Blogging the Age of Faith

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Germanic Roots of Early Medieval Culture

The second most important of the factors which combined to produce the civilization of early medieval Europe was the influence of the Germanic barbarians. They were not the only northern peoples who helped to mold the pattern of early medieval society; the contributions of the Celts in Brittany and Ireland and of the Slavs in central and eastern Europe were by no means insignificant. Nevertheless, the Germanic influence appears to have been the most extensive. The ancient Germans were a long-headed people of predominantly Nordic stock and of Indo-European tongue. Where they came from originally is a problem upon which scholars disagree, but they seem to have migrated into northern Europe from western Asia. By the beginning of the Christian era they had come to be divided into several nations: Scandinavians, Vandals, Goths, Franks, Alemanni, Burgundians, Frisians, Anglo-Saxons, Dutch, and so on. Both in language and in race they originally bore some affinity to the Greeks and the Romans.

For centuries different nations of Germanic barbarians had been making incursions into Roman territory. At times they came as invading armies, but generally they filtered in slowly, bringing their families and belongings with them and occupying depopulated or abandoned areas. Many were brought in by Roman commanders and rulers. Julius Caesar was impressed by their value as warriors and enrolled thousands of them in his armies. They were to be found in the bodyguard of nearly every Princeps and emperor. Finally, by the time of Constantine, they formed the bulk of the soldiers in the entire Roman army. Many were also drawn into the civil service and thousands were settled by the government as coloni or serfs on the great estates. In view of these conditions it is not very surprising that Rome should eventually have been conquered by the Germans. They were a virile and energetic race, constantly increasing in numbers; and as more and more of them gained a foothold in Italy, others were bound to be tempted by the opportunities for plunder. Also, the Romans frequently exploited those who were already in the Empire and thereby provided their kinsmen with an excuse for making an attack. Although armed invasions of Italy began as early as the second century B.C., and were repeated several times thereafter, there were no really disastrous incursions until the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. In 378 the Visigoths, angered by the oppression of imperial governors, raised the standard for revolt. They overwhelmed a Roman army at Adrianople and then marched westward into Italy. In 410 under Alaric they captured and plundered Rome, later moving on into southern Gaul. In 455 Rome was sacked by the Vandals, who had migrated from their original home between the Oder and Vistula rivers and established a kingdom in the province of Carthage. Other Germanic nations also made their way into Italy, and before the end of the fifth century the Roman Empire in the West had passed completely under the domination of the barbarians.

For our knowledge of ancient of Germanic society we are dependent primarily upon the Germania of Tacitus, written in 98 A.D. The literature and the laws of the Germans themselves also contain much information, but these were not put into written form until after Roman and Christian influences had begun to exert their effect. When Tacitus wrote, the Germanic barbarians had attained a cultural level about equal to that of the Homeric Greeks. They were illiterate and ignorant of any knowledge of the arts. Their houses were built of rough timber plastered over with mud. While they had achieved some development of agriculture, they preferred the risks of plundering expeditions to the prosaic labor of tilling the soil. Nearly all of the work was done by the women and old men and other dependents. When not fighting or hunting, the warriors spent most of their time sleeping and carousing. Gambling and drunkenness were glaring vices, but, if we can believe the testimony of Tacitus, sex morality was singularly pure. Monogamous marriage prevailed, except in those cases where a chief might be permitted to take more than one wife for political reasons. Adultery was rare and severely punished, while divorce was almost unknown. In some tribes even widows were forbidden to remarry.

The economic and political institutions of the Germans were such as befitted a people who ere just emerging into a settled existence. The tiny proportion of trade carried on rested solely upon a basis of barter, while cattle were still the main article of wealth. Whether the agricultural land was individually or collectively owned is still a debated question, but there seems little doubt that the forests and pastures were held and used in common. Possibly the community controlled the distribution of new lands as they were acquired, allotting the arable portions as individual farms. There is evidence that a class of wealthy proprietors had grown up as an aristocracy in certain of the tribes. Although Tacitus states that the Germans had slaves, it seems probable that most of their dependents were serfs, since they had houses of their own and paid their masters only a portion of what they produced. Their servitude was a result not only of capture in was but also of indebtedness and especially reckless gambling, in which men staked their own liberty when everything else had been lost. The state scarcely existed at all. Law was a product of custom, and the administration of justice remained very largely in private hands. While the Germans had their tribal courts, the function of these bodies was chiefly to mediate between plaintiff and defendant. It was left to the former to bring the accused to trial and to carry out the penalty prescribed by the customary law. The court merely decided what proofs should be required of each litigant to determine the validity of his plea. Usually these consisted of oaths and ordeals, both of which were considered as appeals to the judgment of the gods. The most important of the remaining political institutions was the primary assembly of the warriors. But this body had no lawmaking powers beyond those involved in the interpretation of custom. Its main function was to decide questions of war and peace and whether the tribe should migrate to some new locality. Originally the German tribes had no kings. They had chiefs elected by the freemen, but these were little more than ceremonial officials. In time of war a military leader was elected and endowed with considerable power, but as soon as the campaign was over his authority lapsed. Nevertheless, as wars increased in frequency and duration, some of the military leaders actually became kings. The formality of election, however, was generally retained.

