Social Inequalities Forum

Nov 29, 2022 from 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM

Room 123, Leibnizstr. 3, 24118 Kiel

Pawel Cembrzynski: "Inequality in medieval towns and how to find it."


A medieval town was inhabited by a whole spectrum of people with a different social backgrounds like patricians, artisans, clergy, noble and poor. It was characterised by different levels of inequality of wealth and status. This talk will show the possibilities of tracing such inequality in medieval towns.

A common way to study wealth inequality is through tax registers, property value and wages. Additionally, sociotopographic approach studies the spatial distribution of wealth and property values in a town. Nevertheless, the perspective given by written records has specific flows as it concerns mostly well-situated upper classes of urban society. The question is if a more nuanced picture of inequality can be seen through the material culture and structure of the built environment. Medieval urban archaeology approaches the issue of inequality, looking mainly at luxury and quality of life. Luxurious objects are those that are known to be expensive, rare or hard to get. Such artefacts need to be analysed within the local context. The quality and quantity of material culture found on urban plots can show the inhabitants' potential wealth and status. The more diversified this culture is, the more wealthy the owners might be. The study of quality of life in medieval archaeology goes a step further. It looks not only at portable artefacts but also at the quality of housing (construction, material, heating, light, decoration etc.), access to water supply and waste disposal as well localisation. Despite this positivistic view, the biggest challenge is understanding the depositional and post-depositional processes. The reason why artefacts ended in an archaeological context and not always clear and can blur our understanding of medieval inequality.

For more information please contact Tim Kerig (Email)

The program of the Social Inequalities Forum of the Winter Term 2022-23 can be downloaded here.

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