Travel In The Medieval World

Ibn BattutaIn medieval times a person could travel relatively far and wide as part of their profession. For example, a sailor, soldier or a merchant could have travelled across Europe, perhaps even more than once, and brought back tales of their journeys. In so doing, many people had an idea of what the world was like beyond their village. However the majority of the population would have been confined to the estate of their feudal Lord. For the common man a weekly or monthly trip to the local market might mark the limit of their travels. Without the things we take for granted today such as guidebooks and road maps, it was difficult to find their way once they left familiar territory. More importantly if a person travelled on their own. it was important they were under the protection of either the church or a feared Lord.

For many nobles and royal families of Europe, travel was not only a routine part of life but a necessary one. William The Conqueror’s domains would never have extended to include the kingdom of England had he not travelled! Many subsequent English monarchs such as King Henry II and Edward III travelled even further from as far as Aquitaine near the Spanish border to beyond Hadrian’s Wall in England and up into Scotland.

The Medieval Crusades of course brought a significant increase in travel albeit with its own problems. The journeys to the Holy Land introduced a lot of people to new customs, ways of living and fashion. The knowledge gained from these trips helped to pave the way for the Renaissance in the 14th century.

When it came to medieval travel there was one overriding fact and that was that the majority of people did not travel outside Europe. Travel to the Far East was unknown and Africa below the Sahara was rarely visited. At the opposite end of the scale and in complete contrast to this, when it came to maritime travel sailors had covered the area right up to Iceland and beyond to Greenland (in search of good cod fishing).

Some of the most widely travelled people actually came from the Muslim world and Ibn Battuta (1304 – 1368/69) who was Moroccan, was probably the most well known of all medieval travellers.

Photo: Ibn Battuta (1304 – 1368/69) Courtesy