Frankish Empire: An empire of Germanic barbarians?

Mar 2018
44
Greece
#1
I recently read that even using fork to eat was introduced in Frankish empire by the Eastern Roman empress Theofano as late as in 973, and taking that as a "sample", I was wondering, was the lifestyle of Frankish citizens from 5th to 10th century AD really different and significantly more developed than that of ancient Germanic Barbarian paganists of Roman times, like Goths etc?

The point of the title: There is a tendency of de-Germanization of Frankish empire and an attempt to be presented as a "new Rome" or something "multicultural" and somewhat developed like the Roman empire, but i think that it has nothing to do with reality, which (reality) is that Frankish empire was just a confederation of kinda primitive Germanic tribes with hardy any other difference from their ancestors than religion
 
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Apr 2018
979
Upland, Sweden
#2
Well. They had stone buildings. They had (and used, for many purposes) writing. They were organized into a Kingdom/ Empire larger than anything which had existed among the Germanic tribes previously. They minted their own coinage, which if Tacitus is to be believed the Germanic pagans didn't like much.

So yes, it was probably significantly more developed than that of the ancient Germanic pagans. As you write between the lines though, no - they were probably not as developed as the Byzantine Empire at that time. More interestingly, your entire example opens a thought provoking question: what is the point of development, and how do we measure it? Can we measure it?

I think it is interesting that it was these Germanic barbarians that would later be responsible for many of the most important changes that would occur in Europe during the late middle ages and onwards. Everything from English Common Law to Feudalism (in this case you can point to the Carolingians), to the printing press, to modern functional parliamentary governance and the industrial revolution(s) was pioneered by the descendents of these Germanic barbarians. Of course some would argue that these things are more because of the classical heritage etc. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note how things like "development" change over time.

Another interesting similar question would be how "developed" were the ancient Romans compared with the Greeks? They had no literature of their own worth mentioning for hundreds of years, they seem to have been quite boorish and uncultured... and yet, they conquered the entire Mediterranean, and today people in Western Europe anyway largely know of the Greeks through the Romans. If we want to go back even further, we could ask how "developed" Sparta, Corinth or Athens were compared with Miletus in 700-500 B.C. They were probably poorer, they didn't have any interesting philosophers, they were probably more unrefined... and yet, today many probably instinctively look upon those "Mainland" city states as much superior to the Ionian Greeks. It's interesting how this whole thing with "development" works...
 
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Jul 2009
9,858
#3
I recently read that even using fork to eat was introduced in Frankish empire by the Eastern Roman empress Theofano as late as in 973, and taking that as a "sample", I was wondering, was the lifestyle of Frankish citizens from 5th to 10th century AD really different and significantly more developed than that of ancient Germanic Barbarian paganists of Roman times, like Goths etc?
While the 5th century Franks were not "bridge playing sophisticates," there was a veneer of Romanitas about some of them. This was especially the case of Franks who served in the Roman army.

The lifestyle of the larger majority of them would have been little different from other frontier Barbarian tribal groupings. However, in the early centuries of your 5th -10th century time frame, there was more a sense of "commitatus" than in the last couple of centuries. From about 700 AD, and up through the era of the Carolingians, a greater degree of social sophistication and effective governance developed in the Frankish kingdom.

A companionship of free men in about 450 was eventually transformed by the 9th century into a society composed mostly of lords/bishops and of people who were becoming serfs in all but name. That is not surprising. As a relatively primitive society matures, certain elements of that society come to realize what they need to do in order to dominate, subjugate, and benefit from the labor and efforts of, the majority of its population. The more developed the Frankish kingdom became, the less free its "citizens" became.
 
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authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,195
#4
but i think that it has nothing to do with reality, which (reality) is that Frankish empire was just a confederation of kinda primitive Germanic tribes with hardy any other difference from their ancestors than religion
It depends on what the timeframe is but by the time of Charlemagne, he was writing to the Bishop in Modena asking if he could send some of 'that special vinegar', ie balsamic'. If you want a snapshot how Charlemagne organise his estates, see his Capitulare de Villis. for example:

34. They are to take particular care that anything which they do or make with their hands—that is, lard, smoked meat, sausage, newly-salted meat, wine, vinegar, mulberry wine, boiled wine, garum, mustard, cheese, butter, malt, beer, mead, honey, wax and flour—that all these are made or prepared with the greatest attention to cleanliness.
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,941
Dispargum
#5
The window mentioned in the OP, fifth-tenth centuries, was a time of great change for the Franks. It's impossible to characterize that time frame with any single word like 'barbarian.' We have fifth century accounts written by Gallo-Romans that mention barbarians maintaining primitive habits such as greasing their hair with rancid butter. The barbarians rapidly began to assimilate Roman culture and manners. By the time of Charlemagne Franks and Gallo-Romans were indistinguishable, so much so that terms like Gallo-Roman fall out of use. Everyone living west of the Rhine was a Frank regardless of their ancestry. The two groups had begun to intermarry by the year 600, if not earlier, so that by 800 the gene pools were completely intermingled. As the bloodlines intermingled, so did the culture. By 800 there were no longer two distinct cultures west of the Rhine, only one - Frankish culture which was a hybrid of the earlier Roman and barbarians cultures.

