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muck's comprehensive list of medieval-ish stereotypes debunked

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  • #16
    Originally posted by Morlach View Post


    Such as?

    For example?
    Well if I may chime in, the Eastern Roman Empire (aka "Byzantium") par example, progressed immensely in the field of surgery in the Middle Ages, and its subjects enjoyed the first organized health care system anywhere in the world since the 4th c. when Basil, as Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, built a whole city (literally) for the sick, poor, widows, orphans, and leprous (the famous "Basileias") which was run by monks, nuns, and trained physicians.
    In the 11th c. Michael Attaliates founded a large hospital in downtown Constantinople, with a hierarchy of physicians, teaching facility, a home for the elderly, and a leprosarium outside the city.
    All the great hospitals in the Empire were run jointly by the State, the Church, and the noble families (we know of the Comneni and the Dalasseni who provided hospitals with steady cash) while medical care in the hospitals was provided free of charge for the poor.
    During the reign of Constantine VII the first recorded in history successful surgery to separate conjoined twins takes place. A poor Armenian family with conjoined Siamese twins (in Greek: "συμπεφυκότες ἀπὸ τοῦ στόματος τῆς γαστρός μέχρι τῶν ὑπὸ γαστέρα" - "conjoined from the mouth of the abdomen (i.e. navel) up to the hypogastrium") came to Constantinople for surgery. During their stay in the capital, one of the twins died and the surgeons had to proceed to surgery immediately ("ἐπειράθησαν τὸ νεκρωθέν ἀποτεμεῖν μέρος ἐπ' ἐλπίδι τοῦ τὸ ἕτερον ζήσεσθαι" - "they (the surgeons) tried immediately to separate the dead brother hoping that the other would survive").
    The operation was successful, the second brother died (probably of sepsis) though a few days later ("ἐπὶ ἡμέρας ἐπιβιούς, ἐτελεύτησεν" - "he lived for days (but) he died").
    The account was given to us by the historian Ioannes Skylitzes in the 11th c.
    The myth that the "Dark Ages", were...ehh Dark, is just that, a myth.

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    • #17
      Originally posted by Morlach View Post


      The key here is that those things happened DESPITE and IN SPITE OF of prevailing medieval mentality and customs. Almost everything you mentioned was present and used in Europe in antiquity, almost always better and to a higher degree.

      Gunpowder was initially regarded as magic and Devil's work. Hellenistic and Roman architecture and engineering were better; towns and cities of medieval Europe were small squalid slums compared to Metropolis of Antiquity; their mathematicians, natural philosophers and astronomers were head as well.

      The period until Renaissance is the classical Middle Ages. From there until great geographical discoveries it was an increasingly less agrarian economy and feudal society (in the sense of almost feudal anarchy level of Germany and France during High Middle Ages).

      The key here is Eastern Roman Empire, which never underwent a cultural and technological Dark and Medieval period, and whose sacking and looting opened up a way for long forgotten ideas and knowledge to spread to rest of Europe.

      Assuming a western Europe-centric point of view and then applying to whole of European continet produces wrong conclusions. Eastern Europe and Mediterranian area had completely different socioeconomic and political situtation during the same timeline.
      Disagreed there. Or rather it should be analysed area by area
      In construction area, there were major improvment during Medieval Age : look at the Castles and Cathedrals
      Off course, early style looked primitive in regard to 800 year later achievements (and yet some technics to obtain for example a gothic arch need precise maths and know how, otherwise the whole wall ends upon your head)
      Engineering was on par to what was seen during Antiquity (yes there were medieval aqueduct or sewers in some cities, large bridges or paved roads in some areas) at least and better in some area (like heavy lifting)
      Some areas stagnated or even decreased in quality though, especially when it was religiously linked : i.e medicine and surgery was not on par to previous knowledge
      And still there were Universities teaching that
      We are looking Medieval Age as a monolithic era while there were blossoming of new technics (looming for another example, glass working, another one, foundry another one) depending of the period (often late Medieval Age rather than Early Medieval Age i.e post 1000 BC) and geographical position/country
      But once discovered, the knowledge was transmitted pretty quickly, one thing where Medieval Age was good at was merchants/technics transmitting/goods and knowledge fares

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      • #18
        Great thread... my 2 cents, don't shoot me.

