Rituals of Power: From Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages

By Frans Theuws; Janet L. Nelson | Go to book overview

BEYOND POWER. CEREMONIAL EXCHANGES
IN BEOWULF

Jos Bazelmans


1. Warriors and Lords in the late Pre- and
Protohistory of transalpine Europe

In the study of long-term developments in the organisation of societies in the late pre- and protohistory of transalpine Europe, the relationship between a lord or king and the warriors in his closest retinue is held to be a phenomenon of special importance.1 In German language literature the concept of Gefolgschaft is generally used to designate this relationship. In his famous definition of the concept Walter Schlesinger expressed the character of Gefolgschaft as follows: a relationship […] which is freely entered into, based on trust, obliges the man to [give] counsel and (military) help, and the lord to [give] protection and 'kindness'.2 This definition of Gefolgschaft has attracted much criticism. The critique was largely a reaction to Schlesinger's belief that the warrior's oath of allegiance had a specific Germanic and sacred character.3 It has, however, been generally accepted, following Schlesinger, that Gefolgschaft should be described as a 'formalised and

1 For instance: H. Steuer, Frühgeschichtliche Sozialstrukturen im Mitteleuropa. Eine Analyse
der Auswertungsmethoden des archäologischen Quellenmaterials
(Göttingen, 1982) and

H. Steuer, “Archaeology and history: proposals on the social structure of the Merovin-
gian kingdom”, The birth of Europe: archaeology and social developments in the first mil-
leninium AD
, ed. K. Randsborg (Rome, 1989); N. Roymans, Tribal societies in northern
Gaul. An anthropological perspecitive
(Amsterdam, 1990), pp. 38–43, and R. Wenskus,
“Die neuere Diskussion um Gefolgschaft und Herrschaft in Tacitus' Germania”, Beiträge
zum Verständnis der
Germania des Tacitus 2. Bericht über die Kolloquien der Kommission für
die Altertumskunde Nord- und Mitteleuropas im Jahre 1986 und 1987
, eds. G. Neumann

and H. Seemann (Göttingen, 1992).

2'[Gefolgschaft ist] ein Verhältnis […] das freiwillig eingegangen wird, auf Treue gegründet
ist und den Mann zu Rat and (kriegerischer) Hilfe, den Herrn zu Schutz und 'Milde' verpfli-
chtet'
.' W. Schlesinger, “Herrschaft und Gefolgschaft in der germanisch-deutschen
Verfassungsgeschichte”, Historische Zeitschrift 176 (1953), p. 235.

3 Some even doubted the existence of an early Germanic, Tacitean oath of alle-
giance. F. Graus, “Über die sogenannte germanische Treue”, Historica 1 (1959) and
K. Kroeschell, “Die Treue in der deutschen Rechtsgeschichte”, Studi Medievali Serie
terza
10 (1969), pp. 465–498; cf. W. Kienast, “Germanische Treue und 'Königsheil'”,
Historische Zeitschrift 227 (1977), pp. 265–324; and Wenskus, “Die neuere Diskussion
um Gefolgschaft und Herrschaft in Tacitus' Germania”.

-311-

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