1) The Making of Germany - General Information


The Make-Up of the Carolingian Empire

Germany was one of the fragments that formed out of the collapse of the Carolingian Empire. The empire itself was a cluster of duchies comprised of 5 different peoples that were each sort of their own state. These duchies, in traditional historiography, were the Saxons, Bavarians, Swabians, Franks, Frisians, and the Thuringians. Only 4, however, were represented in the later stem duchies. The Frisian kingdom had been incorporated into Francia in 734, and the Thuringians were absorbed into Saxony in 908. So, the main 5 were the Saxons, Bavarians, Swabians, Franks and the Thuringians.

There were also small villages of Slavic 'infiltrators' present throughout the kingdom. Among these various peoples, there was no common identity and deep divisions between classes, including in the peasantry with some holding more freedom than others (some could change owners and move between lands, others were tied to their land). There were a set of rituals and ceremonial practices between the nobles and the king that could be adapted to suit different types of events and situations.

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The Kings, the Church and Governance

In the 10th and 11th centuries, the German kings were the most powerful and richest rulers in Europe. Many of the phenomena thought to be central to the 12th-century Renaissance are now thought to have originated in Germany rather than northern France at its cathedrals and centres of learning, as for example can be seen in: courtliness and courtly love, roman-esque architecture and the revival of rhetoric, etc.

The kingdom itself acquired a large amount of territory, and the other Norman kings seemed to model themselves on the German kings, and later dynasties of Germany kings tried to reclaim the rights and privileges their ancestors had enjoyed. Governance relied on the cooperation between the people and the ruling class. Laws were rarely issued that were in contrast to previous laws, and they also seemed to have little effect across the empire and they tended to alienate people.

The papacy's role was also undergoing a change. German and Italian popes took control of the church. These events later led to a major confrontation between King Henry IV and Pope Gregory VII surrounding the extent of each of their power over the church. A whole new type of Pope was created.

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Crises in Germany

There was a deeply problematic eastern frontier, there were Vikings in the north, and problems from various Slavic peoples like the Poles and Czechs. The Magyars also started to arrive from the 890s onwards across the Hungarian plains which caused a great crisis in the 10th century. But, the kingdom emerged triumphant under the new dynasty of the Liudolfings/Ottonians. They re-founded the kingdom, and thus started the Holy Roman Empire.

The 'Crisis of Germany' then hit in the late 11th century which severely curtailed the power of the kings, and the kingdom never really recovered. There was a civil war that stretched over 5 decades from the 1070s to 1122. There were 2 conflicts that eventually merged into 1 with neither side winning. But, it's generally agreed that the great princes of the realm (of the church as well as secular society) emerged in a stronger position following the crisis. Their lands became quasi-independent states within the empire, and in effect, a confederation of states was created that weren't really following the rules of one king. These minature states were ruled by ecclesiastical powers. Although its unsure whether the crisis caused the rise of the princes, or the rise of the princes caused the crisis.

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Approaches to the Crisis of Germany

Many older historians saw the crisis as a critical moment. They claimed the empire was flawed from the beginning because it failed to produce strong, central tools of government, and this caused the crisis. The struggle between different classes, groups and institutions who were pushing their own interests were the main force that drove change, according to these historians, and they suggest the strength of the 10th century state was a hangover from the Carolingian period, the kings were only obeyed because it was tradition.

But the validity of this approach has been questioned since the 1970s due to new evidence and new ways of approaching history, like judging the state on its own terms rather than comparing it to others. Cultural anthropology (study of the non-European world) has been a big influence. Newer historians are keen to explain historical events through the inter-mental frameworks of 10th and 11th century people. They aim to more deeply understand events and stress the theatre of kingship. For example, looking at the ways where ritual, ceremony and religion helped the king and his leading aristocrats to negotiate their problems.

Gerd Althoff and other advocates of the approach have yet to produce a fully worked-out explanation of the development of the empire, but the approach does help to explain the cohesiveness of the German kingdom in the absence of much legislative and judicial activity. It also implies another cause of the great crisis, that the Salian kings alienated the aristocracy because they refused to follow rules. This 'New Constitutional History' makes better sense of the evidence, and for German history in this period, there survives a rich body of primary sources to support this approach.

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