19 Things About The Middle Ages We Learned In 2021

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Vote up the most marvelous facts you learned about the medieval world.

The medieval world was full of events, people, and phenomena that may seem incredibly foreign to the modern observer. Interest in things like the Vikings, kings and emperors from the Middle Ages, weapons, and conflicts large and small, accompanies a seemingly inexhaustible need to find out more. Luckily, exploring the history of the Middle Ages seems to reveal new and exciting information at almost every turn.

We found out a lot about the Middle Ages in 2021 - facts that fascinate us and make us want to know more. From quips and quotes by the likes of Genghis Khan to details about well-known entanglements, here are some of the things we learned about the medieval world. Vote up the ones that you find pretty fascinating, too.

  • Vikings Brought Fire-Starting Tree Fungus With Them To The Battlefield
    Photo: Peter Nicolai Arbo / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    475 VOTES

    Vikings Brought Fire-Starting Tree Fungus With Them To The Battlefield

    Viking warriors used the traditional ax, sword, and shield that dominated medieval conflict, and are also associated with war hammers, intimidating helmets, and fear-inducing ships. Lesser known, however, is the use of fire - something Vikings actually brought to the battlefield. 

    They were known to take tree fungus called touchwood and soak it in urine. After a few days, they beat the fungus into something that resembled felt. The highly flammable substance was portable and could be taken on raids as an added tool with which to wreak havoc. 

  • Edmund Ironside May Have Been Stabbed - From Below - While Using The Privy
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Edmund Ironside ruled only for a few months. He was the son of King Æthelred the Unready and his first wife, Ælfgifu of York, and fought alongside his father before taking on enemies of his own as the ruler of the Danelaw. Defeated by Cnut (or Canute) at the Battle of Assandun (or Ashingdon) on October 18, 1016, Edmund then ruled Wessex for a few weeks before meeting his untimely end.

    Edmund passed on November 30, 1016, but there's limited information as to what actually happened. According to 12th-century chronicler Henry of Huntington, Edmund was in Oxford when he was attacked in a bizarre fashion:

    He went one night to the lavatory to answer the call of nature. There the son of Ealdorman Eadric, who by his father's plan was concealed in the pit of the privy, struck the king twice with a sharp knife in the privates, and leaving the weapons in his bowels, fled away.

  • György Dózsa Of Hungary Endured A Royal Roasting In 1514 
    Photo: Edwin Lawrence Godkin / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    György Dózsa established himself as "Prince of the People" during the first years of the 1500s, tasked with freeing Hungary from oppressive nobles. Dózsa rallied peasants in towns like Karcag and Cegléd, purportedly giving speeches to inspire them to join his cause:

    The Hungarian nobles, who keep you in servitude, do not consider you as citizens, but treat you as slaves... Whatever grows on the fields, thanks to your toil and sweat, belongs to them. You plow the soil, plant the grapes, breed cattle and sheep so that the nobility can profit from your labor. What is left for you is serfdom and misery.

    Dózsa and his followers were initially successful, but he was later captured and executed. His demise was especially heinous, as the "Peasant King" was sentenced to sit on a heated iron throne while wearing an iron crown and holding a scepter - both burning hot.

    Dózsa's men - who had been starved for the occasion - watched as executioners used hot pliers to pull off his flesh. They were then told to tear Dózsa with their teeth. Those who didn't swallow what they'd pulled off were slain.

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    The Decaying Body Of Lidwina, The Patron Saint Of Ice Skaters, Smelled So Pleasant It Attracted Revellers 

    When Lidwina fell and broke her rib while ice skating as a teenager, it left her with a debilitating wound that never healed. Her body slowly deteriorated afterward, but as she lay in her bed in the Netherlands, various miracles manifested themselves in her presence.

    The odor from Lidwina's decaying body was so pleasant that it reportedly drew in outsiders. After her skin, bones, and intestines allegedly fell from her body, she had her family bury them for fear of attracting attention. Lidwina's scent was curative, evoked confessions, and accompanied visions she had until her death in 1433. 

    Lidwina is the patron saint of ice skaters, but her long-lasting illness and heroic suffering has also led to her serving as patron saint to the chronically ill. 

  • Dozens Of German Nobles Perished During The Erfurt Latrine Disaster Of 1184
    Photo: Master of the Codex Manesse / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    436 VOTES

    Dozens Of German Nobles Perished During The Erfurt Latrine Disaster Of 1184

    Henry VI, King of Germany, gathered his noblemen and members of the clergy to resolve a territorial dispute on July 26, 1184. He brought the group together at Erfurt, where they met on the second floor of one of the king's official buildings.

    The weight of all the people in the room was too much for the floor and, after an unspecified amount of time, it gave way. Dozens of men fell through and landed in the cesspool below. Reportedly 60 people perished; some were crushed, while others drowned.

    Henry survived only because he was seated in an alcove and not on the main floor. 

  • Genghis Khan extended his dominance through Asia during the late 12th and early 13th centuries, laying the foundation for the largest contiguous empire in world history. As leader of the Mongols, he used cavalry forces to evoke terror, while simultaneously establishing a cohesive network of states under one rule. 

    Mongol raids brought with them massive destruction, but the Mongols were also diplomats in their own right. In 1218, Genghis Khan sent a group of merchants to Otar, located within the Khwarezmian Empire in the Middle East. When they arrived, Inalchuq, the governor of Otar, was suspicious of the group, executed them, and took all of their goods.

    After he heard about what had happened, Genghis Khan sent envoys to demand reparations, but Inalchuq refused; he had the ambassadors executed, as well, prompting the Mongolian ruler to send a military response. 

    Genghis Khan and his Mongols unleashed an onslaught on Otrar, one that led to an extended siege. After several months, the Mongols breached the city walls, plundered Otrar, and took many of its inhabitants captive.

    Inalchuq suffered a different fate, however. He reportedly had molten silver poured into his eyes, ears, and, by some tellings, down his throat. 

    Across the board, the arrival of the Mongols was seen as some sort of punishment from God. According to sources, Genghis Khan was willing to make this very point himself. After taking control of Bukhara in 1220 CE, he entered a mosque and told those hiding inside:

    I am the flail of God. If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.