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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Fri 06 Jun, 2008 2:17 am    Post subject: Looting the dead.         Reply with quote

In this scenario, I am a common freeman who was levied to serve my lord in war. I bring with me what I can afford, which in this case is a spear, a helmet, a dagger, and a gambeson of wool and linen.

My unit of spear (?) and I where ordered to hold a position in the flanks of this army, where we saw action and successfully defeated a somewhat better equipped force of infantry (or maybe light horse). After the enemy army was routed and the battle in it's finish, I return to take from the dead.

For the purposes of this scenario, I personally manage to land my hands on some sort of serjent, who was leading the troops against my position. I take from his body his helm, his coat of maille, his spear, his dagger, his sword, as well as a number of lesser effects like a purse, aketon, boots, etc.

But would I be able to keep these? The maille alone has not only made me a better fighter, but if I survive the war, would, with sale, land me some decent coin. The spear, dagger, helm, boots, and my old gambeson could be used to arm and armor a less well equipped soldier, lending another spear to the fight (I am assuming that if I am in a foot unit, armor would vary enough that we might have a handfull of mailled troops, most in gambeson, and a few even without that much). Would my lord be able to confiscate these, for his own ends? Would it instead just go into a "pile of loot"?

M.

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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Fri 06 Jun, 2008 3:22 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'd guess it was in theory meant to be gathered into a communal 'loot pile' then redistributed. That said in actuallity I doubt this could completely be enforced though getting away with such a large amount of stuff would be hard. Since the wealth would be divided between the gents all around you they'd have a vested interest that everyone was forthcoming about it.

If it followed similar laws of indenture, which it may or may not it would have a very specific division between king, captain and soldiers. In England at least most levies by the 14th are for home defence. Those that go abroad are attached to a noble/knight/esquire/etc. where it would be likely they'd be incorporated into 'the system' so to speak.

Looting certainly took place. I'd guess depending on the scene it would be possible.

RPM
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Jonathan Blair




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PostPosted: Fri 06 Jun, 2008 4:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Looting the dead, and the living too, was a common practice after a battle. The spoils of war were one of the draws for the common man joining in on a campaign, and often was a method of payment by the lord for his vassals ("keep what you capture"). After the battle, where any nobles still alive were taken away and their valuables (armor, weapons, horses, etc) taken as a down payment on their ransoms, anything that could reasonably be carried would be stripped from the dead (and the not-quite dead dispatched to their Maker via misericorde as necessary). Sometimes the looted goods would be put to use by the victor, if he could figure out how to get it off and use it. "That's a nice helmet. It would protect my head better than that leather cap I've been using. I think I'll take it." Hence, a commoner might take a fallen man-at-arms' sword and helmet, but might leave the cuirass, habergeon, and other armor parts because he just couldn't reasonably expect to carry a suit of armor along with the rest of his kit and still loot a few more bodies.

Of course, even a decent haul of booty didn't necessarily mean riches beyond measure for the commoner. There were other ways to relieve the burden of looted goods that didn't require confiscation. For example, Calais' merchants inflated the price of food, lodging, and other commodities when the English forces arrived in the city after the battle of Crecy, resulting in many of the commoners having to sell their hard-earned spoils at reduced rates (thanks to a flood of the market) to buy the necessities.

"Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." - The Lord Jesus Christ, from The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, chapter x, verse 34, Authorized Version of 1611
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Nathan Gilleland





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PostPosted: Fri 06 Jun, 2008 5:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I agree with Johnathan,

However, I do think that a maille shirt would be one of the first things on a soldier's looting list. If it was broken, rusty, or the wrong size, then, why take it? But if the rings were not damaged (too much) and in the right size for your frame, I would assume that it would be worth the effort to pull it off the body. Perhaps this type of looting came more as a second round over the field. First you wanted to grab anything that was easy to remove, belt pouches, swords, daggers, helmets, etc. Then you'd go back and remove the harder objects: Maille shirts, gambesons, boots, etc.

