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Germanic monarchy

Germanic monarchy

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Germanic kingship refers to the customs and practices surrounding kings among the pagan Germanic tribes of the Migration period
Migration Period
The Migration Period, also called the Barbarian Invasions , was a period of intensified human migration in Europe that occurred from c. 400 to 800 CE. This period marked the transition from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages...

 (circa AD 300-700) and the kingdoms of the Early Middle Ages
Early Middle Ages
The Early Middle Ages was the period of European history lasting from the 5th century to approximately 1000. The Early Middle Ages followed the decline of the Western Roman Empire and preceded the High Middle Ages...

 (circa AD 700-1000).
The title of king (Proto-Germanic:*kuningaz) is in origin that of the leader elected
Elective monarchy
An elective monarchy is a monarchy ruled by an elected rather than hereditary monarch. The manner of election, the nature of the candidacy and the electors vary from case to case...

 as sacral and military leader from out of a noble family, usually considered of divine ancestry, in the pagan
Germanic paganism
Germanic paganism refers to the theology and religious practices of the Germanic peoples of north-western Europe from the Iron Age until their Christianization during the Medieval period...

 period.

The Germanic monarchies were originally pagan
Germanic paganism
Germanic paganism refers to the theology and religious practices of the Germanic peoples of north-western Europe from the Iron Age until their Christianization during the Medieval period...

, but their contact, during the Völkerwanderung or Migration Period
Migration Period
The Migration Period, also called the Barbarian Invasions , was a period of intensified human migration in Europe that occurred from c. 400 to 800 CE. This period marked the transition from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages...

, with the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 and the Christian Church
Christian Church
The Christian Church is the assembly or association of followers of Jesus Christ. The Greek term ἐκκλησία that in its appearances in the New Testament is usually translated as "church" basically means "assembly"...

 greatly altered their structure and developed into the feudal monarchy of the High Middle Ages
High Middle Ages
The High Middle Ages was the period of European history around the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries . The High Middle Ages were preceded by the Early Middle Ages and followed by the Late Middle Ages, which by convention end around 1500....

.

The term "barbarian monarchy" is sometimes used in the context of those Germanic rulers that after AD 476 and during the 6th century ruled territories formerly part of the Western Roman Empire
Western Roman Empire
The Western Roman Empire was the western half of the Roman Empire after its division by Diocletian in 285; the other half of the Roman Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire, commonly referred to today as the Byzantine Empire....

, especially the Barbarian kings of Italy. In the same context, Germanic law is also termed leges barbarorum "barbarian law" etc.

Terminology



The English term king is derived from the Anglo-Saxon
Old English language
Old English or Anglo-Saxon is an early form of the English language that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons and their descendants in parts of what are now England and southeastern Scotland between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century...

 cyning, which in turn is derived from the Common Germanic *kuningaz. The Common Germanic term was borrowed into Finnish and Estonian at an early time, surviving in these languages as kuningas.

The term is notably different from the word for "king" in other Indo-European languages (*rēks "ruler"; Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 rēx
King of Rome
The King of Rome was the chief magistrate of the Roman Kingdom. According to legend, the first king of Rome was Romulus, who founded the city in 753 BC upon the Palatine Hill. Seven legendary kings are said to have ruled Rome until 509 BC, when the last king was overthrown. These kings ruled for...

, Sanskrit rājan
Raja
Raja is an Indian term for a monarch, or princely ruler of the Kshatriya varna...

and Irish
Irish language
Irish , also known as Irish Gaelic, is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family, originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish people. Irish is now spoken as a first language by a minority of Irish people, as well as being a second language of a larger proportion of...

 
Rí, or very commonly ríg , is an ancient Gaelic word meaning "King". It is used in historical texts referring to the Irish and Scottish kings and those of similar rank. While the modern Irish word is exactly the same, in modern Scottish it is Rìgh, apparently derived from the genitive. The word...

g
). It is a derivation from the term *kunjom "kin" (Old English cynn) by the -inga- suffix.
The literal meaning is that of a "scion of the [noble] kin", or perhaps "son or descendant of one of noble birth" (OED).

There were other terms for the Germanic king in early Germanic languages, derived from the word for "the people, the nation" rather than "kin".
These are Old Norse fylkir (from *fulka
Folk
The English word Folk is derived from a Germanic noun, *fulka meaning "people" or "army"...

