The Transformation of Frontiers from Late Antiquity to the Carolingians

By Walter Pohl; Ian Wood et al. | Go to book overview

FRONTIERS IN LOMBARD ITALY:
THE LAWS OF RATCHIS AND AISTULF

Walter Pohl

Clause 13 of the laws added by king Ratchis (744–749) to the Leges Langobardorum is one of the most frequently cited clauses of the whole law-book.1 With its distinct bureaucratic outlook it has often been used as proof that after all, the early Middle Ages had inherited a good amount of late antique bureaucratic practices, or even developed them further. In this respect, it has been compared with modern regulations.2 For the study of early medieval frontiers, it is certainly a crucial piece of evidence. It raises a double question. Is the elaborate conception of border control it conveys a regular feature of early medieval regna? And, secondly, what exactly does the Germanic term marca, in one of its earliest occurrences, indicate? Does it imply a vague idea of a border zone, or a rather abstract concept of frontier as an exterior delimitation of the Lombard state? Or is it a precise term for an institutionalized form of territorial organisation, as comparable to the Carolingian or high medieval march, at least in the way traditional historians understood it?3

1Ratchis 13, ed. Bluhme, p. 192 f.; ed. Beyerle, 354 ff.; eds. Azzara and Gasparri,
242 ff.; trans. Fischer-Drew, 223 f. I would like to thank T.S. Brown, Deborah Deliyan-
nis, T.F.X. Noble, Brigitte Pohl-Resl, Helmut Reimitz, Herwig Wolfram and Ian Wood
for suggestions.

2 For instance, C. Wickham, Early Medieval Italy (London, 1981), p. 46 f., observes
that this was “an age of sharper boundaries” and comments: “The Lombards had even
invented passports”. Cf. J. Jarnut, Geschichte der Langobarden (Stuttgart etc., 1982), p. 107;
R. Schneider, “Fränkische Alpenpolitik”, Die transalpinen Verbindungen der Bayern, Aleman-
nen und Franken bis ins 10. Jahrhundert, eds. H. Beumann and W. Schröder, Nationes 6
(Sigmaringen, 1987), p. 35.

3 Summing up the general debate: H. Wolfram, Salzburg, Bayern, Österreich. Die Con-
versio Bagoariorum et Carantanorum und die Quellen ihrer Zeit, MIÖG, Erg. Bd. 31 (Wien,
1995), with p. 176, n. 433 about Ratchis' laws (“enthält anscheinend die älteste Ver-
wendung des Wortes marca für die Reichsgrenze und deren Verteidigung”). For marca
and its early meanings, see ibid. pp. 175–192; J.F. Niermeyer, Mediae Latinitatis Lexicon
Minus (Leiden, 1976), pp. 651–653; R. Schmidt-Wiegand, “Marca. Zu den Begriffen
'mark' und 'Gemarkung' in den Leges Barbarorum”, Stammesrecht und Volkssprache, Aus-
gewählte Aufsätze zu den Leges Barbarorum (Weinheim, 1991), pp. 335–352; M. Pfister,
“Grenzbezeichnungen im Italoromanischen und Galloromanischen”, Grenzen und Grenz-
regionen, Frontières et régions frontalières, eds. W. Haubrichs and R. Schneider (Saarbrücken,
1994), pp. 37–50, esp. p. 45; Ch. Lübke, “Mark, -grafschaft”, Lexikon des Mittelalters 6

-117-

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