        Originally posted by muck View Post
        In my books, the medieval period lasted from Charlemagne's acension (800) to the imperial throne until the discovery of America in 1492.Charlemagne's acension (800) to the imperial throne until the discovery of America in 1492.
        I know that the discovery of America was important, but for me it's more the start of a different era rather then the end of the previous one. Keeping inline with an "imperial definition", I would use Charlemagne's ascension to the imperial Roman throne as a start date, but I would use the fall of Constantinople (1453) as the end date. With the fall of Constantinople, the last vestige of the Roman empire was gone and the Ottomans were here to stay (rather than an external threat like the Mongols).


        Originally posted by muck View Post
        The largest armies of the period were raised by the Ottomans, whose wealth, top-notch administration and extensive network of roads allowed them to raise armies of well above 40000 men. Not before the 1470s became Europe's lords able of mustering comparably-sized armies. The top contestant for the largest army ever raised by a Christian medieval lord is Moldavia’s Stephen the Great, who in the Battle of Vaslui in 1475 is believed to have commanded 51000 men.
        Ok, interesting. While Stephen the Great was "a force" in the region and had numerous victories (like the Battle of Vaslui), he lost at the strategic level (it was unsustainable to keep fighting). This shows the strength of the Ottomans Empire (probably the only entity behaving as a true empire at that time in Europe).

        Interesting fact about Stephen the Great forces. In Romanian old (nationalistic) movies the army is shown to be made mostly by foot infantry. However, historians now say that most of his force was light cavalry (mercenaries) and it was not uncommon for peasants to bring their own horses for mobility when joining the core mercenary force. So in light of this, I can see the 51k army being a quick mobilization (Vaslui is really in the center of Stephen's Moldavia) rather than a standing army situation (pure speculation on my part).

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        • #19
          Valtrex Fully agree, my second post expanded upon the continuity of Eastern Roman Empire and the advances and progress there.


          Mordoror Walls of Constantinople were a league ahead of anything Medieval in Western Europe, and Aqueducts, grand temples and Amphiteatres miles ahead of anything Medieval engineers and construction could execute. Gothic cathedrals are the exception and were the most impressive and awe-inspiring Medieval structures and it was their purpose to be and instill awe. The city size and urbanisation level is indicative, as is the nature of economy prevalent in Europe during classical feudal period.
          Roman highways were significantly better than Medieval roads, and many Roman paved roads and highways survive to this day, not to mention they were used in Medieval period. The industrial effort of Antiquity trading and military ports dwarfed Medieval ones. Population in areas of Roman Empire times was reached again in 19th century I believe.
          Glass working is an ancient technique, both coloured and transparent glass manufacture. Phoenicians, Carthaginians pioneered it.

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          • #20
            Originally posted by Morlach View Post


            The key here is that those things happened DESPITE and IN SPITE OF of prevailing medieval mentality and customs. Almost everything you mentioned was present and used in Europe in antiquity (glasses are a good catch, movable type printing press is not medieval), almost always better and to a higher degree. I originally started writing a comprehensive post on each point you raised, but realised it detracted from the discussion at hand.

            Gunpowder was initially regarded as magic and Devil's work. Hellenistic and Roman architecture and engineering were better; towns and cities of medieval Europe were small squalid slums compared to Metropolis of Antiquity; their mathematicians, natural philosophers and astronomers were significantly ahead as well. The only impressive structures built in medieval period are Gothic Cathedrals, deliberately so.

            The period until Renaissance is the classical Middle Ages. From there until the great geographical discoveries it was an increasingly less agrarian economy and feudal society (in the sense of almost feudal anarchy level of Germany and France during High Middle Ages).

            The key here is Eastern Roman Empire, which never underwent a cultural and technological Dark and Medieval period, and whose sacking and looting opened up a way for long forgotten ideas and knowledge to spread to rest of Europe, kickstaring the Renaissance actually.

            Assuming a western Europe-centric point of view and then applying to whole of European continet produces wrong conclusions. Eastern Europe and Mediterranian area had completely different socioeconomic and political situtation during the same timeline.
            In realize that I used a generalization when mentioning 'Europe', but everything already present during antiquity (and better too you say) is perhaps a bit of a stretch. Feel free to correct me with factual information.

