The Fruits of Civilization (22-8) Manufacture


Although medieval Europe was largely an agrarian society, manufacture increasingly became a significant part of the economy with the passing centuries.

There was some regression in technology and competence during the Dark Ages, such as architecture and building, but by 1000 technical acumen had at least recovered to the standard of Roman times. Innovation made fairly steady progress thereafter. From a historical viewpoint, there was a continuity from medieval to modern times.

The manufacture of cloth dominated medieval industry, followed by building. Early only, most households in every country spun cloth. By the 11th century, some specialization had occurred. Flanders was a locus of one of the most important fabric regions. Other centers include northern Italy, southern and eastern England, and southern France.

Wool was woven more than any other fiber. Quality differences accounted for widespread trade within Europe.

Linen was made in many areas, especially France and eastern Europe. Cotton and silk production were limited to Italy and Muslim Spain.

Technological innovation spread quickly throughout Europe at the beginning of the 12th century. Water-mill wool-fulling was invented. The pedal loom supplanted the simpler weaving frame, and the spinning wheel replacing the distaff.

Metallurgy only progressed in the latter Middle Ages. As iron became cheaper, its use went from weaponry to more utilitarian tools.

Improved technology in ironworking and increasing output owed to consumer demand. When peasants and artisans owned their own tools, they bought the best they could afford, as their well-being owed to the efficacy of their efforts. The widespread use of horseshoes, iron fittings on harnesses, carts, and plows evidenced awareness of this.

Leather was an important material, put to diverse use: saddles, harnesses, clothing, furniture, and industrial equipment, such as bellows. Likewise, worked wood found hundreds of uses, both utilitarian and ornamental.