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"Castles, Battles, and Bombs" Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP22 Aug 2022 8:02 p.m. PST

"Historians may cringe, but the popular "castle and knight" image of the High Middle Ages does contain important elements of truth. Certainly, warfare was constant. To denizens of the twenty-first century, the scale of war a thousand years ago appears small, but the share of resources that was consumed by war was enormous. This consumption included not only the expenses of waging war but, almost invariably, the deliberate destruction of economic assets that accompanied invasions, and sometimes retreats as well. Power lay with substantial property owners. In the absence of powerful centralized governments local rulers could and did make war for almost every reason imaginable. To be sure, tradition, chivalry, and (occasionally) law did place some limits on warfare, but it was almost impossible for any medieval ruler of substance to avoid fighting for his entire career.

Few were disposed to try. Trained from boyhood in the ways of war, even the less aggressive were rarely inclined to surrender territory or privileges just to avoid fighting. This did not mean that the decision to fight could be made casually or irrationally. As any economist will remind us, resources are always limited and placed on medieval rulers a far more stringent constraint than is the case today. A modern state possesses impressive tools to wage war such as a national tax system, conscription, and credit. None of these existed a thousand years ago. Rulers might tax, but neither economic reality, administrative capacity, nor tradition would allow collections anywhere near as extensive or methodical as today. Conscription was unknown. True, men could be ordered to wage war, but only for periods specified by tradition. And credit on a scale fit to serve an entire nation only began to appear late in the thirteenth century and was not, at any rate, a realistic option for lesser nobles. A king in 1008 was far more aware of the need to make …"

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