So, I am working on a setting. It is medieval fantasy with a focus on realism, and in my pursuits of realism, I am trying to figure out many things. One of them is the rough approximation of how much food surplus would a medieval peasant have. What I mean is after growing food, a peasant will have to part with some of it. They would need to:

  1. Save some for their family to eat until the next yield (so, for roughly a year)
  2. Pay taxes to the lord, church, etc
  3. Save some to replant the fields (I am working off the assumption that 1 seed produces roughly 4 seeds of wheat/barley/other grain).

After doing all of that, how much food from their original yield would a peasant have to sell, store for the following years, eat for themselves - in other words, "free use"? I am running off the assumption that a peasant family has 5 people in it - 3 who work (parents and the oldest child) and 2 who don't (young children).

Thank you for reading and to those who took their time to answer.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ This looks like a history question more than a question about building a fictional world. acoup.blog/2020/07/24/… is a good generally accessible reference about peasant farming worked. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    May 14, 2022 at 18:12
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Medieval French peasant? English peasant? Wallachian peasant? Turkish peasant? Italian peasant? Indian peasant? Chinese peasant? Does the peasant hold any land, or are they completely landless? When does this peasant live -- the 800s, or the 1200s? (And, ah, how come this supposedly medieval peasant lives in such a modern-style family? I would have expected a family to consist of father plus mother plus two sons and their wives plus about three children each, plus two or three underage sons of daughters, for a total of about 14-15 people, of which about 4 too young to work.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    May 14, 2022 at 19:08
  • $\begingroup$ Agree and vtc.. this is a very broad question like it is put now, we need more input. Age, culture, wealth.. and war circumstances! $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    May 15, 2022 at 9:06
  • $\begingroup$ Personally, I think this ought to be ruled off topic as a purely historical Question. However, I also think that's not at all what SE Worldbuilding says officially, which is why there are lengthy threads in Chat or Meta debating the issue. Since they reach no concensus, how could anyone not conclude that SE WB makes no objection to Questions essentially about the real world? $\endgroup$ May 15, 2022 at 23:05

1 Answer 1


By default, not that much

The economy of most medieval states was Malthusian, or close to; that is, if there was any extended period of excess food, population growth accelerated until there was no longer excess food.

In addition, countries that had excess food often used the excess as supplies for armies to wage war.

It varied, too. Sometimes a country had a whole decade or so of great (or awful) harvests. The latter almost always resulted in rebellions. So it varied from year to year. After the Black Death, it's thought there was a truly extended period of excess food, which, combined with a labour shortage, caused a big jump in peasant living standards.

With all that said, there was a huge difference in living standards between an English peasant in 600 AD (near barbarism) versus one just before the Battle of Bosworth Field (unambiguously higher than in the Roman Empire). And Western Europe generally had much higher living standards than, say, Russia.

For your story, if it takes place over one generation or less, you can pretty much pick your excess food level.


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