Why did the Merovingians and Pippinids adopt Christianity so fervently?

Why did the Merovingians and Pippinids adopt Christianity so fervently?

The Western Church was generally in decline from, say, 400 to 700 AD. Yet, Clovis converted, and more to the point, so did many other dukes. In the end, the Pippinids conducted various wars with the Frisians and Saxons to crush their paganism. They even appointed bishops from outside their realm. It almost seems that their aim was to have a "Christian" land. How true is all this, and why were they so fervent in supporting a religion whose leader was getting weaker by the decade?


Colin McEvedy argued in his Penguin Atlas of Medieval History that conversion was a good political move for the Franks.

The thing you have to realize about France is that even though it was essentially conquered by the Franks (Germans), they were never much more than a ruling class. The common people continued to speak Latin, which over the millennium slowly became the language we today call French. We can assume they would have been inclined to keep other aspects of their culture too, and that includes their religious beliefs.

At this time most of the larger German tribes had converted too, but they generally would convert to the heretical version called Arianism*. This conveniently allowed them to call themselves Christian, but without acknowledging the authority of the Pope. Colin's argument was that by converting to the standard version of the faith, the Franks were able to better appeal to their subjects, the common people of France, as their protectors. This would have strengthened their grassroots political support.

* - No this has nothing to do with Nazi "Aryiansim". It was a minor difference over the mechanics of the Trinity, which ended up being far more important politically than theologically.


Organising Early France & Germany: The Merovingians and Carolingians

During the first few centuries following the fall of the Roman Empire in the year 476, nearly all the European territories experienced new rulers and big population movements. In Central Europe - the old Roman province of Gaul and home to modern-day France and Germany - large sections of territory gradually came under the control of the Franks (turn to Chapter 2 for more details), who had recently converted to Christianity.

Over the next few centuries, Frankish domination increased under two dynasties - the Merovingians and Carolingians. In this chapter I explore the people who made up these dynasties and how they rose to power.

The period that I cover in this chapter is a difficult one for modern historians to write about because of the large gaps in knowledge, one of the reasons that it has often been referred to as &lsquoThe Dark Ages&rsquo, but researchers have put together a framework that explains how one family came to rule half of Europe. So here goes!

Making Major Moves: The Merovingians

The Merovingians were descended from a people called the Salian Franks, who had lived in the area that now forms the modern-day, south Netherlands, to the north of the river Rhine. During the fifth century, they moved westwards and began to establish themselves in what is modern-day France, as Figure 4-1 shows. Merovingian history is quite difficult to trace because they were always falling out with and fighting each other in civil wars - a reflection of their origins as a tribal people. Nevertheless they still managed to hold on to power in this area until the middle of the eighth century.

Figure 4-1: The Frankish Kingdoms 511-751

Merovingian is a wonderful word, and it seems to have come from a man called Merovech who first led these people on their journey west in the early fifth century. He was the grandfather of Clovis, who was the first to establish rule and also adopt Christianity (flip to Chapter 2 for more details on Clovis). Historians don&rsquot really know anything about Merovech himself he&rsquos one of those almost mythical figures who were quite common during the Dark Ages, but a real historical figure would have existed.

The term Merovingian is strictly appropriate only to describe the ruling class of this people. Historians typically refer to the people in general as Franks. At the time, they were also known as the &lsquolong-haired&rsquo Franks because of their fashion for wearing hair over the collar, which was notably different from their Roman predecessors.

The Merovingians made fast work of adding to their territory. When Clovis I died in 511, they had gained control of the whole of the old Roman province of Gaul except Burgundy, and by the middle of the sixth century, they had added the Provence region to their territory.

During this time the Frankish lands were divided into two distinct territories:

● To the east was Austrasia (East Land), which incorporated eastern France, Germany, Belgium and southern The Netherlands.

● To the west was Neustria (West Land), which incorporated the majority of the west of France.

At various points territories broke away or tried to separate, but these attempts never succeeded. Austrasia and Neustria lasted throughout the Merovingian period.

The Merovingians managed to conquer a great deal of territory, but ruling it successfully became more of a problem because they were unable to stop fighting each other.

Descendants of Clovis and their sons ruled all the territory, but wars between the relatives were pretty much constant. Brief periods of unity were immediately followed by civil war when a ruler died, due to the fact that his territory would be split between his sons. The normal tradition seems to have been to fight your brothers on an annual basis and because all the rulers came from the same family, grievances and the desire for vengeance lasted through generations. Family dinners must have been fun!

One of the biggest causes of discontent in the Merovingian world was a woman called Brunhilda, who lived from around 543 to 613. Her life is too eventful even for a feature film - it would require a mini-series! She's a fascinating character and a great example of how treacherous the Merovingian kingdoms were.

Brunhilda was a Visigoth princess who grew up in the Visigoth kingdom in Spain. She married King Sigebert I of Austrasia and was the first foreign noble to marry a Merovingian. Sigebert's brother Chilperic obviously liked the idea because he married Brunhilda's sister Galswintha, who was murdered within a year, probably by Chilperic and his mistress.

Brunhilda was devastated at her sister's death and persuaded Sigebert to go to war with Chilperic over it. Sigebert won the war but was soon assassinated by his brother's agents, and Brunhilda was captured and imprisoned in Rouen. Despite her imprisonment, she had clearly maintained her ability to bewitch Merovingian men because shortly afterwards she married Merovech (not the semi-legendary figure who gave his name to the Merovingians), the son of her bitter enemy Chilperic! The two immediately set about planning to make Merovech king. As a result Chilperic declared the marriage invalid and forced his son to go into a monastery. Merovech went on the run and ended up committing suicide.

Meanwhile, Brunhilda seized the throne of Austrasia for herself, claiming that she was acting as regent for her eldest son from her first marriage! Over the next 30 years, the regencies and murders continued furiously as Brunhilda continued to manipulate all sorts of Merovingian men into doing what she wanted and even led troops into battle herself.

Brunhilda was eventually captured in the year 613 by a king called Clotaire II, who became sole ruler of the Merovingian kingdoms. She was put on trial and accused of the murder of ten Merovingian kings. This number was pushing it a bit, but probably not too far off the mark! She was convicted and punished by being torn apart between two charging horses as a symbol of how her acts had ripped the kingdoms apart.

Constant war between the kings came at a tremendous cost. The competing Merovingians were always campaigning for the support of the nobility, which made the nobility extremely powerful and weakened the royal line. Most historians agree that the last truly independent Merovingian king was Dagobert I, who died in 639.

In the period that followed, the kings became more like ceremonial figures, with the real power residing with their barons, nobles and generals. New positions of power developed, most importantly the role of &lsquoMayor of the Palace&rsquo - a chief administrator to the Merovingian king who effectively controlled the kingdom (see the later section &lsquoMaking the most of the mayor&rsquo). Under these circumstances, a whole new line of rulers developed - the Carolingians. I talk about how this transition happened in the later section &lsquoRising to Power: The Carolingians&rsquo.

Pondering Merovingian power

The Merovingian period didn&rsquot last very long, only a couple of centuries, but it was still rich and interesting. After all, they were the first people to come to power in mainland Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire, which meant that they were effectively starting with a blank canvas.

The Merovingians were originally a tribal people, a fact that shows in the way they organised their society. The king, like a tribal chief, was an absolute ruler with total authority. All territory and wealth that was gained was also his, which is one of the reasons why people were so keen to try and set themselves up as king!

Kings were able to nominate their successors and transfer all territory and property to their children. Of course, these decisions were rarely respected and civil war was usually the result. But the Merovingians placed the bloodline and relationship to the throne above any other quality.

The Merovingian kings also kept themselves apart from the administration of their kingdom, as I discuss in the following section. In this way they resembled the Byzantine emperors (check out Chapter 2 for more details on these rulers), detached from ordinary people and seen as being closer to God (also see the later sidebar &lsquoKings after death&rsquo).

Replacing the Romans: The rise of comites

The fact that Merovingian kings kept themselves separate from the administration of their kingdoms meant that they needed an aristocratic class to run them. The Merovingian Empire was massive, covering a huge landmass. Under the Romans, it had been run and organised by a combination of the civil service, the army and the Church - and so the leadership and management gap was enormous.

The Merovingian solution was to create a whole new class of people to carry out the administration of the kingdoms. These people were given the title of comites (counts), an old Roman military term. Their roles were incredibly wide-ranging and included collecting taxes, organising the courts and justice, and even recruiting and administering the army.

Over time the comites grew into incredibly powerful and influential people. The Merovingian kings could make as many decisions as they liked, but they were unable to implement any of them without the comites.

The Merovingians converted to Christianity during the sixth century, and their faith added a great deal to their mystique. Merovingian money and patronage was responsible for the Christian faith spreading throughout Austrasia, Neustria and beyond. Many Merovingian kings founded churches and monasteries, and a number of them were subsequently made into saints. These new saints were immensely popular in their local areas, and as a result cults arose that were devoted to them. These cults also meant that many of the ensuing civil wars also took on regional and religious elements.

Hagiography (the writing of saints' lives) was the most popular form of Merovingian literature, and it usually emphasised the healing powers that the tombs of the saints possessed. Accordingly the tombs of the Merovingian kings became the first real pilgrimage sites of the Medieval World. The Merovingians may not have been interested in administering their kingdoms, but they did manage to generate a tourism industry!

