The 9 crucial Medieval inventions that prove these weren’t as ‘dark’ times as we like to think

A period that marked a before and after in history, the Middle Ages were illuminated by inventions that changed the way of life from the poorest to the most powerful.

From the end of the Roman Empire around the 5th century to the 15th century, humanity witnessed important social, scientific, and spiritual changes. It is the period that comprised the so-called Middle Ages, which has often been described as dark, but which was brighter than one might think. In the collective imagination, this period is associated with kings, immense castles, brave knights, disgusting customs, and warring armies. All of this did exist, but in the background, there is much more to discover.

For example, even today, it is still surprising that there were many poisonings with tin, a material that was used in crockery and cutlery, but when it oxidized easily caused some remains are ingested causing the death of young and adult people. At the same time as these unfortunate events, the intellectual awakening led to important technological advances that changed the way of life of medieval people.


Inventions that are as popular today as gunpowder in the field of construction, public libraries in universities, or mechanical clocks that allow us to control time and manage our schedules, had their origin in that period that was involved in wars and conquests, but that also enjoyed a human awakening towards reason and knowledge. Here are the most important inventions that marked the Middle Ages.

Public libraries

It was in 1452 when people were given free access to consulting books in the Malatesta Novello Library in Cesena, Italy, which is considered to be the first public library in the world. This allowed people who did not have access to formal education to cultivate themselves and make knowledge a right of humanity.


The printing press

It is perhaps the most important of all, as it made knowledge available to many people and allowed the most important works to be distributed on a large scale. The German printer Johannes Gutenberg modernized the method already implemented by the Chinese in the 11th century. Today, printing presses are vital for books and other printed materials to spread the written word to mankind.

The mechanical clock

Methods for measuring time had already existed for many centuries, but in the Middle Ages, the first mechanisms, that allowed us to understand time in a much more precise way, were invented. That is to say, the mechanical clock allowed humanity to measure time with minutes and seconds. This was a revolution in the lives of workers and even kings, who were thus able to better organize their workdays and plans.



At the end of the 13th century, eyes were finally able to see those objects and readings that they longed to analyze. It is unknown who actually invented these revolutionary objects that put into practice the principles of optics, but whoever it was, he did a great favor to the visually impaired, who finally had a tool that allowed them to lead a more normal life.


This invention revolutionized the art of war, facilitating conquests and allowing battles to be won more easily. It was the Chinese who invented it during the ninth and eleventh centuries, and in the thirteenth century, spread its use throughout the rest of Asia and part of Europe.


The spinning machine

Many believe that its origin is in India and that it was later introduced to Europe through the Middle East. This device allowed the spinners to work more comfortably and, above all, it brought speed to the production of clothing or tapestries.

The cannon

As we have already seen, the Chinese were great inventors who bequeathed to mankind the basic principles of many things. The cannon is another of their inventions: developed in the 13th century, it was not until the 14th century that it was introduced in Europe during the siege of the French city of Metz. Like gunpowder, cannons served as a breakthrough in battles and also found great utility in both sea and land combat.


Oil painting

This technique, created by the Flemish painting movement known as Flemish, was based on the use of oil as a binder. Its great quality is that it allowed greater color and detail than tempera -whose pigments were obtained from the mixture of water and egg-. Jan and Hubert van Eyck, Roger van der Weyden, and Gerard David were the most outstanding Flemish painters and those who best knew how to bring out the qualities of oil painting.


One of the most popular and fascinating games of our times has a debatable origin: most sources point to India as its birthplace. From there it began a long journey through Persia, the Muslim world, until it reached Europe, encompassing the distant territories of Iceland.


Despite being one of the most popular periods, the Middle Ages remain in the shadows of knowledge. There are many things of that period that are ignored or that have caused real surprise when discovered: from sexual habits to the strangest ways of dying and that testify to how convulsive that period was.

Story originally published in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva

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