Weird History
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What Life Was Like For Poor People During The "Golden Ages" Of History

Updated September 23, 2021 99k views15 items

A Golden Age is defined as being a period of "peace, prosperity, and happiness." Early Greek and Roman poets used the phrase to describe how people lived in an almost idealized time and place. It is a point in history where art, science, and philosophy thrive, and where economic growth is unparalleled.

There have been many Golden Ages throughout history. And while many (particularly the wealthy) thrived in these environments, the lower classes were still dramatically poorer, working hard for very little in return. Poverty was common during the Gilded Age and the Renaissance, and peasants were heavily taxed during the Enlightenment. And while many Americans were driving cars during the Roaring '20s, others struggled just to make a living.

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  • Photo: Andrea Mantegna / Wikimedia Commons

    The Renaissance: A Rebirth Following The Black Death

    Many scholars believe that Florence, Italy, was the birthplace of the Renaissance. Following the Middle Ages and the nearly 200 million lives lost to the Black Death, the period known as the Renaissance emerged. The Renaissance, literally meaning “rebirth," took place between 1400 and 1600 in Europe as the feudal system began to crumble and explorers discovered new continents, resulting in the growth of the economy and development of technology such as printing and gunpowder. Ideas flourished and artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo created masterpieces.

  • Photo: Giacomo Ceruti / Wikimedia Commons

    Peasants In The Renaissance Survived On Food Scraps

    During the Renaissance, a person's class was determined by their income, job, and level of government power. That classification also determined what sort of food they ate and the clothes they wore. Additionally, peasants and unskilled workers did not have any job security - if they didn't satisfy their employers, their pay would be cut or they would simply be fired.

    Many poor people lived on farms, wore simple clothes, and ate basic food such as bread or soup made from scraps. Their homes were usually very small, sometimes only having one room.

  • The Gilded Age: Technological Innovation Soared

    The Gilded Age generally refers to the period between 1878-1889 where great technological innovation led to the increased production of iron and steel along with a higher demand for lumber, gold, and silver. This in turn led to the increased need for railroad development, creating new opportunities for entrepreneurs and cheaper goods for consumers.

    People such as John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie became very wealthy thanks to the rapid economic grown and new technology benefiting the middle class. But Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner dubbed the time period following the Civil War as the "Gilded Age" for a reason: political corruption and social problems ran rampant underneath all the dazzling innovations.

  • Photo: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration / Wikimedia Commons

    Farmers And Laborers Struggled To Make A Living During The Gilded Age

    During the Gilded Age, farmers were hardly able to pay their bills and feed their families. They faced challenges such as droughts, plagues of insects, falling market prices, and high interest rates. They often blamed the proliferation of railroads, land monopolists, mortgage companies, manufacturers of farm equipment, and others for their increasing plights. Industrial workers also struggled to make end's meet and worked long days in dangerous conditions for little money. Small farmers lived in poor conditions and barely got by while industrialists and financiers built decadent homes for their families.