Rising to Power: The Carolingians

During the eighth century something significant changed in the Frankish world. Gradually, year on year, the practical power of the Merovingian king became less and less, while that of his advisors grew (as I relate in the earlier section &lsquoPondering Merovingian power&rsquo). Within 100 years the Merovingian royal line had ceased to exist, and a new and more powerful family were running the Frankish Empire - the Carolingians.

The Carolingians didn&rsquot just come out of nowhere. They had always been an important aristocratic family in the Frankish world. Their name in medieval Latin was kairolingi, meaning &lsquothe descendants of Charles&rsquo. The Charles in question was Charles Martell (c. 688-741) (turn to the later section &lsquoHammering the Merovingians: Charles Martell&rsquo for more on Charles).

Making the most of the mayor

For generations the Carolingians had been a part of the Merovingian administration, holding powerful posts as comites and dealing with financial and military matters (the earlier section &lsquoReplacing the Romans: The rise of comites&rsquo talks more about comites). During the eighth century, they got their hands on the most powerful job of all.

The key position that enabled the Carolingians to ascend to power was that of Mayor of the Palace, known in Latin as major domus from which the term &lsquomajor-domo&rsquo derives. Although this title may not sound like much, almost like some kind of butler, Mayor of the Palace was the lynchpin position in the old Merovingian kingdoms:

● The Mayor controlled access to the king and anyone wanting to speak with the king had to go through the Mayor of the Palace.

● The Mayor was the key decision maker on policy. All the comites in charge of finance, justice and the army reported to him.

Simply put, the Mayor was the power behind the throne and the man who kept the kingdom running. The wide-ranging power of the Mayor was one of the main reasons why the king was seen as a rather ethereal, mystical figure.

During the late seventh and early eighth centuries, one family came to dominate the position of Mayor in Austrasia. At the time this family was known as the &lsquoPippinids&rsquo, because most men in the family took the name Pippin. For the best part of a century, fathers and sons of the Pippinid clan took the role of Mayor and handed it on, massively building up their power base as they did so, and eventually granting themselves the title of Duke. This title came from dux, an old Roman title that had been used to confer widespread military powers. In adopting this title, the mayors were claiming total command of the military in the Merovingian kingdom.

Everything changed in 714 when the serving Mayor, Duke Pippin II, died without a legitimate heir. Instead, power was passed to an illegitimate son born to him by a concubine. The child&rsquos name was Charles Martell.

Hammering the Merovingians: Charles Martell

Charles Martell was an amazing success as Mayor of Austrasia. Like those before him, he assumed the title Duke of the Franks and proved to be an incredibly successful general - so successful that he earned the nickname of &lsquoThe Hammer&rsquo. He&rsquos reputed to have lost only one battle and is probably most famous for defeating a large Muslim army at the Battle of Tours in 732, a victory you can read about in Chapter 7.

One of the first events that showed how powerful the Mayors had become was the battle of Tertry in the year 687. The battle in the Somme region of the north of France was the climax of a brief civil war between Neustria and Austrasia and their respective Mayors. The conflict took place despite the fact that a Merovingian king, Theuderic III, was still in power.

The Austrasian Mayor was called Pippin of Herstal (see the following section 'Running in the family'), who defeated his Neustrian counterpart Berthar and replaced him as Mayor with one of his own supporters. This appointment increased the power of the Austrasian Mayor and also diminished the influence of the king.

Charles didn&rsquot have things easy to begin with. Within a year of assuming his father&rsquos title, he was challenged as Mayor of Austrasia by a pretender from Neustria called Ragenfrid: a three-year civil war followed. Charles won it comfortably, but showed mercy to his enemies. He also unified both Austrasia and Neustria under his control.

By this point Charles was effectively the absolute ruler of the Frankish world. A Merovingian king was still in place, but the position had become purely ceremonial. The armies were at the command of Charles, which meant that he was in charge. He used his power to expand Frankish interests and territory by fighting a series of successful foreign wars to the east and west, as well as into Saxon territory in the north. Charles carried out this expansion while still claiming only the title of Duke of the Franks.

After the Battle of Tours, fought against the Muslims in 732, Charles continued with his campaigning up until 737 when the Merovingian king, Theuderic IV, died without an obvious successor. Charles didn&rsquot grab the throne, however, and instead it lay vacant. Although the fact that Charles didn&rsquot grasp such an obvious opportunity to make himself king seems strange, he already had all the power he needed.

Playing with power after Charles: Pippin

When Charles died in 741, he was able to divide up the Frankish lands as if he were a king and give them to his sons. He split the kingdom in two, giving Austrasia to his elder son Carloman and Neustria to his other son Pippin. Each son also took the title of Mayor of the Palace in their respective kingdoms.

Usually such a split between brothers meant a civil war in the making, but this time things didn&rsquot work out like that. Not to say that everything was hunky-dory the brothers did have another half-brother called Grifo, who was immediately imprisoned when they took power. That&rsquos the way to do it!

Working as a puppet master

When the brothers took power, the position of Merovingian king was vacant. One of Carloman&rsquos first acts was to nominate a Merovingian noble called Childeric to take the throne. Shortly afterwards, in 747, Carloman decided to abdicate and spend the rest of his days in a monastery.

All this manoeuvring was doubtless down to Pippin III. He&rsquos often known as Pippin &lsquoThe Short&rsquo. We don&rsquot know if he was unusually small but if so he certainly made up for his lack of stature with his impact on history.

Pippin was now the sole Mayor and also kept the title Duke of the Franks. To make him look even more legitimate, Pippin retained Childeric on the throne, but the people considered that a king who owed his very existence to Pippin and Carloman was a bit of a joke. Pippin was now in total control of the Franks and he made the most of it.

Understanding the mind of Pippin and his motivations is almost impossible, but most historians believe that even before he took power he was determined to become the first Carolingian king. His actions certainly bear this idea out.

After he was in supreme power in Austrasia and Neustria, Pippin began his campaign to become king. His first act was to write to Pope Zachary, asking him who he felt truly held royal power in the Frankish lands. This question was a tricky one for the pope he was aware that he may well need the help of the Frankish king in the near future. The Lombards in northern Italy were making claims for some of the papal estates there, and the pope would need some military support to stop them. With this situation in mind, Zachary replied that the man with real power not also having royal power seemed unusual - he was basically giving Pippin approval to make himself king.

Pippin didn&rsquot hang around and announced that at present the throne was vacant. Instead of declaring himself king, he summoned a council of Frankish nobles and comites in the year 751 and asked them to elect a king. Whether any other candidates were involved is unclear, but historians do know that Pippin&rsquos army was present to encourage people to make the correct choice!

The Archbishop of Mainz crowned Pippin at the town of Soissons in 751. His coronation set an important precedent - a group of nobles who were technically in competition with him elected him king of the Franks. This important principle stayed in place for generations, all the way through the medieval period, and showed that the king of the Franks represented real military and political power. This selection process was a world away from the old Merovingian system of quasi-mystical rulers.

Pippin&rsquos coronation was recorded in a contemporary chronicle as follows:

751 - In this year Pipin was named king of the Franks with the sanction of the pope, and in the city of Soissons he was anointed with the holy oil by the hands of Boniface, archbishop and martyr of blessed memory, and was raised to the throne after the custom of the Franks. But Childerich, who had the name of king, was shorn of his locks and sent into a monastery.

Pippin made great use of his new power and set about securing the borders and expanding the territory of what had now officially become his kingdom. His first efforts were directed at northern Italy and the Lombards. He owed the papacy a favour for their support of him, and he didn&rsquot forget it. Attacking the Lombards paid further dividends for him when Pope Stephen II awarded him another title - Patrician of the Romans, which effectively made him the official military protector of the papacy and Christian interests in Europe. This title was really the first step on the way to becoming Holy Roman Emperor, which Pippin&rsquos son Charles achieved in the year 800 (check out Chapter 5 for more on the man who would become Charlemagne).

Pippin took his responsibilities seriously and carried on the work of Charles Martell with campaigns against the Islamic armies in Spain and southwest France. He drove them out of the Narbonne region in 759 and as a result was able to add Aquitaine to the growing Carolingian Empire. By the time of his death, nearly all modern-day France was under his control.

Popping off and positioning Charlemagne

Pippin died in 768, aged 54, having fallen ill on campaign. As the first Frankish king, the arrangements for his succession set a precedent. He&rsquod stated that the old Salic Law (the law of the Salian Franks) would apply, so his territories were divided between his two sons, Charles and Carloman. Whilst the Merovingians had always divided inheritance like this, Pippin as the first Carolingian king was setting a new precedent that would have far-reaching consequences for the development of Europe (see Chapter 6).

Within 50 years his eldest son, Charles, had taken things even further, being crowned Holy Roman Emperor and extending the borders of Frankish territory far beyond what Clovis and the early Merovingian kings would have believed possible (you can follow the rise of Charles in Chapter 5).

None of that would have been achieved without Pippin. The Carolingian line went on to rule as kings and emperors until 1122. Not bad for a little guy!

