early medieval bavarians and feuds & honor killings

below are a few quotes from Unjust Seizure: Conflict, Interest, and Authority in an Early Medieval Society regarding some historic evidence for blood feuds and honor killings in early medieval bavaria, the historic evidence being in the form of ecclesiastical charters (recording property donations to the church) and tales from a saint’s life. the time period is the mid-700s.

first of all, the “bavarians” of the day were a mix of peoples — mostly germanics (including alamanni, lombards, thuringians, and goths) but also some romans (or romanized locals) and slavs. the local rulers were a bunch of franks (iow, also germanics) who had taken over the place on behalf of the merovingians (no, not this guythese guys) — and introduced the manor system (uh oh!).

the conversion of the natives of bavaria (i.e. not their frankish rulers) to christianity was completed by st. boniface (boo!) sometime in the early 700s, so these people probably had had no barriers to marrying their cousins right up until the time period under discussion below (unless some of the local romans/romanized locals had been christians?). the agilolfings, too — the frankish rulers of bavaria — probably hadn’t been christians for much longer either, most of the franks converting in the 500-600s. so the population of bavaria in the 700s was probably not very outbred at that point (these things take time).

however, the church already had its cousin marriage bans in place by this time, so there probably would’ve been pressure from the priests and bishops and monks in the 700s to stop any close matings that were going on. there is some documentary evidence that shows that marriages in the 700s on ecclesiastical manors in bavaria occurred between such manors [pgs. 217-48], so that might suggest that the church at this time was, indeed, discouraging close marriages. i couldn’t find an online copy of the lex baiuvariorum (in english), which was written in the mid-700s, so i don’t know if there were any secular laws against cousin marriage in bavaria at this time.

the interesting points in the following are that: 1) feuds between clans, and even between branches of clans, were happening in eighth century bavaria just like you might’ve found in scotland in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (thanks, mel!) or in parts of the philippines … like … just the other day — iow, early medieval bavarians were clannish peoples; and 2) family honor was extremely important to the point where honor killings happened just like — or almost like — in the arab world/middle east today.

ok. here are those excerpts [pgs. 30-39 – links added by me]:

“To begin with, we have the charters from the cathedral church at Freising. Five of the approximately one hundred twenty Freising charters surviving from this period [pre-carolingian] mention conflict…. The five Freising records tell a variety of stories. Nevertheless, they have one important feature in common: all mention conflicts tangentially, that is, as incidents that did not involve the church directly but rather prompted someone to make or confirm a property gift to the church….

“Instead of showing the church as a party to conflict, the Freising charters from this period reveal members of landholding kindreds in conflict with one another. Some of this conflict was violent. We learn of it because two men who were attacked and seriously wounded, as well as a third man whose son was killed, gave property to the church to benefit their souls and to support members of their families. The charters recording these gifts do not say what the violence was all about. The stories they tell, however, suggest that the attacks resulted from feuds between kindreds, and possibly even within an extended kin group. This impression is strengthened by Bishop Arbeo of Freising’s ‘Life of Saint Emmeram’. Arbeo’s biography of Regensburg’s patron saint is built around a story of outraged honor and violent revenge. The story indicates that Bavarian aristocrats in this period regarded violence as a legitimate response to insult or injury….

“The conflicts appear in the charters because the parties ended them by giving the disputed property to the church or by rearranging or restating disputed property rights that involved the church….

“Violence

“At the beginning of the Freising charter collection, between his table of contents and his prologue, the priest Cozroh place a copy of a charter that he titled in red ink, ‘The Gift of Haholt and His Son Arn’. The charter was produced at the monastery of Saint Zeno at Isen, some thirty-two kilometers southeast of Freising, on May 25, 758. It most likely earned its prominent position in the collection, and certainly the attention of modern scholars, because it records among other things the dedication of Arn, the future archbishop of Salzburg and confidant of Charlemagne, to an ecclesiastical career.

“This record tells of a property gift that Arn’s father, Haholt, made to the cathedral church at Freising. At some time in the past, we read, an unnamed person attacked Haholt and seriously wounded him, to the point that he feared for his life. On what he thought was his deathbed, Haholt gathered his relatives together and asked them how best to provide for his soul and for his son’s future. Haholt’s kinsmen advised him to summon Bishop Joseph of Freising. The bishop hurried to Haholt’s bedside. On Joseph’s advice, Haholt ordered a church built on property he owned near Isen, which the bishop consecrated. Then, with the consent and participation of his wife, son, and relatives, Haholt gave the church and the property to Freising. He did so under the condition that his son Arn have the use of the property, that is, hold it from Freising as a benefice, for the rest of his life. After a space of time, however, Haholt recovered from his wound. In gratitude for God’s mercy and for their souls’ salvation, Haholt and his wife personally confirmed the gift. In addition, they formally devoted Arn to a clerical life at the Freising cathedral church.

