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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jun, 2010 7:18 pm    Post subject: Medieval Weapon Control         Reply with quote

It's been said to me a few times that in various parts of the (usually later) middle ages, a system of weapon controls had been put into place in various locations. This is one of the sources for the rise of the messer in Germany, apparently, as it didn't qualify as a weapon or a particular weapon (sword) banned for use by non knightly and non noble people. There were also other methods like tying the weapon to the scabbard, surrendering the weapon when entering a location and paying a fine for carrying it.

But how exactly can you enforce the class based ones? Is the wealth of the knightly and noble classes such that it is immediately obvious who's who via dress? Are vendors very careful about who they sell to, requiring something akin to a background check? Is there some kind of citation "weaponed" people carry about them?

M.

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T.F. McCraken




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jun, 2010 7:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That is a GREAT question and I am really hoping you get some answers!

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Eric Allen




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jun, 2010 8:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That is a good question.

My guess is probably much the same way you'd enforce sumptary laws reguarding clothing. Thanks to taxes, and the fact that you'll likely be living in a smaller community, your level of income is "public knowledge", so if you're seen carrying a weapon noticably above your known station, it very well might raise questions. Sort of like, assume you know me as we both come from the same small town. Even if you don't know the dollar ammount of my income, you know what side of town I live on, what sort of clothes I wear, who I associate with, what I do for a living, and what sort of car I drive. If you usually see me in a used Honda, and suddenly you spot me driving by in a swanky Porche, you'd take notice, wouldn't you?

Also, I know several statutes regarding arms dictated what you were required to own at a particular socio-economic level, not what you could not own.
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Greg Coffman




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jun, 2010 8:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There were also codes on dress. People were required by law to dress according to their social standing. The were laws describing what degree of colorfulness/complexity each rank could wear. Likewise, how do you know if that is a rich cobbler dressing up past his rank or a poor knight down on his luck?
------
Well, looks like somebody beat me to the dress code.

And part of the dress code was allowing people to know who you were and your social standing. Enforcing the dress code was about keeping people from impersonating higher social ranks.

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jun, 2010 8:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

These were called 'sumptuary laws'. They existed in many countries throughout Europe in various time periods. They covered not just weapons but every aspect of medieval life, from what type of fabric and what colors and patterns of clothing you could wear (the most obvious example being the color purple or ermine fur being reserved for royalty in many cultures) down to what kind of horse you could own or even how many dishes or plates you could own. These were widespread in Asian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures and spread through Europe by the 12th -13th Centuries as Feudalism became more entrenched. It started within the church and spread to secular society.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumptuary_law#Me...nce_Europe

They were more prevalent and more severe in areas where the local population had lost most of their rights and the Aristocracy was very strong. For example, they were relatively unknown in Bohemia or the Swiss Confederacy, but were quite severe in places like Ireland (particularly after Cromwell) or in the reconquered parts of the Baltic States which had been captured from Pagan Slavs, Balts or Finns in the Northern Crusades; or in Spain in the areas recaptured during the Reconquista, and in various places where the losing side of an ethnic or religious dispute had the misfortune of living among more powerful rivals. Foreign populations are particularly subject to such suppression. The idea in WW II of making Jews and Gypsies wear special badges comes from this tradition of Sumptuary laws toward non-Christians.

It's notable and quite interesting that the Landsknechts were explicitly exempted from most Sumptuary laws which is why they dressed so outrageously. This was one of the steps Emperor Maximillian I took in order to imitate the Swiss Reislauffer whose social structure he was attempting to copy to a limited degree, because he believed it was part of what made them so effective in combat. He also allowed Landsknecht companies to have their own courts and magistrates and to elect their own Captains (at least in theory) for the same reasons.

http://www.st-max.org/introduction-edu.htm

J

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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jun, 2010 11:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Just for information's sake should one build a time machine and travel back in time would there be naturally occurring exceptions for foreigners travelling in other lands with different sumptuary laws ? Hard to expect a Chinese merchant reaching Europe to conform to a local law and even if they wanted to ! How to determine what would be permitted and appropiriate status to match?

Always useful to travel as a person of high ranks with letters of introduction or the status of official or unofficial ambassador from a foreign land i.e. if you can convince the local nobles that you are also a noble you might be able to get away with just about anything ...... that is unless you where seen as fair game for capture and ransom or some form of " foreigners " tax or tribute.