The influence of the Germans upon medieval history, while not so important as is sometimes imagined, was extensive enough to deserve careful consideration. To begin with, they were largely responsible for several of the elements of feudalism: (1) the conception of law as an outgrowth of custom and not as the expression of the will of a sovereign; (2) the idea of law as a personal possession of the individual which he could take with him wherever he went, in contrast to the Roman conception of law as limited to a definite territory; (3) the notion of a contractual relationship between rulers and subjects, involving reciprocal obligations of protection and obedience; (4) the theory of an honorable relationship between lord and vassal, growing out of the Germanic institution of the comitatus or military band, in which the warriors were bound by pledges of honor and loyalty to fight for and serve their leader; and (5) trial by ordeal as a prevailing mode of procedure in the feudal courts. As for other influences, it may be argued that the Germanic idealization of female virtue and emphasis upon marital fidelity had something to do with the glorification of marriage as a sacrament by the later medieval church. For it must be remembered that many of the early theologians held women in how esteem and regarded marriage as a mere compromise with the lusts of the flesh. For example, there is the famous aphorism of St. Paul that "It is better to marry than to burn." In at least one other instance the strength of the Germanic influence was sufficient to counteract the force of early Christianity, and that was in the matter of the importance of oaths. If there was any teaching of Jesus more explicit than his condemnation of oaths, it would certainly be hard to discover. Yet the value attached by the Germans to swearing in court was so high that the practice became an integral part of procedure in the medieval courts and thence has come down to modern times.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Saint Martin of Tours and His Relics

Martin of Tours (316-397)
Saint Martin of Tours (Latin: Martinus), (born 316 or 317; died November 11, 397) was a native of Sabaria, Pannonia. His father was a senior officer in the Roman army. Martin was named after Mars, the god of war, meaning `the brave, the courageous'. The family moved to Pavia in Italy. When he was 15, the son of an officer, he had to join the army himself. He was stationed in Gaul and later became a monk in the region of Poitiers.

While Martin was still a soldier he experienced the vision that became the most-repeated story about his life. He was at the gates of the city of Amiens with his soldiers when he met a scantily dressed beggar. He impulsively cut his own military cloak in half and shared it with the beggar. That night he dreamed that Jesus came to him and returned the half cloak Martin had shared with him. He heard Jesus say to the angels: "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised; he has clad me." When Martin woke his cloak was restored. The miraculous cloak was preserved as a relic, and entered the relic collection of the Merovingian kings of the Franks. The Latin word for "short cloak", cappella in Latin, was extended to the people charged with preserving the cloak of St. Martin, the cappellani or "chaplains" and from them was applied to the royal oratory that was not a regular church, a "chapel".

The dream had such an impact on Saint Martin that he was baptised the next day and became a Christian. He decided to leave the army and became a monk near the city of Tours.
Martin worked for the conversion to Christianity of the populace, making many preaching trips through western and central France. In the course of this work he became extremely popular, and in 371 became bishop of Tours; he refused to live in the city and instead founded a monastery for his residence a short distance outside the walls. The monastery, known in Latin as the 'Larger Monastery' or Maius monasterium became known as Marmoutier in later French.
St. Martin died on 8 November 397 at Candes, Tours, France of natural causes; by his request, he was buried in the Cemetery of the Poor on 11 November 397; his relics rested in the basilica of Tours, a scene of pilgrimages and miracles, until 1562 when the cathedral and relics were destroyed by militant Protestants; some small fragments on his tomb were found during construction excavation in 1860.

