From Miles Loricatus to Miles Gloriosus.

I’ve finally gotten around to reading Robert Bartlett’s The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change, 950-1350, which I bought two decades ago, and have just run across an interesting passage on the history of the miles (horseman/knight):

Heavy cavalry retained its importance throughout the period discussed here, 950-1350. Not all such horsemen were knights. Indeed, one of the most important aspects of the history of the period is the very complex interplay between the purely military and the social meanings of the word ‘knight’ — cavalier and chevalier, Reiter and Ritter. The Latin miles did service for both, and the semantics of this term have been investigated minutely by historians. A man described as a miles in the early eleventh century was usually simply a heavy cavalryman, a loricatus; there was normally no implication of high social status — in fact, sometimes the opposite, for at this time the milites were contrasted with the magnates or great nobles. For example, when William the Conqueror deigned to consult his men on the question of his assumption of the crown in 1066, the viscount of Thouars, a man of ancient lineage, commented: ‘Never or hardly ever have milites been summoned to such a decision!’ The milites were a rough and ready crowd, vital but hardly to be idolized. Already, however, in the eleventh century, in some places, the term had begun to acquire an honorific meaning, a development which was to strengthen and spread over the following centuries. In the eleventh century it was possible to make a man a miles by giving him a horse and armour; by the thirteenth century the knight was a member of a closed, hereditary class. Social exclusiveness, religion and romance combined to reshape the meaning of the word.

This historical reenactment may illustrate some of the finer points. (NSWF: language, violence.)

Comments

  1. David Marjanović says:

    As it became more expensive to wrap oneself in more and more iron, never mind buying a horse that could carry all that and still charge into battle, only noblemen were able to afford it.

  2. Yes, he has a good passage on that:

    The mail coat must often have been the most valuable single object that a knight owned and it is not surprising that they were sometimes pawned by knights in need. At a time when many agricultural implements were still made of wood, when the tool on which human survival depended, the plough, was often still made of wood or only tipped with iron, here were men who were dressed in iron. It represented a staggering investment. The full gear of an armatus or loricatus required approximately 50 lb. of iron. When an army such as that raised by Otto II in the 980s included around 5,000 loricati, the iron carried by the heavy cavalry alone totalled 125 tons. The figure is all the more striking when we consider that, in this period, a German forge might produce only 10 lb. of iron in a smelting process taking two or three days.

  3. From the next section, on bowmen:

    The Lateran Council of 1139 ruled: ‘We forbid henceforth, under pain of excommunication, the employment against Christians and Catholics of that deadly art, so hateful to God, of crossbowmen and archers.’ Such reservations had little effect. By the end of the twelfth century large groups of mounted crossbowmen were among the most effective and fearful of a prince’s instruments of war. […] Crossbowmen were pariahs — lumped together, in clerical sources, with mercenaries and heretics — but pariah professionals. Although hated and feared they were well remunerated. […] Rulers often made special arrangements to secure their services.

    Of course, they were so hateful to God because they could hide behind battlements and pick off their betters; lords didn’t mind being slain by equally noble lords, but to be wounded or killed by some jumped-up peasant with big muscles and a big bow…!

  4. David Marjanović says:

    The figure is all the more striking when we consider that, in this period, a German forge might produce only 10 lb. of iron in a smelting process taking two or three days.

    …so you couldn’t have swords and ploughshares made of iron at the same time.

  5. Trond Engen says:

    lords didn’t mind being slain by equally noble lords, but to be wounded or killed by some jumped-up peasant with big muscles and a big bow

    Slain by lords? They mostly avoided combating eachother, instead slaughtering eachother’s unarmoured peasants. When they didn’t, they showed off to the ladies in the pretend-fights of tournaments. A time of well-deserved glory and rich rewards to humble servants of a greater cause. Or it would be, if it weren’t for those unsavoury crossbowmen with no sense of the virtues of chivalry.

  6. marie-lucie says:

    In France there are a number of villages and towns called La Ferrière or Ferrières, from le fer ‘iron’, recalling the time when these places were known for extracting and smelting iron ore from shallow mines. Les Forges ‘ironworks’ is also quite common. I guess German Eisenstadt and similar names also recall that same past.

    David: you couldn’t have swords and ploughshares made of iron at the same time

    but recycling swords into ploughshares would make sense, as iron was a valuable commodity which a skilled smith could work and rework into many useful implements.

  7. Margaret Paston’s letter to John Paston, 1449:

    Ryt wurchipful hwsbond, I recomawnd me to ȝu and prey ȝw to gete som crosse bowis, and wyndacis to bynd þem wyth, and quarell, for ȝwr hwsis here ben so low þat þere may non man schete owt wyth no long bowe þow we hadde neuer so moche nede.

