The Knights of Medieval Europe and the Samurai of Feudal Japan were similar in some ways and very different in others. Two broad topics I will discuss in this paper are the comparatives in the weapons, armor and tactics; and perhaps most importantly, each warrior-class code of conduct and ethics. To successfully compare the two, you must first look at the time period both were both part of respectively. Some historians will argue that the seeds of the Samurai were started in 660 BC when Emperor Jimmu Tenno set up the Yamato State and the production of armor and weapons developed.
Most accept the fact that Buddhisms arrival to Japan in the 500s formed the concrete platform to what the Samurai are based upon.. By the time the crusades occurred in the 12th century, Knights were an integral part of life in Europe. This paper will focus mainly on the Japanese and Samurai side of the two warrior classes due to the nature of this course. One major problem in researching these subjects is the reference material; a lot of it originates from the period.
Because the Samurai and Knights, and the time periods they occur within, are romanticized so widely in the literature of the time and following centuries, getting true accounts of events is difficult. The Japanese felt it necessary to make a very fine line between deities and humans when writing about their greatest Samurai. Also, European knights, due to literature and most recently television and motion pictures, have been placed on a pedestal themselves. Japanese Weapons, Armor and Tactics The Yamato clans conducted many military campaigns on the Asian mainland. Their targets included Korea and China.
These campaigns led to the importation of Korean and Chinese culture, technology and martial arts. Legend states that Emperor Keiko was the first person with the title of “Shogun. ” The word meant “Barbarian-subduing General. ” Legend continues that Keiko had a son named “Prince Yamato. ” He was cunning, fearless, strong and a great martial artist. Many believe that Yamato was a role model for future Samurai. Ancient warriors developed weapons, armor and a code during the ensuing centuries that became the centerpiece for the Japanese Samurai. Early weapons included bows, arrows and swords.
The Samurai rose out of the continuing battles for land among three main clans: the Minamoto, the Fujiwara and the Taira. The Samurai eventually became a class unto themselves between the 9th and 12th centuries. They were known by two names: Samurai (knights-retainers) and Bushi (warriors). Some of them were related to the ruling class, while others were hired men. They gave complete loyalty to their Daimyo (feudal landowners) and received land and position in return. Each Daimyo used his Samurai to protect his land and to expand his power and rights to more land.
The Samurai became expert in fighting from and on horseback and from and on the ground. They practiced armed and un-armed combat. The early Samurai emphasized fighting with the bow and arrow. Armor and Defenses changed with times as well as the Samurais enemies. More specifically, the battles began and continued within Japan between the larger rivaling clans. With the implementation of larger weapons and firearms, Defensive tactics became more important than defending the individual with armor. Also protecting the warrior be mounting him on a horse became a preferred choice of defensive and offensive attacks.
They used swords for close-in fighting and beheading their enemies. The Samurai wore two swords (daisho). One was long; the other short. The long sword (daito – katana) was more than 24 inches. The short sword (shoto – wakizashi) was between 12 and 24 inches. The Samurai’s desire for tougher, sharper swords for battle gave rise to the curved blade that is still existent today not only for weapons, but for decoration as well. After forging the blade, the sword polisher did his work to prepare the blade for the “furniture” that surrounded it.
Next, the sword tester took the new blade and cut through the bodies of corpses or condemned criminals. They started by cutting through the small bones of the body and moved up to the large bones. Test results were often recorded on the nakago (the metal piece attaching the sword blade to the handle). Battles with the Mongols in the late 13th century led to a change in the Samurai’s fighting style. They began to use their sword more and also made more use of spears and horseback fighting. One of the most important factor in the development of tactics was the introduction of firearms from Europe in 1542.
Stephen Turnbull said in his book Samurai Warfare, “The usual conclusion is to see the introduction of firearms as the cause, and the change in warfare as the result. ” The Daimyo could no longer use the cavalry charge, which was the most successful tactic until firearms. Because of the destructive nature of firearms, if a Daimyo didn’t get his hands on as many as possible, he would lose. However, most Daimyo didn’t like guns because they lessened the importance of honorable hand-to-hand fighting that had gone on for centuries.
