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Part II - The Violence of Governments and Rulers

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 March 2020

Matthew S. Gordon
University of Miami
Richard W. Kaeuper
University of Rochester, New York
Harriet Zurndorfer
Universiteit Leiden
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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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Bibliographical Essay

Modern historians of early medieval China have given little direct attention to the topic of state-sanctioned violence. In contrast, scholars of the pre-imperial period embrace this theme because of the contemporary approbation of warfare and human sacrifice serving the ancestral cult. Major works in English are Lewis, Mark Edward, Sanctioned Violence in Early China (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990); Roderick Campbell, ‘Blood, Flesh and Bones: Kinship and Violence in the Social Economy of the Late Shang’, unpublished PhD thesis, Harvard University, 2007; Campbell, ‘Transformations of Violence: On Humanity and Inhumanity in Early China’, in Roderick Campbell (ed.),Violence and Civilization: Studies of Social Violence in History and Prehistory (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2014).

The two authors who have made the greatest contributions to explaining early medieval violence primarily analyse the causes of political instability, and secondarily describe the concomitant bloodshed. Chittick, Andrew, Patronage and Community in Medieval China: The Xiangyang Garrison, 400–600 ce (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010) studies a local garrison’s relationship with the courts of the Southern Dynasties and argues that when a patron’s ties with military clients dissolved, the dispersed warriors instigated civil wars and dynastic changes. Eisenberg, Andrew, Kingship in Early Medieval China (Leiden: Brill, 2008) describes elite politics as a manifestation of classic Weberian patrimonialism and argues that rulers consciously manipulated factional rivalries with violent results.

Most of the evidence to write this chapter was gathered from narratives of political and institutional history, particularly The Cambridge History of China (CHC), which at the time of writing still did not have a volume published on the Six Dynasties (220–581). To fill this lacuna, I relied mainly on Eisenberg’s and Chittick’s above-mentioned books, and works of Scott Pearce including his monumental dissertation, ‘The Yü-wen Regime in Sixth Century China’, unpublished PhD thesis, Princeton University, 1987.

Two noteworthy works on later political history include David McMullen, ‘Put Not Your Trust in Princes: A Political Analysis of the Imperial Clan from 755 to 805’, Tang Studies 36.1 (2018), 1–56. and Wang, Hongjie, Power and Politics in Tenth-Century China: The Former Shu Regime (Amherst: Cambria Press, 2011). About a third of McMullen’s magisterial article is devoted to imperfect policy solutions to the internecine violence of the Tang imperial lineage during the eighth century. Wang’s book is the most detailed study in English of a southern state.

For the harem, McMahon, Keith, Women Shall Not Rule: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Han to Liao (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2013) provides a great deal of incidental information about the violence inherent to power struggles in the palace. Guisso, R. W. L., Wu Tse-t’ien and the Politics of Legitimation in T’ang China (Bellingham: Western Washington University, 1978) and Harry Rothschild, N., Wu Zhao: China’s Only Female Emperor (New York: Longman, 2008) provide information on Empress Wu’s exercise of violence.

Bibliographical Essay

Few works have focused primarily on violence in premodern Japan, although frequent low-level conflict and increasingly protracted, full-scale warfare feature prominently in any account of the twelfth to sixteenth centuries. The often-elusive boundaries between state-sanctioned and private violence have meant that different uses of force have been tackled as much in terms of the positions of those performing violent acts as in terms of the institutional frameworks that regulated and sanctioned those practices. The violence of members of the state or of governing regimes has been addressed in terms of three distinct if frequently overlapping dimensions: war waged by members of the state; violence carried out for political ends; and judicial violence.

