Medieval Monday: Travel Distance in a Day

medieval-horseBack in January, I put together a post on horses and their role in medieval society, and another on travel. Today’s post is a bit unusual, but it relates to both of those. It will be particularly interesting to those of you who are also writers, and are constantly trying to figure out distances. How far can my character travel in a day by horseback, or on foot. How about an army? How does terrain and weather affect travel distances? I was thinking along these lines over the weekend while working on my next book. I did a little poking around online, and found this awesome thread in a forum from five years ago. The best credit I can give to the writers/researchers is to include the forum page and their forum usernames. But whoever they are, I thank them for putting this together, as I am guessing it took a lot of time and wasn’t all that easy. Even if you aren’t a writer, this is pretty fascinating stuff.

 

Anyway, here is the information, taken from https://www.cartographersguild.com/showthread.php?t=19730. I hope you find it interesting and possibly useful as well.

How far can a horse travel in one day: by fifty

Strangely I was doing a little research on how far a horse can realistically travel in one day and after much google-fu it seems to depend very much on the type of horse, conditioning (i.e. is it used for long distance travel all the time, rather than been standing in a field for months, or only used for racing, etc..) and condition (i.e. is it well fed and watered), as well as how heavy a load and the terrain involved.

…anyway this is the list of distances (in miles per day) I’ve come up with from a variety of sources that I shall be using personally:

On Roads / trails
Level or rolling terrain: 40
Hilly terrain: 30
Mountainous terrain: 20

Off-Road (or unkempt trails etc)
Level/rolling grasslands: 30
Hilly grasslands: 25
Level/rolling forest/thick scrub: 20
Very hilly forest/thick scrub: 15
Un-blazed Mountain passes: 10
Marshland: 10

Assumptions

  • An average quality horse, of a breed suitable for riding, conditioned for overland travel and in good condition.
  • Roads and trails are in good condition and up kept by whatever local authority deals with them.
  • Weather is good to fair, and travelers are riding for around ten hours a day.

Notes

Halve these distances for a horse pulling a cart or for a very heavily laden horse (e.g. a fully armoured knight who insists on wearing his armour all day rather than having it stowed on a second baggage horse as would be normal!).

Add half again for specially trained horses and riders who are prepared to push hard (rangers, scouts and messangers, etc…) though do bear in mind that horses cannot be pushed like this for more than a few days at a time. You can add a bit more again to this distance if the breed of horse is exceptionally suitable for this sort of thing, but I’d say 2 to 2.5 times the base is the absolute maximum without some sort of magical assistance!

Poor weather such as heavy rain or wind should reduce distances by about one quarter, and very poor conditions like heavy snow or gale force winds, etc.. should reduce distances by at least half if not more.

Finding a place to ford a small river or swimming your horse across a larger river should knock a couple of miles off the day’s journey, other unique obstacles might have a similar reduction. (as a guide remember a horse walks at around 4 miles per hour (compared to a human average of around 2.5 – 3mph) so if the obstacle takes half an hour to deal with that’s a couple of miles lost.

Out of interest

The Tevis cup is a 100-mile-in-one-day competition which goes over some quite rugged and mountainous trail terrain in the western states of USA… but they do it on very special Arab horses, with little or no baggage and even the winning times are usually around 17 hours!

 

How far can a person walk in one day: by fifty

Ok, well to weigh in in similar style to my earlier post…

Again from my reading around on the matter overland travel by foot again depends on a number of human factors such as the condition and experience of the walker as well as environmental and terrain considerations.

Equipment and preparedness would also have a bearing… Modern hiking boots, ultra-light camping equipment and freeze dried trail rations as compared to hob-nailed roman sandals and hard tack, or even pre-historic fur wrapped feet and foraging as you go would all have a dramatic effect on distances covered!

