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A Brief History of Labor

Part Two

Yersinia pestis
Feodosia is not only a beautiful resort city located on the Black Sea shores of the
Crimea it is an ancient city with a long colorful history and has been known by several names
since its founding as Theodosia in the 6th Century B.C.E. by Greek traders. Over time it
would become a trading depot for various people including the Khazars. When Genoese
Traders purchased the city in the 13th Century it not only became one of the largest slave trade
ports in Europe but it became known as Kaffa. In 1347 the ruler of the people who sold the
Genoese the city decided he wanted it back now that it was highly profitable.
Jani Beg had become the Khan of the Golden Horde in 1342 and he wanted Kaffa back.
However, the people of Kaffa had other ideas and put up a stiff resistance to Jani and his
Mongols. Jani had a problem; though he was a strong and resourceful military leader his army
was afflicted with a sickness. As with any siege there is expected to be death and most sieges had
been beset with illness; it was almost expected but Jani was losing soldiers all too quickly and
the city was to be taken. He used his resourcefulness to change the situation. He had his men
load the bodies or parts of the bodies of his men who had fallen from the illness into catapults
and shot them over the walls and into the city. It had been easy to identify which soldiers had
fallen from this particular illnesstheir bodies had black buboes a classic sign of what would
be known as the Black Death.
This had not been the first instance of biological warfare. It had been recorded that
Hannibal Barca used an army to scour surrounding hills for snakes about 1,500 years earlier.
These snakes were placed in clay pots. He had done this in preparation for a naval engagement.
In those days many sailors would row their warships to ramming speed in the hot Mediterranean
sun with little clothes or in the nude. As the clay pots were catapulted or fired by ballista they
burst open causing sailors to abandon ship en masse. There were numerous examples before this
as wellChina had developed quite a science into biological and chemical warfare by the time
of Jani Beg. It wasnt the first example of the disease in Europe eitherit has been identified as
the main disease behind the Justinian Plague of 541-542 in which an estimated 13% of the
earths population died.
From the Crimea the disease quickly moved hitching a ride in the guts of Oriental Rat
Fleas (Xenopsylla cheopis) who in turn hitched a ride on one of Humankinds dominate
companionthe rat. Rats were in Kaffa and rats were attracted to the Mongol camps. They were
probably camp followers from deep in Central Asia. (Camp Followers are as old as military
conquestsMajor General Joseph Hookers name became attached to specific Camp Followers
he encouraged to follow his troops citing they were good for morale.) Italian Galleys
transported the rats and fleas to Sicily and ports in Italy which then traveled to Southern
France. In little time the disease spread following inland trade routes.
When the disease entered the Muslim world they had spent centuries developing various
sciences learning from the translations of ancient texts. They had a good understanding of the
human body and its workings. They were even using music to help treat mental problems.
According to some Historians they had actually developed several procedures in curing the
disease. Europe on the other hand was lost in a world of superstitions and religious oppression.
They knew of Muslim developments but refused them thinking they were blasphemouseven
though the Crusades had opened some minds there was still a long way to go in the 14 th Century
besides, Muslims were seen as the enemy. In fact some people actually survived the disease
but were in turn murdered because it was believed they had survived because they had made a
pack with Satan. With symptoms such as sudden headache and chills, muscle aches, gangrene
and necrosis of extremities in some cases, fever, general malaise, extreme weakness, and the
telltale buboes it was a slow, painful, miserable death and it was happening everywhere; to most
Europeans lost in their ignorance of the time it was the as promised arrival of Judgment Day and
God was pissed.
But with any disease it runs its course and in the case of Europeans they lost an estimated
as low as 25% to as high as 60% of their population. However this wasnt an even distribution.
First of all the nobles fled to safer areas or to their homes away from the rest of the population
far more of them were not affected personally by the disease. Some towns or villages were wiped
out, some were transitioned into ghost towns, and others suffered noticeable losses, while a few
others such as Krakow were hardly touched. The elite or nobles would finally be affected.
Labor in Medieval Times was complicated. There were free men who did various jobs
including acting as agents for the elite, there were various military orders, there were free lance
engineers who created and rented out their siege engines to the highest bidders, there were
craftsmen. Italy was even far more advanced than most of Europe having maintained a heads up
through their trade with the Muslim World. Venice was actually run by a council of rich and
powerful businessmen which elected a Doge as their leader since the late 12 th Century. (Prior to
this the Venetian Doge was elected by the citys aristocracy but as time went on the aristocracy
just seemed to fade into the background and out of power.) Italy had a vast trade industry, a
budding banking industry. Anyway, there were secretaries, politicians, lawyers, etc; however,
most people worked on farms for their lords; which is why cities at this time were smallit
wasnt until the Renaissance Era when cities start to really grow.
