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Violence and Predation in Late Medieval Mediterranean Europe

  • Daniel Lord Smail (a1)

In the full-text databases of Latin sources from Europe from the period between 400 and 1500, the Latin word for violence crops up around two thousand times, about as often as “justice” (2,400) though not as often as other interesting words like “envy” (6,000) or “vengeance” (3,800). The frequency of use of the word, adjusted for the vagaries of survival, reveals an interesting trend. From the tenth to the eleventh centuries, an age of predatory castellans and violent territorial expansion, the frequency nearly doubles in the extant literature, and remains high for several centuries to come. The word often appears in texts alongside nauseating tales of violence, of hands lopped off and eyes plucked out and intestines dragged from their hidden recesses. There is the story told by Guibert of Nogent about the predatory castellan Thomas de Marle, who hung his captives by their testicles until the weight of their own bodies tore them off. These were exempla. They painted verbal pictures of the behavior of those who were surely doomed to hell. In the hands of clerical authors like Guibert, they served as a goad to kings and princes who, in their indolence, might allow this stuff to go unavenged.

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
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