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Living in medieval towns and cities was dangerous. Indeed if you were living in one during the middle ages chances are you would constantly be looking over your back. There are 3 reasons why medieval towns were such a dangerous place to live.
Generally speaking, medieval towns and cities were dangerous for 3 major reasons. First, the medieval town was often a trading hub where criminals could easily prey upon traveling merchants and traders. Second, medieval towns often were places of importance that invading armies would seek to control. Third, because of overcrowding and poor infrastructure crime across the peasantry population was high.
Today we take for granted how safe most of our cities and towns are. In the medieval era traveling from the countryside to a nearby market in a town was extremely dangerous. Often wealthy travelers were singled out. However, it is important to remember that not all medieval cities and towns were the same. Some were significantly more dangerous than others.
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Without further ado, here are the 3 reasons why medieval towns were so dangerous
Medieval Towns Were Often Trading Hubs Where Criminals Could Easily Prey Upon Traveling Merchants
One of the reasons why medieval towns and cities were so dangerous was because criminals could prey upon traveling merchants.
There was almost no point in robbing a poor peasant in a town. They simply had nothing to give outside of some beer or bread. While crimes against the common peasantry of a medieval town most certainly took place, a medieval criminal’s best target would be a traveling merchant.
Medieval traveling merchants are often depicted in manuscripts as wearing lavish clothes and riding horses into towns. These merchants would have carried large amounts of either local currency or goods that a criminal would target.
Because of this, crime in cities rose dramatically in proportion to trade in the region. If you were living in a medieval city during the middle or late medieval era you would see criminals constantly attempting to rob merchants.
In the most prosperous cities crime would constantly be a thing. Often local militias would be tasked with keeping the peace but corruption would often impact these proto-policing units. Instead the peasantry would often band together to protect their kin from criminal theft.
Simply put, a medieval town was dangerous because of the prosperity of traveling merchants. These merchants were targets for criminals who would seek the opportunity to rob a wealthy victim.
Medieval Towns Were Often Places Of Strategic Importance Invading Armies Would Seek To Control
Another reason why medieval towns and cities were so dangerous was because they often were located at strategic points for invading armies. The medieval town of London for example is located at a strategic crossing at the river Thames near the sea.
An invading army would have to cross this river eventually. The easiest place to cross was typically where a town or city would be located, in this case London. This drastically increased how dangerous medieval towns and cities were.
Imagine you are living in the medieval town of Lisbon, Portugal. If you lived in the city at all during the 12th,13th, or 14th centuries you would always be under threat of siege due to your strategic importance at a vital river crossing.
When a medieval town or city was conquered often crime against the local peasantry rose drastically. This crime either came from the conquering soldiers who would sack the city or from other peasantry who had to commit crimes to survive.
Now, depending on what medieval city or town you lived in this threat would be less or more. The medieval city of Glasgow, Scotland for example only really had one major conflict during the medieval age called the Battle of Glasgow in 1544.
Generally speaking however, one of the reasons that medieval cities and towns were so dangerous to live in was because of the near constant threat of invasion from outside armies.
Medieval Towns And Cities Were Overcrowded Which Increased How Dangerous They Were To Live In
One of the reasons medieval towns and cities were so dangerous to live in was because of the massive overcrowding issue towards the middle and late medieval era.
Overcrowding was common in the larger medieval cities such as London. Many peasants lived in multi-family homes and had very little to eat or look forward to in life. As a result of this crime would rise in proportion to the population.
London is often cited in history articles when discussing crime rates across medieval Europe. This is because of all the medieval cities London kept the best records of common crime against the peasantry after the Norman conquest in the 12 century.
From 1300-1378 the Coroners of London kept meticulous records of people who were victims of violent crimes in the city of London. This is a rare glimpse into the lives of a peasant living in the average medieval town. As the population of London rose in the decades right before the Black Death struck, crime shot through the roof. Within 30 years violent crime rose by about 2-3x as the population of London grew!
Living in a medieval town or city was dangerous. Not only was disease widespread but also violence was common across the peasantry class of people. This crime would increase along with the population of the city making medieval towns and cities extremely dangerous places to live in.
There you have it; an entire article going over the 3 reasons why medieval towns and cities were so dangerous.
In reality throughout most of human history towns and cities were dangerous places to live. It has only been recently that towns and cities across the world became safer places to live.
Here at The History Ace I strive to publish the best history articles on the internet. If you enjoyed this article then consider subscribing to the free newsletter and sharing around the web.
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