26 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Twenty-Six

Western Europe after the Fall of Rome

What were the significant aspects of the Carolingian Empire? What did Charlemagne accomplish?

The Carolingian Empire was a Frankish German attempt at the reunification of the Western Roman Empire. Though it failed to unite Europe for long, it set the stage for strong kingdoms in Germany and France, and decisively defeated an invading Umayyad Army at the battle of Tours in October 732 AD.

The Carolingian is best noted for the reign of Charlemagne (768-814 AD). He established his capital in Aachen, but spent most of his reign traveling his realm, which was governed at the local level by counts who were nominally beholden to the Emperor, but were responsible for most aspects of local rule and in practice were nearly autonomous. All church matters of the empire were managed by the office of the chaplain, the highest office in the imperial court below the emperor. Dominical Emissaries traveled the realm in pairs, ensuring good governance and adherence to imperial will and law. Vassals were usually noble sons who formed part of the imperial army. Charlemagne created the “scabatini,” a sort of early lawyer/judge, a group of which advised each count on legal matters.

Charlemagne exercised great control over imperial coinage, setting its value and materials. Private mints were suppressed and the name of the Emperor appeared on the coin, rather than the minter. Imperial edicts were issued in the form of capitularies, which had to do with the administration of church and state matters. Cavalry became in increasingly important part of the military, as horses provided swift movement of troops, and the introduction of the stirrup in the late eighth century made the horse a more effective fighting platform.

Ultimately, the central empire was simply not strong enough to overcome the encroachment of Vikings from the north, and the ambitions of regional governors. The empire fractured into three kingdoms in 887 AD, roughly corresponding to modern France, Italy, and Germany/Belgium.

Describe feudalism. What were the obligations of lords toward their retainers and the retainers toward their lords? What was the code of ethics and behavior among the ranks of the nobility?

Feudalism is a decentralized system of government wherein local or regional exercise control over a system of retainers, or lesser nobles, in a pyramid-type organization, sort of like a multi-level marketing scheme. A feudal king would require oaths of allegiance form various lesser, perhaps even rival, nobles, who would swear fealty to him in exchange for land, titles, and nominal protection. These lords ruled estates, sometimes vast, prosperous estates, and in turn would have a series of lesser nobles beholden to them in a similar fashion. At the bottom of the ladder, serfs, who were not quite slaves, provided the labor to work the fields, build and maintain the manor house and its supporting buildings, and supply military fodder for the battlefield. These manor houses often were the center of small, self-sufficient collectives, with attendant bakers, merchants, blacksmiths, etc. Serfdom, while not technically slavery, still left the peasants almost completely dependent on their lord for land to work, of which they would receive a small subsistence. A liege-lord might have several nobles whose allegiance he commanded, while he himself might owe fealty and service to multiple greater nobles. This could sometimes cause problems, as nobles found themselves sworn to fight for both sides of a dispute. The lords of these manor houses functioned much as governors, public works administrators, and judges of their territory. They derived their living off those on the social rungs below them. Those in the elite of such a fiefdom might amass great wealth and command large armies, all of whom were nominally in service to the king. Oaths of fealty, however, are only as good as the word of the oath-maker, and strategic changes of allegiance were common.

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