The Lost Fort

My Travel and History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times


28 Feb 2007
  Feudalism 101 (Part 2)

Carolingian Times (8th-10h centuries)

Subsequently, the oath of obedience changed into an oath of fealty, and therewith the system of entourage into the genuine feudal system.

Not all the retainers could live at the court, so they were given a piece of land as beneficium (French fief), and they were only called into service on special occassions. The dependence of the vassals towards their lord was lessened, at the same time the social status of the vasalls developed into membership of a special group with increasingly high standing that would become the knights. A disadvantage of this development resulted in the king and the lords somewhat losing the grip on their vasalls.

During the reign of Charlemagne, feudality developed into a veritable system by uniting the originally independent institutions of the personal bound by commendation and the landloan of the beneficium. Vassalage thus became the prerequisite for receiving a beneficium. The act of making a vasall was formalized: the first step was the commendation or manumission ('handgang' - the vasall put his hands into the hands of the lord), followed by an oath of fealty. Touching of a reliquar was also often part of it.

The importance of the oath was enhanced the moment the institution of the antrustiones went into decline. A possible reason for this was the fact that the oath was legally binding for both parties and it could only take part between freeborn men. It thus gave a counterweight to the act of the commendation that stressed the dependant situation of the vasall. Successively, vassalage became acceptable even for persons of high standing.

Obedience was no longer neccesarily included in the oath formula. "By this oath I promise to be faithful to my lord, the very pious Emperor Charles, as according to custom and right a vasall owns faith towards his lord, to guard his realm and protect his rights. And I will keep this my sworn oath henceforth as is in my power, and may God, Creator of heaven and earth, and these holy relics help me." (1) Often the oath of fealty is defined in a 'negative' way: not to do anything that may give harm or disadvantage to the lord, "...to ensure the king by an oath of fidelity not to do anything against his life and his body, and not to take him prisoner to his disadvantage..." (2) The lord, too, had duties towards his vasalls, besides fidelity from his side it was mostly protection in form of military aid in case the vasall was attacked, and maintenance, fe. by giving him a beneficium. In addition to the afore mentioned fidelty, the vasall owed his lord consilium et auxilium, ie. he had to visit his lord on days of council and judgement and function as an advisor. Auxilium meant military aid as a mounted knight, together with his retainers, if he had; but it also could involve payment of ransom, or giving financial support in case of great celebrations such as marriage. High standing vasalls of a king could be asked to bring 500 or 1000 warriors to a war, part of them fully equipped kinghts. Therefore, vassalty was mostly a military institution.

Commendation and oath-taking both founded the personal relationship between vasall and lord, and a contract made in that way could not be broken or annulated save by the death of one of the parties. Later on, failure of one of the parties to keep the mutual promise of succour by the vasall and protection by the lord could also lead to annulation of the feudal bond. We have to keep in mind that personal bonds were the only way to somewhat regulate the misuse of power in a society without a 'modern' political system of legislative and courts of justice. Added to this, religion in Mediaeval society had a very strong influence and oath-breaking was considered as a major sacrilege leading directly towards condamnation.

Third part of the ceremony of making a vasall was the so-called investiture: the vasall was given the right over his beneficium by handing over of a symbolic object, fe. a staff. The sequence and importance ot the three elements of commendation, oath, and investiture changed within time.

Originally, the beneficium fell back to the lord after the vasall died. But the heirs of a vasall were, of course, interested in keeping the fief. Often the lord agreed to this and the usual way was to reenact the whole ceremony to make the new bond legal. In the second half of the 9th century heritage became the accepted way of transferring a fief.

The feudal pyramid - that means the system of lesser lords bound to dukes and counts, and these bound to the king - was weakened by the fact that an increasing number of minor vasalls and subsequently even the higher ones gave their alliance to several lords for different fiefs. This resulted in a lessened bond towards the king, the oath-taking became a mere formality. At the end of the millenium the feudal system was close to a collapse, a development accelerated by the weakening of the position of the king during the late Carolingian period (there were often several sons fighting over the heritage and the lands). But still the value of the oath had some effect and kept the feudal system and with it the empire from collapsing.

Footnotes
(1) Annales Regni Francorum 802
(2) Actes des comtes de Flandre; part of the oath sworn by Count Robert II of Flanders to King Henry I of England in 1101

Picture: Roland swearing fealty to Charlemagne, from the mss. of a chanson de geste - Public Domain (could not find out which particular manuscript)
 


  Feudalism 101 (Part 1)

Merovingian Times (5th-8th centuries)

"Because it is well known to everyone that I have no food and no clothes, I have prayed to your compassion and I have of my free will decided to give myself into your protection, or to commend myself to you. And I have done this; it shall be that way that you will give me food and clothes and support me in the measure as I will serve you and therewith earn your support. Until my death I am obliged to serve you and to obey you as I may as a freeborn man, and during my life I cannot withdraw from your power and protection, but I will remain in your power and protection as long as I live." (1) This formula is a rare written example for a process which usually was staged orally and by the use of symbolic gestures. The contract of commendation was concluded between two persons and ended with the death of one of the parties. It is important to note that the duties of the commendent might not interfere with his rights and dignity as a freeborn man.