    (Darling, I hope you’re OK. Please buy some crossbows and windlasses to draw them with. The ceilings in your houses here are so low that no-one can shoot out with a longbow, much as we need to.)

  8. … þat þere may non man schete owt wyth no long bowe…
    I didn’t know negative concord existed in Middle English. How common was it?

  9. Piotr: You left out and quarell. Quarrels are steel crossbow arrows; I’m not sure why the zero plural here.

    Y: It was pretty much everywhere. Here’s Chaucer describing the Knight in The Canterbury Tales:

    And of his port [carriage, bearing] as meeke as is a mayde.
    He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde
    In al his lyf unto no maner wight.
    He was a verray [true], parfit gentil knyght.

    Negative concorn is a human semi-universal. Only weirdo languages like Navajo and Standard English (probably in imitation of Classical Latin) don’t have it.

  10. @John Cowan: I think I’ve encountered “quarrel” as a mass noun somewhere, but I have no idea where that would have been.

  11. marie-lucie says:

    JC: Quarrels are steel crossbow arrows; I’m not sure why the zero plural here.

    Zero plural is characteristic of mass nouns. Perhaps here the word is being used as a mass noun, like “ammunition”.

    Negative concorn is a human semi-universal. Only weirdo languages … don’t have it.

    Look at French, going from weirdo to non-weirdo back to weirdo?

    It started with a single negation ne as a continuation of Latin. Then it added some nouns for emphasis, eventually settling on pas (‘step’) which became obligatory. But as pas acquired negative force from the proximity of ne, it started to take over the negative function, so ne became redundant and is now largely on its way out, at least in everyday speech.

    True negative concord has two (or more) morphological negatives (as in Spanish or Middle English), not additions which are only negative by proximity.

    ME: He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde
    Sp: (El) nunca dijo ninguna porqueria.

  12. Darling, I hope you’re OK.
    🙂

    OK. So I have a question about negative concord. Does it happen because of the narrow scope of negation or because of reduplication for emphasis? Or it depends?

  13. There are different phenomena which I’d call ‘negative concord’. The “I didn’t see nothing” construction is widespread indeed . Languages requiring two separate negative morphemes, like Standard French ne…pas, are relatively rare (ibid., ch. 112).

  14. Marie-Lucie: French is weird in a different way, because its negative-polarity terms are descended from positive-polarity ones: pas < un pas, point < un point, personne < une personne, jamais < Latin iam magis ‘yet more’. But in practice the first set of terms are negative, and they are used with negated verbs: jamais je (ne) vis pas une vache pourpre vs. I never saw a purple cow, where the negative adverb is used with a positive verb.

    D.O.: I think it’s the latter, reduplication for emphasis.

  15. That’s not so weird; negators often come from nouns which have acquired negative force from being often used in negative collocations. Greek οὐ “not” comes from a word meaning “life”.

    Hebrew has a nominal negator shum “no…” (followed by a noun, e.g. shum davar “not a thing”) which is identical to the word for “garlic”. One could imagine a pleasing semantic development such as “clove of garlic” > “thing of little significance”, but actually the resemblance is fortuitous, and shum seems to be related to shem “name” — where the shift might have been something like “not so much as the name of a [Noun]” > “no [Noun]”.

    There’s also another, functionally similar negator af, which looks just like the word for “nose”. Here a progression from “I’ve never seen even the nose of a purple cow” to “I’ve never seen any purple cow” seems plausible enough.

  16. J. W. Brewer says:

    I just want to say that it’s inspiring you managed to finally put a two-decade-old purchase to its intended use. I still have some stacks of CD’s I bought at too-good-to-resist deep discounts during the final liquidation of Tower Records almost 10 years ago that I haven’t gotten around to listening to yet . . .

  17. marie-lucie says:

    JC: jamais je (ne) vis pas une vache pourpre

    If I wanted to say I never saw a purple cow I would use

    Je n’ai jamais vu une /de vache violette,

    or with strong emphasis on the negation

    Jamais je n’ai vu de vache violette!.

    or more colloquially

    Une vache violette? J’en ai jamais vu! or … J’ai jamais vu ça!

    You cannot have both jamais and pas in the same sentence (at least not in a sentence like these – there might be exceptions for structural reasons, but I can’t think of any right now).

    pourpre : in Modern French this word (either as a noun or an adjective) refers to a deep bright red such as is worn by cardinals in ceremonial attire.

  18. This set me to wondering about the warrior knights.

    The Knights of St John of Jerusalem (1099) start out as equites ordinis hospitalis, but now I start looking, I can also find reference to them as milites.

