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Resource Random facts from Antiquity up to Reinnassance, that might or might not help when Roleplaying in a past setting.

Mar 7, 2018
I will try to make this a small series,once every week, with a couple new facts. I will warn that this is basically a starting point and not the be all end all guide. And since my knowledge is mostly in the military fields, it would probably be what the main core of the facts will come from. And also, I am human, I make mistakes and have my own prejudices.

First of all we should start with something that would be actually useful.

The way law is supposed to act in our day is to be both preventative and punitive of crimes, though it is also supposed to provide rehabilitation so that no crime is ever commited again. Well, this is actually a pretty modern philosophy, I believe it started being thought of as the goal after Cesare Beccaria proposed it, though we first see signs of that in the work of Plato Protagoras, where the sophist says that punishment is given to correct the one who is wrong and not to get revenge.
Medieval law was all about revenge and giving satisfaction to the victim.
I will use as example on how law worked the legal system of the Normans during the Migration era and I believe a couple of centuries after they conquered England. The power to execute the law is given to lords through the King, and he gets it as divine mandate. The lords many times appointed officials that commanded the guard and acted as judges, though the Lord's word always came first. Law was under the power of the local leader. In smaller communities it was the village leader or a shire reeve(though the latter existed during the Anglo-saxon period.). There were three ways to deal with a crime when one was accused of it and found out guilty (strangely it is here that we first find juries, by the German tribes). Wergild, being declared lawless, or even killed, though the latter two were for grave crimes. Wergild basically means man tax, and it was given as a way to make up the crime to the victim. Most of the time it was that that was chosen.

In Byzantium, about at the same time we find that the Ecloga that had been published centuries before added blinding and cutting hands as punishment to crimes, in Ireland you could be made a slave, losing all protection from law and becoming possession of the one you wronged. Cutting hands for thievery was very common amongst many cultures. Generally the law follows the idea of "Eye for an eye."

That would also make prisons something that had no place, in fact until after the middle ages do we see prisons, in a modern sense being built for the first time. In ancient Athens the prison was a detention center for those not paying their fines, but due to how many poor Athenians couldn't the added a time limit to how long they could go in there. In Rome doing a severe enough crime could let you end up in "prison" though it was basically being a slave for the state. Otherwise during the middle ages most "prisons" were the underground rooms of public buildings and they were not meant for staying long, think of them as detention centers until trial.

City Guard and Army.
There were no standing armies during the middle ages, even in Reinassance you see Mercenary armies, most armies were made of folk drafted or being offered pay while being soldiers. Thus as each person had to buy their own equipment and come with it if they wanted to enlist, there was actually no standradisation amongst armies, as some people could bring helmets bought by their great grandparents. The pay of the army was just enough for a man to feed himself and take care of his equipment, and that is why that during the Hundred year war, the doccuments of enlisting had different pays for infantry men, for Men-at-arms, longbowmen, Bowmen with horses (the same with bowmen they just had horses and probably armour), hobilars, and knights. Most of the money for a soldier came from pillaging and looting the conquered areas.

The way conscription worked in different places was so vastly different during times and countries that I would need to write an actual book to give them a description.

The city guard worked roughly the same way, though the duty to guard was given to guilds as part of a tax, to keep the streets safe.

Armour and Weapons.
1)Something that I see wrong in so many movies and books is the weight of weapons and armour. One handed weapons (Maces, axes, warhammers, swords and such) weight from half a kilo to 1, with a few outliers. Two handed weapons about 1 to 2 (Longswords, "Dane Axes" etc.) and the polearms never went more that 5 kilos to my knowledge, which is already a ridiculous weight.

2)The most prevalent weapons in battlefields were spears and polearms, anything other would offer much less destructive potential and reach. So any time you see in a movie some guy go fighting with a sword (arming or longsword) in a movie is an idiot with a lot of plot armour.

3)Weapons are tools and they can break, swords especially so. The only reason they were popular was how easy it was to carry them and their versatility with half-swording, mordhau and other techniques.

4) Armour cost a LOT. A 15th century's knight's armour cost from 300.000$ to 2.000.000$. Basically the Ferrari or Lamborgini of the day, that also was much more useful as it made you a tank in the battlefield.

5)Battles were actually very uncommon, most wars ended with nary a battle, though with many skirmishes and sieges, which meant surounding a place and starving it out, very rarely were charges performed on castles, as they are actually deathtraps for any approaching attackers.

6)War took place in Summer as many of the combatants were farmers and one of the gambits of war was that you would try to catch the enemy before they had harvested dealing an incredible blow to both economy as well as manpower.

And this is the pilot of the series. I hope you found it informative and interesting. Next time I plan to write about weddings a bit.