[[quoteright:280:[[Film/MontyPythonAndTheHolyGrail http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/Medieval_Morons.jpg]]]]
[[caption-width-right:280:[[BurnTheWitch Because they're made of wood?]] ]]
->''Your average peasant had the IQ of an extremely rotten tree stump and the common sense of a very small lump of mud....''
-->--'''Top Ten Horror Stories'''

Medieval people are morons.

Whenever you see medieval people in fiction, particularly peasants, they will always be depicted as [[TheDitz stupid]], small-minded, xenophobic, [[DirtyCoward savage but cowardly]], superstitious, [[GullibleLemmings gullible]], and primitive. And of course, [[NoWomansLand all men treat all women like crap all the time]] - the Old World equivalent of stereotypical American rednecks.

Thus, {{time travel}}ers are advised to avoid TheMiddleAges[[note]]Or as we call it, TheDungAges[[/note]] at all costs, lest they be [[BurnTheWitch burned as witches]].

This trope was popularized by the Enlightenment due to the "MedievalStasis" trope, their perception on [[DarkAgeEurope the world after Rome as]] [[AfterTheEnd a post-apocalyptic, war-ridden, anti-intellectual dystopia]], and how they saw themselves as paragons of progress recovering the glory of the classical world. [[Analysis/MedievalMorons Of course, reality is more complex than that.]] Not only did Enlightenment thinkers harbor their own misconceptions and prejudices [[FromBadToWorse (some of them far worse than anything previously believed)]], but medieval people were just as intelligent on average as any other representative person living in any other period of history; they simply did not have the accumulated experience and knowledge that people take for granted when their world includes things like universal education and literacy, plus extensive trade and travel infrastructure connecting them to most other parts of the known world. Basically, unless you were very special or belonged to an organisation with some of these features, you had to spend most of your time surviving in a way that didn't require these things.

Occasionally people living in [[OldShame another widely disliked time]] will get this depiction. [[TheWildWest Nineteenth-century frontier America]] and [[TheFifties the 1950s]] have long been favorite targets, and increasingly [[TheSeventies the 1970s]] and [[TheEighties '80s]] have been getting this too (when it comes to more contemporary issues such as homophobia).

Compare: HumansAreMorons. Also compare TheDungAges, when the Middle Ages is ''filthy''. The two tropes usually go hand in hand, but sometimes you can have one without the other (and RealLife ''did''; TheDungAges is far more TruthInTelevision, as there really ''wasn't'' any sanitation.)


[[AC:{{Anime}} and {{Manga}}]]
* Largely averted in ''Manga/{{Jin}}''. The title character's medical skills are frequently not trusted as much as they really ought to be, but that's because he's doing things so far and above the pre-Meiji period that the only way they can believe it is to see it. Doctors get a fair amount of respect, Jin is eventually able to get Cattle Punk versions of 2000-era medical tools made, etc. Neither are the denizens of Tokugawa Japan portrayed as ignoramuses.

* ''ComicBook/PaxRomana,'' which involves a paramilitary group sent into the time of Constantine the Great averts this. The Romans are shocked and amazed by the technological power displayed, but they're by no means idiots. Neither do they blindly follow the newcomers or their advice, though they nonetheless accept them eventually.

