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Old January 3rd, 2018, 12:01 AM   #1
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Lightbulb Germanic influence on Feudalism


Im wondering about what kind influence germanic traditions had on feudalism. for example how the germanic franks affected feudalism and the feudal society of the Frankish empire. There is a lack of sources, but the differences between medieval society in northwestern Europe and the middle east are indicators that feudalism would not be the same without germanic traditions and law. there are obvious similarities between the german chiefdoms and later feudal kingdoms/empires. I feel there was a certain synthesis of roman, germanic and christian traditions.

Any kind of answer is appreciated.
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Old January 3rd, 2018, 12:29 AM   #2
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I'm under the impression Charles Martel invented feudalism. While France and Germany were one country at this point, clearly feudalism became something very different in the East than in the West. In the East the fundamental problem was extreme decentralization that wasn't resolved until Napoleon where in France you either had the King regain control or the English inheriting many if not most of the independent feudal entities gobbled up by centuries and centuries earlier.

Important to remember that if feudalism did indeed start with Martel that most of the European countries that would go on to practice it, hadn't really been formed yet, Russia was still 150 years from being formed, Magyars were a century further from settling. I don't know the mechanics of how the system spread or whether giving control of land to an aristocracy in exchange for loyalty is just something that caught on in a lot of agricultural dominated societies pretty quickly. I do know that France, Germany and England(which was conquered by a French fief) made up a great deal of Europe's mass. Remember the Holy Roman Empire contained a considerably larger amount of territory than the modern country of Germany like the Low Countries, Switzerland, Italy, Bohemia etc. Not much spreading really left to do except in regards to Russia, Hungary, Poland, Spain and Scandinavia.

In terms of the Frankish origins of the system, I don't know for sure, but the Frankish tradition of splitting all their land to different heirs was a form of feudalism/feudalism waiting to happen even if the feudalism that eventually rose was more marriage and loyalty based than family based. The system of splitting up all your land to your hiers did not stick that long and eventually the Emperor's mainly gave out land to non family members who became the rulers of the various houses but in the very early HRE, you did still have East Francia being split up into pieces. For example when Louis the German died, his realms were split in three to his hiers. East Francia was never cut up again until the Carrolingians died out and the Holy Roman Emperors were introduced at which time, or soon after, dividing the realm as equal states stopped and dividing the realm as fiefs loyal to the Emperor started.

Of course feudalism has dukes splitting up their land and so forth and I'm not sure if this was done the same way with the early Franks, I'm really only commenting on the Kings and major duchies.
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Old January 3rd, 2018, 01:26 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by milstrom View Post
Im wondering about what kind influence germanic traditions had on feudalism. for example how the germanic franks affected feudalism and the feudal society of the Frankish empire. There is a lack of sources, but the differences between medieval society in northwestern Europe and the middle east are indicators that feudalism would not be the same without germanic traditions and law.
Germanic Laws such as the Lex Burgundionum, Lex Visigothorum, Lex Thuringorum, Lex Saxonum, the Lex Francorum Chamavorum and the Lex Frisionum are heavily influenced by roman law so it may be wrong to equate the rise of feudalism with these laws other than it probably did propagate because they were already in place.

In Scandinavia, the change to feudalism probably starts in the mid 6th century and the rise of the 'central places', whereby individuals sought to gather power and wealth around them, the rise of the warrior cults and the building of fortifications. Scandinavian researchers currently hypothesise that the change from the more diverse fertility cults which preceded this period was due to scandinavian mercenaries returning from central europe with tales of the Huns, with some, such as Hedeager, claiming that some Huns returned with them.

Scandinavia and the Huns: an Interdisciplinary Approach to the Migration Era.

Ulf Näsman provides a different view:

Scandinavia and the Huns - A source-critical approach to an old question

On central places:

Political and Social Structures in Early Scandinavia - A Settlement-historical Pre-study of the Central Place

Last edited by authun; January 3rd, 2018 at 01:32 AM.
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Old January 3rd, 2018, 01:51 AM   #4
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Germanic Laws such as the Lex Burgundionum, Lex Visigothorum, Lex Thuringorum, Lex Saxonum, the Lex Francorum Chamavorum and the Lex Frisionum are heavily influenced by roman law so it may be wrong to equate the rise of feudalism with these laws other than it probably did propagate because they were already in place.
In other words, one could say that germanic traditions really didnt have any significant influence on feudalism?
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Old January 3rd, 2018, 03:06 AM   #5

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As is generally known the Visigoths basically (and gradually) carved up all the original Roman croplands and fincas, added in a few extra livestock breeds and carried on with 'Hispania' as best they knew.

The detailed studies into this land use as performed and reported by Luis A Garcia Moreno (Los Visigodos de Espana) sound exactly like feudalism to me, with the use of retainers slaves and freemen. Moreno states that there is a debate where Spanish historians suggest that this was proto-feudalism, other historians disagree.

As I say from what I've read it did sound like feudalism in all but name - but then again they did just basically inherit the Roman structure and this is what came out in the wash!
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Old January 3rd, 2018, 03:28 AM   #6
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As is generally known the Visigoths basically (and gradually) carved up all the original Roman croplands and fincas, added in a few extra livestock breeds and carried on with 'Hispania' as best they knew.

