Medieval folk didn't drink alcohol to avoid dirty water

I wasn’t there, couldn’t say, but I’ve read much on antiquity & ancient times & that would in this question certainly chart my own path. I’d be drunk all the time in the miserable past.

Eh, since I wouldn’t know how bad I had it I would probably live healthy as I do now, whatever that meant back then.

I didn’t know that. It makes sense. Any good reading on that?

I have, and yes it’s absurd. The artesian well is not a modern invention, and before fracking and factory farming, the aquifers were pretty damn clean.

Would that include well water?

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Did they do cooking? I seem to remember that hard tack (a dry biscuit), dryed and preserved meats and such were the standard foods. Plus they never went very far from land.

That headline makes it sound like they were teetotalers because they were afraid of bad water - in the booze.

I was basing my entire knowledge of maritime cuisine on the scene where Christopher Columbus and Bugs Bunny shared one bowl of gruel that slid across the table as the ship rocked on the ocean waves, and they had to scrape up a few bites quickly before it slid back over to the other guy. That gruel had to come from somewhere.


The purple book comes to mind immediately… hold on, I’ll google it… OK, Philip Ziegler, The Black Death - I think that’s the best book I’ve read on the subject.

Yes, absolutely, except in the case of flowing artesian (spring-fed) wells. During the various commonplace epidemics of the Medieval era, and especially during the major plagues, shared wells and village cisterns could easily become contaminated and spread disease. The Medieval Jews were said to only drink from running water or from a private cistern, and this was one of several cultural traditions that gave their communities a higher resistance to infectious disease.

And then as now, lived longer than non observant Jews or the general population. They had a bunch of wacky ideas, but the core is a quite a bit of good hygiene.

Certainly you had the occasional medical practitioner drawing empirical conclusions that they couldn’t explain. "For some reason when I do this, I seem to have fewer complications with my patients / a higher success rate" would have been a not uncommon occurance, I’m sure.

The problem is, I doubt anyone would have noticed alcoholic beverages being noticeably cleaner in any way, because no one drinks purely just alcohol or purely just water. And with so many other possible vectors for contagion, even then it’d be hard to exactly pinpoint one factor over another as the cause with anything like certainty - meaning that at best, the “knowledge” of alcohol being cleaner than water would merely be seen as the unproven and unproveable hunch of certain individuals, not an accepted medical “fact”, as it were.

Well, unfortunately during the Medieval era they sometimes didn’t live longer, because observant Jews were an easily identified and insular minority that rarely received any protection from the authoritarian institutions of the time. Certain high-income professions, such as moneylending, were rarely open to anyone but Jews, and that didn’t help their position either.

Lord Malegant! Lord Malegant! Everyone in the village is dying of ratitis and spattergroit, except the Jewish moneylenders you owe ten golden ducats! Father Unction says the Jews are sorcerous christ-killers and we should burn them at the stake, then God will love us again and stop the plague! What should we do, milord?

It got so out of hand that in 1348 the Pope officially forbade wholesale slaughter of Jews, although perhaps only because he was running out of people to borrow money from. A couple of Eastern European Christian princes (in Poland I think? maybe Latvia.) distinguished themselves during the period by providing shelter to the Jews, and thousands of them fled Western Europe with nothing but what they could carry on their persons.

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Eh, John Snow? He knew nothing.


You’re confusing the age of sail, medieval times, and the ancient Mediterranean.

Ships in ancient Greece didn’t go very far from land, and often didn’t have facilities to cook or sleep on board, so the crews would beach the ship each night and cook and sleep on shore.

Medieval ships certainly did go far from land- remember, the Vikings crossed the Atlantic. I don’t know what they ate while doing so, though. And people may have reached the Azores in the 14th century.

Once you get to the age of sail (16th century) with ships regularly sailing across oceans, we know exactly what they ate, and ships definitely did have a galley. The meat was carried salted in casks (though they ate fresh when available and often carried livestock), and was boiled by the ship’s cook. The chief qualification for being a ship’s cook was to be a disabled navy veteran.

Here’s a very interesting article about it…

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