As for your fork example, 973 is actually an early date for the fork to be introduced into Western Europe. It would be accurate to say that in the 10th century Western Europe was more primitive than the Byzantine Empire, but that's not something we can blame on the barbarians. Western Romans did not have the fork in the fifth century. The fork had never existed in Western Europe before. The Age of Migrations did not cause a stoppage in the use of the fork.
 
Jan 2016
1,130
Victoria, Canada
#7
Who are we talking about here? A Germanic inhabitant of a fishing village along the Rhine estuary? A Frankish nobleman with a fief along the Seine? A Romance quasi-serf along the Loire? A native bishop of Provence? The answer will change with each. The Frankish realm often wasn't even unified in a nominal sense, let alone as a nation-state with citizens and a broadly shared culture. In the context of the 5th-8th centuries, some of its inhabitants were recently-converted Germanics living in pit-houses, some were rich, educated descendants of the Gallo-Roman aristocracy, others were Romance peasants living the same (not so sophisticated) way they had for centuries, and still others were semi- or quasi-Romanized nobles with increasingly civilized pretensions. Some of these were "barbaric" by Roman standards and others "civilized", but they can't, particularly in the early centuries, be painted together with the same brush.

In any case, the bulk of the Frankish realm was, by the 9th century, capable of producing most of what we (and the Romans) associate with high "civilization", such as monumental stone/brick buildings and major literary works, and had settled into a stable mode of sociopolitical and economic organization, based on layered feudal ties and obligations, which would endure in some form (in France itself) for almost 1000 years -- I wouldn't discount all that for a lack of forks. It might still be called less developed than the contemporary Mediterranean, perhaps quite markedly so, but it had undoubtedly moved far beyond the Germanic tribes of antiquity. Charlemagne's Palatine Chapel, Aachen, c. 800~ AD (mosaics redone in the 19th century):




The Plan of Saint Gall, an architectural plan for a monastery (though one never actually built) made 820-30 AD:

 

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,195
#8
The romans complained about the iberians claning their teeth with urine. Having said that, urea was a common ingredient in 20th century toothpaste.
 
Nov 2010
7,600
Cornwall
#9
I recently read that even using fork to eat was introduced in Frankish empire by the Eastern Roman empress Theofano as late as in 973, and taking that as a "sample", I was wondering, was the lifestyle of Frankish citizens from 5th to 10th century AD really different and significantly more developed than that of ancient Germanic Barbarian paganists of Roman times, like Goths etc?

The point of the title: There is a tendency of de-Germanization of Frankish empire and an attempt to be presented as a "new Rome" or something "multicultural" and somewhat developed like the Roman empire, but i think that it has nothing to do with reality, which (reality) is that Frankish empire was just a confederation of kinda primitive Germanic tribes with hardy any other difference from their ancestors than religion
A recent book I bought/read on Vouille - and the run up to - found that in the scarce sources there are the Goths referred to the Franks as 'the Germans'. Which sort of makes sense if you think where the Goths had been wandering about. But it makes you think about our general blase use of 'Germanic barbarians' and such things

The romans complained about the iberians claning their teeth with urine. Having said that, urea was a common ingredient in 20th century toothpaste.
Anyone stuffing their face with garum has got no right to moan about other people's habits :lol:
 
Mar 2018
44
Greece
#10
Well. They had stone buildings. They had (and used, for many purposes) writing. They were organized into a Kingdom/ Empire larger than anything which had existed among the Germanic tribes previously. They minted their own coinage, which if Tacitus is to be believed the Germanic pagans didn't like much.

So yes, it was probably significantly more developed than that of the ancient Germanic pagans. As you write between the lines though, no - they were probably not as developed as the Byzantine Empire at that time. More interestingly, your entire example opens a thought provoking question: what is the point of development, and how do we measure it? Can we measure it?

I think it is interesting that it was these Germanic barbarians that would later be responsible for many of the most important changes that would occur in Europe during the late middle ages and onwards. Everything from English Common Law to Feudalism (in this case you can point to the Carolingians), to the printing press, to modern functional parliamentary governance and the industrial revolution(s) was pioneered by the descendents of these Germanic barbarians. Of course some would argue that these things are more because of the classical heritage etc. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note how things like "development" change over time.

Another interesting similar question would be how "developed" were the ancient Romans compared with the Greeks? They had no literature of their own worth mentioning for hundreds of years, they seem to have been quite boorish and uncultured... and yet, they conquered the entire Mediterranean, and today people in Western Europe anyway largely know of the Greeks through the Romans. If we want to go back even further, we could ask how "developed" Sparta, Corinth or Athens were compared with Miletus in 700-500 B.C. They were probably poorer, they didn't have any interesting philosophers, they were probably more unrefined... and yet, today many probably instinctively look upon those "Mainland" city states as much superior to the Ionian Greeks. It's interesting how this whole thing with "development" works...
I keep the bold text, as the other 3 paragraphs are either completely irrelevant to the issue (3rd paragraph refers to things that happened 500-1000 years after Franks and some of them have nothing to do with even the descendants of Franks either) or, regarding development, development in the ancient world surely isn't something measurable but anyone without asperger syndrom can understand that colloseum is a sign of development compare to, let's say, nordic longhouse.

So back to the bold part, didn't ancient germanics have stone buildings? Or writing (runes)? Because i think in both questions the answer is yes
 

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