The Carolingian Empire

By Heinrich Fichtenau; Peter Munz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
THE POOR

To be a Frank meant to be free. This is indicated by the very meaning of the word. The position of the serf was the very opposite of freedom, for he was not judged according to tribal custom but was subject to the arbitrary authority of his master. The potentes, on the other hand, the new as well as the old ones, were free. And even those ranks of society that had been forced into some kind of vassalage remained free in a legal sense. Of these it was said about the end of Charles's reign: : 'For a variety of reasons the properties of the poor have, in many places, been much reduced; that is to say, the properties of those who are known as free-men but who live under the authority of powerful magnates. If our most gracious lord instituted an inquiry into their legal condition and into litigation concerning them, it would be revealed that many, through various causes, have been reduced to extreme poverty.'1 It is difficult to reconcile the idealized picture of the Germanic peasant, living on his hide of land and obliged to serve the king but otherwise independent, with the foregoing description. The old order of personal liberty, to which people had tenaciously clung for centuries, no longer corresponded to existing social conditions. Within the class of freemen there were inumerable forms of social differentiation: it extended from the king's lieutenant to the poor cottager clearing the forest in the service of his lord.

As is well known, in the Frankish state there was no nobility in the sense of a well-defined social order. Often nobility was simply equated with wealth; whereas to be a peasant was synonymous with suffering and need.2 It is true that many people had managed to preserve their economic freedom. But, in general,

____________________
1
Conc. Turonense, MGH, Conc., ii, i, p. 292.
2
Paulus Diaconus to Charles: 'Coniunx est fratris rebus exclusa paternis, iamque sumus servis rusticitatae pares. Nobilitas periit miseris, accessit aegestas.' MGH, Poet., i, p. 48, No. 10.

-144-

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The Carolingian Empire
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Abbreviations vi
  • Preface vii
  • Translator's Introduction ix
  • Chapter I - Introduction 1
  • Chapter II - Charles the Great 25
  • Chapter III - The Imperial Title 47
  • Chapter IV - The Court Scholars 79
  • Chapter V - Nobles and Officials 104
  • Chapter VI - The Poor 144
  • Chapter VII - The Last Years of Charles the Great 177
  • Index 189
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