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Yora
2015-01-26, 01:06 PM
The specific places and dates for this question are rather fuzzily defined, as I am primarily interested in a certain type of social organization and hierarchy and the cultures that go along with them rather than about specific individual cases. Europe is a huge place and could be either Spain, Greenland, or deep inside Russia or the Caucasus, and I believe relevant cultures have been around as far back as the Iron Age and persisted even beyond the year 1000.

What I want to learn more about and understand is the political organization and government of people who don't yet have the concept of all the land being personal property of the king, who distributes it among his most important supporters, who rent it out to peasants, who are either in practice or even explicitly permanently bound to work the land of their lord. I am thinking about societies in which there are lots of landowners who have their personal servants or slaves and join together in alliances for mutual protection against other such groups. I believe northern and eastern Germany consisted mostly of such tribal confederacies well into the Middle Ages and I don't have the slightest clue how kingship in Denmark and Sweden actually worked in practice. I think Anglo-Saxon England has been pretty well researched, but I only know the most basic things about that but very few details.

What I want to know is, how did government work in these societies? From what I have read and heard, the idea that kings could have counted on the patriotic loyalty of their lords to do what their king told them would have been laughable to anyone involved. There doesn't seem to have been any such idea as loyalty to the state (or even just states), or the throne, but only to the man himself and when he died his son wouldn't simply get the kingdom as part of his inheritance, but have to convince all the lords individually to follow his leadership.
How did that work? How did the kings convince the other local landowners that they all should be together as a kingdom? What did he have to offer and provide, and what options would he have to enforce compliance?

russdm
2015-01-26, 09:06 PM
That's simple, and not so simple, but boils down to basically "Might makes Right." The King is or was usually the one with the big sword/army/beast/power at his personal beck and call which he could use to punish people with. Most early kings were Warrior Kings who claimed their authority by killing those who opposed them or demonstrating why they should rule instead of somebody else. Expect to see a lot of Klingon promotions too, but most Kings also picked up a divine mandate, in that Odin/Zeus/Jupiter/Jesus/Allah/etc gave them the kingdom to rule in their name. The Chinese Emperors pulled off using the mandate of Heaven rule for a long time and maintained power that way (not withstanding the numerous different dynasties that traded hands). The Emperor of Japan was considered divine and so held the throne (what little power it had and it became more symbolic for a while at times until the Meiji bit) unchallenged usually.

The quickest ways to being King and having people recognize it: 1) Claim it from a divine source or from the previous King, 2) Being ruthless and taking (killing) out anybody who disagreed with you, 3) Demonstrating martial skills or skills that allow you to maintain control, 4) Kill everybody that could lay a claim to your throne.

Given human history, these methods worked for nearly the entire time.

Yora
2015-01-27, 06:43 AM
Though I doubt killing everyone and threatening violence is enough to establish a power base. What it does is to make you a lot of enemies who might very well band together to get rid of you. If you want to make yourself a king, you would also need to give some incentives to make other warriors want to fight for you.

snowblizz
2015-01-27, 09:29 AM
Principally we need to know that power and decision-making was much more local due to eg lack of communications. Essentially it wasn't possible to rule centrally in a very large area. Especially those areas with difficult geography, which tends to be those areas which end up more independent.

At the lowest level there's kind of a democracy, or perhaps better said a certain equality among those who are landowners (usually). Because at the local level it's going to be difficult for one person to start lording everyone else over. Because more often than not the whole community is going to need to pitch in together, e.g. harvests and such. Generally though someone tends to end up primus inter pares, the biggest landowner, the miller, the innkeeper, the smith or some such, and will then tend to speak for the community. Usually also someone who is respected for their ability, small communities seldom suffers fools. That's sorta the "village" level. Moving up several villages, well a larger region even (county or shire or whatever), basically will expand that, the guys who are the trusted spokespeople for their villages meet up to discuss larger questions. Probably trade, defence, communications and law. That's usually where the presumptive king comes in. Offering the defence and law "services" in exchange for fealty of the region and (usually) taxation. In a sense the king then forms a sort of diplomatic layer connecting various regions into a larger unit. Eg an important aspect would be that a criminal cannot just escape to another region, with a king enforcing rule over a large area crime is much more difficult to escape from.

Mixed into this you usually have religion and nobles. The common theme is that the king can give them privileges in exchange for support. Nobles normally that is military support and the church administration and "moral" support. Of course nobles are also "needed" to a degree to maintain the rule of law closer to the subjects and beef up the king's forces to enforce his rule if needed.

For Sweden (and most of Scandinavia at various times) the king would need to be "vetted" at the regional Things where he'd promise to rule according to the laws of the county.
Obviously this forms a very complicated lattice of power and counter power among nobles, church, towns, the populace and king.

Spiryt
2015-01-27, 09:46 AM
Leaders would pretty much rule by general 'charisma'.

