From executioner to court jester: Here are 15 jobs that have disappeared.

Shepherds, porters and powder makers. In the past, there were various jobs available that we only know about. Here we talk about 15 well-known professions that have disappeared.

Shepherds, porters and powder makers. In the past, there were various jobs available that we only know about. Here we talk about 15 well-known professions that have disappeared.

1. THE FOOL – Humiliation came with the job

For thousands of years, kings and princes have had men in their service whose only job was to be a glen.

In the ancient Roman Empire, court jesters were often dwarfs. Their job was to entertain the guests of the rulers with jokes and other glitz.

In the 12th century it became fashionable in princely palaces in Europe to have a court jester. These funny fellows were usually easy to identify, but they wore colorful costumes, had rooster combs and bells on them.

As the 18th century began, social consciousness changed in many places, and people began to blame the poor court fools. As a result, this job was discontinued in most places.

This job was usually given to dwarfs, idiots or cripples, and in return they received food and housing at the farm.

How lucrative the job was was determined by the prince’s whims. Nikolaus Ferry, a dwarf and court jester at the Polish court in the 18th century, was once asked to stand on top of a cake that resembled a fortress during a dinner party. The dinner guests then threw lumps of sugar at him.

If surviving medieval manuals are to be believed, a good gunpowder consisted of six parts saltpetre, one part sulphur, and some linden bark.

2. POWDER MANUFACTURER- Urine improved safety

No one knows for sure when gunpowder reached Europe, but in 1267 the English philosopher Roger Bacon was the first European to describe this Chinese invention, which made it possible, among other things, to fire bullets from cannons.

The work of powder makers had become a recognized profession in the 14th century. Their job consisted of mixing saltpeter, sulfur and charcoal to make gunpowder.

At first, the ingredients were carefully ground in a mortar, but as demand grew in the 15th century, special powder mills were set up.

There, many powder makers worked mixing the ingredients in large troughs where everything was then pressed together with large compactors powered by mill wheels or donkeys.

To avoid spontaneous combustion, the powder makers kept the powder wet with water, wine or urine. Finally, the powder was dried in special drying houses.

At the turn of the 19th century, the gunpowder makers lost their livelihood at the same time that more powerful explosives came on the market, including dynamite in 1867.

3. EXECUTIONER- Criminals shortened their heads

Underappreciated and underpaid – the jobs were passed down from father to son.

When the citizens of Europe were sentenced to death in the Middle Ages, executioners were responsible for the executions. They beheaded the offenders, but sometimes used other forms of punishment, such as bone fractures, where all the bones of the body were broken.

Historians believe that the profession first appeared in the cities of Europe in the 13th century, where the rulers found it immoral to carry out the executions themselves. Executioners and their families lived on the outskirts of society and were often forbidden to attend mass.

4. PLATTER – Knights needed armor

Plate armor consisted of many parts that had to fit together so that the knight could move during battle.

A plate smith’s job in previous centuries was to prepare armor for knights.

When gunpowder became common in the 13th century, ring armor was no longer sufficient for body protection, and knights needed armor that covered them completely. Platemakers became a sought-after profession, and armed with hammers and anvils, they built body armor for their wealthy clients. The steel armor was fastened together with leather straps, and once that was done, the plate smiths passed the armor on to those who polished it and even decorated it with gold.

As firearms became more powerful in the 17th century, however, most record makers had to find new media.

Henry VIII, King of England, was carried around in a stretcher. The story says that carrying it was not within everyone’s reach and it took four strong men for the job, because the king had become so fat.

5. PASSENGER PEOPLE – The service was offered to people on foot

Before the heyday of vans and wheeled couriers, merchants and craftsmen had to transport their goods on foot. Industrious employers found that many people had a need for the services of those they attended to on foot.


– Cup bearer

In the 18th century, special men and women walked around with buckets that people could use for payment. During the ceremony, the cupbearer sheltered his customers from curious passers-by.

– Torchbearers

In the 17th and 18th centuries, lantern-bearers walked the streets of Paris and London, lighting up the dark streets.

There was a clear difference in the work ethic in the two cities, for in Paris the lantern-bearers were on the leash of the police and shut up at the slightest oversight they witnessed, while their counterparts in the City of London were, on the other hand, hand-in-glove with criminals, as the historian William Sidney described in 1892:

“If they witnessed anything wrong at the hands of their conspirators, they turned off the light and let themselves disappear into the darkness”.

– A stretcher bearer

In the 17th century, it became fashionable in major European cities, including Turin, Brussels and London, to be carried around in litters instead of always traveling in horse-drawn carriages. Carriers consisted of two supporting poles and an enclosed compartment with doors and windows, where the passenger was comfortably seated in an armchair. Then two porters took hold of the bars, one in front and the other behind, and sped off wherever the passenger wanted to go.

6. LETTER DECORATOR – The art form resulted in a pool of creativity

While monks in the 11th century had illustrated religious writings with quills, ink and brushes, in the 15th century there was a market for drawings that were not of a religious nature, as well as illustrations in, among other things, letters.

