The question below appeared on Reddit, and then was later removed by moderators because of the heated discussion that ensued (and which I’d love to see, because I’m now dying from curiosity)…
You’re being sent back in time to the Medieval era and you can bring any two of the items listed below. I’ve put them in alphabetical order:
- Bottle rockets (300) and a Bic lighter
- Bullets (5) for the gun
- Casio F-91W digital watch
- Dab pen with 5 cartridges
- Enriched uranium (64 kg/141 lb, enriched to 80% U-235)
- Gun (no bullets)
- Laser pointer (5-watt)
- LSD, single tab (150 micrograms)
- Moog Subsequent 37 analog synth (magic; works without amp or outlet)
- Motorcycle with full tank of gas
- Spice jars (10 of your choosing)
- Warheads candy (240 pack)
My choices would be based on how long they’d last, and how much value I’d be able to extract from them during the Medieval era. This leads me to my first question…
You should pick a year
If you do some Googling, you’ll find that there are two generally accepted time periods called “Medieval:”
- Starting with the fall of Rome (476) and ending with the beginning of the Renaissance (1500).
- Starting with the Battle of Hastings (1066) and ending with the beginning of the Renaissance (1500).
Judging from the castle graphic that was included in the picture that went with the question and the fact that they are a Redditor, I imagine that the person who posted it was thinking of medieval Europe and probably has this vision when the term “medieval” comes up:
Camelot is a silly place, and the stories on which the legend of King Arthur is based put it somewhere in the mid-500s, the start of the Dark Ages. That’s no fun.
Another era that might come to mind with the word “medieval” is the one depicted in the Heath Ledger film A Knight’s Tale. Although it’s full of Middle Ages anachronisms (not to mention 20th-century rock references), the presence of Geoffrey Chaucer (hilariously played by Paul Bettany before we all knew and loved him first as J.A.R.V.I.S. and later The Vision in the Marvel films) puts it squarely in the 1300s:
But the 1300s were also a time of great crisis, which included the Great Famine, the Black Death, and a lot of upheavals. Let’s not go there.
Instead, let’s set up the question so that you end up in the 13th century — the 1200s — a period that history nerds refer to as the High Middle Ages. There was a renaissance in the previous century, and Europe would be the most prosperous it had been in 200 years, and the most prosperous it would be for another 200.
For the purposes of the question, let’s say that you will be transported to 1223 — exactly 900 years ago as I write this. This is a couple of years after the Fifth Crusade, a couple of years after Venice signed a trade agreement with the Mongol empire, and not quite a decade after the signing of the Magna Carta. The death of Genghis Khan would be a couple of years away, it’s about 50 years before Marco Polo’s travels down the Silk Road, and the Black Death and Great Famine are a century in the future.
What two items do you take now?
What I didn’t choose, and why
Bottle rockets and Bic lighter
The bottle rockets, like all fireworks, would be new to the Europeans. While the Chinese would have been using gunpowder for around 400 years prior to 1223, the Muslims in the (relatively) nearby Middle East wouldn’t find out about it until around 1240, and it would be about another 30 years before a European would even write an account about the stuff. Depending on your preferred approach, you could set yourself up either as an entertainer or a wizard for as long as your supply lasts.
The Bic lighter might prove to be more useful. While your butane supply lasts, you’d have the most reliable way to create fire in the world. Even when the butane runs out, it might still be the most reliable way in the world to create sparks.
Bullets and gun
The gun is useless without the bullets, and vice versa; choosing one means choosing the other.
With five bullets, the gun is limited to five uses. That makes it an item of last resort; it’s no good for hunting or setting yourself up as a warlord with your “boom-stick.”
A couple of Redditors grimly noted that they need a steady supply of present-day medications, such as insulin. Without them, their lives would become either long and excruciatingly painful, or short and excruciatingly painful. They said that they’d bring the gun and bullets so that they could quickly and painlessly end their lives.
Casio F-91W digital watch
The Casio would be the most accurate timepiece in the world. While you can determine your latitude using the stars, you need a reasonably accurate clock to determine your longitude. Even with a pendulum-driven clock, which would be a couple hundred years away, you wouldn’t be able to determine the longitude of your ship ship at sea; the rocking motion would render a pendulum useless. It would take until the early 1700s to solve this problem.
