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In the movie Seven Samurai, a character accuses the samurai (all of them, as a caste of society) of destroying villages, raping women, and stealing from poor farmers. Samurai are usually portrayed as lawful — is there any legitimacy to this accusation?(r/AskHistorians)
To begin with, don’t forget that the romanticized Western image of samurai as hyper honor focused warrior monk types is pure exoticism with no real historic backing.
More to the point, like with the knights of Europe, while there was an official ideal of honor it was more prescriptive than descriptive and when you have a large group of heavily armed men some are going to be scumbags.
Further, “samurai” simply meant “person from the caste permitted to carry weapons”, towards the end of the Tokugawa period (1600-1868) a great many samurai class men had no real weapon training, a minimal pension from the government, and generally survived by running up debts which were nullified every few years by government edict.
The Seven Samurai takes place earlier, in the Sengoku period (aka the Warring States Period), at a time of chaos and general confusion. There was no centralized government, no rule beyond what the local warlord decreed and could enforce, and samurai (again, meaning “people who carried weapons”, not “super highly trained and deeply honorable warrior monk types”) were thugs enforcing the will of their local warlord, which usually meant stealing whatever they could from the peasants and calling it taxes.
Or, worse, they were ronin. When a warlord was defeated his soldiers (samurai) often just wandered off and turned to banditry to survive. There’s a lot of mythology and several stories involving deeply honorable ronin seeking adventure and vengeance for the people who betrayed their lords, but mostly in real life they were just armed and trained men who took whatever they could from the people least likely to fight back.
You might check out State of War, it’s more about the somewhat earlier times than the Sengoku period, but most of what it covers applies to the later periods as well.
For an interesting, often funny, first hand, primary source, account of daily life for a poor man of samurai class during the mid Tokugawa period check Musui’s Story, it’s a very quick read, an autobiography written by Musui himself, who lived a quite disreputable life and busts a lot of myths of the noble honorable samurai.
TL;DR: even at the best of times, samurai were just soldiers, and historically soldiers weren’t what you’d call very nice. In the worse times they were just bandits. The idea of samurai as super honorable warriors is just a myth.