View Full Version : Germanic Social Solidarity

Monday, January 9th, 2006, 09:23 PM
The comitatus relationship is not the only social example of Germanic group solidarity. The entire Germanic kinship structure is such that group solidarity is reinforced at every level of the family and community.

"The pre-industrial family was the sole source not only of shelter, sustenance, and emotional support for most wives and children, but also of education, occupational training, employment and, most generally, welfare. Since the members of such households worked at home, these families had a high control capacity. As a result, thesolidarity of families was at a peak." -- Hechter, Principles of Group Solidarity, pp. 57-58.

These kinship ties originated in fundamental interlocking sociobiological relationships, and were supplemented by the more elective comitatus. In her comprehensive studies of the law codes of the Burgundians, Lombards, Visigoths, Franks, and Anglo-Saxons, Katherine Fischer Drew has corroborated the existence of a high level of group solidarity among the Germanic peoples. Her impressions are summarized in a recent article:

"Although these codes vary greatly-from those reflecting strong Roman influence (the Burgundian, Lombard and Visigothic) to those reflecting little if any Roman influence (the Frankish and Anglo-Saxon)- all have certain features in common, and I would like to point out and emphasize one of them here.

This common feature is the development of a concept of collective security. This was closely related to two Germanic institutions: the family and kin group on the one hand and personal lordship on the other. The underlying concept was the assurance that each individual knew at all times whom he could call upon to support him in getting offenders against his peace into the courts or in providing proof or in supporting his oath in the courts, and in some cases (certainly among the Franks and Anglo-Saxons) helping him pay compositions assessed against him. In return for this real or merely moral support, the kin group had an established place in the inheritance patterns of all the Germanic kingdoms.

The Germanic inheritance laws provide some of our best evidence for the importance of the kin group. Membership in a family and kin group was one means of guaranteeing peace and security to the individual during the period when the state was weak. The other means was for a man to be under the legal protection of someone stronger than he who was not a member of his family or kin group." -- Katherine Fischer Drew, "Another Look at the Origins of the Middle Ages: A Reassessment of the Role of the Germanic Kingdoms," Speculum 62:4

Whereas the comitatus institution existed primarily among members of the military aristocracy, a more common lord-man relationship existed throughout almost all levels of society. The social bonds established through kinship and the lord-man relationship, later referred to as "vassalage," protected the individual not only from the threats of physical attack and exploitation, but the equally real threat of social alienation. These bonds of kinship and vassalage were supplemented by the bonds of tribe, nobility, and kingship.

Together, these social bonds served to forge a strong sense of group solidarity within the Germanic peoples. The result was a social structure of unprecedented solidarity and firmness in the emerging Germanic kingdoms.

Source: 'Germanic Religiosity and Social Structure. The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity. A Sociohistorical Approach to Religious Transformation' by James C. Russell, 1994, ISBN 0195104668