    The Knights Templar (“pauvres chevaliers du temple“) were referred to as Milites Templi from Celestine II’s Papal Bull of 1144, but in later centuries sometimes get an upgrade.

    Trivial of course, but I’m wondering, does Bartlett touch on this sort of thing?

    (Technically, only aristos were supposed to be eligible, but exceptions were made when they needed more men or money.)

    I read that as vache volante. Which of course gets us back to knights.

  19. ə de vivre says:

    Languages requiring two separate negative morphemes, like Standard French ne…pas, are relatively rare

    Say what? I thought semantic bleaching on negative morphemes was extremely common. Written French just happened to get standardized as ‘ne’ was losing steam. Welsh did the same thing with ‘ni(d)’ and ‘dim’, and IIRC Balinese has gone through a few cycles of negative morpheme replacement in its written history.

  20. ə: Well, that’s what the map in the link shows (but note it misencodes French, contradicting the accmpanying essay). Or… wait, are you agreeing or disagreeing with it?

  21. ə de vivre says:

    Sort of disagreeing. Although the process of negative morpheme replacement is pretty common, the time any given language spends with two fully regular negative markers like Standard French ne… pas may be rather limited in the grand scheme of things. However, I suspect languages with irregular traces of second or third old negative markers are more common than the WALS data lets on.

    In Welsh, for example, which WALS lists as having particle negation (though some dialects also have a negative auxiliary, but that’s not coded either): “I was happy” would be O’n i’n hapus, and “I was not happy” would be Don i ddim yn hapus. “Ddim” is the regular modern negative particle, but the “d” in “Don” is a remnant of the old pre-verbal negative particle “nid”. For a project like WALS, at some point you have to make a judgment call about how marginal a second negative marking system is, and it’s not unreasonable to call Modern Welsh a particle-negation language, but it passes over a certain amount of messiness.

  22. marie-lucie, quoting Chaucer: He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde

    It’s even better than that:

    He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde
    In al hys lyf unto no maner wyght.

  23. Sorry for omitting quarrel from Mr. Paston’s shopping list. It must have been a Freudian omission (despite the unetymological homonymy), since I tend to avoid quarrels in my own married life.

    ME quarrel as used in the Paston Letters may be a count plural rather than a mass noun. The plural was usually quarreles, but an endingless variant occasionally occurs in ME texts. I think it may have originated in combinations with a large numeral, like 100 cannon or 50 sail. See this entry from a ME register:

    Item, v alblastres with an c quarell

    An alblastre, alblast, arblast (+ other variants) was any device for discharging bolts, such as a crossbow or a ballista. (It comes from OF arbaleste < Lat. arcu-ballista, but ME-speakers tended to folk-etymologise it as arwe-blaster.)

  24. Languages requiring two separate negative morphemes, like Standard French ne…pas, are relatively rare

    But Middle English was a language like that too. Not ~ nat (a reduced form of naught ‘nothing’) was frequently used to reinforce negation, as in Chaucer’s

    Bernard the monk ne saugh nat all, pardee!

    or

    As help me God, I not [= contracted ne wot ‘don’t know’] nat what ye meene.

    Since in the complex negator ne… not the second part was stressable and more salient than the first, ne became redundant and the reinforcing particle took over its function.

    In a similar way, Ancient Greek οὐ(κ) (etymological meaning ‘always, ever’) became a negator, ousting PIE *ne (which it originally accompanied).

  25. The Scandinavian language also use old positive polarity items as negators, after the loss of ne sometime during the ON period. Danish:

    “not” – ej (obsolescent) < ON eigi < æfi gi (“in ages at all”)
    “not” – ikke < ON eitt gi (“one at all”)
    “nobody” – ingen, generalized acc. of nominal < ON ein gi (“one at all”)
    “nothing” – intet, neuter formed to ingen at some stage.
    “never” – aldrig < ON aldri gi (“in ages at all”)

    ne still survives in “no” = nej (from ne æfi gi = “not in ages at all”, of course). ON gi is related to Latin -que, it seems.

    And, surprisingly, in “somebody/something” = nogen/noget < nominalized (Pre)ON ne veit ek hverr (“I don’t know who”) – a positive polarity item from a negated phrase!

    Danish/Swedish/Bokmål is weird too, only one of these ‘new’ (1000 years plus old) negative polarity items can occur in a phrase. Can’t vouch for Nynorsk.

  26. Trond Engen says:

    Nynorsk isn’t that different. If there are intra-Scandinavian differences it tends to pattern with Swedish.

  27. John Cowan: Quarrels are steel crossbow arrows

    Steel-tipped, I think you mean. Making the entire shaft out of steel would have been an extravagant waste of metal.

