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The Origins of Feudalism

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The legacy of Rome, in the matter of the social relationships, consists into the "patronage", this technique by which free peasants place themselves, economically and politically, under the dependence of a landlord, due to the disorders of the end of the Roman empire. German tribes, as far as they are concerned, knew the institution of a warriors' companionship, by which warriors gathered around a war chief, who distributed lands and parts of the booty. The Merovingian times, as they are quickly turning into times of disorder too, are perpetuating those types of personal relationships. The struggles between the heirs of Clovis are just the appropriate atmosphere where new forms of such relationships appear, like the bodies of armed retainers, of the "antrustiones", all those bodies of armed warriors associated with the magnates of the time. The "commendatio" and the allowance of tenements held for life appear too during the Merovingian times. Some free men are seen becoming the "vassals" of more powerful neighbours who are called "seniores", through a legal act called the "commendatio" -the "recommendation of oneself. The free men who are commending themselves exchange the honorable services they can provide to the "potens" for the safety provided by the latter. Such relationships have in no case, at that time, any military aspect. On the contrary, such contracts are mainly the fact of private persons. On the other hand, the Merovingian times are seing the beginnings of the allowance of land estates by the magnates, "as a benefit". Such "potentes" are granting to some people some land estates as a "benefectum", as a gift coming from their benevolence. Such estates are hold for life only by the tenant. Both institutions, the "commendatio" -that is the first form of the vassalage- and the "benefit" are remaining independent of each other. The weakening of the theoretical conceptions of the political relationships allowed to a important development of those personal links. The Carolingian society eventually was to turn broken up into numerous entities, like the villae, counties, Church circonscriptions, etc.) the inhabitants communities of the 9th century included. The links from man to man, on a other hand, formed the social basis as the Carolingians officialized the ancient 'commendatio' and the vassality, which tend to conceal more intellectual and legal concepts. The Frankish king thus, in the whole of his dominions, will have every freeman to swear fidelity. Time of the first Carolingians at last owed much to conquest and booty -under the form of lands- which allowed to maintain the faithfullness of the Greats. The strong power of the Emperor only could give structure to such a diversity and as soon as it began lacking, since the late 9th century A.D., all those groups will render themselves autonomous and have their status turn hereditary. Castles, in the landscape at the time of the Carolingien decline, as they were built against the Northmen, turned the symbolic landmark

Several status, like said, contributed to the decline of the Carolingians et eventually brought by 1000 B.C. to the classical medieval society and political system:

Counts and territorials princes took their independency from the Frankish ruler, first, during the first half of the 10th century A.D. as they created 'principalties', a large set of territories and then the move increased, in the second half of the same century and reaching to lower and lower layers. Those new 'lords' each built wooden castles upon earth mounds like a sign of their power. When this downwards motion eventually stopped, that is during the darkest times of the Middle Ages, about 1000 A.D., it will have settled at the level of the famed manors -or "seigneuries". Manors are those domains with a castle, a lord and his warriors, a church and the peasants as it was there, in territories reaching the size of a contemporary French commune, that, among those times without no authority anymore, that the real, daily power will be exerted

The Carolingian times are the times when the system of the antique villa of the Roman times is geographically and structurally turning into the Carolingian type of the villa, when the vassalage and benefices become the basis of the Carolingian "ost" and when the feudal institutions become part of the state mechanisms. The Church, at the same time, is becoming more efficient. All such trends might have brought to a steady, Frankish empire in the frame of which the first synthesis between the legacy of Rome, the Church, and the German tribes might have occurred. Such a Frankish world might have protected the life of the peasants of the kindgom inside ascertained borders and allowed a more potent Church, as the "missi dominici" and the counts, or the Frankish values shifted back to the banks of the Rhine, would have made of Charlemagne, his predecessors and heirs, the founders of an orderly, earthly kingdom. The events however brought another history. It's not until the year 1000 A.D. that in the manors, and with the will of the Church to bring back the knights to the order of the "Peace of God" movement, that the European synthesis will actually occur de se, and develop further until 1250 A.D., eventually reaching its apogee. On a timespan of 500 years, since the reign of King Clovis, the stabilization of the western part of the former Roman empire only was performed, finally, by self, from the bottom up. That came from the final disappearance from the Roman empire both in the West or the East, the Arab conquest which broke the trade routes between Europe and Byzantium, or the will of papacy to reinstate a Empire, be it Roman or not, in the West

Website Manager: G. Guichard, site Learning and Knowledge In the Carolingian Times / Erudition et savoir à l'époque carolingienne, Page Editor: G. Guichard. last edited: 4/10/2015. contact us at