Re: The Glorantha Digest V7 #447

From: aelarsen@facstaff.wisc.edu
Date: Sun 05 Mar 2000 - 23:08:23 EET


>From: David Dunham <dunham@pensee.com>
>Subject: Re: where's the beef
>
>> Beef, in my ever so 'umble opinion, is a bit of a luxury for most
>> Heortlings. Cattle are far too valuable to eat as a staple, (KODP players
>> will know exactly what I mean), and beef is usually reserved for
>> (political) inter-clan feasts and other special occasions.
>
>It's beneath the level of detail in KoDP, but I believe that beef
>*is* eaten in Dragon Pass on a relatively regular basis. I suspect

>that, as in saga Iceland, you end up with more cattle than you can
>feed over the winter. So right before winter, you slaughter any
>animals you won't be able to support over the winter. You probably
>preserve them with salt if you have it, smoke if not.

        What you describe is true. Meat was more common in the diet early
in winter, because livestock did have to be slaughtered. But that doesn't
mean that there was a lot of livestock to slaughter. Most medieval
peasants possessed a fairly small amount of livestock. A peasant would be
lucky to have a single cow or a couple of pigs or sheep. The lord of the
local manor had a larger supply, which meant that his family and dependants
ate somewhat better, and in many regions it was standard practice for the
local lord to throw a feast for his peasants at least once a year, usually
in association with a church festival. For some peasants, this annual meal
was the only truly reliable source of meat in their lives.
        When peasants ate meat, it was most likely to be pork, ham, bacon,
or gammon, for the simple reason that pigs are purely meat animals. Apart
from meat, the only thing pigs produce is more meat. After that, lamb and
mutton was most common. Historically, the number of sheep in a region
tends to be inversely proportionate to the number of pigs, because pigs
graze in forests while sheep graze in open fields. In order to have a
place for sheep to feed, you have to cut down the forests where pigs feed.
Poultry and fish were next most common, depending on how close the region
was to a reliable source of fish, while beef that extremely rare for
peasants.

>(As I understand it, this practice is one reason we have Icelandic
>sagas: there was no shortage of dead calves from which to make
>vellum, so they had plenty of writing material to make enough copies
>of the sagas that they survived to this day.)

        That's the theory, at least, but it's not cows they're
slaughtering; it's sheep. Iceland was primarily a sheep-grazing region,
although cows were kept for diary products. Although some scholars tend to
be a bit casual about the terminology, parchment technically comes from
sheep- and goatskin, while vellum is made from calf-skin. I seem to recall
that Icelandic manuscripts are mostly made of parchment, although I cannot
seem to find my source for this statement, so don't hold me to it.
        Overall, however, the Icelanders are pretty abnormal when compared
to most of Europe. While I think their culture is a good model for
Orlanthi culture, I don't think their economy works as well as a model as
the Anglo-Saxon economy does.

Andrew E. Larsen

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