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Saturday, February 12, 2011

History of the Saxon War 3: "Social and political structures of the Old Saxons."

To understand the interplay of social dynamics and religious allegiances, according to Goldberg, "One must turn back before Charlemagne's momentous conquest of Saxony between 772 and 804 and consider the distinctive social and political structures of the Old Saxons." In Old Saxon there were three distinct social classes called edhilingui, frilingi, and lazzi. The edhilingui were the upper class, a warrior nobility who were also the owners of large tracts of land. The frinlingi were free men, at least in theory, but had far less personal wealth than that edhilingui. The lazzi were the lower class, and these were not truly free, for they were by law bound to the land, and in effect they could be, and were, bought and sold along with that land.

There are two important things about the stratification of Old Saxon society, beyond the mere fact that, as in all human societies, such stratification existed. First, the distinction between the non-noble but free frilingi, and the non-free lazzi was not very great, at least according to the grimly quantified system of wergeld, which literally put a value on each human beling's life. The life of an edhilingui was valued at 1,440 solidi, while that of a frilingi was only 1/6 of that, 240 solidi. However, the diference in value between the life of a frilingi and that of a lazzi was compatatively neglible, since a lazzi life was valued at 180 solidi, which is 75% of a frilingi life, which, by comparison, is valued at merely 17% of a edhilingui life!

Secondly, not only were the Saxons (unlike many other Germanic peoples, such as the Franks, Goths, and Vandals) not ruled by a king or duke or any similar monarch, but they had in place a political mechanism that served to block the rise of any single absolute ruler. The highest political and legal power among the Saxons resided in an annual pan-Saxon gathering in Marklo, on the Weser river, to which each Saxon district (there were 100 or so) sent representatives from each of the three classes. Not only were the lazzi and frilingi represented (if not proportionately) at this "general council", they also had the right to be armed, at least during times of war (and it was the general council that decided on questions of war and peace).

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