Wednesday, January 4, 2012

More Medieval Erudition: The Lament of Sudden Wealth

Life and customs were hard in Lombardy [at the beginning of the 13th century]. Men wore cloaks of leather without any adornments, or clothes of rough wool with no lining. With a few pence, people felt rich. Men longed to have arms and horses. If one was noble and rich, one's ambition was to own high towers from which to admire the city and the mountains and the rivers. The virgins wore tunics of pignolato [rough cotton] and petticoats of linen, and on their heads they wore no ornaments at all. A normal dowry was about ten lire and at the utmost reached one hundred, because the clothes of the woman were ever so simple. There were no fireplaces in the houses. Expenses were cut down to a minimum because in summer people drank little wine and wine-cellars were not kept. At table, knives were not used; husband and wife ate off the same plate, and there was one cup or two at most for the whole family. Candles were not used, and at night one dined by light of glowing torches. One ate cooked turnips, and ate meat only three times a week. Clothing was frugal. Today, instead, everything is sumptuous. Dress has become precious and rich with superfluity. Men and women bedeck themselves with gold, silver, and pearls. Foreign wines and wines from distant countries are drunk, luxurious dinners are eaten, and cooks are highly valued.
-- Galvano Fiamma, 13th century, as quoted in The Taste of Conquest by Michael Krondl

While Galvano Fiamma was complaining about the changes in lifestyle brought about by the conquerors returning home with wealth from the Crusades, he could just as easily be bemoaning the wealth that would be attendant to a steady stream of adventurers hauling boxes of gold and jewels from the depths of a nearby megadungeon. Gary Gygax spoke briefly of such inflation, but when I saw the above quote, I thought it said it much more eloquently than I could.