Getting Medieval on Steven Pinker

Violence and Medieval England

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Sara M. Butler The Ohio State University

Search for other papers by Sara M. Butler in
Current site
Google Scholar
Restricted access


Steven Pinker’s view of the Middle Ages as an era of hyperviolence, in which governments engaged in democide and civilians lived in terror, is not supported by the evidence. By analyzing Pinker’s sources for the medieval period and providing a clearer understanding of the difficulties involved in extracting statistical data from medieval England’s criminal justice system, this article hopes to demonstrate that Pinker’s thesis about the civilizing process is not tenable. While the medieval world was violent, we cannot definitively say just how violent it actually was, and whether it was any more or less violent than we are today.

Contributor Notes

Sara M. Butler is King George III Professor in British History at The Ohio State University. She has written on the subjects of marital violence, suicide, abortion, and divorce in medieval England. Her most recent book is Forensic Medicine and Death Investigation in Medieval England (London: Routledge, 2015).

  • Collapse
  • Expand


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 1439 419 129
Full Text Views 143 14 1
PDF Downloads 158 23 0