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Medieval Pest Control

 

Have a pest troubling you? In the Middle Ages, you could try these remedies to get rid of them – poisons, traps, or even writing a letter to them!

In the mid-10th century a farming manual was created in Byzantium. Known as the Geoponika, it was mostly transcribed from selections of various ancient and Byzantine writers, and among its 20 sections you can find advice on how to run a farm, growing many varieties of plants, recipes for medicinal wines, and even fishing tips.

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In Book 13 of the Geoponika, you can find advice on how to deal with various animals and insects that you could find in a farm area, and which could cause problems for the farmer. These pests include locusts, rats, ants, weasels, fleas and scorpions. The author of this work offers several tips on how to kill or drive away these vermin. Here are some of the book’s pest control ideas:

Locusts

If you catch some of the locusts and burn them, the others will be stupefied by the smell: some will die, while others will fold their wings and wait to be caught, or will be killed by the sun. This arises from antipathy. Moreover, if you catch and burn a scorpion you will also catch the rest of the locusts, or drive them off.

Weasels

They say that if one catches one of the weasels, cuts off its tail or testicles, and lets it go alive, one will not find any more of them afterwards on the same farm.

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Mouse operating a catapult - Image from British Library Harley 6563 f. 71v
Mouse operating a catapult – Image from British Library Harley 6563 f. 71v

House mice

House mice are killed if you put down black hellebore with barley meal.

They will also run away from copper sulphate, and the seeds of oregano, celery and love-in-a-mist burned as incense.

Field Mice

Some farmers in Bithynia have succeeded by blocking the holes with oleander leaves, so that as the field mice hurry to get out they will take the leaves with their teeth. When they bite them they will die.

Take a piece of paper and write on it: I conjure any mice caught here to do me no harm and to prevent other mice doing so. I give you the following land (and name it). If I find you still here, I take the Mother of the Gods to witness, I will cut you into seven pieces. After writing this, fix the paper before sunrise against a natural rock in the field where the mice are (the writing must be visible on the outside). I include this instruction rather than omit anything, but I reject such practices (may they not be true!) I advise others to do the same, and never to use such ridiculous methods.

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Cats

A cat will not but any bird under whose wing you have fastened wild rue.

Snakes

No snakes will enter the farm if you plant wormwood or mugwort or southernwood around the farmstead; you will drive away those that are already there if you make smoke with white lily root or stag’s horn or goat’s hoof.

Snakes will not trouble the pigeon-house if in its four corners you write Adam: if it has windows, write it at these too.

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When a snake is going into its hole, if one catches its tail with the left hand one will easily pull it out again; if with the right hand it will be impossible to get it out. Either it will escape, or the tail will break off.

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Scorpions

If you rub your hands with radish juice, you can pick up scorpions and other such creatures without fear and without danger; and radishes, placed on scorpions, destroy them immediately.

By frying a scorpion in olive oil and anointing the place where someone has been stung by a scorpion you will alleviate the pain.

Ants

If you catch and burn some ants you will drive away the rest of them, as experience has proved.

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If you spread cedar oil around their holes, ants will not come on the threshing floor.

Ants will not attack a heap of grain if you draw round the heap with white earth, or put wild oregano around it.

Ants - British Library Harley 4751 f. 32
Ants – British Library Harley 4751 f. 32

Mosquitoes

Horsehair stretched across the door and through the interior of the house destroys mosquitoes and prevents them from entering.

If you soak a sponge in sharp vinegar and hang it at your head and at your feet [when in bed], the mosquitoes will not bite you.

Bats

If you hang plane leaves in their path, they will not approach. Smoked ivy kills bats.

Fleas in the house

Dig a hole; grind oleander leaves and place in it; they will all gather there.

Otherwise, soak the floor repeatedly with amorge; then grind wild cumin and mix with waters, and grind 10 drams of squirting cucumber seed and add to the water; sprinkle this in the room and you will make the fleas split.

Leeches

If an ox or other quadruped swallows a leech while drinking, squash some bugs, let the animal smell them and it will immediately eject the leech.

Frogs

Frogs will stop their croaking if you light a candle and put it on the river-bank.

Geoponika – Farm Work, has been translated by Andrew Dalby in 2011. You can learn more about it from Prospect Books. Andrew Dalby has written several books and articles related to food and classical history. Click here to go to his website.

Top Image: British Library Additional 27210 f. 13

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