On Christmas day in 800, Charlemagne was crowned emperor of what would become
known as the Holy Roman Empire. It encompassed what is now most of Central Europe and
France. He would expand his territory through conquest. In order to help him control this vast
territory he divided his kingdom into 80 counties and appointed a count to rule each county.
Essentially the count would rule their assigned county as if it was their own. In reality it all
belonged to Charlemagne and as long as the count did as Charles demanded they would be in
power. A count maintained power through brute force and control of the resources of the county.
As time went on some counts would combine forces and form Dukedoms almost powerful
enough to challenge kings and emperors. Counts also divided their counties among lesser nobles.
Before you knew it we had dukes, counts, barons, knights, squires, viscounts, earls, pages,
princes, and so on but in the long run I think that Terry Jones explained it all best when he said
that basically you had a town or village around a church and a local thug ruling it all. Each
relationship between a lord and their vassal was different but essentially they all had a core idea
of you do as the lord says and the lord will take care of you. You actually belonged to your lord
and when he died you were required to pledge an allegiance of fidelity to his successorin the
vast majority of cases it was a He as Shes were seen as legal minors and in some cases not
even seen as human and had no real rights although Eleanor of Aquitaine would debate this
with me and probably win.
Now again, I should warn that like the ideas of labor in the medieval times, not all
structures for governance followed this model though this was the chief design. For example
English rule was close to Charlemagnes with a strong king. So strong that the barons of England
finally had to exert their rights in the Magna Carta in 1215 forcing King John to sign it and the
enforcement of its subsequent reissueseach new king tried to rebuke it. Yet at the same time
there was a governing body called the Moot (pronounced Moat) which had the power to
recognize who was king and would evolve into Parliament. Meanwhile in France the Counts
and Dukes were powerful and appointed the king who was usually not too powerful but a
unifying personality. But the one main thing from all of this no matter where you were that was
uniformed was that all resources were controlled by the Nobles.
Whether you worked in a town as a tailor or labored in a field your whole life was
dictated by those who actually owned the resources you used. The vast majority worked in a
manor type setting. This was a farm owned by a lord and land was parceled out by the lord to
the various families. Now these relationships were in various forms as well. You might hold a
parcel of land to build your house and raise your family as well as your crops as long as you
tended the lords fields and herds or flocks for a portion of the week. You could actually belong
to the lord. You could be working for the lord in return for protection from the other lords in the
area. We could go on with this foreverin fact within the manor you would find communities
developing with their own traditions and customs and micro relationshipsbut the reality was
the lords controlled the resources and you were dependent on the lord with fierce retribution if
you ever go against your lord though the lord could turn on you and be forgiven by his superiors.
These lords were only worried about one thing and that was maintaining their position. (Side
note: Chastity Belts were more of later periods imagination. When the lord was away fighting a
war the biggest fear they had for their wife was that their neighbors would attack and steal his
(Fighting and attempts at conquest were so common that the church actually attempted to
create a zone of peace which prevented fighting of any type from Friday to Monday. Primary
reason for this restriction was that the church was trying to help the little guy who was constantly
having his fields and homes destroyed in the endless fightingstarvation, malnutrition, and
homelessness were major problems during this time. It was not accepted. Many lords didnt want
to stay where they were and tried to takeover more profitable regions or just rise in power
themselves over others. Fighting had become such an institution there were specially trained
mercenaries from Ireland and Scotland called Gallowglass who were trained to fight from an
early age with their only loyalty being to the one who paid the most. Lords were careful not to
engage in pitch battlesthey were afraid of finding out that God favored the other guy. In the
whole of Middle Ages 1,000 years there were only five major pitch battles. Interesting side note
is that Thomas Jonathan Stonewall Jackson preferred to fight on Sundays thinking it would
please God.)
When these lords returned to their domains following the disappearance of the Black
Death many found that they had no labor. They still had all of their holdings but they had no
labor to work their fields, tend their flocks or herds, to brew their beer, chop their wood, repair
their buildings, make their armor, shoe their horses, or wipe their asses. In some places labor had
become so scarce that the price for labor shot through the roof. For the first time in over 1,000
years money started to make its reappearance in Europe north of Italy. Before this time most
people made or traded for the things they needed within the community. Members of the
community actually helped out one another and there were contracted payments to the lord in
form of products and labor. Now all of a sudden people had money and were able to buy things
beyond subsistence needs.
