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Trials: Share What You Know/

Discussion in 'Research' started by Creed, Mar 6, 2015.

  1. Creed

    Creed Sage

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    I've started writing a story where one of the two main characters is going to be tried for war crimes. It is in a medieval continental empire, but without much context (except that we're not talking about a modern day sort of situation) I'm just wondering what you guys and gals know about trials from other cultures, whether it be Ottomans or Aztecs. I'm not aiming for a trial-by-combat resolution but anything would be helpful, as well as interesting.
     
  2. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    "War Crimes" is a fairly modern concept...
    What are they accused of?
    Are they on the winning side?
    Are they of Nobel Birth? as that might affect the way "justice" was delivered...
    I know that some Native American Cultures had a fairly relaxed and unofficial structure where the elders would gather round and just decide the fate of the accused if there was something that someone thought needed working out. Mitigating factors would be brought in for or against the accused and the accuser/victim. The elders would argue/debate until a consensus was reached. And sometime the "verdict" could be strange in our eyes.
    I read of a case in one of the Pueblos where a man lied about owning some sheep [that were really someone-else's sheep]... So after a lot of discussion the elders agreed that the sheep really were his to howls of anguish from the aggrieved party [who it was decided wasn't a very good shepherd if his sheep had "strayed"], but now the accused had too many sheep and wasn't sharing his wealth the way you were supposed to so he had to supply all the food for one of their ceremonies, and that cost him far more than the worth of the no-really-they-are-my sheep...
     
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2015
  3. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

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    Hello :)

    I hope you find what you're looking for and truly I wish you luck. I could be wrong but as I understand it, (except for something to effect of espionage, treason or the conspiracy to commit either) I would guess that you will not find War Crimes (in the modern sense of the term). Prior to the Geneva Convention (and arguably still today) war is brutal and the idea of laws surrounding conduct in it would likely be foreign in the Medieval mindset. You know the saying ... "all is fair in love and war".
    In the modern sense "war crimes" might refer to rape, pillaging, salting the earth, genocide attempts, etc. - except for salting the Earth (which I think was actually Rome + Carthage) none of these sound too far outside the scope of Medieval warfare.

    Of course in Fantasy you can craft your culture to have a code of conduct that pertains to warfare. You can declare anything you want to be a crime- wearing more than one shoe at a time? off to prison for you! ... as long as you maintain continuity of course :)

    I'm not sure if this will be helpful but you could try looking at this The Retrial of Joan of Arc: The Evidence for her Vindication: Pernoud it has been sitting on my bookshelf and I keep meaning to read it but never get around to it. (It's from a Catholic Publishing company so it might be a little biased in its wording but the history should speak for itself). If I remember correctly, it is a re-examination of St Joan D'arc's trial and should therefore give you some insight into a Medieval trial (admittedly this was for Heresy, not War).

    If you haven't already read it, I would like to add this to the list
    The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century: Ian Mortimer: 9781439112908: Amazon.com: Books

    I bought it a few months ago and must say it is a wonderful reference for English history. Of course every nation and culture will have differences in the way they conducted trials but this might be a valuable tool for you if you're interested in an approachable secondary source which I thought explained the courts decently (as well as virtually every other part of the culture).

    Otherwise, you might also consider looking into Templar and inquisition trials.
    Hope this helps!

    Oh! - I wanted to ask - is your world a conglomeration of Medieval cultures on a continental land or did you mean that you are looking at continental Europe (Frankish/Carolingian/French, Germanic or Slavic regions)?
     
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2015
  4. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

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    There were Codes of Conduct that medieval knights were supposed to follow, like the Truce of God, the Peace of God, and Just War Doctrine. However, breaches of those codes of conduct were rarely punished amongst secular knights. The Templars and Hospitallers did apply those codes of conduct to themselves, though.

    Oh, and a side note- despite the popular belief, Rome did not salt Carthage. The city was eventually rebuilt and became one of the largest and most prosperous cities in the western half of the empire.
     
  5. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    The first trial we think of involving war crimes is this one:

    I have been a trial lawyer for 20+ years, and a medievalist even longer. I have a huge library on medieval trials, and war crimes. If you have specific questions let me know. Otherwise I might go on and on...

    The idea that war should be conducted in certain ways goes waaaaaaaaaaaaaay back. The problem is usually enforcement mechanisms.
     
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2015
    Creed likes this.
  6. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

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    I had an intricate and eloquent message written but alas I am a fool and it was accidentally deleted... (oops)
    You are right. I apologize for my momentary stupidity (I would like to say it's a phase but I'm still waiting for it to go away). I completely forgot about the Just War Doctrine. St Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica should prove useful.
    St. Thomas Aquinas, On War

    I am sure there are tons of documents out there but for non-polyglots such as myself, finding the texts translated in your language of choice can prove to be a difficult task. (I suppose it would help tremendously if you could make sense of the Latin - I recognize bits and pieces but it is often too complex for me to actually comprehend. Then of course there's the other two in the Historical Trinity of languages - French and German but I digress...)

