Beasts of War | Groups | Historical Gamer Town Square | Forum | Life Expectancy in the Middle Ages

Beasts of War Homepage

Support the Nemesis Board Game kickstarter - Click Here

Group Admins

No Admins

Historical Gamer Town Square

Public Group active 39 minutes ago

General Historical Gaming Discussion Group, where you can discuss anything historical and point visitors to your threads and activities elsewhere on Beasts of War’s Hubs and Forums.

Common post tags:
(Please use when creating topics.)
Historical, WWI, WWII, Review, Event, Community Discussion, *Gamename

*Please refer to the game or company

Life Expectancy in the Middle Ages (27 posts)

← Group Forum   Group Forum Directory
  • Avatar Image evilstu761p said 2 weeks ago:

    Saw this article today and thought it may be of interest to the community. Suggests people in the 5th to 7th Century could have lived well into their 70′s…

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-01-04/debunking-myth-people-died-young-before-modern-medicine/9302356

  • Avatar Image elessar2590386p said 2 weeks ago:

    Yep if you lived past childhood you had a pretty long life. The average age gets lowered by all the infant mortality.

    You weren’t healthy though. Almost all peasants would have bone/teeth problems especially archers who are easily identified by their microscopic arm bone fractures/

    Rotten teeth were just either put up with or yanked out with no anesthetic or knowledge of sanitation leaving fragments in the gum (if you’ve ever had a tooth pulled just imagine that being done by an illiterate Blacksmith).

    A peasants diet was also pretty garbage, sure you weren’t eating sugary garbage but you were eating meat that was basically caked in salt and left in a barn for weeks at a time which isn’t great for your health.

  • Avatar Image elessar2590386p said 2 weeks ago:

    Most of the Roman Emperor’s (who weren’t murdered or killed in battle) lived into their seventies. Charlemagne lived into his seventies as did most of the Pope’s. Muhammad and his wives also lived into their sixties. Granted these are all kings/important people although their “Medical” care wasn’t that much better than the average persons and you were probably better off not going to a doctor until pretty recently (well the 1800′s but that’s recent I guess). Most of it came down to escaping virus’s plague’s and infections, if you did that it wasn’t much different to today really just replace diabetes and cancer with broken limbs that never really heal and nasty infections.

    George Washington himself probably would have lived a little longer if not for his doctors bleeding him.

  • Avatar Image warzan10023p said 2 weeks ago:

    I’ve got to say the realisation of infant mortality has really set in for me.

    If I were in the middle ages I’m pretty sure only wee Savanna would have made it. Each of the boys would have struggled only for the by today’s standards relatively minor (and on a couple of occasions more major) interventions.

    Makes me think about my grandparents and great grandparents etc and wonder how many of their line didn’t make it (and we were never told) considering my father came from a family of I think 10 kids (the irish lol) I don’t know how Maggie (my grandmother) beat the odds!

    Got a gaming rumour?
    Then email me at warren@beastsofwar.com
    Anonymity Guaranteed.
  • Avatar Image warcolours59p said 2 weeks ago:

    There is this common misconception that people once lived shorter lives due mainly to the statistics of life expectancy. As a matter of fact people lived til ripe old ages more often than we believe: the statistic is hijacked both by infant mortality and by the fact that in those times war was somewhat endemic in may areas, though with a lower intensity than today, and in war it’s normally young adults those who loose their life. Violent crime was also pretty common.

    Warcolours Miniature Painting Studio
  • Avatar Image warzan10023p said 2 weeks ago:

    That’s an interesting point @warcolours I wonder if there are stats with infant mortality and war removed?

  • Avatar Image elessar2590386p said 2 weeks ago:

    @warzan I found this amazing Journal on Mortality in the Roman Empire and with some Maths of my own I think I can give you a number.

    From Roman Life Expectancy: The Pannonian Evidence
    Author(s): Bruce Frier
    Source: Phoenix, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Winter, 1983), pp. 328-344

    This i what I can make out of what is written in the Journal.
    Granted this is Romans but still

    Age zero Mortality was 466.9 Per 1000 so about half of babies wouldn’t see their first Birthday. Compare that to 9.9 per 1000 for Children Age 10 and you can see the massive change. Now look at young men who would be doing the dangerous stuff 17.2 for Age 20, 19.5 for Age 25 and 22.3 for Age 30 which are your prime Military years.

    Taking an initial Birth of 100,000 Babies. The first big drop comes from Age 0 (100,000) to Age 1 (64,178). The second big drop is from Age (64,178) to Age 5 (48,968) but from there the drop is pretty consistent, 3,000 per 5 years from 5-80 which is unexpected but well explained and referenced)meaning that losses in war were probably comparable to natural losses in the older Generations.