But working on an earliest Roman through to a latest pre-19thC sort of period, and with some other rather broad assumptions again (such as average human walking speed of 3 mph) this is the list of distances (in miles per day) that I would tentatively suggest:

On Roads / trails
Level or rolling terrain: 20
Hilly terrain: 14
Mountainous terrain: 9

Off-Road (or unkempt trails etc)
Level/rolling grasslands: 15
Hilly grasslands: 12
Level/rolling forest/thick scrub: 8
Very hilly forest/thick scrub: 6
Un-blazed Mountain passes: 6
Marshland: 5

Assumptions

  • A young to middle aged man of average height and build, in good physical condition and used to walking for long distances, Equipped with good walking footwear and other hiking equipment appropriate to the era.
  • Roads and trails are in good condition and up kept by whatever local authority deals with them.
  • Weather is good to fair, and travellers are walking for around 7-8 hours a day.

Notes

Reduce these distances by around a quarter for a heavily laden man.

Add a quarter to half again for very experienced hikers.

As with mounted travel, exceptionally experienced and/or physically capable men might be able to do significantly more as a one off forced march, but twice the base is probably a reasonable maximum and I would expect them to take be walking for up to 20 hours and be utterly exhausted at the end of it!

Out of interest

Naismith’s rule is a ‘rule of thumb’ for planning a hiking expedition by calculating how long it will take to walk the route, including ascents. The basic rule is:

“Allow 1 hour for every 3 miles forward, plus 1 hour for every 2000 feet of ascent”.

I’ve read anything from 15 to 25 miles per day quoted in many places for a fully laden Roman Legionary, but 15 miles seems more common though with time to break camp and rebuild it after the days march factored in most sources reckon they were only marching for a round 5 hours a day anyway. (There are some sources that suggestion 50 mile forced marches were possible for the Legions but many dismiss this as an exaggeration)

And just to show how subjective and ‘as a guide only’ this sort of table is:

The world record for the marathon distance of just over 26 miles is a mere 2 hours and 8 minutes!

Ulysse Grant thought a forced march of 20 miles in a day was generally not a good idea if troops were expected to fight at the end of it

The British SAS selection ‘Test week’ concludes with ‘Endurance’, a 40 mile march across the Brecon Beacons (very hilly / mountainous terrain, famed for its bad weather) – completed in less than 20 hours whilst loaded in excess of fifty five pounds of equipment, plus water, food and rifle.


More Info: by rdanhenry

Over long distances, there are very few animals that the human (in proper condition) cannot outpace. Horses, however, are no slouches themselves at long distances. I would say you probably get about the same rates on foot or by horse, assuming conditions do not hinder the horse unduly (you’ll never get a horse up Everest and a man can fit through more closely grown trees). The great advantage of mounted travel is that somebody else is doing the work. You also generally use a beast of burden, which can handle more weight than a man.

Dean Karnazes “Ran 3,000 miles (4,800 km) across the United States from Disneyland to New York City in 75 days, running 40 to 50 miles per day, 2011” per Wikipedia. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dean_Karnazes)

Armies will travel much slower, due to the amount of equipment required, including considerations of food for such large groups. Armies generally include wagons, which will always be slower than simply and horse and rider. Smaller bands of travelers who are less burdened will go faster. Maximum rates require that one be essentially unburdened; running over 100 miles in a day is simply not done with a backpack.

I’d say 20-40 miles per day on a good road and no hampering conditions is about what you can expect with a normal group either on foot or mounted. Conditions will often make travel slower. Don’t forget that weather will have an effect; travel can be slowed considerably if the skies are unfriendly. The need to obtain food is more of a problem with horses, if there is no ready grazing. How elaborate the encampment preparations are will also have an affect on travel rate, as will daylight hours, as both influence hours spent in travel. An army that fortifies its encampment will be more secure, but travel slower, than one that simply throws down its bedrolls, sets a watch, and sleeps.

And as fifty’s post points out, there is a difference between how far you will travel in a day if you simply need to get where you are going and how fast you go if you need to reserve enough strength to do battle or otherwise exert yourself when done with the journey. Peaceful pilgrims in a peaceful land will outpace an army or a group of “adventurers” exploring wilderness. There are many factors, which is why historical numbers vary so much.


by Midgardsormr

I don’t recall where I read it, but I remember learning that the effective control radius for a Medieval castle is about 20 miles: the distance that a mounted force can travel in a single day and still be able to fight when they arrive.

