Medieval murder map reveals deadliest city spots -- and how crimes unfolded

There were many ways a person could meet a violent death in medieval London, from violent mob punishment (fo...

Posted: Nov 28, 2018 3:09 PM
Updated: Nov 28, 2018 3:09 PM

There were many ways a person could meet a violent death in medieval London, from violent mob punishment (for littering eel skins) to getting wounded in a fracas (by a servant shooting arrows into a crowd).

That's according to University of Cambridge criminologist Manuel Eisner, who has plotted 142 cases of murder in the British capital onto an interactive, online death map of 14th-century London.

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The academic used coroner rolls from 1300 to 1340 -- with records of accidents, suicides and homicides -- to help identify the deadliest spots in the old city of London, according to the Violence Research Centre at the University of Cambridge.

"It was a society where conflicts could erupt, where male honor and a sense of having to be able to defend yourself played an important role, where many young men would have a weapon with them -- a sword, a knife or fighting stick" Eisner told CNN.

"It was not a society," he said, "where a lot of robberies were going on."

The bloodiest areas of the capital included a stretch of Cheapside, between St. Paul's Cathedral and St. Mary-le-Bow church. Another hotspot was around Leadenhall market, further to the east of the old city.

Other perilous incidents Eisner discovered include a fur dealer who tried to kill a street musician for performing at dusk. The dealer was instead mortally stabbed by the musician.

Eisner, whose research featured prominently in Steven Pinker's book, "The Better Angels of Our Nature," said his favorite murder happened near Cheapside, where an adolescent killed a man with a pollaxe after the victim told him off for spilling urine on another young man.

"I like it because you get an idea of the smells and sounds of central London," he said. "You get a sense of the kinds of daily conflict."

Eisner found the majority -- 68% -- of killings happened on London's streets and at its markets. And, like today, the medieval homicide rate increased over weekends, with almost a third of murders happening on Sundays.

The murder rate in medieval London, which had a population of between 40,000 and 100,000, was as much as to 20 times higher as that of a contemporary British town of that size, the academic suggested.

But he warned against comparing it too much to modern Britain. The world now has firearms and emergency services, making it easier to kill today but also a lot "easier to save lives," he said in a statement.

"Over 18% of victims survived at least a week after the initial trauma, probably dying eventually from infections or blood loss," said Eisner of victims in the 14th century.

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