“This record tells us that an unknown person attacked Haholt. The attack, however, is not the charter’s main concern, and we learn nothing about Haholt’s assailant or the reason for his assault. We learn only that the attack prompted Haholt and his wife to give property to Freising for the benefit of their souls and to support their son in his new career.

We can nevertheless hazard a guess about why Haholt was wounded. Two other charters suggest that he was involved in a feud. In the year 763, a kindred headed by a man named Reginperht and his brother Irminfrid turned a church they had built at Scharnitz, in modern-day Tyrol, into a monastery. Members of the kindred endowed the new foundation with generous gifts of property. One man, named Cros, had a special reason for his gift. ‘Compelled by the admonition of God and struck down by Count Keparoh with an incurable wound,’ Cros gave all his property to the monastery and entered it himself as a monk.

“Here, as in the Haholt charter, an act of violence prompted its victim to make a property gift. This time we have a name for the attacker: Count Keparoh. The name Keparoh also appears in another charter, this time on the receiving end of a violent attack. In this record, from the year 774, a man named Onulf makes the statement that his favorite son, Keparoh, had been insidiously murdered. Onulf responded to his son’s death by giving the property his own father had left him, as well as that left his wife by her father, Keparoh, to the Freising cathedral church. The property was to support his wife and surviving son for their lifetimes.

Onulf’s gift charter and the Scharnitz foundation charter together provide evidence for a feud stretching over generations. In 763, Count Keparoh struck down Cros. Eleven years later, in 774, a Keparoh fell victim to an assault. This younger Keparoh had a grandfather who was also named Keparoh. It is entirely possible that the person who attacked the younger Keparoh was a partisan of Cros and that the younger Keparoh’s grandfather was related to the count who attacked Cros or was even the count himself. In each case, the attacks prompted property gifts to a kindred monastery or to the cathedral church at Freising.

It turns out that Cros and the Kepharohs were most likely related to each other.

so this feud lasting for generations was likely a feud between sub-clans.

“To give a brief example of what the evidence behind such a statement looks like: Cros was the kinsman of the principal Scharnitz founders Reginperht and his brother Irminfrid. Reginperht and Irminfrid had another brother named David, who witnessed the foundation at Scharnitz. David also appears with Irminfrid making another property gift sometime between 758 and 763. In this latter gift, the name Keparoh stands third among the witnesses, immediately following David and Irminfrid. Given his prominent position on the witness list, it is extremely likely that this Keparoh was related to David and Irminfrid and therefore also to Reginperht and Cros. Keparoh’s apparent kindred relationship to the Scharnitz founders, therefore, suggests that the feud was a violent conflict within an extended kin group.

“The Cros-Keparoh feud helps explain the Haholt charter. Since the Cros and Keparoh stories are very similar to Haholt’s, it makes sense to conclude that Haholt too was wounded in the course of a dispute with another aristocrat. Seens as a group, then, the three charters indicate that Bavarian landowners processed disputes at least in part through violent feud. They do not, however, give any details about the feuds or the disputes that prompted them. To add depth to our picture of feud in Agilolfing Bavaria, we must briefly leave the charters and turn to the life of a saint.

“As noted previously, we have at our disposal two saints’ lives written by Bishop Arbeo of Freising, who succeeded Bishop Joseph in 764. One of them, the ‘Life of Saint Emmeram’, has violent conflict as its centerpiece. Arbeo wrote his biography of Emmeram, the patron saint of the cathedral church and monastery at Regensburg, sometime around the year 772. He evidently had little direct information about Emmeram to go on; he paints his subject for the most part in broad strokes that rely heavily on older hagiographic models. According to Arbeo, Emmeram was a wealthy Gallo-Frankish nobleman who was born in the Aquitanian city of Poitiers sometime in the seventh century. By virtue of his sanctity and his generosity to rich and poor alike, he quickly rose to become bishop of that city….

“After missionizing in Bavaria for three years, Emmeram asked permission to go on a pilgrimage to Rome. Before he could leave, however, Ota, daughter of Duke Theodo, enters the story. Driven by lust and the urging of the devil, Ota had allowed herself to be seduced by the son of one of the duke’s judges. When the young woman could no longer hide the resulting pregnancy, the despairing couple threw themselves at Bishop Emmeram’s feet, admitted their sin, and implored him for aid. Moved by pity, the bishop ordered the pair to do penance for the salvation of their souls. He also instructed them under oath of secrecy to place the fault publicly for Ota’s pregnancy on him so that they might more easily escape earthly death. The bishop took the blame because he knew that when the sin became known, ‘he would certainly be unable to obtain forgiveness for the pair from the girl’s father.’ Emmeram then set out for Rome in the company of a group of clerics….