The period of negotiation between Pippin and Pope Stephen II saw the emergence of one of the most infamous documents in history. The 'Donation of Constantine' was alleged to have been an imperial decree written by the Roman Emperor Constantine I (272-337). In the document, Constantine (who resided in Constantinople) gave control of a large portion of territory in the Roman west to the pope - in particular, lands in Italy and the city of Rome itself. Pope Stephen would have used this decree to help convince Pippin to give the lands he won from the Lombards back to the papacy, which Pippin did, as he was effectively just restoring them to their previous owner. These lands then brought huge revenues to the papacy for the next 1,000 years.

The only problem? The Donation of Constantine was a fake! Even then, people were suspicious of the sudden emergence of such a useful 400-year-old document. By the Renaissance, various people had been recorded as saying that the document was both a fake and the main reason why the papacy had become so corrupt (Chapter 19 has more on this period in papal history).

Modern historians pretty much universally agree that the document was faked, but as to when and by whom they are at a loss. Wherever it came from, the document did its job Pippin gave the lands back to the papacy, and an important precedent was established.


Legend of origin and question of the sacred kingship

The name "Merovingian" appears - in the form of Mervengus - for the first time around 640 in Jonas von Bobbio , a little later in the Fredegar Chronicle and only again in the 8th century.

The long-discussed questions about the origin and legitimation of the Merovingian claim to rule are difficult to clarify. The questions are as follows:

  • Was there an ancient Merovingian kingship that was legitimized in pre-Christian times by a myth that asserted a divine ancestry of the sex? What significance did this legend have?
  • Did the Christian Merovingians continue to benefit from the reputation that the myth of origin may have given their ancestors? For this reason, did they propagate such a myth, despite its incompatibility with Christian teaching?
  • To what extent can we deduce lasting remnants of a possible pre-Christian sacred tradition of the Merovingian monarchy from individual sources from the Merovingian and Carolingian times? Does this evidence allow this kingship to be classified in the context of an ancient Germanic sacred kingship ?

In research, there are two extreme positions, that of Karl Hauck and that of Alexander C. Murray. Hauck was the most consistent proponent of the modern theory of the Frankish sacred kingdom. His view, according to which the tradition of an old Germanic sacred kingdom can be observed among the Merovingians, has shaped research for a long time since the publication of a seminal essay in 1955. Alexander Murray then vehemently contradicted this view in 1998. Other researchers like Ian Wood were more cautious. Recently, however, a position has been gaining approval that considers the "Germanic kingdom" as a whole to be a myth , which is why there is consequently no corresponding tradition among the Merovingians: it was only in the course of the imperial era that it was expressed among the Teutons in imitation of Roman forms monarchical systems.

At the center of the controversy is the legend of origin ( Origo gentis ), as it is passed down in the Latin Fredegar chronicle (7th century). It tells of Chlodio , the first rex of the Salf Franks who can be grasped as a historical personality , who led Frankish warriors in the second quarter of the 5th century and is also known from other sources. According to legend, when Chlodio's wife went to the sea to bathe, she met a sea monster ( bestia Neptuni , "beast of Neptune ") who was similar to the Quinotaur . She then gave birth to a son, the future King Merowech , grandfather of Clovis I (undoubtedly a historical figure). The name Quinotaurus is reminiscent of the ancient Greek saga of Minotauros , a hybrid of man and bull maybe the Qu is just a scribal mistake. The wording in the chronicle leaves the question open whether the monster himself was Merowech's father or whether the queen's encounter with him is only to be understood as a portent and Chlodio was the father. The chronicler adds that after this Merowech his descendants, the Frankish kings, were later called Merohingii .

Karl Hauck, who worked here with methods of comparative religious studies , interpreted the narrative consistently in the sense of a sacred royal idea. He understood the text to mean that Merowech was not conceived either by the monster or by Chlodio, but both at the same time: The aut . aut (“either - or”) also meant “both - and” in vulgar Latin, and the monster was therefore none other than Chlodio himself, who temporarily appeared as a theriomorphic (animal-shaped) being and thus proved his divine nature. Thus, through the act of procreation, the “working of the procreative and creative power of the main god” had been shown, which produced the progenitor of the sex the bull shape stands for the "elemental force of the divine creative power" of a fertility god. The legend should be understood in the sense of the concept of the "holy wedding" ( hierogamy ). In this context, Hauck referred to the special importance of the bull for the Merovingian clan so a golden bull's head was found in the grave of Merowech's son and successor Childerich I. A ritual that could be reconstructed also corresponded to the myth it existed long before the fifth century and was then passed on to younger representatives of the old, holy royal line.

This interpretation, which from the text of the chronicle inferred the existence of an old Germanic, originally orally transmitted legend, found broad acceptance in research for decades. However, the equation of the quasi divine monster with Chlodio was mostly not accepted, but the translation "either - or" was retained. The fact that the chronicle makes two relatively insignificant historical "petty kings" or federate leaders of the 5th century the protagonists of the myth has always caused offense. Because of this and linguistic considerations, the opinion prevailed that the legend in its original version did not refer to Merowech, but to a much older legendary figure named Mero as the progenitor of the then so-called "Merohinger". Only in a more recent version was it transferred to Chlodio and Merowech because of the similarity of names. This led to the mistake that the Merovingian name was derived from the historical King Merowech.

Murray has given detailed reasons for his radical opposition to this view. He believes that depictions of bulls are widespread in late antique art and should not necessarily be interpreted religiously in addition, the finds from the Childerich grave could be Celtic imported goods. The alleged legendary figure Mero is purely speculative and lacks any basis in the sources rather, the name Merovingian goes back to the historical Merowech. The story in the Fredegar Chronicle does not have a pagan background, but only originated in the sixth or seventh century. It is not a real legend, but only an attempt by an educated Christian to explain the name Merowech etymologically according to a custom that was widespread at the time. This learned Franconian had interpreted the name Merowech as "sea cattle" and had thus come up with a connection with the Neptune monster. He knew the Minotaur myth, because it was treated or mentioned by popular authors such as Virgil , Ovid and Apuleius and was still well known in late antiquity. According to the Minotauros legend, Minotauros was the son of a bull that the god Poseidon (Neptune) made to rise from the sea. Inspired by this idea, the Christian Franconian had the idea of ​​redesigning the Minotaur legend for his own purpose.

Ian Wood considers the possibility that the tale in its traditional form was intended as a mockery of mythical interpretations of a sacred origin of the Merovingian family.

The situation is made more complicated by the fact that in recent times scholars such as Patrick J. Geary and Guy Halsall have increasingly pleaded for at least Childerich I to be seen primarily as a late Roman mercenary leader who commanded an extremely heterogeneous association of people from the most diverse origins. Since the Merovingians were in truth not an old family, but may have risen to a prominent position with Childerich, if a sacred legitimation had actually been postulated, at least not to assume their old roots. This is also assumed by those researchers who, as mentioned, are of the opinion that there was no "old Germanic" kingship, but that this was only expressed in post-Christian times under Roman influence.

The appearance of the Merovingians was characterized by their long hair, which is already recognizable on the Childerich I seal and is also confirmed by several late chroniclers. However, it is unclear how exactly this feature is to be interpreted: While Eugen Ewig and John Michael Wallace-Hadrill wanted to combine hairstyle with an old military royalty and a noble sphere, researchers like Reinhard Schneider see them more as a sign of belonging to the ruling family.

However, in recent times many researchers prefer a completely different explanation for the origins of the Merovingian hairstyle: In the 5th / 6th century. In the 19th century, many warriors wore shoulder-length hair In late antiquity this was part of the habitus barbarus , the typical appearance of a warlike aristocrat, regardless of whether Roman or barbarian. The Merovingian reges could simply have adhered to this increasingly antiquated custom until the end. In the final phase of the dynasty, when the Merovingians were supposedly only shadow kings, and after their kingship had been abolished, they were represented as keepers of ancient customs this could well have also applied to her hairstyle. Statements from the Carolingian era, which make the traditional behavior of the last Merovingians appear strange, ridiculous and antiquated, are likely to be deliberately distorted, as they were intended to justify the change of dynasty from 751/2 (see above).

Einhard , for example , who wrote a biography of Charlemagne in Carolingian times , wrote that the last Merovingians allowed themselves to be driven around on a cart ( carpentum ) pulled by oxen . In older research, this cart was often traced back to a pagan cult cart and was mentioned as an additional indication of the presumably sacred character of the Merovingian kingdom. On the other hand, Murray objected that Einhard only connects the ox cart with the last Merovingians and does not identify it as a rulership or privilege, and that none of the older sources mention such carts as vehicles of the Merovingian kings. But what the Carolingian author describes as a ridiculous curiosity was in fact an old element of late antique rulers' representation: Ammianus Marcellinus reports that Emperor Constantius II entered a carpentum in Rome in 357 , and Roman prefects and vicarii were still traveling loudly in the 6th century to the scholar and politician Cassiodorus mostly in carts that were a sign of their high dignity.

One thing is certain: the last Merovingians, despite their powerlessness, were not generally perceived as ridiculous figures otherwise the Carolingians would have been able to change the dynasty more easily and earlier and would not have had to rely on the authority of the Pope for this. For a long time, the Hausmeier had to take into account the deeply rooted tradition, according to which only Merovingians were legitimized to become kings. Julius von Pflugk-Harttung already spoke of a “planned weaning” from the ruling family for the years after 687. This quasi religious shyness towards the dynasty often serves as an argument that a sacred character was ascribed to it until the end, the roots of which are to be found in archaic pagan ideas. However, since no proof of this has yet been provided, the question remains open. Dynastic thinking, that is, the idea that the right to rule is tied to just one family, was omnipresent in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages As a look at the Theodosian dynasty shows, it by no means required an explicit religious justification and therefore does not have to be rooted in a sacred kingship.


