Saturday, December 31, 2011

At the Turning of the Year

I would now like to give thanks to the time-binding bipeds, now dead, who gave us:

The plant we now know as Corn
The plant we now know as the Potato
The Compass
Celestial Navigation
Glass Windows
The University
The Chimney
"No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right."
Double-Entry Bookkeeping
Movable Type
The Full-Rigged Ship
The Caravel
The Joint Stock Company
Representative Government 2.0 See: Glorious Revolution of 1688. This evolved into something more stable and durable than Representative Government 1.0 See: Athens, Siege of Syracuse and That Did Not Go Well.

With many omissions, that brings us up to 1700.

My ancestors, I thank you and salute you

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Inequality in Ancient Rome: the Gini Coefficient is a Blunt Instrument

This post describes a careful estimate of the size and distribution of the economy of the Roman Empire at its greatest demographic extent in the second century c.e.

We conclude that in the Roman Empire as a whole, a ‘middling’ sector of somewhere around 6 to 12 per cent of the population, defined by a real income of between 2.4 and 10 times ‘bare bones’ subsistence or 1 to 4 times ‘respectable’ consumption levels, would have occupied a fairly narrow middle ground between an √©lite segment of perhaps 1.5 per cent of the population and a vast majority close to subsistence level of around 90 per cent. In this system, some 1.5 per cent of households controlled 15 to 25 per cent of total income, while close to 10 per cent took in another 15 to 25 per cent, leaving not much more than half of all income for all remaining households.

This estimate gives imperial Rome a Gini index roughly equivalent to the United States today. This is, however, an example of the limitations of the measure. As Milanovic, Lindert and Williamson noted, in pre-industrial societies the necessity of leaving the laboring poor enough food for them to subsist, work and replace themselves and the relatively low productivity of such societies limited the surplus production that elites could control.

Strikingly, they estimate that 10-20% of the population had incomes below subsistence: the unemployed or underemployed: not actually starving to death, but malnourished, unhealthy, stunted and with energy only for minimal activity. This underclass was disturbingly ubiquitous in pre-industrial societies.

Compare imperial Rome with England and Wales in 1688. This was before the industrial revolution, but England benefited from global trade, the printing press, and New World plants. According to Gregory King's estimate, it had a much larger middle class comfortably above subsistence and had a higher average per capita income. As a result, its Gini measure of inequality was significantly higher than that of imperial Rome.

And yet, in a real sense the England of 1688, becoming a nation of shopkeepers, had greater equality of welfare.

Or consider this thought experiment: imagine an imperial Rome with the incomes of the top and bottom 10% doubled, and other incomes unchanged. Measured by Gini coefficient, there's a significant increase in inequality. In terms of equality of welfare, there's a big improvement, since bottom 10% move from going to bed hungry to not, and the top 10% just get better stuff.

Bunnykins Sir Gawain with Severed Head of the Green Knight

Perfect for the season, but discontinued. Shown here.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

English Longbow Testing against Various Armor Circa 1400

Here is an interesting series of tests.

There seems to be a consistent bias towards minimizing the effectiveness of armor. A jack test piece of fifteen layers of linen and one of deerskin is used, while the Ordinance of Louis XI sets 25 layers of linen with one of deerskin as a bare minimum, and 30 layers of linen plus one of deerskin as the desired goal.

The weight of linen used in the test piece is not specified, but linen comes in a wide range of weights.

The tests were done with pieces of simulated armor about foot square pinned over a box of clay. These would not necessarily behave the way a complete a complete jack or mail shirt would.

is a test against complete sleeveless jacks rather than simulated patches.

When complete jacks were tested, a 25 layer jack reproduction defeated all attacks from a a 80 lb. bow. Bodkin points did best, but failed to entirely penetrate. 15 layers over mail, attacked by bodkins, were barely penetrated.

Bane tested over mail two layers of linen, but the ordinance of St. Maximin de Treves, published in 1473, required mail worn with a jack of ten layers, with the jack as the outer layer.

The author tested the bow against modern reproduction mail made from iron wire, which is described as "average quality". However, the author describes the reproduction by saying "The rings were inconsistent in craft and the integrity of the metal around the rivet was questionable on average." I have seen similar problems in other modern reproductions of medieval mail. I doubt that medieval customers would have accepted such poor quality control in armor expected to to offer the wearer the difference between life and death. Medieval iron mail would be less protective than steel, but probably offered better protection than the modern reproduction used in the tests described as mail of "average quality."

The plate armor test also presents problems. The author apparently chose to use the minimum thickness of Robert Hardy's tests, 1.2 mm. Unfortunately, the quality of steel was not specified. I suspect that modern mild steel was used, which would be better than much medieval armor, but worse than the best. 1.2 mm is quite thin for a breastplate; Williams measured five breastplates from 1470-1510, ranging from 1.5-2.5 mm, with 2.1 mm median. Earlier breastplates and coats of plates were often worn over a mail shirt, and later ones had some overlap with the mail gussets worn beneath plate. Arming doublets worn beneath may have have been considerably stouter than the two layers of linen in Bane's tests.

Perhaps more important,body armor was convex, not the simple flat plate, and the kind needle bodkin head that gave the best results against plate in Bane's tests was particularly vulnerable to failure of the head or shaft if it struck obliquely.

Bane also draws unsupported conclusions about the damage caused by non-penetrating deformation of armor. He uses the standards published by the National Institute of Justice for body armor, which counts more than 1.7" deformation of specified clay backing material as a failure. This is designed to measure behind armor blunt trauma caused by modern bullets, which are much faster and energetic than the heavier and slower war arrow. The lowest level of protection, IIA, is expected to stop a 124 gr 9mm bullet moving at 1225f ft/s. In contrast Hugh Soar, shooting a very heavy 144 pound bow, measured his 1324 gr war arrows with leaf shaped or long bodkin heads at speeds of 155-157 ft/s. The backface of flexible armor struck by the bullet is going to have much higher peak acceleration and very different effects on the body than that struck by an arrow.

