Iron Age and Middle Age

iron age tools

The Iron Age

Iron age followed the stone age in African civilization. During this period, there was predominant use of iron and steel as raw materials in production of tools and implements.

Instead of stone and bronze tools, iron tools were used. This period also brought other changes in the society, some of them include differing agricultural practices, religious beliefs, and artistic styles. The Iron Age was divided into two sections: Iron I and Iron II.

Iron I This period shows the transition from Bronze Age ideas and technology to what is thought of as the precursor to modern society. Bronze became scarce by the 12th century and forced people to use alternative metals. Iron was chosen because of its availability.

Iron II During this period, most tools were made out of iron.[1] Most Iron Age tools were made from wrought iron, though some were made from a far stronger iron alloy like steel. Steel tools were stronger and more durable than bronze tools, allowing for change on a vast scale.

Iron smelting and forging technologies existed in West Africa among the Nok culture of Nigeria. In the period from 1400 to 1600, iron technology became one of the fundamental social assets that facilitated the growth of significant centralized kingdoms in western Sudan and along the Guinea coast of West Africa. The fabrication of iron tools and weapons led to:

  • extensive systematized agriculture,
  • efficient hunting, and
  • successful warfare necessary to sustain large urban centers.[2]

The Significance of the Iron Age

  1. In Nigeria, iron was fundamental to the rise of important kingdoms such as Dahomey, Benin, and the Yoruba kingdoms such as Ife and Oyo.
  2. It fostered the rapid exchange of knowledge and spiritual beliefs between major kingdoms in Nigeria.
  3. In West Africa, blacksmiths were responsible for the production of agricultural tools, weapons, important regalia and protective amulets.
  4. Ironworking demanded closeness to supernatural powers, thus blacksmiths were both admired and feared. They were believed to control the natural forces inherent to all objects.
  5. The specialized skills of ironworkers were so prized that such artisans were often traveling. They moved where they were needed, or even traveled with armies into battle.
  6. During this period, Blacksmiths were politically and socially powerful. They offer invaluable counsel to the village chief concerning all major decisions.

The technology of the iron age

During the Iron age civilization, the needs of the day led to the invention and improvement of different technologies which some are still in use today. Some of them include:

  1. Smelting: This technology was used to produce iron which was used to fabricate tools and weapons.
  2. Security and wall cities: Different cities employed complex walls and gate systems to protect their cities from the enemies’
  3. Tunnels: Underground tunnels that lead to springs were built to guide residents to the waterways during siege.
  4. War weapons: More efficient weapons were made of iron. They include chariots, spearheads, arrowheads, plate armor, chain mail, and different kinds of war weapons. (chariot image)
  5. Farming implements: Strong farming tools such as cutlasses, hoes, iron axes, shovels, and sickles were made. These tools make land-clearing and food production faster and more efficient. With them, farmers can cultivate tougher and rougher
  6. Plow tips: Plough with iron tips were made. This tool made it possible to cultivate the hard It also allowed farmers to expand the amount of land they had in cultivation. This allowed for increased agricultural production which provided a food base for population growth. (plow tip image)
  7. Beginning of Modern society: More efficient tools let to technological advancement which began humanity’s movement toward the modern society.
iron age

The Middle Age

The middle age, also known as the medieval era or dark ages occurred between the 5th and 15th century. It is one of the three major periods used for analyzing European history, namely, classical civilization or Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the modern period. The period is divided into 3: the early middle ages, high middle ages, and late middle ages.

Early middle ages

The early middle ages are characterized by the following:

  1. depopulation and de-urbanization.
  2. the predominance of barbarian invasion into Western Europe to form new kingdoms.
  3. rapid conquest of Islamic forces. The North African nations experienced such conquests at this time.
  4. disruption in trade networks around the Mediterranean. This was caused by the barbarian invasions of the 4th and 5th centuries
  5. disappearance of African products in Western Europe and their replacement with local products. This is one of the impacts of the Muslim conquests
  6. the rise of monasticism in Western Europe.