    :redface: I'm in my early 20's and now feel like a child in comparison. I humbly bow before thee and thy great wisdom. Teach me EVERYTHING you know- pretty please.
     
  7. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    And I bow before your clear and obvious knowledge of some of the great theological texts of the Holy Mother Church which you have clearly mastered far beyond your tender years.

    If you ever need to know anything about law (medieval or modern), the law of war, or medieval stuff please feel free to ask. My focus is German/Austrian/Northern Italian for the medieval stuff, but am fairly broadly read. Did an interesting presentation on "Fighting Women of the Middle Ages" not long ago that went over really well. Oh yes and Fechtbuchs, how could I forget Fechtbuchs?
     
  8. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    I researched Celtic culture (mostly for the clothing for my own personal uses) and found their laws to be very unique and interesting. It's a bit advanced for the world, but maybe it would work in your story.

    The Celts didn't have prison. Everything was settled with fines. I know I've mentioned this stuff here before but I'll be brief this time. If you killed a neighbor's goat, you had to pay for the goat and the loss of future kids, milk, etc. If you killed a nobleman's goat, the fine was less severe than killing a poor man's goat, where the goat meant more to him. It seems basic and unrelated to war, but the laws encompassed many things, some as trivial as right of way upon two men meeting on a bridge (the poor man with his cart would go before a nobleman on his horse). Also, fines settled disputes like "My neighbor stole two of my cows and killed my uncle in their raid." Fines covered everything and for good reason...without money, a man couldn't have a wife, children, or claim to the clan's community land (which traded hands every year or two from family to family, so everyone had better or worse land and no one got an unfair shake). Poverty was punishment. People were exiled from their clans if they disgraced their names.

    In the Plymouth colonies, fines were used, but also public degradation (stocks or prison). Two young lovers who were found fornicating would be given fines and whipped (if they refused to marry after the incident..they got away without the whipping if they agreed to marry). These laws encompassed mostly religious transgressions (traveling on Sunday, missing church, denying the scriptures) but also social ones (getting drunk, lying in public, or gambling with dice or cards). And a few carried death sentences (willful burning of ships or houses, willingly committing murder).

    When a culture decides what is a crime, it must fit with the ideals of the culture. Also, the penalty has to be pertinent to the culture. The Celts who had no prisons couldn't give jail time, and even Plymouth Colony didn't have a prison, just a lock-up for the occasional wrongdoer to spend a couple days thinking about what they had done. :)

    Some punishments from the ickier times in Europe have captured my imagination and while I'm partially disgusted by the brutality of our ancestors, I find the ingenuity of some torture conducted in public rather fascinating. Sorry if that sounds morbid. I wouldn't at all like to live at a time when corporal punishment was accepted, but some aspects of the great fear one must have suffered, being led to a Catherine Wheel or even a gallows--because the sharp drop wasn't invented until late in the game (1783)...I mean, it had a definite drama, public execution or corporal punishment. Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel? Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel? - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    I think if you want to try someone for war crimes, there are two parts to it. One, who is the authority? If say you had poachers caught on a nobleman's land, he didn't have to send word for a judge. He hung the criminals. If a man in the city was caught drunk and disturbing the peace, he was arrested by guards under a sheriff (shire reeve) and locked up for a little stay in their prison. But who would try an international criminal? Where there is a justice system in place, there must be an authority at the helm, or you're dealing with noble justice. If the offending foreigner is noble, he may be entitled to a trial before a senate/ priest/ nobleman of higher standing. If the crimes he committed are capital offenses, he would be executed by the highest-paid executioner and it would be the monarch's approval alone that condemned him.

    This is really a bigger issue than a crime and a penalty. Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned for many years and Queen Elizabeth had a very difficult time with her execution. When someone is royal or noble, their status demands certain things like proper accommodations. If your character is foreign, he need not be treated like a dog. He may have every claim to live out his days in a plush tower, with his wife allowed to visit every weekend and stay the night. History is wonderful in all its spectacular intricacies.

    I'd imagine the crimes ought to be weighed, along with the character's status. Plainly, if he's a nobody, no one will stop anyone from killing him. If he's got a name, good luck getting through the Medieval red tape. In fact, in Renaissance England, the only crimes a nobleman could be charged with were murder, treason, and felony. And anyone wearing his livery enjoyed the same invincibility. "Oh, you were drunk and punched your coachman? That's shameful, My Lord. Don't do it again in public." Ha! Okay, not really, but kinda.

