How to get rich quick in Medieval Europe


Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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13 Responses

  1. Mike Schilling says:

    Does demanding money from the Jewish communities of Europe not to slaughter them count as plunder, religious fervor, or both?Report

  2. valdemar says:

    Indeed, the two crusades that were obviously about plunder were the ones against the Albigensians, and the one against Constantinople. The others were a whole lot more complicated. Check out Emperor Frederick II’s unusual take on the problem. No plunder, no defence, just a peace treaty to allow pilgrims to visit Jerusalem. He was excommunicated for his trouble.Report

  3. T. Greer says:

    Humans gain subsistence from the food they eat. Is this why they prepare the lavish feast?

    Humans are given patronage for the crafts they make. Does this explain the Sistine Chapel?

    Humans extort others through religious practice. Is there no other reason the preacher praises God?

    Humans must have children by way of sex. Is this why men and women fall in love?Report

  4. David says:

    I am saddened to see the quality of this post, as I have enjoyed reading this blog since I found it about a month ago. The vast oversimplification of the first crusade has the stench of a straw man, and appears to be completely against what the post is trying to convey; an argument against the simplification, or reduction of the first crusade and the reasons behind it. In economics we create models (simplifications of the real world) in order to understand how the real world works, history and anthropology are no different. We can create historical and anthropological models to explain why humans did what they did, as well as being able to attempt to explain human behavior over time. The caveat to models is that they are simplified, and not applicable to every situation, but that does not imply there are not grains of truth to the model. Besides that, it is impossible to deduct every single reason and motivation for either historic or modern wars, which is the exact reason why we use models and generalizations to describe history.Report

    • Will in reply to David says:

      @David, I think you misunderstood the aim of this post (which, to be fair, may be my fault). I’m not trying to explain every Crusader’s motivations. I’m trying to convey why Erik’s economic explanation of the Crusades fails on its own terms, largely because there were other, easier targets for medieval knights to pillage.Report

      • David in reply to Will says:

        @Will, There is an economic argument to be made that is a contrast to your point as well. It may have been the case that conquering Flanders would create substantial gains in the short term at a seemingly lesser cost, but one could also argue that conquering Jerusalem would, in the longer run, reap greater rewards (or the illusion that it would) in relation to costs. The fact of the matter is we cannot say whether it was economically more feasible to conquer Flanders or Jerusalem or any other city/country/people because we only know the outcome of one. Then there’s the fantastic Keynesian cynics argument that ‘in the long run we’re all dead’ which can certainly make everything seem arbitrary.Report

        • valdemar in reply to David says:

          @David, I think it must have been fairly obvious by around the Fifth Crusade that conquering and holding Jerusalem was tricky, even to the dullest of knights. Mediaeval people didn’t see history the way we do, I know – but they didn’t have goldfish minds, either. Yes, the first Crusader kingdoms were wealthy, but look at the amount of treasure Richard I plundered from his English realm to fund his crusade. That was not such an unusual event. Crusading drained parts of Europe of treasure.Report

  5. Gilbert says:

    “The materialist theory of history, that all politics and ethics are the expression of economics, is a very simple fallacy indeed. It consists simply of confusing the necessary conditions of life with the normal preoccupations of life, that are quite a different thing. It is like saying that because a man can only walk about on two legs, therefore he never walks about except to buy shoes and stockings. Man cannot live without the two props of food and drink, which support him like two legs; but to suggest that they have been the motives of all his movements in history is like saying that the goal of all his military marches or religious pilgrimages must have been the Golden Leg of Miss Kilmansegg or the ideal and perfect leg of Sir Willoughby Patterne. But it is such movements that make up the story of mankind and without them there would practically be no story at all. Cows may be purely economic, in the sense that we cannot see that they do much beyond grazing and seeking better grazing-grounds; and that is why a history of cows in twelve volumes would not be very lively reading. Sheep and goats may be pure economists in their external action at least; but that is why the sheep has hardly been a hero of epic wars and empires thought worthy of detailed narration; and even the more active quadruped has not inspired a book for boys called Golden Deeds of Gallant Goats or any similar title. But so far from the movements that make up the story of man being economic, we may say that the story only begins where the motive of the cows and sheep leaves off. It will be hard to maintain that the Crusaders went from their homes into a howling wilderness because cows go from a wilderness to a more comfortable grazing-ground. It will be hard ‘to maintain that the Arctic explorers went north with the same material motive that made the swallows go south. And if you leave things like all the religious wars and all the merely adventurous explorations out of the human story, it will not only cease to be human at all but cease to be a story at all. The outline of history is made of these decisive curves and angles determined by the will of man. Economic history would not even be history. ”

    (With regards to Mr. Bramwell)Report

  6. MattSwartz says:

    What was so special about that particular city? Could the fact that it was the holiest site in Christendom have something to do with the Crusaders’ strange fixation?

    Certainly that had something to do with it, but to reduce the motivations of the Crusaders down to just religion and money is to be just as trapped in the present as anyone who posits one of the two would be.

    The Crusaders viewed the HRE as the rightful successor to the old Roman Empire, and victories in the east were essential in that context.Report

  7. Katherine says:

    I agree with you. People fight wars for all kinds of reasons, rational and irrational. It’s hard for modern people to understand the strength that religious motives had during the middle ages, so we prefer to dismiss them as cloaks for economic and political objectives.

    However, one possible reason for the Crusades besides plunder is that it provided a way to unite the church and prevent Christian kingdom from fighting each other, or from fighting the Papacy.Report