15.12.01, Stieldorf, Marken und Markgrafen

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Levi Roach

The Medieval Review 15.12.01

Stieldorf, Andrea. Marken und Markgrafen: Studien zur Grenzsicherung durch die fränkisch-deutschen Herrscher. Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Schriften, 64. Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 2012. pp. cx, 623. ISBN: 9783775257640 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Levi Roach
University of Exeter

At roughly 600 pages of main text, accompanied by over 2,500 footnotes and a bibliography of almost 100 pages, this book bears all the classic hallmarks of the German Habilitationsverfahren (habilitation process): it aims to offer a comprehensive treatment of frontiers and their office-holders in the early and high Middle Ages. Given its length and the complexity of the material covered, it is unlikely that many Anglophone scholars will read this volume cover-to-cover. However, those who do are in for a pleasant surprise, for this is not your average monograph: it is an important and sophisticated study not only of frontiers and their defence, but also of continuity and change between the early and high Middle Ages.

The book consists of two roughly equal parts. The first is a detailed examination of marches (German: Marken) and margraves (German: Markgrafen) between the first appearance of the relevant Latin terms (marca or marchia, and marchio) in the eighth century through to their formalization in the twelfth. While the author's insistence on comprehensive coverage may strain the patience of some readers, the results are most informative. Thus marca first emerges in the Carolingian period to describe border regions, generally in sources associated with the royal/imperial court; here the term is used to underline the ruler's claim to contested regions rather than to designate an office as such. This meaning was largely retained through the tenth century, during which, however, the term gradually came into more general usage. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries marchia (now generally the preferred form) then started to take on firmer contours: it came to designate an office, the margravate, whose holder was generally charged with overseeing a border region (often a county or conglomeration of counties). By the later twelfth century, however, marchia had become an office in its own right (a kind of 'super-county,' if you will) without any necessary relation to the frontier. A similar development can be traced in the meaning of marchio: initially this was used to describe bishops or aristocrats who assisted in the defence of the frontier, without any implication of office holding; however, in the course of the eleventh century it took on the more precise meaning of "holder of the office of marchia" and by the twelfth could be used to describe figures who played no role whatsoever in border defence. There are already hints of developments in this direction in the tenth century, when marchio was frequently used to designate figures who enjoyed particular royal favour, but it was only in the twelfth century that the hierarchy duke--margrave--count crystalized. As Stieldorf notes, these changes mirror other important developments within aristocratic society: it was over the course of the eleventh and twelfth centuries that, according to Karl Schmid, noble dynasties first emerged; the formalization of the margravate would seem to have been part and parcel of this process. It was also in these years that the traditional Carolingian countship began to dissolve, as Ludwig Holzfurtner has noted, a development which may also have had a knock-on effect on frontier office-holders (up to this point marchio and comes were frequently applied to the same individuals).

The second half of the book pursues a rather different but ultimately related tack: it traces the role of rulers in the defence of the frontier. Here the trajectory runs from the Carolingians, who regularly intervened on their borders and when unable to do so personally ensured that it was their sons or other favoured royal representatives who did so, to the Staufer, who were rarely engaged directly in this capacity and largely left such matters up to the increasingly powerful and independent local princes. The Ottonian and early Salian rulers would seem to stand nearer to their Carolingian forebears in this regard; nevertheless, a process of mediatisation is already visible in these years and from about 1050 onwards rulers appear on the frontier with decreasing frequency. That this should be the point at which the terms marchio and marchia started to take on firmer contours is therefore no coincidence; it was part of the same process whereby local magnates (above all the future territorial princes) began to take over what were originally regalian rights and duties.

Stieldorf's overall argument is well developed and her conclusions will require considerable rethinking of how we conceive of the 'march' before the eleventh century. Yet the importance of this book goes beyond what it has to say about frontiers and it has major implications for our understanding of kingship and aristocratic society in these years. Inevitably in a work of such length and breadth, Stieldorf must at times rely upon the work of others; nevertheless, she is always keen to test such hypotheses against the sources themselves and this is far more than an exercise in blind synthesis. Indeed, Stieldorf is to be congratulated on having digested such an impressive bibliography and her thorough engagement with English-language scholarship is to be especially welcomed. There are, of course, points at which one might wish to part ways with Stieldorf. In particular, some Anglophone readers will baulk at the repeated recourse to feudo-vassalic terminology to describe the appointment of royal office-holders (counts, dukes, and margraves are invariably belehnt, i.e. "enfeoffed," be it in the ninth or the twelfth century) and it is a pity here that the author was unable to benefit from the recent volumes on Das Lehnswesen im Hochmittelalter, eds. Jürgen Dendorfer and Roman Deutinger, and Ausbildung und Verbreitung des Lehnswesens im Reich und in Italien im 12. und 13. Jahrhundert, ed. Karl-Heinz Spieß. As it stands, however, this book already marks a considerable achievement. It not only sheds significant light on frontiers and kingship in the early and central Middle Ages, but also has wide-ranging implications for our understanding of the changes which East Frankish and Western European aristocratic society underwent in the eleventh and early twelfth centuries. It is a book that will repay careful reading (and rereading) and it is to be hoped that despite its length it will find a wide audience beyond the corridors of German academe.

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