Time is a relative concept, and it was perceived differently in the past than it is today. In modern times we are slaves to time, but in the past this was not the case. Although time keeping instruments were already known in antiquity, they were a privilege of the rich. Ordinary people did not measure time so accurately. Their time moved more slowly, with the sun rising and setting on the horizons being their only indication of its passage. Nothing more was needed.
In medieval Europe however, as cities and crafts began to develop, people began to have more need for measuring time. Some of the prerequisites for this were already in place thanks to Julius Caesar who had introduced the so-called Julian Calendar in 46 BC which established the concept of the year and split it in 12 months. Gradually a week consisting of seven days was created as well. Later, religious holidays played an important role as well. However, these early deliniations of time meant little to the common man. Agrarian culture did not need a detailed measurement of time. One day flowed into the next and the main indicators of time remained the sunrise and the sunset. Emerging cities, with their developing crafts, began to have a different relationship with the concept of time than that of the countryside.
Need for measuring time
Production of some craft goods required a "certain" time. This time needed to be measured. Production had to grow with the increasing demand for goods, and the simple division into days was no longer adequate. It was necessary to introduce smaller units. The day began to be split into two halves, each having twelve hours. During the daylight, this twelve hour cycle was divided into seven parts which started with first light and ended about an hour after sunset. Perception of time using such a system was difficult and a more precise method of measurement was needed. From there, medieval cities had only to make one small step to more accurate measurement - and thus the clock.
In the cinema, many people may have seen an hourglass, but these measured time only in brief increments. Also, as they were made of glass, they were very expensive and inaccessible to the common people. It is believed that the first clock in Europe belonged to Charlemagne and was divided into twelve hours. Today, people would be surprised because it was based on water and a system of small spheres. It was probably from the Orient, where it was used. In Europe it was practically useless during the winter because of the freezing temperatures. Much more common up to the 14th century were the so-called candle clocks, which were also inaccurate, but at the time no one cared.
The invention of hours
At the end of the 13th century, the classic clockwork instrument appeared. Many historians consider this one of the breakthroughs in human history. The machines were big and expensive and therefore only very rich cities could afford them. They installed them on towers. The first were reportedly installed in Milan. For people today these would be incomprehensible, because they had no hands. The machine only gave a signal to a man who would strike a loud bell. Bells became important as time-measuring devices. Due to them, the Middle Ages gave rise to the character of the town crier, who played an important role not only in reporting time, but also major events, eg decisions of the city council, the court, and weddings. In modern terms they were a substitute for the media. Through him the public was informed about important matters and the time, as well as news of social life. Virtually every city, and later villages as well, had one or more criers. Somewhere this function became connected with a watchman, whose role was protection. Small villages often linked the function of the crier with that of the village’s shepherd or some other job. The function of the town crier has never been fully appreciated. However, it is certain that he was an important figure in medieval cities. The crier and in particular the watchman, were the forerunners of modern firefighters. The first fire brigades are documented in the 16th century though they truly began to develop in the 17th century.
Role of the crier in the past and at present
Another role of the crier or the watchman was to be on the lookout for fire. They had a preventive function during their rounds of the town. Or, they watched (many even lived) in the tower, observing the neighborhoods below and alerting of fires or an enemy approaching the city. A typical attribute of the watchman was the halberd, a multifunctional stabbing and slashing weapon. Combining a spear, ax and hook, it was truly versatile. In addition to this he also used a horn made of a cow’s horn. The town criers were active in Slovak villages and small towns even in the first half of the 20th century, where they would stop at chosen places to loudly declare important messages. In place of the halberd they were equipped with drums which attracted the attention of citizens. The crier’s function as a notifier of the time of day was in gradual decline since the Renaissance due to an increasing availability of watches and clocks. His function of touring the city or standing watch on the tower and reporting every hour, or sometimes even quarter-hour, was no longer necessary, especially in wealthy cities. In Slovak towns and villages however, the functions of the watchman endured for a long time. The watchman and crier either worked together, or were combined into one position, making announcements and guarding the town. After dark the watchman was responsible for announcements and the town’s security and during the day the responsibility fell on the crier. This curious figure has begun returning to some Slovak towns, either during the summer or during the various cultural events. Today, the town crier is recognized as an important character in the history of Slovak towns. Together with such figures as for example the executioner, he helped to create a unique atmosphere.
Source: according to academic literature, edited by PhDr. Marián Mrva.