The most interesting results of the test was the high effectiveness of the ubiquitous Type 16 head in penetrating jacks and mail, against which it achieved slightly better penetration than the long bodkin. This is consistent with Soar's results with what he decribed as a leaf shape head, shaped much like a Type 16 but without separation between the barbs and the socket. He found that it performed as well against mail as the long bodkin.

Apparently subtle details can make a big difference in results. These include the shape of the arrowheads tested and the quality of the metal used in them. On the defensive side, the weight of the linen used in defensive jacks is also worth documenting.

This is experimental archaeology. Give us enough information to reproduce your results.

Status Competition among English Lit Professors

(This has been a trend for years--sometime around 1993, I recall a professor telling me that there was a sort of boomlet in dissertations on Spencer's Faerie Queen. When I asked him why, he raised an eyebrow and said, "Well, you know, no one's actually read the whole thing, so there's a lot of unexplored territory there.")

So says Megan McArdle

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Medieval Musicians on Retainer: 1412

In 1412, Henry, lord Beaumont agreed to two indentures. The first granted land rented at 40 shillings a year to a trumpeter, on the condition that during his lifetime "at all times he shall be bound to serve in his office me and my heirs"

The other retains a minstrel "for life in peace and war" for a similar 40 shillings a year.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Household Economy of a Banneret and a Squire

The Black Book of Edward IV describing the domestic houshold economy of the squire who can spend fifty pounds a year, may be compared with Hugh Latimer's often-quoted account of his father's yeoman household. Of his £50 the squire spends in victuals £24 6s; on repairs and furniture £5; on horses, hay and carriages £4; on clothes, alms and oblations £4 more. He has a clerk or chaplain, two valletti or yeomen, two grooms, 'garciones,' and two boys, whether pages or mere servants; and the wages of these amount to £9; he gives livery of dress to the amount of £2 10s., and the small remainder is spent on hounds and the charges of hay-time and harvest.*

The annual wages amount to £2 a year each for the cleric and two yeomen, £1 each for the two grooms, and 10s each for the two boys.

The notional budget for a banneret in the Black Book is:

Victuals, including the stable: £121 13s 4d
Renewing the wardrobe, alms and oblations: £25
Necessary repairs of the house and expenses while away from it: £16
Gifts, rewards (regardis) and horseflesh (escambia equorum): £10
Wages of the household £12
Liveries: £6 6s 8d

The banneret's servants annual wages are:

Seneschal: £2 13s 4d
Pro iiii mulieribus per vadiis, per annum: 6s 8d: The value is so low I suspect scribal or typographic error, especially since the women are listed before the cleric.
Cleric: £2
Yeomen: Duorum valletorum, two of the vallets for £4, or £2 each.
et unius valleti: and one vallet at £1 6s 8d:
Grooms: 6 at £1 2s 6d each.

Squires are not listed on the banneret's payroll, but in the Black Book a count hires them for 60% more than yeomen.

Note that these budgets cover only ordinary annual consumption. They assume estates unencumbered by debt payments, and they make no allowance for saving to provide for extraordinary expenses, such as weddings, dowries, funerals or major building projects.

*Stubbs, William. 1874. The constitutional history of England, in its origin and development. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Household of Alice de Bryene

The widow lived on her manor at Acton in Suffolk from around 1400 to her death in 1435. Her detailed household accounts for 1412-13 survive. At one point her liveried affinity consisted of

2 maids
6 squires and chaplains
(Treated as one group for summer livery, and given 8s each for clothes)

A chamberlain
9 of yeoman rank
(8 yards cloth at just under a shilling a yard)

6 ranked as grooms
(liveries worth 5s)

These numbers probably include both the servants in direct attendance at Acton and those that served her as bailiffs and other officers at her other manors. Besides bailiffs at the other manors, she employed other receivers in addition to her general receiver, as well as rent collectors. Her accounts do not mention stewards for her outer manors, but this seems to have been normal practice in her lifetime. Her immediate household sitting down to dinner minus guests but including Alice herself seems to have been about 15 souls.

Her employees included a steward, a receiver, a butler whose duties included snaring rabbits, a baker and several bailiffs at her manors.

The small priory established under John Fastolf's will suggests how an immediate household of this size might be organized. There were to be twelve servants. Besides the chapel there were five departments. The chamber, kitchen and brewhouse each had one yeoman servant and a groom. The pantry and buttery were under a single yeoman and the stable had a groom. Two boys assisted at services, and there was a gentleman and attendant as well.

The larger household of John Fastolf at Caister included his steward and John Kertelyng, his clerk and general attorney and receiver (clericus, supervisor domini) among the generosi with his chaplain and two women who were apparently gentle servants.

His yeoman rank servants included his daughter's maid (ancilla), a household clerk, his butler, cook, baker, gardener, bailiff, his fisher and swankeeper (piscator et custos cygnorum), Kertelyng's servant and another female servant.

His sevants ranked as grooms included a chamber groom, two grooms of the kitchen, a clerk and one woman.

Alice de Bryene had an annual income of about £400. In 1419 she spent just over £35 on liveries, summer and winter. Household wages were £44, and food for the household £163. Miscellaneous household items such as candles, kitchen utensils and household repairs another £8.

Not all of the food was consumed by the liveried servants. Besides Alice herself, guests often ate at her table, and boon workers were fed by the household at harvest time. Even so, it's striking how much of the servant's compensation was in kind.

Interestingly, she seems to have kept her own wardrobe accounts: her steward refers to records of the amount of her payment of servant wages in "the papers of the lady".