Just my opinion (and is what I would try to do if I was put in that situation). Please correct me if I'm historically wrong.

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Ed Toton




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PostPosted: Fri 06 Jun, 2008 11:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

From what I understand, this sort of looting was not only common, but the norm, for a good part of the relevant history. In fact, it may have been one of the larger motivators for getting people to fight in your army. I had read somewhere that it was in fact a common problem that people would stop to loot before the battle was over, thus temporarily removing them from the fight.

I agree with Nathan; I would think that loose items would be looted first in this regard, followed by valuable but more difficult armor items after the battle.

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Thomas Watt




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PostPosted: Fri 06 Jun, 2008 11:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nathan, not only are you not wrong, but there is a historical case to the contrary - bodies buried without being looted - that stands out.
John Keegan cites the case (The Face of Battle) of the Swedish soldiers killed in the battle of Visby, 1361 during a hot summer day. Due to the number of dead and the heat, the bodies were buried en masse with armor still in place as the heat likely advanced decomposition too quickly.
And since looting was the norm, as far as keeping the goodies goes, I would imagine that higher status (either through wealth or skill) would tend to get the better items. Other limitations include the ability to carry "spares", etc. I would guess the lower status warriors would "trade up" as best they could.

Have 11 swords, 2 dirks, half a dozen tomahawks and 2 Jeeps - seem to be a magnet for more of all.
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Tim May




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PostPosted: Fri 06 Jun, 2008 12:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ed Toton wrote:
I had read somewhere that it was in fact a common problem that people would stop to loot before the battle was over, thus temporarily removing them from the fight.


I completely agree Ed. Muhammed's only defeat in battle, Uhud, was due to his archers (directly against his orders) halting fire to keep cavalry at bay to loot. The young Quraysh commander Khalid ibn al-Walid, who later after conversion became Muhammed and Abu Bakr's greatest general, even being proclaimed the "Sword of Allah," saw this and used it to flank Muhammed's own position resulting in a route of the Muslims.

While Muhammed's army at that point may not have been very disciplined from a military standpoint, adherence to the wishes of the Prophet was imperative in Islam, and that his archers were willing to go against his wishes demonstrates the lust for riches that was ever present in battle.


Last edited by Tim May on Fri 06 Jun, 2008 2:25 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Thom R.




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PostPosted: Fri 06 Jun, 2008 2:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I just finished reading a biography of the Verney family in Stuart England which is actually quite fascinating in several respects (if you are a history nut interested in 17th c England), but tragically Sir Edmund Verney, despite his misgivings about Charles I (documented in his letters) and the fact that his son (who was also a MP) sided with parliament, Sir Edmund decided to join the royalist cause and became a Bannerman for the Royalist Army at Edgehill. The royalists were thoroughly routed at Edgehill and Sir Edmund was seen by several eyewitnesses trying to rally royalists and fight a rearguard action, but was killed doing so. His body was never recovered because all of the royalists who made that rearguard stand were killed and completely stripped of weapons, armour, and personal effects. As a point of fact, looting on both sides was a large factor in the battle and caused much lack of coherent action that day. Both sides were apparently eager to gain weapons and armour which they were sorely lacking at the start of the war. tr
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B. Fulton





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PostPosted: Fri 06 Jun, 2008 3:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The Muslim defeat at Tours, if I remember correctly, was partially because discipline broke down and they started looting before finishing off the enemy.
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Sat 07 Jun, 2008 9:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

While this doesn't really answer the question, there are a parts of the Bayeux Tapestry that illustrate Normans pulling the mail shirts from the Saxons. The Normans are not wearing armour in these scenes, so I don't know if that was meant to illustrate that they did this looting after the battle or not.
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R D Moore




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PostPosted: Sat 07 Jun, 2008 10:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

