Inspired by this question about a time traveller.

So, I've travelled to the medieval age. Think 12th / 13th century Europe. Unlike the time traveller in the other question, I did bring batteries for my time machine, but I want to have some fun while I'm here.

So I need to impress the locals with some gifts to get them to do things I'd like to see them do. I thought about bringing bolts of silk and sacks of spices. Unfortunately, I spent all my money on my time machine. So I need some suggestions. Here are my criteria:

  • Must be interesting and valuable to medieval people, enough so that they'd at least give me free food and lodging in exchange, and maybe put on some shows and generally give me a good tourist experience.
  • Should not have a very large impact on medieval society. I'm not trying to cause a technological revolution here.
  • In our time, it should be within the means of the average person to afford - the cheaper and more common it is, the better!
  • Ideally should not leave lasting archaeological evidence. So, no plastic bags or running shoes.

closed as primarily opinion-based by AndreiROM, SPavel, Aify, Anketam, James Mar 28 '17 at 16:05

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ I think this might be rather opinion based. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Mar 23 '17 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ @KWeiss: I'd add another requirement: does not get you burned at the stake for dealing with the devil. $\endgroup$ – Mindwin Mar 23 '17 at 14:48
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    $\begingroup$ @mindwin - the good ones will be backed by historical facts <- none of the answers so far as backed by much of anything. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Mar 23 '17 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ @andreirom then downvote the crappy answers. The question has nothing to do with it. $\endgroup$ – Mindwin Mar 23 '17 at 14:50
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    $\begingroup$ They will be impressed enough that you have all your teeth. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Mar 23 '17 at 14:52

33 Answers 33


I imagine construction materials/items that are more finely crafted but small and cheap could be used. As far as I know, fasteners were not widespread when screws and screwdrivers were around long ago, so a combination of the two could be useful to medieval carpenters.


Flatware (knives, forks, spoons), flashlights, glow sticks, Flintstones Chewables, bandages, hydrogen peroxide, pencils, a metal yardstick.

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    $\begingroup$ Knives, forks, spoons, flashlights, glowsticks, pencils (at least their graphite), and a metal yardstick would all leave archeological evidence. People in that time couldn't write and so probably wouldn't have been too interested in pencils, and the church used ink. There wouldn't be enough vitamins and the effects wouldn't be quick enough to help you. Hydrogen peroxide has a good chance of being seen as sorcery. $\endgroup$ – TheBlackCat Mar 23 '17 at 16:11

@Not-a-user Don't take back Bic Lighters. Take all-metal Zippo lighters, which are all metal. After the fuel runs out, they are worthless, so sell them and say there is a time limit on how long they will work.

@TheBlackCat Hydrogen peroxide may be seen as sorcery, but alchemical directions on how to produce hydrogen peroxide (which you sell to an alchemist) should be safe.

A one-page article in one of the 1632 series anthologies gives alchemical directions on how to make aspirin. Hire a calligrapher to produce a version of these directions. Print them on parchment without a watermark. Sell the directions to local alchemists. An alchemical pain reliever should not change history.

Go through pharmacy catalogs to find which medications are based on herbs. A foxglove preparation for digitalis should be relatively easy to produce. Improving herbal compounds with directions from modern herbals (or selling directions taken from herbals) would help your cash flow.

Download some of the books on how they did stuff in the "olden days" and take those recipes along. Something like the Anarchist's Cookbook should produce some ideas.

I agree with the silk and cotton recommendations, though I would modify it to be spools of thread (and metal needles) instead of bolts of cloth. Spools of thread lend themselves to embroidery. Blue and purple are royal colors because of how expensive those colors are. That's why one shade is called Royal Blue.

One of those all-metal potato peelers could be used to produce potato chips. One look at it and a competent blacksmith could reproduce it, so there is no chance of a charge of "sorcery". You are not limited to potatoes; any other kind of vegetable will do. (Germans though the potato was the "devil's root".)

Cut precious and semi-precious stones. Cut jewels are unknown in the early Middle Ages, but they can figure how to do it easily once they have the idea.

Active yeast cultures which you can sell to the local brewery and bakery are another source of income. People depended on yeast being blown in the window for centuries to start fermentation.

Swords made of Damascus steel should fetch (possibly literally) a king's ransom. It is a limited buyer's market, though.

Scented candles and incense, especially church incense, such as frankincense and myrrh, should be valuable, especially to the local church.

Good whetstones.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure this answer addresses the constraints of the question, including "Should not have a very large impact on medieval society" and "Ideally should not leave lasting archaeological evidence." I love a 1632 reference as much as the next guy, but can you address the constraints? $\endgroup$ – Nanban Jim Mar 27 '17 at 18:16

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