Book Review: Life in a Medieval City

You should know first off that in this book, the word “city” is used loosely. The specific city on which this book focuses is Troyes, a French city in the Champagne region with approximately 10,000 inhabitants in the year 1250. However, Troyes was also a “fair” city which hosted two major merchant fairs every year — the Cold Fair in November-December, and the Hot Fair in May-June. Around the fair times, the city’s population swelled to four or five times its normal size with smiths, including gold and silver smiths, armorers, jewelers, tailors, weavers, vegetable farmers, butchers,  moneychangers, artisans, prostitutes (many of the local women, both married and unmarried, took the opportunity to earn a little extra money during the fairs), pickpockets, and other people who wanted to buy, sell, steal, or all three. The Troyes Fairs were well-known in western Europe; merchants came from as far away as Constantinople to participate.

The writers focused on the year 1250 because this was Troyes at its peak. Not long after, the fairs became less popular as the European economy began to stagnate and attacks of nature — floods, epidemics, fires, famines, even earthquakes — began to increase. There were battles between secular leaders and the Catholic Church, and a few minor Crusades occurred after 1250.

The book gives details about many artisan processes of the day. For example, according to the authors, iron was typically smelted by digging a pit on a windy hillside, adding drains to the sides, then layering bog iron ore and charcoal until the pit was full. A little dirt was placed on the top. When the ore reached a high enough temperature it would flow out of the furnace through the drains. In the process, some carbon from the charcoal was absorbed by the iron, making a mild type of steel.

I recommend this book to readers who, like me, are curious about the Middle Ages. The authors have also written books about life in a medieval village and a castle.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Life in a Medieval City”

    1. Yes, it involved a lot of hard physical work for most people. And although the economy was doing well in 1250, it wasn’t long before the majority of Europeans were at subsistence level or worse.

      Liked by 1 person

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