The headline of this article doesn’t seem very probable, seeing as so many aspects of life have improved over the last five hundred years. However, statistics are ruthless. They often put things in a new, not very flattering perspective.
If we were to look at some of the most important factors that affect humans globally, it might come as a surprise that this is the era of health and prosperity that is considered unprecedented in history. Just think, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the average life expectancy was merely 31 years. In 2015, it was 71.4 years, which leads us to believe that we must be doing something right.
Though these facts surely paint an optimistic picture, we shouldn’t forget that this general well-being is definitely not omnipresent. There are many countries currently at war and there are food shortages all over the globe. There are some areas on our planet that are literally hundreds of years behind the modern civilization we are so proud of today.
What sheds a very different light on the whole situation, especially when it comes to the United States, is homicide statistics. Grim as it may seem, these numbers show that homicide rates in America are actually significantly higher than in say, Western Europe. For example, the murder rate in Italy is about 1 per 100,000 people while there are 4.5 homicides per 100,000 people in the US, which is approximately the number of murders in England in the seventeenth century.
We will present a few illustrative examples of how the number of murders in the US today actually matches the homicide numbers of European countries in the Middle Ages.
We’ll start from the very top, saying that Baltimore is the city with the highest score on the chart made by Max Rosner and Manuel Eisner of Washington Post. This chart clearly depicts the number of people murdered in Baltimore is 55 per 100,000, which is the same as in Italy… In the fourteenth century.
Detroit comes in second with about 47 people killed per 100,000 people, just as many as the lands of Benelux had in the second half of the 1300s.
With 24 murders per 100,000, Washington now has the same number of murders like Germany and Switzerland in the late 1500s. Living in Washington in 2015 would have been the same as living in Scandinavia in the beginning of the fifteenth century, and if you’re thinking about moving to Chicago, expect to live in a city that is riddled with as many murders as Italy was in the eighteenth century. Los Angeles has as many murders as Shakespearean England, which is about 7 murders per 100,000 people.
These statistics are certainly eye-opening, though this comparison is actually quite plastic and needs to be taken with some reserve, as there are factors that contribute to a more optimistic point of view. For starters, the murder statistics from the Middle Ages were taken from the municipal records that were kept 500+ years ago, and we all know that most of them are spotty in information and precision, to say the least. There was no extensive law system in the Middle Ages, so we can’t claim with certainty that the numbers are completely trustworthy, not to mention that people often took matters into their own hands. This kind of thinking can actually be closely connected to the way that criminal gang members act today when there is the need to settle a feud with a rival gang without the involvement of law enforcement.
On another hand, these homicide rates are measured in US cities that are densely populated while Western Europe is a combination of both urban and unpopulated areas, which was especially true in the Middle Ages. And finally, one of the most fascinating facts is that nobody is as prone to killing each other over ridiculous arguments as Americans; people are killing each other over who’s got a better phone and who’s caught more Pokémon. All in all, American citizenry has quite a relaxed attitude toward homicide, which is pretty obvious when you look at the numbers.