What was it like to live in medieval times? Specifically Arabic, Persian, or African medieval times?
Well, it depends on where exactly you lived, the family you came from, your profession, and more.
Just like modern times, there’s no single ‘way’ life ‘is.’ But there are some realities that emerge, from a diet rich in some meat and dairy, but more bread, rice, and fruit as a dessert.
Many ancient Persians enjoyed fashionable clothes, gathering for festivals, and like modern cultures, music. They also were often nomads–instead of living in one place, many groups moved from place to place.
Other elements can be inferred below communicated through the narrative between a medieval brother and sister, brought to you by Ted ed.
Life As A Mediecal Arabic Teenage Pilgrim
A transcript of the video appears below.
“As the morning sun shines on the Golden Gate Palace, brother and sister Hisham, and Asma prepare for the journey of a lifetime.
It is 791 CE, and the Abbasid Caliphate is at the height of its power, stretching from India to North Africa.
With over half a million inhabitants, its capital city of Madinat al-Salaam, also known as Baghdad, is the largest in the Islamic Empire, possibly the world.
And it’s only 30 years old.
Asma and Hisham will leave at sunset for the hajj, the holy pilgrimage to Mecca. Most people make the journey when they’re older and wealthier, but Hisham and Asma have wanted to make this journey together since they were children.
They intend to travel with the big hajj caravan that is protected by the caliph soldiers. The caliph Al-Rashid himself is also traveling with the caravan this year. The hajj caravan is like a massive mobile city, with soldiers, cooks, doctors and merchants, servants, and enslaved people.
The journey is long, with dangers like disease, robbery, and dehydration.
Because of these perils, Hisham and Asma want to travel with the larger group—but a last-minute mishap threatens to undo months of careful planning. When the siblings visit the market to check on the supplies they’ve purchased, the merchant tells them one of their camels has fallen ill, and he doesn’t have any replacements.
Without the camel, the siblings won’t be able to depart with the caravan. They search the marketplace, bustling with people from different ethnic backgrounds, such as Persians, Arabs, Turks, Africans, and Indians, and following different religions like Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism.
The market sells everything from locally made pottery, Egyptian glass, and paper from Samarkand to Chinese silk, gold from Africa, and fox fur from the distant north. But with the caravan leaving tonight, no one has a camel available.
Though the hajj is primarily a religious journey, the siblings have other, personal hopes for it. Hisham and Asma come from a wealthy family and both had tutors as children.Hisham is studying to become a scholar, progressing from Arabic grammar to Islamic law and Persian love poetry, then to Indian-inspired mathematics and Greek philosophy and medicine.
With scholars from all over the empire traveling to Mecca and important intellectual centers on the way, the hajj is a great learning opportunity. Asma, meanwhile, has literary ambitions. As a woman, a life of formal scholarship is not available to her. Instead, she is honing her skills as a poet. She hopes to compose poetry about the journey that will catch the attention of important women in the city, and maybe even Queen Zubayda.
The siblings split up to search for a camel. Hisham heads toward the library complex to ask the scholars’ advice. An elderly scholar studying Galen and Hippocrates tells him how to treat a wound. An Aramaic translator from Damascus shares a list of useful herbs for upset stomach on the road.
A Persian poet wants to share his latest poetry, but Hisham doesn’t see how that will get him the camel for tonight, so he kindly refuses.
As he says goodbye, they give him the names of important theology scholars to visit in Medina, on the way to Mecca. But to get there, he’ll need a camel.
Meanwhile, Asma visits an older, married cousin. An enslaved girl opens the door, and takes Asma to the women’s quarters, where men cannot enter. Her cousin wants to hear Asma’s latest poetry, but Asma tells her she’s in a hurry and explains their predicament.
She’s in luck— her cousin’s husband has a camel to offer them. With their arrangements secure at last, they make their final preparations.
At the designated times for men and women, each performs a ritual ablution at one of Baghdad’s many public bathhouses.
As the sun sets, the city’s criers announce the caravan’s departure, and the townspeople flock to watch the pilgrims leave.”