Sunday, January 26, 2014

Military history books: Medieval hostage taking

War In History Volume 20, Number 3 presents a review of Hostages in the Middle Ages by Adam J. Kosto.  Kosto has studied and produced many works on the subject of hostage taking.  This particular book traces the use of hostage taking by military leaders through the Middle Ages.  Unlike the modern age where hostage taking is considered a criminal and barbaric act, in the Middle Ages, hostage taking was a common practice to ensure that a promise was kept by the family or allies of the hostage.

The author traces changes in the system, arguing that before 1000 AD hostage taking was more of a status act rather than one designed to enforce a promise.  Early medieval kingdoms were weak and poorly defined and weak institutions required the use of hostages to maintain power.  As government institutions developed, hostage taking became more of a mechanism involved in financial transactions.

The reviewer notes that the best part of the book is when Kosto discusses the fate of hostages when promises or deals are not kept.  Often, hostages did not suffer for this, possibly because then their worth was lost if killed.  The book does not fully address the taking of whole communities as hostages which was apparently widespread during the Hundred Years War.  Overall the reviewer recommends this book as an important study of a subject that is not widely studied and written on.  As a subject that impinges directly on the conduct of medieval warfare, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the politics of medieval warfare. 
 1801 - "Norman soldiers" from Military Antiquities Respecting a History of The English Army from Conquest to the Present Time by Francis Grose

No comments:

Post a Comment