Charlemagne

As had been the custom with his Merovingian predecessors, the first Carolingian king divided his kingdom between his sons, Charles and Carloman. Their corulership was marked by mounting rivalry which threatened the internal unity that Pepin had established and the agreement he had made to protect the papacy and the Papal States, especially after Charlemagne sought advantage over Carloman by accepting a Lombard bride in return for an alliance with Desiderius, the Lombard king. Then in 771 Carloman died. Charlemagne immediately seized his brother's inheritance, assumed sole control over the entire kingdom, and repudiated his Lombard alliance and his recent bride. Thus began a remarkable reign that brought the Carolingian dynasty to the apogee of its power and influence and led contemporaries to call the king Charles the Great, Charlemagne.

Conqueror, Diplomat, Governor. Charlemagne was first of all a successful war leader, a key factor in holding the allegiance of his followers. During the first 30 years of his reign very few seasons passed without a campaign somewhere. Although Frankish armies sometimes suffered defeat, usually they were victorious, in part because of Charlemagne's skill in recruiting, supplying, and maneuvering his troops. One result of his campaigns was the solidification of Frankish control over territories that the Franks had long claimed, especially Aquitaine and Bavaria. Other triumphs resulted in the submission of extensive new areas to Frankish rule, including Frisia, Saxony, Lombard Italy, the Avar empire, and a portion of Muslim Spain lying between the Pyrenees and the Ebro river. An administrative structure manned by trusted Frankish aristocrats was imposed on these conquered territories as a means of assuring their assimilation into the Frankish realm. And those same triumphs produced booty and tribute which allowed Charlemagne to strengthen his claim on the allegiance of his followers, both lay and ecclesiastical, by bestowing rich rewards on them. The victories over the pagan Saxons and Avars was accompanied by their conversion to Christianity, often achieved by the use of force, especially in Saxony. Christianization proved to be an effective tool in incorporating conquered peoples into the Frankish realm.

As the frontiers of his kingdom were extended, Charlemagne sought to assure their defense by establishing heavily militarized territories, called marches, at strategic points around the periphery of his realm. He also mounted a successful effort combining military action and diplomacy aimed at winning allies and neutralizing potential threats to his kingdom posed by such neighbors as the Danes, various Slavic tribes, the Byzantine emperors, the Lombard dukes of Benevento in southern Italy, the Papal States, the Muslim caliphs ruling in Baghdad and Cordoba, the Christian rulers of the kingdom of the Asturias in northwestern Spain, the Gascons and Bretons in Gaul, and the Anglo-Saxon kings of Mercia and North-umbria. By the end of his reign his military and diplomatic successes won the Frankish kingdom recognition as a major world power.

In the midst of his military and diplomatic activities Charlemagne found time to concern himself with the governance of his expanding realm. In general, he was not a political innovator rather, he ruled within the institutional framework inherited from the Merovingians. His chief concern was with utilizing traditional political institutions and techniques more effectively to establish order and maintain concord among his subjects. The king's authority continued to be represented at the local level by counts and bishops, charged with acting in the name of the king to administer justice, collect taxes, raise armed forces, and keep the peace in each of the more than 400 counties and 200 dioceses into which the kingdom was divided. As had long been the case, the central government was made up of the king and his personal entourage, called the palatium (palace). In addition to the royal family, the palace was composed of trusted lay and ecclesiastical companions of the king who discharged a variety of functions, including managing the royal resources, leading armies, conducting diplomatic missions, producing written documents related to royal administration, counseling the king on policy issues, directing religious life, and taking part in activities that entertained the king and his family. Charlemagne's powerful personality was a prime factor in making this rather primitive administrative structure effective. Equally important was his success in filling offices at all levels with competent individuals drawn from a limited number of powerful aristocratic families, especially from Austrasia, eager to serve the king in return for the prestige, the power, and the material rewards derived from holding office.

Charlemagne was most innovative as a political leader in strengthening linkages between his person and his palatium and the local centers of power spread across his huge realm. He utilized several means to achieve this end: asserting influence through a network of office holders drawn from a limited number of families with shared interests summoning power wielders of the kingdom to annual assemblies for consultation and approval of royal policies regularizing and extending the use of missi dominici, royal agents sent out in pairs to tour specifically defined territorial entities to announce and enact the royal will locally improving communication between the central government and local organs of government by expanding the use of written documents, especially capitularies, royal orders dispatched across the kingdom to inform all concerned what the king willed and how his commands were to be achieved expanding the use of vassalage to create personal bonds linking important subjects to him and of benefices to provide material benefits on a basis that encouraged the vassal to remain loyal to his royal lord and requiring all free men in his realm to swear an oath obliging them to be faithful in obeying and serving the ruler.

Charlemagne's efforts to make more effective traditional political institutions were accompanied by a subtle change in the concepts defining the purpose of government and the role of the king. To the traditional view of king as warlord there was added a religious dimension defined by ideas drawn from Old Testament models of kingship and from the vision of the city of God articulated by St. augustine. The evolving concept of governance imposed on the king who ruled "by the grace of God" an obligation to shape the spiritual and material lives of his subjects according to the commands of God. Kingship took on a ministerial dimension which mandated that a ruler be both priest and king, thereby blurring the distinction between the sacred and the secular, between the Church and the state, and greatly expanding the responsibilities and the political priorities of the ruler not only in religious matters but also in a wide range of social affairs related to eradicating sin, keeping order, protecting the weak, and providing justice for all.

Religious Reformer and Cultural Patron. Changing concepts of the function of kingship and the ends of governance gave impetus to two interrelated developments associated with the Carolingian dynasty: a religious reformation and a cultural renewal. The effort to reform religious life, already begun under Pepin III and Carloman, was expanded and given fresh impetus by Charlemagne, whose efforts were prompted at least in part by his personal belief that he as ruler had a responsibility for the spiritual well being of his subjects. His reforming program was complex, worked out by the king and his close advisers, enacted in a succession of church councils, publicized through capitularies which carried the force of law, and enforced by royal agents, especially bishops, who supported the correction of religious life. Reform focused on certain key problems: imposing a hierarchical structure on the ecclesiastical system, especially by strengthening episcopal authority extending that organization into the rural areas of the kingdom in the form of a parish structure mandating better training for the clergy as a means of improving the intellectual and moral capabilities required to discharge their offices improving pastoral care so as to deepen understanding of the true faith and its behavioral norms protecting and expanding the material resources of the Church, including the imposition of tithes regularizing and standardizing liturgical practices rooting out all traces of paganism and suppressing deviations from the orthodox faith. The quest for norms that defined the right way to be Christian led to a vigorous exploration of Christian tradition defining canon law, theology, cult practices, and morality. The reformers were quick to turn to the papacy for guidance, especially in the realms of liturgy and canon law. Consequently, Charlemagne's religious reformatio took on a strong Roman complexion and marked an important step in establishing Roman Catholicism as a unifying force in western Europe. As Charlemagne's reform unfolded, it thrust the king into an ever more powerful role in controlling religious life, especially in terms of filling key ecclesiastical offices, managing church resources, and deciding what constituted the proper way to be Christian and to run the Christian community.

Charlemagne's efforts to improve the royal government and the religious establishment created a need for better educated individuals to serve the monarchy and the Church. The response to that need produced a cultural renewal, known as the Carolingian Renaissance, that reached its full force after Charlemagne's reign but which in its beginning owed much to his initiative and which constituted one of the most enduring contributions of the Carolingians dynasty. Charlemagne's cultural revival was given its original impetus and shape by a circle of scholars he gathered at his court from Italy, Spain, Ireland, and England the most important of these foreigners was alcuin of York. Their intellectual interactions at the royal court in which the king was personally involved eventually led to measures taken with royal support to achieve the basic objectives of the king's cultural program: the establishment of an educational system equipped to improve Latin literacy as a means of enhancing the performance of those charged with imposing order on the Frankish society and with guiding the souls of the faithful to salvation.

Like his religious reform, Charlemagne's cultural program was essentially corrective, designed to renew cultural norms that had fallen into neglect in the Frankish kingdom. Court scholars soon began to produce textbooks to serve as tools in teaching Latin and to search out texts required to assure competency in interpreting Scripture, explaining doctrinal fundamentals, applying canon law, performing the liturgy, and teaching Christian morality. Attention was given to increasing book production and collection so as to make copies of those texts widely available. The answer was the establishment at the royal court of a copy center, called a scriptorium, and a library. Emphasis on book production prompted the adoption of a system of handwriting known as Carolingian Minuscule that was easier to write and to read and the search for techniques and motifs useful in decorating books.