“Meanwhile, Duke Theodo had discovered his daughter’s condition. Enraged, he would have drawn his sword to kill the baby in the womb had not his men restrained him. No such restraint hindered Ota’s brother Lantperht from avenging his sister’s dishonor. Filled with wild fury, he assembled his own following and set off after Emmeram’s party. On reaching Helfendorf, Lantperht had the bishop brought before him and showered him with angry accusations. The bishop calmly denied the charge of seduction and asked that he, along with whatever companion Lantperht might choose, be allowed to proceed to Rome to seek a judgment from the pope according to church law. Lantperht refused; instead, he had the bishop stripped and tied to a ladder. Lantperht’s men then began to cut off Emmeram’s extremities and limbs piece by piece while the bishop praised God and prayed for their salvation. They finished by ripping off Emmeram’s genitals and tearing out his tongue; leaving the mutilated torso to die, Lantperht and his men departed….”

here’s emmeram having a foot, and who knows what else, chopped off:

Emmeram

As suggested before, Arbeo had to construct a martyrdom story that made sense to his audience out of bits and pieces of tradition, topoi, the cultural language of his society, and his own imagination. He responded by translating the Christ story into one of martyrdom by the ethic of feud. Lantperht viewed the bishop’s alleged seduction of his sister as an assault on his family’s honor. He responded with an act of revenge that he and at least a majority of his followers clearly perceived as justified: he exploded with rage, assembled a war band, and hunted down his sister’s ravisher. Lantperht then had the bishop mutilated and tortured to death. The grisly process ended with a symbolic gesture directly related to the alleged crime, namely, Emmeram’s castration.

This narrative suggests what may have lain in the silences left by the Freising feud charters: an insult, rage, and a violent, symbolic response….

(note: comments do not require an email. the merovingian.)

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15 Comments

  1. An amazing post, very well researched. It becomes clearer with every new post here that wherever in the world one finds clans, at any level of society, one will usually find violent feuding!

    Reply

  2. @chris – “It becomes clearer with every new post here that wherever in the world one finds clans, at any level of society, one will usually find violent feuding!”

    it’s sure starting to look that way, isn’t it? further research is required, though. (~_^)

    i really wish i could find more clear-cut data/info on whether or not all/some/any of these clannish populations are also inbreeders (marrying cousins or whatever). i feel that i’ve gathered quite a lot of circumstantial evidence to date, but i want more! were these “bavarians” and franks marrying their cousins pre-christianity? most likely (see goody and ausenda and others) — but i wish we knew for sure one way or the other.

    @chris – “An amazing post, very well researched.”

    awww, shucks. (*^_^*) thanks!

    Reply

  3. So how did the Franks stop this stuff, anywy? Did it require Draconian law enforcement? Or did the Bavarians stop it themselves by becoming genuinely pious Catholics? Who knew the problems of 8th century Bavaria would be so relevant to us today..

    One thing that bothers me about all this talk of “honor” is that the killings actually do improve social cohesion… maybe this is just another case of w.e.i.r.d.s not understanding, or not wanting to understand, other cultures… but the fact is if some foreigner rapes or even seduces your kindswoman, it is a distinct threat to the fabric of your society, possibly the worst kind of threat, one that alters the very substance of your people and the reproductive potential, as well. I know if someone in my family got pregnant from rape I’d advise her to abort. But probably wouldn’t try to slice open her in the uterus with a sword.

    Reply

  4. Was leaving one’s property to the church a way to escape the punishment of the secular authorities? Or were these men truly pious and repentant?

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  5. @ihtg – “Was leaving one’s property to the church a way to escape the punishment of the secular authorities? Or were these men truly pious and repentant?”

    this author thought that the donors weren’t escaping any punishment (which, in these cases, would’ve been payment of weregeld) but that they were actually repentant, but other historians disagree. i don’t feel i have enough info to form an opinion on it either way.

    what i found interesting was that in many of the donation cases — not just when there was some feud involved — the family that donated lands retained usufruct rights in the property. so, while the church may have technically owned the property, the family continued to be able to farm the land — or whatever. i got to wondering if this “donation” system was some way of putting the property in “trust” in order to keep it away from competing extended family members — another sub-clan or something. if some distant cousin showed up trying to make a claim on some land, the owner could just say, “oh, well, we’ve donated it to the church….” i dunno. just speculation on my part.