The back-to-back publication of Friday, Karl F.’s Hired Swords: The Rise of Private Warrior Power in Early Japan (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992) and Farris, William Wayne’s Heavenly Warriors: The Evolution of Japan’s Military, 500–1300 (Cambridge, MA: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1993) represented the beginning of study of the origins of the warrior class, analysed for the first time in their military rather than lordly or institutional capacity. Both studies considered the development of warriors as a class of loosely organised provincial landholders out of the original eighth-century structure of a centralised conscript army, and this class’s slow emergence as a political force. Friday followed with a study of cultural, political and military characteristics of samurai warfare between roughly the tenth and the thirteenth centuries: Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan (New York: Routledge, 2004). A similar holistic approach to warfare characterises Conlan, Thomas D.’s State of War: The Violent Order of Fourteenth-Century Japan (Ann Arbor: Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan, 2003), which endeavors to show the ways in which the pressure to succeed and survive, and the demands of mobilisation, generated social and political change during the conflict between imperial loyalists and the Ashikaga shoguns. In more narrowly military-historical terms, the long sixteenth-century civil war has recently received scholarly attention as well, by both Conlan, in ‘Instruments of Change: Organizational Technology and the Consolidation of Regional Power in Japan, 1333–1600’, in John A. Ferejohn and Frances McCall Rosenbluth (eds.), War and State Building in Medieval Japan (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010), and Matthew Stavros, in ‘Military Revolution in Early Modern Japan’, Japanese Studies 33.3 (2013), 243–61.

The body of works exploring the political uses of violence has not been united by an equally exclusive concern with the warrior class. Rather, running through these works is an interest in the ways in which more or less ritualised outbreaks of violence, as well as the threat of violence, were used by a variety of state or elite groups to further political agendas. In The Culture of Civil War in Kyoto (Berkeley: University of California, 1994), Mary Elizabeth Berry explores a fifteenth- and sixteenth-century phenomenon she calls the ‘politics of witness and demonstration’ – the unsanctioned and occasionally lawless and violent mobilisations of both elite warriors and urban commoners to seek redress for their grievances and proclaim the legitimacy of their demands. In a similar vein, Adolphson, Michael S., in The Gates of Power: Monks, Courtiers, and Warriors in Premodern Japan (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2000), analyses the so-called ‘forceful demonstrations’ (gōso) carried out by elite monastic establishments in the late classical and early medieval periods, arguing that these much-feared displays of divine displeasure (which took the form of threatening processions of monks and monastic warriors though the streets of the capital) were not disruptions of the lawful order but rather recognised avenues for promoting and defending the Buddhist establishment’s political and economic agenda. Returning to the topic of monastically sponsored violence, in The Teeth and Claws of the Buddha: Monastic Warriors and Sōhei in Japanese History (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2007), Adolphson demonstrates that just as ‘forceful demonstrations’ were far from aberrations, so too the great monasteries’ employment of armed men was not a sign of the degeneration of the Buddhist establishment. Adolphson takes apart the myth of ‘warrior monks’ (sōhei), showing that the main difference between ‘secular’ and ‘monastic’ warriors was their employer. Moving away from the capital, and indeed from land-based polities, in Lords of the Sea: Pirates, Violence, and Commerce in Late Medieval Japan (Ann Arbor: Center for Japanese Studies, The University of Michigan, 2014), Peter D. Shapinsky foregrounds the purveyance ‘of services violent and not-violent’ as a crucial means towards the establishment of autonomous sea-based domains that at once rejected, employed, and complemented established forms of political legitimation.

Oldest but least numerous (especially in English-language scholarship) are studies centred on judicial violence – understood both as the violence inherent in the judicial system and as the ways in which the judicial system sought to curb violence. Much work has been conducted on the subject by Japanese scholars specialising in the sixteenth century and the legal output of the vying warlords of the age. In English, the landmark study remains an essay by Shizuo, Katsumata, ‘The Development of Sengoku Law’, in Hall, John Whitney, Keiji, Nagahara, and Yamamura, Kozo (eds.), Japan before Tokugawa: Political Consolidation and Economic Growth, 1500 to 1650 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), itself a condensation of an earlier essay in Japanese, which places warlords’ self-definition as arbitrators and judges of violent disputes at the centre of our understanding of their rise to power. Thomas Conlan has devoted a chapter to judicial violence in his State of War, focusing on the less-studied fourteenth century, but the most in-depth contribution to this line of inquiry, and perhaps the most systematic reappraisal of judicial violence, remains David Anthony Eason’s unpublished dissertation ‘The Culture of Disputes in Early Modern Japan, 1550–1700’ (UCLA, 2009), which seeks to move beyond formal analysis of the judicial process to focus instead on the often violent culture of grievances and disputes that was central to conflict resolution.

