Artes Mechanicae

Artes Mechanicae, or mechanical arts, are a medieval concept of ordered practices or skills, often juxtaposed to the traditional seven liberal arts Artes liberales. Also called "servile" and considered "vulgar", from antiquity they had been deemed unbecoming for a free man, as ministering to baser needs.

Already Johannes Scotus Eriugena (9th century) divides them somewhat arbitrarily into seven parts:

  • vestiaria (tailoring, weaving)
  • agricultura (agriculture)
  • architectura (architecture, masonry)
  • militia and venatoria (warfare and hunting, "martial arts")
  • mercatura (trade, commerce)
  • coquinaria (cooking)
  • metallaria (blacksmithing, metallurgy)

In his "Didascalicon," Hugh of St Victor includes navigation, medicine and theatrical arts instead of commerce, agriculture and cooking. Hugh's treatment somewhat elevates the mechanical arts as ordained to the improvement of humanity, a promotion which was to represent a growing trend among late medievals.

The classification of the Artes Mechanicae as applied geometry was introduced to Western Europe by Dominicus Gundissalinus under the influence of his readings in Arabic scholarship.