Piers Plowman and Old World Harvests

William Langland’s medieval allegorical epic Piers Plowman (c. 1370) offers commentary in unrhymed alliterative verse on spiritual aspects of temporal labor. The dreamy landscapes that emerge from Langland’s imagination offer insight into feudal society as dialogue with Reason, Conscience, and Faith guiding Piers’ quest to live courageously as a person of faith. Lines from the […]

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The Treasures of Jean, Duke of Berry (Part II)

The colorful pictorial instruction of the Labors of the Months seen in the stained glass windows of cathedrals and manorial homes and in Les Très Riches Heures depicts peasants and aristocrats in commonplace activities throughout the year. They reveal through master craftsmanship the inexorably turning wheel of seasonal toil in uneasy relationship with Nature’s forces. […]

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Magnificent Illustration—The Treasures of Jean, Duke of Berry (Part I)

Hildegard of Bingen’s notable monastic contemporary, French abbot St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), led reforms of the Cistercian so monks could more fully live out the Rule of St. Benedict by affirming the value of field labors, improving agricultural lands with the help of affiliated lay brothers, and cooperating with others to mill grains, process […]

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An Agrarian Guide to Health and Happiness

The Tacuinum Sanitatus (Almanac of Health) is one of the most richly illustrated fourteenth century Herbals though it is based on an earlier compendium written by the renowned Arab physician Ibn Buṭlān in the eleventh century and translated into Latin. The book  focuses on prevention rather than cures, and is based on the traditions of […]

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Saint Hildegard and “Labors of the Months”

English Fleta and other European manuals on model agricultural practices for landlords and manorial managers appeared widely in the late thirteenth century, followed by others like Pietro de Crescenzi’s exceptional fourteenth century Agricultural Calendar. Although many of these manuscripts were heavily influenced by the classic Latin treatises of Varro and Columella, that they were penned […]

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The “Cerealization” of Europe

The story of farming is one of usual significance here in Franklin County which supplies annually supply over one billion dollars’ worth of crops—chiefly grain and vegetables, but also fruits and hay. Of course agriculture had long been practiced by natives peoples in North and South America, and since ancient times in the Eastern Hemisphere. […]

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North African Threshers and Gallic-Roman Reapers

“Wonders never cease,” as is often said and I’m always amazed how archaeological discoveries in the past century have revealed more about life in ancient times than the past thousand years of evidence. I hope this is encouraging to young people contemplating careers in history and related fields. A team of Italian archaeologists excavating near […]

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Eat Your Barley! Whole Grains and Gladiators

Humble barley and oats generally give way to wheat berries, lentils, and chickpeas as principal ingredients in modern recipes calling for grains and legumes. But the Italian “farro” grains emmer and spelt were staples of Roman legionnaires who made nutritious soups from the cracked kernels and likely spread it and other Roman varieties throughout the […]

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