The Origins Of Curfew

Since you’re reading up on the relevance of curfews and how best to monitor your adolescent’s understanding of the subject, you may have become curious on how and why curfews came about in the first place. Today’s post will be more of a broad educational lesson, designed to familiarize you with the etymology and implementation of curfews worldwide. It should provide a deeper grasp of its importance and give you a few teaching pointers for your teen. Or maybe it’ll just improve your odds at trivia night. That’s OK, too.


On the Word Itself

Curfew is serious business. It has always been serious business. Just how serious was the business of curfew at the inception of the word’s usage? Let’s take a look at its roots. The word stems from the French “couvre-feu”, which literally translates to “fire cover”. Well, that sounds dangerous! But wait — it gets better. The original meaning involves the famed-and-infamous William the Conqueror, who passed a rather clever law: every light and fire in every place he ruled needed to be covered up safely by the ringing of the eight o’clock bell in order to reduce the risk of destructive fires within timber-built towns. Hey, William was thinking ahead! He enacted a sort of medieval ordinance, one that was no doubt influenced by the horrific tragedies he’d witnessed in communities without strict guidelines. For all his violent accomplishments, it seems ol’ Willy saved his fair share of lives!

Curfew at Giza

Close to a thousand years have passed since William enacted his fire cover, and societies have been enacting curfews of all shapes and sizes ever since. In fact, the concept of requiring people to remain indoors after a certain time dates back from well before his time, all the way to Ancient Egypt and probably before them as well. Rulers have required strict itinerary from their citizens for a variety of reasons. The Pharaohs of Egypt worried that social classes might mix and destabilize their perceived order of things. While we can retroactively criticize such thinking, at the time it was a pillar of civilization that different people be kept isolated from one-another.

Roman Imperial Curfew

But for a more universally reasonable stance, let’s take a glance at the Roman Republic. In Rome, soldiers lined the streets in orderly patrols day and night, maintaining the senatorial peace wherever they went. Yet so many hundreds of thousands of Roman citizens flocked across the Republic (and later, Empire) on their way to so many places, and there were plenty of backwater regions without ample patrol. Fearing chaos, lawmakers passed rules and regulations for keeping folks safe by insisting that they remain inside late at night. Roaming bands of ruffians had their thirst for hard-earned coin stifled by good old-fashioned law and order.

The Industrial Curfew Revolution

As the centuries have passed, a multitude of new dangers have emerged, and governments have turned to enforcing time-sensitive scheduling plans to challenge these dangers. During the early days of the Industrial Revolution, overnight factory workers would produce so much smog in cities like London and New York that citizens were strongly encouraged to remain indoors until dawn. It’s not that there wasn’t a ton of smog during the daytime, too, and never mind the fact that the poor overnight workers were exposed to it all head-on, but there was just so much being manufactured in the evening when the streets were clear that choking hazards prompted curfew.

The Battle for Comprehending Curfew

We can’t forget curfew in times of war, either. When threats of military attack are underway, a country’s leaders will wisely insist that its population lock their doors and stay inside at night, when visibility is poor and the odds of assault are higher. In this way, and in every other way, it becomes obvious that curfew is an old and vital part of the world we live in. It’s never fun being told what we can and cannot do, especially for a teenager. But perhaps you’ll have a better time of it if you can help them to recognize why it’s a part of so many lives and how important it truly is.