Alternatives to the Feudal System

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Boto von Ageduch, May 11, 2010.

  1. Boto von Ageduch Mostly Harmless

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    Feudalism and manorialism constitute one of the most important legal columns of the Middle Ages
    throughout Europe. Modern analyses often trace it back to a synthesis of Roman patronage and Germanic traditions,
    with the details remaining widely obscure. This new system became predominant by the central
    role played by the Frankish kingdom (where the system was probably born) and its off-springs
    (Burgundy, France, Germany, and - in a way - Italy).


    Now my question:
    What other state-building principles would have been an alternative to feudalism?

    Obviously, a survival and only gradual development of the Roman law is possible;
    this is illustrated by Byzantium, but that could as well (to some degree) happen
    in smaller parts of the Roman Empire gaining independence (like Odoacer's or Syagrius').

    However, when Germanic tribes enter the game, which different synthesis of Roman and Germanic
    traditions could
    a) determine the distribution of state authority,
    b) control the utilization of agrarian land?

    Eager to hear your suggestions ...!
     
  2. MNP Dark Souls 3!

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    Charlemagne did a lot to advance the cause of feudalism but there certainly were alternatives. For instance, at the beginning Charlemagne wanted his vassals to pool their money so he could buy a professional fighter. I.E. a paid mercenary army. This actually failed and he and his successors had to start paying warriors in land for service. Feudalism wasn't also as "feudal" as most people think of it. At least, the theory still remained that the king had the right to demand things from the people he ruled.

    I think the Carolingian non-feudal practices failed for three reasons: there was so little organization in his lands relatively speaking, when Charles and his heirs ran out of lands to conquer they ran out of booty to pay their warriors, and the outflows of silver from Europe to the east that went on from Prehistory-1800. That made Europe money-poor and helped support the Islamic monetary economy--when silver outflows in Europe ran out as they occasionally did between strikes it correlates to a Caliphate economy that really REALLY suffers, we're talking bankruptcies. These factors are tough to mitigate though there are a number of things that can be done.

    Certainly better organization can prevent or reduce it. Byzantium certainly did and later England! But Charles is in a deep hole to begin with on that score. In RoS I tried by giving him a friendly southern border, more opportunities to gain silver, reducing the Salic chaos so organization had time to spring up more thoroughly and reduced Viking raids and it still ended up somewhat feudal. In Alt-Spain itself I was able to generate more silver for various reasons and politically I ended up westernizing the Chinese admin system. Part VI: Ramiro the Wise in the Revised Version has details. This gave the populace and the nobility a stake in the continued prosperity and centralization of the state and fostered a unified identity compared to what happened in the west in OTL. As a side effect it also encouraged literacy.
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2010
  3. Boto von Ageduch Mostly Harmless

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    MNPundit, that's quite a bunch of good ideas. I didn't even think of monetary aspects.

    As for Charlemagne, I have means (and plans) of keeping him out.
    More generally, I'd like to avoid a Francs-specifics, from which feudalism seems to borrow massively.

    My greatest concern was the history of ideas, i.e. which systems could have been designed, understood, and accepted.
    And this is always a really hard question ...

    As to the possible choices, there is always the old continental Germanic system as with the Saxons and Bavarians:
    The soil belongs to the free farmers, and the duke may lead them into war.


    Is there any particular reason why this simple system cannot remain longer?
     
  4. carlton_bach Member

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    It probably never was that simple in the first place, that's the main problem. I'm not going tpo pretend I understand the Early Middle ages, and I've never met anyone who diud,m but I have a few suspicions.

    - the first is the different nature of war. In an increasingly consolidated and organised state, war becomes a less certain, more arduous, less frequernt but more demanding undertaking. As these larger states become the targetrather than source of predatory raids, war also stops paying dividends. Many people who might happily have followed Readwald or Chlodovech into battle would have been unable to muster the resources and capabilities to stand in Charlemagne's or Desiderius' army. They could be legallyx forced to stand or be compelled, as a group, to provide a number of troops, but the military usefulness declined while the cost of enforcement rose.

    - the next is the tax base. No Western European state after Rome had anything akin to a stable tax base. Often, giovernment depended on service obligations much more than revenues, and taxation was often contentious and foprcefully resisted. The Anglo-Saxon kings managed to build up a sort-of viable system of royal land rents that probably had a future, but not many states managed to. 'Feudalism' or rather, a system in which control of the land meant control of social elite functions has as its main advantage that it functions largely without taxation ('Feudalism' is a later legal construct to explain what happened when nobody knew what feudalism wasd, and it doesn't describe the reality too well). Of course you could also find different solutions. For example, if instead of the Freaniksh model of widely dispersed landholdings you had locally contained aristocratic estateslike in the Lombard kingdom, you could develop urban or proto-urban communities as foci of royal control. Even untaxesd, they could easily develop into a non-feudal system of fragmented government, and they would also lend themselves to taxation. Military obligation woiuld natzurally devolve on all inhabnitanmts, with certain contingetrs for larger-scale operatzions. Something like that was tried, too, but the largely rural society of England and the Eastern Frankish Empire probably just couldn't sustain it.