Prompted by royal command and guided by literary and artistic activity at court, cultural life quickened across Charlemagne's realm. Existing cathedral and monastic schools, scriptoria (see scriptorium), and libraries were reenergized and new ones came into existence. In some of these schools skilled masters expanded the curriculum to the point where a full-scale education in the liberal arts comparable to that of the late classical world became available. Library collections began to include not only writings of church fathers but also the works of classical Latin authors many classical texts have survived only in manuscripts produced in Carolingian scriptoria. The impact of cultural revival became evident in many areas: the increasing number of schools, scriptoria, and libraries the increased honor paid to masters in these schools the increased number and improved quality of written documents pertaining to civil and ecclesiastical administration the increasing sophistication of writings devoted to explaining scripture and resolving complex theological issues innovations in art and architecture spurred by the effort to improve religious facilities and deepen piety stylistic creativity manifested in letter writing, history, hagiography, and poetry the articulation of fresh ideas about the nature of society and its governance, the structure and practice of Christian life, and the responsibilities of those who wielded power.

Emperor. This impressive list of achievements during the first 30 years of Charlemagne's reign provided the background for the culminating event of his career, his elevation to the office of emperor on Christmas Day, 800. A decisive factor leading up to this event was a growing consciousness among Charlemagne's advisers, and perhaps in the king's own mind, that a new community was evolving under the aegis of the Carolingian dynasty. Increasingly referred to as the imperium christianum, that community was envisioned to consist of all who professed the orthodox faith proclaimed by the Roman church and its Carolingian protectors. Its formation and its welfare owed much to Charlemagne, whose traditional titles seemed to many to convey inadequately the true role of the "new David," and the "new Constantine" as leader of the society of true believers. And it was increasingly perceived that the future of the Christian community depended on leadership by one who could be trusted to give priority to the guardianship of orthodox Christendom. The concern for the welfare of the imperium christianum was acerbated in the eyes of many by the demonstrated unfitness of the heretical emperors in Constantinople to lead the Christian community that unfitness was made especially manifest to many when a woman, irene, became emperor in 797.

The concern about the direction of the Christian community reached crisis proportions when papal leadership of the imperium christianum came under assault. In 799 a faction of Roman aristocrats rebelled against Pope leo iii, seeking to depose him on the grounds of tyranny and personal misconduct. Leo III escaped with his life by fleeing to Charlemagne's court. Long accustomed to protecting the papacy and the Papal States from external foes, Charlemagne was now called upon to deal with internal foes of the papacy in a situation where the king's rights to take action in judging the successor of St. Peter were far from clear. Creative action was in order. Acting through delegates Charlemagne restored Leo III to office in late 799 and then made an extended tour of his realm to consult with various advisers, finally ending in Rome in late 800 to settle matters. After carrying out extensive discussions during December of 800, arrangements were made that avoided judging Pope Leo III by allowing him to clear himself before an assembly of dignitaries by swearing under oath that he was innocent of the accusations against him. Two days later, on Christmas Day, as Charlemagne prepared to celebrate Mass in the basilica of St. Peter, Pope Leo III placed a crown on his head while the assembled crowd acclaimed him emperor. Then the pope performed the ritual act of obeisance due an emperor.

Although the evidence surrounding the coronation is confusing, there can be little doubt that Charlemagne and Leo III collaborated in reaching the momentous decision to revive the Roman Empire in the West. Some evidence suggests that plans for the event began to take shape as early as the meeting of Charlemagne and Leo immediately after the attack on the pope, with the king taking the leading role. Each stood to gain from the restoration of the empire. Aside of ridding himself of his enemies, Leo III put himself in Charlemagne's debt by lending authenticity to a still another new title that further exalted the Carolingians but was not enthusiastically accepted by all the new emperor's subjects. Papal participation in the imperial coronation marked another step in establishing papal involvement as a constitutive factor in authenticating the election of secular rulers. Charlemagne's status was elevated among his subjects by a title that took into account the diverse peoples he had conquered, his efforts to establish peace and concord, and his services on behalf of Christianity. And he could now claim equality with the emperors in Constantinople. His position as emperor gave greater clarity to his legal status in Rome and the Papal States, especially in terms of taking legal actions against those who had conspired to depose Leo III.

Less clear is what the new title meant to Charlemagne in governing his own realm during the last years of his reign. Some evidence suggests that being emperor had little or no impact on his political program. For example, he kept his old titles as king of the Franks and of the Lombards to which were added an enigmatic phrase to the effect that he was "emperor governing the Roman Empire," and in 806 he made provisions for his own succession that divided his kingdom into three portions without any reference to his imperial title or the idea of political unity implicit in that title. Other testimony indicates that the imperial title added new dimensions to his concept of his role as leader of the imperium christianum. For example, he intensified his efforts to reform the Church in terms that emphasized unity, peace, and concord, took steps to bring greater uniformity into a legal system marked by excessive diversity, engaged in a successful military and diplomatic campaign to gain acceptance of his imperial title from the emperor in Constantinople, and in 813 bestowed with his own hands the imperial crown on his only surviving son, Louis I the Pious. Perhaps it would not be amiss to suggest that Charlemagne was not quite sure what his new office meant. In the final analysis, he seems to have viewed the imperial office as an honor extended to him in recognition of his personal accomplishments, an award to be used as he pleased but not to be set aside lightly in view of its potential for enhancing his authority as a Christian ruler and his status among other rulers in his world. In any case, what happened on Christmas Day of 800 bestowed on the Carolingian dynasty the honor of renewing the Roman Empire in the West, thereby creating an institution that would play an important part in western European history for centuries to come.


Government and law

The Merovingian king redistributed conquered wealth among his followers, both material wealth and the land including its indentured peasantry, though these powers were not absolute. As Rouche points out, "When he died his property was divided equally among his heirs as though it were private property: the kingdom was a form of patrimony." [7] Some scholars have attributed this to the Merovingians' lacking a sense of res publica, but other historians have criticized this view as an oversimplification.

The kings appointed magnates to be comites (counts), charging them with defense, administration, and the judgment of disputes. This happened against the backdrop of a newly isolated Europe without its Roman systems of taxation and bureaucracy, the Franks having taken over administration as they gradually penetrated into the thoroughly Romanised west and south of Gaul. The counts had to provide armies, enlisting their milites and endowing them with land in return. These armies were subject to the king's call for military support. Annual national assemblies of the nobles and their armed retainers decided major policies of war making. The army also acclaimed new kings by raising them on its shields continuing an ancient practice that made the king leader of the warrior-band. Furthermore, the king was expected to support himself with the products of his private domain (royal demesne), which was called the fisc. This system developed in time into feudalism, and expectations of royal self-sufficiency lasted until the Hundred Years' War. Trade declined with the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, and agricultural estates were mostly self-sufficient. The remaining international trade was dominated by Middle Eastern merchants, often Jewish Radanites.

Merovingian law was not universal law equally applicable to all it was applied to each man according to his origin: Ripuarian Franks were subject to their own Lex Ripuaria, codified at a late date, [8] while the so-called Lex Salica (Salic Law) of the Salian clans, first tentatively codified in 511 [9] was invoked under medieval exigencies as late as the Valois era. In this the Franks lagged behind the Burgundians and the Visigoths, that they had no universal Roman-based law. In Merovingian times, law remained in the rote memorisation of rachimburgs, who memorised all the precedents on which it was based, for Merovingian law did not admit of the concept of creating new law, only of maintaining tradition. Nor did its Germanic traditions offer any code of civil law required of urbanised society, such as Justinian I caused to be assembled and promulgated in the Byzantine Empire. The few surviving Merovingian edicts are almost entirely concerned with settling divisions of estates among heirs.


Merovingian period

Im Zuge der Ausstellung "Transhuman - Von der Prothetik zum Cyborg" wird eine der wenigen frühmittelalterlichen Nachweise einer Beinprothese aus Südhessen behandelt.

Am 24. Juni 2020 hätte er seinen 250. Geburtstag gefeiert – ein ebenso genialer wie risikofreudiger Erfinder: Albrecht Ludwig Berblinger. Besser bekannt als „Schneider von Ulm“ ging er mit seinem Flugversuch im Jahr 1811 in die Geschichte ein. Im Rahmen der Jubiläumsfeierlichkeiten unter dem Titel „Berblinger 2020“ wird nicht nur sein Wirken gewürdigt, sondern vor allem auch die Themen Innovation, Erfindergeist, Mut sowie eine offene Stadtgesellschaft in den Fokus gerückt.

Den Flugversuch Albrecht Ludwig Berblingers kennt heute nahezu jeder. Weitgehend unbekannt ist jedoch eine andere Erfindung des berühmten Erfinders: Albrecht Ludwig Berblinger entwickelte bewegliche Prothesen für die versehrten Soldaten der napoleonischen Kriege und erfand somit den Grundentwurf für moderne Beinprothesen.

Diese medizinhistorische Erfolgsgeschichte ist für das Museum Ulm im Rahmen des 250 Geburtstagsjubiläums von Albrecht Ludwig Berblinger Anlass, sich in einer kunst-, kultur- und technologiegeschichtlichen Ausstellung der Komplementierung, Imitation und Verbesserung der menschlichen Natur, dem Wunschkörper und dem künstlichen Menschen zu widmen.

Historische Prothesen und bildliche Darstellungen ihrer Anwendungen werden zeitgenössischen Interpretationen und Visionen zur Überwindung unserer physiologischen Einschränkungen durch wissenschaftliche, technologische und gestalterische Disziplinen gegenübergestellt.

"Aktuelles aus der Landesarchäologie", In: Archäologie in Deutschland (AID) Heft 5/2019, S. 55

Zufallsfund einer "Barbarischen Nachprägung" eines Tremisses (Ende 6. bis Mitte 7. Jh. n. Chr.).

