History for Fantasy Writers: Time Was

This is a two-part article on how time was perceived and measured in ancient and medieval Europe, in the age before mechanical clocks. In Part One I’ll talk about the larger units of time: days, months, years, and the like. In Part Two, it will be hours, minutes, and seconds. It is common for fantasy … Read more

History for Fantasy Writers: Journeymen

We often hear of apprentices in fantasy tales — Ray Feist’s “Magician Apprentice” comes to mind first — but apprenticeship is only one step. This article is about the next step: the journeyman (they were always men; I know of no examples of female journeymen, although there were cases of women who became masters). Once … Read more

History for Fantasy Writers: Shoemakers

Most everyone knows the story of the shoemaker and the elves. The Grimm brothers gave us the version most of us know, and it begins this way: There was once a shoemaker, who worked very hard and was very honest: but still he could not earn enough to live upon; and at last all he … Read more

History for Fantasy Writers: Cowboys of Europe

In the south of France, around the mouths of the Rhône River, lies a region known as the Camargue. It is a land of marshes and reeds and waterfowl. Vast quantities of salt are produced in its wide salt pans, salt with a distinctive pink hue. And there are cowboys. Les Gardiens The cattle are … Read more

History for Fantasy Writers: Millers

This time we talk about millers and mills.  Millers were a part of everyday life everywhere, for they provide the grain the bakers use for our daily bread. Even where someone might have their own baking oven (most people did not), they still needed to have their grain turned into flour. Almost no one did … Read more

History for Fantasy Writers: Merchant Guilds

merchant guild

A merchant guild is a great resource for any of your characters who might be a merchant. Why would any writer make a character a merchant? He might be fine for a minor character, some colorful fellow met at a tavern, and certainly just the sort of someone to rob on an empty highway, but … Read more

History for Fantasy Writers: Bathhouse Keepers

This is another installment in my series, History for Fantasy Authors. There were scores of trades and crafts that organized into guilds. This is an essay about one of them, a guild that existed in Augsburg, Germany in the late Middle Ages. It’s not typical, and that’s part of why I think it’s worth examining. … Read more

History for Fantasy Writers: Pirates

Everyone knows about the pirates of the Caribbean. Let’s talk about other pirates. Since I’m a medieval historian, I’ll stay firmly in the European world. Before we get started, a general comment: the lines between pirate, merchant, and rebel were blurry and ever-shifting. If you had a ship, it was sort of like having a … Read more

History for Fantasy Writers: Money

Medieval money can be divided into two distinctly different types: the kind that existed and the kind that didn’t. Real money was currency, specifically coins of various qualities and weights. The other kind was called “money of account.” This was purely an accounting unit, used for large-scale transactions and never turned into a physical object. … Read more

History for Fantasy Writers: Medieval Childhood

A common understanding about the Middle Ages goes something like this: people didn’t love their children the way we do today, because so many died in infancy or childhood. Sometimes parents didn’t even name or baptize their children until they were three years old because they didn’t want to become too attached. Childhood was brief, … Read more

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