City Defence And Abstract Threats

Once upon a time, towns and cities were self-governing, and the burgesses – that is, the chartered citizens, or shareholders as we might say now – had both valuable rights and onerous duties. For example, if the city was attacked, everyone had to get up on the walls and fight. The necessity of doing so was intuitive; the strictest pacifist would be up there too, carrying water, doing first aid or praying. In many periods, the penalty for inadequate city defence was looting, rape, massacre or extermination. For that reason, the women of the city did not lecture their menfolk about patriarchy, they were too busy dropping rocks on the attackers.

Less intuitive is a military obligation to march out and up to other cities in order to attack them. And indeed, the medieval urban codes of Spain – a country consisting less of noble rural estates than of towns with agrarian possessions – contained very close regulation of just who and when and for how long the burgesses were obliged to campaign in the field. (Unless, that is, they actually wanted to mount a razzia for the booty; Ávila, for example, used to raid up to the walls of Seville until a big military disaster, whereupon the city went strangely quiet for a whole generation.)

The medievals would not have understood twentieth-century states’ ability to deploy conscript armies for lengthy aggressive or overseas wars, sometimes without even letting them do any proper looting and raping. We may wonder whether they would understand how our state-controlled media are able to parlay the natural and intuitive understanding of community defence into a kind of popular geopolitics, so that the Texans were told to be very afraid of a Nicaraguan invasion.

Posted on July 16, 2009 at 11:15 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: GETTING MEDIEVAL, The Past Is Another Country

2 Responses

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  1. Written by James Beck
    on July 17, 2009 at 00:40

    You mean, we aren’t being invaded by Nicaragua? What about the banana-gap?

  2. Written by Hugo Grinebiter
    on July 17, 2009 at 08:54

    Mr Del Monte, he working on it.

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