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My setting is inspired by fantasy-Persia: think Shahnameh, or if you're unfamiliar with that, 1001 Nights. Middle-eastern setting, no gunpowder. An element I want in my story is that people (noblemen and commoners alike) do not carry swords within city limits. It's supposed to tie into a strict cultural delimitation between war and peace. Exceptions would be border towns and city guards/palace guards. Also, a dagger would be different from a sword, and quite acceptable.

What conditions need to be met for this to work? Can city guard in that period be effective enough that a nobleman could walk around at night with the kind of money that a nobleman carries, and not be attacked? Or would I need some sort of better guarded "inner city", with only that area being sword-free? Are there any historical examples of similar laws in pre-modern times?

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    $\begingroup$ I feel like this is two questions. "What does it take to have a sword-free city" is very different from "What does it take to have a crime-free city where a nobleman can walk around and not be attacked?" $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Jul 9 '18 at 22:46
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    $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon perhaps you're right. I sort of assumed that "crime-free" (to the extent described) is a prerequisite of "sword-free". My question is about "sword-free", so if my assumption was wrong, that's something I'd appreciate if answers addressed. $\endgroup$ – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Jul 9 '18 at 22:51
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    $\begingroup$ @GarretGang that may not be so likely. In a culture with summary justice, arguing definitions is not going to get you anywhere in a courtroom - "Boston Legal" would not work in fantasy Persia. Or the law may explicitly say that blades over 20cm long (or whatever) are prohibited without a permit. $\endgroup$ – KerrAvon2055 Jul 10 '18 at 4:14
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    $\begingroup$ In nowadays Germany, it is strictly forbidden to carry a Weapon. If you are allowed to own and use a Weapon (Gun), you can carry it in a closed transport container. A Sword is very easy to see and recognise. The Rule could be: only City Guards are allowed to carry weapons. Of course, you need a functional government in the town. $\endgroup$ – Julian Egner Jul 10 '18 at 8:16
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    $\begingroup$ It's quite simple, actually. You can't carry a concealead 60 cm longsword. Make swords forbidden in the city. The city guards (carrying batons or halberds, it doesn't matter) will detain everyone carrying a sword. End of story. If you want to be armed, you must resort to daggers or knives, or any kind of weapon you can conceal. Controlling swords it's pretty easy. $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Jul 10 '18 at 8:17
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A sword in the city says "Mug me! I am dumb and rich!"

Swords are for fighting other people with swords in ritualistic duels, fighting from horseback, or fighting in the open. Swords declare "I have enough money to afford a sword!" Wearing a sword in a city also declares "I am stupid enough to flaunt a weapon I will not be able to use effectively to defend myself!"

Walking around with a sword is like walking around in a karate gi. No-one is going to karate fight with you, but they will notice you are an idiot. The streets are narrow and winding. The city guard has spears and numbers and if you try to take them on, you will not get close enough to use your sword. In the city, the robbers will come behind you while you are distracted by the pretty one in front, or catch you as you turn a corner, or drop something on your head from the roof, or tangle up your sword with a barstool as you are drinking, or poison your wine.

Then they will take your sword and use it to shave half your mustache (hold still for that part), then take everything else and leave you naked with half a mustache.

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    $\begingroup$ You bring up a good point about the spears. From what I have read, it seems to be generally accepted that a spear is actually a superior weapon to a sword. Those who are in an industry where such violence is expected would be wielding spears. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Jul 10 '18 at 0:13
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    $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon In single combat, the sword will usually trump the spear: wielding a spear properly in duelling conditions requires far more training than doing so with a sword. The trick is economies of scale: spears are much cheaper to make, and it doesn't take much to train a peasant in "jab at enemies with the pointy stick", whereas a sword requires a certain minimum of training to be of use on the battlefield. Spears are also far better as anti-cavalry weapons; I think there were some specialized swords made for use against enemy horsemen, but those were not standard issue. $\endgroup$ – Palarran Jul 10 '18 at 2:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Palarran It's not only that spears are cheap, it's about formation. fight in a duel and fight in a battle is really diferent, and if in 1VS1, spear is not the best weapon, a formation of spear can be devastating $\endgroup$ – Kepotx Jul 10 '18 at 8:01
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    $\begingroup$ Swords are for duels. Spears are for war. $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Jul 10 '18 at 8:13
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    $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon Spears are impractical in narrow city streets, especially if there are washing lines strung out overhead - the City Guard are more likely to have some sort of club, like a truncheon or tonfa/jitte (the jitte also functioned as a "badge of office"), with spears reserved for areas with more space and headroom such as guarding outside a palace. $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Jul 10 '18 at 9:36
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Japan, China and Europe experimented with only nobility being allowed to own weapons.

