9 Facts about Medieval Engineering That Helped Shape the World Today

Far from being a "dark age", the middle ages actually saw some important developments in the engineering field.
Christopher McFadden
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Far from being a period of intellectual decline after the fall of Rome, the medieval period was a vibrant age of technological development. Learning, or relearning, engineering knowledge from antiquity, medieval engineers really "picked up the baton" and ran with it. 


What are some interesting facts about medieval engineers?

And so, without further ado, here are some interesting facts about medieval engineers and engineering. This list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.

1. Medieval engineers built some amazing war machines

One of the defining feats of engineering in the middle ages was in the field of military engineering. From the mighty trebuchet to the iconic mangonel, some of the war machines built in the medieval period literally helped shape the course of history. 

Most were improvements in technology that came before, but the engineers of the period took them to a whole new level.

2. The treadwheel crane was an amazing development in the medieval period

Another amazing feat of engineering in the middle ages was the development of the treadwheel crane. This man-powered, wooden, hoisting, and lowering apparatus allowed for the monumental cathedrals of the period to be erected.

They were also used, much like cranes today, to load and offload ships. Without this device, the architectural development of the medieval period would probably have been very different indeed. 

3. The middle ages saw the rise of the horseshoe and rigid horse collar

The medieval period, for various reasons, saw the value of labor skyrocket. While this generally leads to some of the most important moments in European history (like the peasant's revolt in the UK), it is also fuelled a drive to find alternative sources of power. 

Some of the results of this were the development of the horseshoe, true stirrup, and the rigid horse collar. This transformed the way beasts of burden, like horses and cattle, were used. 

4. The printing press changed history forever

One major development by engineers during the medieval period was the creation of the printing press. Invented right at the end of the middle ages, it literally changed the world forever.

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No longer could information be controlled by authorities and the price of things like books would dramatically plummet over time. It would also pave the way for the renaissance, the enlightenment, and, frankly, the rise of the modern world. 

5. Wind and water power with big deals in the Medieval period

medieval inventions mill
Source: Andrew Bennet/Flickr

One of the most significant developments in the middle ages was the wide-scale harnessing of wind and water power. While pioneered in older periods, like during the Roman Empire, medieval engineers not only preserved the technology but also mastered it. 

Watermills, like the so-called Norse mill, began to appear all across Europe during this era. 

6. The medieval period saw an agricultural revolution

With the increased efficiency of the use of draught animals and new sources of power from wind and water, the middle ages saw something of an agricultural revolution. Crop yields boomed, allowing for farms to support ever-increasing populations. 

All thanks to the work and dedication of medieval engineers. 

This had a knock-on effect of helping fuel, both with mindpower and manpower, the further development of other industries around the continent. 

7. Architecture reached new heights during the middle ages

Sometimes known as the "great age of building", the medieval period saw an explosion in knowledge of architectural engineering. The great Romanesque and Gothic buildings of the period required very significant knowledge of the physics of building things.

The architect-engineers of the period, clearly influenced by their predecessors in antiquity, not only mastered but refined many aspects of the trade. But they were also not afraid to experiment as the flying buttress, cross-ribbed vaults, and great window panels of many great cathedrals attest. 

8. The medieval period also saw an explosion in castle building

Defensive architecture during the middle ages also saw something of a revolution. While early castle-like fortifications were developed by the Romans, it took engineers in the medieval period to master the technique. 

These incredible structures would come to define the period in the future. 

9. The middle ages saw the development of the spinning wheel

And lastly, one of the most important engineering developments during the period was the spinning wheel. The precursor to the spinning jenny and frame, it was first invented in India in the 6th Century AD and would soon spread across Eurasia. 

This innocuous device would help start one of the most important periods in human history -- the Industrial Revolution

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