Michael J. Kelly – Preface: Iberian Rivalries

Lisa Kaaren Bailey – “The Innocence of the Dead Crowned You, the Glory of the Triumphant Crowned Me”: The Strange Rivalry between Bethlehem and Lyon in Eusebius Gallicanus Sermon 11

Michael Burrows – Tours vs. Bourges: The Secular and Ecclesiastical Discourse of Inter-City Relationships in the Accounts of Gregory of Tours

Ann Christys – Did All Roads Lead to Córdoba under the Umayyads?

Dimitris J. Kyrtatas – Religious Conflict in Roman Nicomedia

Javier Martínez Jiménez – Reccopolitani and Other Town Dwellers in the Southern Meseta during the Visigothic Period of State Formation

Pedro Mateos Cruz – Augusta Emerita in Late Antiquity: The Transformation of Its Urban Layout During the Fourth and Fifth Centuries CE

Michael Mulryan – The So-Called “Oriental Quarter” of Ostia: Regions III.XVI–VII, a Neighborhood in Late Antiquity

Isabel Sánchez Ramos – Looking through Landscapes: Ideology and Power in the Visigothic Kingdom of Toledo

Mark Lewis Tizzoni – Locating Carthage in the Vandal Era

Douglas Underwood – Good Neighbors and Good Walls: Urban Development and Trade Networks in Late Antique South Gaul

Diem, Albrecht, ‘Merovingian Monasticism: Voices of Dissent’, in: Bonnie Effros and Isabel Moreira (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the Merovingian World, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2020, pp. 320-343.
Please contact me if you are interested in this chapter: [email protected]

This chapter critically discusses the emergence of Western monasticism by identifying a number of silent turning points and instances of conflict that do not as yet play much of a role in a monastic narrative that is largely centered on individuals, institutions, and the impact of specific texts. I provide six case studies: the foundation of Saint-Maurice d’Agaune and the Jura monasteries the transfer of the Rule of Caesarius to Queen Radegund’s foundation in Poitiers the destruction of the column of the Frankish stylite Vulfilaic the dramatic conflict between Brunhild and Columbanus and Eligius of Noyon’s refusal to be buried in a monastery following his death. All of these case studies shed light on the silent, crucial, and often contested transformations that shaped medieval monasticism. They demonstrate how barbarian rulers and aristocrats appropriated options for living an ideal Christian life that were deeply rooted in Roman culture. They describe, too, the impact of monastic ideals on lay ethics, the process by which ascetic struggle was transformed into regularized monastic life and how monasteries became sacred spaces. None of these developments happened organically and without conflicts. These conflicts provide unique access to the “Transformation of the Roman World,” far beyond the scope of monastic studies.


Later Capetians

Louis IX was succeeded by his son, Philip III (reigned 1270–85) his grandson, Philip IV (the Fair 1285–1314) and three great-grandsons, Louis X (1314–16), Philip V (1316–22), and Charles IV (1322–28). The most significant of these last Capetian reigns was that of Philip the Fair. Worldly and ambitious yet pious and intelligent, he was less accommodating than his forebears and more devoted to his power than to his reputation. He brought the monarchy to a degree of coordinated strength it was not again to have in the Middle Ages. But, in so doing, he strained the resources and patience of his subjects. His sons had to give in to the demands of a country beginning to suffer from the natural disasters, such as the great famine and the Black Death, that would mark the 14th century. They did so, however, without abandoning their father’s objectives. When Charles IV died without a male heir in 1328, as his brothers had done before him, the royal succession was claimed by a collateral Capetian family.

The reigns of the later Capetian kings were marked by further territorial consolidation. Marrying his son to the heiress of Champagne and Navarra in 1284, Philip III prepared the way for a reversion no less important than that of Toulouse (1271). Philip the Fair secured the heiress to the county of Burgundy for his son Philip in 1295 and annexed southern Flanders and Lyon in 1312. Smaller acquisitions, cumulatively of great importance, resulted from purchase: the counties of Guînes (1281), Chartres (1286), and La Marche and Saintonge (1308) the viscounties of Lomagne and Auvillars (1302) and La Soule (1306) and a number of untitled lordships.

Through treaties, Philip the Fair extended his jurisdiction into the ecclesiastical principalities of Viviers, Cahors, Mende, and Le Puy. With his greatly expanded domain, the king could assert unprecedented authority everywhere in France. Yet it does not appear that territorial policy as such had changed. Appanages were still to be granted and to be recovered by the later Capetians. The monarchs continued to do without Brittany, Burgundy, and many lesser lordships, which did not prevent them from legislating for these lands along with the rest.

Government became more engrossing, specialized, and efficient. Although the royal curia continued to exist as an aggregate of favourites, magnates, prelates, and advisers, its ministerial element—comprising salaried officers serving at the king’s pleasure—functioned increasingly in departments. The small council acquired definition from an oath first mentioned in 1269. With its sessions lengthening under a growing burden of cases, Parlement was divided into chambers of pleas, requests, and investigations (1278), and its composition and jurisdiction were regulated. Older provincial tribunals, such as the Norman Exchequer and the Jours of Troyes, became commissions of Parlement. While the direction of finance was left with the council, the Chambre des Comptes (Chamber of Accounts), apart from the treasury, was organized to audit accounts. Council and chamber as well as Parlement developed appropriate jurisdiction, and all three bodies kept archives. The chancery, serving all departments, remained in the hands of lesser functionaries until 1315, when Louis X revived the title of honour.

Local administration was marked by the proliferation of officers subordinate to the bailiffs and seneschals. The chief judge ( juge-mage) assumed the seneschal’s judicial functions in the south receivers of revenues, first appearing in Languedoc, were instituted in the bailiwicks at the end of the 13th century. Commissions of investigation continued to traverse the provinces under the later Capetians, but all too often they now functioned as fiscal agents rather than as reformers.

Many of the officers who served Philip the Fair were laymen, and many were lawyers. Impressed with the power they wielded, they promoted loyalty to the crown and a conception of the royal authority approaching that of sovereignty. Without claiming absolute power for the king, they thought in terms of his “superiority” over all men within national boundaries now (for the first time) strictly determined and they did not hesitate to argue from Roman law that, when the “state of the kingdom” was endangered, the monarch had an overriding right to the aid of all his subjects in its defense. While this doctrine, in a notorious case, was made a justification for imposing on the clergy, the later Capetians did not lose the religious mystique they had inherited from their predecessors’ efforts in Christian causes. Even as political loyalties were being engrossed by the lay state, the “religion of monarchy” derived impetus from the fervent utterance of those who saw in Philip the Fair a type of Christ or the ruler of a chosen and favoured people.

It was in the requirements of war and finance that the claims of the monarchy found most concrete expression. In the 1270s, for his campaigns in the south, Philip III requested military aid from men theretofore exempt from such service. Philip the Fair, renewing these demands for his wars in Gascony and Flanders, went so far as to claim the military obligation of all freemen as the basis for taxing personal property. The most persistent and lucrative taxation after 1285 was that imposed on the clergy, generally in the form of tithes (taxes on income) and annates (taxes on property) sales taxes, customs, tallages on Jews and foreign businessmen, and forced loans likewise supplemented older revenues of the domain to support increased administrative expenses as well as costs of war. The most unpopular fiscal expedients were the revaluations of coinage after 1295, by which the king several times increased the profits of his mints to the confusion of merchants and bankers. The imbalance between ordinary resources and the needs of an expanding government became chronic at the end of the 13th century. Yet, in spite of the statist arguments of their lawyers, none of the later Capetians were moved to regard taxation as an established and justified requirement of a national government.

Such restraint is one reason why, with momentary lapses, the strongest of the later Capetians was not regarded as an arbitrary ruler. Philip the Fair revered St. Louis (Louis IX) as much as did his people like Louis, he took counsel from a relatively few unrepresentative persons. But, when Philip’s own policies broke with the past, he resorted to great councils and assemblies, not so much to commit the nation as to justify his course. Whether a tax was sanctioned by custom or not, even if approved by assembled magnates or townsmen, he had it negotiated—re-explained and collected—in the provinces and localities. Large central assemblies in 1302, 1303, 1308, and 1312 met to enable the king and his ministers to arouse political support for his measures against the pope or the Knights Templars.

Among these gatherings were the earliest national assemblies to include representatives of towns and villages, which has caused historians to see them as early versions of what became the Estates-General, meetings of deputies representing the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners of the entire kingdom that were convoked beginning in the 14th century. Under Philip the Fair and his sons, however, these convocations were not yet understood to be representative of the estates of society only when Philip V began to summon northern and southern men separately to deliberate on fiscal matters were the estates (which made up the Estates-General) in any way anticipated. Almost simultaneously the provincial Estates were foreshadowed in the petitions of magnates and towns in several regions for relief from administrative violations of traditional privilege but the resulting charters of 1314–15 were poorly coordinated. They did little to limit royal power, although the fiscal rights later claimed by the Estates of Normandy could be traced to the Norman Charter of 1315.

