Germanic society and the Frankish kingdom
|When the Germans first formed into states, they retained many characteristics of small, militaristic communities that emphasized cohesion and a degree of egalitarianism or camaraderie between their king and his immediate followers that to some extent invite comparisons with Sparta in Greece (8th-4th c. B.C.) and the early Roman republic. The Germanic king ruled very much like an elderly male of a large clan who had personal responsibility to his clan members and, despite his authoritative position, consulted them from time to time. Early Germanic rule, therefore, was personal rather than formal, and relied on customary laws rather than decrees more often than not. The Franks, distinguished by their military prowess and able leadership, gradually conquered most other Germanic tribes and established their supremacy in western and central Europe under the Carolingian family. Under Charlemagne they tried to develop an administrative structure that resembled Rome, but it remained ultimately personal rule. After the death of Charlemagne, his Frankish empire was divided up that laid the foundation of modern day France, Germany, and Italy.|
1. A comparison between early Germanic society and Sparta:
2. The blending of cultures: German, Roman, and Christian
When the Germans settled down in the Roman Empire, most of them were illiterate, and most Roman cities were abandoned. Europe became largely rural. Roman influences continued, largely on the Italian peninsula, and in the form of laws that the Germans tried to adopt, as well as numerous cultural influences such as in language, customs, religion, and government. The Catholic church gave an administrative structure (with its dioceses administered by bishops) to a war ravaged and increasingly decentralized western and central Europe. The church was instrumental in acculturating the Germanic tribal peoples, giving them a common identity and common set of practices. It not only set up rules regulating marriage, divorce, and abortion and disseminated them upon the Germans, but also served as a civilizing influence, through education and the dissemination of historical and religious writings.
A note on the development of the Christian church:
- The earliest Christian churches were founded by followers of Jesus, in Rome, North Africa, and the Near East, and Greek cities such as Byzantium (later Constantinople).
- These early churches all claimed leadership of other churches, and the leaders called themselves papa (pope) as a sign of seniority. It was not until the 11th century that Rome's status as papacy was completely recognized in western and central Europe. In eastern Europe the Byzantine church claimed supremacy and became the eastern orthodox church.
- Churches often participated in secular administration along with secular rulers.
- Church administrative structure developed over the centuries, into a hierarchy from the pope down to the community churches, assisted by the development of monasteries, such as the Benedictines and the Cluniacs.
3. The Carolingian Dynasty
The rise of the Carolingians was one of the most important events in European history. Their superb military skills led to a Frankish kingdom unifying much of Europe.
The fratricides of Clovis’s descendants gave an opportunity to Charles Martel, a secretary to one of them, to set them against one another and finally take over the Frankish kingdom. His dynasty is so named after his grandson, Charles the Magnificent.
4. The Carolingians and Christianity
Like the Merovingians, the Carolingians maintained a close relationship with the Pope. Besides religious piety, Christianity also served the purpose of enhancing their status.
- Pepin (r.747-768)'s request to be coronated by the Pope as king of the Franks (rather than remaining as mayor of the palace).
- Charlemagne's (r.768-814) coronation by the Pope in 800 as emperor of the Romans, which later on was changed to Emperor of the Franks by the Byzantine Empire, showing the German quest for status.
Charlemagne was able to defeat most other Germanic tribes and unify western and central Europe. His family and that of Clovis also forged close relationship with the papacy, protecting it from the Vandals and Lombards.
- Charlemagne's establishment of monastery schools: to him, Christianity served both as a civilizing and a policing force of his empire. (consider especially that the Germans lacked a good administrative structure to govern.)
5.The Decline of the Carolingians
Charlemagne also divided his kingdom into three parts, forming today’s France, Germany, and northern Italy. This led to fraternal infighting and decline. The coming of the Vikings led to able, non-Carolingian military generals’ rise.
6. The new post-Carolingian European order: feudalism
The Carolingians were not able to restore the Roman social/political structure. What happened was a new social structure based on landlord/vassal relationship, called feudalism, after the word “fief”, which meant land.