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"Measuring time in the Dark Ages" Topic

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Last Hussar23 Sep 2012 1:37 a.m. PST

It struck me this morning that the Vikings (for instance) didn't have hours. How did they measure time?

"I'm going to help Sven with his fence – how long will dinner be?"

Personal logo enfant perdus Supporting Member of TMP23 Sep 2012 5:03 a.m. PST


Stronty Girl Fezian Inactive Member23 Sep 2012 5:08 a.m. PST

Went to a lecture once all about this. As well as natural stuff like sunrise and sunset, if you were in a town there were all sorts of bells chiming – monasteries, churches, guild halls and the like.

The lady who gave the talk was a historian and had studied letters and contracts which were full of negotiations about when workers would start and end work, have their lunchbreak, etc.

Employer: You'll start at sunrise and have lunch at the third bell of the Tanner's guild.
Worker: No, no, no. We'll start at first bell of St Thomas's church and have lunch at second bell of the Market Square.

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP23 Sep 2012 8:02 a.m. PST

They certainly were aware of the position of the sun in the sky.
For more citified Dark Ages dudes, the Church measured time by the "Canonical hours" or "office". It divided the day into the proper prayers to be said, and was announced by bells.
If you live near a Catholic church, you can still hear this by the ringing of the Angelus bells at noon.

Read Napoleonic sea novels, like Hornbliower, and you see that the time was rather precisely kept with hourglasses.

Personal logo Nashville Supporting Member of TMP23 Sep 2012 8:04 a.m. PST

Time zones were inventions of the railroads.

Jana Wang Inactive Member23 Sep 2012 8:32 a.m. PST

Mechanical clocks were a fairly early invention, but even without those there was still the sundial, and the candle clocks which burned at a steady rate and had marks on them to tell the hour.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP In the TMP Dawghouse23 Sep 2012 8:43 a.m. PST

Vikings only had to times of day. Rape and pillage time, and drinking time.

Mapleleaf Inactive Member23 Sep 2012 1:48 p.m. PST

Years ago I was walking down a country lane in Britain and saw that my watch had stopped. I went over to a local man who was milking a cow and asked him if he knew the time. After fiddling with the udder a bit he said " three thirty"

I asked him how could he tell the time by feeling a cow's udder ." "Don't be daft", he replied, "If I lift up the right teat a bit I can see the clock in the church tower"

Personal logo Rrobbyrobot Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member23 Sep 2012 2:36 p.m. PST

Ah, the mysteries of British country life. Good one, Mapleleaf.

zippyfusenet Inactive Member23 Sep 2012 5:53 p.m. PST

Up on the poop deck, futtering about,
There stands the Second Mate so steady and so stout.
What he is thinking of he doesn't know himself,
And we wish that he would hurry up and strike, strike the bell!
Strike the bell, Second Mate! Let us go below!
Look to the windward, you can see it's gonna blow.
Look at the glass, you can see that it has fell,
And we wish that you would hurry up and strike, strike the bell!

Whatisitgood4atwork Inactive Member23 Sep 2012 6:26 p.m. PST

Stronty girl, Very interesting, thanks.

Of course the next question would be, how did the Churches know when to ring the bells?

The position of the sun is a good tell, but I have been the UK and didn't see the sun for days on end. It would be trickier at night too, especially if cloudy.

Personal logo Bowman Supporting Member of TMP23 Sep 2012 6:27 p.m. PST

Vikings only had to times of day. Rape and pillage time, and drinking time.

Surely you can add sleep to that. What about haircut and beard trimming time? What about herding pigs? Dinner time? Composing sagas time?

Wow, they're a complex lot.

Streitax Inactive Member23 Sep 2012 6:38 p.m. PST

The churches and monastaries had a variety of time keeping methods, especially for keeping time at night. Water clocks, the burning candles already mentioned. It's a lot easier to keep time with an hourglass if you can assigne a monk to do nothing else. Somewhat like the row of trees on the road to the USDA research station in El Reno, OK. It used to be an army remount station. When one of the trees died, we had a hell of a time getting a new one to grow to replace it. One of the old sergeants visited and we asked him the secret, he said 'Every tree had a private assigned to it and God help him if it died.'

