For most of their existence there was nothing particularly unique about European societies. In medieval Europe, everybody, next to everybody, was a peasant, poor and illiterate with a life expectancy at birth of perhaps 35 years. The few tools that existed in peasant society required a heavy input of manpower; productivity was low and the occasional surplus was quickly gobbled up by a small, oppressive, elite. What passed for science was, even among the educated, hopelessly confused with superstition and most aspects of life were heavily influenced by custom and by an all-pervasive Church. Medieval society was not static to be sure, but changes when they occurred were ad hoc and coincidental; stability was the social norm if not always a social reality.