Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Tag: social status

Warrior or Hired Killer?

May 2, 2008

In China, the warrior was despised as a hired killer; aristocrats and commoners alike could bear swords, so there was less of a mythology about swords and their power; and obligation to family was seen as the first duty, whereas in Japan that duty was loyalty to public entities. These differences combined to produce very different histories.

Richard Cohen, By The Sword, p. 153

From Ghazi to Sipahi

May 2, 2008

The ghazi warriors who provided the original cutting edge of Ottoman expansion were land-hungry freebooters of diverse origins. An increase in the size of this group was essential if the Ottoman state was to continue expanding. The timar system provided an economic basis for a numerous class of such sipahis, whose obedience was ensured by institutionalizing denial of the hereditary principle in the Ottoman law of feudal land-holding, and whose appetite for warfare was stimulated by the enticing prospect of fresh plunder perpetually available across the frontiers of the empire. According to the Venetian ambassador…there were 80,000 sipahis in European Turkey in 1573 [C.E.] and 50,000 in the Asiatic provinces, together with 15,000 sipahis ‘of the Porte’, household cavalry who were paid by the treasury and did not receive timars. The sipahis remained an unruly class, militarily valuable but politically untrustworthy, whose turbulence it was necessary to balance and control by increasing the numbers and improving the efficiency of public administrators and by establishing a body of household infantry whose effectiveness on campaign and loyalty to the sultan were beyond question. It was in response to these requirements that the Ottomans of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries developed slavery as a fundamental social institution; organizing by this means a supply of obedient and talented soldiers and administrators on a scale suited to the demands of a great imperialist power.

Paul Coles, The Ottoman Impact on Europe, pp. 49-50

The Despised Foot Soldier

May 1, 2008

Protected by plate armor and the pride of chivalry, the noble felt himself invulnerable and invincible and became increasingly contemptuous of the foot soldier. He believed that commoners, being excluded from chivalry, could never be relied upon in war. As grooms, baggage attendants, foragers, and road-builders—the equivalent of engineer corps—they were necessary, but as soldiers in leather jerkins armed with pikes and billhooks, they were considered an encumbrance who in a sharp fight would “melt away like snow in sunshine.” This was not simple snobbism but a reflection of experience in the absence of training. The Middle Ages had no equivalent of the Roman legion. Towns maintained trained bands of municipal police, but they tended to fill up their contingents for national defense with riff-raff good for nothing else. Abbeys had better use for their peasants than to employ their time in military drill. In any epoch the difference between a rabble and an army is training, which was not bestowed on foot soldiers called up by the arrière-ban. Despised as ineffective, they were ineffective because they were despised.

A Distant Mirror, p. 89

Emphasis mine.

The Combat of the Thirty

November 7, 1997

Chivalry’s finest military expression in contemporary eyes was the famous Combat of the Thirty in 1351 [C.E.]. An action of the perennial conflict in Brittany [part of the Hundred Years War], it began with a challenge to single combat issued by Robert de Beaumanoir, a noble Breton on the French side, to his opponent Bramborough of the Anglo-Breton party. When their partisans clamored to join, a combat of thirty on each side was agreed upon. Terms were arranged, the site was chosen, and after participants heard mass and exchanged courtesies, the fight commenced. With swords, bear-spears, daggers, and axes, they fought savagely until four on the French side and two on the English were slain and a recess was called. Bleeding and exhausted, Beaumanoir called for a drink, eliciting the era’s most memorable reply: “Drink thy blood, Beaumanoir, and thy thirst will pass!” Resuming, the combatants fought until the French side prevailed and every one of the survivors on either side was wounded. Bramborough and eight of his party were killed, the rest taken prisoner and held for ransom. In the wide discussion the affair aroused, ‘some held it as a very poor thing and others as a very swaggering business,’ with the admirers dominating. The combat was celebrated in verse, painting, tapestry, and in a memorial stone erected on the site. More than twenty years later Froissart noticed a scarred survivor at the table of Charles V, where he was honored above all others. He told the ever-inquiring chronicler that he owed his great favor with the King to his having been one of the Thirty. The renown and honor the fight earned reflected the knight’s nostalgic vision of what battle should be. While he practiced the warfare of havoc and pillage, he clung to the image of himself as Sir Lancelot.

A Distant Mirror, pp. 137-38

Emphasis mine.

Magicians as Intellectuals

November 7, 1997

Right up to and through the Renaissance, magicians were classed among what we today would call intellectuals. They were learned men, familiar with ancient lore and languages, with the obscure symbolism of signs and numbers. They read the stars and dabbled in the mysticism that surrounded alchemy. They were respected. In the early centuries of Christianity, magic was not considered an evil thing. In a world thought to be inhabited by men and angels and devils, men also believed in spirits neither good or bad; spirits of the air, of fire, of the sea, of the mountains, of the woods, of the winds. It was believed that if a person was sufficiently learned in the art of magic, he could summon and control these powers; make them do his bidding. It was only at the very end of the Middle Ages, and particularly in the Renaissance enlightenment, that animism lost its hold on men’s minds.

Leonard Ashley, The Wonderful World of Magic and Witchcraft, p. 2