The Lost Fort

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


28 Feb 2007
  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)
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    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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    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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