Gift Guide

Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages [NOOK Book]


An illuminating look at the monumental inventions of the Middle Ages, by the authors of Life in a Medieval Castle.
Read More Show Less
... See more details below
Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$3.99 price


An illuminating look at the monumental inventions of the Middle Ages, by the authors of Life in a Medieval Castle.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

The authors shatter the popular myth that nothing of significance happened between 400 AD and 900 AD. Transportation was improved by the invention of harnesses, horse shoes, stirrups, the mariner's compass, round bottom ships, and systems of multiple masts. Water clocks and systems of weights and measures made their way to Europe from the Far East. Spinning wheels and printing presses were invented and became part of popular culture. The inventions, their inventors, and the impact on daily life are discussed. Illustrated with black and white photos. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Bryce Christensen
The flame of human ingenuity burned with surprising intensity during the medieval centuries. Already well known for their extensive research into medieval history and social life, the Gieses here explode the myth of the Dark Ages, showing that the Fall of Rome did not plunge Europe into stagnation and lethargy. Rather, the archaeological and historical record reveals that medieval Europeans borrowed discoveries from other lands (such as the compass, Hindu-Arabic numbers, gunpowder, and paper) and developed their own indigenous technologies (such as those in wind and water mills), so making continual progress in the use of natural resources. In the fields, peasants used a new harness (from China) to put the horse to work in place of the ox; in the forge, the blacksmith developed case-hardened tools for the carpenter; on the open seas, the sailor manipulated the new lanteen sail to guide ships constructed with radical new hull designs. While most of the technological development was anonymous and practical, medieval advances in fields such as astronomy and navigation led directly toward the feats of Copernicus and Columbus. Contemporary readers--prone to take computers and smart bombs for granted--will learn much from this chronicle of monks writing on lime-treated parchments and of knights fighting with newly devised stirrups.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062016607
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/21/2010
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 620,918
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Frances and Joseph Gies have been writing books about medieval history for thirty years. Together and separately, they are the authors of more than twenty books, including Life in a Medieval City, Life in a Medieval Castle, Life in a Medieval Village, The Knight in History, and Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel. They live near Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Fiances and Joseph Gies have been writing books about medieval history for thirty years. Together and separately, they are the authors of more than twenty books, including Life in a Medieval City, Life in a Medieval Castle, Life in a Medieval Village, The Knight in History, and Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel. They live near Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Nimrod's Tower,Noah's Ark

In the centuries following the middle ages, thinkers of the European Enlightenment looked back on the previous period as a time "quiet as the dark of the night,"when the world slumbered and man's history came to "a full stop."A spirit of otherworldliness and a preoccupation with theology were perceived as underlying a vast medieval inertia. The most influential spokesman for this point of view was historian Edward Gibbon, who in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire described medieval society as "the triumph of barbarism and religion."

Images of lethargy and stagnation were persistently applied to the Middle Ages well into the twentieth century. Even today the popular impression remains to a great extent that of a millennium of darkness, a thousand years when "nothing happened." To the average educated person, the most surprising news about medieval technology may be the fact that there was any.

Yet not all intellectuals of the past shared the negative view of the Middle Ages. In 1550 Italian physician and mathematician Jerome Cardan wrote that the magnetic compass, printing, and gunpowder were three inventions to which "the whole of antiquity has nothing equal to show." A generation later, the Dutch scholar Johannes Stradanus (Jan van der Straet, 1528-1605) in his book Nova reperta listed nine great discoveries, all products of the Middle Ages.

Gibbon's eighteenth-century contemporary Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot, finance minister to Louis XVI, looked back on the Middle Ages as a time when "kings were without authority, nobles without constraint, peoples enslaved . . . commerce andcommunication cut off," when the barbarian invasions had "put out the fire of reason," but he saw it also as a time when a number of inventions unknown to the Greeks and Romans had been somehow produced. Turgot credited the medieval achievement to a "succession of physical experiments" undertaken by unknown individual geniuses who worked in isolation, surrounded by a sea of darkness.

Today, on the contrary, the innovative technology of the Middle Ages appears as the silent contribution of many hands and minds working together. The most momentous changes are now understood not as single, explicit inventions but as gradual, imperceptible revolutions--in agriculture, in water and wind power, in building construction, in textile manufacture, in communications, in metallurgy, in weaponry--taking place through incremental improvements, large or small, in tools, techniques, and the organization of work. This new view is part of a broader change in historical theory that has come to perceive technological innovation in all ages as primarily a social process rather than a disconnected series of individual initiatives.

In the course of recent decades, the very expression "Dark Ages" has fallen into disrepute among historians. The 1934 Webster's asserted that "the term Dark Ages is applied to the whole, or more often to the earlier part of the [medieval] period, because of its intellectual stagnation." The 1966 Random House dictionary agreed, defining "Dark Ages" as "1. The period in European history from about a.d. 476 to about 1000; 2. The whole of the Middle Ages, from about a.d. 476 to the Renaissance," a description repeated verbatim in its 1987 edition. The HarperCollins dictionary of 1991, however, recognized the term's decline in scholarly favor, defining "Dark Ages" as "1. The period from about the late 5th century a.d. to about 1000 a.d., once considered an unenlightened period; 2. (occasionally) the whole medieval period."