Pacts between free men of lower social status and men of power have already existed in Merovingian times, and I suppose they may have existed even earlier albeit there's no proof. Roman sources did not care how exactly the relationship between fe. Arminius and his retainers, if he had such, was defined.

Those pacts were based upon service from the one side, and protection from the other side, the patrocinium. The relation between them was hierarchical, power on one side, obedience on the other. Especially kings could thus attract men, and in Merovingian times these royal retainers were called antrustiones. They formed a special sort of personal guard with a number of privileges. For example, if any of them was killed in a fight, his relatives got a higher weregild than for a non-member (2). This special status the group had in common with the Old Norse hirð, only the latter organisation lasted until the 13th century. The Merovingian antrustiones fell into decline when the Carolingian familiy rose to kingship in the 8th century.

The contract does not specify the duties of the vassal, nor the way the protection of the lord was carried out. Nor is it clear whether the commendation in these early times necessarily involved an oath of fealty, or a symbolic gesture like the manumission. But both are occasionally mentioned concerning the antrustiones (3)

The lord could keep the commendent at his court, but he could also give him a piece of his land to live upon. This was called tenure in case it was given as a loan, and usually the tenant had to pay taxes or tithes. But the lord could also give the land under more favourable conditions like tax exemption as a beneficium (4). In Merovingian times the patrocinium, based upon obedience and service from the commendent (sometimes called vassus) and protection by the lord, and the gift of a beneficium were separate institutions. That changed in Carolingian times when vassalty and beneficium became connected. (5)


Footnotes
(1) Taken from the Formulae Turonensis, No. 43. Edition: MG Formulae Merovingici et Karolini Aevi. ed. by K. Zeumer, p. 158. The formula dates from the beginning of the 8th century, but the form of it goes back to an old tradition (Ganshof, p. 4).
(2) It is not clear whether the members of the antrustiones were connected in a form of co-operative among each other (as it was the case in the hirð), or whether they as vassals of the king only were bound to him; Althoff, p. 139.
(3) Ganshof, p. 7. An example for the act in: De regis antrustione, in: Marciulfi Formulae 1.18, ed. Zeumer).
(4) The word beneficium is often used in the chartes and documents from the Merovingian times onward (Ganshof, p. 9).
(5) The word vasall (Latin vassus or vassallus) is used from the 8th century onwards. It might go back to the Celtic gwas = servant (Schulze, p. 58), but there is no absolute proof for this assumption.

Literature
  • Gerd Althoff. Verwandte, Freunde und Getreue - Zum politischen Stellenwert der Grupppenbindungen im früheren Mittelalter. Darmstadt 1990 (Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft)
  • Karl-Heinz Bender. König und Vasall. Untersuchungen zur Chanson de geste des XII. Jahrhunderts, Heidelberg, 1967 (=Studia Romanica 13)
  • James Campbell. The Anglo-Saxon State (selected essays). London and New York, 2000
  • Jean Favier. Histoire de France vol. II. Le temps de principautés - De l'an mil a 1515. Paris, 1984
  • François Louis Ganshof. Qu'est-ce que la féodalité? Bruxelles, 1944, 3rd and reworked ed. 1957 (that book still is a standard work)
  • Michael Heintze. König, Held und Sippe - Untersuchungen zur Chanson de geste des 13 und 14. Jahrhunderts und ihrer Zyklenbildung. Studia Romanica 76, Heidelberg 1991
  • John Le Patourel. Feudal Empires, Norman and Plantagenet (selected essays). London, 1984
  • Erich Köhler. Conseil des barons et jugement des barons: Epische Fatalität und Feudalrecht im altfranzösischen Rolandslied. In: H. Krauß (ed.) Altfranzösische Epik, Darmstadt 1978, S. 368-412
  • François Neveux. La Normandie: des ducs aux rois, Xe - XIIe siècle. Rennes, 1998
  • Pierre Riché. Les Carolingiens - Une famille qui fit l'Europe. Paris, 1983
  • Hans K. Schulze. Grundstrukturen der Verfassung im Mittelalter, Band 1: Stammesverband, Gefolgschaft, Lehnswesen, Grundherrschaft. Stuttgart, Berlin, Köln 1985
  • Karl Ferdinand Werner. Die Ursprünge Frankreichs bis zum Jahr 1000. München, 1995 (1st edition 1984)
  •  


    4 Feb 2007
      Ausonius' Mosella

    Salve, amnis odorifero iuga vitea consite baccho,
    consite gramineas amnis viridissime ripas!
    naviger ut pelagus, devexas pronus in undas
    ut fluvius, vitreoque lacus imitate profundo.