  28. Modern ones are certainly steel, though many modern crossbows fire short arrows rather than quarrels/bolts, and aluminum bolts are apparently available, though I doubt its armor-piercing qualities.

  29. marie-lucie says:

    Piotr: OF arbaleste < Lat. arcu-ballista ‘crossbow”

    Modern French is une arbalète. Here is one word where the OF -este sequence did not end up as -ête, perhaps because the word itself (although still known) lost currency as weaponry evolved and bullets replaced arrows.

  30. Is it too late to add it to the new spelling reform?

  31. Modern ones are certainly steel …

    But not the 15th Century ones Margaret Paston was requesting….

  32. marie-lucie says:

    LH: Is it too late to add it to the new spelling reform?

    It already looks like it has gone through the spelling reform.

  33. The Dictionnaire de l’Académie française, 5ème édition, during the Revolution, had a circumflex, at least in the headword.

  34. Afrikaans is interesting because, at least in some cases, it uses the same negative morpheme twice: “Ek kan jou nie sien nie,” “I can’t see you.” Wiki says that this may have been inspired by French or by a San language.

  35. I’m sorry, but I’ve been having great trouble over the past few years coming to an understanding of the current fixation with so-called ‘count nouns’. We were perfectly comfortable (and I am still perfectly comfortable) with singular, plural and collective to describe number.

    The last term — collective — could be described as singular form with plural function, or more simply as essence, i. e., having nothing to do with number at all.

    Since my brain was formed between 1940 and approximately 1973 when the four pieces of my skull fused, and I’ve been able to add knowledge since, I’ve had increasing difficulty re-forming parts of that brain.

    I think I’m suffering from old brain/new mind clash syndrome. Ideally, one would think, it should be easy to add new knowledge to old and thereby have an improvement of two viewpoints instead of one, but instead there is, sometimes, this disturbing clash.

    Any kind words of enlightenment?

  36. The problem with the terminology you’re familiar with is that it confounds concrete incidences of words in actual speech, with words as dictionary entries, what people call lexical units or lexemes.

    If you classify lexical units, a noun is either count or mass. A count noun, in its actual usage, might be singular or plural; a mass noun can be only formally singular, and semantically liquidish.

    If you classify actual word-forms, on the other hand, a noun is either formally singular or plural. There is no separate place for “water”, because it is syntactically quite similar to, say, “apple”.

  37. ə de vivre says:

    I think you may be over-thinking the count/mass distinction. At its simplest it’s a distributional description, “can a noun be modified by a number?” If so it’s a count noun, if not it’s a mass noun. In English I can have “more air”, but I can’t have “seven more airs”. There are functional reasons why some concepts tend to be mass or count nouns cross-linguistically (some things are easier to count discretely than others), but it’s only a tendency not a reflection of any extra-linguistic ontological claim.

    The confusing thing for English is that you can usually derive a count noun from a mass noun with no overt change to the word. So in “I’d like some coffee” ‘coffee’ is a mass noun, but in “I’ll have three coffees” ‘coffee’ is a count noun referring to a discrete, though vague, quantity of coffee that can be counted.

    “Collective” is a related, but distinct, term for a noun that refers to a group of count nouns. “How many are in the group?” can refer to the number of individuals that constitute the group, but “how many are in the air?” can only refer to the number of some other discrete objects located in the mass noun “air”. Collective nouns themselves are count nouns, “There were seven teams competing” versus *”A great mass of team rained down from the heavens”

  38. marie-lucie says:

    McM: thank you for researching the old dictionaries! According to most rules of French development the word should be arbalêtre, but it became simplified along the way, especially after the weapon stopped being used.

    And as a bonus there is even a citation for quarrel:

    XIe s. [11C]
    Ch[anson]. de Rol[and]. CLXV:

    D’une arbaleste [il] ne puet traire un quarrel

    ‘From a crossbow [he] can not draw an arrow’

  39. David Marjanović says:

    (It comes from OF arbaleste < Lat. arcu-ballista, but ME-speakers tended to folk-etymologise it as arwe-blaster.)

    Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no substitute for a good arrow-blaster by your side?

    Anyway, the German folk-etymology goes much further: Armbrust, as if from the fact that, um, uh, you use your arm to hold it against your breast…

  40. marie-lucie says:

    Lazar: Afrikaans is interesting because, at least in some cases, it uses the same negative morpheme twice: “Ek kan jou nie sien nie,” “I can’t see you.” Wiki says that this may have been inspired by French or by a San language.

    Although there were a sizable number of French Huguenots among the early European settlers of South Africa, a French origin for this double negation does not sound very plausible.

