The Humanities Department Symposium Series consists of two annual programs: When East Meets West and American Crossroads.
Knights and Samurai: Legends and Reality
Friday, September 27, 2019
8:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.
The fourth annual When East Meets West Symposium considers the culture and belief systems of warrior cultures in Medieval Europe and Japan. The Knightly Code of Chivalry and Samurai Code of Bushido share many general principles but represent distinct religious and social practices that shaped how each group of elite soldiers fought and lived. The symposium offers an opportunity to learn and discuss the connections between Medieval Knights and Japanese Samurai warrior culture.
Warrior cultures need more comparative study, which is likely to highlight significant differences as much as similarities. Close analysis is crucial and care must be taken to understand both chivalry and bushido on their own terms. Above all scholars must get a sense of the social reality of the warriors’ practice in each society. As a Western medievalist, Professor Kaueper will focus his talk on European chivalry, but he will also draw upon his experience attending a conference on courtiers and warriors in Kyoto, Japan.
The historicity of bushido, Japan’s so-called “warrior code,” has become a point of debate among contemporary scholars of premodern Japan. Bushido ideology is contentious precisely because it enjoys broad appeal, a ubiquitous motif within cultural narratives ranging from early modern kabuki plays to postwar samurai films and contemporary video games. Ostensibly an ethos defined by values such as loyalty, honor, and duty, bushido has been heralded as a facet of national identity since at least the eighteenth century. Drawing upon historical case studies drawn from the biographies of celebrated samurai and other writings on and by the warrior classes, this talk will explore how bushido functions—and how it fails—as a useful framework for Japanese history.
Hollywood and TV shows depict one idea of how medieval men-at-arms fought. But how did knights actually go at it—but what does historical evidence say? How did armor work? What were the contexts in which one might find oneself facing another man in full armor? (And did women fight?) How was the relationship between armor and weapons development and metalworking technology? And how do we know all this? This talk will examine the realities and techniques of knightly (and non-knightly) fighting, as well as how modern-day people are trying to recreate these skills.
The famous samurai have occupied a privileged position in most accounts of medieval Japanese warfare. However, the elite, mounted samurai were far from the only fighters on the battlefields, where peasants, mercenaries, monks, and bandits also took part in the mayhem. The realities of warfare and other armed conflicts were therefore often very different from the prevailing popular image of the sword-brandishing warrior, and in this talk I will introduce some of these non-warrior groups and compare their strategies, weapons, and objectives with those of more elite warriors.