    So, I hope my weird law babble from history got your wheels spinning a little. Think about what you want to happen to the character, then pick the right status, social climate in the city/ country (because all were not created equal. Some cultures felt noblemen were invincible while others held the nobles to a higher standard and punished them more harshly), and a crime that gets the job you need it to do done.

    Best wishes.
     
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  9. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    If you're literally looking for a "trial", I can suggest some interesting things from other cultures. Some natives form the Amazon would use a red-hot spoon to pour toxins on someone's hand. If the wound festered, he was found guilty and if it healed, he was set free. Of course, all it took to earn a man that scar was for someone to accuse him of stealing from them. Ouchies. I'm not sure I remember everything correctly, but in certain accusations, the accused and accuser were both wounded (burning the tongue, I think) and so if you levied a charge, you wanted to be really sure you had a case, because if your burned tongue healed slower than his, he walked and you both had a hard time eating for a week.

    Witch trials were similarly interesting and unfounded in science of course, and those happened for like 300 years. Witches float, witches don't burn at the stake, etc.

    Other trials may not be anything more than both parties bringing their case before the ranking noble/ senate/ prince/ governor/ etc. and the judge hearing both sides. I'm not sure what your world is like, but it seems to me if you can draw a comparison to a historical people, it might be easy to look at how they governed and conducted legal issues. Let's not forget bribery, blackmail, extortion, threats, etc. The mafia didn't invent that stuff...it's as old as the idea of fairness. If someone saw an opportunity to advance their position, they might stoop to that level, including a foreigner who is standing trial for war crimes he felt justified in committing.

    And I'm just remembering a scene from Borgias, where France came through Rome and was going to sack the city, but Rome frightened France's army off with their fortification. France left, raping and pillaging and murdering their way home out of anger, and really, the only safe people were those who lived in the city. Peasants often paid the price for their warring nobles, not just invading armies. In fact some of the "code" knights lived under was regarding not killing peasants because often neighbors would have a spat and one would raid the other, cutting down field workers and commoners with abandon, and they actually had to pass a law that it wasn't kosher. Of course that was a time when human lives had less value (pre-plague Europe). Post plague, there was a lot less of that because the poorer classes became richer and suddenly there weren't enough people to work the nobles' fields. I digress. My point is that you need to weigh what a life is worth in your world. What is your character's life worth, what did his crimes cost those he offended, and most importantly, what makes the most sense for a punishment?
     
  10. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    Another issue is that, historically, the winner has been able to prosecute the loser for war crimes and not vice versa. So --again, historically -- it's generally been worth it if it meant you'd win. There has also been an impetus to make 'em count when you do 'em.

    Airing grievances on the floor of the UN; the Hague, Nuremburg, and Geneva Conventions; this is all fairly new and the concept would have been laughable just a hundred years ago.

    Most men will only make war honorably when they're sure someone's watching.
     
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  11. K.S. Crooks

    K.S. Crooks Inkling

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    For older versions of war crimes try researching treason against the crown and heresy against the church. A prime example of the second would be what was done to Galileo.
     
  12. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    My mistake; I should've done my homework. The Hague Conventions on war crimes were almost exactly a hundred years ago. But wow, how time flies.
     
  13. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I will not try to improve on the excellent advice here regarding war crimes trials. As you can see, there really wasn't such a thing in the Middle Ages, so you're not likely to find much of use there.

    So, make it up! Clearly this is going to be a set piece in your story, so construct it however you want.

    You will, however, need to make the issues clear to your reader. You will want to avoid the phrase "war crime" but you can create your own. Someone did something awful, and is about to be brought to justice for it, right? Make sure your reader feels the outrage, the shock, the desire for justice. If you do that, your trial scene will be every bit as dramatic as it needs to be. It will feel real.
     
  14. Creed

    Creed Sage

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    Thank you, everyone!
    Warfare in my Universe is just as brutal as any, but the difference here is framed by politics and the historical interactions of the countries that now form the Empire. Certain measures are being taken to keep the whole Empire together by diplomatically getting rid of provincial discontent. Also when a city was destroyed in the Unification Wars it sort of set a precedent for the soon-to-be victors for absolute revenge and at the same time to be better than the sects that killed hundreds of thousands.
    Anyways, I'll definitely work with what you've all put down here. I'm aiming at more bureaucratic red tape so that the person being tried (who is a noble) can kind of get away with it, and at the same time lose his position of privilege so that he's made more vulnerable. This will give the characters a time frame (i.e. their plans need to unfold before the trial). Also keeping in the Empire's desire to keep the Provinces happy, I'll include people from across the continent, so reeves and governors, as well as judiciaries and nobles who have extra titles.
    Thanks again!
     
  15. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    The Galileo Trial is not really a good example of a heresy trial for a multitude of reasons. There are tons of good examples of heresy trials extant. Galileo's is really an abberation on many levels. Especially the way the was treated.
     
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