Letter decorators worked in small workshops in Germany trying to handle this ever-increasing demand. On their work tables, beautifully decorated documents, greeting cards, calendars, coats of arms, as well as playing cards were created.

The letter decorators drew and painted on what they wanted to decorate, often with the help of a pencil. They got their hopes up when wooden stamps came on the market that allowed them to mass produce their artwork.

Letter decorators got ideas for their decorations from the colorful and beautifully decorated books of the Middle Ages.

Letters and illustrations were cut into pieces of wood that the letter decorators used to print so-called woodcut books, where an entire page was printed in one go.

Although Gutenberg invented the art of book-making in 1455, which involved the use of movable type, letter-engravers continued their work until the 16th century, but the last woodcut books are believed to date from around 1530.

The predictions of the astrologers played the same role as the predictions of Chinese fortune cookies.

7. STAR ROOM – A parrot fished out happiness

In the capital of Austria, Vienna, the residents could easily come across so-called star sellers. However, they did not sell the celestial bodies at all, but horoscopes, predictions and lucky tickets with a lottery number that the buyer could use to win a prize.

These so-called star merchants were known in Vienna, where they were easily recognizable by the boxes they carried in front of them. When a “star” had been sold, the curious crowd thronged around the astrologer, for he had a parrot or a white mouse on his side, which drew a lucky ticket at random from his box.

Star dealers fell out of fashion after World War II and disappeared from the streets of Vienna. The last star hall, however, stubbornly remained in Mariahilfer Straße until he could no longer do his job due to age.

8. SHIPBUILDER – Workers worked for nothing at the port

In Europe’s port city, entire groups of shipbuilders built ships that were used to chart the seven oceans.

Before the advent of iron ships in the 19th century, thousands of shipbuilders worked daily to build huge wooden ships.

“I don’t know of any profession where the human body does as much work as shipbuilding. Shipbuilders apply the forces in so many ways in their daily work that the clothes are torn from the outside of their bodies”.

This is how the Dutchman Cornelius van Yk described the work of a shipbuilder in a book he wrote about shipbuilding in 1697. During the time of the explorers, wooden ships were built in large fenced construction areas close to the sea.

Carpenters and handymen worked there from five in the morning until seven in the evening in the summer and from six in the winter until dark, mostly using simple tools like axes, hammers and saws. The work rules were very strict and those who showed up late for work or had blunted their tools were immediately scolded.

“Only a strongly built, healthy man can endure such work and survive the discomfort”.
Cornelius Van Yk on life as a shipbuilder.

Shipbuilding began with the preparation of the keel. Then the fore and aft masts were built, as well as the cross ties, but the inside of the ship’s frame consisted of these parts. The crossbars were then covered with ribbons. The same was true for the boards and with completely different timber in the ship, everything was sawn from logs with large saws operated by two men.

Finally, the ship had to be tarred, decks and gun emplacements added before it could be launched. Other additions such as masts, sails and ropes were then in the hands of the sailors.

Van Yk pointed out that shipbuilding itself is a particularly difficult job because all the work is done outside. There, the shipbuilders were unprotected from hail or scorching heat:

“Only a strongly built, healthy man can endure such work and survive the discomfort”.

The shipbuilders’ order form

Shipbuilders were responsible for building large ocean-going ships which, during the sailing age, were among other things used by inquisitive explorers and energetic traders. Some of the ship types in the shipyards were ordered again and again.


16.-18. century: The ship transported, among other things, silver from America to Spain.


18th century: A galley with up to 32 years that was also equipped with sails.


15.-16. century: Two of Columbus’ ships in 1492 were caravels.

Barge ship

19th century: This ship was the most common in the 1800s.

9. METEOROLOGIST – Technical wizards predicted the weather

When people first became aware of atmospheric pressure, they began to be able to predict the weather for the first time. People waited in lines to buy handy barometers.

In the 17th century, ingenious inventors invented a method to measure the atmospheric pressure.

In the first half of the 17th century, scientists discovered that the air contained a weight that changed with the weather, and that it was possible to measure the “weight” of the air with, for example, mercury in a glass tube.

This discovery led to a market for portable barometers, which the English physicist Robert Boyle began to call “barometers” in English in 1663.

One of the first to produce barometers was Otto von Guericke (1602-1686), who was a scientist and mayor of the German city of Magdeburg. Instead of using mercury, however, he filled his glass pipe with water. A tiny human statue floated at the top of the water, pointing to a scale on the glass that indicated the atmospheric pressure.

As with a watchmaker, the barometer’s work required great skill and precision.

People who depended on the weather welcomed this invention, among them the German agronomist Johann Georg Krünitz, who described in 1773 how the invention made his life easier:

“The barometer is a particularly useful and important tool that allows weather changes to be predicted before they occur, thus giving farmers and gardeners the opportunity to act in accordance with the weather when planting, sowing or harvesting”.

