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Old November 16th, 2016, 01:48 PM   #11

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Originally Posted by Matthew Amt View Post
Quite the opposite. In a small community, everyone knows everyone, and everyone knows everyone else's business! Sure, they didn't have the forensics to show that a chicken wasn't carried off by a fox, but they might easily spot feathers where there shouldn't be any feathers. And there were various legal procedures, but if everyone else in the village thought you stole that chicken, no court in the world is going to help with whatever retribution your neighbors dish out. (Ranging from frowns to lynching.)

So felonies (by our description) were likely quite rare, and could be dealt with quickly and efficiently. Note that certain things we consider crimes might simply be seen with disapproval--wife beating springs to mind.

BUT there are certainly plenty of surviving records that deal with crimes and punishments. Might take a little serious research to get just the right statistics, but there might be a couple good books on the subject. Haven't looked, myself!

Matthew
You would like know that your neighbor doesn't have a chicken, so if you you woke up one day minus yours and he had just miraculously gained one, well...
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Old November 16th, 2016, 02:28 PM   #12

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This is an article on historical murder rates which might be useful
Historical Study of Homicide and Cities Surprises the Experts - NYTimes.com

ps: This article was written in 1994, since when there has been a significant fall in the murder rate in nearly all Western nations.
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Old November 16th, 2016, 11:13 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Matthew Amt View Post
Quite the opposite. In a small community, everyone knows everyone, and everyone knows everyone else's business! Sure, they didn't have the forensics to show that a chicken wasn't carried off by a fox, but they might easily spot feathers where there shouldn't be any feathers. And there were various legal procedures, but if everyone else in the village thought you stole that chicken, no court in the world is going to help with whatever retribution your neighbors dish out. (Ranging from frowns to lynching.)

So felonies (by our description) were likely quite rare, and could be dealt with quickly and efficiently. Note that certain things we consider crimes might simply be seen with disapproval--wife beating springs to mind.

BUT there are certainly plenty of surviving records that deal with crimes and punishments. Might take a little serious research to get just the right statistics, but there might be a couple good books on the subject. Haven't looked, myself!

Matthew
Exactly! Not to mention IF there would be wolves or a bear close to your village, the men certainly would try to do something about that — kill, for preference.

Possibly an alternative question might be how much violence, rather than crime, there would have been compared to modern society? And the answer likely is massively more, just not criminal in nature.

Though wife-beating would not have been seen with disapproval. Rather NOT beating your wife might have been considered a social problem. You would not be living up to your role as pater familiar if the women, children, servants and other dependent were not smacked about a bit from time to time. It was only if you clearly derived too much enjoyment from it, and it left people crippled or dead, you'd get in trouble.
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Old November 17th, 2016, 12:13 AM   #14

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Based on records from medieval China they dealt with many of the same types of criminals we still see today--street gangs, thieves, prostitutes, con-artists and swindlers, people who cheat at games, counterfeiters, forgers, smugglers, loan sharks, corrupt government officials and police officers, juvenile delinquents, etc. Army deserters often became bandits to survive. Many powerful families also supported gangs of thugs to do dirty work on their behalf. There were also dealers in illegal goods. Sorcerers were also considered criminals. Black magic (aka the activities of religious cults that weren't recognized by the state) was a serious crime.

Reliable historical statistics on crime are hard to find. Even in the modern age, crime statistics don't become reliable until the mid 20th century, even in big cities like New York. In many cases police departments would be rewarded based on how low reported crime was in their area. It was easier to just lie about the crime levels than to actually fight crime.

Last edited by stevapalooza; November 17th, 2016 at 12:24 AM.
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Old November 17th, 2016, 12:22 AM   #15

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Violence or crime ...


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Originally Posted by Larrey View Post
Exactly! Not to mention IF there would be wolves or a bear close to your village, the men certainly would try to do something about that kill, for preference.

Possibly an alternative question might be how much violence, rather than crime, there would have been compared to modern society? And the answer likely is massively more, just not criminal in nature.

Though wife-beating would not have been seen with disapproval. Rather NOT beating your wife might have been considered a social problem. You would not be living up to your role as pater familiar if the women, children, servants and other dependent were not smacked about a bit from time to time. It was only if you clearly derived too much enjoyment from it, and it left people crippled or dead, you'd get in trouble.
I was just going to post a general consideration about evaluating crime in the past: a crime exists if there is a law stating that such a behavior is criminal.

The duel is the most evident example of this: in the past it wasn't a crime to kill someone during a regular duel with witnesses. Today it's anyway a crime in not a few countries.