    Thus says the poet Decimus Magnus Ausonius (310-395 AD) in his Mosella. Ausonius was born in Bordeaux (Burdigala, Gaul); poet, wine-lover, teacher of the young emperor-to-be Gratian, and obviously a bit of a traveller since his poem Mosella describes a journey along the river.

    The viridissime ripas of the Moselle

    I attempted a translation albeit I suck at Latin, lol:
    A complete Latin version can be found here.

    Greetings, river, framed by perfumed vineyard-covered hills,
    Framed by grass; river of greenest shores.
    Your strong waters carry ships, flowing in easy waves
    Along the stream, and a glittering lake your depths emulate.

    I wish I had known the text when I traveled there. The images Ausonius evokes respond to what I did experience on my Moselle cruise in the evening.

    The Roman bridge across the Moselle in the evening haze

    Quis color ille vadis, seras cum propulit umbras
    Hesperus et viridi perfudit monte Mosellam.
    tota natant crispis iuga motibus et tremit absens
    pampinus et vitreis vindemia turget in undis.
    adnumerat virides derisus navita vites,
    navita caudiceo fluitans super aequora lembo,
    per medium, qua sese amni confundit imago
    collis et umbrarum confinia conserit amnis.

    Evening at the Moselle

    What colour are the waters when the Evening Star
    Brings shadows of night, and green mountains fill the Moselle.
    Hilltops swim in rippling waters, and trembles
    The distant vine and grapes swell in crystal waves.
    The boatsman counts mocking green vines
    As he lets his boat drift by on the surface.
    In the middle, where the river confounds its own image
    With hills and shadows, lines blur in the water.
     




    The Lost Fort is a travel and history blog based on my journeys in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and central / eastern Europe. It includes virtual town and castle tours with a focus on history, museum visits, hiking tours, and essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, illustrated with my own photos.


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    I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who still hasn't got an Instagram account.
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    The Battle at the Harzhorn
    Introduction

    Along the Limes
    The Cavalry Fort Aalen
    Limes Fort Osterburken
    Limes Fort Saalburg


    Gallia Belgica

    The Batavians

    The Batavian Rebellion
    A Short Introduction


    Britannia

    Roman Frontiers in Britain

    The Hadrian's Wall
    Introduction
    The Fort at Segedunum / Wallsend


    Mediaeval History

    General Essays

    Mediaeval Art and Craft

    Mediaeval Art
    Carved Monsters
    The Choir Screen in the Cathedral of Mainz
    The Gospels of Heinrich the Lion
    Mediaeval Monster Carvings
    The Viking Treasure of Hiddensee

    Medieaval Craftmanship
    Goldsmithery
    Medical Instruments

    Mediaeval Warfare

    Mediaeval Weapons
    Swords
    Trebuchets

    Castles and Fortifications
    Dungeons and Oubliettes

    Essays about Specific Topics

    Feudalism

    The History of Feudalism
    The Beginnings
    Feudalism in the 10th Century

    Privileges and Special Relationships
    The Privilege of the deditio
    A Note on handgenginn maðr

    The Hanseatic League

    The History of the Hanseatic League
    Introduction and Beginnings

    Hanesatic Architecture
    Examples of Brick Architecture

    Goods and Trade
    Stockfish Trade

    The Order of the Teutonic Knights

    Wars and Battles
    The Conquest of Danzig
    The Siege of Vilnius 1390

    The Vikings

    Viking Ships
    The Nydam Ship


    Germany

    Geneaology

    List of Mediaeval German Emperors

    Geneaologies
    Anglo-German Marriage Connections
    Heinrich the Lion's Ancestors

    Kings and Emperors

    The Salian Dynasty
    King Heinrich IV

    House Welf and House Staufen
    Emperor Otto IV, Introduction

    Princes and Lords

    Princes
    Otto the Quarrelsome of Braunschweig-Göttingen
    The Dukes of Braunschweig-Grubenhagen
    Otto of Northeim
    The Ludowing Landgraves of Thuringia
    Albrecht II and Friedrich I of Thuringia

    Counts and Local Lords
    The Marshals of Ebersburg
    The Counts of Everstein
    The Counts of Hohnstein
    The Lords of Plesse
    The Counts of Reichenbach
    The Counts of Winzenburg

    Famous Feuds

    Royal Troubles
    Otto IV and Bishop Adalbert II of Magdeburg

    Local Feuds
    The Lüneburg Succession War
    The Thuringian Succession War - Introduction
    The Star Wars


