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How many miners worked at a medieval mine?

I'm writing a story about a miner set in the Middle Ages. There are roughly 50 miners working at the mine, but I feel it may be too much. Historically, how many miners would be involved in a mine?


Myth Weaver
Could be fifty...

That's a pretty long time span, middle ages. If the mine was successful, and there was an ability to make it worthwhile to the miners (or not if they are slaves). Limiting factors would be access to other resources. Water, tools, a market, a supply chain.

Would they be an organized group, or just random miners in the region adding up to 50?
I'd be an organized group. The thing is that the miners start to die one by one until there are like three left. If there were too few, the story would end right away. Also, it's mostly inspired by the game Skyrim, so I'm not very sure about a specific time period or location. I could choose one, though. Thank you both!

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Skip's better at this side of things than I am, but I'd say it will depend on the size of the mine - or the deposit - what they're mining for, and what type of mining they're engaged in, be it open pit, underwater, ye olde salt mine, what have you. Also, tech makes a difference.
I would think it would be totally relative to the surround population and how profitable said mine is for the party involved, unless it's slave labor, in which case 50 doesn't feel like a lot. Is the Mine the surrounding areas only source of exports/profits? Or a pet project? Or just providing materials for the town/city/region it's in/near?

Mad Swede

Well, this depends on what sort of mine you are talking about and the local geology. Something like a silver mine or a copper mine will be of great interest to the king (or whoever rules the local area) and they will take steps to ensure that the mine is run effectively.

Sala Silver Mine in Sweden was first properly exploited (that is, they started digging down) in the beginning of the 1500s, and by 1600 there were 400 or 500 hundred people (men only) working down the mine and almost as many (mostly women and children) working above ground. Falu Copper Mine was first worked in the 1100s and by the 1400s there were about 1200 people working in the mine itself. That numbger increased as production became more efficient.

Mining was not risk free, and many miners died in rock fall, by drowning, from breathing foul air or from the effects of breating in smoke and dust over long periods of time. In the early years gunpoweder was unknonw so rock was split by lighting large wood fires by the face and then cooling the rock with water. Mostminers were very well paid but lived short lives.
Mostminers were very well paid but lived short lives.
I don't think miners were universally paid well. I've visited the quarry mine in Beer, UK (where pretty much all stones for English cathedrals was mined), and they were paid about as bad as you could find. The only people who worked in the mines were those who had no other options left. Pay was poor, and life expectancy was terrible. Mainly from working very long days in grueling conditions. Breathing in rock dust without protection while hammering loudly on rocks is not good for you at all. I can definitely imagine this being true in other locations. Owners of mines probably did very well for themselves, but I can imagine condition in the mine were similar to what you now find in 3rd world mines.

As for the question, just go with however many people your story needs. You can either just have a small local mine with 50 people in it, or just come up with circumstances why there are only 50 people. Maybe the rest fell ill, or the mine just opened and they're starting out, or it ran dry, leaving work for only 50 people or there was a war that required people or any other reason that you can come up with. I doubt many readers will question it, especially if you just handwave an explanation at some point.


toujours gai, archie
As others have said, it depends on the type of mine. It does not, though it might seem logical, depend on the size of the surrounding population; on the contrary, mines could become centers of growth.

But as to size it can be anything you want, from a handful to thousands (yes, really). So if you want just fifty, make it a small operation. It could be a secondary material such as tin or lead, or it could be a small mine of more precious stuff. Also, don't forget support personnel. The stuff was often processed on site, mostly to lower costs of transport to a town or river. At the very least you'd have a cook, a carpenter or other artisans because hammers and wagons break. The smaller the operation, the less specialization.


It could go on indefinitely…. As they say, three handshakes go around the world. If one person shakes 100 hands, then they shake 100 hands; etc... The problem is economy, which starts with food. You need a full belly, and ample bosom.