Recently, historians have suggested the possibility of a narrower use of the old term. In a presidential address to the Medieval Academy of America in 1984, Fred C. Robinson recommended keeping "Dark Age," in the singular, and restricting its meaning to our dim perception of the period (owing to the scarcity of documentary evidence) rather than to its alleged "intellectual stagnation."

The problem of definition also involves the dating of the Middle Ages. The once sovereign date of a.d. 476 as starting point has been judged essentially meaningless, since it marks only the formal abdication of the last Western Roman emperor. In fact, the now general employment of the round a.d. 500 is an admission by historians that there is really no valid starting point, that the beginning of the Middle Ages overlaps and intermingles with the decline and fall of the Western Roman Empire. At the other end, the precise but even less meaningful 1453 (the fall of Constantinople and the end of the Hundred Years War) has been widely replaced by the round 1500, suggestive principally of the opening of the Age of Exploration and the historic impingement of Europe upon America and Asia.

From the third decade of the present century, a recognition of medieval technological and scientific progress has been affirmed by scholars such as Marc Bloch, Lynn White, Robert S. Lopez, Bertrand Gille, Georges Duby, and Jacques Le Goff. Most modern textbooks include in their history of invention the medieval discovery or adoption of the heavy plow, animal harness, open-field agriculture, the castle, water-powered machinery, the putting-out system, Gothic architecture, Hindu-Arabic numerals, double-entry bookkeeping, the blast furnace, the compass, eyeglasses, the lateen sail, clockwork, firearms, and movable type.

But while the pioneering work in medieval technology by Marc Bloch and Lynn White was undertaken in an era (roughly 1925 to 1960) that affirmed human progress and regarded advances in technology as self-evidently positive, the climate of the last part of the twentieth century has become less favorable to technology in general and even to the idea of progress. Suddenly, instead of being credited with no technology, the Middle Ages is found by some to have had too much. Activities once universally regarded as beneficent (such as the land-clearance campaigns of the great monasteries) have been condemned: "The deforestation of Europe during the twelfth century--especially during the 1170s and 1180s--may be seen as the first great ecological disaster," wrote George Ovitt, Jr., in 1987.

Such present-minded thinking permeated Jean Gimpel's The Medieval Machine (1976). Drawing a parallel with twentieth-century industrial society, which he envisioned in Spenglerian decline, Gimpel pictured an overindustrialized late medieval Europe suffering from overpopulation, pollution, economic instability, dwindling energy sources, and general malaise.

But despite the many medieval contributions to technology, to speak as Gimpel does of an "industrial revolution" of the Middle Ages is hyperbole. By the same token, pollution was slight, energy sources were largely untapped, the financial crisis of the fourteenth century was temporary and local, and population was excessive only in respect to the limitations of existing agricultural technology. Advanced though it was over the classical age, medieval technology was still in what Lewis Mumford called the "eotechnic" phase--the age of wood, stone, wind, and water--to be followed, in Mumford's terminology, by a "paleotechnic" phase in which coal and iron dominated, and finally by our present "neotechnic" phase of electricity, electronics, nuclear energy, alloys, plastics, and synthetics.

When Gibbon indicted the Middle Ages as "the triumph of barbarism and religion," he coupled the two great bugbears of the intellectual elite of his day, both widely regarded as hostile to scientific and technical progress. The Catholic Church long stood condemned as the enemy of enlightenment, with the alleged suppressions of Copernicus and Galileo as Exhibit A. More recent historians, however, have pointed to evidence of Church attitudes and policies of a quite different coloration. Lynn White asserted that Christian theology actually gave the Middle Ages a fiat for technology: "Man shares in great measure God's transcendence of nature. Christianity, in absolute contrast to ancient paganism and Asia's religions . . . not only established a dualism of man and nature but also insisted that it is God's will that man exploit nature for his proper ends."

Even earlier, Max Weber (1864-1920) drew attention to the prominent role given by the Benedictine Rule to monastic labor ("Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore the brothers should have a specified period for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading.") and to the well-organized physical self-sufficiency of the monastic community. In the same vein, Ernest Benz pointed to medieval iconography showing God as a master mason, measuring out the universe with compasses and T square, and noted that such images, drawing a parallel between God's labors and those of men, offer an indication of the status of technology in medieval Christendom.

More recently, George Ovitt, studying the attitudes of medieval theologians, has found that they advocated stewardship of nature at the same time that ecological evidence shows "an ethic of appropriation" and a "social commitment to the primacy of human habitation" over competing interests. Their varying and contradictory attitudes, he has concluded, represent a rationalization "in response to changes in the 'structures of everyday life' that were created by others,"that is, in response to what was actually going on in the real world.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

1 Nimrod's Tower, Noah's Ark 1
2 The Triumphs and Failures of Ancient Technology 17
3 The Not So Dark Ages: A.D. 500-900 39
4 The Asian Connection 82
5 The Technology of the Commercial Revolution: 900-1200 105
6 The High Middle Ages: 1200-1400 166
7 Leonardo and Columbus: The End of the Middle Ages 237
Notes 293
Bibliography 329
Index 345
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing 1 – 1 of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2001

    The Beginning of European Industrial Thought

    A superb book! The author traces the evolution of technology through the middle ages that eventually leads to the Industrial Revolution. As a World Civilizations teacher, this book has become a vital source of information. Not only does it describe, in detail, the evolution of technology in Western Europe, but it also shows the general progression and patterns of thought that are evident throughout the world at different times with regard to inventions.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing 1 – 1 of 2 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)