    England

    Kings of England

    King Henry IV
    King Henry's Lithuanian Crusade

    Normans, Britons, Angevins

    Great Fiefs - The Honour of Richmond
    The Dukes of Brittany and the Honour of Richmond
    The Earldom of Richmond and the Duchy of Brittany

    Contested Borders

    Northumbria
    King Stephen's Troubles with King David of Scots


    Scotland

    Kings of Scots

    House Dunkeld
    Malcolm III and Northumbria
    Struggle for the Throne: Malcolm III to David I
    King David and the Civil War, Part 1
    King David and the Civil War, Part 2

    Houses Bruce and Stewart
    Robert the Bruce and Stirling Castle
    The Early Stewart Kings

    Scottish Nobles and their Quarrels

    Clan Feuds
    MacLeans and MacDonalds
    A Scottish Wedding


    Wales

    Welsh Princes

    The Princes of Gwynedd
    The Rise of House Aberffraw

    Rebels

    A History of Rebellion
    From Llywellyn ap Gruffudd to Owain Glyn Dŵr


    Denmark

    Kings of Denmark

    House of Knýtlinga
    Harald Bluetooth's Flight to Pomerania

    Danish Rule in the Baltic Sea

    The Duchy of Estonia
    Danish Kings and German Sword Brothers


    Norway

    Kings of Norway

    Foreign Relations
    King Eirik's Scottish Marriages
    King Håkon V's Swedish Politics
    Beginnings of the Kalmar Union

    A Time of Feuds

    Famous Nobles and their Feuds
    Alv Erlingsson of Tønsberg


    Sweden

    Troubles and Alliances

    Scandinavian Unity
    Beginnings of the Kalmar Union


    Livonia
    (Latvia and Estonia)

    Towns of the Hanseatic League

    Riga
    The History of Mediaeval Riga

    Tallinn
    The History of Mediaeval Tallinn


    Lithuania

    The Northern Crusades

    The Wars in Lithuania
    The Siege of Vilnius 1390

    Lithuanian Princes

    The Geminid Dynasty
    Troublesome Cousins - Jogaila and Vytautas


    Poland

    The Northern Crusades

    The Conquest of Pomerania / Prussia
    The Conquest of Danzig

    Royal Dynasties

    The Jagiełłonian Kings
    Władysław Jagiełło and the Polish-Lithuanian Union


    Bohemia
    (Including Silesia and Moravia)

    The Bohemian Kings of House Luxembourg
    (to come)


    Other Times

    Prehistoric Times

    Germany

    Development of Civilisation
    European Bread Museum, Ebergötzen
    Open Air Museum Oerlinghausen

    Orkney

    Neolithic Orkney
    The Neolithic Landscape of Orkney
    Ring of Brodgar
    Skara Brae
    Life in Skara Brae

    Scandinavia

    Gotland
    The Ship Setting of Gnisvärd


    Post-Mediaeval History

    Explorers and Discoveries

    Explorers
    Fram Expedition to the North Pole
    Fram Expedition to the South Pole

    Discoveries
    Otto von Guericke and the Magdeburg Hemispheres
    Raising a Wreck, Now and Then (Vasa Museum in Stockholm)

    Biographies

    European Nobility
    Prince Wilhelm Malte of Putbus


    Miscellanea

    History in Literature and Music

    History in Literature

    Biographies of German Poets and Writers
    Theodor Fontane

    Historical Ballads by Theodor Fontane
    (Translated by me)
    Archibald Douglas
    Gorm Grymme
    Sir Walter Scott in Abbotsford
    The Tragedy of Afghanistan

    History in Opera

    Belcanto and Historicism
    Maria Padilla - Mistress Royal
    The Siege of Calais in Donizetti's Opera

    Not so Serious History

    Romans
    Building Hadrian's Wall
    Playmobil Romans

    Mediaeval Times
    Kings Having a Bad Hair Day
    The Case of the Vanished Wine Cask

    Other
    Rules for Writing Scottish Romances
    Tourist Kitsch in St.Petersburg


    Geology

    Geological Landscapes

    The Baltic Sea
    Geology of the Curonian Spit
    Chalk Cliffs on Rugia
    Flint Fields on Rugia

    The Harz
    Bode Valley and Rosstrappe Cliff
    The 'Hübichenstein' Rock
    Karst Formations in the Southern Harz
    The Lonau Falls
    The Rhume Springs

    Meissner / Kaufunger Wald
    Blue Dome near Eschwege
    Diabase and Basalt Formations
    Karst Formations

    Solling-Vogler
    Raised Bog Mecklenbruch
    Hannover Cliffs

    The Shores of Scotland
    Staffa

    Fossils and Other Odd Rocks

    Fossilized Ammonites
    The Loket Meteorite


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