    Reply

  6. “The conflicts appear in the charters because the parties ended them by giving the disputed property to the church”

    Interesting, possibly a compromise solution when agreement couldn’t be reached over some disputed cash like giving it away to charity – which i’ve seen people do irl.

    Reply

  7. Is this what the neopagans and Wicker people are working towards? Gloria Steinem and the Goddess and women’s rights etc.

    Reply

  8. . i got to wondering if this “donation” system was some way of putting the property in “trust” in order to keep it away from competing extended family members — another sub-clan or something. if some distant cousin showed up trying to make a claim on some land

    Ah, I think I see. If you were afraid for your life – afraid that a cousin you were feuding with might kill you – putting your property in the church’s trust would be a form of life insurance.

    Reply

  9. @bleach – “So how did the Franks stop this stuff, anywy? Did it require Draconian law enforcement? Or did the Bavarians stop it themselves by becoming genuinely pious Catholics?”

    well, i’m putting my money on the fact that, as (germanic) christians, they joined in the medieval european outbreeding project and, so, simply became less violent over time (thanks to natural selection and all that good stuff), the clan ties just dissipating into history.

    just a note: i’m not sure if all of these landholding clansmen in bavaria were “bavarians” — some of them may actually have been franks who had migrated into the area. dunno.

    @bleach – “Who knew the problems of 8th century Bavaria would be so relevant to us today..”

    oh, hey — history’s always relevant!

    Reply

  10. @bleach – “One thing that bothers me about all this talk of ‘honor’ is that the killings actually do improve social cohesion… maybe this is just another case of w.e.i.r.d.s not understanding, or not wanting to understand, other cultures… but the fact is if some foreigner rapes or even seduces your kindswoman, it is a distinct threat to the fabric of your society, possibly the worst kind of threat, one that alters the very substance of your people and the reproductive potential, as well.”

    to your statement in bold: absolutely! i think it’s very hard for different sorts of peoples to understand one another. i mean, if you are a certain way — if you have a certain nature — it must be very difficult, if not impossible, to imagine how it is to have another nature. probably helps to try a lot — and to be rather smart and imaginative — but still. it’s not an easy project.

    i think behaviors like “honor” killings fit better in very inbred societies and probably do work well there. don’t think they would work so well in ours — and i DON’T want such practices transplanted here. (i don’t care what they do in saudi arabia or pakistan — that’s their own business.)

    it’s funny how “family honor” comes up again and again in inbred societies: saudia arabia and that whole area of the world, medieval scotland (in the highlands), early medieval bavaria. i don’t think that this can be a coincidence.

    and then personal honor seems to have popped up in more outbred populations: victorian england, for example. times and places where the duel between two men was a more common thing than inter-clan battles.

    Reply

  11. Regarding feuds in the medieval era in present-day Germany. I noticed something on Wikipedia about ‘Feuds’ which I found interesting, not sure if it’s been previously mentioned on this blog [this relates to the Holy Roman Empire in the late 15th Century]:

    “At the Holy Roman Empire’s Reichstag at Worms in 1495 the right of waging feuds was abolished. The Imperial Reform proclaimed an “eternal public peace” (Ewiger Landfriede) to put an end to the abounding feuds and the anarchy of the robber barons and it defined a new standing imperial army to enforce that peace. However, it took a few more decades until the new regulation was universally accepted.[7] In 1506, for example, knight Jan Kopidlansky killed a family rival in Prague and the Town Councillors sentenced him to death and had him executed. Brother Jiri Kopidlansky revenged himself by continuing atrocities.[8]”

    Reply

  12. @chris – “At the Holy Roman Empire’s Reichstag at Worms in 1495 the right of waging feuds was abolished…. In 1506, for example, knight Jan Kopidlansky killed a family rival in Prague….”

    ah ha! very interesting. thanks! i’ll have to go back and take another look at the feud page on wikipedia (these pages change all the time, which is both a bad and a good thing!).

    i wonder if they needed this law for all of the empire, or only certain bits. the example case was in prague, and prague lies towards the eastern edge of where the medieval european outbreeding project was strongest (i.e. behind the hajnal line), so bohemia and the prague area might’ve been “clannish” until comparatively late. the more central areas of the hre may not have had (probably didn’t have, i would guess) these feuding problems. don’t know for sure, though. need to find out!

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  13. @chris – “Ok, here is a review of Hillay Zmora’s book: ‘The Feud in Early Modern Germany’ (Cambridge University Press, 2011). Interesting review, however the book isn’t cheap.”

    oh, thanks! (^_^)

    Reply

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