Comitatus (classical meaning)

This article is about the medieval custom. For the legal term, see Posse Comitatus (disambiguation).

Comitatus was a Germanic friendship structure that compelled kings to rule in consultation with their warriors, forming a warband. The comitatus, as described in the Roman historian Tacitus's treatise Germania (98.AD), is the bond existing between a Germanic warrior and his Lord, ensuring that neither leaves the field of battle before the other. The translation is as follows:

Moreover, to survive the leader and retreat from the battlefield is a lifelong disgrace and infamy

Comitatus, being the agreement between a Germanic lord and his subservients (his Gefolge or host of followers), is a special case of clientage and the direct source of the practice of feudalism. Partly influenced by the Roman practice, exemplified in the Marian Reforms initiated by Gaius Marius, of a general distributing land to his officers after their retirement, the Germanic comitatus eventually evolved into a wholesale exchange between a social superior and inferior. Comitatus is an Indo-European concept that predates Roman times and was practiced from Western Europe to China, especially among Eur-Asian Steppe tribes. [1] The social inferior (in Feudalism, the Vassal) would pledge military service and protection to the superior (Lord). In return, the superior would reward the inferior with land, compensation, or privileges.[2]

The Germanic term for the comitatus is reconstructed as *druhtiz, with Old English forms dryht and druht, and Scandinavian drótt.[3]


This Germanic form of brotherhood had a profound effect on women and men, as is evidenced by the prime example The Wife's Lament. The genre of the frauenlied emerged during the same period that the comitatus was in practice. This genre almost always consists of a woman being left by her husband because he needs to be with his liege lord, which is seen by some as very romantic due to the pain in finding it necessary to choose one's lord over one's wife. In the words of the Wife's Lament, "that man's kinsmen began to think in secret that they would separate us." Additional evidence of this fraternal society is the fundamental absence of women in writings from the early medieval period. The Exeter Book, which includes The Wife's Lament contains few pieces written from the female perspective, or which include females at all.

See also


  1. "Empires of the Silk Road" (C.I.Beckwith, 2009), p.15.
  2. History 231 Notes
  3. For the reconstruction and Old English forms, see Pollington, S., "Origins of the Warband" in TYR, vol. 2 (Ultra Press, 2004), p. 130. For the Scandinavian form, see Thurston, T. L., "Social Classes in the Viking Age" in Landscapes of Power, Landscapes of Conflict: State Formation in the South Scandinavian Iron Age (Springer, 2001), p. 115.
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 10/25/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.