12/30/05 - the violent middle ages

In today's encore excerpt - rigorously primary-source-oriented historian Barbara Tuchman, in her book A Distant Mirror: the Calamitous 14th Century, comments on the violence in everyday village life in the Middle Ages:

"Violence was official as well as individual. Torture was authorized by the Church and regularly used to uncover heresy by the Inquisition. The tortures and punishments of civil justice customarily cut off hands and ears, racked, burned, flayed and pulled apart people's bodies. In everyday life, passersby saw some criminal flogged with a knotted rope or chained upright in an iron collar. They passed corpses hanging on the gibbet and decapitated heads and quartered bodies impaled on stakes on the city walls. ...

"In village games, players with hands tied behind them competed to kill a cat nailed to a post by battering it to death with their heads, at the risk of cheeks ripped open or eyes scratched out by the frantic animal's claws. Trumpets enhanced the excitement. Or a pig enclosed in a wide pen was chased by men with clubs to the laughter of spectators as he ran squealing from the blows until beaten lifeless. Accustomed in their own lives to physical hardship and injury, medieval men and women were not necessarily repelled by the spectacle of pain, but rather enjoyed it. The citizens of Mons bought a condemned criminal from a neighboring town so that they should have the pleasure of seeing him quartered."


Barbara Tuchman


A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century




Copyright 1978 by Barbara Tuchman


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