Nearly all of the medieval thinkersJewish, Christian, and Muslimwere pre-occupied with some version of the attempt to synthesis philosophy with religion.
Vedic society witnessed great kings, even philosopher kings, who not only waged wars and expanded their domains but also practiced the Vedic religion with great fervor and contributed greatly to the emergence of Upanishadic thought.In the later Vedic period, they extended their influence into southern India, where Vedic religion took strong roots due to the contribution of many seers, sages and Brahmana families who migrated to the south and introduced their methods of worship there.Due to their efforts, an unprecedented synthesis of cultures and religious beliefs happened resulting in the religious unification of the subcontinent and the induction of many gods and goddesses into Hindu pantheon.The Vedic people invoked many gods such as Indra, Varuna, Agni, Vayu, Mitra, Aditya, Pushan, Asvins, Usha etc., performed yagnas and other rituals to supplicate them, invoke them, and seek their approval, guidance and help for their material comforts, personal gains, general welfare, appeasement of nature and victory over hostile tribes.The religion subsequently faced a stiff competition from other religions like Buddhism and Jainism and underwent great transformation in line with the new thinking and the new religions.
Naomi Sykes introduces the role of animal products in medieval diets with an ambitious synthesis of the management, distribution, and consumption of cattle and sheep in medieval England. Her survey spans the full length of the middle ages—from the fifth to the sixteenth centuries—and presents a coherent integration of zooarchaeological and documentary data. Sykes examines chronological trends, focusing on the reconstructed demography of herds, and moves on to consider social variation between rural, urban, and aristocratic sites, clearly linking livestock management and processing with contemporary socio-political structures. She considers butchery in a separate section but highlights the economic and nutritional significance of secondary products. Pigs, together with cattle and sheep, represent the most frequently occurring animals on medieval archaeological sites in England, and, indeed, much of Europe. However, they were bred exclusively for meat rather than secondary products; a role considered separately by Umberto Albarella. Extending his survey from the early- to late-medieval periods, Albarella considers changing social and geographic trends in pig husbandry, demonstrating how increasingly closer control of breeding resulted in higher meat output, the creation of regional types, and, ultimately, distinct breeds. Pork appears to have been the second most often consumed meat in medieval England, but like Sykes, Albarella situates the management of this animal within the social context of medieval communities. In the following chapter, Christopher Woolgar reviews the conclusions of Albarella and Sykes in the context of documentary sources for meat and dairy products in late-medieval England. Tackling the familiar trends in socially-distinct patterns of consumption, as well as the role of different species, he demonstrates how dairy products, in particular, formed an important nutritional element in dietary regimes before the Black Death, and how socially-distinct patterns were re-aligned following the widespread increase in meat consumption in the late-fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
Numerous studies have emphasized the fundamental role of fish in medieval dietary regimes, underpinned by religious prohibitions on meat consumption. This topic is examined, with an updated synthesis, by Dale Serjeantson and Christopher Woolgar. Fish consumption in medieval England can be reconstructed from both written and archaeological sources; the former best reflecting the experience of later-medieval aristocratic and religious households, with the latter particularly invaluable for understanding fish exploitation in the early-medieval period. Chronological trends in the changing exploitation of individual species are based on detailed analyses of fish remains from a range of sites spanning the middle ages, subsequently complemented by a focused examination of late-medieval aristocratic household and monastic records. The authors draw attention to major changes in fish consumption which became established in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, reflecting a diversification of species and habitat exploitation. However, the role of religious observance in driving fish consumption is not so clear; religion clearly played a role in the development of the north-European cod and herring fisheries, and in the wake of the Reformation fish become comparatively less popular foodstuffs, but their increasing popularity in the high-medieval period can also be linked to the provisioning needs of growing towns.
