Crime is an unpleasant, yet inevitable, aspect of civilization that dates as far back in history as a human.. Throughout the ages, from the first civilizations to our present, modern-day societies, a host of human tendencies have perpetuated violence, vandalism and theft among people. Corruption, dysfunction, mental disorder, desperation and simple greed and malice are some of the darker aspects of humanity that have underpinned criminal activity throughout mankind’s history. They have, led to a need for enhanced security measures aimed at protecting other people’s lives, rights, bodies, identities, finance, possessions, properties, ownership, knowledge - and a plethora of other things that have historically been taken or abused in violation of its owner. Things of worth such as these require protection from those members of society who will try to steal, harm or ruin them, and while today’s technology has reduced these measures to a few armed guards, keystrokes and/or button pushes, security in ancient times and in the Middle Ages was as varied (and often, ingenious) as it was necessary. It also, in several instances, generated or made novel the use of new technology in its time period.
When we think of security, a guard is often one of the first things to come to mind. Our familiarity with security guards is indicative of their prevalence throughout time. Even as early in history as in the times of ancient Egypt, security guards, armed with staves, regularly guarded public places and, especially, the tombs of important figures. (Law and order in ancient Egypt 2008). When enhanced security was needed, those ancient guards would “make use of dogs or, probably more rarely, of trained monkeys” (Law and order in ancient Egypt 2008). This type of security - armed presence - makes use of weapon technology today as it did in ancient Egypt.
In both contemporary and ancient times, armed presence works as a security tactic primarily by instilling fear and obedience in people (OECD, 2011). A trained guard carrying a lethal weapon serves as a visual reminder to people of the fatal consequences of breaking the law, which drastically raises the stakes for any would-be criminal. Not only can criminal activity cost a person his/her life, but it also reduces the chances of a successful crime execution. A grave robber in ancient Egypt, for example, was much less inclined to try and plunder the tomb of a pharaoh when it meant having to engage or sneak past armed guards, than he was with the habitually-robbed, unattended tombs lying unprotected and for the taking. Armed presence also provides upstanding citizens with a sense of protection from criminal behavior, which is another purpose of security.
Today, our armed guards enforce security primarily with ballistic weapons, but in the ancient era, staffs, swords, spears, axes, bows and other weapon was employed in security and defense tactics (Ancient Weapons 2010). Although these kinds of weapon seem rudimentary and obsolete to modern observers who know the mite of the gun and the bomb, in ancient times, they represented the latest technology and were integral to the protective duty of guards who yielded them.
One trend in armed security that’s taken hold in contemporary law enforcement and protective services is the use of non-lethal weapons, such as taser or “stun” guns. The use of non-lethal weapons to enforce security, too, dates back to ancient times. Hence,, the use of this weapon technology is an effort rooted in ancient antiquity. The bola, a common ancient weapon device “consisting of two or three heavy balls attached by one or two ropes/cords and used for entanglement purposes,” was “twirled overhead in one hand and hurled or cast at the intended target . . . designed to entangle legs to retard/stop movement” which included, on occasion, bringing a criminal to his feet (Bunker 1996).
Pepper spray - another modern, non-lethal weapon commonly used in security measures - originated in ancient times. According to author David Morris, “the Chinese first used red pepper as a weapon about 300 B.C., and ancient Japanese warriors threw rice sacks filled with red pepper” as a weaponry tactic to keep trespassers at bay (Morris 2010). Thus, the integration of (both lethal and non-lethal) weapon technology and security presence is a contemporary trend with origins in the pre-modern era.
Like weapons, walls are another form of technology that was used to enhance security in the pre-modern era. The Great Wall of China is perhaps the best known fortification wall from the ancient world, but the Chinese had been using walls for protection and security from invasion even before this world wonder was constructed:
By around 7 BC, the Chinese were affluent in wall-building and architectural techniques. This became known as a way to defend the borders against enemies and ways of defense. These techniques were applied by the Qi, Yan and Zhao to defend their land and borders. These walls were intended to protect themselves from small range attacks. However, these divided feudal lands were soon unified by Qin Shi Huang who conquered all of China and centralized its power. To ensure centralization, he destroyed all wall sections currently in the country to promote unity. He then ordered the building of a new wall to protect his empire from the Xiongnu in the north. (Great Wall of China 2008)
As evidenced by the Great Wall of China (and the many other historical walls similar to it), walls from ancient and medieval times were capable of providing security not just to a castle or town but also, to an entire empire. The evolution of wall construction for the purposes of security and defense demonstrates how important technological advancement was for the enhanced security and protection of ancient Chinese citizens:
The creation of enclosed cities meant that the most important form of protection were city walls. The earliest types of city walls which were used were simply wooden fences, piled rocks or tamped earth. Before the Song Dynasty, city walls were rarely layered with bricks. However, the invention of gunpowder and its subsequent use in the attacks of cities brought about unprecedented destruction. As a result, some important cities began to fortify the critical defense points of their cities with brick walls. After the Ming Dynasty, brick-fortified city walls became even more widespread. (Military defense in ancient cities 2010)
Like walls, gates functioned as another employment of technology in pre-modern efforts to enhance security. “The ancient city of Nanjing, which was built during the Ming Dynasty, has been recognized by all as the first brick-walled city of China” (Military defense in ancient cities 2010). Its gated structures were also an exemplary and significant aspect of the city’s security. “Altogether, Nanjing city had a total of 13 gate entrances along its wall and every single entrance was double-gated, with a floodgate in front and a twin set of timber doors encased in metal behind” (Military defense in ancient cities 2010). Gates not only functioned to enhance security in ancient times by way of keeping intruders out; they also provided security to citizens by keeping people locked within the city’s protective walls. Besides protecting ancient Roman cities during wartime, the infamous ancient walls of Rome enabled guards and authorities to keep the many people who entered and exited Rome throughout the day accounted for and under control. The only way in or out of the city was through its protected gates, which were guarded during the day and closed and locked after sundown (Ancient Roman gates in Rome 2010).