St. Martin's Day
On November 11, St. Martin's Day, children in Flanders, the Catholic areas of Germany and the Netherlands and in Austria participate in lantern processions. Often, a man dressed as Saint Martin rides on a horse in front of the procession. The children sing songs about Saint Martin and about their lantern. It is traditional to eat goose on this day, for according to legend, Martin hid in a stable filled with geese to avoid being made bishop. The noise made by the geese betrayed his location to the people who were looking for him.

In recent years the lantern processions have become widespread even in Protestant areas of Germany and the Netherlands, despite the fact that the Protestant Church doesn't recognize Saints. Moreover, the great Protestant Reformer Martin Luther was born on St. Martin's feast day, and was named after the saint according to common custom. In Erfurt, Germany, St. Martin's Festival celebrates the lives of both St. Martin of Tours and Martin Luther.

In eastern Belgium, children commonly receive presents from Saint Martin on November 11 instead of from Saint Nicholas on December 6 or Santa Claus on December 25.

St. Martin Trivia and Tradition
Many churches in Europe are named after Saint Martin.
Martin of Tours is the patron saint against impoverishment, against poverty, alcoholism, beggars, Burgenland, cavalry, equestrians, France, geese, horse men, horses, hotel-keepers, innkeepers, quartermasters, reformed alcoholics, riders, soldiers, tailors, vintners, wine growers, and wine makers.

In Christian art, St. Martin of Tours is identified by a globe of fire, a goose, a man on horseback sharing his cloak with beggar, or a man his cutting cloak in half.

Four Sources on the Battle of Tours

Medieval Sourcebook: Arabs, Franks, and the Battle of Tours, 732: Three Accounts
[Davis Introduction]

The following opinion was expressed about the Franks by the emir who conquered Spain, and who---had he not been recalled---might have commanded at Tours. It shows what the Arab leaders thought of the men of the North up to the moment of their great disillusionment by "The Hammer."

From an Arabian Chronicler
Musa being returned to Damascus, the Caliph Abd-el Melek asked of him about his conquests, saying "Now tell me about these Franks---what is their nature?"

"They," replied Musa, "are a folk right numerous, and full of might: brave and impetuous in the attack, but cowardly and craven in event of defeat."

"And how has passed the war betwixt them and thyself? Favorably or the reverse?"

"The reverse? No, by Allah and the prophet!" spoke Musa. "Never has a company from my army been beaten. And never have the Moslems hesitated to follow me when I have led them; though they were twoscore to fourscore."

Isidore of Beja's Chronicle
[Davis Introduction]

The defeat of the Saracen invaders of Frankish lands at Tours (more properly Poitiers) in 732 A.D. was a turning point in history. It is not likely the Muslims, if victorious, would have penetrated, at least at once, far into the north, but they would surely have seized South Gaul, and thence readily have crushed the weak Christian powers of Italy. It is very unfortunate that we do not possess scientific accounts of Charles Martel's great victory, instead of the interesting but insufficient stories of the old Christian chroniclers.

Then Abderrahman, [the Muslim emir] seeing the land filled with the multitude of his army, crossed the Pyrenees, and traversed the defiles [in the mountains] and the plains, so that he penetrated ravaging and slaying clear into the lands of the Franks. He gave battle to Duke Eudes (of Aquitaine) beyond the Garonne and the Dordogne, and put him to flight---so utterly [was he beaten] that God alone knew the number of the slain and wounded. Whereupon Abderrahman set in pursuit of Eudes; he destroyed palaces, burned churches, and imagined he could pillage the basilica of St. Martin of Tours. It is then that he found himself face to face with the lord of Austrasia, Charles, a mighty warrior from his youth, and trained in all the occasions of arms.

For almost seven days the two armies watched one another, waiting anxiously the moment for joining the struggle. Finally they made ready for combat. And in the shock of the battle the men of the North seemed like North a sea that cannot be moved. Firmly they stood, one close to another, forming as it were a bulwark of ice; and with great blows of their swords they hewed down the Arabs. Drawn up in a band around their chief, the people of the Austrasians carried all before them. Their tireless hands drove their swords down to the breasts [of the foe].
At last night sundered the combatants. The Franks with misgivings lowered their blades, and beholding the numberless tents of the Arabs, prepared themselves for another battle the next day. Very early, when they issued from their retreat, the men of Europe saw the Arab tents ranged still in order, in the same place where they had set up their camp. Unaware that they were utterly empty, and fearful lest within the phalanxes of the Saracens were drawn up for combat, they sent out spies to ascertain the facts. These spies discovered that all the squadrons of the "Ishmaelites" had vanished. In fact, during the night they had fled with the greatest silence, seeking with all speed their home land. The Europeans, uncertain and fearful, lest they were merely hidden in order to come back [to fall upon them] by ambushments, sent scouting parties everywhere, but to their great amazement found nothing. Then without troubling to pursue the fugitives, they contented themselves with sharing the spoils and returned right gladly to their own country.

