Levels of Violence: The World of the Middle Ages

Levels of Violence: The World of the Middle Ages

Most interpersonal conflicts arise from verbal skirmishes. Medieval man had enough means: curses, which were believed and considered effective, abuse and insult to honor. Such things were supported, as a rule, by spitting and blowing. Evidence of lying was the most gross insult, because a person demanded an immediate solution to the issue, or he fell into a rage. And then a rather long-term enmity began between families or rural communities.


Vendetta was a common business that everyone, everywhere, was doing. Whether it's a commoner, a knight, a powerful tycoon, or a prince. In the earlier Middle Ages, similar processes were regulated by "Barbarian Truths" - the codes of the 5th-9th centuries. Germanic tribes, in which blood feud was replaced by a large monetary fine.

However, even in the late Middle Ages, we come across a lot of documentary evidence that somehow tries to justify the vendetta. Such manifestations of violence were spiced up with envy, rivalry for various reasons, betrayal, robbery and a banal thirst for someone else's blood. Yorkies and Lancasters, Montagues and Capulets, Armagnacs and Bourguignons, and many others come to mind as examples.

Another aggressive, but not always obvious form of violence is slander, rumors, speculation and gossip. In the modern world, such things still play a significant role in political, social and economic life. In the Middle Ages, such manifestations were perceived even more painful. A rumor about treason or a conspiracy could destroy a person's reputation, regardless of the nobility of origin.

When the tongue was powerless, fists and weapons came into play. It happened everywhere and with everyone. In the urban environment, clashes between suspects and law enforcement agencies were widespread. There are cases when city people stood up for the named villain and got lost in groups. And then the guards were not happy. Both royal officials and representatives of local authorities fell under the hot hand of the townspeople. The people did not encroach on the figure of the supreme ruler or king, because she is from God.


Without much hesitation and doubt, people grabbed a cold weapon at any opportunity: a conflict in the mills, a drunken fight in taverns, a clash in the fields was accompanied by the use of knives, daggers, axes, sickles, etc.

Outlaw: Social Life of the Middle Ages

Everyday small violent acts were much more interesting and inventive than the usual urban skirmishes with massacres and stabbing. It will be more about actions of a hooligan character. Traders often hung on their customers, peasants poached their lord's lands, cut down timber and changed the boundaries of the land allotment.

Such cunning youngsters were watched by special people in the master's estate. "Forest sergeants" caught robbers and guilty peasants and punished severely with money or an ax, depending on the severity of the crime.


The "thieves' track" had more or less neutral consequences for the attackers. People rarely went to collective robbery and robbery: the punishment for such a crime was the death penalty. But street thefts took place constantly, as usual, in busy places.

Premeditated murder is a rare occurrence in the Middle Ages. Moreover, the Christian Church openly and cruelly condemned such acts. The most common motives (commonplace jealousy, family squabbles and struggle for inheritance) were constrained by legal documents of the era, treaties based on financial agreements, and the most brutal manifestation - blood feud.


For a commoner, the use of force with the help of weapons to protect their interests, from the point of view of the church, was illegal. Only a noble person had the right to raise the sword over his head at any suitable moment. This is both a craft and a sign of status in the class society. In the exercise of undue violence, noble people did not lag behind the ordinary laity.


These could be raids by a small group of horsemen on the nearby estates of neighbors, which ended in robbery or reprisals against the owners. The motives were quite predictable: from the desire to have fun and get some gold to kidnapping a lady and revenge for an insult to honor.

The route list of such an enterprise included raids on village houses and city buildings. As usual, after such a raid, feasts with copious amounts of food and drink were arranged. Often not to celebrate success, but rather to make peace with the enemy. Such violent actions of the medieval nobility often became a common and systematic phenomenon.

The emergence of "Raubritters", or knights-robbers, at the turn of the XIV-XV centuries. in this case, it seems not accidental. The pranks of these noble raiders forced the local authorities to respond immediately. They captured merchants, robbed peasants, imposed a kind of tribute on urban associations, and annoyed large aristocratic families. The image of the "noble robber" over time was painted in rainbow tones and suited several historical figures on the wave of neo-romanticism well.


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