Thursday, June 22, 2006

Heroic literature's role in reducing warrior violence

I have now started a new lecture series about the High Middle Ages and find it interesting that with the loss of an emphasis on education and classical literature there seems to have been a precipitous decline in what I would call social conscience during late antiquity up to the High Middle Ages. Dr. Philip Daileader is presenting this lecture series too and he described how severe the problems of noble violence became. Where in the Roman Empire, the wealthy elite were expected to provide civil service and public works, a large number of the warrior elite of the early and high Middle Ages simply used their power to brutalize and extort more wealth from those around them whether another noble, merchant, or peasant.

Dr. Daileader said that clerics tried to stem the tide of violence with the peace and later truce of God movements but the most successful efforts to rein in the aristocracy were achieved with the introduction of chivalric literature modelled somewhat after classical heroic literature.

Dr. Daileader's description of early tournaments was also quite eye-opening. Like war games with fully loaded weapons, these tournaments would be as hazardous to those living near the site where the tournament was to take place as it was to participants. He said that if an opponent hid in a farmhouse, a participant would often burn down the farmhouse to "capture" the opponent, apparently without any concern for the farmer whatsoever. He also described kippers who were peasants with clubs hired by tournament participants to run out on the field and club an unhorsed knight senseless so he could be more easily stripped of his armor. If the person died, I guess that was just considered the breaks! These activities didn't sound any kinder or gentler than gladiator combat!
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