In practice - if a neighbor reported you possessed a sword to the town mayor, county baron, or provincial duke, he may decide to send soldiers to your home to perform a search. Penalty for owning a weapon could be anything from a fine (and seizure of the weapon) up to execution. This also applied to armor.

In Europe, merchants developed enough political muscle to win allowances to travel armed and armored. Technically, thumbing their noses at the law, and daring the nobility to cause trouble about it.

Within walled cities checkpoints at each gate provided guards a choke point where they could search people entering or leaving the city for any contraband (including weapons). Outside the walled city may exist an extended city where it was more difficult to ensure security, save with patrols and relying on citizens to turn each other in.

Inside very large walled cities (such as Jerusalem) there existed private villas, compounds, or residences which might have individual walls and gates controlling access to the property. Private security, or the noble's personal bodyguards might do extra searching of people entering or leaving to do a more thorough job of securing the property. Even if the city allowed weapons, these privately controlled areas might not, or might only allow certain people to be armed.

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  • $\begingroup$ The fun thing is, that people in medieval Europe figured out a way to circumvent the laws, which allowed only the nobiltiy to carry swords within cities. In a time, when you brought your own cutlery to the inn, what prevents you from carrying a 30" knife. Enter the Messer! However, there were cities which enforced a maximum blade length at the city gates. $\endgroup$ – Dohn Joe Jul 10 '18 at 11:24
  • $\begingroup$ In the Viking Age, there was something referred to as a peace band, which is basically a strap which ties the sword to the scabbard, similar to the flaps you seen on modern gun holsters. $\endgroup$ – Dohn Joe Jul 10 '18 at 11:30
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Something similar happened in the "old West", many towns had ordinances passed requiring people to surrender their firearms to the city sheriff or marshal while they were in town. Many cities in the ancient world had similar laws that restricted the carriage of weapons, and you would surrender your sword at the city gate to the guards (likely in exchange for a unique token or similar device to identify your sword when you exited).

Once you were inside, you would have to trust the city's guard force (police as we know them really did not exist until much later in history) would be relatively efficient in keeping a lid on crime, or hire a few toughs to stay close by and look after you and your stuff. If you arrived as part of a larger group (perhaps a caravan), then they should all stay close together for mutual protection and to make it difficult for cutpurses to steal your goods. Innkeepers would also have an interest in limiting crime (although they may have to pay protection money to the local criminals, which explains why the cup of beer and bowl of stew is so expensive).

So long as the city government is functional enough to provide a guard and enforce their own rules within the city walls, then they will have the ability ands will to disarm you on entering the city, and likely have enough ability to limit the amount of criminal activity to "corruption" rather than acts of violence against citizens and visitors.

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Make a no-swords rule, either religious or worldly. Safety for rich people never lay in their personal martial prowess, but in their being able to retain a loyal guard.

Also, have an obvious and superfluous sign of high standing, that is not martial by nature, to compensate the jumped up bravos -having a sword reflected wealth, special standing in court, special standing in war, etc... Riding whip? High-heeled shoes?

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The police are only as effective as the city's coffers

There is no easy path to success here. If you save money by not training your police you have street thugs. If you save money by not hiring enough cops you have gang-owned neighborhoods.

The problem, of course, is that you can't not have weapons. You see, criminals break the law. It's the fundamental problem with students across the U.S. claiming they want gun control. What they don't realize is that criminals couldn't care less about anything they're saying. And so long as one guy in the area is willing to sell you a sword, you're just one meal away from The Purge.

Solutions

  • Small cities can control people. Large cities cannot.
  • Tax the wealthy to pay for more police.
  • Crime has one punishment: death. Ratting people out has a substantial reward: ascendency to the middle-class, etc. Fraudulently ratting has one penalty: watching your entire family die before your eyes. (Brutality almost never lasts very long, but the Romans might disprove my assertion.)
  • Unbelievably good zoning codes. Wide streets, no alleys, wonderful garbage collection, no basement access ever, abandoned buildings are taken over by the government quickly and dismantled.
  • An almost religious devotion to the idea that honor exists within the walls. This means the noble giving to the poor and the brigand never thinking to disrupt this. That might make an interesting story, but the balance.... oooohhh, the balance... it would have to be perfect.
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    $\begingroup$ The "bloody code", where just about everything was a hanging offence, wasn't particularly effective. In practice it was very hard to get a jury to convict if they knew the person was to be hanged so fewer people were hanged under the code than before it. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jul 10 '18 at 8:32

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