If the policies of Philip the Fair evoked the complaint of all classes of people, it was because he had favoured none in particular in fact, except in war and finance, the later Capetians may be said to have maintained a traditional politics toward both the nobles and the towns. With the church, however, it was otherwise. Philip the Fair’s insistence on taxing the clergy for defense led immediately to his conflict with Pope Boniface VIII. The latter, in the bull Clericis laicos (1296), forbade the payment of taxes by clergymen to lay rulers without papal consent. Boniface had some support in the south, but Philip outmaneuvered the pope by prohibiting the export of bullion from France. The following year the pope abandoned his position and conceded to kings the right to tax the clergy without papal approval in time of need.

The quarrel was renewed in 1301, when the king and the magnates accused the bishop of Pamiers of treason and heresy. Boniface not only revoked the concessions of 1297 but rebuked Philip for seizing clerical property and debasing the coinage, among other things, and he summoned French prelates to Rome to proceed with a reform of the kingdom. Once again the clergy were split many bishops and abbots attended an assembly at Paris in 1302 where they joined men of the other estates in addressing a remonstrance to the pope. A year later the king adopted rougher tactics: in June 1303 many prelates acquiesced in a scheme to try the pope before a general council, and in September the king’s envoy Guillaume de Nogaret and his accomplices seized Boniface at Anagni. Rescued by the Romans, the aged pope died a month later. Upon his death the papal monarchy that had been erected over the preceding two centuries collapsed entirely. The Gascon pope Clement V (reigned 1305–14) moved the Holy See to Avignon, and a mass of his compatriots were appointed cardinals.

With this pliant pontiff, the way was cleared for the strangest act of violence of the reign of Philip the Fair—the destruction of the Knights Templars. Founded in the 12th century, the Templars were an important Crusading order whose privileges seemed poorly justified after the fall of the last Crusader outpost in the Holy Land. The Templars remained an influential order, however, whose great wealth and power attracted Philip’s attention. In 1307 Philip ordered the arrest of every Templar in France and the seizure of their goods and property because of alleged heresy and immorality. Under torture, the Templars confessed to homosexual practices, spitting on the cross, idol worship, and other things. In 1310 many of the Templars recanted their confessions, but Philip proceeded in his quest against them and in 1312 persuaded the pope to formally suppress the order. Their last leaders were imprisoned for life, and the two highest-ranking authorities were burned at the stake.


The age of cathedrals and Scholasticism

Religious faith began to assume a new coloration after 1000 and evolved along those lines in the 11th and 12th centuries. Whether in the countryside or in town, a new, more evangelical Christianity emerged that emphasized the human Jesus over the transcendent Lord. The Crusading impulse was kept alive in France by the desire to vindicate the true faith against Muslim infidels and Byzantine schismatics. More intense Christian faith was also reflected in hostility toward France’s Jewish communities. As early as 1010 Jews had suffered persecution and were forced to choose between conversion or exile. Anti-Jewish sentiment grew during the next two centuries and led to further offenses. Expelled from royal territories by Philip II Augustus in 1182, Jews were readmitted in 1198 but suffered further persecutions, including a formal condemnation of the Talmud under Louis IX. Philip IV (the Fair) renewed the policy of expulsion in 1306.

The church was not always in a position to satisfy the religious demands of the population, however. The regular clergy could no longer be relied upon to set standards of piety and penitence their observance was either too relaxed or too severe to suit the new conditions brought on by a rising population and the growth of towns. The canonical movement of the later 12th century produced a secular clergy that could respond to the needs of the laity in ways that the traditional monastic orders could not. The Cistercian order, even though it continued to expand, was incapable of sustaining its ascetic impulse completely its houses, as well as those of the older Benedictines, were often remote from the new population centres. Nor was the higher secular clergy much better situated to fulfill pastoral obligations. The bishop was by now remote from his flock, acting usually as diocesan supervisor, judge, or lord his subordinates—the archdeacon and cathedral canons—likewise functioned primarily as administrators. Archbishops were required by the fourth Lateran Council (1215) to hold annual synods of provincial clergy, a ruling that—although imperfectly observed—probably contributed to some strengthening of discipline.

Failure to improve the standards of parish ministry or respond fully to changing social conditions left the door open for the spread of heretical sects. The critical reform was that of the parish ministry. When emphatic measures to improve the education and supervision of priests were adopted in the fourth Lateran Council, it was already too late in France. For most of the 12th century, the same evangelical impulses that led to the reforms of the orders of canons and monks also contributed to anticlericalism and doctrinal heresy, especially in the towns and villages of the east and south. There was a suspicion that sinning priests could not be trusted to mediate God’s grace effectively, and the virtue of poverty as an antidote to the worldly cupidity of a prospering society was attractive to many.

The merchant Valdes ( Peter Waldo), who gave up his property and family in the 1170s, took it upon himself to preach in the vernacular to his fellow townsfolk of Lyon. Although he gained the pope’s approval for his lifestyle, Valdes did not receive the right to preach. Nonetheless, he and his followers—“the Poor” or “Poor Men”—continued to do so and were condemned by the church, which drove them to more extreme positions on doctrine and practice. Despite strong opposition from the church, the Waldensian movement spread to southern towns, and small groups of adherents were found in Europe through modern times.

Another heretical movement, that of the “Good Men,” or Cathars (Albigenses), posed an even stronger threat to religious orthodoxy. Flourishing in the hill towns and villages between Toulouse and Béziers, the Cathars were dualists. They taught, among other things, that the material world was created by the Devil, that Christ did not assume the flesh but only appeared to, and that the church and its sacraments were the Devil’s work. In stark contrast to the often ignorant and worldly Catholic clergy, the Cathar elite, the perfecti, lived rigorously ascetic lives.

For this challenge, the secular clergy of Languedoc were no match. To establish an effective counterministry of learned and respectable men, the pope deputed Cistercians to Languedoc they were soon succeeded by St. Dominic, who spent a decade as mendicant preacher in Languedoc. In 1217, with his order of preachers recognized by the bishop of Toulouse and confirmed by the pope, Dominic set out with his fellow friars to work in the wider world “by word and example.”

Meanwhile, the murder of the legate Peter of Castelnau (1208) had stirred Innocent III to promote a Crusade against the heretics of Languedoc. Led by Simon de Montfort, northern barons attacked towns in the viscounty of Béziers and later in the county of Toulouse with singular fury. The Albigensian Crusade brought the south under northern subjection, as massacres and the establishment of a papal Inquisition (1233) eventually drove the Cathars into exile in Italy or back to Catholicism. The Inquisition, which spread to many parts of France, was usually entrusted to Dominicans it relied on the active pursuit of suspects, secret testimony, and—in case of conviction and obstinacy—delivery of the heretic to the “secular arm” for capital punishment.

Like the Dominicans, the Franciscans had spectacular success in a variety of endeavours. Highly organized, with provincial and international administrative institutions, both orders had houses in Paris by 1220, and their members were soon working everywhere in France. Becoming preachers and confessors, they also secured chaplaincies, inspectorships, and professorships as their initiatives in piety, probity, and learning were recognized. Conflict with the secular priesthood naturally resulted the seculars attempted unsuccessfully to exclude the mendicants from the ministry of sacraments and inveighed against conventual endowments that seemed to contradict the friars’ professions of poverty. Despite this conflict, the friars, women’s orders such as the Poor Clares, and similar groups such as the Beguines stimulated a more active piety among laypeople, encouraging charitable works and foundations, private devotions, and penitential reading.


9 Answers 9

The Old Testament has two distinct methods of claiming kingship. One is by descent from David, and the other is by prophetic or divine appointment. Where did David himself get his kingship? It was by prophetic appointment, through Samuel.

One was applicable to the southern Kingdom of Judah, with its capital in Jerusalem, while the other was applicable to the northern Kingdom of Israel, with its capital in Samaria. The requirement for the throne of Judah was Davidic descendancy. No one was allowed to sit on David’s throne unless he was a member of the house of David. So when there was a conspiracy to do away with the house of David (Isaiah 7:2-6), God warned that any such conspiracy was doomed to failure (Isaiah 8:9-15).

Now, Matthew’s genealogy traces the line of Joseph, the step-father of Jesus. Joseph was a direct descendant of David through Solomon, but also through Jeconiah (see Matthew 1, verses 6-16). Now here, we have a big problem, because Jeremiah 22:24-30 says,

“As I live,” says the Lord, “though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, were the signet on My right hand, yet I would pluck you off and I will give you into the hand of those who seek your life, and into the hand of those whose face you fear—the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and the hand of the Chaldeans. So I will cast you out, and your mother who bore you, into another country where you were not born and there you shall die. But to the land to which they desire to return, there they shall not return. “Is this man Coniah a despised, broken idol—a vessel in which is no pleasure? Why are they cast out, he and his descendants, and cast into a land which they do not know? O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord: ‘Write this man down as childless, a man who shall not prosper in his days for none of his descendants shall prosper, sitting on the throne of David, and ruling anymore in Judah.’ ”

This passage says that no descendant of Jeconiah would have the right to the throne of David. Until Jeremiah, the first requirement for messianic lineage was to be of the house of David. So not only must the Messiah come from the line of David, He must also be apart from Jeconiah. But, as we read in Matthew’s genealogy, Joseph is of the lineage of Jeconiah—meaning, none of his descendants could sit on David’s throne. So then, one must beg the question: how could Jesus be the Messiah, if the Messiah must come from the line of David, but also not be of the line of Jeconiah?