    “I can’t see you” in French is idiomatically (and was at the time) “Je ne te/vous vois pas”. (In current colloquial French, literal “Je (ne) peux pas te/vous voir” means ‘I can’t stand the sight of you’). In any case ne comes right after the Subject (noun or pronoun), and pas after the verb, so there can be a fair distance between the two morphemes in negative sentences, a space potentially filled by other preverb morphemes.

    According to what I have read about Afrikaans, it is supposed to have been substantially influenced by the L2 Dutch spoken by African servants looking after the masters’ children, so that their nonstandard variety would seem to be a more likely source than French for the nie Verb nie negtive pattern.

  41. I believe that traire in Old French with reference to archery means ‘fire’.

    alestriers commencierent a traire de leurs arbalestres ‘crossbowmen began to shoot from their crossbows’.

    So D’un arcbaleste ne poet traire un quarrel, Devers Espaigne en vait en un guaret means something like that Roland went toward Spain into a fallow just further than a crossbow bolt could fly.

  42. Arcu-ballista, that’s recognizeable in Russian арбалет. … I assume a French borrowing

  43. marie-lucie says:

    Russian арбалет. … I assume a French borrowing

    yes.

  44. marie-lucie says:

    MMcM: Thank you for completing the quotation (incomplete in the dictionary).

    I believe that traire in Old French with reference to archery means ‘fire’.

    Yes, the equivalent modern word is tirer, usually ‘to pull, to draw’ but “to shoot, fire” in the context of weapons. Probably because you need to “draw’ the bowstring, pull it tight so that the sudden release will cause the arrow to fly. Later the word was extended to the handling of firearms.

    The verb traire still exists but with the much more limited meaning of ‘to milk (a cow or other animal)’ (from ‘to draw (milk)’).

  45. David Marjanović says:

    German-speaking city children often grow up believing that cows are purple, because chocolate.

  46. Russian арбалет

    The usual Russian word for ‘crossbow,’ however, is самострел (literally ‘self-shoot’); cf. Pasternak:

    Кто, громко свища, мастерил самострел,
    Кто молча готовился к Троицкой ярмарке.

    ‘One, loudly whistling, was making a crossbow;
    another was silently getting ready for the Whitsun fair.’

    I love the phrase мастерил самострел [masteril samostrel]; it’s a nice exhibit of Pasternak’s way with phonetic arrangement.

  47. Gelett Burgess, many years ago:

    I never saw a purple cow,
    I never hope to see one.
    But I can tell you anyhow,
    I’d rather see than be one.

    And many years later:

    It’s true I wrote the ‘Purple Cow’,
    I wish I never wrote it.
    But I can tell you anyhow,
    I’ll kill you if you quote it.

    He also invented the word blurb for the word of praise used to advertise something (often a book or movie).

  48. ə de vivre says:

    Huh, I’d never put the full (ex)traire/(ex)tract connection together before. So a “tract” and a “stretch” followed more or less the same semantic extension from “act of drawing” to “continuous area over which one draws”. I wonder if that’s a plowing thing (for “tract” that is).

  49. мастерил самострел

    Great Pasternak but like many of his words, the meaning isn’t transparent to today’s speaker. Samostrel is usually understood as self-inflicted gunshot wound.

    Vysotsky’s famous
    только с нами был он смел
    Высшей мерой наградил его
    Трибунал за самострел

  50. Burgess invented a lot more than just blurb. His other neologisms, however, remained in the silly realm.

  51. Probably best to avoid wog.

  52. From Bartlett’s discussion of how their superior military technology, including trebuchets, enabled the Western Europeans to conquer others:

    It was not easy for the native peoples to acquire the technology of their enemies, and some of their early attempts were so unsuccessful as to seem slapstick. During the siege of Holme in 1206, for example, ‘the Russians also made a little machine like that of the Germans, but not knowing the art of throwing rocks, they hurled them backwards and wounded many of their own men’.

    Talk about самострел!

  53. But soon, in the 1220s, the Estonians figured out how to make such machines and taught the Russians. И все это были подобья.

  54. Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no substitute for a good arrow-blaster by your side?

    Who would have thought they already had blasters in the Middle Ages!

  55. Re folk etymologies, I read long ago that English soldiers called the trebuchet the “trenchbut.”

  56. Languages requiring two separate negative morphemes, like Standard French ne…pas, are relatively rare.

    Brithenig, which is in some ways a cross between Welsh and French, requires two separate negative morphemes, nasal mutation and postposed rhen (cognate with rien): Eo nghant rhen ‘I don’t sing / I am not singing’, from the verb cantar.

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