Medieval James Himself

Medieval James Himself
Guide at Ozark Medieval Fortress

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Finding Direction in the Middle Ages

“How did people find their way during the Middle Ages?”  “Did they have magnetic compasses back then?”  The tour at the Ozark Medieval Fortress goes through the woods, out of sight of the castle and other buildings at times, so direction questions come up.  The answer has three parts.  First, people have known about telling direction from the sun or stars from way back.  Second, in the Dark Ages (early Medieval) they did not have magnetic compasses.  Third, by the high Middle May8 (4)bAges magnetic compasses were well known.  The first confirmed report of magnetic compass use in Europe dates to just before 1200.  In fact, the compass made a big contribution to the important increase in commerce during the 1200’s.  Before then shipping closed down October to April from the North Sea to the Mediterranean because of cloudy skies (inability to see the stars).  By the end of the 1200’s shipping was stopped only in December and January and that was because of rough seas rather than navigational problems.  This was thanks to the compass.  A common person, however, could not afford a magnetic compass and needed to rely on woodsman skills to navigate the forest.  That remained the case into our colonial era in America.  At the Ozark Medieval Fortress all a guest needs to do to keep from getting lost is stay on the trail.

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