    - then there's the question of land tenure. In reality it made almost no difference, but the idea that you could 'hold' land 'from' someonme and still be an aristocrat is an important part of the social developments in the feudalisation of Europe (can you mentally add quote marks? I'm very unhappy with the term). In Frankiish tradition, that was something that marked your out as a social inferior. Significant people *owned* land, dependents (and Romans) rented it. The net result would probably be a society in which royal estates would be either alienated completely, the Merovingian way, or kept as a source of revenues that led to a monetised retinue maintenance system. The king would pay his retaioners, as would major aristocrats, and land would increasingly become the 'it' resource, changing hands rarely and only for serious money amounts. At least until someone manages to secure alternative revenue streams.

    - a final possibility would be a different turn to the development of unfreedom/dependence. Most Germanic kingdoms had significant unfree populations whose exact legal status is bloody hard to pin down. Under a feudal mindset, the broad category of 'serfdom' came into being. If Roman law obtained, we could see either the emergence of a more strongly monetised 'tenanbcy' or a straightforward reduction of the dependents into slavery. The latter would be especially dystopic, but certainly possible as the powers-that-be (landowning classes, from the small liber homo and ceorl to the bondi of Scandinavia and the greates maiores and magnates) applied the cruel letter of the law to a class of people previously treated as - by and large - junior family members.
     
  5. MerryPrankster Donor

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    Charles Martel confiscated a lot of church lands and used those to field a corps of infantrymen that he used to break the Islamic invasion at Tours/Poitiers.

    However, something happened to make aristocratic cavalrymen the dominant form of warfare rather than the shield-wall, replacing Martel's great weapon.

    Get rid of whatever that was and the Frankish army might be more infantry-dominated rather than cavalry-dominated. Given the historical class distinction between infantry and cavalry, this could hurt feudalism.

    Perhaps it was Frankish inheritance customs, in which the king disposed of his lands to his kids like any other private property?
     
  6. Strategos' Risk Oriental Orientalist

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    What would it take to create a Confucian-style imperial bureaucratic system where administrative abilities and civilized ways are valued more than military ability or aristocratic pretensions?

    A Western Europe with Byzantine touches, I guess.
     
  7. carlton_bach Member

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    A total change in the military realities on the ground, I'd say. Plus, no imperial church. This is really hard given how much of a barbarian fringe Northwestern Europe was.
     
  8. MNP Dark Souls 3!

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    To answer S'Rs question: Greater overall literacy, urbanization, and state organization. These would feed off each other.

    Well how about this:

    Local defense. The organization was so poor (relatively) and the Viking and Magyar raids so widespread and pervasive that the issue of local defense became paramount. When fast sailing Danes and Norwegians or horse-loving Hungarians could show up just about any damn place you needed little garrisons everywhere so you could mitigate their damage or hold them until the bigger armies got there. Thus you had a merging of the leadership roles of civil and military authority that led to aristocratic fighting warriors once cavalry appeared.

    One reason cavalry became paramount (and they obviously weren't lancers yet!) was because Charles had such a big kingdom he needed to move from one to the other quickly and it was a lot easier for guy son horses to do that.

    Sieges. Capturing population centers was obviously the way to expand your lands. Yes there are field battles but no one wants to get into one of those if it can be avoided. They are too risky! Your army could get steamrolled or your king captured/killed. Why risk it all on the throw of the dice? Though a misery for everyone involved, sieges were preferred. You in one spot, the enemy in one spot, and it's supply that will decide the outcome. You either pull back or you win. Either way your army is in better shape than if it got beaten. And the best way to get to sieges? Cavalry. If your cavalry makes fighting field battles against you a bad proposition, the enemy retreat to fortified towns and you pen them in. But you still need the cavalry to discourage infantry sallies. But because of the monetary and organization situation, the best way to go with cavalry in Europe is to grant someone enough land to pay for his own stuff.

    The places that managed to avoid this as much were Italy, Byzantium and the Islamic states, all places there were more urban and kept more of a tradition of organization than the north where you had eastern tribesmen swarming in.

    I don't know much about Germanic urbanism and organization and certainly those on the border (like modern Germany) were partially Romanized, but it didn't seem to be quite enough under the pressure from all sides that the region was under.

    So to get back to the OP what kind of prospects for stable city life (and all that is required to get to it) and administrative organization are there in those cultures?

     
    Last edited: May 12, 2010
  9. Strategos' Risk Oriental Orientalist

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    How similar was classical(?) Imperial China to the medieval Byzantine Empire?