And also about minor crimes, the social inequalities generated contexts in which members of the high classes felt free to prevaricate, discriminate and even abuse of the members of the low classes.

But if similar behavior were socially accepted, the perception of the individual wasn't to be committing a crime.

Slavery is an other great example of this: until it was socially accepted and justified, a slave trader didn't feel to be a criminal.
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Old November 17th, 2016, 04:56 AM   #16
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At least in the West, police forces were virtually non-existent until the last two centuries. Law must be backed up by force, and before police forces that force usually came in the form of soldiers. In medieval times, one obtained the protection of the law by becoming the client of a warlord who had armed men at his disposal. A warlord only extended his protection over people who were useful to him so if a person did not have a job, he was an outlaw. Also, serfdom tied most of the population to one specific community for their entire lives, so anyone who did not have a known home in a settled community could also be an outlaw.

While I agree with the above posters that small communities tend to be law abiding, there are plenty of stories from the Middle Ages of outlaws living in the forest. Raids on settlements for food and valuables were fairly common as well as attacks on travelers, etc.

Without modern forensics it was more difficult to catch criminals. Without penitentiaries, reform schools, parole officers, etc there was no attempt to reform criminals and turn them into productive members of society. Once an outlaw, always an outlaw.

I'd be skeptical about using the term 'organized crime' in the Middle Ages, but there were outlaw gangs. The desire to get other people to do work for you is a constant throughout history. A powerful criminal could use intimidation to maintain a crime monopoly in a certain area. He could also retain the loyalty of his followers by offering services such as protection or the fencing of stolen property.
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Old November 17th, 2016, 01:29 PM   #17

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All my reading of history leads me to the view that in the past violence was far more prevalent in society than today. There may have been less stealing, but how much of that was due to the fact that people had less for other people to steal.
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Old November 17th, 2016, 04:18 PM   #18

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I am actually in the middle of reading a very interesting book, "Democracy: The God That Failed" by Hans-Herman Hoppe. He compares the regimes of absolute monarchies with democratic republicanism and in his opinion taxes as well as crime rise in the latter.

I think you may find this interesting:

[...] to that of some of the wilder places of the present age, McGrath ("Treat The to a Good Dose of Lead," pp. 17-18) sums up thus by stating that the frontier towns of Bodie and Aurora actually suffered rarely from robbery ... today's cities, such as Detroit, New York, and Miami, have 20 times as much robbery per capita. The United States as a whole averages three times as much robbery per capita as Bodie and Aurora. Burglary and theft were also of infrequent occurrence in the mining towns. Most American cities today average 30 or 40 times as much burglary and theft per capita as Bodie and Aurora. The national rate is ten times higher.... There were no reported cases of rape in either Aurora or Bodie Today, a rape occurs every five minutes. . . . More than 4,100 of them occur in Los Angeles county alone.... The rape rate in the United States per 100,000 inhabitants is 42....[Violence, including homicide, was frequent in Bodie and Aurora] but the men involved were both young, healthy, armed, and willing. . . .
Yes, men (and some women) went about armed and male combatants killed each other, mostly in fights where there were somewhat "even chances." On the other hand, the young, the old, the female, and those who chose not to drink in saloons and display reckless bravado were rarely the victims of crime or violence. Moreover, dirty, low-down scoundrels got their just dessert.... In early 1950s the city of Los Angeles averaged about 70 murders a year. Today the city averages more than 90 murders a month - In 1952 there were 572 rapes reported to the LAPD. In 1992 there were 2,030 reported. During the same years robbery increased from a reported total of 2,566 to 39,508, and auto theft from 6,241 to 68,783.


This may not very "pre-modern" but thought I'd share.
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Old November 17th, 2016, 04:28 PM   #19

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Originally Posted by redcoat View Post
This is an article on historical murder rates which might be useful
Historical Study of Homicide and Cities Surprises the Experts - NYTimes.com

ps: This article was written in 1994, since when there has been a significant fall in the murder rate in nearly all Western nations.
That is interesting, it seems to contradict the theory that a small community would be a more law abiding place in pre-modern times, so does the quote in Ivars post.
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Old November 17th, 2016, 06:14 PM   #20

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All my reading of history leads me to the view that in the past violence was far more prevalent in society than today. There may have been less stealing, but how much of that was due to the fact that people had less for other people to steal.

Even relatively recently the world was a lot rougher and more violent. If we could go back in time to Whitechapel at the time of Jack the Ripper or New York in the same era the first thing that would strike us would probably be a policeman's club.
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