Somewhere around here is a very nice analysis of settlement density in an English county, originally posted by Gidde I believe, that included some numbers of travel distance and time. If I recall correctly, the average distance between settlements was roughly half a day’s walk, such that a person could go to the next town, make some trades, and be back home before dark.

 

Medieval Monday: Blacksmiths

Blacksmiths played a vital role in medieval society. Everyone, from the lowest peasant, to the King required their services. Every village had at least one blacksmith, with larger towns and cities supporting many more of them.

We often have a certain image in mind when it comes to the medieval blacksmith; we see them crafting swords, daggers, armor, and shields. And certainly there were some blacksmiths—particularly those that worked in castles—who specialized in producing the tools of war. Castle blacksmiths were envied for the position of prestige they held, and their positions were usually hereditary. But whether they were working in a castle, or a rural village, a blacksmith’s work was dirty, loud, hot, and physically demanding with little glamor in the daily routine.

Aside from weapons and armor, just about every chore and trade required some kind of metalwork. Mundane items like nails, doorknobs horseshoes, chains, kitchen tools, utensils for cooking in fireplaces, cauldrons, farming implements, locks, keys, arrow tips, axes, and much more were all made by blacksmiths. Once made, many items also needed constant repair, making a blacksmith’s job a very busy one. Some blacksmiths might even make jewelry, or somewhat more frightening, torture devices. Blacksmiths with special skill could make intricate and impressive wrought iron pieces for structures like cathedrals and castles, and metalwork intended for defense. With the wide variety of items made, and the different skills required for each, it is no surprise that their work was eventually split up into different specialties. Not every blacksmith did the same kind of work, and some branched out into work with precious metals. By the 14th century, clocks were even added to the blacksmith’s repertoire.

There were unusual beliefs and superstitions surrounding blacksmiths. They were thought by some to have healing powers, particularly over injuries like broken bones. However, they were also sometimes associated with the devil. While they were too important to be persecuted due to this belief, blacksmiths were often the object of colorful legends.

Enjoy this video showing a blacksmith at work to learn a little more about the craft and how to make a medieval axe.


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Medieval Monday: Smelting Iron Ore / Bloomeries

I am re-posting this from over a year ago with the intent of making my next post about blacksmiths and their work. It is a subject I haven’t tackled yet even though blacksmiths played an important role in medieval society.


My second book, Ancient Voices, is set in a small mountain village called Minhaven—a place full of miners and blacksmiths.  Naturally I had to do some research, to figure out what mining techniques were used back then, and how iron ore dug from the ground was transformed into something that could be used to make things like tools, knives, and swords.

hotslagOne process I had particular trouble envisioning was the smelting process. The simplest and most common furnaces used in the Middle Ages were called bloomeries, and they were typically built out of stone or clay.  Iron ore was placed in through the top, along with a lot of charcoal for fuel, and kept burning for hours.  Very high temperatures had to be maintained for the process to work.  Air could be fed into the bloomery with a hand bellows.  Sometimes limestone or oyster shells were added into the mix as well, so that they would combine with the impurities in the ore.  The end result would be a brittle slag that could be separated from the iron, which could then be hammered into submission by a blacksmith.

I found a couple of great videos that show how the smelting process works.  The first is replicating Edwardian era techniques, which were relatively unchanged from the Middle Ages.  It gives a great demonstration in only about 5 minutes.

For those of you wanting more, this video is more authentic medieval, and shows the entire process, but is considerably longer (about 22 minutes).  Definitely worth the time if you are interested in the topic.  Both videos are very well done. Enjoy!

Medieval Monday: Dirty Laundry

Those dirty clothes really pile up, don’t they? Especially when you have kids. As much as I grumble about having to wash and fold, I’m not really doing the work—the washing machine is taking care of the hard part for me. Our medieval counterparts certainly didn’t have that luxury, or many others that we don’t give much thought to. So in honor of my growing laundry pile, I thought today’s post would answer the question of “how would I have done it back then.”

