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he barbarian migrations have ravaged Europe and have made a decisive contribution to shaping the new landscape of society. The center of gravity of human life was no longer the city, but the village and the multitude of peoples and languages ​​engraved on the body of the Roman Empire had given a new appearance to the West. In the place of the Western Roman Empire, the successor states have sprung up, where the Germanic element overlaps the old classical structures. This synthesis gave birth to medieval civilization.

It is a culture in which the new spiritual element, Christianity, plays a fundamental role, imposing lasting values ​​and principles. The relations between the people also undergo changes, gaining personal air, be it the connection between the landowners and the peasants who worked the land or the senior citizens and vassals who were obliged to provide military services. Feudalism develops in successive kingdoms.

Barbarians settling in the Roman Empire

The installation was made according to the principle of hospitality, which the Romans applied when it came to their own soldiers. That is, the Roman owners were obliged to supply between one-third and two-thirds of the land, housing, and slaves. Sometimes the land was not simply taken over, but only a share of the related revenue was collected.

Map of Western Europe during the peak of the Roman Empire (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

But with the barbarians, it was a little different. The Vandals confiscated the land of the Romanian owners, and the Saxons expelled the Romanized Celts. There was, therefore, a transfer of ownership. The Germans sometimes implemented their own system of organization, brand, or community, but most of the time, they chose to keep the Romanian system of private property.

When settling on Roman territories, the Germans were led by military chiefs who called themselves kings, but for the Empire, they were no more than generals or officials. The barbarian kings recognized and respected the status of the emperor from the east, being considered his representatives in accordance with the treaties of alliance concluded.

Under Roman influence, the monarchic authority of barbarian kingdoms tends to be one of the absolute essence, exceeding the control of the old tribal institutions. At the same time, the state is beginning to be considered a family heritage, which can be divided into descendants, as is the case with the Franks. The barbarian kings want to maintain an appearance of imperial authority, taking over some of the emperor’s powers, which he applies in their own political structures. They have a military function in the first place, but besides that, they are also legislators, heads of administration, and defenders of the Church.

A new political system

The successive kingdoms based on the continent used the principle of the personality of laws. That is, each man was judged according to the laws of his nation: the Romans followed the written law, and the barbarians used the customary law. But the king was the supreme court and was very easy to contact. The Merovingian kings walked, for example, in the territory in which they shot bulls, and anyone could approach them to demand justice.

Barbarian kings largely preserve the Roman state apparatus, which they have nothing to replace. A particular situation is encountered only in Britannia, where the Roman structure had collapsed, and the migrants had nowhere to take their administrative elements. So they initially imposed the specific institutions of barbarian chiefs.

King Clovis A.D. 496, the first-ever Christian barbarian king. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The church is a factor that enters into the identity of the barbarian kingdoms. Within this, it should be noted the special situation of the bishops, who, where the lay administration disappears, take over the duties of the imperial officials, especially in the urban centers where they take care of defense.

The Roman emperors were imitated by the barbarians and the role of defenders of the Church. Usually, barbarians, before converting to Christianity, went through the Aryan stage. An exception is Clavis, the king of the Franks, who skipped this stage and went directly to “correct” Christianity. Its conversion, which occurred somewhere through 508 AD, allowed for a rapid synthesis of the Franks and Gallo-Romans, which in turn contributed to the consolidation of the Frankish state. The Anglo-Saxons also adopted the new faith after the baptism of King Aethelbert of Kent in 597.

The state maintains very good relations with the Church, offering it land damages, and the Church helps the king through means of ideological legitimation, such as the anointing, which we first encounter in Visigoth Spain. The church also offers people trained to fill the administrative apparatus. The successive kingdoms are under the aura of close collaboration between kings and bishops.

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