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  • Writer's pictureAdrian J. Boas

On Imposing Restrictions

Ovens in a Frankish estate centre/farmhouse near Jerusalem

In an effort to save lives in the current health crisis many countries have introduced lockdowns, closing schools, most businesses and public services, and severely limiting movement of the population. The extent of these limitations has varied from country to country, from specific communities to entire nations, according to the perception of the political and health authorities as to what is needed to prevent the spread of the virus. In many cases, including most of the leading economies, these measures have been so extensive and severe that a secondary crisis, an economic one no less formidable than the disease itself, has spread across the globe. In an effort to diminish the massive financial fallout that the pandemic-induced lockdowns have created, and at a stage that many fear may prove to be much too early, several countries have now begun to remove certain of the restrictions and to allow limited return to work by sectors of the population. Whether or not these measures will save the economy without creating a massive surge in the spread of the virus remains to be seen, but the spiralling descent of economies and the growing restlessness of communities has in many instances forced the hands of the decision-makers.

In democracies, and indeed in any form of social organisation except anarchy, it is imperative that there be regulations and that they be effectively imposed. Nonetheless, the imposition or restrictions often produces an angry response, even when they are clearly intended to benefit those populations. No one likes to forgo conceived rights, to be restricted in one's movements or actions, to be required to pay taxes, or to be prevented from certain pleasures, even when the imposed rules are universally recognised as being well-intended. Often authorities are conceived as putting their own needs first.

Community life always has been full of regulations and restrictions. The chief difference between the past and the present in this regard is that, in modern democratic societies there is at least an effort to distribute restrictions more evenly among all levels of society, although it is generally the case that the heaviest burdens are imposed on those sectors of society least able to bear them. In the Middle Ages and in feudal society there was not even the pretence at equality. Nonetheless, even then some imposed restrictions were mutually beneficial.

Monopolies are today regarded as unfair and are often, at least for appearance sake, ruled illegal. Characterized by the absence of competition, a monopoly places complete control in the hands of its holder who will alone decide the level of prices and have the prerogative of forcing an inferior product or service on the consumer. But in the Middle Ages the monopoly was considered to be the legitimate right of a ruler or landowner. In the feudal West peasants were required to use the lord’s mills, bakery ovens and other installations and to pay for their use. For the peasants this was a servile burden known as the "ban". For the lords it was a monopolistic right. They were sole possessors of certain installations, usually presses, mills and ovens, and were able to enforce their exclusive use on their tenants. The word ban (in Latin bannus or bannum, German bann, French banalité) meant "command" or "order".)This type of seigniorial monopoly was introduced into the crusader states as one aspect of European feudalism that could be efficiently adapted to the new setting (there were quite a few others that could not). Its presence is preserved in documents recording the establishment of rural settlements. The charter setting out the terms of settlement of Franks at ar-Ram, a village north of Jerusalem established by the canons of the Holy Sepulchre, alludes to the canons' banal rights exercised over the flour-mill and bakery.* At Casel Imbert, a royal establishment at Akhziv, north of Acre, the king was to be paid every fifteenth loaf of bread for the enforced use of his oven.** The ban could be on mills and ovens. At Akhziv it was placed on the use of a bathhouse, probably because the bakery oven was also used to heat the bathhouse, as appears to have frequently been the case in Frankish bathhouses.*** A tenant wishing to use the bath had to pay into the royal coffers half a denarius. In the famous agreement between the kingdom of Jerusalem and the Venetian merchants, the Pactum Warmundi of 1123, the king, who had formerly held ban-rights over the mill, bakery, bath and other installations handed these over to the Italians, but not as bans. The residents could use them but were not forced to do so.****

Peasants frequently tried to circumvent some of the bans. The hand mill or quern was small and easily hidden and its use was an obvious temptation for the poor peasant. We can assume that in the East, where from earliest times hand-mills were present in most houses, the local peasants would try whenever possible to make use of them. In excavations at both al-Kurum and al-Qubeiba hand-mills were found in some houses. The price they had to pay if caught was costly and sometimes humiliating as well. The English historian Henry Stanley Bennett, in his book Life on the English Manor gives a detailed description of the efforts made in court to prevent evasion of the ban, and notes that when the tenants of the monastery of St Albans made use of hand mills the abbot confiscated them and used the stones to pave the floor of his private parlour.***** One wonders if the occasional appearance of millstones used in paving, in the village of al-Kurum near Jerusalem and in the castle of Arsur, for example, might not be evidence of a similar practice in the Latin East.

* Joshua Prawer, Crusader Institutions, Oxford, 1980, p. 134; Denys Pringle, "Two Medieval Villages North of Jerusalem: Archaeological Investigations in al-Jib and ar-Ram", Levant 15, 1983, p. 161.

** Ernst Strehlke, Tabulae Ordinis Theutonici ex Tabularii Regii Berolinensis Codice Potissimum, Berlin, 1869, no.1; Prawer, 1980, p. 142.

*** See Benjamin Kedar, "Frankish Bathhouses. Balneum and Furnus - a Functional Dyad?", in Communicating the Middle Ages. Essays in Honour of Sophia Menache, Crusades Subsidia 11, London and New York, 2018, pp.121-40.

**** William of Tyre, Chronicon, ed. R.B.C. Huygens, Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Medievalis, vol. 63a, Turnholt, 1986, 12.25; Prawer, 1980, p. 222. ***** Henry Stanley Bennett, Life on an English Manor, Cambridge, 1969:129–33.

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