            However 'in spite of' or 'despite' does not mean it did not happen, it did. The important bit is that it happened 'during' even if in some instances it turned out to be a 'reinvention'.

            The printing press was introduced in 1440, the movable type printing press came indeed later. but I did not write 'movable type' printing press.

            Fact remains that the dark ages were a lot less dark and backward than assumed by the uninformed.

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            • #21
              Originally posted by Morlach View Post
              Valtrex Fully agree, my second post expanded upon the continuity of Eastern Roman Empire and the advances and progress there.


              Mordoror Walls of Constantinople were a league ahead of anything Medieval in Western Europe, and Aqueducts, grand temples and Amphiteatres miles ahead of anything Medieval engineers and construction could execute-1. Gothic cathedrals are the exception and were the most impressive and awe-inspiring Medieval structures and it was their purpose to be and instill awe. -2 The city size and urbanisation level is indicative, as is the nature of economy prevalent in Europe during classical feudal period.-3
              Roman highways were significantly better than Medieval roads, and many Roman paved roads and highways survive to this day, not to mention they were used in Medieval period. The industrial effort of Antiquity trading and military ports dwarfed Medieval ones. Population in areas of Roman Empire times was reached again in 19th century I believe.
              Glass working is an ancient technique, both coloured and transparent glass manufacture. Phoenicians, Carthaginians pioneered it.
              1- Disagreed. There are achievments that are on par with roman building. If you do not want to take in consideration western europe ones, think a bit about NE/ME ones (and particularly Ottoman ones). You have aqueducts, mosquees, bridges that are of quality and still exist today.

              2-That they were awe inspiring on purpose we agree. Which means that the technics to built them to be awe inspiring existed (including mathematic calculations, engineering and material working)

              3- You are comparing a centralized power with a clustered society. Of course Rome was a large city (up to 1 M inhabitants, main city + suburbs) yet it had also its gloomy period (down to less than 1/3 with monuments and urban landscape decaying); A centralized hearth of an Empire is an attracting lighthouse but is also depending of external inputs for its growth. In the meantime if you look other medieval Empires (not necessiraly europeans) you have cities as large or as developped (Tenochticla, Angkor, Beijing, Samarkand)
              Yet with not centralized political systems some western cities have grown pretty big and pretty developped (London, Hanseatic League cities. In the same idea you had Antiquity Roman Empire cities (peripherical ones) that were smelly cesspools.
              Development of a city is depending of the population pool and economical/social importance you give it. Again, achievment during Middle Age was impered in Western Europe by several disasters (post invasions social and political disorder, black plague, lack of strong centralized state), yet some cities were pretty successful in term of urbanism AND craft
              Again, look the Hanseatic cities
              In short, not all medieval cities were mud riddled with wooden walls tribal gatherings

              PS if you want to put things in perspective London grew to 90K inhabitants for a population pool of around 4-5 millions
              When Rome grew up to 1 million but on a population pool of 20 to 23 millions for the Western part of the Empire
              Last edited by Mordoror; 11-10-2017, 06:21 AM.

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              • #22
                Originally posted by muck View Post
                In the period of between 1000 and 1450, only the crusader armies drawing on the strength of many European kingdoms exceeded a size of 20000 men-at-arms. For said period, reports of Christian-European armies of more than 40000 men are *universally* dismissed as false and what the movies portray is false.
                Question, when you refer to "men-at-arms", in what sense do you use the term? Are you referring to a man-at-arms in the sense of his socio-military class, or are you using it more broadly to cover all men under arms? If the latter, then i would contest the above assertion.

                As for a dismissal of the idea that Crusader armies ever numbered more than 40,000 men at their very largest, out of interest, where has this universal dismissal stemmed from? I can't say i have encountered it myself.

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                • #23
                  muck you've piqued my curiosity. This is one era in history I know criminally little about. If you had to point to 1 book on the subject, would you have any recommendations?

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                  • #24
                    Originally posted by Spartan10k View Post
                    muck you've piqued my curiosity. This is one era in history I know criminally little about. If you had to point to 1 book on the subject, would you have any recommendations?
                    A single book on the Medieval and Early Modern period? If one exists, i have yet to come across it mysef!

