Note: I'm new to this site, and I'm aware that the rules say it's better to ask questions that can answered, not just discussed, so if it is better I could phrase my question this way instead: "Are there any books or references you can point me to where someone has already analyzed the question of what knowledge or occupation today would be most useful if time-travelling back to the Middle Ages?"

The question I'd like to know is, suppose someone today was transplanted into the Middle Ages (say on a one-way time travel trip). The average person today has a higher level education, and a lot more knowledge of the world, but a lot of it may not be very useful if you were on your own, in the past.

For example - you may be a doctor, and know far more about the human body, but without all your modern drugs and technologies, you may not be able to do much in practice. Any occupation that involved computers or modern equipment would be pretty useless. A farmer may know how to grow high yields of certain crops, but may not know much more than the locals about how to grow the crops they planted in those days, and probably less. A person today would have a superior knowledge of geography to anybody back then, but would they be believed if they announced they knew where all the lands of the Earth lie, even the ones unexplored back then? Would music be a left-field choice? A person today would have lots of popular, catchy tunes in their head. Could they parley that into becoming a famous musician, or would the music styles be too different?

So basically, if you were dropped into the Middle Ages, which modern knowledge, or what modern occupation would give you the best chance of surviving, thriving or even becoming famous? A lot of our vaunted modern knowledge and modern occupations also need modern tools to actually make it work, so it would be useless back then. And a lot of the information we know today would actually not be relevant or useful to the Middle Ages period. People are so specialized in their skills today, and many have lost the art of working with your hands, that in some ways they would actually be at a significant disadvantage compared to people in the Middle Ages.

I hope this has been clear enough. So this is the question I want answered, is there anywhere that question has already been explored?

Note: Leave aside the question of language - assume the country you went to had an old fashioned version of your language, and so you could just barely make yourself understood at first (possibly claiming as an excuse you were from somewhere distant where they spoke a different version of the language), and that you made an effort to learn their way of speaking, as quickly as possible so language wasn't a barrier.


closed as primarily opinion-based by Gary Walker, sphennings, L.Dutch, Mołot, Secespitus Oct 20 '17 at 7:25

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.

  • $\begingroup$ A good dentist will never go hungry. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Oct 20 '17 at 1:02
  • $\begingroup$ I think this has been asked before. My initial search has not yield any result, but let's see if anyone remember :) $\endgroup$ – Vylix Oct 20 '17 at 1:32
  • $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Suitable jobs in Ancient Rome for time travelers - not exactly the same period, but really close. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Oct 20 '17 at 5:51
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Your question is very broad. One way to narrow it down a bit is to specify wether you are asking for the skills to survive in a random middle age settings, or skills to thrive and possible change history once you are established there. $\endgroup$ – Guran Oct 20 '17 at 6:22
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ “time machine repair man” $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Oct 20 '17 at 6:29

A metallurgist and/or chemist would be good assuming you don't get burnt as a witch

In reality any science knowledge or even basic first aid would be world changing. Gun powder isn't hard to make, neither is a simple battery and electric motor, a simple steam engine isn't difficult and using alcohol to kill germs could alter the known world.

See A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain


A priest, in particular one that knows his Latin well.

It will be safer to connect yourself to the church using a common language than just about any other bootstrap skill. Easy to explain no skill in the local language (you are from somewhere else no-one ever heard of), but you can fit right in immediately, perhaps a scribe if nothing else. Remember that modern English, etc. will be almost useless in the 10th century, but the dead language Latin has not changed in a very long time.

You add in modern generalist understanding of scientific principles and your priest will prove himself very worthy in short order.

The clergy were important and powerful members of society.

Even priests carry phones. A little basic chemistry (salt-water, zinc, and copper) and trial and error will get your phone working again - the calculator function alone will be gold. Please invent the slide rule too.

Now that you have a little power and money, branch out as a patron of scientific arts -- hire artisans to discover movable type, a decent plow, possibly even stirrups, wheel barrows, pasteurization, sanitary improvements, telescopes, etc. All things you can figure out by trial and error once you have the basic idea. Your real value is not doing all these things, but having the ideas behind all these things. You won't know diddly about the detail of making gunpowder, but you probably remember charcoal, sulfur and salt-peter. If you are lucky, you probably also remember about getting salt-peter from manure.


Anything artisan

Any speciality will work as long as it was practised as an art in our modern world. Artisans tend to use old techniques or techniques relying on manual work and non-industrial materials. These methods are easily transferrable to lower technological societies.

Artisans usually also have a good grasp of existing modern technologies related to their field. Therefore, they have a good combination of theoretical knowledge and practical skills. Both will be very useful to make a living and establish a reputation.

Accountants and logistics specialists

Accounting is useful in any society developed enough to trade. Accountants can find employment either with merchants, organised religion, big lords, or government.

Logistics specialists will fare the best in big merchant cities or during big-scale wars. They just need to find a way to raise in ranks fast.


