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A Suburb of Thieves

Discussion in 'Writing Resources' started by skip.knox, Dec 29, 2019.

  1. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I came across a reference to Merseburg being a city of thieves and had to follow it up. Sure enough, there's a passage in Widukind of Corvey in reference to Henry II of Germany. The king took convicted thieves and put them into a suburb of the city (the word suburb simply means "below the wall"). Here's one translation:

    "It was a band composed of robbers; for the king, who liked to be mild toward his subjects, exempted even thieves or robbers, when they were brave and warlike men, from their deserved punishment and caused them to be settled in the suburb of Merseburg. He gave them fields and arms and ordered them to keep the peace with their countrymen; against the Wends, however, he let them make plundering expeditions as often as they pleased."

    The Wends were pagan Slavs living around the area of the lower Elbe River and were a constant worry for over two centuries.

    Anyway, there you go. A city (well, suburb) of thieves, documented. Kewl.
  2. Pemry Janes

    Pemry Janes Sage

    They had a particular set of skills, which was useful. Still, I wonder what happened with the next generation. Did raiding become a family tradition?
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Raiding from both sides along that frontier was persistent, from the 10thc (which is when Henry was living and Widukind was writing) until the 12thc, when the Wends finally and permanently converted to Christianity.

    The generational question is interesting, but we have no information. Widukind ties it pretty specifically to the character of Henry himself, so the practice may well not have surivived. But those men surely had families. At a guess, I'd say their children became citizens of Merseburg, and thievery was something your grand-dad had done. But it's still a cool notion.

    Resettlement was done much more often in the Middle Ages than one might expect, from Charlemagne re-settling the Saxons (and basically doing ethnic cleansing) to Emperor Frederick II creating an entire town of Muslims in southern Italy at Lucera.
  4. Love that Skip! It's perfect fodder for a story where the thieving tradition is carried forth generation to generation. Perhaps even respected as much any other trade might be.

    When I was in grade school, I got my hands on the novel "Big Stick Up At Brinks" which recounted the stories of the eleven men who pulled off the largest (at the time) bank robbery in US History in 1950 Boston. I and a few other boys in our class LOVED that book. Pored over it until the pages were falling out. The details of the lives of those men, their first hand accounts of shoplifting, robbing safes, breaking into armored cars, planning the main heist for seven years, their relationships with the local cops, the corruption etc and the era itself was fascinating to us too. But what really grabbed the attention of my 11 year old self was the fact that, in Boston, they were regarded as heroes among the working class masses for pulling off the "perfect crime". :) I may need to start an outline. . .
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    The notion the story inspired in me is a city of mages. It couldn't be very big, but everyone in there would be a magician. The fishmonger is a wizard. So is the mayor, the jailer, the carpenter, etc. You can't even get into the city unless you're a wizard--all the gates are magical. Maybe the only animals are familiars. I'm not sure I could play it straight; even thinking about it makes for giggles.

    I wonder if Henry allowed his thieves to steal from each other. <g>
  6. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Maester

    I started out my novel 'The Ways of Wizardry' in a city where everyone is a wizard but it is in a 'pocket universe' rather than the main world and the folks there are descended from refugees. I don't linger very long, however, but allow my pair of protagonists to find a way back to a world where magic is more rare. Which baffles them, to be sure.
    skip.knox likes this.

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