Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Medieval Paupers

The Medieval Paupers - Presents a lecture by Lynn Harry Nelson, Emeritus Professor of Medieval History, The University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas. Nelson examines Medieval paupers by categorising them into three groups, physically incompetent, socially marginalised and economically deprived and examines factors contributing to this state, as well as outcomes of this state.

From the site:

About 20% of the medieval population were destitute and homeless, wandering the roads of Europe looking for work or for charity, and climbing beneath a roadside hedge to die. Although they were ubiquitous, they have been neglected by historians because of the lack of sources discussing them directly. One exception was the starving beggars who followed "King" Tafur on the First Crusade. They were utterly without fear and, when food was low, would go out and capture one of the Muslim opponents. They would then roast and eat him. Leaders of both Muslims and Christians feared the beggars and finally conspired to lure them out into a waterless desert and abandon them there without supplies. Only a few survived.

Poverty became institutionalized by the early modern period and remained so until the European empires could raise living standards generally by exploiting their colonies. Now that the colonial system has collapsed, there are signs of the reappearance of a permanent underclass even in the industrialized nations. So the beggars of the middle ages may not have been so much a reflection of medieval society's lack of sensitivity or humanity as a result of economic changes that they were unable or unwilling to control.

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