The alternate would be to travel as a poor and humble pilgrim with nothing worth stealing and the simplest poor clothing.

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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Wed 09 Jun, 2010 6:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
Just for information's sake should one build a time machine and travel back in time would there be naturally occurring exceptions for foreigners travelling in other lands with different sumptuary laws ? Hard to expect a Chinese merchant reaching Europe to conform to a local law and even if they wanted to ! How to determine what would be permitted and appropiriate status to match?


There is an ancient legal precedent which I think goes back to Rome : ignorance of the law is no excuse. Of course the same applied to European travellers in China.

Quote:
Always useful to travel as a person of high ranks with letters of introduction or the status of official or unofficial ambassador from a foreign land i.e. if you can convince the local nobles that you are also a noble you might be able to get away with just about anything ......


As you say, the rules for a high-ranking Diplomat under the protection of local authorities were different.

Quote:
that is unless you where seen as fair game for capture and ransom or some form of " foreigners " tax or tribute.

The alternate would be to travel as a poor and humble pilgrim with nothing worth stealing and the simplest poor clothing.


Laws for things like this were always more relaxed in trading zones, but a foreigner could not just travel randomly through Medieval Europe.

So in other words, a common foreign merchant arriving in Venice, or Amsterdam, or Barcelona, or Genoa, or Gotland or any one of the Hanse tradinng cities of the North: Cologne, Lubeck, Danzig etc., could expect a certain degree of tolerance of foreign habits, and as likely as not a foreign quarter where he could go without too many restrictions. Wheras travellers in the interior of Europe would essentially be at the mercy of local authorites or populations, who could be provincial in the extreme especially toward non-Christians. The situation would be similar to someone today going to work in say rural Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, foreigners are tolerated but local customs must be carefully respected. A foreign person wearing inappropriate clothing might be percieved something like a woman with exposed hair in Yemen today. It would not be merely a matter of dress but also of adhering to local religious customs, eating meat on a friday or any fast day or travelling on the sabbath etc. might get you in serious trouble very quickly. This sort of thing was often the root of an accusation toward converted Jews in Spain ("New Christians") for example and could bring a visit by the inquisition. Similarly for people in the South of France after the Albigensian Crusade, the smallest lapse could bring on an accusation of heresy and being a secret Cathar.

Even in the trading cities, many seemingly obscure local customs had to be carefully adhered to especailly by non-Christians, as the saying goes "when in Rome, do as the Romans do' .

J

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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Wed 09 Jun, 2010 7:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Henri Chandler wrote:
[
Even in the trading cities, many seemingly obscure local customs had to be carefully adhered to especailly by non-Christians, as the saying goes "when in Rome, do as the Romans do' .

J


Or alternatively when travelling in foreign lands come armed and in huge numbers and conquer the place or come in smaller numbers and hit and run i.e. recommendations from the " Viking " or " Mongol" tourist bureau(s). Wink Big Grin Cool

Provinciality, ignorance, prejudices, fear of strangers would all seem to be obstacles to easy or free travel and travelling in distant foreign lands in unsophisticated areas unused to foreigners, would be risky and needing tact and a great deal of " diplomatic " skills and probably something very valuable to offer in present or future trade, but don't wander around the boondocks in the period equivalent of a woman in a bikini visiting Saudi Arabia and not expecting having " problems ".

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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Wed 09 Jun, 2010 7:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The fear of strangers thing I see as something of a seperate issue. The religious political structure related to sumptuary laws actually grew gradually stronger from the Medieval into the Renaissance era and later. Same for religious persecution of non-Christians. The Inquisition didn't get really powerful until the 15th Century and the witch-burnings etc. didn't get rolling until the 17th.

You were actually apparently pretty safe travelling to visit say the Lithuanians, the Mongols or the Vikings, so long as it was an established diplomatic or trade mission (i.e. not subject to piracy or robbery). There were rules about hospitality toward strangers among these older tribal people and Pagans were more tolerant or indififerent (if not exactly welcoming) of foreign customs. I just read this book

http://www.amazon.com/Mongols-Historia-Mongal...amp;sr=8-1

...which is a quite interesting account of a Medieval Papal delegations visit to Mongolia in the 13th century. Of course the Mongols were extremely harsh and had plenty of their own wierd rules you had better not violate in their presence. Like don't waste or refuse to eat any food offered no matter how gross, or you'll be killed outright!