High middle ages

The high middle age began at about 1000AD and is characterized by the following:

  1. Rapid growth in population
  2. Technological and agricultural innovations which made a trade to flourish.
  3. The political organization through the feudal system of government.
  4. The launch of the crusade by the church. The crusade was a Christian military army used to regain the Middle Eastern Holy Land from the Muslims.
  5. The growth of intellectual life, especially between the 11th and 12th During this period, famous universities were founded. Some of these universities include the University of Bologna, Italy, University of Paris, France, University of Oxford, England, University of Cambridge, England, etc.
  6. This period also saw development and advancement in philosophy, theology, and legal studies.
  7. Major technological advances included the invention of the windmill, the first mechanical clocks, the first investigations of optics and the creation of crude lenses, the manufacture of distilled spirits and the use of the astrolabe.
  8. This period also led to the advancement in the production of transparent glasses which led to the invention of eyeglasses.
  9. Agricultural innovations include; the development of a 3-field rotational system for crop planting and the development of heavy plow for tilling heavier soils.

Late middle ages

This period was characterized by the following:

  1. Difficulties and calamities, such as famine, plague, and war.
  2. Reduction in the population of Western Europe; in the four years from 1347 through 1350, the Black Death killed approximately a third of the European population.
  3. Controversy, heresy, and schism overtook the Church leading to warfare between states, civil war, and peasant revolts occurring in the kingdoms.
  4. Cultural and technological developments transformed European society, concluding the Late Middle Ages and beginning the Early Modern period.

The Technology of the Middle Age

This was a period of great discoveries, inventions, and innovations in:

  1. Agriculture (heavy plows, hops – used in beer preservation, horse collar, horse-shoes, winepress),
  2. Architecture and construction (artesian well, rib vault, chimney, segmental arch bridge, treadwheel crane, stationery harbor crane, floating crane, mast crane, wheelbarrow),
  3. Art (oil paint),
  4. Clocks (hourglass, mechanical clock),
  5. Mechanics (compound crank),
  6. Metallurgy (blast furnace),
  7. Milling (paper mill, rolling mill, tidal mill, vertical windmills, water hammer),
  8. Navigation (dry compass, astronomical compass, stern-mounted rudders),
  9. Printing, paper, and reading (paper, movable type printing press, spectacles, watermarks feather pen, ink),
  10. Science and learning (university, Arabic numerals),
  11. Textile industry and garment (functional button, horizontal loom, silk, a spinning wheel),
  12. Military weapons (plate armour, arched saddle, spurs, stirrup,
    1. gunpowder weapons – cannon, volley gun, corned gunpowder, supergun;
    2. missile weapons – longbow, steel crossbow)
  13. Others include: chess, forest glass, grindstones, liquor, magnets, mirrors, illustrated surgical atlas, quarantine, rat traps, and soap.

Among these technological inventions, some of the greatest inventions of the middles ages are:

Heavy Plough5th centuryFor cultivation
Hourglass9th – 13th centuryFor measuring time
Liquor12th centuryAs a beverage, as spirit, a component of perfume
Mechanical clock13th centuryFor more accurate time keeping
Quarantine14th century (1423)Isolation for the control of diseases
Tidal mill6th – 7th centuryTo power equipment. It can generate up to 8HP
Blast furnace11th – 13th centuryFor smelting iron and other metals
Eyeglasses13th century (1285)For reading and magnifying objects
Spinning wheel 13th centuryFor textile and fabrics production
Printing press15th century (1439)Printing and book production
Gunpowder/ cannon9th – 11th centuryWeapon of war
middle ages inventions


middle ages inventions


Photos from: Google search images  


[1] Bell, J. M. Iron Age Technology. Retrieved March 10, 2013, from eHow: about_ 4618871_ iron-age-technology.html

[2] Ross, Emma George, (October, 2002). “The Age of Iron in West Africa”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. /toah/hd/iron/hd_iron.htm.

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