    So if we take out people under the age of 5 as anomalies (this is my Maths now so take it with a pinch of Salt) the Average age of a Roman is about 50 compared to 29 (the Journals number) when the Infant Mortality rates are counted. War is hard to factor in since Rome was all over the place going from Massive Wars to long periods of relative Peace back to Massive wars.

    EDIT: War is extremely tricky because what counts as War? Is it just the men killed in combat or died of wounds? Is it every man who died on campaign whether it’s from a sword or disease? Is it just the men who died minus the normal death rate? It’s almost impossible to figure out especially with the Massacres of Romans and the Periods of Peace screwing the numbers up. It would make a pretty good PhD if anyone had the time/patience to wade into that mess.

  • Avatar Image warcolours59p said 2 weeks ago:

    Not that I know of @warzan; it is quite difficult to get accurate data of the times, since we do not have sufficient records of births and deaths. However, if we look at the lives of famous people, we find that most of those, when not dying a violent death, lived to old age, from roman times to the middle ages. It is true that these might be regarded as special cases, since most of these had more sheltered lives than the average peasant, but nonetheless it should tell us that reaching 70 (or in some cases 80 or more) years of age was less common than today perhaps, but by no mean exceptional

  • Avatar Image bigdave419p said 2 weeks ago:

    Archers have always been easily identifiable as a result of the enormous damage archery training did to the spines and upper body – enormous stresses of wielding hunting bows as a child then later war bows as a teen, those spinal fractures and deformities never go away. Curvy spine? Archer init.

    When it came to diet, the peasantry wouldn’t have been subject to the damage sugar can do, but it’s worth remembering that the poor would be eating course grains often impregnated with sand and grit if they were using poor quality quern stones which on the one hand, the abrasion may help with the removal of plaque but it would also severely damage your molars. Plaque hardening on the outside, and the tops of your teeth being ground away, not fun. Bad breath was also likely to be a major issue as a result of poor dental hygiene but there are a myriad of herbs available (including mint) for the young peasant bachelor.

    That being said, monasteries were still thriving centres of culture and learning – with a great many of them home to medicinal herb gardens, libraries and hospitals. Being poor wouldn’t necessarily bar you from getting access to medical treatment so long as you were ok being treated by novices or for the purposes of some experimental procedure… Bodies (and body parts) found buried near monasteries are sometimes found with the remains of seeds and herbs like Hembane and poppy seeds implying that procedures undertaken in institutions like monasteries or the early universities would have had access to primitive anaesthetic but I doubt it’s use would have been prevalent outside of these institutions. As scary as it sounds, it’s worth remembering it’s not as if we’ve got a terrific track record today, medical blunders kill more than traffic accidents. The church connected the great centres of learning (operating outside of the parameters of the church was incredibly dangerous, what with the witch burnings etc) but for an inquisitive mind, you could learn a lot if you had the money to pay for it or the tenacity to succeed in the church – a great many scholars were also known to travel to Cordoba to access the knowledge of the Islamic world but by the time of the crusades, more and more of that knowledge was being translated into Greek and Latin and being shipped home anyway.

    The infamous Thomas Becket came from Cheapside in London, while William of Wykeham (Edward III’s chancellor) went on to found Winchester College for the purposes of educating 70 peasants a year – not bad for a country lad. If you could survive childhood and could avoid war or plague or childbirth, meh, be alright. Abundance of beer, even feudal obligation had it’s ups and downs. In England, the most a peasant would be expected to serve their lord would be 50-60 days a year, in return you’d have your land grant, access to common land so you could pursue your own ventures – stuff like cheese making was very common. Graze the cattle on common land, gather the milk, anything you didn’t eat you could sell. If you think about it, two months service in lieu of taxes, that’s 1/6th of your income lost in service to your lord, it’s proportionally less than what many of us have to pay in taxes today. At different points in time, your lord would also be expected to feast you at least once a year and courtesy of the church, 80 holidays a year…

  • Avatar Image warcolours59p said 2 weeks ago:

    @bigdave said:
    As scary as it sounds, it’s worth remembering it’s not as if we’ve got a terrific track record today, medical blunders kill more than traffic accidents.

    Not just that: an adverse pharmacological reaction it the fourth cause of death in the US, the third in Sweden and the fact that we do not knowmore data about this is that in many countries that is not recorded as the effective cause of death…

  • Avatar Image limburger1957p said 2 weeks ago:

    Statistics are always tricky aren’t they ?
    Although life wasn’t easy in those days the amount of people that die before the age of 5 definitely skews it lower than it was.
    It also doesn’t help that we don’t have accurate records of that era.

    anaesthetics are still quite dangerous to use today, because the line between ‘numb’ and ‘coma’ can be very thin. And that’s before you consider the adverse reactions people may have.