The content is sub-divided into two sections: part one is a survey of foodstuffs and part two consists of case studies in diet and nutrition. The survey begins with a paper by David Stone exploring the most important foodstuff in medieval England—grain—which represented the highest contributor to people’s general calorific intake. Stone considers its complete lifecycle, from the management of the full range of field crops to the production of pottage, bread, and ale. An impressive series of estimates of bread and ale production and consumption punctuate a concise analysis of dynamic patterns on either side of the Black Death, demonstrating how changing pressure on agricultural resources prompted shifts in consumption at every level of society. From the overarching role of agriculture in medieval English dietary regimes, Christopher Dyer’s chapter moves the survey towards a consideration of the role of garden produce based on abundant and diverse late-medieval documentary sources, as well as by reference to earthworks and archaeological excavations. He explores the dietary contribution of ‘an integral part of the English economy in the later middle ages’ (p. 33), typically neglected by scholars, outlining the scale of gardening, the diversity and distribution of garden produce, and its relative significance. As with Stone’s examination of socially distinct uses of grain, Dyer clearly demonstrates how garden produce varied between rich and poor, and how this pattern changed over time. Vegetables, grown more intensively in towns than in the countryside, appear to have provided a higher proportion of food for the lowest levels of medieval society. Lisa Moffett concludes the survey of plant contributions to medieval English diets with a comprehensive look at plant remains in archaeological contexts, neatly complementing the predominantly documentary-based perspectives of the earlier chapters. Her archaeobotanical synthesis draws attention to the value of integrating different types of data, highlighting various patterns of plant consumption, particularly in urban contexts.
The survey of foodstuffs in medieval England represented by these twelve papers reaffirms that social identities are central to the construction of dietary regimes. It is therefore appropriate for these various identities to be explored in the first case study outlined by Christopher Woolgar. He considers two expressions of group diets: religious restrictions and social competition. Woolgar examines the examples set by religious figures in promoting abstinence from meat amongst specific groups within medieval society; strict dietary regimes substituting fish for meat were the hallmark of monastic communities and to a lesser extent secular households. However, in a society where meat and fish were comparative luxuries, people at the lower levels were effectively unable to participate in this ideological expression. At the same time, domestic regulations and practice used diet to communicate varying forms of status. Woolgar also briefly considers the role of food in contemporary paradigms of healthcare and dietetics, as well as the notion of Jewish and military dietary practices. He emphasises the importance of diet as a reflection of the inner virtue of the consumer; rather than a predominant interest in nutritional content, the features of group diets in medieval society reflected ideological concerns. These trends were set by monastic and aristocratic groups, in turn providing models for lower status aspirations.
As the editors Christopher Woolgar, Dale Serjeantson, and Tony Waldron underline on the first page of the introduction to this book, ‘food and diet are rightly popular areas of research, central to understanding daily life in the middle ages’. The study of medieval food culture is certainly one that is actively pursued across many European institutions, but, as the editors eloquently demonstrate, scholarly syntheses remain limited in both their number and scope. This book, the culmination of a series of annual meetings held by the Diet Group at Somerville College, Oxford, is a novel and bold ‘reappraisal’ of multiple aspects of food culture across the entire span of the middle ages. Framed by critical introductory and concluding chapters, seventeen papers draw on written, archaeological, and artistic sources to explore diverse aspects of medieval English food culture with reference to continental examples where appropriate.
Christopher Dyer continues the focus on socially-distinct diets, but moves on to examine how seasonal patterns in food consumption by various groups were marked in the late-medieval period. In exploring how medieval diets varied throughout the year, Dyer traces the changing availability of different foods, variability in storage and distribution, religious and family calendars as well as personal preferences. These influenced dietary regimes at all levels of society, although Dyer underlines that upper class diets also contained a significant element of choice as well as conditioning.
By maintaining a focus on England, the numerous perspectives and types of evidence brought together in the volume represent a consistent synthesis and analysis; the comprehensive survey of foodstuffs complementing the series of case studies. The major themes are eloquently brought together in the concluding chapter by the editors; availability and diversity of foodstuffs are summarized, followed by seasonal patterns and socially-distinct dietary regimes, the role of drink, regional differentiation, importation, and, perhaps most interestingly of all, a comparison of England to other parts of northern Europe where a range of similarities and contrasts are supported with specific examples. The editors conclude with an optimistic appraisal of the strengths, weaknesses, and future potential of the various strands of evidence and perspectives brought together in the volume. What is most clearly demonstrated, as the editors conclude, is that diet had a range of visible consequences for the individual, but its impact at the demographic level is more difficult to map. As our understanding of local, group, and regional dietary nuances grows, it will become increasingly possible to attempt broader syntheses. The benefits of inter-disciplinary approaches, as well as the focus on local variation with the aim of understanding regional and inter-regional diversity, characterize the cutting edge of modern medieval studies.