) and Gothic þiudans (from *þeuda).

Comparable terms did not necessarily refer to a king but to any member of the nobility, e.g. Old English dryhten (from *druhtiz "army, folk, people"), þēoden (from *þeuda) and æðeling (from *aþel "noble family").

In Germanic poetry, kennings in use for "king" or "lord" include Old English beah-gifa "giver of rings" (Beowulf
Beowulf
Beowulf , but modern scholars agree in naming it after the hero whose life is its subject." of an Old English heroic epic poem consisting of 3182 alliterative long lines, set in Scandinavia, commonly cited as one of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon literature.It survives in a single...

).

Earl
Earl
An earl is a member of the nobility. The title is Anglo-Saxon, akin to the Scandinavian form jarl, and meant "chieftain", particularly a chieftain set to rule a territory in a king's stead. In Scandinavia, it became obsolete in the Middle Ages and was replaced with duke...

/jarl was a title for a chieftain or leader of a small force of men below the level of kingship. The English lord
Lord
Lord is a title with various meanings. It can denote a prince or a feudal superior . The title today is mostly used in connection with the peerage of the United Kingdom or its predecessor countries, although some users of the title do not themselves hold peerages, and use it 'by courtesy'...

(hlāford) is another kenning for a chieftain, without parallels in other Germanic languages. Old Norse
Old Norse
Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300....

 hofðing (Modern German Häuptling) was a term for "chieftain", literally "head man". The Latinate captain introduced in the late medieval period has the same meaning.

Germanic pagan kingship


The Germanic king originally had three main functions:
  • To serve as judge during the popular assemblies.
  • To serve as a priest during the sacrifices.
  • To serve as a military leader during wars.


The office was received hereditarily, but a new king required the consent of the people before assuming the throne. All sons of the king had the right to claim the throne, which often led to co-rulership (diarchy
Diarchy
Diarchy , from the Greek δι- "twice" and αρχια, "rule", is a form of government in which two individuals, the diarchs, are the heads of state. In most diarchies, the diarchs hold their position for life and pass the responsibilities and power of the position to their children or family when they...

) where two brothers were elected kings at the same time. This evolved into the territories being considered the hereditary property of the kings, patrimonies
Property
Property is any physical or intangible entity that is owned by a person or jointly by a group of people or a legal entity like a corporation...

, a system which fueled feudal wars, because the kings could claim ownership of lands beyond their de facto rule.

As a sort of pagan high priest, the king often claimed descent from some deity. In the Scandinavia
Scandinavia
Scandinavia is a cultural, historical and ethno-linguistic region in northern Europe that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, characterized by their common ethno-cultural heritage and language. Modern Norway and Sweden proper are situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula,...

n nations, he administered blót
Blót
The blót was Norse pagan sacrifice to the Norse gods and the spirits of the land. The sacrifice often took the form of a sacramental meal or feast. Related religious practices were performed by other Germanic peoples, such as the pagan Anglo-Saxons...

s at important cult sites, such as the Temple at Uppsala
Temple at Uppsala
The Temple at Uppsala was a religious center in Norse paganism once located at what is now Gamla Uppsala , Sweden attested in Adam of Bremen's 11th century work Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum and in Heimskringla, written by Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century...

. Refusal to administer the blóts could lead to the king losing power (see Haakon the Good and Anund Gårdske
Anund Gårdske
Anund Gårdske or Anund of Gårdarike, English exonym: Anwynd, was the king of Sweden c. 1070 according to Adam of Bremen's Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum. According to this source, Anund came from Kievan Rus', presumably from Aldeigjuborg. Gårdske means that he came from Gardariki which...

).

According to the testimony of Tacitus
Tacitus
Publius Cornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors...

 (Germania
Germania (book)
The Germania , written by Gaius Cornelius Tacitus around 98, is an ethnographic work on the Germanic tribes outside the Roman Empire.-Contents:...

), the early Germanic peoples had an elective monarchy
Elective monarchy
An elective monarchy is a monarchy ruled by an elected rather than hereditary monarch. The manner of election, the nature of the candidacy and the electors vary from case to case...

 already in the 1st 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."


