. You can even see some of juice leaking out.
Feeding the pigs – the peasant has taken out his herd of pigs into the forest, where they are feeding on acorns.
Slaughtering the pig – the man gets ready to cut the pig, while the woman stands by with a bowl.
Each spring would see the medieval farmers plant their fields and prepare their own gardens, as well as collect the wool from sheep. Generally the work was somewhat easier during these months, but would get busier in June when hay would need to be harvested, dried and stored. Afterwards, the harvesting of the field crops would see the medieval farm at its most active, with extra labour often being hired. Once the crop had been harvested and prepared, the farmers would return to the fields to plant new crops for the following year.
As the autumn moved into winter, work on the farm decreased but some of the outstanding chores could including repairing buildings, gathering firewood and bringing the animals in from the fields. During the winter months the farmer might also kill and eat some of his livestock for food, and also to preserve what hay had been stored.
Some of our other stories about medieval agriculture:
A Medieval How-to Book for Shepherds
How to defraud your lord on the medieval manor
Capitols singulars deles llauors que deuras sembrar: A late medieval planting guide for the Spanish Levant
Employment on a Northern English Farm, 1370-1409