* ''BillAndTedsExcellentAdventure''. No matter where they went in history, no matter which historical figure they abducted, nobody really seemed to care that they'd fallen out of the sky in a phone booth and absconded with [[LudwigVanBeethoven Beethoven]]. That is of course until they ended up in medieval England, where they were [[spoiler:put on the chopping block to the sound of a man screaming that they came from the sky, and just barely escaped with their skins.]] Also subverted in the fact that neither Bill nor Ted are the sharpest knives in the drawer...
-->'''King''': Put them in the iron maiden.
-->'''Bill and Ted''': Music/IronMaiden? [[TheNotSoHarmlessPunishment Excellent! *Air guitar*]]
-->'''King''': Execute them!
-->'''Bill and Ted''': Bogus.
* ''Film/MontyPythonAndTheHolyGrail'' both showcased this ("We've found a witch; may we burn her?") and averted this:
-->'''Dennis (peasant):''' We're an anarcho-syndicalist commune. We take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week, but all the decisions of that officer have to be ratified at a special bi-weekly meeting by a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs, but by a two-thirds majority in the case of more major...
** The Pythons were aware this wasn't really the case-Terry Jones is a medieval historian in fact, and [[https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=ELGXxQQqRaQHA hosted a series]] later about it, which specifically pointed out that it's a more sophisticated, complex period than is thought by many.
* ''Film/ArmyOfDarkness'' saw the zombie-fighting hero Ash thrown back in time with a chainsaw in one hand (or, ''as'' one hand) and a shotgun in the other. The peasants were not amused, though they were rather impressed with his "[[ThisIsMyBoomstick boomstick]]".
-->"Don't touch that! Your primitive intellect wouldn't understand alloys, and compositions, and... things with... molecular structures..."
* The two protagonists of ''Film/LesVisiteurs'', Jacquouille in particular. It's not helped by the fact that they have travelled time from their era, the 12th century, to the 20th century. [[FishOutOfTemporalWater The medieval way they interact with 20th century life constantly gets them in trouble]]. For instance, they utterly destroy a postal van, thinking it to be a devil-powered cart driven by a Saracen (he's a black postman actually).
** Pretty much every peasant and the inquisitor in the sequel. The inquisitor gets scared by a moo box, thinking it's an artifact of the devil, and condemns Jacquard to be [[BurnTheWitch burnt at the stake]] for carrying it.
** In the remake, ''Film/JustVisiting'', they destroy a VW Beetle, thinking it's a dragon. Upon seeing the displaced villain from the present time, they gaze at him with stupid wonder while wielding crosses. They flee in terror when the cellphone they took from him starts ringing.
* {{Subverted}} in ''The Navigator''. While the time-displaced villagers are understandably disoriented and frightened by much of what they encounter - and when it's a construction site full of mechanical earthmovers, who could blame them? - they make quite a few reasonable deductions and plans, within the limits of their knowledge and faith.
* PlayedStraight with ''[[Film/TheNameOfTheRose In The Name Of The Rose]]'', the film version. Everyone but [[TheWatson the narrator]] and the hero [[DetectiveStory William of Baskerville]] is a moron or a fanatic or both.
** Or one of the victims, like Brother Severino, the herbalist.
** Averted in the novel.

