The conference was sponsored by the “Vereinigung von Freunden der Technischen Universität zu Darmstadt e.V.” and took place at the UNESCO World Heritage Site Lorsch Abbey. It explored the developments, transformations and trends in agriculture and food consumption in late medieval and early modern Europe. In his introduction, Stephan Ebert outlined the core topics to be discussed: What are the interrelations between late medieval transformation processes in food consumption and agriculture? How did the emergence of vernacular literature and the introduction of new media such as letter press printing change the reception, distribution and application of agricultural and dietetic knowledge? What influence did weather and the environment have on the transformation of agricultural knowledge and practices and how did this applied knowledge change the natural environment in return? Can the European alterations in agriculture and nutrition be considered to be unique from a global perspective?
The first section of the conference focused on the use of vernacular languages and new media in the compilation and circulation of agricultural knowledge. HELMUT W. KLUG and ASTRID BÖHM (Graz) introduced the audience to the CoReMA (Cooking Recipes of the Middle Age) project. CoReMA aims to offer digital access to over 60 unique recipe collections, which originated all before 1500. These medieval collections contain in total almost 5,000 individual recipes in German language. Furthermore, Klug and Böhm evaluated the potential of recipes, food lists and menus to identify medieval food preparations practices and eating habits.
THOMAS GLONING (Giessen) discussed the changes of agricultural literature in German language from the Middle Ages until 1600. At the end of the 15th century there is evidence for a significant increase of agricultural literature. A multitude of translations and prints of primarily ancient and medieval agricultural texts were produced and distributed in the German-speaking world. At the end of the 16th century a new type of publication appeared. The writers of these texts, specifically Johann Coler and Martin Großer, did not only reproduce ancient knowledge in their writings, but also referred to their own practical agricultural experience.
Using the examples of the monasteries Bebenhausen and Tennenbach, CHRISTIAN STADELMAIER (Giessen) showed that the Cistercians established and documented rules for the use of manure in agriculture to secure sufficient supplies of fertilizer. These regulations were based on the practical experience and knowledge of laybrothers and tenants who cultivated the Cistercian lands. The monastery leaderships were aware of the importance of manure for the economic existence of both institutions, as the intentional extension of monastic grazing rights likewise demonstrates. These extensive grazing rights potentially resulted in overuse of pastures, as well as conflicts of use involving local nobles, towns and rural communities.
STEFAN SONDEREGGER (Zurich) examined the preconditions, actors and consequences of agricultural specialization in the southern Lake Constance region. By lending goods to the burghers and the hospital of St. Gall, the Abbey of Saint Gall was no longer involved in everyday agricultural production in the 15th Century. Through detailed modern bookkeeping, these burghers and the hospital exerted direct control over the production process of local peasantry and simultaneously began to promote the production of specific agricultural products. This influence on the agricultural production process led to the formation of various regional monocultures in the southern Lake Constance area and to an increasing economic dependence of the peasants on the hospital and the feoffed burghers.
In his keynote, JOHANNES PREISER-KAPELLER (Vienna) provided insights into the origins, developments and socio-economic consequences of the cultivation of Asian crops in the Byzantine Empire. According to Preiser-Kapeller, the cultivation of silk and cotton as textile fabrics as well as citrus fruits, rice and sugar as ingredients of the Byzantine cuisine and medicine can be verified. The growing regions and the scale of production of these crops were closely linked to the political situation and environmental conditions of the Byzantine Empire. Over the course of the 12th and 13th centuries, the Byzantine Empire became a peripheral area of the trade network of northern Italian cities such as Venice, Genoa and Pisa. Therefore, Byzantine crops turned into long distance trade goods. Sugar in particular became a lucrative cash crop.
The second section focused on theoretical agricultural knowledge and its practical implementation. ANSGAR SCHANBACHER (Göttingen) addressed the religious contexts of agriculture and especially horticulture in the 16th century. His presentation revealed that clerical gardeners were pioneers in terms of training, cultivation of Mediterranean and Asian plants and the gradual transformation of utility gardens into ornamental gardens. The spiritual-religious significance of agriculture and horticulture is not only evident in the printed agricultural textbooks of the 16th century and the Regula Benedicti, but also in many sermons and theological texts. According to these sources, garden and field work were righteous activities that required divine support nonetheless.
