Has anyone tried to explain the ahistorical features of the standard fantasy setting in-universe?

Rome had to have police, as it had a thriving crime rate before the Empire; more so after. They combined the duties with the fire brigades until the Senate decided that they needed dedicated soldiery to enforce the laws, so the fire brigades could focus on just the fires.
Babylon and Assyria had soldiers on patrol to enforce the laws, too...

Anywhere you have the money to support a lord and his retinue, you have an economy strong enough for professional criminals. And not so professional raiding neighbors.

But the only time we get solid evidence about organized criminal organizations in documentary modes is when they get careless.

And remember, absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence.
Rome, perhaps, but Rome's wealth and trade was not duplicated in the period under discussion. The Vigiles were watchmen, more focused upon spotting fires and keeping slaves & bottom-level freemen on the dole in line than what could be considered police work. You can see this from the fact that Rome had, until well into the Imperial period, only a very modest and improvised jail, which was only staffed when someone was incarcerated.

The economy of a feudal state is insufficient to support an organization of urban thieves, and an absence of criminalization of gambling or prostitution means there is no need of criminals in either endeavor.

The evidence is clear: outside of a D&D setting, there is no economic basis for an urban thieves guild in a feudal state.
 

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Voadam

Legend
The evidence is clear: outside of a D&D setting, there is no economic basis for an urban thieves guild in a feudal state.
You seem to be conflating fantasy setting with feudal. Even D&D is only semi-feudal. Greyhawk is more fantasy Chicago than fantasy feudal London.

Many non-D&D fantasy settings are pretty big too, like Exalted which has a whole continent spanning evil Guild of drug dealers and slavers.

Edit. I understand you said you stick to the feudal system, but you are applying that as a criticism for thieves guilds in fantasy settings in general.
 
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You seem to be conflating fantasy setting with feudal. Even D&D is only semi-feudal. Greyhawk is more fantasy Chicago than fantasy feudal London.

Many non-D&D fantasy settings are pretty big too, like Exalted which has a whole continent spanning evil Guild of drug dealers and slavers.

Edit. I understand you said you stick to the feudal system, but you are applying that as a criticism for thieves guilds in fantasy settings in general.
No, I am not criticizing in general. i pointed out at the start that I do not use D&D, and I only use fuedal systems. Within that context, I said that thieves guilds are silly.

Since then, other people keep bring in D&D and non-feudal settings of dubious quality.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
No, I am not criticizing in general. i pointed out at the start that I do not use D&D, and I only use fuedal systems. Within that context, I said that thieves guilds are silly.

Since then, other people keep bring in D&D and non-feudal settings of dubious quality.

except that you did make the absolute statement of Thieves guilds being a ’stupid’ concept in a feudal setting, despite the thread being about fantasy settings ‘in general’, and despite the notion that feudalism and general scarcity could survive fantasy magic is equally ‘stupid‘.

people giving examples of thieves guilds functioning in other real world eras and societies isnt an attack on your setting ideals, even if you wish to defend them and be dismissive of the era-appropriate counter example of Robin Hood and his band (who admittedly was probably just a poacher and leader of a local peasant rebellion).

but even in 1000ad Lundenwic had a population of about 10000 and a harsh system of laws with maiming of theives, hanging and trial by combat, later appointment of reeves and enforcement by feudal hides and tithings. My earlier point about thieves guilds not having to be formal organisations stands - its just a network of smugglers, thieves and buyers willing to trade illicit goods and can exist anywhere urban populations gather.

That said I do like gritty settings and yours does sound fascinating
(NB I was going to reference Warhammers theives guild, but acknowledge thats not the feudal era you utilise either) :)
 
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except that you did make the absolute statement of Thieves guilds being a ’stupid’ concept in a feudal setting, despite the thread being about fantasy settings ‘in general’, and despite the notion that feudalism and general scarcity could survive fantasy magic is equally ‘stupid‘.
I stand by that statement. And given the low magic system I use for fantasy (Zweihander), the presence of magic would only mildly affect healing and military actions.

but even in 1000ad Lundenwic had a population of about 10000 and a harsh system of laws with maiming of theives, hanging and trial by combat, later appointment of reeves and enforcement by feudal hides and tithings.
Very true, but trial by combat was limited to the knightly classes. Reeves are simply freemen assigned to keep order within a village, manor, or neighborhood as a secondary duty. The simple fact is that in feudal times, in addition to lacking the personal wealth and accumulation of goods, there is a singular lack of basic rights. Thieves were branded, maimed, or executed. The concept of Thieves Guilds assumes that there is a check to the local authority, the sort of thing that only came into existence post-feudal. Otherwise the local ruler would simply execute this challenge to his authority.

The other issue is that in the feudal period, there are few laws worth breaking. There's no illegal drugs, gambling and prostitution are legal, and the peasants are just one step above slavery.

 

Haiku Elvis

Knuckle-dusters, glass jaws and wooden hearts.
You think Henry VIII genuinely thought his second wife was a witch? That’s was convenient for him.
No but he does provide circumstancial evidence for large thieves organisations as he clearly thought all the monasteries' gold and silver needed moving to his vaults for safekeeping.
 

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