So why is there an English history of settling land disputes in a fight to the death?
It sounds so odd.
But just like animal trials made sense in a weird way, so does this fighting.
So here are the details that give it context.
A. You didn’t have to fight yourself.
B. You could hire a “champion” to fight for you.
C. The better the champion’s talent, the more expensive he was.
D. A champion could win by killing his opponent or forcing submission.
E. Very few people ever died.
Does it make more sense now?
In the absence of good title records, the court allocated a contested piece of property in the best way it could.
In an elaborate fashion, it all boiled down to a bidding war.
The person willing to pay the most for the best champion got the property.
In the same way that some reading competition might get at who wanted a pizza more, a “fight” can help us determine who owns, or at least who more highly values a piece of disputed property.
Modern legal battles are antagonistic and acrimonious, but they aren’t literally battles. Disputants don’t resolve conflicts with quarter-staffs; their lawyers don’t fight to the death. Yet this wasn’t always so. For over a century, England’s judicial system decided land disputes by ordering disputants’ legal representatives, fittingly dubbed “champions,” to bludgeon one another before an arena of spectating citizens. The victorious champion won the property right for his principal. The vanquished lost his cause and, if he were unlucky, his life.
-Peter Leeson, WTF?! An Economic Tour Of The Weird