Which would be likely complicated thing, especially for us to understand.

Combination of actual personal strength of will and social skills, respect, good birth, wealthiness, battle prowess, intelligence and so on.

Most importantly being some kind of 'paragon' of cultural virtues.

Migrating tribes would generally keep their strength by staying unanimous, by sticking up to common traditions and acting for the good of your tribe, because it's, well, your tribe, your blood etc.

Khedrac
2015-01-27, 12:27 PM
What I want to learn more about and understand is the political organization and government of people who don't yet have the concept of all the land being personal property of the king
I'm not really sure what you mean by this, but it might be worth looking at the history of England pre-Norman Conquest.

It was the Norman Conquest that rally took English land out of the ownership of the people and into the hands of the nobles. I remember one documentary looking in passing at one town where land ownership went from over 80% at the time of the Conquest to about 20% (or less) within 5 years (I think) - pretty much all the Saxon landowners were now tenants.

nedz
2015-01-27, 08:20 PM
That's simple, and not so simple, but boils down to basically "Might makes Right." The King is or was usually the one with the big sword/army/beast/power at his personal beck and call which he could use to punish people with. Most early kings were Warrior Kings who claimed their authority by killing those who opposed them or demonstrating why they should rule instead of somebody else. Expect to see a lot of Klingon promotions too, but most Kings also picked up a divine mandate, in that Odin/Zeus/Jupiter/Jesus/Allah/etc gave them the kingdom to rule in their name. The Chinese Emperors pulled off using the mandate of Heaven rule for a long time and maintained power that way (not withstanding the numerous different dynasties that traded hands). The Emperor of Japan was considered divine and so held the throne (what little power it had and it became more symbolic for a while at times until the Meiji bit) unchallenged usually.

The quickest ways to being King and having people recognize it: 1) Claim it from a divine source or from the previous King, 2) Being ruthless and taking (killing) out anybody who disagreed with you, 3) Demonstrating martial skills or skills that allow you to maintain control, 4) Kill everybody that could lay a claim to your throne.

Given human history, these methods worked for nearly the entire time.

You make a good point, which wasn't lost on the people of those times; which was why Kings were banned in the Roman Republic, Tyrants despised in ancient Athens, ... . There are many exceptions and I think the OP is being optimistic in expecting a meaningful answer from one thread. What about ancient Sparta ? Or priestly states led by religious orders ?

The ancient world wasn't monolithic in fact this may be the most general point you can make. It had different attributes at different times and in different places.

veti
2015-01-27, 08:35 PM
That's simple, and not so simple, but boils down to basically "Might makes Right." The King is or was usually the one with the big sword/army/beast/power at his personal beck and call which he could use to punish people with. Most early kings were Warrior Kings who claimed their authority by killing those who opposed them or demonstrating why they should rule instead of somebody else.

It's worth pointing out, this is about much more than mere personal prowess. Personal charisma, for instance, is tremendously important in persuading others to support your claim. Tactical skill would matter, too - anyone who has the choice would much prefer to follow a leader who has a better-than-average chance of bringing them back from war alive, so that's a major consideration in picking the leader.

Generally, the would-be leader has to persuade a plurality of the important people in their potential domain to support their claim. That becomes a faction. Then if there's dissent, the king will first establish his dominance, then punish opposing factions and reward his own. So nobles will support whichever side they think is most likely to win, because that's where the rewards are.

Basically, that's much the same as feudalism, but with less quasi-legal window-dressing.

Templarkommando
2015-01-29, 01:58 PM
It's hard to put a label on all of Europe and say: "This is what pre-feudal Europe was like." The truth is that the seeds of feudalism are already sort of present in the Roman Empire. You worked for however long as a soldier in the Roman military, and you would receive a parcel of land of your very own when you retired. These guys would frequently become feudal lords whenever the Empire finally fell. By the time A.D. 800 rolls around, you're already looking at "Kingdoms" in England, and several places are quite well established already (Lotharingia, Francia etc. (If you learn by playing games, Crusader Kings II goes on sale from time to time on steam - though it's not exactly right on everything for the sake of playability). England's Kingdoms tend to be really small early on. Essex, Wessex, Northumbria and Murcia (the largest of the kingdoms) are all quite small - leading to a perception that there's a King over every empty pasture in Arthurian legends. In many of these places, it was generally understood that the King was not just a bearer of ultimate power, but also a protector of rights, and an arbiter of justice. To this end, every village or region might have a reeve assigned to periodically hear petitions from the local peasantry and bring those petitions before the King (who might or might not do anything about it). However, the King would be wise to generally let his peasants rule over themselves to a certain degree or they might not come to his aid whenever he found himself in a war.

Other regions might have more or less control for a "King." Early England in particular is rather democratic in comparison to several other regions.

Something a little more elaborate would be the series "Monarchy" which I think is still on netflix. Especially if you're curious about some of England's early history, this series is fairly informative.