As an added bonus, the Casio is water-resistant, which would be very useful at sea.
There are a couple of problems:
- In 1223, it would be almost 300 years until Europe’s age of exploration, when they’d really be interested in longitude.
- The watch is useful for as long as its battery life. According to this review, this could be as long as seven years.
There’s also the matter of people not recognizing the Hindu-Arabic numerals that the Casio displays. Fibonacci’s book, Liber Abaci, which introduced Europeans to the digits that we know and love today, would have been published a mere 20 years prior.
The list specifically says 64 kilograms of uranium enriched so that it is 80% U-235 isotope for a specific reason: that’s the amount and quality of uranium used in the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, which had a 16-kiloton yield. Whoever created the list was probably thinking in terms of nuclear power’s destructive potential or asking “What if you brought an atomic bomb to the medieval age?”
If you were someone from the year 2900 visiting the present day, you might be able to do something with 64 kilos of enriched uranium. Vladimir Putin might gladly take a Zoom call with you.
With 1200s “tech,” you couldn’t use it to generate energy or create a bomb. At most, you might be able to use it as a kind of poison — maybe you could convince some noble or warlord that you could “curse” an entire village or even a city-state. You’d have to not tell them the part about the newly-vacated city-state being uninhabitable for decades or centuries.
There’s also the matter of protecting yourself as you handled the material while “cursing” your victims.
A 5-watt pointer is strong enough to start fires…for as long as the battery lasts. You could also use it to blind enemies at a distance, but not reliably.
Medieval cats would love you, which would likely help keep plague-bearing rats away.
If you wanted to convince a noble or similarly powerful person that you were an angel sent down by God and that they should do whatever you say, you could “dose” them with your one hit of acid.
For the 500 kilometers (300 miles) that your gas would last — and remember, gasoline has a shelf life — you’d be the fastest land traveler in the world. You could be a messenger that changes the course of a war, or you might simply put yourself far, far away from the primitive people around you.
You’re probably best off selling them as exotic delights from “the Orient.”
My two items
Even in the present day, the Moog Subsequent 37 synth is a delight. And a magic one that doesn’t need a power outlet or an amplifier would make it even more special.
I was a synth player before I was an accordion player, and I regularly perform in front of audiences, so I’d try to set myself up as a medieval musician.
The synth would make otherworldly sounds that no instrument of that era could make…
…and it would be so weird and novel for so many reasons, including:
- It uses the equal-tempered scale, which wouldn’t be discovered for a few hundred years
- It would predate the organ, the first keyboard instrument, by about 100 years
The Subsequent 37, as an analog synth, has an interesting limitation: it has 2-note polyphony. In other words, it can play only two notes at a time. This isn’t a big a limitation as you might think — a lot of medieval-era music was single-note stuff.
For more polyphony, I’d bring my accordion. It doesn’t need a “magic” loophole to work without power or an amplifier!
Ten spice jars of my choosing
The other thing I’d bring with me is the set of ten spice jars. I’d bring two of:
- Black pepper
…and then sell them to set myself up for life.
What would you bring?
2 replies on “Which two items would you bring to the Medieval era?”
I can’t dispute your analysis one bit. Not one jot. Perfect choice of destination year.
Most of the items would provide a crazy novelty moment that might result in significant fame, but more likely would get me burned at the stake. If I escaped that reaction, the Thing would still be gone and I’d be the best-educated, most cosmically-aware turnip-hoer in the field.
My eye immediately fell on the spice rack as a Medieval “lottery ticket” to acquiring a decent grub stake.
The Moog caught my eye, but 1) I can’t play a note and 2) the “magic power supply” seems like cheating compared to the rest of the catalogue. If magic is allowed, why not Bics that never run dry or motorcycles that never run out of gas?
I can suggest two items that might be useful to bring to the Medieval era:
A modern medical kit: During the Medieval era, medical knowledge and practices were not as advanced as they are today. A modern medical kit with basic supplies such as antibiotics, antiseptics, and bandages could be invaluable in treating common illnesses and injuries.
A solar-powered flashlight: In the Medieval era, people relied on torches and candles for light. A solar-powered flashlight could be a useful and long-lasting source of light, especially during nighttime activities or emergencies.
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