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A bouncer was a hired guard for inns and taverns. Before entry it was often required for a person to pay for damages as a courtesy. The guard at the door would test the authenticity of payment by bouncing the coin on a wet block of wood. If the coin bounced once he would allow entry. Counterfeit coins made from undesirable metals would not bounce. If it did not they would be asked to leave or he would remove them.

Many a time mercenaries or soldiers would seek inns and taverns for food and shelter. Taverns and inns usually had food and served alcohol. Should a scuffle break out the bouncer would remove them from the premises by force.

I imagine they were armed with blunt weapons such as clubs to subdue their opponents quickly reducing risk of killing or maiming them. A swift strike to the head or back would do it. I doubt they drew a sword to combat one or several ruffians likely still in armor from their last campaign. A two handed weapon would not be suitable for indoor combat. A simple war club with an immediate strike already in hand is more logical in my opinion. Some establishments employed several bouncers to maintain order or return things to order. Certain bouncers may or may not have had military training.

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12y ago
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9y ago

There is not much accurate information on bouncers in the Medieval era. In fact there isn't much surviving accurate information about many things from the era, simply because not many people could write. Those who could write were usually mostly monks or the rich who could afford to send their children to school.

From what information we have, we do understand that there was an occupation called a bouncer in Medieval times, but they were a bit different to the bouncers we know of today.

It is said that inns and taverns hired men to stand outside the premises for two reasons. Firstly to stop the business losing income through counterfeit money and secondly to protect the business from the unruly.
These men would charge an entry fee to anyone wishing to enter. They would bounce the coin on a wet piece of wood. Genuine coins, which were made from copper or brass, would bounce off the wood and these people were allowed into the building. Counterfeit coins which were made from heavier and undesirable metals such as lead would not bounce, so these people were denied entry and forcibly removed.

It is also believed that these men would jump into action and forcibly remove anyone starting a fight on the premises. People in Medieval times drank quite heavily, particularly because water was unclean and unsafe to drink. And we all know that too much alcohol can turn into violence. Many people in Medieval times walked around armed with a dagger or sword of some type, especially travellers who had to arm themselves against thieves and wild animals. It's not good for business having dead bodies strewn all over your inn or tavern.

At the sign of trouble, these bouncers would most likely spring into action and remove the troublemakers from the premises. This means that the bouncers were probably experienced fighters of some kind, possibly retired guards, deserting solders, former cut-throats/thieves and mercenaries. So these bouncers were probably rather shady and intimidating people. Again it is difficult to find accurate written records from these periods.

The entry fee charged by the bouncer would be used to pay for any damages which occurred in the inn or tavern as a result of fights, brawls and clumsy drunks and would help towards the cost of hiring the bouncer. Though in such desperate times, I personally would not be surprised if the bouncer occasionally pocketed some of the coin.

Bouncers however did not strictly originate from the Medieval era. The Ancient Romans had a position called "ostiarius", which roughly translates as "doorman". An ostiarius was usually a strong slave who was tasked with guarding the entrance to his master's villa from intruders, thieves and unwelcome people, which was cheaper than hiring guards or mercenaries. All you had to do was keep your ostiarius fed so he had the strength to fight intruders and fill him with promises (sometimes false) of freedom if they performed a good service to motivate them. Later on, the ostiarius position became a low-ranking clergy title.

The earliest mention of bouncers or doormen originate from Mesopotamian myths. Such as the story of Nergal who had to overcome the seven doormen guarding the gates to the underworld.

Further Reading

As stated above, it is difficult to find further details as accurate written records from these times are uncommon. Most of our Medieval knowledge comes from archaeology rather than writings. Most of the writing was done by monks or the rich who could afford education and neither of those would have particularly been visiting inns and taverns.


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Q: What did a bouncer in Medieval Times mean?
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