* Played with in ''Literature/ElConquistador''. When Quetza discovers the Spanish port of Huelva, he first notices the bad smell, then the idiocy of the people that are willing to believe anything he says as a representative of "Cipango" (Japan). The only one that sees through his lie is an ''actual'' Japanese maiden, who became a prostitute due to her kidnapping by a pirate ship.
* {{Averted}} in Creator/MichaelCrichton's ''Literature/{{Timeline}}''. In this book, the time travelers are often outwitted and outmatched by the natives. A consistent theme is that while the time travelers possess modern knowledge, they do not have the skills or resources to survive in the more primitive environment. Of particular note is that Crichton specifically details the natives' sanitation practices. Lack of awareness of bacteria did not prevent them from attending to hygiene, averting the stereotype of "living in filth". On the other hand there are some pretty disgusting things, such as the tannery, that were TruthInTelevision.
* OlderThanRadio: ''Literature/AConnecticutYankeeInKingArthursCourt''. Of course, [[SeinfeldIsUnfunny the trope was new]] when MarkTwain used it, and he was trying to portray the [[AristocratsAreEvil evils of aristocracy]]. Still, it's exaggerated and unhistorical, with most of the characters just generally acting TooDumbToLive. He was also satirizing the excessively poetic and romantic portrayals of Arthurian legend that were popular at the time--by pointing out that, had Arthur and his knights actually behaved as they were typically portrayed, they would have had to have been absolutely childlike morons.
* {{Subverted}} in the Creator/PoulAnderson novel ''Literature/TheHighCrusade''. [[ScaryDogmaticAliens A high-tech alien empire]] is brought to its knees [[RockBeatsLaser by a 14th century English army]]. The Medieval characters naturally view things through a Medieval lens (the aliens are initially mistaken for demons), but are very capable and clever. In fact [[spoiler:not only do the Crusaders end up conquering the aliens, they convert them to both feudalism and Christianity]] by the end. Unfortunately, the movie played this trope nearly completely straight.
** Also {{inverted}}. The medieval English are able to repeatedly outsmart and deceive super-advanced aliens. It's not too ridiculous as the Wersgor are implied to have fallen into an intellectual rut since they became a galactic superpower, whereas Sir Roger, the leader of the English, has had to become a MagnificentBastard from an early age just to have a hope of surviving the perils of European courtly politics.
* Poul Anderson further subverted this trope in his short story "The Man Who Came Early", in which the eponymous man TrappedInThePast fails to impress medieval Icelanders. They aren't even particularly fazed by his handgun.
* Subverted in the book ''Literature/SixteenThirtyTwo'', in which the doctor of a time-displaced modern American town has to consult with his "downtime" counterpart. It becomes clear that the "local" doctor not only ''doesn't'' use leeches and ground bat's wing, but has a medical library in nearly a dozen languages, a few of them English ([[{{Omniglot}} all of which he speaks fluently]], against the US doctor's... just English). The local high school history teacher, Melissa Mailey, breaks down laughing and says "[[YouSuck You didn't actually think]] you were ''smarter'' than him, did you?" In addition, although they have their initial fears, the early modern characters are extremely quick to recognize and appreciate American technology instead of writing it off as witchcraft and even logically deduce why it cannot be magic.
* Averted in George Martin's ''Literature/ASongOfIceAndFire''. We don't see that many peasants, but those we do are just people. Some are smart, some are stupid, most are fairly level-headed. Most of them are simply denied education and stay illiterate for most of their lives because the glass ceiling only allows such privileges for the nobility. In ''[[Literature/TalesOfDunkAndEgg The Sworn Sword]]'', Dunk even tells Egg (who is royalty) to be respectful to them. They might not be able to read or argue about the politics of the realm, but they know when to plant their crops and how to deliver a calf.
** And then there are the members of the aristocracy like [[MagnificentBastard Littlefinger]] or [[TooCleverByHalf Tyrion]] who could possibly be smarter than anyone ever. Littlefinger may count as even more of an aversion; he is aristocratic only by title, his upbringing having been not much different than most peasants, and he is apparently mostly self-educated beyond a basic level (which would have been provided when he was fostered at Riverrun), but he's [[{{Chessmaster}} one of the smartest cookies in the series.]] Varys' background is even poorer and he's at least as smart, but his rise to power involves some unsavory things.
* Taking place as it does in a quasi-medieval mishmash of an era, Literature/{{Discworld}} plays around with this trope quite a bit. That said, even towards the more peasantry circa 1400 mindset parts people tend to just be people.
* Averted in ''Literature/DragonBones'': Everyone the protagonists meet is pretty smart. The farmers know how to farm, the stable master knows how to treat horses (his lord doesn't, but that's more due to his being a sadistic monster), everyone who ''rides'' knows how to take care of horses, the woman in charge of the guards is a good fighter, strategist, and teacher, who is not prone to stupid heroic acts. Sadly, the fact that everyone is so smart is also the reason that no one has murdered the high king yet; everyone figures they'd better use a long-term plan than be executed for regicide.
* In ''TheSwordOfTruth'' one of the morals is [[FamilyUnfriendlyAesop "People are stupid"]] and boy does it show. From the first book, there's a crowd of people being moved to tears by Michael's impassioned speech about the evils of ''fire''. The Mud People, despite living for generations in a place where it rains all the time, have somehow never figured out how to make roofs that don't leak. And there's the group of peasants sent by Darken Rahl to attack Zedd in the belief he's a witch. First he tells them the term is warlock. Then he talks the angry mob into having a ''brainstorming session'' about all the terrible things warlocks can do until they get scared and give up.
** Mostly avoided in the TV series ''Series/LegendOfTheSeeker'', based on the books.
* In the Literature/TimeScout series, this is how downtimers are initially portrayed, but the portrayal becomes more nuanced and positive as the story progresses.
* Averted in Beatrice Small's ''The Innocent'', where the serfs and servants are perfectly capable of out-maneuvering the nasty wife/widow of their lord, and protecting the lord's sister and heir from falling prey to the machinations of the ex-lady and her lover.
* Played straight and subverted in the original ''Literature/TheTimeTraders'' series. [[TheMentor One male]] lead tells the other that the 'primitives' they meet with in pre-history may be able to deduce scientific or mechanical principles from a rifle or other item, and therefore ''everything'' the Time Traders take with them to the past must fit the era, even to the point of disguising antibiotics in the form of local medicines. But most of the past folk we actually see do not come across as very intelligent, even the two characters, one a priestess and the other a chief's wife, who are interested in learning about the world beyond their doorstep.
* Discussed at one point in ''Literature/{{Safehold}},'' when Merlin quotes [[ClarkesThirdLaw Arthur C. Clarke]] for Cayleb and tells him not to feel like an ignorant savage because within the framework they have, the people of Safehold are every bit as clever and creative as the people of the high-tech society Merlin came from. It also helps that the people from Merlin's time that founded Safehold's civilization helped them be able to be better than the time they're trying to emulate (Age of Sail-esque where they have muskets and use galleys and galleons). For instance, the sanitation problems of that time period are essentially nonexistent due to one of the holy books of the setting's religion talking about how in this case cleanliness is ''literally'' next to godliness.
* Averted in ''Literature/TheNameOfTheRose''. Some of the characters are outright brilliant, and even those whose beliefs seem backwards by modern standards generally have the learning and rhetorical skill to defend them. Granted, almost all of them are monks, so it follows that they are educated. The handful of peasants and outlaws we see are not nearly as impressive.