Laundry was unquestionably women’s work. Some cities had communal wash houses, where women could come to share news and gossip while they worked. Soapwort, an herb with cleansing properties, was sometimes used to get fabric clean. It was also beaten with “beetles”, rinsed, and wrung. Marjoram could be used to give washing water a pleasant scent. Clothing could also be washed in natural bodies of water (rivers, streams, ponds), and beaten against rocks.

If one needed to remove stains, this could be done with the use of Fuller’s Earth or ashes soaked in lye. The mixture would be applied to the stain, allowed to try, then rubbed off. For more delicate materials, such as silk, verjuice was another remedy. Removing stains such as oil or grease was a more complex process. One recipe is as follows: “To remove grease or oil stains, take urine and heat until warm. Soak the stain for two days. Without twisting the fabric, squeeze the afflicted area, then rinse. As an alternative for stubborn greasy or oily stains, soak in urine with ox gall beaten into it, for two days and squeeze without twisting before rinsing.” White cloth could be cleaned and brightened by soaking it in lye, which was mixed using ashes and urine.

Undergarments were washed fairly often, even if they were only rinsed out at home in warm water, but woolen outer garments were rarely washed. They would have simply been shaken or beaten with a brush or a bundle of twigs to get rid of dust and dirt. Robes and cloaks might be rubbed with wax to weatherproof them, but this process would have been too expensive for peasants who would have worn felted wool instead.

Washed clothing was dried outdoors; laid across bushes, flat on grass, or draped across wooden frames or ropes. These of these could be moved indoors during poor weather if there was enough space.


Use the Medieval Monday Index to discover more topics relating to daily life in the Middle Ages.

 

Medieval Monday: Insults

For today I have a short but hopefully amusing post sharing some medieval style insults! You can surprise your friends with these, or maybe use them for your current medieval-era work in progress. Now for the disclaimer. I can’t authenticate these as purely medieval, so historical fiction writers are fairly warned. They are funny regardless of when they first came into the language–a couple of them are still in use, I think. Know of some fun medieval insults that aren’t on this list? Share them in the comments. 🙂

Fop – a foolish person

Fustilugs – a big, clumsy, gross person

Churl – coarse and peasant-like

Cox-Comb – someone who is vain and foolish

Cumberworld – a useless person

Glos Pautonnier – a gluttonous scoundrel

Hedge-born – of base birth, low-brow, or illegitimate

Loiter-Sack – a freeloader

Muck-spout – an overly talkative person who curses a lot

Quisby – someone who is very lazy

Raggabrash – someone who is disorganized

Skamelar – a freeloader and a parasite

Sot – a drunk


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Medieval Monday: The Labors of May

May Day marks the beginning of summer in the medieval world. The weather is really warming up, and there are lots of new chores to begin. Planting and harrowing continues, and weeding the grain fields becomes an important chore. Cabbages, leeks, onions, and garlic are ready to be planted, as are those plants used in fabric production like hemp, flax, madder, and woad.

In the Medieval Home Companion, the author advised his young wife, “Throughout the months of April and May sow the green vegetables that are eaten in June and July. Cut the green vegetables of summer, leaving their roots in the earth. After winter, the roots put out new shoots, and you must hoe and loosen the soil around them. Sow new ones, and pick the new shoots of the old. From April until the feast of the Magdalene is a good time to sow green vegetables…Set out white cabbages and round cabbages that are sown in February and March. In May, one finds new beans, turnips, and radishes.”

Meadows and pastures are growing lush and green, finally able to sustain new lambs and calves who have been weaned from their mothers. Their milk will now be used for dairy production; cream, cheese, and butter.

Bees are swarming too, and can be captured to start new hives to provide honey and beeswax.


Enjoy another episode of “Tales from the Green Valley”. Topics included for the month of May are dairy production (milking, churning butter) , plowing, harrowing, charcoal burning, sowing peas, making fishing rods and tackle, fishing, making straw rope, baskets, and thatch for roofing, period foods, and celebrating May Day.


