When we think of medieval food we usually think of either lavish feasts or the blend and tasteless grain mush that was supposedly eaten by medieval peasants. However, the diet of medieval soldiers is rarely thought of.
So in this article, I would like to talk about the diet of medieval soldiers.
According to a source from the 14th century, medieval soldiers who participated in a campaign against the Turks were provided with bread, flour, grain, wine, meat, peas, salted cabbage, salt, and lard. So the diet of a medieval soldier mostly consisted of cereals either in the shape of porridge or bread while meat and vegetables were used to enrich the diet.
That is also supported by another source from the 15th century that states that mercenaries from the city of Nuernberg were provided with bread and porridge but had to buy their beer from their pay. Here you can find out more about the pay of medieval soldiers.
Let`s take a closer look at what medieval soldiers ate and drank.
What did medieval soldiers eat?
As both sources mention, bread and porridge were the main part of the diet of medieval soldiers. That by the way is also true for the diet of medieval peasants and the diet of medieval knights.
There are estimations that each medieval adult needed 250 kg (551 lbs) of rye bread every year. For that amount of bread 350 kg (771 lbs) of rye was needed.
Rye bread was the bread of the less wealthy, not because wheat itself was more expensive than rye but because the flour for white bread was sieved multiple times. While 350 kg (771 lbs) of rye was enough for 250 kg (551 lbs) of rye bread, 350 kg of wheat was only enough for 110-120 kg (242-264 lbs) of white bread. As a result, white bread was four times as expensive as rye bread in the Middle Ages.
But especially during the Early Middle Ages the most common way to eat cereals was not bread, but porridge. Only during the High Middle Ages and especially in the Late Middle Ages would bread start to become the staple in the daily diet although it would never completely replace porridge.
Speaking of medieval grain mush, there is the modern idea that a medieval diet that mostly consisted of grain mush (like porridge) was bland and tasteless. But that was not true!
The texture of porridge, which was a staple in the medieval diet, varied from liquid (like modern-day gruel) to solid (like modern-day polenta). It could be sweetened by adding fruit, syrups, or even honey, but it could also be turned into a hearty meal by adding bacon, salt, smoked sausage, and onions.
By the way. All these ingredients were available to both medieval soldiers and also to medieval peasants.
Especially the availability of salt in the Middle Ages is often wrongly portrayed since salt was definitely not the expensive luxury item as which it is often portrayed. Here you can find out more about the price, the use, and the production of salt in the Middle Ages.
One can generally say, that the diet of medieval soldiers was pretty much like the diet of medieval peasants which in return was a lot better than one might think. Here you can find out more about the diet of medieval peasants and what ingredients they used to upgrade their porridges.
And since the diets of medieval soldiers and peasants were quite similar it should also not be too surprising that their beverages were also alike.
What did medieval soldiers drink?
First of all, the myth that everybody in the Middle Ages only drank beer or wine is definitely not true. Not everybody in the Middle Ages was always drunk. Here you can find out more about why medieval people were not always drunk even though wine, beer, and ale were so popular.
While beer, ale, and wine were popular beverages in the Middle Ages, most medieval people would drink water when they had access to clean water from a well or another water source. Buttermilk was also popular.
Generally speaking, the availability of clean water in the Middle Ages was pretty good since every village and castle had at least one well or another water source. Nobody would have built a castle at a place without drinking water since that would have made besieging that castle way too easy.
For more information on how medieval castles were besieged I would like to recommend you my article here. And here you can find out more about why building castles was one of the first things that the Normans did after they had landed in England.
I hope you enjoyed our trip into the Middle Ages and the diets of medieval soldiers. Do you also want to find out more about how medieval soldiers fought? Then I would like to recommend you my article here.
And here you can find out more about the diets of medieval knights.
Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.
Until next time
Ernst Schubert: Essen und Trinken im Mittelalter (2006 Darmstadt).*
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