MAXIMILIAN SCHUH (Berlin) described the emergence of didactic literature on agriculture in England and examined the reception of the effects of the deteriorating weather conditions in the first quarter of the 14th century. At the end of the 12th century ecclesiastical landowners gradually refrained from leasing their estates and began to cultivate them with the help of serfs. In order to enable the secular landowners who lacked the required administrational knowledge to transition their agricultural management, a series of didactic texts were produced from the second half of the 13th century onwards. A direct connection between the Litte Ice Age and a decline of agricultural productivity cannot be identified in these manuscripts. Nevertheless, the historical authors give many instructions on how to protect crops and livestock from weather changes and epidemics.
STEPHAN F. EBERT (Darmstadt) analyzed the practical reception of antique and medieval literature on dietetics and humorism in terms of rice consumption at the Eberbach Abbey. Due to its climatically favorable location and its connection to the urban trade network through the waterways, the abbey was not only able to export wine, but also to purchase luxury goods such as rice. The inventory lists of the abbey´s infirmary kitchen show that specific rice pans were part of the cooking utensils at least since 1490. The continuous and increasing mentioning of rice pans in the inventory lists indicate the preparation of rice for sick monks according to contemporary dietetic literature, which was available in the abbey’s library. Due to the combined mention of rice and a pan in several cooking recipes of the time, rice was possibly also served to the abbot and his guests in order to provide a special and expensive dish with “exotic” ingredients. Hence, the inventory of both the infirmary and the library indicate dietetic and culinary knowledge was not only read but also applied in practice.
The central topic of the third section were medieval cultivation types. JULIAN WIETHOLD (Metz) provided insights into agriculture in Lorraine between 1300 and 1600. He referred to the archaeobotanical findings obtained through excavations in Augny, Vitry-sur-Orne, Chaillon, Metz and Épinal. Wiethold elaborated on the different epistemic potentials and interpretational challenges of carbonized and waterlogged plant assemblages. He stressed that in particular the evaluation of waterlogged plant assemblages requires the consideration of natural scientific, archaeological and historical expertise. The presented archaeobotanical findings indicate that the cereal cultivation in this region was primarily focused on naked wheat, hulled barley, cultivated oat and rye. The growing of hemp and flax is also evident. As of yet uncertain is the extent of Brassica rapa and Brassica nigra cultivation and the specific purpose of Einkorn and spelt cultivation.
ANDREAS DIX (Bamberg) addressed the extensive urban horticulture in the city of Bamberg. He situated the urban cultivation areas not only geographically but compared them to other types of medieval urban horticulture. Dix also pointed out the motives of the Bamberg gardeners for specializing in the production of exportable plant seeds and licorice.
In his evening lecture, GERRIT J. SCHENK (Darmstadt) provided an overview of the cultivation of special crops from the Early Middle Ages to the early modern period. His spatial focus was the Upper Rhine Valley and especially the abbey of Lorsch. Based on historical sources, such as the “Lorscher Arzneibuch”, Walafrid Strabo’s “De Cultura Hortorum” and archaeological as well as archaeobotanical findings, Schenk showed that in this region a variety of Mediterranean and Asian plants were already known in the Early Middle Ages and some of them were also cultivated in monastery gardens. Schenk illustrated the significant increase in variety and quantity of special crops grown during the Late Middles Ages, using the establishment of asparagus in Southern Germany as an example. The lecture concluded with a temporal delimitation of the origins of tobacco cultivation in the Upper Rhine Valley, which had a lasting impact on the regional agriculture until the 20th century.
The final section provided examples of agricultural change beyond Central and Western Europe. ANTONIO SÁNCHEZ DE MORA (Seville) showed that, as a result of the Spanish and Portuguese expansion on the American continents, plants and animal species established in Europe were purposefully imported into the new world and cultivated there. He presented the vast and different types of administrative documents that were created during the agricultural transformation of the new world. These historical sources, which have been preserved in the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, enable the reconstruction of the actors, institutions and administrative mechanism involved in the agricultural transformation processes and the demand of local experts.
FABIAN KÜMMELER (Vienna) examined the origins and diffusion of maize cultivation in Southeast Europe with a particular emphasis on the Eastern Adriatic. Despite the contemporary Italian term granoturco for maize, Kümmeler assumed that the establishment of this crop in Southeastern Europe originated in Italy, as Ottoman sources do not indicate the cultivation of maize in that region until the 18th century. According to Kümmeler, Venice and its trade network were crucial for the spread of maize cultivation in Southeastern Europe. There is evidence of maize cultivation in Venetian Dalmatia as early as the 17th century. Starting from the Venetian territories, maize cultivation gradually established itself on the Balkans over the course of several decades.
