Let's say you were from the Middle Ages, 1200s England or Germany, and you got thrown back in time to the Iron Age. It's still the same place, but it's 400 BC. Apart from the language, what would you actually notice as being different?

How was everyday life any different in the Iron Age than in the Middle Ages?

(Yes, this is a rather fuzzy question, but I'm hoping to get some good insights from people.)

  • 10
    There are more Christians.
    – knut
    Commented Jul 3, 2012 at 19:32

2 Answers 2


England in 400BC was a broadly Celtic culture with Pictish remnants in the North; 1600 years later it had gained a lot of influence from Roman, German, French, and Norse invasions. Language, food, architecture, laws, and so on were much different. These are the obvious changes.

Your middle age Englander transported to Iron Age England would perhaps guess he was in the land of the vikings. The Celts of the time were warlike, tribal, proud and primitive people that practiced a pagan religion, all of which would have looked barbaric in comparison to the medieval commoner. While the Celts had urban settlements and hillfort citadels, neither would come close to comparison with the vibrant self-governed towns and stone castles of the Middle Ages.

Celts had a hierarchical society with nobles, commoners and slaves, but the middle ages saw more political stratification and legally stronger ties to the land. The Celt's lord would have been a king who directly controlled his land and was directly related to most of the people he ruled, whereas the Englishman's lord could have been a mere knight or baron who held the land in the name of a superior noble, ultimately traced to the king, and often was a foreigner given the manor or territory with no particular relationship to the people he ruled.

The Celts had trade networks and practiced agriculture, but the average Celt would be more oriented towards cattle raising, whereas the typical Englishman would be more focused on cultivating his farm. Yet farming is farming; animals need fed and slaughtered, crops planted and harvested, and tools mended. Assuming the Englishman was a typical farmer, he could easily have slipped into a similar role in 400BC.

In 1100-1200 A.D. farming technology had made some significant advances. The Englishman would have been able to improve the yield of his farm through the new 3-field rotation system, the heavy plow, and use of draught animals. He could have demonstrated cheese making to take advantage of the Celts' huge cattle herds. Crops and domesticated animals in Celtic times were less diverse and farm plots generally smaller in size. Farming practices in Celtic times also included religious practices which our Englishman would find odd. Yet he might have things to learn from the Celtic farmer. Pliny noted that the Celtic plough superior to the Roman type, and remarked at their use of chalk fertilizer.

  • 4
    Admittedly, an Iron Age person would have been damn impressed by a Medeval castle. Still, I was gonna complain about the lack of info on farming differences (which is really the vast majority of the daily activity for people in both eras). Then I hit your last two paragraphs. Good answer.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 3, 2012 at 20:35
  • @Bryce, I'd like to mention though that Celtic agriculture was quite advanced. Celts are credited with many improvement to the plough (wheels, ploughshare). BTW: most Latin vehicle names come from Gaulish (Celt): carrus (4 wheel wagon => car, Irih carr, whence to charge carrico and to discharge dicarrico), carpentum (covered 2 wheeled cart usually for women => carpenter), cisium (cabriolet), benna (4 wheels cart => A tempting alternative etymology of companion: who sits next to you in the benna is your combenno, => "accompany"), reda (also a 4 wheel cart, a cognate of to ride). Commented Jul 16, 2012 at 0:07
  • 3
    You will also find that Celts even had harvesters (Pliny book 18) + archaeological finds. Pliny's surprise shows that Romans still harvested manually. Also, have a look at Strabo Geography 4.1.2 "The whole of the Narbonnaise produces the same fruits as Italy [...] as you proceed northward, [...] entire of the remaining country produces in abundance corn, millet, acorns, and mast of all kinds. No part of it lies waste except that which is taken up in marshes and woods, and even this is inhabited." Commented Jul 16, 2012 at 0:28

Actually you should specify which medieval society do you mean. Middle ages saw very different societies co-existing. The difference was so high that while some societies had access to extensive literature and philosophy the others even had no writing and no laws.

If you compare say 800AD East Slavic society you possibly would not find much difference with Iron Age. At the same time comparison with Italian cities such as Venice or Genoa would make completely opposite impression.

The main source of the difference is of course writing.

The medieval society had

  • Extensive written laws and institutionalized government bodies
  • Complicated court system
  • Extensive property relations
  • Extensive academic publishing (even before the invention of printing press thousands of books were issued each year)
  • Anixx, check the question again. I did specify which medieval society I meant: 1200s England or Germany.
    – Joe
    Commented Jul 16, 2012 at 7:04
  • For both (especially, Germany) this all is correct also. Germany was only second after Italy in book publishing for example.
    – Anixx
    Commented Jul 16, 2012 at 10:50
  • I don't think that facing any court or learning written laws qualifies anywhere near ordinary "everyday life" (unless that of a lawyer or a judge).
    – kubanczyk
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 10:06

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