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Medieval Monday: Pets

Pets are a common part of the modern lifestyle. We lavish affection on them, share pictures of them with the world, record their antics on our phones, and spend a small fortune on their care, including special food, toys, and treats. I have a house full of animals myself; three cats, two dogs, a lizard, hamster, and sizeable fish tank. Pets amuse us, soothe us, and—usually—keep our blood pressure down. They’re sweet and fun to have around. So I thought for today’s Medieval Monday I would approach the subject of pets from a medieval perspective. In a world where animals were mainly kept for food and labor, did medieval people ever keep what we would consider to be pets?

To answer the question, we must first understand that the concept of a “pet” as we know it did not really exist in the Middle Ages. The idea didn’t become a defined word until the end of the 1500s, and even then, it didn’t have quite the same meaning it does today. Domesticated animals, like cats and dogs, were kept strictly for the services they provided. Cats kept rodents under control. Dogs protected people and livestock, or were used for hunting. This doesn’t mean that people weren’t affectionate toward their animals, it just means they weren’t kept purely for their companionship. They had a job to do which earned their keep and made them valuable. Even in the late Middle Ages (really the Renaissance era) pets were a rarity, and were mainly cats, dogs, or birds kept by the wealthy or by monks and nuns. There are records that the Church discouraged this practice, advising them “not to keep too many and not to take them into church with them.” They thought the resources squandered on these animals would be better used to benefit the poor.

A 13th century scientist and philosopher named Albertus Magnus wrote a book about animals that included advice on their care. He noted that the cat “loves to be lightly stroked by human hands and is playful, especially when it is young.” He said that “they lose their boldness” if you cut off their whiskers, but that their ears should be clipped to keep the dew out. He indicated that dogs meant to be used for guarding should not be constantly petted or fed from the table, or they will “keep one eye on the door, and one on the generous hand of the master.”

Another writer from the 14th century had advice for the care of hunting dogs. He said that their kennels should be off the ground at least a foot, and be built of wood in such a way that the dogs could stay warm in winter and cool in summer. They should always have fresh straw on the floor, clean water, access to a sunny yard for play, and be given daily walks.

However, the animal with the most special status in the medieval world was actually the horse. Albertus noted in his book that war horses were known for displaying intense affection toward their masters. When their masters were lost, they often refused to eat and “grieved to the point of death,” even shedding tears. Another text indicates that “the horse has strong emotions, being “ioiefil in feeldes” and “comforted wiþ noyse of a trompe”; he can be “excyted” to run by the sound of a familiar voice. Furthermore, he is “sory” when beaten in battle and “gladde” when victorious. Some know their “owne lord alone” and forget “myldenesse” if their lord is overcome. It is not unusual for a horse to allow no other man to ride on his back but his “owne lord alone” and “many hors wepeþ whan his lord is deed.”

While working horses were clearly not “pets,” they certainly achieved a greater status than other farm animals (most of which were eaten when their usefulness for other tasks waned), or even than cats and dogs. Horses became the closest thing to a true companion for their masters, most specifically those which were highly trained (such as war horses) or which were ridden very often, or over long distances. Horses displayed loyalty and emotion that people could connect with. They were highly dependent on human care, and the humans who cared for them were equally dependent on their horses. Researcher Kristen M. Figg wrote, “both horses and dogs were often housed in very close proximity to humans, whose lives depended on the quality of the animal who would carry them into battle, help them locate or pursue game, warn them of danger, and—in moments of distress—show empathy for their suffering. This final and distinctive characteristic was crucial, in the context of a culture that speculated much more than we on the nature of the soul and insisted on the distinctive theological status of human beings.”

Moreso than the cat, which was highly independent and not particularly loyal, or the falcon, which was noble but acted on its own interest, dogs and horses both represented the Feudal values which were predominant in the Middle Ages. While none of them qualified as “pets” by our modern day definition, there is no question that they formed close bonds with their humans, and were the predecessors of the beloved, pampered animals that keep us smiling today.


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