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Pillages, tributs, captifs

Rodolphe Keller
Laury Sarti


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Rodolphe Keller — Prédation et sociétés de l’Antiquité tardive au Moyen Âge : remarques introductives

1Contemporary evidence demonstrates to any modern audience that war and plundering were legitimate methods of enrichment in the societies of the past. The meeting in Frankfurt am Main provided the opportunity to demonstrate how the practice of the forcible seizure of goods was a key aspect of social practices in several Late Antique and early medieval societies. For a long time, this practice remained more or less ignored by historical research, because it was not considered to be part of ‘great’ history. Although at the end of the ineteenth century several German historians considered the issue from a legal and institutional perspective, it was only in the 1950s, drawing inspiration from the work of anthropologists, that scholars started considering war and plunder as important realities of the ancient and medieval world, as illustrated by the works of Georges Duby, Philip Grierson and, more recently, Timothy Reuter. Thanks to their efforts, the topic now receives the attention it deserves.

2One of the purposes of the introductory paper was to offer a possible conceptualization of the research field. Inspired by Amerindian anthropology, the concept of ‘predation’ seemed better equipped than the more semantically simple ‘plundering’ to define a social reality which included other forms of coercive seizure in the context of war, including taking human captives and tributes. To understand fully the concept of predation as a social phenomenon, it must be considered in conjunction with a wide range of material transactions such as the donation of gifts and the exchange of goods and property. Like all such transactions, predation represents the physical expression of a specific form of social relation: war. The works of the economic anthropologist Marshall Sahlins can help here, by showing how gifts and predation are opposite poles in a sphere of varied social transactions.

3Thus, the purpose of the meeting was not just about considering how the practice of predation is undertaken, but also about understanding its social, economic, political and cultural dimensions. What role does predation play in social relations? What is the economic impact of plundering and tribute taking? How and when is predation considered a legitimate behaviour? And especially, what is its importance in the construction of power? The discussions at the meeting led to some answers, but they also paved the way for further studies.

Benoît Rossignol — Limitem restitueret, praedam militibus daret : l’empire romain en difficulté face aux défis de la prédation, des derniers Antonins à la Tétrarchie

4The aim of this paper is to question the practice of plundering and taking booty in the Roman empire from the late Antonine period to the fourth century. Despite the proclamations of internal peace in the imperial ideology, the Roman empire always knew a situation of low intensity predation through piracy and banditry, especially in connection with slave trading. These threats were varied, unevenly distributed, and could grow near frontier zones or during periods of political troubles and absent authority. With the Danubian wars of Marcus Aurelius, barbarian raiders seeking out booty threatened anew the provinces and even Italy. At the end of the Severan dynasty, the threats increased and became a vital challenge for the imperial power, especially in the 250s and 260s. Nevertheless, the real impact of these raids is discussed and difficult to assess. The Roman Empire had to adapt: defensive wars were ruinous for the state and the legitimacy of Emperors depended on victory. The good emperor had to protect his provinces from barbarian plundering, return the booty to his subject and plunder the barbarians. The booty became a political and ideological stake for the imperial power especially in relation with the soldiers and the provincial subjects, as shown by the examples of Postumus or Aurelianus. The situation never disappeared and in the fourth and fifth century the late Roman historiography emphasized this stake when narrating the third century crisis and its usurpations.

Guy Halsall — Predatory Warfare – the Moral and the Physical

5This paper argues that although one could take considerable wealth in early medieval warfare this was, at least in the period before the middle of the ninth century, not usually done through plundering but instead through battle and the taking of tribute (in turn brought about by the threat of battle). It then moves on to argue that the principal rewards in early medieval warfare were not physical objects (‘loot’) so much as intangibles such as prestige, honour and patronage. Even the payment of tribute may have been more important as a political display to an audience of the powerful men of the respective realms than as an exchange of objects.

