Hired Swords: The Rise of Private Warrior Power in Early Japan
Tracing the evolution of state military institutions from the seventh through the twelfth centuries, this book challenges much of the received wisdom of Western scholarship on the origins and early development of warriors in Japan. This prelude to the rise of the samurai, who were to become the masters of Japan's medieval and early modern eras, was initiated when the imperial court turned for its police and military protection to hired swords--professional mercenaries largely drawn from the elites of provincial society.
By the middle of the tenth century, this provincial military order had been handed a virtual monopoly of Japan's martial resources. Yet it was not until near the end of the twelfth century that these warriors took the first significant steps toward asserting their independence from imperial court control. Why did they not do so earlier? Why did they remain obedient to a court without any other military sources for nearly 300 years? Why did the court put itself in the potentially (and indeed, ultimately) precarious situation of contracting for its military needs with private warriors? These and related questions are the focus of the author's study.
Most of the few Western treatments see the origins of the samurai in the incompetence and inactivity of the imperial court that forced residents in the provinces to take up arms themselves. According to this view, a warrior class was spontaneously generated just as one had been in Europe a few centuries earlier, and the Japanese court was doomed to eventually perish by the sword because of its failure to live by it. Instead, the author argues that it was largely court activism that put swords in the hands of rural elites, that court military policy, from the very beginning of the imperial state era, followed a long-term pattern of increasing reliance on the martial skills of the gentry. This policy reflected the court's desire for maximum efficiency in its military institutions, and the policy's success is shown by the court retaining to itself for centuries the exclusive right to sanction the use of coercive force.
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