Time in the Medieval Period

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There exist two major concepts of time; the psychological time which is objective and the physical and the physical time which is subjective.  According to Buddhist philosophy, time comes to our mind through the process of knowing (Heidegger, 2011). It involves the existence of matter, preceding the roles of our then recognizing and feeling that occurs in our senses. This philosophy suggests that time does not have the real existence as it depends on one’s consciousness hence subjective. According to Henri Bergson’s philosophy, time exists in two categories, pure time and mathematical time. Pure time is constant and not divisible while mathematical time can be divided subunits like minutes and seconds. According to Rogers (2011), real-time can only be recognized through instant cognition process (Bergson, 2001).

How Time Was Kept in the Period of 500-1500


The first calendar was created by Zu Chongzi, a Chinese scholar in the fifth century. It took precession into account until the Tang Dynasty (616-907 CE) developed a more comprehensive one, the Dayan Calendar (Heidegger, 2011). 

Candle clocks

Involved use of marked candles for telling time which was invented in the sixth century. The candles were used in England as from the early tenth century. Their burning rate depended on the quality of wax and draughts. They were used to show time elapsed during an event and the time between events and not the time of the day.

Water clocks

Were developed in 1500 BCE. They depended on continuous water flow into or out of a container. The marking of the clock originated from China between from the period of 200 to 1300 CE (Heidegger, 2011).


Is the smallest division of time and was developed in the early 10th century. An atom is 1/564 of a momentum equating to 15/94 of a second. It was used in determining the Easter date.

Hour Glasses or Sandglasses

Developed in the 14th century when man was able to make sandglasses. Initially, they were used in the measurement of periods but were later calibrated with clocks as the clocks were becoming more accurate (Momigliano, 2000). They were then used to measure definite time periods like the duration of the sermon.

Mechanical Clocks

They replaced the water clocks. Was first invented in 1275 and in the early 14th century, large mechanical clocks were placed in towers of several cities.

Time in Pre 500 Era.

In this era, the man observed time through natural events, sun, moon, and the stars.

Natural events. Include seasonal winds and rains, flooding of rivers and flowering of plants which lead to natural divisions of a year which further lead to recognition of seasons.

Sundials (Momigliano, 2000). Sundials were used to measure the length of a day by observing changes in directions of shadows.

Did Technology Drive The Development of Time-Keeping/Measuring?

Yes; for instance, development of the hour glasses which were used by ships in the 11th century during voyage and town clocks which were developed in the 12th century. By use of technology in calibration, they were more accurate.

Was time more important, or viewed differently, at the end of this period compared to the previous period?

At the end of the medieval period, time was viewed differently as compared to the previous period. Mechanical watches had been developed which were accurate and were able to show the exact time of the day (Momigliano, 2000). The man no longer had to rely on seasons, shadows of the day, the moon and stars to know the time. 

Key technological developments that happened regarding time during the medieval period

Water Clocks. Relied on the pressure at the top of the water in the device to measure time. Mechanical Clocks. Involved basic escapement in which the weight rotated the drum which drove the toothed wheel initiating its movement. Spring Clocks. Replaced the heavy mechanical clocks and were developed in the late 14th century. They were portable.


Rogers Leo (2011). A Brief History of Time Measurement. Retrieved on November 1, 2018 from https://nrich.maths.org/6070

Heidegger, M. (2011). The concept of time. London: Continuum.

Momigliano, A. (2000). History and the concept of time. Middletown: Conn.

November 13, 2023

History Philosophy

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