Inventions of the Middle Ages

Many people are under the impression that the Middle Ages were a time of technological stagnation, without any major improvements or inventions, a regular black hole of the human mind.
This is, of course, not true at all. On the contrary, the Middle Ages saw some very important developments of things we still use today. 
The list below is a compilation of those inventions, and although not meant to be comprehensive, it shows that the human mind did not stop to function just because some scholars in later centuries chose to give this period a bad name. 

Two major trends can be observed by going through the list :
1. Before the 11th Century all major inventions came from the East, mainly from China. They were copied in Europe, although nobody can say for sure whether or to what degree the European "re-inventors" actually were influenced by the knowledge of those eastern designs. It is quite possible that several inventions which surfaced in Europe centuries after their first use in the East actually were genuine and original designs, which time had just come then.
2. The early flow of inventions followed the trade routes, mainly the Silk Route from China over Persia and the Middle East into Europe. After the 12th Century, especially with the beginning of European explorations by sea, the direction was reversed.

 

Inventions of Antiquity 

Invention

Inventor

Date

Remarks

Screw

Archimedes (Greek)

3rd C B.C.

 

Fertilizer

Romans

B.C.

 

Tempering of Metal

Romans

B.C.

 

Cotton Clothes

Romans

B.C.

From Egypt

Weights and measures

Romans

B.C.

From Egypt

Lighthouses

Egypt

B.C.

Pharos of Alexandria

Bureaucracy

Romans

B.C.

 

Army Engineering

Romans

B.C.

 

Chain Mail

Gauls

1st C B.C.

 

Glassblowing

Romans

1st C A.D.

Province of Syria

Wooden Barrel

Germans

1st C A.D.

 

Soap

Gauls

4th C A.D.

 

Layered Steel

Germans

4th C A.D.

 

Sewing of Clothes from various pieces

Germans

4th C A.D.

 

(Eating) Fork

Byzantium

4th C A.D.

 

 

Inventions of the Middle Ages

 

Invention

Invented in

Date

Parallel or Reinvention
and additional Information

Animal Harness (Horse Collar)

Asia

1st C

Europe 9th C

Human Traction Trebuchet

China

1st C

Counterweight Trebuchet

12th C Arabia, 13th France

Water powered machinery

China

1st C

Franks (Romans) 6th C

Number Zero

India

1st C

Arabia 9th C, Europe 13th C

Cardanic Suspension

China

2nd C

16th C by Cardano (Italy)

Paper (as writing material)

China

3rd C

Muslim Spain 10th C

Wheelbarrow

China

3rd C

Europe 12th C

Stirrup

China

4th C

Carolingians 9th C

Toilet Paper

China

6th C

First mentioned 589

Dikes

Low Countries

6th C

 

Heavy Plow

Slavs

6th C

 

Porcelain

China

7th C

Dresden 18th C

Printing with wood blocks

China

7th C

Europe 13th C; led to engraving and printing with movable type

Flamethrower

Byzantium

7th C

First mentioned 674 (with Greek Fire); Greek Fire invented by Callinicus from Syria

Compass

China

8th C

Europe 12th C

Modern system of dating (B.C.-A.D.)

England

8th C

Bede the Venerable

Spurs

Carolingians

9th C

 

Gunpowder

China

9th C

Late 13th C : Roger Bacon (England) & Berthold Schwarz (Germany)

Paper Money

China

9th C

800 in China

1601 Sweden

Lathe (for wood)

Europe

9th C

 

Rotary Grindstone

Germany

9th C

9th C China

Soap Bars

Arabic Spain

11th C

Soap as a Paste invented by the Gauls in 4th C

Water Powered Clock

China

11th C

1090 Su Sung “Cosmic Engine” (only one built)

Terrorism

Persia

11th C

1090 Hasan ibn Sabbah founded the cult of the Assassins (Haschisch Smokers); mostly destroyed in the 13th C by Mongols; modern day Ismailites (Leader is Aga Khan)

Cannons

China

12th C

1128 first picture of bamboo cannon in China;

1327 first picture of cannon in Europe;

1331 first use in Siege of Cividale, Italy by two German knights

Rocket

China

12th C

1180 as Rocket Artillery

Windmill

Persia

10th C

Vertical Windmill;

1137 England Horizontal Windmill

Heraldry

France/England

12th C

“Regimental Heraldry” with late Roman/early Byzantine Armies in the 4th C

Municipal grammar school

European cities

14th C

Reading, writing, arithmetic, Latin

Eyeglasses

Italy (Rome)

14th C

1300 farsightedness only

Playing Cards

France/Germany

14th C

1377 in the Rhine valley; design came from France

Clock (mechanical weight-driven)

Italy

14th C

1309 Milan (astronomical clock); 1344 Padua first real timekeeping clock by Jacopo di Dondi; 1400 the first small household clocks; first machines entirely made of iron; at first no universal time, every city had its own time; In 1370 the King of France ordered all clocks in Paris to be synchronized

Commercial Banking

Italy

14th C

The Family Medici of Florence

Double-entry bookkeeping

Italy

14th C

 

Blast furnace

Sweden

14th C

Styria, Rhine valley and Liege;

Blast provided by waterwheels

Cast iron

Sweden, Germany

14th C

Possible through blast furnace

Canal locks

Low Countries

14th C (late)

City of Damme

Plus and Minus sign

Germany

15th C

1489 Johann Widmann

Deep Sea Diving with protective gear

Germany

15th C

1425 first mentioned (with drawing of a Combat Diver with Mines)

Printing with Movable Type

Germany

15th C

1450 Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz; in Korea 1300, but not successful and widespread

Typeface “Gothic

Germany

15th C

Possibly Gutenberg

Typeface “Roman”

Germany

15th C

1465 by two German printers in Italy

Patent (legal protection of inventions)

Italy

15th C

Venice

Perspective (in paintings)

Italy

15th C

Also in Flemish paintings

Typestyle “Italic

Italy

15th C

After 1465

Beer

Bavaria

16th C

1516 Duke Wilhelm of Bavaria issued the “Purity Law” – Beer has to consist only of Hops. Barley and Water; law still valid in Germany today

Equal (=) sign

Europe

16th C

 

Pocket watch

Germany

16th C

1510 by Peter Heinlein, Nürnberg

Gregorian Calendar

Rome

16th C

1582 Pope Gregor XIII.

Division sign

Europe

17th C

 

 

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