Medieval Castles, many of which are still standing today, are a prime example of the evolution of the gate and its importance to pre-modern enforcement of security. The gates that protected medieval castles came in many varieties, from simple timber blocks and stone buttresses to massive stone archways and thick, wooden doors (Johnson 2005, p.44). The various uses of a range of gate materials, designs and locking systems in ancient and medieval times clearly exemplify the strong relationship between technology and security in the post-modern era. Once again, walled and gated communities are still a prevalent security tactic that continues to be employed in modern times, although computer technology has replaced the need for large, heavy walls and structures. Simple alarms and camera devices are enough to fortify a simple iron gate in today’s world.
Traps, including devices, passages and mazes, are exemplary of the new kinds of technology that security needs necessitated in the pre-modern era. Going back to ancient times, one can find an array of unique, trap-based security devices and tactics in the tombs of the Egypt’s elite. Important tombs were often bolted and sealed, contained “secret chambers” that “were difficult to access and hidden from sight . . . entrance passages or shafts leading to the tombs blocked with huge stone slabs and mounds of rubble”, blind passages, trap doors, hidden holes, and even wires rigged and designed “to decapitate tomb robbers”. Those were all common traps set up to prevent theft inside tombs (Tomb curses n.d.). On occasion, poison was used in the coating of tomb walls or in powders that were released in the air if any stones were disturbed, to ensure that any successful grave-robber did not get away (Tomb curses n.d.).
Medieval castles also incorporated many different traps to enhance security and prevent invasions. But unlike the traps used inside Egyptian tombs, medieval castle traps mainly functioned on the exterior of the castle.
The most common trap involved placing a large quantity of hay at some distance from the castle. “Oil was then spread over the grass to make it flammable. When an enemy army marched toward the castle, the defenders simply set the grass on fire with a fire arrow killing as many enemies as possible” (Medieval castle traps to prevent invasions n.d.). Cages bearing animals were also often placed outside the castle's walls as a trap-based security tactic. A long rope ran from the cage door into the castle so that defenders could unleash the caged beast at will. When trespassers came close, the animals were uncaged and attacked invading forces. The animals were also known to spread diseases to those intruders who survived the initial animal attack (Medieval castle traps to prevent invasions n.d.).
Sometimes, existing security devices were modified or enhanced to trick or lure trespassers into a trap. Castle gates, for example,
would be made weaker for the sole purpose of letting the enemies in the gatehouse. A secret door would then shut leaving many attackers trapped inside. Following resulted a massacre inside as the defenders placed many small holes in the gatehouse's entry from which they could easily kill any attacker with a spear without suffering any damage themselves. The gatehouse would be then repaired as soon as possible. (Medieval castle traps to prevent invasions n.d.)
Lastly, moats and bridges were a common method of employing technology to enhance security in the pre-modern era, especially in the Middle Ages. Both moats and bridges enhance security through technology manipulating the landscape to provide protection against crime or invasion. Simply put, a moat is a wide, deep trench, usually filled with water, which surrounds a castle to provide defense. Evidence of ancient moats that protected cities and buildings has been found on the sites of ancient Egypt and Babylon, though the moat was most widely used to provide security to castles in the Middle Ages. Moats surrounding castles were effective in putting a barrier between the castle walls and invading forces intent upon scaling or ramming the walls in order to breach the castle’s structural exterior defenses.
Additionally, bridges were sometimes used to segregate a castle from invading forces, providing security in times of war as well as easy access to and from the castle during peacetime. Medieval bridges aimed to enhance security similarly to gates. Bridges could be drawn up leaving enemy forces without a way to access the castle beyond a river or other natural barrier. This would also work to keep subjects protectively contained within the castle grounds.
Moreover, bridges allowed guards and other watchmen to keep a lookout over the land sprawling yonder beyond the castle’s walls. If invading forces were nearing, scouts would immediately alert the castle’s defenders in time to prepare for the impending invasion. In those situations, even basic bridge technology allowed pre-modern rulers to provide security to their people as ever-changing military tactics and constant war plagued the Middle Ages.
In conclusion, although technology has drastically transformed from ancient times to the present, it has always been an integral function of methods for enhanced security. Many security tactics, such as armed guards, non-lethal weaponry and walls originated in the ancient times and continue to enhance security measures today. Other methods, such as booby traps, have become obsolete with the advancements of the computer technology. In any case, it cannot be disputed that from the ancient times up to the present, technology and security go hand in hand in the protection of any land’s citizens.