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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The Gecko: 04 August, 2000

The Gecko: 04 August, 2000

You think life is hard? Keep in mind a few obscure items on the Middle Ages in

Europe from William Manchester's A World Lit Only By Fire:

"Although homicides were twice as frequent as deaths by accident, English

coroners' records show that only one of every hundred murderers was ever brought

to justice."

"Among the lost arts was bricklaying; in all of Germany, England, Holland,

and Scandinavia, virtually no stone buildings, except cathedrals, were raised for

ten centuries."

"Conquering Saxon rebels [Charlemagne] gave them a choice between baptism

and immediate execution; when they demurred, he had 4,500 of them beheaded in one


"[Europeans] trudged into the 16th century in the clumsy, hunched, pigeon-toed

gait of rickets victims, their vacant faces, pocked by smallpox, turned blindly toward

the future..."

"...The period seems to have been the worst of times - an age of treachery,

abduction, fratricide, depravity, barbarism, and sadism. In England, by royal decree,

the Star Chamber sent innocent men to the gallows ignorant of both their accusers

and the charges against them."

"...The most dangerous enemy in Europe was the Pope ... the five Vicars of

Christ who ruled the Holy See during Magellan's lifetime were the least Christian

of men: the least devout, least scrupulous, least compassionate, and among the least

chaste - lechers almost without exception .. they were medieval despots who used

their holy office for blackmail and extortion."

"In the hardest times [peasants] devoured bark, roots, grass; even white

clay. Cannibalism was not unknown. Strangers and travelers were waylaid and killed

to be eaten, and there are tales of gallows being torn down-as many as twenty bodies

would hang from a single scaffold - by men frantic to eat the warm flesh raw."

"The chief legal penalty was execution. There were alternatives in lay courts

- ears were cut off, tongues ripped out, eyes gouged from their sockets..."

"The average man stood a few inches over five feet and weighed about 135

pounds. His wife was shorter and lighter ... Life expectancy was brief; half the

people in Europe died, usually from disease, before reaching their 30th birthday."

"The level of everyday violence - deaths in alehouse brawls, during bouts

with staves - was shocking. [Tournaments] were vicious sham battles by large bands

of armed knights ... occasions for abduction and mayhem. As late as the year 1240,

in a tourney near Dusseldorf, 60 knights were hacked to death."



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