Thursday, March 7, 2013


I was reading the other day when I came across the word oubliette. I have come to know this term from reading various works in the genre of medieval literature. Dragons, knights, peasants, and lords. If you haven't stumbled across this word before, an oubliette was a not uncommon section of many castle dungeons. It was really nothing more than a deep vertical shaft that was used to house a prisoner. It was often only large enough for the captive to stand up in, possibly not of sufficient dimensions to allow its guest to crouch down, to sit, or even to turn around. The prisoner was lowered down through a grating in the ceiling and then the cell would have been sealed up again. Sometimes the shaft had a trap door at its bottom to allow any remains and debris to be removed. Sometimes the next prisoner was just lowered down on top of the decaying flesh and bones of previous victims. The human body was not designed to withstand such an environment for more than a few days. Once interred into the oubliette, the shadow of death was certain. A more excruciating and confining death could not be imagined.

Just picturing such a scene, you can begin to understand why a captured knight or mercenary would beg for immediate execution by the sword. Better to die with honor on the field of battle in one's natural element, than to be thrown into a chasm and forgotten. Of course, those captured of noble or high birth, would be confined in quarters or cells "as fit their station" until such time as they could be properly ransomed. I can't help but think of the generals and the admirals located miles and miles away from the front lines who push plastic pieces around on landscape dioramas like chessmen, who never truly appreciate that the game that they are playing at results in real losses of real men who can never escape their lots in life.