medieval manoralism and genetic relatedness

been reading michael mitterauer’s “Why Europe?: The Medieval Origins of Its Special Path” — really interesting stuff! i quoted mitterauer at length here on the shifts in kinship terms across medieval europe and how they mirrored the loosening of genetic ties brought about by the church and tptb’s new regulations on marriage.

anyway, so i’ve been learning all about manoralism, at least carolingian style. mitterauer explains (nice and clearly for those of us who don’t know nothin’ about the medieval period) all about the medieval agricultural revolution — how rye and oats were the latest, trendy crops (in northern europe); the importance of the new three-field system; how crucial the heavy moldboard plow was; and how nobody could do without the new-fangled grist mills — which were mostly owned by rich people or monks.

in case you don’t already know, manoralism was your basic economic unit in feudalistic europe (prolly inherited kinda-sorta from the romans) wherein dependant people (like peasants or even serfs) were tied to, you guessed it, a manor (owned by a lord or attached to a monastery) and owed a certain amount of labor to the manor in return for protection and some farmland of their own and the use of those mills, amongst other things.

from how mitterauer describes it, the system sounded fairly flexible — at least in different places at different points in time. i mean, it sounds like peasants weren’t 100% stuck on whatever farm they grew up on. in fact, rather the opposite — in looking at some manorial censuses, mitterauer works out that most households did not consist of large, extended families but, rather, parents and children — and while the eldest son might “inherit” his father’s farm (or the right to work it), other children would move on elsewhere.

mitterauer makes the argument that the development of the manor system started with the franks. here he quotes another researcher in the field:

“This type of agricultural reform [manorial village, field, and technical agrarian structures associated with this concept] was first put in motion in Austrasia around the middle of the seventh century, or somewhat earlier, under the Pippins, the majordomos of the Merovingians.”

from austrasia (<< sounds like a name orwell made up), the manor system and feudalism first spread throughout the northern germanic populations and later, starting in the 12th century, the germanic peoples brought the system with them as they migrated eastwards.

the key to making the manor system possible at all, though, according to mitterauer, was the breaking down of extended families and clans and tribes. his third chapter is entitled: “The Conjugal Family and Bilateral Kinship: Social Flexibility through Looser Ties of Descent.” looser ties of descent. exactly!

it simply would not have been possible to run a medieval manorial system over a large area (like the carolingian empire) with a bunch of quarreling, inbred tribes. along with all the revolutionary agrarian structures, a new social structure was needed — and that was put into place, i think, kind-of accidentally at first by the church (i.e. not with a planned manorial system in mind), but then it was expanded upon further when it proved to work in ways that benefitted tptb (including the church).

a ban on second-cousin marriage was instituted by the church in the sixth century. by the end of that century, the regulations were firmly enforced amongst the franks. the franks got going with manoralism in the mid-seventh cenutry. if we take the start of the cousin-marriage ban as, say, 550 a.d. to the start of manoralism as, say, 650 a.d. that gives us 100 years. counting a generation as being 16 years in length — that gives us 6.25 generations of mating patterns designed to loosen the ties between extended family members. i’m not sure if this is enough generations or not, but it sounds like a pretty good start to me.

as the system proved successful for the lords and the church (and, prolly, a lot of the peasants, too), the bans on cousin marriage were extended to third cousins and, eventually, in the eleventh century to sixth cousins. by the twelfth century, the franks were hittin’ the road for central europe.

and they would’ve kept going all the way to siberia except they bumped up against a wall. it wasn’t just that they ran up against some slavs, because they managed to push some of them aside. according to mitterauer, what they ran up against were slavs living in vast, forested areas who were still using the old slash-and-burn farming methods (i.e. the russians and the finns had yet to adopt the new agricultural techniques) and still living in the old social systems [pgs. 46-7]:

“The more ancient agrarian economic structures of the East and the newer structures of the West stood in especially strong contrast to each other in the areas annexed by the colonization of the East. To take one example, in the early thirteenth century Duke Henry the Bearded of Silesia made a change in his schedule of dues and services. Grain was to be rendered after a certain point instead of the squirrel skins demanded until then. This changeover was symptomatic of the structural transformations wrought by the colonization of the East; the age-old tribute of pelts that had been widespread in eastern Europe was replaced by rents in grain….

