The Nature of Crimes and Punishments: Medieval and Modern Times

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Perspectives of the instigation of crime and scale of punishments throughout the multiple eras. How can improvement in literacy affect the brutality of punishments? Let's find out.

Submitted: April 15, 2017

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Submitted: April 15, 2017



Crime and punishment in England

The trial by ordeal involved the physical damage directed towards a person. However, in the present law system in England, the trial is carried out without violence where the jurors, a member of learned individuals provide their opinions about the suspect’s action and the evidences placed. The trial by ordeal was based on the superstition “iudicium Dei”, known as the judgement of God, where the prosecutors solely depended on God’s decision to save the innocent defendant. But in the current society, the decision of whether a person is guilty depends on the formulated opinions of the jurors and the final unbiased decision from the judge. Lastly, the costs to organize a trial by ordeal was low as the decision did not involve intellectuals to formulate opinions, rather the charges could be decided based on the physical observations such as wounds.

Overtime as the society’s belief in the ordeal system weakened, the power of ordeals seemingly became an unsatisfactory method of dealing with criminals because of the political suppression by King of Sicily Frederick (II) had outlawed this practice stating that it was irrational, as in the case of trial by combat, the guilty might get away by killing the weaker innocent accuser. The rise in religious literacy had resulted in the ban of trial by ordeal system, as eventually the Catholic Church discovered that the trials were contradictory to the doctrine, resulting in the passing of the law banning associations with the ordeal system. . This was also a crime against humanity as the innocent put into trial would have to endure similar degree of suffering as the guilty.

The nature of crime and punishment is that the cause of crimes in an era is due to the economic and political condition of the state, whereas on the other hand the severity of punishment depends on the cultural and traditional background of the state, and the decree to which the crime was committed. In the case of England, theft was a common crime because of the impunity and the lack of education during the medieval period that made stealing an easy option to gain money. However, during the modern era of England, poor economic conditions in certain areas lead to social inequality, leading individuals to resort to theft to provide for his/her needs. It was change in cultural and traditional norms that led to the formation of the ordeal system and then the jury system. The extremism of Christianity and misinterpretation had caused the formation of the torturing ordeal system, but overtime as the society improved its biblical literacy, the Catholic Church was able to draw conclusions about the illegitimacy of the system, leading to the formation trials involving evidences.


  1. Medieval Information. "Medieval Information." Medieval Crimes - Thieves, Burglars, Kidnapping. Joaquin, n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2017. <>.
  2. Steven Runciman. "Trial by Ordeal." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Feb. 2017. Web. 21 Feb. 2017. <>.

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