Bibliographical Essay

On questions of periodisation, and the use of the term ‘Islamic Middle Period’ in particular, see Hodgson, Marshall G. S.’s The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization, vol. ii, The Expansion of Islam in the Middle Periods (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), and the discussion therein, pp. 3–11. See also Berkey, Jonathan, The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, 600–1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 179. The more recent, six-volume New Cambridge History of Islam, ed. Cook, Michael (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), reckons with a somewhat longer period (eleventh to eighteenth centuries) intervening between the formative period and the colonial period. For up-to-date surveys of Seljuq and Mamluk history, in addition to the New Cambridge History of Islam, one can consult Peacock, Andrew C. S., The Great Seljuq Empire (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015), and van Steenbergen, Jo and Wing, Patrick, The Mamluk Empire (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming).

The standard overview of the Sunni legal doctrine of crime and punishment is the succinct book by Peters, Rudolph, Crime and Punishment in Islamic Law: Theory and Practice from the Sixteenth to the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005). Offering more detail, but dealing with only one of the four Sunni legal schools, the Hanafis, is Johansen, Baber, ‘Eigentum, Familie und Obrigkeit im hanafitischen Strafrecht: Das Verhältnis der privaten Rechte zu den Forderungen der Allgemeinheit in hanafitischen Rechtskommentaren’, Die Welt des Islams 19.1 (1979), 173. Few studies exist that examine the legal doctrines regulating specific crimes and their punishments. An exception is the in-depth monograph of Khaled Fadl, Abou El, Rebellion and Violence in Islamic Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001). On the emergence of judicial torture in the Mamluk period, see Johansen, Baber, ‘Signs as Evidence: The Doctrine of Ibn Taymiyya (1263–1328) and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (d. 1351) on Proof’, Islamic Law and Society 9.2 (2002), 168–93. For short summaries of the state-of-the-art in scholarship, in addition to the standard encyclopaedia in the field, Brill’s Encyclopaedia of Islam (now in its third edition), one might consult the various entries on Islamic criminal law in The Oxford International Encyclopedia of Legal History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

The standard work on political thought in the Islamic Middle Period is Crone, Patricia, God’s Rule: Government and Islam (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), which includes chapters on the various theological groups in Islam, as well as the Persian, Greek, Isma‘ili and Sunni legal traditions. More narrowly focused on issues of power and its ideological underpinnings is Al-Azmeh, Aziz, Muslim Kingship: Power and the Sacred in Muslim, Christian and Pagan Polities (London: I. B. Tauris, 1997). On the notion of siyasa (‘governance’, or ‘capital punishment’), a good place to start is Lewis, Bernard, ‘Siyasa’, in Green, Arnold H. (ed.), In Quest of an Islamic Humanism: Arabic and Islamic Studies in Memory of Mohamed al-Nowayhi (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1984), pp. 314. In addition, Ann K. S. Lambton has written prolifically on the question of government in medieval (Persianate) Islam; see, for example, her Changing Concepts of Justice and Injustice from the 5th/11th Century to the 8th/14th Century in Persia: The Saljuq Empire and the Ilkhanate’, Studia Islamica 68 (1988), 2760.

Historical studies of crime and punishment in the post-caliphal Islamic Middle Period include Christian Lange, Justice, Punishment and the Medieval Muslim Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008); Martel-Thoumian, Bernadette, Délinquance et ordre social: l’état mamlouk syro-égyptien face au crime à la fin du IXe–XVe siècle (Pessac: Ausonius, 2012); and Petry, Carl, The Criminal Underworld in a Medieval Islamic Society: Narratives from Cairo and Damascus under the Mamluks (Chicago: Middle East Documentation Center, University of Chicago, 2012). While Lange’s study looks at the Seljuqs of Persia and Iraq, both Martel-Thoumian and Petry examine the Mamluks of Egypt and Syria. A wider historical and geographical spectrum is covered in the volume edited by Lange, Christian and Fierro, Maribel, Public Violence in Islamic Societies: Power, Discipline, and the Construction of the Public Sphere, 7th–19th Centuries ce (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009). The Encyclopaedia of Punishment (Mawsu‘at al-‘adhab) of the Iraqi historian ‘Abbud al-Shalji, a compilation, in seven volumes, of passages dealing with state violence in medieval Arabic chronicles, deserves separate mention (Beirut: Al-Dar al-‘Arabiyya li’-Mawsu‘āt, 1980, in Arabic).