This is where the Virgin Birth comes into play. Remember, Jesus is not Joseph’s biological son, so the Jeconiah curse doesn’t apply to Him. He is, however, Mary’s biological son per the Virgin Birth. But this still doesn’t explain how Jesus is the descendant of David. To answer this, we must discuss Luke’s genealogy.

Unlike Matthew, Luke follows strict Jewish procedure and custom in that he omits no names and mentions no women. However, if by Jewish custom one could not mention the name of a woman, but wished to trace her line, how would one do so? He would use the name of her husband (possible Old Testament precedents for this practice are Ezra 2:61 and Nehemiah 7:63). That would raise the second question: if someone studied a genealogy, how would he know whether the genealogy was that of the husband or that of the wife since in either case the husband’s name would be used? The answer is not difficult the problem lies with the English language.

In English, it is not good grammar to use a definite article (“the”) before a proper name (“the” Matthew, “the” Luke, and “the” Mary). However, it is quite permissible in Greek grammar. In the Greek text of Luke’s genealogy, every single name mentioned has the Greek definite article “the” with one exception: the name of Joseph (Luke 3:23). Someone reading the original would understand by the missing definite article from Joseph’s name that this was not really Joseph’s genealogy, but his wife Mary’s.

Furthermore, although many translations of Luke 3:23 read: “…being supposedly the son of Joseph, the son of Heli…” because of the missing Greek definite article before the name of Joseph, that same verse could be translated as follows: “Being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph the son of Heli…” In other words, the final parenthesis could be expanded so that the verse reads that although Jesus was “supposed” or assumed to be the descendant of Joseph, He was really the descendant of Heli. Heli was the father of Mary. Ultimately, Joseph was Heli’s “son-in-law.”

Next, remember King David had more than one son. One of them was Nathan. None of Nathan's descendants had any "Jeconiah-like" curses. Mary was a descendant of Nathan (Luke 3:23 and verse 31—remember, as explained above, although the English text says “the son of Joseph, the son of Heli…” since the original Greek says Heli is the father-in-law of Joseph, logically, Heli is the biological father of Mary). Now, Jesus is completely safe from the problem of the Jeconiah curse, all while being from the line of David, and of the Tribe of Judah.


The Reformation of Germany

The Reformation presents the historian with an acute instance of the general problem of scholarly interpretation—namely, whether events are shaped primarily by individuals or by the net of historical circumstances enmeshing them. The phenomenon that became the Protestant Reformation is unthinkable without the sense of mission and compelling personality of Martin Luther. But in social and intellectual conditions less conducive to drastic change, Luther’s voice would have gone unheard and his actions been forgotten. Among the preconditions—which are the deeper causes of the Reformation—the following stand out: (1) Everyone agreed that the Roman Catholic church was in need of correction. The lack of spirituality in high places, the blatant fiscalism, of which the unrestrained hawking of indulgences—the actual trigger of the Reformation—was a galling example, and the embroilment in political affairs all were symptoms of corruption long overdue for purgation. While the church continued to be accepted as the only legitimate mediator of divine grace, denunciations of its abuses, perceived or actual, became more strident in the decades before 1517. (2) A subtle change, moreover, had been occurring in people’s religious needs and expectations, leading to demands for a more personal experience of the divine. Failing to meet this aspiration, the church was widely, if diffusely, rebuked for its unresponsiveness. (3) More focused criticism came from the Christian humanists, an influential group of scholars bent on restoring the fundamental texts of Western Christianity. Led by Desiderius Erasmus, the most renowned biblical scholar of the time, these men held the Catholic church up to the spiritual ideals for which it claimed to stand and, finding it wanting, set the principle of Evangelicalism against the church’s secularized ambitions. (4) Still more fatefully, by 1500 the church had come under attack from European rulers whose administrative, legal, and financial hegemony could not be completed in their respective states without domination of the ecclesiastical sector. In the empire, as elsewhere, the trend in ecclesiastical politics was toward state churches (Landeskirchen), in which governments, using “reform” as a pretext, gradually gained, while church authorities lost, a large measure of control over clerical properties, personnel, and functions. The Reformation was the culmination of this process, which, in the empire, took place in nearly all princely territories and in most independent cities, where governments brought the administration of the church under political direction. (5) In Germany this development was facilitated by an ancient feudal custom entitling a landlord to extend “protection” to churches located on his estates. Over this “owner’s church” (Eigenkirche) he enjoyed the right of patronage, allowing him to appoint incumbents and manage properties. In the course of extending their sovereignty, territorial princes took over this right to patronage and fashioned of it the legal basis on which, in the Reformation, they assumed full control over the administration of the church. (6) In every segment of German society, but particularly among the poor, voices were being raised against injustice and exploitation. Wide disparities in income and discriminatory laws in cities as well as the deteriorating standard of living of small peasants and agricultural labourers caused riots and uprisings, which by the early 1500s had become endemic.

These, then, were the forces driving events toward a crisis. In the first decade of the 16th century they coalesced into a powerful surge of religious, social, and political agitation, for which “reform” (of church and society) was the code word. Ironically, Luther, who was to channel this agitation into the Reformation, had, until his emergence as a national figure in the 1520s, nothing to do with it. For him one issue alone mattered: the imperative of faith. His personal path to the Reformation was an inner search for religious truth, to which his conscience was his guide.

When he wrote his Ninety-five Theses against indulgences in October 1517, Luther was an Augustinian friar, a preacher in the Saxon city of Wittenberg, and a theology professor at the university founded there in 1502 by the elector of Saxony, Frederick III, called “the Wise.” His ambitious father had pushed him toward a career in law, but in 1505 the fervently devout Martin entered a monastic house. His order, that of the Augustinian eremites, was a strict reform congregation dedicated to prayer, study, and the ascetic life. Deeply troubled by the question of justification—of how a human being, a sinner, may be justified (saved) in God’s sight—Luther found no comfort in monastic routine and turned to an exploration of the sources of Christian doctrine, notably St. Paul and St. Augustine. His intellectual promise having been recognized, he was sent by his order to study theology at Erfurt and Wittenberg. He was awarded a doctorate in 1512 and commenced his teaching of the Bible in Wittenberg that same year. According to his own account, it was during his close reading of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, while preparing to give a course of lectures on that text, that he discovered what struck him as the solution to the problem posed by the huge gap between human sin and divine grace. Justification is not earned as a reward for human effort through good works (a position Luther now attributed to a misguided and misguiding Roman church). To the contrary, human beings are justified without any merit of their own by God’s freely given and prevenient (i.e., coming before any worthy human deeds) grace, through faith, which is a gift of God. This is the meaning Luther found in the crucial passage in Romans 1:17: “For in it [i.e., the Gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith: as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’” “Righteousness”—justitia in Latin—does not refer, Luther believed, to God’s activity as judge but to the justifying righteous condition he effects in the human sinner, a condition expressing itself as faith. The momentous consequences of this theological insight, which Luther appears to have taken as a unique discovery but which had in fact been espoused by a score of theologians before him, were not then apparent to him. They asserted themselves powerfully, however, once he began to lecture and preach on the—for him—paramount themes of salvation by faith alone (sola fide) and exclusive reliance on scripture (sola scriptura). It was the indulgence controversy of October 1517 that brought it all into the open.

Few other issues could so clearly have exposed the gulf that separated this ardent friar from an urbane and pragmatic church. The indulgence offered in Saxony in 1517 had its origin in two purely financial arrangements. First, Popes Julius II and Leo X needed funds for rebuilding St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome second, Bishop Albert of Hohenzollern, forced to buy papal dispensations in order to gain the archbishoprics of Mainz and Halberstadt, agreed to promote indulgences in his domains, half the income from which was to go to Rome, the other half to him and his bankers. For Luther, the issue turned not so much on the outrageous venality of this deal as on the indulgence itself. Truly contrite sinners do not desire relief through an indulgence (which is a remission of the penance, or temporal punishment, that the sinner would otherwise owe following absolution) they crave penance. This is the gist of Luther’s argument in the Ninety-five Theses, which he sent to his ecclesiastical superiors to persuade them to abandon the indulgence sale. (The story that he nailed a copy of the theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg may be the invention of a later time. See Researcher’s Note: The posting of the theses.)

Luther intended no defiance with this action. He intervened as a priest on behalf of his flock and as a conscientious theologian against a corrupting church. But the public reaction to the theses (he had written them in Latin, but they were soon translated and printed) made it evident that he had touched a nerve. Encouraged by expressions of support and goaded by opponents, Luther became more outspoken, harsher in his criticism of the church, and more focused in his attacks on the papacy. By 1520 he was well on his way to becoming the spokesman for Germany’s grievances against Rome. A pamphlet he published that year, Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, urged the empire’s secular rulers to reform a church that would not set its own house in order. Popes and prelates are not sacrosanct, he argued they may be brought to justice. As every Christian can read the Bible for himself, papal claims to interpretive authority are a vain boast. Luther prodded the German princes to consider the state of the church and to reform it for the sake of the faith. In this way Luther drew out, albeit reluctantly, the full consequences of his principle of “salvation by faith alone.” No church was needed to act as God’s agent grace was available without mediation. No priest, not even the pope, has special powers, for, so Luther argued, all human beings are priests, made so by their faith. It is scarcely surprising that a bull of excommunication against him (Exsurge domine) issued from Rome in June 1520.


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