CHUN XU (Berlin) presented the far-reaching plan of the Confucian Scholar Yu Ji for the transition of agriculture in the vicinity of the imperial capital. In 1327, Yu Ji proposed to Khagan Yesün Temür that the tidal lands of the capital should be made suitable for wet rice cultivation by erecting a thousand-mile-long seawall and utilizing chainpumps. With the project, the scholar hoped to improve the agricultural production of the northern part of the empire, following the example of the southern provinces. Financing was to be provided by wealthy merchants, who would receive offices and titles in return. For cultivation, rice farmers from the south were to be encouraged to relocate with the promise of tax benefits. Although Yu Ji’s project was ultimately not realized, his theoretical considerations nevertheless provide insight into the perception of contemporary scholars regarding the government’s ability to reshape environment and society.
The conference made an important contribution to studying the links between theoretical knowledge and agricultural as well as nutritional practices. In particular, the different phases of medieval special crop cultivation and consumption became apparent. The importance of vernacular literature and new media for the late medieval changes in nutrition and agriculture was identified as well. Furthermore, it became evident that between 1300 and 1600 significant agricultural transformation processes likewise took place at the peripheries of and beyond Europe. The conference also showed that many questions about medieval agriculture and nutrition remain unanswered. Especially, the practical knowledge, organization and techniques of everyday farmers and gardeners still need to be explored: What did they know about the biological characteristics of the animals and plants they utilized? To what extent were they aware of their permanent reshaping of their natural environment? Addressing these and other unresolved research questions with the help of interdisciplinary studies in history, archaeology, and the natural sciences is not only promising, but also definitely necessary, as this conference highlighted.
Section 1: From Book to Field I – Vernacular Languages and the Influence of New Media
Chair: Jürgen Wolf (Marburg)
Helmut W. Klug / Astrid Böhm (Graz): Kochrezeptsammlungen als Spiegel von Ernährungsgewohnheiten. Zum Erkenntnispotential einer Quellengattung
Thomas Gloning (Giessen): Landwirtschaftliche Literatur in deutscher Sprache vom Mittelalter bis um ca. 1600
Christian Stadelmaier (Giessen): Verdichtungsorte von Wissen? Niederlassungen der Zisterzienser und ihr Umfeld mit Fokus auf das frühe 14. Jahrhundert
Stefan Sonderegger (Zurich): Landwirtschaftliche Spezialisierungen in der südlichen Bodenseeregion im Spätmittelalter. Voraussetzungen, Akteure und Auswirkungen
Johannes Preiser-Kapeller (Vienna): Neue Früchte für das neue Rom? Tradition, Innovation und Dynamik der Landwirtschaft im Byzantinischen Reich und im (spät-)mittelalterlichen östlichen Mittelmeerraum
Section 2: From Book to Field II – Dietetics, Agriculture and Horticulture in Theory (and Practice)
Chair: Volkhard Huth (Bensheim/Darmstadt)
Ansgar Schanbacher (Göttingen): Gärten und Ackerbau in religiösen Kontexten des 16. Jahrhunderts
Maximilian Schuh (Berlin): Grundherrschaft in Theorie und Praxis. Landnutzung und -verwaltung in der didaktischen Literatur zur Landwirtschaft in England zu Beginn des 14. Jahrhunderts
Stephan F. Ebert (Darmstadt): Vom Buch aufs Feld? Zur praktischen Rezeption von „Fachliteratur“ im deutschsprachigen Raum des ausgehenden Mittelalters
Section 3: From Field to Book – Dietetics, Agriculture and Horticulture in Practice (and Theory)
Chair: Rainer Schreg (Bamberg)
Julian Wiethold (Metz): Landwirtschaft, Weinbau und Ernährung im Spätmittelalter und zu Beginn der Frühen Neuzeit (1300–1600). Neue archäobotanische Ergebnisse aus Lothringen, Ostfrankreich
Andreas Dix (Bamberg): Sonderkulturen als historisch-geographisches Problem – Das Fallbeispiel Bamberg seit dem Spätmittelalter
Gerrit J. Schenk (Darmstadt): Gartenbau und Sonderkulturen am Oberrhein. Vom Lorscher Arzneibuch bis zum Pfälzer Duwak
Section 4: Global Perspectives
Chair: Stefan Knost (Halle)
Antonio Sánchez de Mora (Seville): Documents from Spanish Archives to Study the Changes in American Agriculture, Ecosystems and Food during the Early Modern Age
Fabian Kümmeler (Vienna): Granoturco (Maize) and the Columbian Exchange. Agriculture, Pastoralism, and Society in Premodern Southeast Europe
Chun Xu (Berlin): Terraforming the Mongol-Yuan Metropole. Yu Ji and His Campaign for Riziculture in Littoral Metropole