Firearms also brought about changes in the Samurai’s armor, and even the recruitment of non Samurai to fight in battle. Armor now had to be thicker and heavier for the upper class Samurai; yet, even this was not enough. This extra cost, in money and life, was offset by the Daimyo recruiting commoners to fight their battles. These commoners were called “ashigaru”, or light feet. Ashigaru, too, were against the Samurai idea of honor. Their widespread and sometimes uncontrolled use contradicted much of the Samurai ideal of elite combat, but large numbers had to be used by any successful leader. European Weapons, Armor and Tactics
Armor during most of the middle ages was built for protection against small arms. For instance, during the 1300s and 1400s, chain mail served as a major form of protection. Suits of chain mail covered the knights from head to toe – protecting them from swords and other sharp weapons. The knights also wore helmets which protected them. Most of the helmets were decorated with beautiful art and designs, which caught the eyes of all who viewed them. In the following centuries, the weaponry used in battle became larger and more dangerous, thus causing chain mail to become less and less effective in times of war.
The next step in armor was plates of steel that only covered soldiers’ chests, knees, and thighs. Gradually, into the late 1400s and early 1500s, many more soldiers turned to full body plate armor. Even though the head-to-toe steel plating was relatively heavy, it provided excellent protection in battle along with a major factor of intimidation. During the Elizabethan Period, spanning from the late 1500’s to the early 1600’s, the main objective of armor makers was to make the suits more and more elaborate with decoration. One of the factors which made a difference in how elaborate one’s armor would be was how much money he had.
Full body armor of this period cost great sums of money. For one suit of armor, many men paid an armorer as much as a small farm. Weapons ranged from daggers to catapults, but the most famous was the warriors sword. Medieval swords were neither unwieldably heavy nor all alike. There was infinite variety in their shape and considerable differences in their purpose. Men were trained to use the sword from the age of seven. The weight of a 3 lb. sword alone could go through bone or a sapling tree. The stories we read of head-removing and limb-lopping blows are probably true. Samurai Code of Conduct and Ethics
The code was developed from the Chinese concept of the virtues of warriors doing battle to the Samurai code of chivalry known as Kyuba no michi (“The Way of Horse and Bow”) to the Bushido code. Bushido means “Way of the Warrior. ” It was at the heart of the beliefs and conduct of the Samurai. The philosophy of Bushido is “freedom from fear. ” It meant that the Samurai transcended his fear of death. That gave him the peace and power to serve his master faithfully and loyally and die well if necessary. “Duty” is a primary philosophy of the Samurai, even if that duty meant death.
Seppuku, a type of suicide, was the embodiment of Bushido. Seppuku was a means for a dishonored Samurai to regain honor. If a Daimyo lost a battle, and was about to be captured or killed by some nameless foot soldier, he would commit Seppuku. It was also called hara-kiri, translated means belly cut, which is a fitting name. The dishonored Samurai would sit on his knees, take out his short sword, and cut himself deeply across the abdomen. It took a while for the man to die. This painful process was sometimes shortened by a second man cutting off the head of the dishonored man at the moment of utmost agony.
Seppuku was not only suicide, it was a ceremonial saving of honor. There were some Samurai who had no regard for the rules of Bushido and honor. Lack of honor in Samurai was the second worst thing to a Daimyo, the worst being the use of Ninja. Ninja were stealthy assassins used by Daimyo to get rid of rivals. They were the most shameful weapon a Daimyo had. Medieval Knights Code of Conduct and Ethics The System of ethical ideals that grew out of Feudalism and had its zenith in the 12th and 13th centuries were known as Chivalry. Chivalric ethics originated chiefly in France and Spain and spread rapidly.
They were a fusion of Christian and military concepts of morality. The chief chivalric virtues were piety, honor, valor, courtesy, chastity, and loyalty. The knight’s loyalty was due to God, to his ruler, and to his sworn love. Love in the chivalrous sense was largely platonic. In practice, chivalric conduct was never free from corruption, and the outward trappings of chivalry declined in the 15th cent. Medieval secular literature, such as the Arthurian Legend and the Chansons De Geste, was concerned primarily with knighthood and chivalry. In the 19th century Romanticism revived chivalrous ideals.
During the research for this paper, while picking apart the truth and fiction of both warrior classes, I found that both classes were based on the same rudimentary elements. Religion played a large part in both their codes of conduct. Both were guided not only in their service to God but also to their service to the throne. One point that makes Samurai and Knights different is the sense of duty to self. To the Samurai culture it was much more important to be true to ones self than anything else. To the medieval knights service to God and the king came above any personal well-being.
Even though the Japanese and European Feudal cultures have been romanticized by literature I believe that there is no shame in that. They were both outstanding warriors for the people, rulers and Gods respectively. People should have a better understanding about the true meaning an seeds of the two. These two warrior classes were born in violence and necessity. They achieved victory through bloodshed and their strong belief systems. Both were effective for the time they evolved. Both proved valuable towards the development of the cultures that ensued and both make wonderful tales of heroism and honor to reflect on.