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                    • #25
                      Originally posted by ~UNiOnJaCk~ View Post

                      Question, when you refer to "men-at-arms", in what sense do you use the term? Are you referring to a man-at-arms in the sense of his socio-military class, or are you using it more broadly to cover all men under arms? If the latter, then i would contest the above assertion.

                      As for a dismissal of the idea that Crusader armies ever numbered more than 40,000 men at their very largest, out of interest, where has this universal dismissal stemmed from? I can't say i have encountered it myself.
                      hey UJ. Glad to read you again
                      Recent logistical analyses say that the footprint of a 40+K army in the NE landscape was barely sustainable if they were all here at once
                      If technically crusaders armies could be made of tenth of thousands of "crusaders" so understood as fighters it happened that
                      A lot of those labelled as crusaders were none combattant in the army (including civilians, monks etc)
                      Not all fighters (or crusaders, see above) were deployed at the same moment i.e a lot were waiting in Sicily, Malta, Rhodes, Italia, Byzantium to go to the Levant christian kingdoms. Ships were limited in number, passage rights were depending of the good will of Genoan, Venetians powers and hindered by Muslim raiders

                      Arsuf, Hattin , among the largest of all 5 crusade battles, gathered between 10K and 20K fighters on crusader side. The siege of Acre reached 20-25K over several months with sea reinforcement.
                      From memory not a single time you had a fully 40K crusader army deployed. Maybe at the height of Jerusalem Kingdom power (with short logistical lines and still entire dominions to provide food, grain, horses and support) but that's pretty much all

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                      • #26
                        One of the big limitations to the size of an army (from recollection at any rate) was the amount of food/fodder needed by horses. If you couldn't take hay (and other fodder) with you - and the resources to do so were usually limited - then horses need a lot of grazing area. Something in the vicinity of 1 acre per 10 horses per day. It was very easy to graze out an area and not be able to support almost any cavalry.

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                        • #27
                          Originally posted by Mordoror View Post

                          hey UJ. Glad to read you again
                          Recent logistical analyses say that the footprint of a 40+K army in the NE landscape was barely sustainable if they were all here at once
                          If technically crusaders armies could be made of tenth of thousands of "crusaders" so understood as fighters it happened that
                          A lot of those labelled as crusaders were none combattant in the army (including civilians, monks etc)
                          Not all fighters (or crusaders, see above) were deployed at the same moment i.e a lot were waiting in Sicily, Malta, Rhodes, Italia, Byzantium to go to the Levant christian kingdoms. Ships were limited in number, passage rights were depending of the good will of Genoan, Venetians powers and hindered by Muslim raiders

                          Arsuf, Hattin , among the largest of all 5 crusade battles, gathered between 10K and 20K fighters on crusader side. The siege of Acre reached 20-25K over several months with sea reinforcement.
                          From memory not a single time you had a fully 40K crusader army deployed. Maybe at the height of Jerusalem Kingdom power (with short logistical lines and still entire dominions to provide food, grain, horses and support) but that's pretty much all
                          Hey Mordoror, likewise mate.

                          I'll cut straight to the point on the issue of crusader armies*. I think it is important to remember that a crusader army existed in phases or states throughout its life, so with that in mind it is important to set the parameters of the debate. By that i mean, are we referring to a crusader army as it existed at the point of contact with the enemy, or the army at its formation? Perhaps we might refer to the state and composition of the force as it transited to the East? Certainly, if primary sources are to be believed (and that, in itself, is a historiographical minefield that i could go on endlessly about!) we might well be led to believe that crusader armies at the point of inception tended to be really quite large with their later states poorly reflecting overall levels of participation on any one expedition.

                          The crusader force that arrived in the Holy Land in 1099 was far smaller than the army which had set out from Europe the preceding year for example. Attrition, the splintering of the expedition as it reached Anatolia and beyond, all contributed to a significant reduction in its size by the time its remnants actually reached the gates of Jerusalem. We do know however that the recruitment campaign in aid of the First Crusade had been particularly aggressive, and the novelty element to the whole event played a significant part in influencing participation (on the other hand, however, the geographical footprint of the recruitment effort was far more limited than in later expeditions). Theoretically, the expedition had the potential to have been very large. Frederick Barbarossa’s expedition, as part of the Third Crusade, has been suggested by some to have numbered potentially upwards of 100,000 men as it transitioned through Asia Minor (though was much reduced by the time its shattered remnants reach the Holy Land).