“The squirrel skins [originally] demanded by Duke Henry the Bearded point toward a particularly ancient model. Tributes in pelts were originally demanded collectively from tribal societies as a whole or in part. The inner structure of the societies ruled in this manner were completely unaffected by this system of duties. The expeditions Finnish lords made across Lapland, first on their own, then later, on a commission from the king of Sweden, represented an extreme and long-lived example of this type of tribute. Tributes in furs were so important in northern and eastern Europe that a specific ‘fur geld’ (Pelzgeld) based on them was created between the eleventh and the thirteenth centuries. Tributary systems based on tribes were a long way from the arrangements established by the manorial system.

the manorial system required, amongst other things, a breaking of the tribal system. that hadn’t fully happened, yet, in eastern europe in the middle ages.

edit: boilerplate and boilerplate 2.0

previously: more on inbreeding in germanic tribes and loosening of genetic ties in europe started before christianity? and what about the franks?

(note: comments do not require an email. squirrel pelts?!)

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20 Comments

  1. That’s an incredibly fascinating book! Thanks so much for the link to it. Now if only my local library system carried it or it didn’t cost $40. Yay Google Books.

    Reply

  2. I’m kinda squinting at the title, what’s that about? Special path (Sonderweg) is quite a prominent term of art in German historiography, primarily understood to be a semi-determinism wrt NS being caused by, well…….. “In particular, its proponents argue that the [non-English, non-French] way Germany developed over the centuries virtually ensured the evolution of a social and political order along the lines of Nazi Germany.”

    ‘Sonderweg’ fits pretty well with a Frankfortish approach of juxtaposing fascism with our whole traditional past and present to justify endless radical ‘struggle’, with ‘no comment’ on bolshevism-maoism, or bolshevist power in Weimar Germany.

    It certainly did matter in some way that Germany was different – that it had much more ancien regime in it over 1890-1945 than France-Britain had, though France-Britain still had a fair amount themselves. Both before and after 1917, Germany, or much of Germany, did not want to enter a bloc with the Atlantic powers, in which it would not exactly be senior partner, Britain and France (and Russia and America) having more future scope for power base development (more yet-undeveloped agricultural possibilities, more autonomous access to iron ore, oil, etc). That had to do with more than one factor, but ancien regimeness was certainly one of them.

    Anyway as the book is from Germany, some aspects or other of these currents are sure to be informing it in places.

    Personally – better that the Krauts had won the first war.

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  3. @rs – “I’m kinda squinting at the title, what’s that about? Special path (Sonderweg) is quite a prominent term of art in German historiography, primarily understood to be a semi-determinism wrt NS being caused by, well…….. ‘In particular, its proponents argue that the [non-English, non-French] way Germany developed over the centuries virtually ensured the evolution of a social and political order along the lines of Nazi Germany.'”

    ah, interesting. i wasn’t aware of the connotations of Sonderweg (two years of german in h.s. and i don’t remember a thing). thnx!

    mitterauer (who’s austrian, not german — but, same difference, right?) seems to be sticking to the line that europe’s “special path” (and by europe he means the center of europe, i.e. the germans and the french — the core of the e.u. today) was this loosening of, as he calls it, ties of descent and the manoralism system, together which led to more corporate (and, in germany, federal) social and political systems in european society.

    that’s what i’m getting out of it anyway … so far.

    Reply

  4. @polynices – “Yay Google Books.”

    yes! yay, google books! (^_^)

    and, hint: g.b. + some sort of proxy service (e.g. tor) = whole books for free. terrible, i know. but if you’re a poor student or something….

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  5. “the germans and the french — the core of the e.u. today) was this loosening of, as he calls it, ties of descent and the manoralism system, together which led to more corporate (and, in germany, federal) social and political systems in european society.”

    If you look at Western European countries it’s like there’s a split between those who made the jumps
    clan-> tribe->region

    and those who made it to whole way
    clan->tribe->region->nation

    earlier.

    The interesting thing about Germany (and Italy) is it’s late unification and therefore i assume much stronger regional ties.

    The endogamy-exogamy pushme-pullyou effect again? if you loosen ties up to the regional level and that lasts a long time before attempts to jump to the national level then the strong regional endogamy acts as a barrier. For example i don’t think Italy ever really united fully – not that that is neccessarily a bad thing.

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  6. Yeah Northern separatism is a pretty major political force there. Germany has her east-west thing but it’s not remotely as serious as the Lega Nord (though I don’t think northernism is all they do).

    Bavaria has the strongest regional identity and has a certain traditionalism, but I think neither its identity nor its ideological difference are as strong as those of (White) Texas. Its distinctness is more on the level of say the Carolina seaboard with its Old South flavored high society.

    Bismarck’s three unification wars abroad were gripping, and WWI was a national trauma with the food blockade and half a million starvation deaths – all this eventfulness probably helped forge a strong German identity, and so probably did the pandemonium of Weimar/hyperinflation, NS, and WWII. Ideological enmity under Weimar was extremely intense with tons of street fights, militias, and assassinations, which must have submerged any regional concerns or feelings. Your ideological allies would have been brethren wherever they were, and your ideological opponents hated. Italy has gone through somewhat less drama.