There are also interesting accounts of Arab travellers visiting Viking controlled territories, perhaps most notably Ibn Fadlan and Ibn Rustih who said of the Vikings "They have a most friendly attitude towards foreigners and strangers who seek refuge."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahmad_ibn_Rustah

J

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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Wed 09 Jun, 2010 8:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks interesting reply Jean Henri, but just as a side note my Viking and Mongol comment was obviously a joke but I meant it more in the sense of Vikings and Mongols visiting foreign lands and not with peaceful intent. Wink Big Grin Cool

The way you answered about visiting in Viking or Mongol lands was very interesting and it's funny how what was just a joking comment actually got me some very new information I wasn't aware about ! One of the really nice things about " myArmoury " it's almost impossible to not learn something new here every day. Wink Cool

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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Wed 09 Jun, 2010 8:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

To me there is one key difference between arms laws and sumptuary laws IN ENGLAND.

From my readings of the original books of fines both in towns and ones imposed by the king I'd say that for most part sumptuary laws were not really carried out in secular life. I have yet to see any person fined for breaking a sumptuary law in any of the towns I have researched or in royal records on fines in the 14th and 15th centuries. So to my mind if these were carried out it may have been more social pressure and simple economics than actual arrest/fines. If anyone has an example I'd love to see it as most are the laws themselves being stated but we have no further fines resulting from them, which to me shows they were made but not enforced. We have fines for men not providing the arms and armour they were required, for selling bread of the wrong size or ale that is too watery but I have not seen enforcement of sumptuary laws in England.

Now weapon laws you see these at times being carried out. Not really all that often though compared to other fines mind you. My guess is that these were used as almost a double whammy. You get in a fight and the law gets you, you do not just get hit with fines for an affray but for carrying a weapon as well. Not all that unlike modern knife laws in Britain. Mind you ownership of such items was required by law but in towns it was usually not allowed to be on your person unless a threat was present.

In Southampton people entering the town, as well as the town court, would be stripped of arms unless they were a knight or higher, the Mayor or Aldermen. It seems that town mayors may have been exempt from weapon bans in other towns as well, though I cannot tell if it is all the time or just certain occasions. Southampton tends to take these weapons and sell them so my guess is that most people were careful not to bring them.

If you are interested in such things some town records have some great info on the administration of law on a local setting.

Southampton and other English towns have mixed feelings at different times to 'aliens'. It pops up in my PhD on Southampton at times, usually during war.

RPM


Last edited by Randall Moffett on Wed 09 Jun, 2010 9:44 am; edited 1 time in total
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Wed 09 Jun, 2010 9:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
Thanks interesting reply Jean Henri, but just as a side note my Viking and Mongol comment was obviously a joke but I meant it more in the sense of Vikings and Mongols visiting foreign lands and not with peaceful intent. Wink Big Grin Cool

The way you answered about visiting in Viking or Mongol lands was very interesting and it's funny how what was just a joking comment actually got me some very new information I wasn't aware about !


Yes of course, I figured it was an opportunity to contrast how this worked in different cutlures. I had coincidentally just read that Mongol book and I'm finishing another one right now about the Baltic Crusades which is quite interesting; the issue of hospitality toward strangers (especially merchants) and attitude toward sumptuary laws and other aspects of social hierarchy among the Pagan Lithuanians, (which was similar in certain different respects to both that of the pre-Christian Scandinavians and to the Mongols) was functionally more pragmatic than that of the Teutonic Order and some of the Medieval Scandinavian kingdoms and contributed to temporary alliances between trading towns like Riga and Danzig with the Lithuanians... this strong mix of economic and political factors eventually led to 19 German Hanse cities parting ways with the Teutonic Order in 1440 and joining the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as the Prussian Confederationwhich had immense repercussions down the centuries of European history.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prussian_Confederation

I think it was precisely the imposition of things like sumptuary laws which caused this rift.

Quote:
One of the really nice things about " myArmoury " it's almost impossible to not learn something new here every day. Wink :cool


Yep that is why I visit ths site all the time myself it's sort of an ongoing University education for me too on subjects not well covered in many other places Happy.

J

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Introducing the Codex Guide to the Medieval Baltic
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