Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages
By Frances and Joseph Gies
Harper Collins (1994)
This book debunks the prevailing misconception that the Middle Ages was a Dark Ages and that all knowledge and technology was lost when “barbarian tribes” caused the collapse of the Roman Empire. The authors do this very convincingly by identifying a number of key medieval technologies (most from the Far East) without which the 15th century Renaissance would have been impossible.
- the heavy plow
- open field agriculture, water powered machinery
- Hindu-Arab numerals
- double entry bookkeeping
- the compass and navigational charts
- moveable type
- the horse collar harness
- canal locks
- underground mining
The barbarians themselves (ie Germanic tribes) also provided European civilization with several key inventions:
- soap (the Greeks and Romans never used it)
- laced boots
- clothing made from multiple pieces of cloth sewn together
- wooden barrels (replacing fragile clay jars and animal skins previously used for food storage).
The book maintains that China was far more important than Rome as a source of medieval technologies. In most cases, technological innovations filtered into Europe along Arab trade routes. It devotes specific attention to the horizontal loom (the Romans used a vertical loom), moveable type (adopted by Gutenberg for his printing press), the water wheel, the wheelbarrow, the odometer, mechanical clocks, gunpowder and the crossbow.
Europeans gained access to Hindu-Arab numbers, the cotton gin and the windmill via India and Persia.
Given the extremely Eurocentric education I received in school, I was extremely surprised to learn about all the inventions Europeans take credit for which originated elsewhere.