Sources on the Aristocracy of Western Europe in the Early Medieval Period

Sources on the Aristocracy of Western Europe in the Early Medieval Period


This chapter discusses various sources that explore the aristocracy of Western Europe during the early medieval period, particularly before and after 900. It includes references to Asturian-Leonese royal ideology, court cases, Navarre, depopulation theory, castles, landed base, and other related topics. The sources include books, articles, and translations, but there isn’t a single book that covers all the themes of this chapter. Instead, scholars have explored different aspects of the period in various works.

Table of Contents

  • Asturian-Leonese Royal Ideology and Court Cases
  • Navarre, Depopulation Theory, and Castros
  • Landed Base and Carolingian Aristocratic Wealth
  • Family Monasteries and Castles
  • Seigneurie Banale, Vassals, and Milites or “Knighthood”
  • Manors, Peasant Resistance, and Legislation
  • Specific Examples of Manors


Q: What is Asturian-Leonese royal ideology, and where can I find sources about it?

A: Asturian-Leonese royal ideology refers to the way that the monarchs of the Kingdom of Asturias and the Kingdom of Leon viewed themselves in relation to their Roman and Visigothic precursors. The ideology emphasized the monarch’s divine right to rule and their role as protectors of Christianity. Sources on this topic include books by Ramon Menendez Pidal, Angelo Paredes, and Bernard F. Reilly, among others.

Q: What are some court cases that I can look into for more information about the aristocracy during this period?

A: One court case that is often referenced is the Liber Iudicum or Book of Judges, a collection of legal decisions made by the Visigothic kings in Spain. Another source is the Formulae Visigothicae, which includes legal precedents and formulas used in the Visigothic legal system. Additionally, the Polyptichon of St-Germain-des-Prés is a document that records property ownership in ninth-century France, and it includes mentions of land owned by aristocrats.

Q: Can you recommend any sources about Navarre and depopulation theory?

A: One useful source is the Historia de los Reyes de Navarra by Esteban de Garibay, which covers the history of Navarre from the ninth to the sixteenth centuries. Additionally, works by scholars such as Julio Caro Baroja and Manuel Gayol are helpful in understanding the depopulation theory, which posits that parts of Spain and France experienced a demographic decline during this period.

Q: What are castros, and where can I learn more about them?

A: Castros were fortified settlements that were built by pre-Roman and early medieval peoples in the Iberian Peninsula. Sources on castros include articles by scholars like Francisco Javier Perez Rodriguez, who has written extensively on the topic, as well as archaeological reports that document the remains of castros.

Q: What does landed base mean, and where can I find sources about it?

A: Landed base refers to the way that aristocrats acquired land in Western Europe during the early medieval period. Instead of buying and selling property, aristocrats would inherit land from their families and then make further acquisitions through marriage alliances and military conquests. Sources on this topic include books by scholars like Marc Bloch and Wendy Davies, among others.

Q: What is a seigneurie banale, and where can I find sources about it?

A: A seigneurie banale was a type of feudal jurisdiction that was held by an aristocrat over a particular territory. The aristocrat would collect taxes and administer justice in the area, and the people who lived there were considered their vassals. Sources on this topic include works by scholars like Georges Duby and Susan Reynolds.

Q: What are some examples of manors that I can study in more detail?

A: Two specific examples that are often discussed in works on the medieval period are Le Mans in France and St. Gallen in Switzerland. Le Mans was a significant religious and cultural center during the early medieval period, and its bishopric controlled a large amount of land in the area. St. Gallen was the site of a famous monastery that played an important role in the spread of Christianity in central Europe. Sources on these manors include archaeological studies, historical accounts, and art historical works.


Overall, there are many sources that can help us better understand the aristocracy of Western Europe during the early medieval period. Scholars have explored various themes, including royal ideology, land acquisition, legal systems, and the day-to-day lives of aristocrats and their vassals. By reading widely and diving into specific examples, we can gain a better understanding of the social, political, and economic structures that characterized this time period.

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