* Subverted in the ''Series/DoctorWho'' episode "The Awakening," with a 17th century farmboy named Will Chandler, who, while illiterate and only just aware of what year it is, proves to be quite bright.
* This trope is present in ''Series/{{Blackadder}}'', but makes it clear that people in all time periods are equally moronic. Baldrick's [[CharacterisationMarchesOn initial characterisation]] in the first series is a notable subversion, as he's a grubby medieval peasant who happens to be the OnlySaneMan.
* Similarly present in ''Series/MaidMarianAndHerMerryMen'', where Marian and the Sheriff are the only characters with two brain cells to rub together.
* ''Series/BuffyTheVampireSlayer''. The episode "Selfless" shows how Anya, once a Swedish peasant girl in circa 880AD, became a vengeance demon after she turned her unfaithful husband Olaf into a troll, who is immediately attacked by the fearful villagers.
-->'''Olaf:''' Stop! I am Olaf!
-->'''Villager:''' The troll is doing an Olaf impersonation!
* ''Series/{{Kaamelott}}'' is based almost entirely on this, with KingArthur as the OnlySaneMan due to his Roman upbringing. His knights are forever bickering about finding the Grail instead of looking for it, his father-in-law builds a catapult in the main courtyard and wants to knock down the gate so it can be taken outside, and then you have Guethenoc and Roparzh, two peasants with a mutual case of SitcomArchNemesis who don't mind setting fire to half the land or poisoning most of the livestock to get back at each other despite it meaning starvation for them and the rest of the country.

* TabletopGame/{{Warhammer 40000}}: The average inhabitant of the Imperium is this IN SPACE. They consider the Emperor to be a god and the government to be his priesthood, and mutation is the new "witchcraft", with mutants persecuted widespread. What's more, the existence of the [[MachineWorship Mechanicus]] ensures that, while lasguns and starships are everywhere, nobody is actually qualified to build or repair them, and most believe that praying to them is what makes them work.
** This varies a lot by depiction and planet, with the above description fitting the most flanderised versions or less advanced planets. The prayers and rites circulated by the mechanicus are mostly actual, if ritualised instructions to maintain the equipment and only the more prestigious tech is monopolised by the Preisthood of Mars. In a slightly lighter depiction, your typical Civilised World resident has an education on par with a modern first world country.

* The Orc and Human builder units in ''VideoGame/WarcraftIII'' are a shining example of this trope, if the lines they speak when clicked are any indication. The humans have a Cockney accent and occasionally quote the ''Monty Python'' peasants, while the orcs have a YouNoTakeCandle speech pattern. Given the cultures involved both believe heavily in advancement by merit (and face serious manpower shortages), it's possible that the only people who get jobs as laborers are the ones too incompetent to do anything else.

[[AC: WebComics]]
* During the "[[StoryArc Storm Breaker Saga]]" from ''Webcomic/SluggyFreelance'' it's debatable whether this trope is in play, or if it's just another display of ''everyone'' in ''Sluggy Freelance'' being some sort of idiot.
* Defied in ''Webcomic/{{Godslave}}'' as Edith tries to explain mirrors and make-up to Anpu, who angrily retorts that yes, they did have those in Ancient Egypt. He does hide behind her when he sees water running from the tap, though.

[[AC: WebOriginal]]
* Averting this trope is one of the major themes in ''Literature/TheLayOfPaulTwister''. All of the main characters seem to be of above-average intelligence, and the main difficulty they have in understanding the technological concepts Paul is familiar with is unfamiliarity with the basic concepts, not an inability to comprehend them.

* ''WesternAnimation/TimeSquad''. In one particular episode, they manage to quickly convince Copernicus to stop being a farmer and write about how the Earth moves around the sun. He promptly agrees and goes to research under the basis that "That sounds important!" only to be seen in the end of the episode running back to where the Squad had just gone, screaming, "Wait! I forgot to ask! WHAT IS THIS 'SUN'?!"
** The "what is this 'sun'?" line likely was more poking fun at the area they showed him to be farming in, looking grey, bleak, and a few bits of brimstone away from Mordor. Probably closer to TheDungAges, though the first line would still be this trope.
* Parodied in ''WesternAnimation/{{Futurama}}''. Characters from TheFuture commonly refer to the 20th century as "The Stupid Ages." Leela even tells Fry that being a drop-out of a 20th-century college means nothing in their time, so Fry ends up enrolling in a college in order to drop-out properly.

