A number of very important inventions were made in medieval times such as the Spinning Wheel, Stirrups, Astrolabe, Eyeglasses, Compass, Tidal Mills, Gunpowder and Printing Press.
A large number of inventions came to be during the medieval period. Given that the medieval period was marked by perennial warfare throughout the different parts of Europe, most of the significant inventions of the period were directly or indirectly related to warfare.
However, there were other inventions such as the clock, printing press and architectural innovations which played a critical part in shaping medieval Europe. Here are some of the most important of these inventions from the medieval period.
Until the High Middle Ages, there was no accurate and accessible way of measuring time. People had to rely on natural phenomenon, such as the movements of the Sun, or on contraptions such as the hour glass or calibrated candles.
It was only in the 14th century that innovations in Church bell-ringing mechanism evolved to give birth to the earliest mechanical clocks. The first of these dates back to 1344 being used in a cathedral in Padua. In subsequent decades and centuries, clocks began to become more accurate, sophisticated and compact. In time, these clocks would give birth to pocket watches and in more recent times, to wrist watches.
The basis for the modern printing press were laid in 15th century when Johannes Guttenberg in Germany invented a unique printing press of his own. By using the prevalent printing mechanism, he used new methods and equipment to speed up and automate the process of printing.
Before his press, books which had to be printed required a lot of labour and took a lot of time to make, essentially limiting the use of books to the rich and wealthy. The Gutenberg press became a precursor to cheaper printing presses which were established all over Europe and became one of the key inventions that made the European Renaissance possible.
Before the invention of gunpowder, warfare in the medieval period remained more or less the same as the warfare in the antique period. Although armour’s evolved significantly and weapons corresponded in this evolution, warfare still required men to ride on horses or close in for on-foot combat, wield different weapons, defend themselves with armour and face an enemy at close quarters.
All of this changed with the invention of the gunpowder. Gunpowder had been invented in China as early as the 9th century but reached widespread use in Europe only by the 13th century, possible due to battlefield interactions with the Mongols. By the 14th century, gunpowder weapons were being used by the European armies and by the 15th century, these weapons had effectively replaced most of the conventional weaponry.
Tidal mills were an important medieval invention dating back to the 8th century. They were usually employed near natural water bodies such as rivers and were driven by the high tides of the water body. In the countryside, such mills were frequently used to accomplish different mechanical tasks, the force of the water itself was used to drive the water wheel on its own. Such early use of mechanical energy can be seen as precursors to the use of electricity in modern period.
Naval warfare remained a part of the military lifestyle of medieval Europe since the beginning of the medieval period. This was evident in the naval battles between Arabs and the Byzantines in the 8th century and the ongoing naval conflict for supremacy in the Mediterranean.
Navigation in the sea was critically important for longer sea voyages and it was only in the 13th century that the invention of a compass made sea navigation easy for sailors. The dry compass was invented in Europe sometime during the 13th century while a compass more aptly suited for naval use was invented by the Arabs in the 14th century.
Eyeglasses were one of the most important inventions of the medieval period. The earliest extant historical source mentioning eyeglasses in Europe dates back to the 14th century. This early form of eyeglasses used convex lenses, suitable only for people with farsightedness.
The eyeglasses are a critically important social invention in that before they became available, poor eyesight usually deteriorated over time and there was little the contemporary physicians could do. The earliest evidence for eyeglasses using concave lens and meant to resolve nearsightedness date back to the 16th century.
Astrolabe is a device which is used to measure the position of the Sun and different stars in the sky accurately. It was invented during the medieval ages with the earliest astrolabes appearing in Moorish Spain during the 12th century. From Spain, the astrolabe reached wider Europe and in time, became one of the preeminent devices used for astronomical purposes. Given the application of astronomy in many related sciences, the astrolabe is considered one of the most important scientific inventions of the medieval period.
Stirrups refer to a sort of frame that can securely hold the feet of a horse rider. The stirrup essentially allows a rider to keep both his feet securely in the flexible frame, thereby allowing him to wield a weapon or otherwise ride effectively when on the horse.
Stirrups arrived in Eastern Europe around the 7th century and over subsequent centuries, found adoption in the Western Europe. It is argued that stirrups played a critical role in developing the military warfare of the medieval period.
They probably made cavalry the supreme unit of an average medieval army, undermining or reducing the significance of infantry units . It was largely thanks to the stirrups that cavalry riders could wield weapons, fight on the go and even shoot arrows while riding their horse with minimal risk of falling off.
The spinning wheel was originally invented before the medieval period but in Europe, it came to be widely used only in the medieval era. In contrast to the earlier spinning methods used in Europe, the spinning wheel was far more efficient and allowed a spinner to spin greater amounts of thread in less time. This finally made it possible for well-spun clothes to be worn by an increasingly greater section of population in medieval Europe.