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9th century manuscript page from Salzburg
This 9th century manuscript page from Salzburg is a gem. It provides one of the rare glimpses of life of a common person—someone who wasn’t a royal, aristocrat, or saint.

We see what a peasant wore, a few of the implements he used, and what he did on the land throughout the year. The month-by-month tasks are specific to Salzburg. The Carolingian realm was vast, encompassing Utrecht in the north and Avignon in the south, stretching from beyond the Enns River in the east to the Atlantic in the west. The soil might be workable in Arles but still frozen in Cologne.

Still, a 21st century viewer gets to see everyday concerns from long ago, outside religion and war.

The unnamed character in this manuscript doesn’t fit the classic definition of a hero, a warrior killing the enemy. Nor is he a martyr, a self-sacrificing hero for the Church.

But he and countless others like him are heroes. They were the ones who got the earth to yield crops to feed families, cut hay so animals could eat through winter, tended vines and made wine, and slaughtered livestock as the ground froze.

Even though many of us don’t make our livelihood from today’s high-tech agriculture, one thing remains the same: we depend on farmers’ handiwork for our survival.

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