This directly contradicts the ideas of most elite today in that jobs are created through their
investments. Yes, the lord did control the resources and did get people to work for him because
the people really couldnt do anything else. Without the nobility people were going to produce
what they needed and others were going to be attracted to specialized niches because of their
abilities and interests. Whether the lords controlled the land and the resources or not, the people
were going to producepeople just didnt lie down and give up when the Roman or any other
empire fell; they continued to survive. Even without investments people will do what they need
to survive and as those needs are filled they will go on to produce other wants as well and this is
exactly what was happening. Now with actual incomes from their labors an entire consumer
goods industry was growing and jobs were created directly from the demand of consumers. As
more and more people were actually earning money this demand for consumer goods would
increase the job market for consumer product producers.
This created a danger. First of all people had learned that the world did not end as
predicted by the church in the year 1000. (People actually went literally nuts with wild parties,
murder, robbing, plundering, settling old scores; the pope and other church officials actually had
wild orgies as did others in the days leading up to the predicted Judgment Day. During the
Crusades which had been an attempt by the church as well to end the endless fighting by uniting
the lords against a common enemythe Saracens who had taken the Holy Land; who were
actually gone by the time of Urban II speech, Deus Volt!actually did bring in a flood of
ideas from the east into Europe. As if all that wasnt bad enough, people were now finding out
that they didnt need a lord to survive and in some cases were actually prospering. Remember it
is never about the money with the elite it is all about the position in society they hold.
Nobles were losing control. Those who couldnt afford the rising labor cost had to do
their work themselves and had to do without many things they had enjoyed prior to the Black
Death. There were businessmen who were becoming as rich and powerful as the nobles. As the
demand for labor increased the price for labor did as well and labor was being diverted to other
professions or other lands which paid more. Nobles became more and more concerned
seriously what is the point of being of the ruling class if there is no one to rule? Eventually
nobles throughout Europe started to attack labor settlements and force the inhabitants to become
permanently attached to the land the lord ruled over. Labor was not allowed to leave the land
under penalty of death. This was the rise of Serfdom.
I should mention if you look at all revolts you would find that the vast majority are labor
movements. Labor feels cheated, feels victimized, is oppressed, or actually realizes that they are
wasting their lives to make someone else rich; that someone else can live in the lap of luxury
because of living off of labors work they tend to revolt. (Funny thing, people get upset when
part of their taxes goes to helping people who need help and willingly listen to politicians make a
case for themselves calling these unfortunates parasites. Yet, at the same time they work away
their lives earning a vast fortune for a capitalist who has done nothing but invested their capital.)
Throughout the beginning of the 15th Century there were numerous Peasant Revolts as labor
sought the freedom and profitability it had tasted following the Black Death. Finally, when
supply of labor reached pre-plague levels serfdom gave way to tenant farmers, craftsmen,
traders, and businessmen. Slowly, some nobles realized that if they treat people decently there is
no need for the waste and expense of oppression.
Increase in population created competition among labor for the jobs offered by nobility
which still controlled almost all of the resources. Yes, you may be a rich businessman but to
conduct your business you still had to make your lord happy or at the very least apply for
permission to conduct your business. Along with the rise of nations and national identities and
the fierce competition and stiff penalties for disobedience labor was bought under control.
Knowledge was also controlled, twisted, and disseminated by those on top, rules were made by
those on top with the idea of those on top remaining on topfear was always a great control
tool. With each revolt, those on top learned to stack the deck more and more in their favor. One
thing did remain from the Medieval Times; the worst tortures and ways of execution were still
used against those who committed sins against their local thug and it was done in public so no
one would ever forget it.
(One of the neat things about nations is that now a lord who in the pass had to raise
money and pay out of his own pocket for his wars could now have the war paid for by the
resources of the nation. Armies and conflicts would now grow and at the expense of the people.
If Henry V of England invaded France and fought the battle of Agincourt he and his vassals had
to pay for it out of their own pockets but were allowed to be reimbursed through plunder and
ransomsnobles werent normally killed during combat; the idea was to capture them and hold
them for ransom; death and carnage was for the poor soldiers. This is actually one of the reasons
the gonne was at first despised as its bullets did not differentiate between rich or poor and
armor didnt save your ass anymore; you could actually die like a poor soldier; this is also when
you start seeing the development of professional soldiers to fight for the nobles; nobles are too
special to get killed whereas professional soldiers can be replacedmeanwhile George III was
able to fight the American Revolution and then the Napoleonic Wars and actually several other
conflicts without having to pay for it; the nation did but he and his family benefited from it.)

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