    A re-enactor of a knight hospitaler surgeon ( https://hospitaalridders.nl/ ) told me that they didn’t use anaesthetics when amputating, because they were effectively using poison.
    Use too little and it doesn’t work.
    Too much and you kill your patient and then you’re dealing with an unhappy family that might take your life in revenge …
    Which is why having a few knights as backup was useful

    Amputation itself wasn’t a matter of cutting something of either, because the open wound would not heal properly.
    War is a great catalyst for improving the health care …
    http://military.wikia.com/wiki/Knights_Hospitaller.

    http://www.medievalists.net/2016/05/the-ideal-medieval-hospital-st-john-of-jerusalem/

    festina lente cauta fac omnia mente
  • Avatar Image elessar2590386p said 2 weeks ago:

    @limburger well said.

    If you want to see some grizzly stuff check out Amputation during the American Civil War. You liquor up the Patient (which is bad because it makes them bleed more) then slice away the flesh until you hit the bone then you break out the saws. There’s a few different techniques involving cutting straight, concave or convex depending on the surgeons preference/skill and tools. All that with tools that were washed in water if you were lucky.

    People often forget that the Hospitaller (Knights of Saint John) were primarily doctors and monks and spent most of their time caring for the sick rather than fighting.

    There’s a cool account from the War of 1812 where an enlisted man actually writes about the process of having his arm amputated. He didn’t want to be held down and went through the whole thing in silence before taking his arm out and burying it. He was gambling and playing cards three days later. Others died right there on the tables from shock or blood loss.

  • Avatar Image totsuzenheni148p said 1 week, 6 days ago:

    @warzan said:
    I’ve got to say the realisation of infant mortality has really set in for me.

    If I were in the middle ages I’m pretty sure only wee Savanna would have made it. Each of the boys would have struggled only for the by today’s standards relatively minor (and on a couple of occasions more major) interventions.

    Makes me think about my grandparents and great grandparents etc and wonder how many of their line didn’t make it (and we were never told) considering my father came from a family of I think 10 kids (the irish lol) I don’t know how Maggie (my grandmother) beat the odds!

    The social impact of this intrigues me. From what i’ve read those of us who were born in the C20th lived through a fairly unique time in Europe and the West in that many of us will have been used to being a part of large families. For example, blood relatives i had included:

    15 grand uncles and grand aunties and 4 grand parents ( not including a grand aunt who died at 13 ) – a total of 19 grand relatives when the mean average* is approximately 8 grand relatives. ( One of my grand mothers lived to be a great grand mother, and the other a great great grand mother. I fondly remember the latter at a family gathering looking around at the hoard and saying to me ‘this is all my fault you realise’. But i digress. )

    5 uncles and aunties and 2 parents – a total of 7 when the mean average* is approximately 4.

    11 cousins, when the mean average* is approximately 4.

    I specify ‘mean average’ because i suspect the mode and median might be different, but you get the point, which to say the family experience of someone living in C20th Europe, when the average number of children surviving into adulthood ( or even, going by @elessar2590‘s comments about how old children were when they died, late childhood ) was considerably more than two, would seem to me to have this significant quantitative difference to the family experience of someone living before or after the C20th in Europe, when the average number of children surviving was approximately two.

  • Avatar Image solar1348p said 1 week, 6 days ago:

    Not to hijack the thread but it sometimes amuses me to imagine how short and brutal people in 200 years will view our modern society. Cancer, drugs, traffic accidents etc could be viewed the same way that we view these historical risks.

  • Avatar Image limburger1957p said 1 week, 6 days ago:

    @elessar2590
    The guy described the procedure like this :
    - first strip back the skin with a knife like you would peal a potatoe
    - cut of the bad part
    - use the skin from the first step to cover the wound … (kind of what you’d do when wrapping a present)
    Using the skin like that as a bandage was a technique they learned from others, because initially they didn’t bother with that (‘not invented here’ or ‘invented by heretics’ … take your pick).

    Of course all this happens with the victim screaming or unconsious from pain with tools that aren’t perfectly clean so chances of infection are pretty high. But it wasn’t quite as bad as the ‘old’ method.

    Medical history is filled with lots of grizzly stuff like that.
    There’s stuff like how the chainsaw was invented as a tool for operations …
    Heck, opening the ribcage of someone is *eh* best left to the imagination of those who like horror movies bloody and brutal. Bones are amazingly resiliient …