The detailed studies into this land use as performed and reported by Luis A Garcia Moreno (Los Visigodos de Espana) sound exactly like feudalism to me, with the use of retainers slaves and freemen. Moreno states that there is a debate where Spanish historians suggest that this was proto-feudalism, other historians disagree.

As I say from what I've read it did sound like feudalism in all but name - but then again they did just basically inherit the Roman structure and this is what came out in the wash!
So there there was no significant presence of germanic tradition, law etc in Visigothic Spain?
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Old January 3rd, 2018, 05:00 AM   #7
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Pre-migration Germanic practice included a tradition of a deeply personal bond of loyalty between warlord and follower. This eventually evolved into the feudal oath of fealty.

Early Germanic warriors followed their lord out of a desire for martial glory and the expectation of reward. After a campaign Germanic warlords were expected to divide the spoils among their followers. In feudalism this is seen in the practice of the king or lord giving land to his followers in exchange for military service.

Early Germanic armies were two-tiered. Every man was expected to serve in a kind of militia, but there were also professional warriors called retainers who lived in the house of the warlord, ate at his table, and served as his body guards or honor guards. Warlords competed with each other to have the largest retinues. The more successful a warlord was, the more retainers he could afford to sustain. Consider the 11th century Saxon husscarles. Husscarl literally translates as 'house man.' Several centuries earlier the husscarles had been these live-in body guards of the kings and great lords although by the 11th century they had evolved into something else. The 11th century Anglo-Saxon army also consisted of the fyrd, a more sophisticated version of the pre-migration militia.


Charles Martel did implement some reforms, but feudalism did not spring into existance at any one time. It evolved slowly over many centuries out of what had existed before. Feudalism did have Germanic antecedants. It was probably more Germanic in origin than Roman.
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Old January 3rd, 2018, 05:48 AM   #8
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In other words, one could say that germanic traditions really didnt have any significant influence on feudalism?
That rather depends on which gemanic traditions you refer to. They change over time. The germanic tribes of Tacitus' time are very different from the 5th century. The Franks of the 8th century are very different from the Saxon Confederation of the 8th century, or the Scandinavia groups. The influence of Rome, of Christianity, of schooling and of heredity authority which carried with it international recognition does not affect all the germanic tribes. On the other hand, many early germanic traditions persist, hence the introduction of wergilds into the various law codes and the retention of certain aspects of paganism.

Tacitus wrote in the first century: "They choose their kings by birth, their generals for merit. These kings have not unlimited or arbitrary power, and the generals do more by example than by authority." During the early Merovingian dynasty, the Mayor held as much power as the King. It's a far cry from feudalism at that point. Feudalism is claimed to start when the Mayor Charles Martel becomes the defacto ruler and later when the title becomes a hereditary one sanctioned by the Pope. Groups like the Saxon confederation however are still continuing with earlier models where authority is derived from the leadership qualities of individuals.

An analogy would be to ask if paganism influenced christianity. Christianity in the west grew as pagans converted and the fundamental concept of Christianity required that pagan idols be discarded. Yet we stll find lots of fossils to paganism in western christianity. There is an influence, but it would be wrong to say Christianity grew out of paganism.

Last edited by authun; January 3rd, 2018 at 05:53 AM.
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Old January 3rd, 2018, 07:46 AM   #9

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That rather depends on which gemanic traditions you refer to. They change over time. The germanic tribes of Tacitus' time are very different from the 5th century. The Franks of the 8th century are very different from the Saxon Confederation of the 8th century, or the Scandinavia groups. The influence of Rome, of Christianity, of schooling and of heredity authority which carried with it international recognition does not affect all the germanic tribes. On the other hand, many early germanic traditions persist, hence the introduction of wergilds into the various law codes and the retention of certain aspects of paganism.

Tacitus wrote in the first century: "They choose their kings by birth, their generals for merit. These kings have not unlimited or arbitrary power, and the generals do more by example than by authority." During the early Merovingian dynasty, the Mayor held as much power as the King. It's a far cry from feudalism at that point. Feudalism is claimed to start when the Mayor Charles Martel becomes the defacto ruler and later when the title becomes a hereditary one sanctioned by the Pope. Groups like the Saxon confederation however are still continuing with earlier models where authority is derived from the leadership qualities of individuals.

An analogy would be to ask if paganism influenced christianity. Christianity in the west grew as pagans converted and the fundamental concept of Christianity required that pagan idols be discarded. Yet we stll find lots of fossils to paganism in western christianity. There is an influence, but it would be wrong to say Christianity grew out of paganism.
Paganism was influenced by Christianity too.

Odin got more and more important and started to get a kind of Christ.

https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odin
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Old January 3rd, 2018, 10:13 AM   #10
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Paganism was influenced by Christianity too.

Odin got more and more important and started to get a kind of Christ.

https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odin

Probably because the icelandic sagas, from which we get our knowledge of norse paganism, were written after conversion. Thus they write about the pagan gods from a Christian perspective. Odin is very much sanitised or, Christianised. We don't know how or what the pre conversion pagans thought.
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