                          In another instance, the account of Geoffrey of Villehardouin, detailing the failed Fourth Crusade of 1204, suggests that the crusade’s hierarchy were anticipating a huge turnout when they began to assemble in Northern Italy, potentially upwards of 80,000 or more participants if i remember correctly (though i could well be significantly wrong on the figure) - that nowhere near this many ever turned up in reality is another matter entirely! It could be interpreted to suggest a precedent however. Also, it is important to remember that, by the time of the Fourth Crusade, levels of “civilian” participation on crusade, if you want to call it that, had dropped dramatically. In complete contrast to the earlier expeditions of the 12th Century, a crusade of the 13th century was, usually, overwhelmingly comprised of combatants. Again, this evidence is somewhat circumstantial, yet it cannot be discounted given that material such as this is often the best we have available to us.

                          Of course, for various reasons, it is difficult to use the sources to accurately attempt to pin down the sizes of crusader forces throughout the period. The narrative nature of the majority of said material, combined with all sorts of risks to do with factual accuracy/reliability on behalf of the author, means that specific military detail is either absent or horribly vague/unreliable. Sadly, this means i either can’t give specific figures, or I am unable to feel confident enough to assert any figure i could provide with all too much conviction. I do, however, think it is possible to entertain suggestions that there were potentially occasions where the military elements of a crusade may well have exceeded the 40,000 mark. I would grant that these occasions would have been fairly exceptional, but i believe the conditions, certainly the political conditions at least, existed that would have allowed such a situation to become possible.

                          Cheers!

                          *I must caveat myself here - the minutiae of crusader warfare wasn't ever really my field, my own focus was upon the Crusades as an entity, so i am by no means claiming any sort of expertise in this particular matter!
                          Last edited by ~UNiOnJaCk~; 11-10-2017, 01:07 PM.

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                          • #28
                            Originally posted by TheKiwi View Post
                            One of the big limitations to the size of an army (from recollection at any rate) was the amount of food/fodder needed by horses. If you couldn't take hay (and other fodder) with you - and the resources to do so were usually limited - then horses need a lot of grazing area. Something in the vicinity of 1 acre per 10 horses per day. It was very easy to graze out an area and not be able to support almost any cavalry.
                            Crusaders often had very little compunction about raping a land of its resources en route to the Holy Land if that is what was required. God wills it of course! Eastern Europe and the Byzantine Empire can attest to that much!

                            In later expeditions, it also proved useful to buy the assistance of the Italian City states, particularly Venice and Genoa, who could render significant support to crusader expeditions from the sea, provided they hugged the coast of course!

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                            • #29
                              A great list, and one of the posts worthy of old MP.net


                              One thing you already mentioned but which might be needed to be emphasized:

                              The (european) middle ages are usually seen as a lawless age:
                              It was not. In fact in the period between 900 and the the Religious Wars, society was if anything MORE legalized than afterwards.
                              Rule was not absolute but rather a very complex system of interdependencies that left no one really free to do as he pleased, from the lowest peasant to the Holy Roman Emperor.

                              19th century history tends to focus on kings, knights, battles and heroics because that is the stuff with which you can build patriotic legends, while today's history concentrates on the socio-economic interdependencies which makes medieval history sound dreadfully boring but is probably closer to every day life.

                              The "Neuzeit" (in German the period starting with the Reformation and lasting basically until the Age of Enlightenment, these laws were successively broken down by religious strife, absolute rule and economics (and maybe even climate change), creating a climate of insecurity

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                              • #30
                                Originally posted by TheKiwi View Post
                                One of the big limitations to the size of an army (from recollection at any rate) was the amount of food/fodder needed by horses. If you couldn't take hay (and other fodder) with you - and the resources to do so were usually limited - then horses need a lot of grazing area. Something in the vicinity of 1 acre per 10 horses per day. It was very easy to graze out an area and not be able to support almost any cavalry.
                                Even in 1812 and 1941 this was still a problem. From memory 500,000 horses involved in Barbarossa. Yes much of the equipment had changed but the reliance on horses was little different to their forefathers.

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