Germanic pagan society had three levels, the king, the nobility and the free men.
Their respective political influence was negotiated at the thing
Thing (assembly)
A thing was the governing assembly in Germanic and introduced into some Celtic societies, made up of the free people of the community and presided by lawspeakers, meeting in a place called a thingstead...

. According to the testimony of Tacitus,
"About minor matters the chiefs deliberate, about the more important the whole tribe. Yet even when the final decision rests with the people, the affair is always thoroughly discussed by the chiefs. [... At the assembly, w]hen the multitude think proper, they sit down armed. Silence is proclaimed by the priests, who have on these occasions the right of keeping order. Then the king or the chief, according to age, birth, distinction in war, or eloquence, is heard, more because he has influence to persuade than because he has power to command. If his sentiments displease them, they reject them with murmurs; if they are satisfied, they brandish their spears."


Tacitus notes that as each tribe had its own customary law, the political power of the king could vary between nations. Thus, he states that the Gothones were ruled by kings "a little more strictly than the other German tribes, but not as yet inconsistently with freedom" while beyond the Gothones, the Rugii and Lemovii
Lemovii
The Lemovii were a Germanic tribe, only once named by Tacitus in the late 1st century. He noted that they lived near the Rugii and Goths and that they had short swords and round shields.The Oxhöft culture is associated with parts of the Rugii and Lemovii...

 (tribes placed at the far end of Magna Germania, near the Baltic Sea
Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea is a brackish mediterranean sea located in Northern Europe, from 53°N to 66°N latitude and from 20°E to 26°E longitude. It is bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands. It drains into the Kattegat by way of the Øresund, the Great Belt and...

) lived in "servile submission to their kings".

History


With the decline of the Roman Empire
Decline of the Roman Empire
The decline of the Roman Empire refers to the gradual societal collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Many theories of causality prevail, but most concern the disintegration of political, economic, military, and other social institutions, in tandem with foreign invasions and usurpers from within the...

, much of her provinces came under the rule of Germanic kings: Hispania
Hispania
Another theory holds that the name derives from Ezpanna, the Basque word for "border" or "edge", thus meaning the farthest area or place. Isidore of Sevilla considered Hispania derived from Hispalis....

 to the Visigoths, Italia to the Ostrogoths, Gallia
Roman Gaul
Roman Gaul consisted of an area of provincial rule in the Roman Empire, in modern day France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and western Germany. Roman control of the area lasted for less than 500 years....

 to the Franks
Franks
The Franks were a confederation of Germanic tribes first attested in the third century AD as living north and east of the Lower Rhine River. From the third to fifth centuries some Franks raided Roman territory while other Franks joined the Roman troops in Gaul. Only the Salian Franks formed a...

, Britannia
Roman Britain
Roman Britain was the part of the island of Great Britain controlled by the Roman Empire from AD 43 until ca. AD 410.The Romans referred to the imperial province as Britannia, which eventually comprised all of the island of Great Britain south of the fluid frontier with Caledonia...

 to the Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of...

, and Africa
Africa Province
The Roman province of Africa was established after the Romans defeated Carthage in the Third Punic War. It roughly comprised the territory of present-day northern Tunisia, and the small Mediterranean coast of modern-day western Libya along the Syrtis Minor...

 to the Vandals
Vandals
The Vandals were an East Germanic tribe that entered the late Roman Empire during the 5th century. The Vandals under king Genseric entered Africa in 429 and by 439 established a kingdom which included the Roman Africa province, besides the islands of Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia and the Balearics....

. These nations had by then been in contact with Rome for a century or more and had adopted many Roman customs. They had been Christianised too and pagan practice was slowly being replaced.

The Frankish state under her Merovingian dynasty
Merovingian dynasty
The Merovingians were a Salian Frankish dynasty that came to rule the Franks in a region largely corresponding to ancient Gaul from the middle of the 5th century. Their politics involved frequent civil warfare among branches of the family...

 had many of the characteristics of Germanic monarchy under heavy influence from secular and ecclesiastic Rome. Her kings, through their division of the territory, treated her not as a state independent of themselves, but as their patrimony, land won by conquest (theirs and their forefathers'). The king was primarily a war leader and a judge. There are many theories to explain the collapse of Merovingian power, most of which blame the inability of later Merovingians in war as an important factor. The commonly-cited occasion of Sigebert III
Sigebert III
Sigebert III was the king of Austrasia from 634 to his death; probably on 1 February 656, or maybe as late as 660. He was the eldest son of Dagobert I....

 sobbing in his saddle after a defeat (the king was then only ten years old) highlights the importance of victory in battle for a king who is chiefly a warrior.