Guido M. Berndt — Gewaltsame Ressourcenbeschaffung – Zu einigen raubwirtschaftlichen Praktiken gotischer Kriegergruppen

6After the death of Attila and the subsequent rapid dissolution of his impressive multi-ethnic confederation, several Gothic factions emerged that made their living as independent warrior-bands. However, the annual tributes and the subsidies extorted from the Eastern Roman Empire were insufficient, as the Goths were not able to supply themselves from the territories that were granted to them. It appears as if they made no efforts to produce the required aliments themselves. For this reason, these goods had to be appropriated, at least to a significant extent, by means of subsistence economy. In order to get hold of the resources required, the Gothic leaders once more adopted rapine methods. To be successful, the ability to apply violence was of utmost importance. The sole presence of these Gothic warriors could suffice to receive the goods claimed. This impressive warrior band, first under the guidance of three Amal brothers, was founded in 493, under their leader Theoderic, the Ostrogothic Kingdom in Italy. They did not only fill their pockets by pillaging native settlements but also by extorting regular ransom payments from the local population. Using the example of the Ostrogoths, this paper deals with the different strategies used to provide resources by means of rapine. It shows that, depending on the temporary socio-economic situation, the Goths developed different strategies, characterised by varying intensities of a ‘robber economy’.

Marilia Lykaki — L’économie du pillage et les prisonniers de guerre : Byzance, viie-xe siècle

7This contribution regards the economy of plunder and the general idea of warfare booty during the medio-byzantine period. In particular, it questions the issue of prisoners of war as part of the loot as well as their role in economic and social life. It is a military, diplomatic, and social issue that also affects the spheres of culture and communication. The study is based on narrative and legislative sources as well as evidence provided by hagiological sources. The latter is of great interest, being indicative of situations that official byzantine sources neglect or describe fragmentarily.

8The research begins at a time when attitudes towards prisoners of war inherited from the Roman world were changing under the impact of Christianity; it ends at a time when the exchange of prisoners with the Arabs became a routine and the wars with the Bulgarians were in full swing. The frequent wars of this time resulted in an important economic activity with a social dimension. Captivity was a transitional situation, leading either to slavery or to freedom. Meanwhile, one can see the captives adapting various roles; soldiers, farmers, carriers of ideology and knowledge. Hence, this paper will discuss the inclusion of prisoners of war in the economic life and the productive role they could occupy. A characteristic of the period under consideration lies in the exchange of prisoners between Byzantium and the Arabs as a regular practice. The paper also discusses to the economic impact of prisoners ransoming – privately or organized by the Church –, their eventual decline into slave-trade products and their exchange.

Miriam Czock — Fortia hostile aliquid praedare – Plünderung, Raub, Diebstahl und die Heeresdisziplin in den süddeutschen leges

9Previous studies on plunder stressed its economic, symbolic and political value. Although this approach has been highly helpful in understanding the practices of plunder in the middle ages, it relies mostly on historiographical sources. The present study shifts the perspective and analyzes two early medieval legal sources, which have only been evaluated on the topic of military discipline. It uses the Lex Alamannorum and Lex Baiuvariorum because they include a broader spectrum of prohibitions than the older Frankish leges and asks if these legal texts reflect the same intersections of economic calculation, violence and political potential which are so central to historiography. The evidence of the leges rather than stressing the long-term value of booty and political benefits gained from plunder focuses on the critical need for provision on military campaign. The South German leges did not prohibit plunder as such; rather they did try to regulate the practice to prevent internal conflict as well as to restrain the damaging and destabilizing effect it had. So they ruled out plundering in collaboration with an enemy. Another aspect of legal concern were conflict over booty. Although the leges were highly aware of the hostile aspect of plunder and its damaging effects on group cohesion at least the Lex Baiuvariorum did not restrict plundering one’s own province, if the duke did order it. Overall they are shaped by the idea to regulate plunder to discourage disruptions to society as well as the necessity to control private violence by public power even in times of war.

Matthias Hardt — Gentile Königsherrschaft und das Gold der Reiterkrieger – eine Wechselbeziehung im ersten nachchristlichen Jahrtausend

10During the first millennium, there was a noteworthy relationship between mounted nomads such as the Huns, the Avars, and the Hungarians, and the kingdoms that had emerged in the West subsequent to the fall of the Roman Empire, like the Burgundians, the Goths, the Gepids and the Franks. This relation was characterized by a continuous exchange of large amounts of gold and silver, including Roman precious metal captured or blackmailed by the nomadic warriors. After victorious battles, they could again fall into the hands of kings like the Gepid Ardarich or the Frank Charlemagne. This paper aims at establishing the different uses of precious metal from the perspective of such rulers and what common notions and images the knowledge about these treasures could carry beyond the Migration Period and into the European Middle Ages.

