The Economic and Social Foundations of European Civilization

By Alfons Dopsch | Go to book overview
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NO branch of the history of European civilization so strikingly reveals the remarkable progress of modern scholarship as does the history of feudalism. Indeed, during the nineteenth century feudalism for a considerable time became the study par excellence of legal and constitutional historians, since it was rightly seen to be of fundamental importance for the elucidation of medieval conditions. After the great conflict between the earlier French theory, which tended to regard it as a derivation from Roman conditions (the beneficia militaria of Imperial times)1 and the German theory, which sought its derivation in the "following",2 had to some extent died down, G. Waitz3 and P. Both4 worked out on the basis of the latter their important conclusions as to the essential nature of feudalism and the period of its growth. For some time after the publication of Brunner's researches, which were based on their results, the question was considered to have been finally settled. His work on the Merovingian land grants proved that Waltz was right in considering that beneficia already existed at that time.5 In his equally famous second treatise Der Reiterdienst und die Anfänge des Lehenswesens6 he made it clear that he considered that the chief cause of the fusion of two hitherto separate legal institutions, vassalitium and beneficium, was the reorganization of the Frankish army necessitated by Charles Martel's war against the Saracens. The Frankish leader obtained the heavy cavalry required by means of investitures, which gave a man the necessary economic qualification for this service by giving him the right to the fief--a right which was limited to his own person and to the duration of the service.

Brunner's work made one great contribution to the subject by throwing light on its legal aspects. It is easy to understand why it has been so well received up to the present day and has been copied by later writers, on the whole, without adverse criticism, as a final solution of this vexed problem. Even at the present time it has not been definitely rejected, though some objections to it have been raised. True, it must be pointed out to-day that one of the basic assumptions of this theory is completely incorrect, i.e. the supposed reorganization of the Frankish army under Charles Martel. For Brunner's main assumption, that up to then the German peoples, especially the Franks, had had no heavy cavalry and that their armies had chiefly consisted of infantry, is definitely wrong. A number of documents prove that the German tribes, especially the Franks, had many and excellent horsemen in the first centuries A.D.7 It is only necessary to refer to Tacitus'

See Dubos, Histoire critique de l'établissement de la monarchie française, vi, 13 ( 1742); Garnier, Traité de l'origine du gouvernement français, xi, 6 ( 1765); Perréciot, De l'état civil des personnes, ii, 252 ( 1845), etc.
See Eichhorn, DRG., 1, § 167; Phillips, RG., 1, 507.
DVG., vol. 2, and "Uber die Anfänge der Vasallität," 1856.
Gesch. des Benefizialwesens, 1850, and Feudalität u. Untertanenverband ( 1863).
Sitzungsber. d. Berliner Akad., 1885.
Zeitschr. d. Savigny-Stiftung, f. RG., 8 ( 1887).
M. Delbrück, Gesch. d. Kriegskunst, ii2, 422 f.= ii3, 432 ff. ( 1921). Also M. Heyne, Deutsche Hausaltertümer, ii, 168 f. ( 1901).


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