As regards studies of crime and punishment in the formative and later periods, studies of punishment under the Umayyad caliphs (seventh–eighth centuries) have often focused on the question of late antique continuities and, relatedly, of the ‘Islamicness’ of state punishment in the first two centuries of Islam. See Gerald Hawting, ‘The Case of Ja‘d b. Dirham and the Punishment of “Heretics” in the Early Caliphate’, in Lange and Fierro (eds.), Public Violence, pp. 27–41; Marsham, Andrew, ‘Attitudes to the Use of Fire in Executions in Late Antiquity and Early Islam: The Burning of Heretics and Rebels in Late Umayyad Iraq’, in Gleave, Robert and Kristó-Nagy, István (eds.), Violence in Islamic Thought from the Qurʾan to the Mongols (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015), pp. 106–27; Anthony, Sean, Crucifixion and Death as Spectacle: Umayyad Crucifixion in its Late Antique Context (New Haven: American Oriental Society, 2014). For post-Mamluk times, the classic study of the Ottoman system of crime and punishment is Heyd, Uriel, Studies in Old Ottoman Criminal Law, ed. Ménage, V. L. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973).

Bibliographical Essay

I concentrate here on key works from the 1980s onwards, simply because of the overwhelming quantity of material. These more recent works provide seminal insights, as well as orientation for those wishing to explore the legal scholarship of the late nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries. The history of crime and law in medieval Europe needs to address first the reception of Roman law in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Roman empire. For this, excellent insights are provided in Humfress, Caroline, ‘Law in Practice’, in Rousseau, P. (ed.), A Companion to Late Antiquity (Oxford: Blackwell, 2009), pp. 377–91. Early medieval law receives provocative and seminal treatment in Wormald, Patrick, Legal Culture in the Early Medieval West: Law as Text, Image and Experience (London: Hambledon Continuum, 1999). Readers should also engage with the important approach outlined in Davies, W. and Fouracre, P. (eds.), The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992). Recent developments are highlighted by Rio, Alice, ‘Introduction’, in Rio, A. (ed.), Law, Custom, and Justice in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages: Proceedings of the 2008 Byzantine Colloquium (London: King’s College, 2011). With the revivification of Roman law from the twelfth century, the ius commune became increasingly prominent. For the implications of this, see Reynolds, Susan, ‘The Emergence of Professional Law in the Long Twelfth Century’, Law and History Review 21.2 (2003), 347–66. A nuanced and comparative view of the different ways in which Roman and customary law interacted in the twelfth century, and were cannily used by litigants, is Wickham, Chris, Courts and Conflict in Twelfth-Century Tuscany (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). For a case which challenges the idea of English exceptionalism in this respect, see Hyams, Paul, Rancor and Reconciliation in Medieval England (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003). A detailed treatment of the emergence of English common law is provided by Brand, Paul, The Making of the Common Law (London: Hambledon Press, 1992). Historiographically, scholars of the later Middle Ages have been interested in the connections between law and developing polities in the period. An excellent overview is provided by Watts, J., The Making of Polities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009). Less well known but highly insightful is Cheyette, F., ‘Suum cuique tribuere’, French Historical Studies 6 (1969), 287–99. On specific countries, see, for example, on France, Gauvard, Claude, De grâce especial: crime, état et société en France à la fin du Moyen Âge, 2 vols. (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 1991) and Cohen, E., The Crossroads of Justice: Law and Culture in Late Medieval France (Leiden: Brill, 1993); on Germany, Du Boulay, F. R. H., ‘Law Enforcement in Medieval Germany’, History 63.209 (1978), 345–55; on Italy, Zorzi, Andrea, ‘Pluralismo giudiziario e documentazione: il caso di Firenze in età comunale’, in Zorzi, Andrea, Chiffoleau, Jacques and Gauvard, Claude, Pratiques sociales et politiques judiciaires dans les villes de l’occident à la fin du Moyen Âge (Rome: École Française de Rome, 2007), pp. 125–87.

On canon law, which often relates at least tangentially to violence, the best overviews are those of Brundage, James, Medieval Canon Law (London: Longman, 1995) and Helmholz, Richard, Canon Law and English Common Law (London: Selden Society, 1983), the latter examining ways in which canon law interacted with secular law.

Finally, readers should also turn to several important collections of essays which range widely across medieval law and violence and provide important insights regarding the nature of law and its relationship to other normative frameworks: Bossy, John (ed.), The Moral World of the Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Mazo Karras, R., Kaye, J. and Ann Matter, E. (eds.), Law and the Illicit in Medieval Europe (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).

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