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  7. > was this loosening of, as he calls it, ties of descent and the manoralism system, together which led to more corporate (and, in germany, federal) social and political systems in european society.

    I’d think de-manorization was dominated in France by the Age of Absolutism, and Louis 14 drawing power away from nobles. Perhaps the change was slower in Germany, which with its huge peasant insurrections seems less organized in the early modern centuries. For whatever reasons the Holy Roman Empire withered instead of getting a ‘Sun King’ that could make it into a proper unitary kingdom.

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  8. prolly inherited kinda-sorta from the romans

    Nothing from feudalism was inherited from the Romans. Feudalism is a Carolingian creation.

    Serfs, i.e. slaves, have nothing to do with feudalism; they predate it.

    The origin of the fief is the following: instead of giving the soldier money, he is given districts to govern and to collect its own revenues as his pay. With time, fiefs became hereditary. Fiefs started small then grew larger to include large parts of whole kingdoms.

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  9. @nestorius – “Nothing from feudalism was inherited from the Romans.”

    that’s not what mitterauer has to say about the matter. yes, feudalism got going with the carolingians, but miterrauer suggests that the idea of having manors (which is what i was specifically talking about there) was something that the germanics probably picked up from the romans — from the concept of the villa rustica. sounds plausible to me.

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  10. but miterrauer suggests that the idea of having manors (which is what i was specifically talking about there) was something that the germanics probably picked up from the romans

    That’s like saying the English idea of ‘eating’ was picked from the French idea of ‘manger’.
    Having villas rusticas or manors is a natural thing for those who own lands.

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  11. If you have hundreds of acres of land, wouldn’t you build a large house related to them?
    What about ranches in the USA? It’s the same.

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  12. @nestorius – sorry, i didn’t mean just a big house, but a whole manor system. the feudal manor system of the middle ages wasn’t exactly like the earlier roman manor system, but the whole concept was one that german peoples had not had before the early medieval period. but the romans had had large manors with large labor forces, etc., etc. — including ones in northern parts of europe. it’s not a far stretch of the imagination to think that the once tribal germanics saw that this manor system from southern europe was a pretty good idea and tried to emulate it — while introducing their own changes to the system, of course.

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  13. Some additional critiques of Miterrauer.

    looking at some manorial censuses, mitterauer works out that most households did not consist of large, extended families but, rather, parents and children

    These Carolingian lists (check them all here: http://polycarolingien.free.fr/) are not concerned with genealogies but with lands and possessions. Now since when an extended family possessed the same land? A land is usually possessed by a small family; this has been the case throughout history. So his argument here doesn’t hold.

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  14. @nestorius – india (see also here). and early medieval ireland. in the case of the irish, individuals would hold their own property and have a share in the clan’s property (which was inherited by virtue of being a member of the clan, male i think). (see chapter 10 of the book i linked to.)

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  15. This is Ireland and India. Among the Romans and Franks of Gaul, this isn’t the case. Properties were inherited according to the laws of both these nations.

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  16. @nestorius – “This is Ireland and India.”

    yes. and you had said: “Now since when an extended family possessed the same land? A land is usually possessed by a small family; this has been the case throughout history.”

    so i answered your question and illustrated that it has not been the case throughout history that land is possessed by a small family.

    Reply

  17. […] The manor became popular with the northern Franks and spread in all directions.  Manors selected for a particular type of worker, one that would be docile (in face of authority, as opposed to raucous and uncontrollable as those in tribal societies tend to be), hardworking, industrious (often savvy enough to spot opportunities to exploit one’s skills; this encouraged the growth of trade guilds), and somewhat clever.  It is these individuals that left the most descendants, and over time, their genes became dominant in the population. […]

    Reply

  18. My query is related to the manor lords themselves. In researching my family who were part of the battle of Hastings and manorial lords for the next 600 years at least. They appeared to be extremely warlike and super aggressive. Literally hundreds of my families males have died over the past 1000 years directly in battle right up to the modern day.
    Were the noble Norman families who held the lands particularly “Clannish” amongst themselves? There just seems to be an overwhelming aggressive streak in my heritage that smacks of genetics as apposed to culture.

    Just curious if anyone has some insight?

    Reply

  19. […] HBD Chick has all sorts of interesting things to say about manorialism, and in particular, how it (and the Catholic decree against cousin marriage,) may have selected for certain personality traits that influenced the development of modern Europe. […]

    Reply

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