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP24 Sep 2012 4:29 a.m. PST

People winged it in most cases. "I'll come over before noon" or "I'll be in the fields from dusk till dawn."

I don't really wear a watch any more and rarely bother to grab my iPod to check the time, but I usually have a fair idea of the time of day and with some luck can usually tell to within about 15 minutes at best or half an hour at worst what time it is.

My guess is that people do have a broad notion of time so that most could usually plan things to roughly an hour or so. Given that time was probably measured in chunks of a few hours, that probably all the accuracy they would need It's also likely that people didn't care if the meat was dry from sitting in the oven too long, they had meat and it wasn't rotten …

Even with fairly broad margins, people would still have some experience in planning their daily activities.

We live in a society where accurate timekeeping is important to our daily lives, but it would have far less impact in the dark ages where there was little need for accurate hourly timekeeping. Stuff like the proper time to plant seeds and harvest or the ebb and flow of tides for sailing and fishing were more important and were carefully monitored.

Jana Wang Inactive Member24 Sep 2012 7:21 a.m. PST

Don't forget that cats always know when it is time for you to get up in the morning, and when it is time for you to feed them.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP In the TMP Dawghouse24 Sep 2012 10:33 a.m. PST

"Surely you can add sleep to that. What about haircut and beard trimming time? What about herding pigs? Dinner time? Composing sagas time?

Wow, they're a complex lot."

Well both times can be used for many thing, when you are pillaging you allready got your sword out, so it's easy to cut your hair or style your beard. And if you drink enough mead you fall a sleep.

Viking pigs can herd them self, they are after all viking pigs.

XRaysVision24 Sep 2012 12:13 p.m. PST

Precision in time keeping wasn't really a concept that applied to most people until the advent of the age of exploration. When sailing latitude is easily determined by the angle of the horizon realted to the pole star, longitude depended upon knowing how fast one was sailing at a given latitude. To do this accurate timekeeping was required.

It's hard to imagine in today's rapidly moving world that our ancestors didn't much care about time. In the dark ages, time was used to determine when to pray. Vigils, lauds, eucarist, daytime prayers, vestpers, and compline were common prayer times and needed to be marked.

People just didn't say that dinner would be at eight o'clock--because they didn't have clocks.

GarrisonMiniatures Inactive Member25 Sep 2012 7:23 a.m. PST

As above: Time zones were inventions of the railroads.

Quite true in UK – every time had it's own 'time' When the railways were invented, they also invented railway timetables – so all the towns had to be put on the same time system!

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP In the TMP Dawghouse25 Sep 2012 8:10 a.m. PST

Also if a a Frank commander said to his troops, I want you to attack at this time tomorrow, they would all say, but time is relative.

just visiting Inactive Member25 Sep 2012 11:48 a.m. PST

And he would respond, "Frankly my dears I don't give a damn, you will attack as ordered"….

timurilank26 Sep 2012 1:49 p.m. PST

"What time is it?" and "Are we there yet?" most likely do not translet well to other Germanic and Scandanavian languages.

Those parents were blessed.

Personal logo Bowman Supporting Member of TMP27 Sep 2012 8:14 a.m. PST

"What time is it?" and "Are we there yet?" most likely do not translet well to other Germanic and Scandanavian languages.

Those parents were blessed.

Not really. "Wieviel uhr ist es?" and "Sind wir schon da?". Translates exactly.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP In the TMP Dawghouse27 Sep 2012 8:32 a.m. PST

Same in Norwegian, "hva er klokka" and "er vi der snart"

Ofcouse I don't speak old norse, so I can't speak for the vikings. But I expect the children in the long ships probebly botherd their parents alot, and back then they didn't have gameboys.

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