Ferdinand Raimund was an Austrian actor and writer.

A meteorologist ended up as a theater hero

In the 19th century, the new meteorologists were so popular that barometer makers could appear as main characters on the stage of the theaters.

In Ferdinand Raimund’s comedy, “The Barometer on Töfraeyju”, from 1823, the barometer drifts in a strong wind to an island where he is given magical gifts.

10. CABLE – The job is to order clothing without buttons

In many professions, especially in the field of shipping, whole kilometers of rope had been needed before the industrial revolution. Cable workers handled this production.

On a cableway up to 400 meters long, hemp thread was wound into rope elements that were twisted into a rope using a so-called self-pulling device. At the end of the roper’s track was a handle that the roper and his assistants used to turn up the threads.

Rope makers disappeared in the 18th century as rope could be made more efficiently in factories.

The workers wore clothes without buttons, because otherwise there was a risk that they would get caught in the rope.

There are records of ropeways from the year 1265 in Hamburg, but in the well-known ropeway, Reeperbahn in Skt. Pauli, among other things, ropes were produced which were exported to the Nordic countries.

The famous author HC Andersen achieved great mastery in the field of the “black art” in the 19th century.

11. SHADOW PICTURE CUTTER – Innovative artists cut out cardboard

The art of collage spread from Austria to France in the 18th century. The art involved drawing outlines on black paper and then cutting out.

The old-timers in France immediately named this frugal art form after the extremely frugal finance minister of the country, whose name was Étienne de Silhouette (1709-1767).

Artists all over Europe adopted these fashion trends and began to draw and cut out silhouettes, which for several decades played the role of a kind of forerunner of photography, adorning everything from people’s living rooms to their photo albums.

12. HORSE TRADERS – Rogue traders dyed the horses

Before automobiles and tractors saw the light of day in the 20th century, hardworking horse traders could make a lot of money selling and buying horses.

If a horse trader got a reputation for being a fraud, the neighbors called him a “horse swindler”. Such men made a living by buying and selling horses and generally received more for the horses than they were worth.

In 1822, the horse trader Abraham Mortgens from Dessau described his shady methods in the book “The Secret of the Horse Robber”. Mortgens told the prangars to dye the mane and fur of old dogs to rejuvenate them.

An exasperated trunta could even come alive if a pepper was inserted into her anus, he revealed:

“Pepper, that’s the true spirit of the horse dealer.”

13. ENTERTAINMENT GROUP – Talent was a source of income

All streets from the Middle Ages, groups of entertainers were a common sight in cities and towns. They traveled from place to place and made their living by cramming all kinds of entertainment.

At this time, few people were literate and as a result these entertainers were also a source of news and gossip. The better citizens actually saw the entertainers as scandalous people because they sold themselves for money.

In the 20th century, when theaters and revues became widespread in cities, many of these entertainers got permanent jobs and disappeared from the squares.

The crowd flocked

Most people could find something to entertain themselves when the entertainers came to town.


Throwing knives and swords. The same ones practiced somersaults, played their arts with discs and swallowed fire.


Among other things, they imitated priests and sometimes pretended to be ventriloquists.

Animal breeders and musicians

Have fun with a lyre box, dancing bears and tame dogs.

Unpopular followers

Beggars, fortune tellers and fortune tellers often followed in the footsteps of the entertainers.

The bird catchers themselves were able to catch a glókolla, which is only nine cm high, on a stick with glue on the end, but that bird is not afraid of humans at all.

14. BIRD HUNTERS – Birds were lured with glue

As early as ancient times, there was a market for bird feathers for decoration, edible birds that were cooked, as well as songbirds for entertainment. Bird hunters specialized in catching birds, and for that purpose they often used glue.

The method caused the Roman poet Óvid (43 BC-18 AD) to exclaim: “Don’t trick birds with glue-smeared hide!”.

Despite Óvíð’s complaint, the bird hunters continued to prepare glue from mistletoe berries, which they spread on branches stuck into a bush, close to the ground. Then caged birds were placed in the right place to lure the birds into the glue trap.

15. TIMBER SLIPPER – Slippery surface dragged people to their deaths

Until the second half of the 20th century, timber floaters worked to float trees down the rivers of Europe. Logs were tied together in rafts in rivers near the forests, and each raft could be up to 10 m wide and 25 m long.

The wooden floats steered these short-lived boats, one at a time or many linked together, with long poles fore and aft.

Timber drifting disappeared as a profession when the road system in Europe began to be able to carry transport vehicles.

There were at least two floaters on the rafts, but on the biggest one there could be up to 20 people.

Sometimes these barges also transported other goods along the way or even passengers, if the rafts were large enough.

This job was especially suitable for young, strong men who were not at all afraid to take risks. Even though the paddlers had iron spikes on the bottom of their boots to prevent them from slipping on the wet logs, it was not at all uncommon for paddlers to fall into the rivers and be swept away by the current.

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