Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Dialogue on Germanic Kingship


Blogger SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

Transcript :

Did the Germanic peoples have kings that ruled over them?

No. Kings were elected by the popular assemblies from families which had proven their worth over many generations for excellence in law and protection of the folk-rights, and were chosen to lead extraordinary coalitions that might be necessary in times of strife.

Ok, but once they were elected, didn't they have extraordinary powers?

This is a common misunderstanding, engendered in part by the fact that our word "king" has come to mean a kind of absolute tyrant, but in fact, the tribal kings had "federalist" power.

I don't understand what that means.

Ok, so the basic unit of society was the household, the family. Families organized into larger units of kindreds or clans. Each clan had one kindred-leader who represented them in the Thing, which was the popular assembly. Each level of representation only affected the level of organization that had come to that kind of assembly. A king represented all of the different clans, and helped bring them together. He didn't rule over individuals within those clans. That was the responsibility of the clan-leaders or earls, and the individual household itself.

So he couldn't just order anyone around?

No way! Tacitus says that kings led through example and persuasion. They were strong leaders who existed to provide bold examples that inspired people to be at their best. The king was the one person who all of the squabbling clans could agree to, so he had to inspire confidence.

That's interesting. I guess there's so much about tribal governance that we don't understand.

Well, that stands to figure. Most of us have thousands of years between us and any authentic tribal ancestors, so we tend to project our modern ideas onto the past. Real tribe is not about autocracy, it's about strong family and community connections.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Morning Angel said...

Terrific. Thank you for all three. This one, especially, increased my understanding. It helps to read Tacitus I found, as you mentioned in the middle dialogue. Your exposition, though, drew out the ideas, and you made it so clear.

Are you a teacher, Siegfried?

4:27 PM  
Blogger SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

Hi Morning Angel,

I am a raedere which includes teaching amongst its functions, but I am not primarily a school teacher. However, I give counsel to people.

11:29 PM  

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