At the Ozark Medieval Fortress guests have asked about the tools used to harvest crops during the Middle Ages. Unfortunately for the peasants, there had been improvements in crop planting tools (such as the plow) but none in crop harvesting. Basically, they had to deal with the harvesting of grain crops such as wheat and barley by using a hand-held sickle in one hand and grasping the stems in the other. That meant bending over and cutting almost at ground level. Ouch! For hay crops, which is cutting grass and similar crops for winter animal feed, peasants commonly are pictured in Medieval drawings using a scythe. That is a blade which is straighter and heavier than that of a sickle and is mounted on a long, heavy handle. A scythe handle required the use of two hands but was swung while standing erect. That sounds better, but still a lot of “back work”. Some of the blades for scythes were made curved and light like a sickle blade and with lighter handles. Then and now these were used for weed control. At the Ozark Medieval Fortress this weed cutting tool is what is used most because to date we have not had any grain
The history of sickles and scythes goes way back into the ancient world. In the Middle Ages they were also used as weapons. Peasants were sometimes called upon to fight and these tools were what they had available. Symbolically, the sickle came to represent the peasant farmer and the scythe to represent the “Grim Reaper” or death. There was no set standard angle, length or curve to the blades. Each blacksmith had his own style. The most popular blade in use at the Ozark Medieval Fortress was made by Rasmus, a volunteer from Denmark. What is amazing is that in the modern day of gas-powered weed cutters, this ancient tool is still in use all over the world.