Medieval History Term of the Week: Hide

Etymology: Middle English, from Old English higid, hid

1) A unit of measurement for assessment of tax, theoretically 120 acres, although it may vary between 60 and 240 acres. It is by custom the land that can be cultivated by one eight ox plow in one year.
(MEDIEV-L. Medieval Terms)

2) Originally the land necessary to sustain a peasant household. Sometimes reckoned at 120 acres but in fact the hide varied according to locality, date, and government needs.
(Wood, Michael. Domesday: A Search for the Roots of England, 214)

3) An Anglo-Saxon term still used in many parts of the country, and commonly at this period as a measurement of land, roughly equivalent to the carucate, but more properly a unit of assessment, e.g., to taxation.
(Warren, W.L. Henry II, 635)

The following entry in the Domesday Book records the lands of the manors of the Abbey of St. Peter, Winchester (1086)


The same Abbey holds Miceldevre (Micheldever) in demesne. In King Edward’s time it was assessed at a hundred and six hides. It is now assessed at eighty-five hides and half a yardland.

*term definitions retrieved from Netserf’s Medieval Glossary (

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8 Responses to “Medieval History Term of the Week: Hide”

  1. It’s clearly a very old unit of assessment. Bede’s History (written 731 AD) always refers to areas as “…the land of X many families….”. The Tribal Hidage, undated but usually reckoned to belong to the seventh or eighth century, also reckons kingdoms and sub-kingdoms by number of hides. It would make sense if it had originally been a way of reckoning military service in the fyrd (e.g. one man per hide, or per so many hides).

  2. Interesting, Carla. I’m not familiar with the Tribal Hidage. Can you explain what it is?

  3. Well, nobody can really agree :-) It’s a list of territories and the number of hides associated with each, and the territorial names that can be identified are in the Midlands and southern England. It’s been suggested that it was a tax and/or tribute list for one of the Mercian over-kings of the seventh or eighth centuries, although it’s also been suggested that it could be for one of the Northumbrian kings of the same sort of era. I have an article on it in the works, so that will appear on my blog in due course.

  4. Excellent info. I’ll be looking for that post on your blog.

  5. There’s a transcription of the Tribal Hidage available on the web here, which will give you an idea of its form.

  6. Very cool! Thanks, Carla. Now, I need to brush up on my Old English.

  7. There are various translations around on the web (Google will find them for you), but as it’s basically a list of proper names and figures the translation doesn’t look much different from the transcription :-)

  8. That’s true :)

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