Reply To: Armed citizens in medieval Europe

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Hans Hellinger

Imperial city is a modern technical term for cities which go down the path that Babylon and Athens and Carthage and Rome went down of conquering their neighbours. Many cities in medieval Italy did this on a small scale (Florence and Sienna and Pisa Prato).

Venice’s empire in Crete, Cyprus, and at one point most of the Peloponnese (not to mention the terrafirma and Dalmatia) was not just a snack! I think they got into a big fight with Maximillian in the Alps.

“Imperial city” in the middle ages though means something completely different. It means a city which has Imperial Immediacy.

I don’t mean to be rude but this is pretty basic stuff.

Venice had some territory under their influence but they did not seek out to conquer the world and break all their rivals the way Rome did. Their territory in Dalmatia and Crete and Cyprus were all part of their trading network. Their main rival was the other trading city of Genoa. The goal was to keep the silk and pepper flowing from the Silk Road and the gold and silver flowing from all over Latin Europe and the Middle East.

Rival trade routes Venice and Genoa

However both Venice and Genoa were true City States and were not truly within the Immperial system – the HRE extended some power South of the Alps but after Legnano nobody was in fear of the Emperor.

Most towns with an artisan or partially artisan government had pretty liberal weapon laws for citizens. Again, this is because the citizens made up the bulk of the town watch and the militia.

That does not follow at all. A very common solution, in the country I was born in and others, is requiring people to own weapons and keep them at home but sharply restricting how and where they can be carried. People usually pass these laws themselves because they are tired of armed people making trouble.

Though it may not make sense to you on a personal level, it is the historical reality and it is the result of the political compromise between the corporative bodies which made up the city. It is just how the German speaking towns, and before that most of the Latinized European communes all around Europe, decided to handle it. The Germans were somewhat unique in their emphasis on laws intended to control violent behavior among armed men.

The talk had some great details I had not heard before, but it made some broad claims about weapons in daily life and then supported them with evidence which was overwhelmingly from the 16th century. Maybe it was delivered for someone like the Meyer Freifechter folks who are focused on the 16th century, but the sixteenth century is not medieval! Everyone agrees that swords and weapons are much more visible in everyday urban life in 16th century Europe than 14th century Europe, so we can’t just extrapolate back from the 16th century any more than we can extrapolate forwards from those early medieval law codes about every free man having to carry their spear and shield to the assembly.

Please show me where “everyone agrees” to this? Lol!!!

That one specific lecture focused on 16th Century sources because it was derived primarily from Professor Tlusty’s book as I stated pretty clearly in the beginning of the lecture, and she only deals with Early Modern sources for the most part (though she extends Early Modern to the 1450’s)

However the notion that everyone across 1,000 years of European history made the decisions that you and Thucydides think made sense is somewhat ludicrous. The existence of the laws against drawing (as opposed to carrying) swords go back to the 13th Century in most towns under German Town Law, and this is hardly a secret. It also affected fencing masters and other famous people.

Johannes Paulus Kal for example was fined the standard 3 gulden for drawing his sword during an altercation in Nuremberg on 17 March 1449. You can read about it here. It’s worth noting that Kal was not a noble, but was rather an artisan.

““Item meister Paulus Schirmeister von des fridpruchs wegen zwey teil widergeben und von werzuckens wegen gar nemen.” Master Paulus breaking the peace by drawing his arms. (10)”

The famous Pirate Störtebeker was similarly fined 3 gulden and exiled from Wismar in 1380 for drawing his sword and breaking a mans bone with it. This was recorded in the Liber proscriptorum (“fortification book”) of Wismar though I don’t remember the page.

These kinds of incidents, and those specific laws, are found all over the Holy Roman Empire and in all the regions around it where towns followed German town law, including Poland, Livonia, Sweden, Finland, Bohemia, Silesia, Lusatia, Austria, Hungary, the Swiss Confederation, the Rhineland, and to a large extent, the Low Countries.