A talented entertainer will never go to bed on an empty stomach. Medieval times had ample opportunities for musicians, actors, storytellers, and such.

Con artist

Con artists know how to blend with the crowd and how to get their bread and butter. They are also smart enough to learn local customs and laws before doing anything that could prematurely end their lives.

Organic farmer

A farmer might do just fine if they practised traditional/organic farming, especially if they land in the same geographic area.

Handyman, carpenter, builder, etc.

Any manual labourer with practical skills should do just fine. They will definitely miss power tools, but they still will be able to practise their trade.

  • $\begingroup$ I disagree about the handyman, carpenter etc. Most practitioners nowadays are used to precisely calibrated rules and well machined tools. In the medieval period, they would have to work with whatever the local smiths and guilds had in stock, like hand-made rules, iron saws and screws made in individual moulds, not to mention air bubbles during casting. Standardisation only started well into the Industrial Age. $\endgroup$ – nzaman Oct 20 '17 at 5:43
  • $\begingroup$ @nzaman, these trades are not about tools alone. A carpenter still knows how to build a sturdy table or chair. A builder knows how to build a house. Moreover, they have enough practical, first-hand experience to adapt to lower level technologies. Not to mention, that once these guys have a reputation they can dictate their rules and start standardisation. $\endgroup$ – Olga Oct 20 '17 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ It's not about the tool; it's about having to unlearn modern habits and learn medieval ones. The time taken to do that will be about the same as relearning it from scratch. Once they've mastered the old tools, they can pick up at their actual level, but by then they'll have got a reputation. "A bad workman quarrels with his tools." $\endgroup$ – nzaman Oct 20 '17 at 17:40
  • $\begingroup$ @nzaman, I think you highly exaggerate the problem. I did some sewing for historical reenactment projects using medieval needles and sheers. The tools were uncomfortable, true. However, it did not impair my ability to produce a garment. The learning curve was also much shorter. Perhaps, building or carpentry is very different. But something tells me that the basic form of a hammer and axe have not changed that much from antiquity. $\endgroup$ – Olga Oct 20 '17 at 18:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Agreed. The hammer and axe haven't changed, nor have needles and thread, but those weren't the tools I mentioned. Before standardization, a basic measuring rule would vary in accuracy from an eighth to half an inch, the user would have to figure out the accuracy on his own; screws were individually cast, hence had different heads, pitches or even lengths; iron saws are either more brittle or bend within the groove, depending on the quality. The modern tool user would be considered a clumsy oaf and a braggart by established craftsmen, until he learnt the tricks of the trade... $\endgroup$ – nzaman Oct 20 '17 at 18:30

Most modern occupations rely on modern society and technology, most knowledge would be useless in historical settings. The most successful individuals would be those with knowledge of history and the technology and societies of the past. So historians or active members of the Society for Creative Anachronism with active skills and experience in the time period they were traveling to.

These people would not only know the current situation in the time period; i.e. they would be more likely to be able to blend in and avoid being immediately killed as a witch or foreign spy, but they would also likely know of soon to be invented technologies that would work well with the technology and societies of the time; allowing them to make discoveries or inventions to not only survive, but gain prominence and power whenever they are.


Being a part of a medieval musicians guild (preferably one where the members make their own instruments using target-time appropriate woodcraft tools and skills) would be helpful.

Being a martial arts instructor would also come in handy. As would talent in archery and sword play.

Physical fitness would also be valuable, as modern muscle building techniques probably exceed the best training in the distant past. Most of the stories tell of knights measure each others worth through acts of strength and stamina; in a time when most people, even the rich, suffered from periodic malnutrition and lack of exercise during the winter. A modern weight lifter, even in a moderate weight class, would have a major advantage over such knights. If he offered to train those knights after defeating them in friendly combat, all the better.


Looking at the problem practically, the culture shift is likely to be the first main problem and the inevitable consequential misunderstandings the first symptoms of that. Someone from nowhere, regardless of what their skills may be, is likely to be regarded with suspicion and mistrust and any unusual abilities or knowledge will probably increase that. First contact therefore needs to be managed carefully, especially since you will be on your own with no back-up.

Self-defence knowledge and basic survival skills will be essential. Even an initially friendly first encounter may turn hostile quite suddenly. Modern attitudes and behaviours, in a medieval context, may be taken as either disrespectful or inappropriate and, whereas today such infringements would be handled verbally, then would most likely be rewarded physically.

Beyond this, practical knowledge and skills would be most useful. Too much ability and modern skills would probably not transfer well - especially in the arts due to strong cultural constraints. However, basic engineering and construction skills would be of practical benefit anywhere, as would knowledge of the practicality of different techniques to different terrains and climates.

Once established, any other abilities could be used to support, develop and enhance reputation and success.

Best occupation, therefore, for initial survival and subsequent thriving would be an army field engineer.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.