What are the most disturbing facts about the Middle Ages that most people do not know?
Do you love your eyes? Of course you do, how else would you find your way around in this world. You surely love them so much that if you were blinded, you would be considered a handicap. That’s the exact same logic Medieval leaders used when they wanted to undermine others claim or to simply punish someone they hate in psychotic way.
In Middle Age, power comes from God. Since God is perfect, his emissaries in form of Pope/Patriarch and Kings need to be perfect too. That means in order for ruler to be eligible to rule, he must be physically healthy. Following that logic, the best way to eliminate rival is to cut his body part as a proof he is not fit to rule.
You can cut his penis and make him an eunuch and thus unable to have an heir, you can cut his nose like it was the case with Emperor Justinian II, the only Byzantine Emperor to defy this rule, but the best way is to blind him. That way he can’t know who is he talking to or lead an army. If that’s not enough, know that it is extremely painful process with permanent damage. The idea for blinding probably comes from Christian martyrs who were often tortured trough gouging their eyes out.
There are two ways to blind someone. One is by pressing hot iron into their eyes, until they can’t see anything. It is extremely painful, but the problem is that victim may recover. This is why many paintings of the saints miss eyes, because it was believed that painting of the eyes of the saints can cure blindness. In that case, the most effective way is to simply gouge their eyes.
There are many examples of blinding someone throughout history. The first example is the legendary Byzantine General Belisarius. He served Emperor Justinian and reconquered in his name Africa, Italy and some parts of Hispania. However, Emperor never fully trusted him and after his conquests he imprisoned him supposedely for conspiracies. According to some sources, he was stripped from everything including his sight, and left to die as blind beggar on the street.
Another example is after Battle of Belasica where Emperor Basil II got his name the Bulgarslayer. He killed many en route, but many more were trapped and surrendered. Emperor Samuilo was lucky at first to escape until he saw the remaining of his army. The problem wasn’t that prisoners were executed, it was far worse. Basil took entire army, blinded every soldier by gouging their eyes and sent them home. Every 100th soldier was allowed with one eye so he can lead other 99 of his comrades home. This horrible display destroyed entire manpower of Bulgarian Empire, had Emperor Samuilo die out of heart attack and collapsing First Bulgarian Empire in the process and made Principality of Serbia and Kingdom of Croatia offer vassalage just in case Emperor Basil II even consider invading them.
Funny enough, blinding also partly lead to Byzantine collapse. Venice was an ally of Byzantines, but also a rival. At one point, the war broke out and man by the name of Enrico Dandolo was captured. He was blinded with sharp metal. This would make Enrico hate “Empire of Greeks” with all his heart and would vow to make them pay for it. As fate wanted it, he became Il Doge and persuaded Crusaders to attack Zara and finally Constantinople and both were successful.
Of course, Byzantines weren’t the only one to do that. King Stephan of Hungary blinded anyone who he considered a threat, but all is forgiven since he gave Christianity to Hungary. Blindness was standard punishment in the army for desertion and even some unfortunate Abbasid Caliphs ended up blind by their Turkish bodyguards before being executed. I assume that’s probably why Ottomans forbade spilling the blood of dynasty and forced execution by strangling. So next time, take a moment to appreciate both of your functional eyes inside your head and the fact you are not fighting in a power struggle or that mutilation is a war crime by Geneva Convention.