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Wed Feb 27, 2013, 03:18 PM

We think of the Middle Ages as being more violent than modern times, but I wonder if it really was.


Some of their punishments were pretty barbaric--we think of beheading as being barbaric--but you're just as dead from Old Sparky
or lethal injection.

And they had torture chambers...oh, wait...

But I wonder if--on average--it was more violent than the present time.





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Reply We think of the Middle Ages as being more violent than modern times, but I wonder if it really was. (Original post)
raccoon Feb 2013 OP
KittyWampus Feb 2013 #1
snooper2 Feb 2013 #2
MineralMan Feb 2013 #3
HooptieWagon Feb 2013 #4
Scootaloo Feb 2013 #6
HooptieWagon Feb 2013 #8
MineralMan Feb 2013 #5
OceanEcosystem Feb 2013 #7
RevStPatrick Feb 2013 #9
Warren Stupidity Feb 2013 #10
Javaman Feb 2013 #11

Response to raccoon (Original post)

Wed Feb 27, 2013, 03:19 PM

1. The NYTimes had an editorial that said life has become very much less violent over history.

It seems counter-intuitive…. I will see if I can find it.

FOUND IT FOR YOU

The central thesis of “Better Angels” is that our era is less violent, less cruel and more peaceful than any previous period of human existence. The decline in violence holds for violence in the family, in neighborhoods, between tribes and between states. People living now are less likely to meet a violent death, or to suffer from violence or cruelty at the hands of others, than people living in any previous century.

Pinker assumes that many of his readers will be skeptical of this claim, so he spends six substantial chapters documenting it. That may sound like a hard slog, but for anyone interested in understanding human nature, the material is engrossing, and when the going gets heavy, Pinker knows how to lighten it with ironic comments and a touch of humor.

Pinker begins with studies of the causes of death in different eras and peoples. Some studies are based on skeletons found at archaeological sites; averaging their results suggests that 15 percent of prehistoric humans met a violent death at the hands of another person. Research into contemporary or recent hunter-gatherer societies yields a remarkably similarly average, while another cluster of studies of pre-state societies that include some horticulture has an even higher rate of violent death. In contrast, among state societies, the most violent appears to have been Aztec Mexico, in which 5 percent of people were killed by others. In Europe, even during the bloodiest periods — the 17th century and the first half of the 20th —­ deaths in war were around 3 percent. The data vindicates Hobbes’s basic insight, that without a state, life is likely to be “nasty, brutish and short.” In contrast, a state monopoly on the legitimate use of force reduces violence and makes everyone living under that monopoly better off than they would otherwise have been. Pinker calls this the “pacification process.”

It’s not only deaths in war, but murder, too, that is declining over the long term. Even those tribal peoples extolled by anthropologists as especially “gentle,” like the Semai of Malaysia, the Kung of the Kalahari and the Central Arctic Inuit, turn out to have murder rates that are, relative to population, comparable to those of Detroit. In Europe, your chance of being murdered is now less than one-tenth, and in some countries only one-fiftieth, of what it would have been if you had lived 500 years ago. American rates, too, have fallen steeply over the past two or three centuries. Pinker sees this decline as part of the “civilizing process,” a term he borrows from the sociologist Norbert Elias, who attributes it to the consolidation of the power of the state above feudal loyalties, and to the effect of the spread of commerce. (Consistent with this view, Pinker argues that at least part of the reason for the regional differences in American homicide rates is that people in the South are less likely to accept the state’s monopoly on force. Instead, a tradition of self-help justice and a “culture of honor” sanctions retaliation when one is insulted or mistreated. Statistics bear this out — the higher homicide rate in the South is due to quarrels that turn lethal, not to more killings during armed robberies — and experiments show that even today Southerners respond more strongly to insults than Northerners.)



http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/books/review/the-better-angels-of-our-nature-by-steven-pinker-book-review.html?bl&_r=0

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Response to raccoon (Original post)

Wed Feb 27, 2013, 03:21 PM

2. Ever try one of these on



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Response to raccoon (Original post)

Wed Feb 27, 2013, 03:24 PM

3. It's a good question, but a hard one to answer, really.

There aren't enough statistical data to really do a study on this, and the population of the world was very much smaller during that period. That said, punishment for minor offenses was much harsher than today. In addition, the average lifespan was much shorter. Diseases that couldn't be treated were common, and early deaths due to disease were also common.

As for actual violence between individuals, I don't know. There simply aren't any data on that that are complete enough to draw good conclusions about the rate of violence per 100,000, which would be the only measurement that could be compared.

It was hard living in those times for most people. Beyond that, it's difficult to say.

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Response to raccoon (Original post)

Wed Feb 27, 2013, 03:31 PM

4. There wasn't nations then...

More like a bunch of fiefdoms or warlords. England had half a dozen "kings", so did what became France. All these warlords were attacking each other to seize land...since land was wealth. So there were not only Viking raids, but various Goths, Vandals, Huns, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Moors, and many other tribes in a pretty constant state of war with each other. I'd say it was more violent than today. Just imagine a situation worse than Afghanistan, that covered all of Europe.

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Response to HooptieWagon (Reply #4)

Wed Feb 27, 2013, 03:37 PM

6. Higher incidence of violence, lower resulting fatalities in general

Though the lower fatalities is mostly a circumstance of fewer people in general.

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Response to Scootaloo (Reply #6)

Wed Feb 27, 2013, 03:42 PM

8. I'm not sure about that.

Primitive medicine probably resulted in many "survivable" injuries becoming fatal. And, although not violence-related, there certainly was more disease, plague, famine, and childbirth deaths then. Life in the Middle Ages was indeed brutal and short.

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Response to raccoon (Original post)

Wed Feb 27, 2013, 03:34 PM

5. Here are some data on population in Europe

during that period. Source is http://scholar.chem.nyu.edu/tekpages/population.html

Numbers are in Millions

Population of Medieval Europe according to Carlo Cipolla
Region 1000 1300 1500 1700
Balkans - - 7 8
Low Countries - - 2 3
British Isles 2 5 5 9
Danubian - - 6 9
France 5 15 16 19
Germany 3 12 13 15
Italy 5 10 11 13
Poland - - 4 6
Russia - - 10 18
Scandanavia - - - 3
Spain &Portugal - - 9 10

The numbers in the table are in millions. Switzerland (whose maximum population was estimated at 1.2 million) was omitted from the data above. The data is from

For blank periods, I assume that no data are available

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Response to raccoon (Original post)

Wed Feb 27, 2013, 03:39 PM

7. I think the idea is that there is more media and TV reporting, etc., nowadays.

 

So that people think we live in a violent world when it's actually relatively peaceful.


Not sure where I read that from, but that was what it said.

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Response to raccoon (Original post)

Wed Feb 27, 2013, 04:14 PM

10. massively more violent with respect to homicide rates



http://andrewhammel.typepad.com/german_joys/2007/04/german_murder_r.html

see also steven pinker's work on this subject.

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Response to raccoon (Original post)

Wed Feb 27, 2013, 04:47 PM

11. Yes, they were. I just finished a fantastic book. Here...

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