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Implements and Utensils in Gerefa and the Organization of Seigneurial Farmsteads in the High Middle Ages
Medieval Archaeology, Vol.50 (2006)
The text known as Gerefa is a unique record dating to the 11th century which provides advice to the reeve on the efficient running of the lord’s farm. It offers guidance on the management of labourers, the seasons in which agricultural and other work is to be undertaken, and has two lists of tools and implements required for the lord’s farmstead. Although this work has immense promise for understanding the character of rural life in a period for which there are few other sources, it has been treated with very considerable caution by historians. Professor Harvey, in the most recent detailed study of the text, concluded that, ‘all we can say for certain about Gerefa — and on this all are agreed — is that it was written as a literary work, not as a practical manual’. The text does indeed seem to fail the most elementary of tests, for it appears to be ill-informed about even common agricultural matters. The description of the labours to be performed in each season shows excessive attention to lesser farming activities and passes over in a few words the essential tasks necessary for arable cultivation and stock raising. Furthermore, critics have pointed to the use of alliteration, rhyme and of two-stress phrase, arguing that the author was striving at least as much for literary effect as practical instruction. It seems that Gerefa is more the product of the scriptorium than of the farmyard.