I'm pairing my reading of Wedgewood with a series of lectures from Margaret Anderson, "The Making of Modern Europe 1453 to Present." I generally play them during my futile efforts to defeat Civilization on Emperor. I'm really starting to hate the Spanish.
But be that as it may, Anderson's lecture has proved fascinating so far. It's just a survey course, so the more erudite among the Horde may not want to delve in. In the one I'm currently enjoying she's discussing Europe in the age of Machiavelli and the rise of nation-states.
It's very difficult for us to comprehend a world, not with just a handful of failed states, but where failed states are the norm, where dukes and princes fight for "countries" which their kings oppose, and English kings don't speak the native language. You have to wrap your head around the fact that Catherine The Great was German, to the extent that means anything.
In that context, Anderson explains how graphic and public torture and execution became an essential tool of the "Prince" trying to establish dominance across his country. In an era where there are no telephones, no trains, and no real history of ethnic unity, how do you enforce your rule? Well, as it happens, through a kind of public terrorism. You create a spectacle--men left to die for days upon the stake, while birds devour their limbs--to force people to remember your name.
The beauty of history is that helps you understand the "Why?" of the world. It's one thing to recoil at the rack. But there's a kind of power in knowing how you, in other time, might have condemned someone to its clutches.