The principle of election, which determined Germanic succession, was abandoned in those states under the heaviest influence from the papacy (such as Merovingian Gaul, where hereditary succession and the divine right of the reigning dynasty was recognised). In Anglo-Saxon Britain, the principle survived until the Norman Conquest removed it. Anglo-Saxon kings were elected by the witena gemót
Witenagemot
The Witenagemot , also known as the Witan was a political institution in Anglo-Saxon England which operated from before the 7th century until the 11th century.The Witenagemot was an assembly of the ruling class whose primary function was to advise the king and whose membership was...

. Finally, the principle survived in some form or other for centuries after the demise of the last Germanic monarchies. The civil wars of medieval Scandinavia and the electorate of the Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire was a realm that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe.It was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. Its character changed during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, when the power of the emperor gradually weakened in favour of the princes...

 are part of its legacy.

List of Germanic monarchies


Lists

Tribes
  • Vandals
    Vandals
    The Vandals were an East Germanic tribe that entered the late Roman Empire during the 5th century. The Vandals under king Genseric entered Africa in 429 and by 439 established a kingdom which included the Roman Africa province, besides the islands of Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia and the Balearics....

  • Anglo-Saxons
    Anglo-Saxons
    Anglo-Saxon is a term used by historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of...

  • Jutes
    Jutes
    The Jutes, Iuti, or Iutæ were a Germanic people who, according to Bede, were one of the three most powerful Germanic peoples of their time, the other two being the Saxons and the Angles...

  • Franks
    Franks
    The Franks were a confederation of Germanic tribes first attested in the third century AD as living north and east of the Lower Rhine River. From the third to fifth centuries some Franks raided Roman territory while other Franks joined the Roman troops in Gaul. Only the Salian Franks formed a...

  • Goths
    Goths
    The Goths were an East Germanic tribe of Scandinavian origin whose two branches, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, played an important role in the fall of the Roman Empire and the emergence of Medieval Europe....

    • Visigoths
    • Ostrogoths
  • Suevi
  • Burgundians
    Burgundians
    The Burgundians were an East Germanic tribe which may have emigrated from mainland Scandinavia to the island of Bornholm, whose old form in Old Norse still was Burgundarholmr , and from there to mainland Europe...

  • Alamanni
    Alamanni
    The Alamanni, Allemanni, or Alemanni were originally an alliance of Germanic tribes located around the upper Rhine river . One of the earliest references to them is the cognomen Alamannicus assumed by Roman Emperor Caracalla, who ruled the Roman Empire from 211 to 217 and claimed thereby to be...

  • Thuringii
    Thuringii
    The Thuringii or Toringi were a Germanic tribe which appeared late during the Völkerwanderung in the Harz Mountains of central Germania around 280, in a region which still bears their name to this day — Thuringia. They evidently filled a void left when the previous inhabitants — the...


Dynasties
  • Merovingians
  • Carolingians
  • Kings of the Lombards
  • Agilolfings
  • Anglo-Saxon monarchs
    Anglo-Saxon monarchs
    Anglo-Saxon monarchs were the rulers of the various kingdoms which arose in England following the withdrawal of the Romans in the fifth century. The most prominent kingdoms were Kent, Sussex, Wessex, Mercia and Bernicia, each recognising their own monarch...

  • Kings of Burgundy
  • Ynglings
  • Wuffingas

Sources

  • William A. Chaney, The Cult of Kingship in Anglo-Saxon England: The Transition from Paganism to Christianity, University of California Press (1970).
  • Joseph H. Lynch, Christianizing Kinship: Ritual Sponsorship in Anglo-Saxon England, Cornell University Press (1998), ISBN 0-8014-3527-7.
  • Painter, Sidney
    Sidney Painter
    Sidney Painter was a twentieth-century American medievalist at Johns Hopkins University.Painter was born in New York City; after the Taft School he attended Yale University . He wrote many influential books...

    . A History of the Middle Ages 284−1500. New York, 1953.

See also

  • Germanic law
  • Kingship in Early Irish Law