Sébastien Rossignol — Les Daleminciens face aux Francs. Conflits, tribut et structures sociales (ixe-xie siècles)

11This paper studies the evidence concerning the Dalemincians, a Slavic tribe mentioned in the Frankish documentary sources from the ninth to the early eleventh century and located in the area east of the Saale River, on the eastern fringes of the Frankish Empire. The Dalemincians were described since the early ninth century as an independent group having a chieftain and a group of elites. From early on, the Franks displayed an aggressive attitude towards the Dalemincians, attacking them and requesting hostages and the payment of a tribute. Even though isolated insurrections are mentioned in the later ninth century, it can be presumed that the Dalemincians generally accepted the payment of a tribute and the political subordination to the Franks connected with it. An aggressive policy resumed in the early tenth century with an expedition by the Saxon ruler Henry I, followed by the conquest in 929 of a fortress defended by the Dalemincians in Gana. Henry’s primary goal was to protect Saxony from the incursions of the Hungarians, who usually made their way to Saxony through Bohemia and the territory of the Dalemincians. Little is known of what happened subsequently to the Dalemincians, except that in the early eleventh century the area where they had lived was described as a pagus or provincia belonging to the diocese of Meißen. Their territory was understood as a geographical unit, with no connection to the social structures of the tribe known to have been located there earlier. The tributary status of the Dalemincians might have contributed to stabilizing their social structures in the course of the ninth century, but it appears that they already had at the beginning of the century, like their neighbours the Sorbs, some kind of social hierarchy. What happened to their elites in the later tenth century remains unclear. The ruling members of the tribe had perhaps already attained, following the sending of hostages, a strong level of integration with their Saxon counterparts, but it might appear more likely that they have been violently decimated by the Saxons following the conquest of Gana. One way or another, a parallel can be drawn between the destiny of the Dalemincians and that of the Linons on the Elbe, another of these ninth-century Slavic tribes. Just like that of the Dalemincians, the territory of the Linons has been the theatre of dramatic military events in the early tenth century, culminating with the conquest of strongholds along the Elbe in 929. In addition, just like that of the Dalemincians, the territory of the Linons was also later known as a geographical unit.

Lucie Malbos — Quand les vikings attaquaient… des vikings. Pratiques et logiques de la prédation dans le monde scandinave (ixe-xe siècles)

12Texts and archaeology largely focus on the warlike aspects of Scandinavian societies, a topic which is far from new. However, recent archaeological excavations, with a new reading of written sources, have considerably helped to redefine predatory practices within the Scandinavian value system. Beyond the traditional point of view of Western monks describing attacks by these “heathen hordes”, “barbarian and cruel”, one may wonder how these practices were seen by Scandinavian people themselves. Far from our modern idea of plunder, collecting booty during a war expedition was one of the most important activities in Scandinavian societies, a source of wealth and prestige distinct from mere theft. Plundering is not stealing, as an episode in Egil’s Saga reminds us. Essential in social and political relationships, due to the process of wealth redistribution, predation played also an economical role by putting part of the spoils back into circulation.

13This reflection is also an opportunity to consider the status of the “Viking”, long seen as an attacking warrior and seldom as a man protecting his land, property and family: he was the assailant, not the victim. However, sagas are full of stories about Northmen fighting to repel assaults, often by other Scandinavian people. Recent discoveries of fortifications older than the 10th century (like in the Swedish emporium of Birka) show they could attack but also had learnt how to defend themselves. Were motives of these attacks on Vikings by Vikings, largely forgotten by traditional historiography, so different from raids on Western Europe? More than the victim’s status or origin, it was above all his wealth that mattered, during attacks on Christian monasteries as on Scandinavian ports, as we try to show through archaeological sources (fortifications, runic stones) and textual ones (sagas, hagiographic narratives).

Laury Sarti — Methoden, Bedeutung und Legitimation der Aneignung von fremdem Eigentum von der Spätantike zum frühen Mittelalter – Zusammenfassung und Diskussion

14The pillaging, the taking of prisoners and the pressing of tributes are three different means to come into the possession of goods that until then had belonged to someone else. The present analysis surveys the assumptions highlighted by the papers in the present volume to subsequently discuss them in view of our understanding of late Roman and early medieval society. To this end, it focuses on the different methodologies used, the social significance and repercussions of such actions and the goods gained, as well as contemporary legitimisation, in order to make some more general remarks with regard to predatory practices.

© Éditions de la Sorbonne, 2018

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