World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Germanic king

Article Id: WHEBN0005747175
Reproduction Date:

Title: Germanic king  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Ásatrú in the United States, Freyr, Germanic peoples, Monarch, Monarchy, March 12, March 4, Parliament, Reich, Rurik
Collection:
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Publication
Date:
 

Germanic king

Germanic kingship refers to the customs and practices surrounding kings among the pagan Germanic tribes of the Migration period (circa AD 300-700) and the kingdoms of the Early Middle Ages (circa AD 700-1000). The title of king (Proto-Germanic:*kuningaz) is in origin that of the leader elected as sacral and military leader from out of a noble family, usually considered of divine ancestry, in the pagan period.

The Germanic monarchies were originally pagan, but their contact, during the Völkerwanderung or Migration Period, with the Roman Empire and the Christian Church greatly altered their structure and developed into the feudal monarchy of the High Middle Ages.

The term "barbarian monarchy" is sometimes used in the context of those Germanic rulers who after AD 476 and during the 6th century ruled territories formerly part of the Western Roman Empire, especially the Barbarian kings of Italy. In the same context, Germanic law is also termed leges barbarorum "barbarian law" etc.[1]

Terminology

The English term king is derived from the Anglo-Saxon cyning, which in turn is derived from the Common Germanic *kuningaz. The Common Germanic term was borrowed into Finnish and Estonian at an early time, surviving in these languages as kuningas.

The term is notably different from the word for "king" in other Indo-European languages (*rēks "ruler"; Latin rēx, Sanskrit rājan and Irish ríg, but see Gothic reiks). It is a derivation from the term *kunjom "kin" (Old English cynn) by the -inga- suffix. The literal meaning is that of a "scion of the [noble] kin", or perhaps "son or descendant of one of noble birth" (OED).

There were other terms for the Germanic king in early Germanic languages, derived from the word for "the people, the nation" rather than "kin". These are Old Norse fylkir (from *fulka) and Gothic þiudans (from *þeuda).

Comparable terms did not necessarily refer to a king but to any member of the nobility, e.g. Old English dryhten (from *druhtiz "army, folk, people"), þēoden (from *þeuda) and æðeling (from *aþel "noble family").

In Germanic poetry, kennings in use for "king" or "lord" include Old English beah-gifa "giver of rings" (Beowulf).

Earl/jarl was a title for a chieftain or leader of a small force of men below the level of kingship. The English lord (hlāford) is another kenning for a chieftain, without parallels in other Germanic languages. Old Norse hofðing (Modern German Häuptling) was a term for "chieftain", literally "head man". The Latinate captain introduced in the late medieval period has the same meaning.

Germanic pagan kingship

The Germanic king originally had three main functions:

  • To serve as judge during the popular assemblies.
  • To serve as a priest during the sacrifices.
  • To serve as a military leader during wars.

The office was received hereditarily, but a new king required the consent of the people before assuming the throne. All sons of the king had the right to claim the throne, which often led to co-rulership (diarchy) where two brothers were elected kings at the same time. This evolved into the territories being considered the hereditary property of the kings, patrimonies, a system which fueled feudal wars, because the kings could claim ownership of lands beyond their de facto rule.

As a sort of pagan high priest, the king often claimed descent from some deity. In the Scandinavian nations, he administered blóts at important cult sites, such as the Temple at Uppsala. Refusal to administer the blóts could lead to the king losing power (see Haakon the Good and Anund Gårdske).

According to the testimony of Tacitus (Germania), the early Germanic peoples had an elective monarchy already in the 1st century.

"They choose their kings by birth, their generals for merit. These kings have not unlimited or arbitrary power, and the generals do more by example than by authority."[2]

Germanic pagan society had three levels, the king, the nobility and the free men. Their respective political influence was negotiated at the thing. According to the testimony of Tacitus,

"About minor matters the chiefs deliberate, about the more important the whole tribe. Yet even when the final decision rests with the people, the affair is always thoroughly discussed by the chiefs. [... At the assembly, w]hen the multitude think proper, they sit down armed. Silence is proclaimed by the priests, who have on these occasions the right of keeping order. Then the king or the chief, according to age, birth, distinction in war, or eloquence, is heard, more because he has influence to persuade than because he has power to command. If his sentiments displease them, they reject them with murmurs; if they are satisfied, they brandish their spears."[3]

Tacitus notes that as each tribe had its own customary law, the political power of the king could vary between nations. Thus, he states that the Gothones were ruled by kings "a little more strictly than the other German tribes, but not as yet inconsistently with freedom" while beyond the Gothones, the Rugii and Lemovii (tribes placed at the far end of Magna Germania, near the Baltic Sea) lived in "servile submission to their kings".[4]

History

With the decline of the Roman Empire, many of her provinces came under the rule of Germanic kings: Hispania to the Visigoths, Italia to the Ostrogoths, Gallia to the Franks, Britannia to the Anglo-Saxons, and Africa to the Vandals. These nations had by then been in contact with Rome for a century or more and had adopted many Roman customs. They had also been Christianised and pagan practice was slowly being replaced.

The Frankish state under the Merovingian dynasty had many of the characteristics of Germanic monarchy under heavy influence from secular and ecclesiastic Rome. Its kings, through their division of the territory, treated her not as a state independent of themselves, but as their patrimony, land won by conquest (theirs and their forefathers'). The king was primarily a war leader and a judge. There are many theories to explain the collapse of Merovingian power, most of which blame the inability of later Merovingians in war as an important factor. The commonly cited occasion of Sigebert III sobbing in his saddle after a defeat (the king was then only ten years old) highlights the importance of victory in battle for a king who is chiefly a warrior.

The principle of election, which determined Germanic succession, was abandoned in those states under the heaviest influence from the papacy, such as Merovingian Gaul, where hereditary succession and the divine right of the reigning dynasty was recognised. In Anglo-Saxon Britain, the principle survived until the Norman Conquest removed it. Anglo-Saxon kings were elected by the witena gemót. Finally, the principle survived in some form or other for centuries after the demise of the last Germanic monarchies. The civil wars of medieval Scandinavia and the electorate of the Holy Roman Empire are part of its legacy.

List of Germanic monarchies

Lists

Tribes

Dynasties

Notes

Sources

  • William A. Chaney, The Cult of Kingship in Anglo-Saxon England: The Transition from Paganism to Christianity, University of California Press (1970).
  • Joseph H. Lynch, Christianizing Kinship: Ritual Sponsorship in Anglo-Saxon England, Cornell University Press (1998), ISBN 0-8014-3527-7.
  • Painter, Sidney. A History of the Middle Ages 284−1500. New York, 1953.

See also

ka:კონუნგი

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and USA.gov, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for USA.gov and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
 
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
 
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.
 



Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.