On a personal note, whatever the sergeant had that would enhance my protection and weaponry would become mine. The rest I would turn in for distribution, or whatever, if required. Specifically, I'd keep his sword, his spears, his helmet if it was better than mine, his dagger if it was better than mine, his maille and aketon, and his shoes if they were better than mine, The rest of it would go to the common equipment pool along with my old gear.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Fri 13 Jun, 2008 12:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Tim May wrote:
I completely agree Ed. Muhammed's only defeat in battle, Uhud, was due to his archers (directly against his orders) halting fire to keep cavalry at bay to loot. The young Quraysh commander Khalid ibn al-Walid, who later after conversion became Muhammed and Abu Bakr's greatest general, even being proclaimed the "Sword of Allah," saw this and used it to flank Muhammed's own position resulting in a route of the Muslims.

While Muhammed's army at that point may not have been very disciplined from a military standpoint, adherence to the wishes of the Prophet was imperative in Islam, and that his archers were willing to go against his wishes demonstrates the lust for riches that was ever present in battle.


This idea has recently been challenged by scholars who contend that the "archers leaving the hill theme" was just a historical topos added after the fact to explain the defeat, whereas it shouldn't have been necessary because the Muslim army was outnumbered three to one and suffered from several other disadvantages that the Meccans should probably have been able to defeat them even without the archers' undisciplined action.

This is just an alternative theory, though, not a firm and fully confirmed debunking that renders the contrary opinion totally obsolete. As a Muslim (and an amateur historian) myself, I'm tempted to think that there's a grain of truth in both opinions.


B. Fulton wrote:
The Muslim defeat at Tours, if I remember correctly, was partially because discipline broke down and they started looting before finishing off the enemy.


Depends on whose account. I think there are also histories that ascribe it to a similar but different cause--the Franks managed to get around a Muslim flank or make a breach somewhere in their line and a large number of Franks got as far as the Muslim baggage, which they began to loot. Some of the Muslims saw this and hurried back towards the baggage in panic because they didn't want to lose the loot they had gathered in their raiding expeditions all over southern France, and others took the retrograde movement to be a retreat that soon turned into a full-blown rout.

And of course there are others who think that Tours-Poitiers was not a pitched battle as we understand it, but just a large skirmish that petered off before it fully escalated into a battle.


In any case, it's true that most historians of the Arab Conquest do think that the advent of Islam considerably improved the discipline and resilience of Arab troops, not the least by convincing the troops to postpone their looting until the battle had been conclusively won....

(And it sort of reminds me of an eyewitness account about an Arab victory over the Persians, where one of the Muslim officers broke into the camp of the defeated Persians and was rather explicitly said to have "made the Persian woman his wife" on the spot. This was several years after the Prophet's death, if I remember correctly. On a more relevant note to this thread, the Arabs habitually looted warhorses off their enemies' camps. I wonder why horses haven't been mentioned here?)
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Nathan Gilleland





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PostPosted: Fri 13 Jun, 2008 5:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Horses would be a much sought after prize in battle, but they were likely an exclusive prize for the more noble soldiers (knights, dukes, kings, generals, sergeants, maybe the knights squire, etc.).

It seems to me that it would be unlikely that any common soldier would have the privilege of looting a war-horse, as they were a highly prized possession of knights.

Though I did hear an account that William Wallace made sure that his army was completely mounted for their raids on England, wether they had warhorses or pack mules, they had to have a mount to ride. (Not sure if this is true or not, but since I was on the subject of horses...)

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James Arlen Gillaspie
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PostPosted: Fri 13 Jun, 2008 7:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A fairly precise period and location for this question would be good to have. The answer could vary considerably, otherwise.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Fri 20 Jun, 2008 12:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

James Arlen Gillaspie wrote:
A fairly precise period and location for this question would be good to have. The answer could vary considerably, otherwise.


I'm not the original poster, but the impression I got from his question was of a 12th-century setting. I don't know of that's the impression he intended to make, though.
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