Chronicle of St. Denis
The Muslims planned to go to Tours to destroy the Church of St. Martin, the city, and the whole country. Then came against them the glorious Prince Charles, at the head of his whole force. He drew up his host, and he fought as fiercely as the hungry wolf falls upon the stag. By the grace of Our Lord, he wrought a great slaughter upon the enemies of Christian faith, so that---as history bears witness---he slew in that battle 300,000 men, likewise their king by name Abderrahman. Then was he [Charles] first called "Martel," for as a hammer of iron, of steel, and of every other metal, even so he dashed: and smote in the battle all his enemies. And what was the greatest marvel of all, he only lost in that battle 1500 men. The tents and harness [of the enemy] were taken; and whatever else they possessed became a prey to him and his followers. Eudes, Duke of Aquitaine, being now reconciled with Prince Charles Martel, later slew as many of the Saracens as he could find who had escaped from the battle.

Medieval Sourcebook: Anon Arab Chronicler: The Battle of Poitiers, 732
From 711 Muslim forces crossed the Straits of Gibraltar, conquered the Visigothic Kingdom, and in less than a decade crossed the Pyrenees. In 732, under the command of Abd-er- rahman, they were decisively defeated by Charles Martel and the Franks at the Battle of Poitiers [or Tours]. This event looms much larger in Western history than Muslim - leading to a famous passage of purple prose by Edward Gibbon about minarets rather than spires in Oxford if the Muslims had won. The event was notice the Muslim world, however, and the following is from an Arab chronicle.

The Moslems smote their enemies, and passed the river Garonne, and laid waste the country, and took captives without number. And that army went through all places like a desolating storm. Prosperity made those warriors insatiable. At the passage of the river, Abderrahman overthrew the count, and the count retired into his stronghold, but the Moslems fought against it, and entered it by force, and slew the count; for everything gave way to their scimitars, which were the robbers of lives. All the nations of the Franks trembled at that terrible army, and they betook them to their king Caldus [Charles Martel], and told him of the havoc made by the Moslem horsemen, and bow they rode at their will through all the land of Narbonne, Toulouse, and Bordeaux, and they told the king of the death of their count. Then the king bade them be of good cheer, and offered to aid them. . . . He mounted his horse, and he took with him a host that could not be numbered, and went against the Moslems. And he came upon them at the great city of Tours. And Abderrahman and other prudent cavaliers saw the disorder of the Moslem troops, who were loaded with spoil; but they did not venture to displease the soldiers by ordering them to abandon everything except their arms and war-horses. And Abderrahman trusted in the valour of his soldiers, and in the good fortune which had ever attended him. But such defect of discipline always is fatal to armies. So Abderrabman and his host attacked Tours to gain still more spoil, and they fought against it so fiercely that they stormed the city almost before the eyes of the army that came to save it; and the fury and the cruelty of the Moslems towards the inhabitants of the city were like the fury and cruelty of raging tigers. It was manifest that God's chastisement was sure to follow such excesses; and fortune thereupon turned her back upon the Moslems.

Near the river Owar [Loire], the two great hosts of the two languages and the two creeds were set in array against each other. The hearts of Abderrahman, his captains and his men were filled with wrath and pride, and they were the first to begin to fight. The Moslem horsemen dashed fierce and frequent forward against the battalions of the Franks, who resisted manfully, and many fell dead on either side, until the going down of the sun. Night parted the two armies: but in the grey of the morning the Moslems returned to the battle. Their cavaliers had soon hewn their way into the center of the Christian host. But many of the Moslems were fearful for the safety of the spoil which they had stored in their tents, and a false cry arose in their ranks that some of the enemy were plundering the camp; whereupon several squadrons of the Moslem horsemen rode off to protect their tents. But it seemed as if they fled; and all the host was troubled. And while Abderrahman strove to check their tumult, and to lead them back to battle, the warriors of the Franks came around him, and he was pierced through with many spears, so that he died. Then all the host fled before the enemy, and many died in the flight. . . .

Quoted from an unidentified Arabian in Edward Creasy, Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World Everyman's Library (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc. date?), 168-169