* Nutritional deficiencies in the general population could lead to other forms of mental retardation and physical disability, especially during times of famine and hitting pregnant women (and their unborn children) in particular; for example, during the Middle Ages in Europe, there was an epidemic of cretinism in parts of the Swiss Alps due to iodine deficiency, and the effects of both lead and alcohol poisoning were unknown at the time. All this could possibly have led to substantially lowered IQ and developmental disabilities.
** Lead and alcohol poisoning risks and effects were well known. In the former, alcohol was safer than water. In the latter, lead was cheap, easy to work, and made for very effective and airtight seals on containers, and they thought it required much more lead than we know now to be the case to cause lead poisoning. They knew the risks and dangers, and did it because it was more practicable for them than alternatives. Where healthier and safer alternatives existed, especially if they were practicable ones, they were readily used. Lead pipes are in use in first world countries in the year 2016. They can be relatively safe if they have a protective coating, but if that coating is dissolved (e.g. by more acidic water) all bets are off.
** Actually the alcohol thing is now partially believed to be a modern misconception as well. It was never all that hard or difficult to get spring or river water (though the rule "Don't shit where you drink" took until the 19th century to really take hold) for most medieval people, what ''was'' hard was ensuring a large enough supply of edible grain. Beer can be made from much lower quality grain than bread and thus it was a staple of the diet of e.g. medieval monks (of which shopping lists and menus survive). Compared to modern beer it appears to have been less watery, less hoppy and weaker in terms of alcohol content making for a relatively nutritious drink. Even the free laborers that built the pyramids had an amount of beer in their rations that would qualify them as TheAlcoholic today...
* Leadership and occupation in medieval societies were much more dependent on random factors, like what family they were born into. In today's industrialized countries, people are generally are able to seek qualifications and apply for jobs they are talented in and that follow their interests. Therefore, in the everyday working world, the people you run into with skilled positions are more likely to be competent and skilled.
* In reality, this trope was largely averted in real life.
** Many castles are marvels of medieval engineering, the most opulent often feature complex water systems with running hot and cold water and pressurized fountains; surprisingly modern sewage disposal; heated floors; and advanced structural and military engineering techniques. Cathedrals also display feats of engineering like large stained glass windows in load-bearing walls, and vast open areas supported ''externally'' by flying buttresses.
** Monasteries carefully preserved and duplicated by hand the precious writings saved from the fall of Rome, with more scholarly monks often encouraged to devote their lives to the study and practice of philosophy, mathematics, engineering and physics, or medicine.
** The ByzantineEmpire allowed its citizens great freedom, equality, and opportunity for education and advancement thanks to its first Empress [[RagsToRoyalty who began life as a foreign born commoner]] and ended life as half of a RulingCouple. It also preserved and expanded the Musaeum of Alexandria,[[note]]The library of Alexandria and several related universities and institutions[[/note]] and advanced science and engineering to surprising levels[[note]]Their military, for instance, deployed advanced weaponry like flamethrowers and ship-mounted ballistae. Constantinople had public sanitation and proper sewer and water systems. The Hagia Sophia was the largest freestanding domed structure on Earth until the construction of the ''Astrodome in the modern era''.[[/note]] before political decay and the encroachment of neighboring empires led to its own collapse.
** Even for the average European peasant, intelligence and ingenuity were valued- riddle contests were staples of the medieval fair, and windmills and waterwheels powered complex proto-factories for milling flour, forging metal, and processing timber.
** A lot of technology was developed in the Middle Ages, especially in the later half. Some of the more noteworthy are mechanical clocks, the hourglass, three-crop rotation, vertical windmills, full plate armour, spectacles, and the printing press. Also, the world's first universities and modern chess were developed as well, both of which are not really considered the pastimes of morons.
:: All of this combined results in some scholars viewing the Renaissance not as the end of the medieval period, but as the ''result'' of it.
* The best expression of this trope is the flat-earth myth. No, medieval Europeans didn't think the Earth was flat. Europeans learned that the Earth was round during the time of AncientGreece and that knowledge was never lost. The idea that belief in a flat Earth was widespread during the Middle Ages appears to have been invented during the 19th century, for the purpose of giving a HistoricalHeroUpgrade to UsefulNotes/ChristopherColumbus and casting him as a proto-Enlightenment thinker who achieved glory by challenging medieval superstition. In reality, it was Columbus who made a huge error over the size of the Earth, claiming one could sail directly from Spain to India. His detractors (including clergy members) rightly said it was far larger and this couldn't be done. His fleet almost ran out of food and the sailors had gotten to the edge of mutiny when they ran into the Americas.