Jacob Grimm, famed for fairly tales and other ancient lore, was also a philologist of note. He was intrigued by the question as to whether all Germanic tribes recognized a nobility. Grim divides the people into free men and serfs (knechte). The nobility and the (otherwise) free persons stand on the same legal footing, but the nobles have some prerogatives denied the commonality. Where kings and priests hold sway, there "must be a division between the nobility and the merely free, in all probability because the nature of every priestly arrangement (einrichtung) produces it." 55Next Page
Grimm found that among the Goths there was no king but "reiks," a respected and honored aristocracy. 56 Another variation was found in that among the Burgundians the most honored persons were the "upper clergy" who were called finista or finisto, meaning the oldest. 57
Among the Saxons marriage was restricted to persons on the same legal level, free, freed, or slave, indicating the care with which exclusiveness was practiced. Fustel de Coulagne says: "This marriage prohibition is the most obvious proof of the old class distinctions." 58
The beginnings of feudalism. Instance upon instance of general social class rigidity confront one who reads widely in the history of the age which followed those of barbarism and antiquity. Sometimes social position and exclusiveness are expressed in legal terms, such as nobleman, serf, or slave; sometimes in terms of occupation, such as craftsman, merchants, minstrels; sometimes in terms of political or religious power, such as courtier, adviser, magician. Through and around these terms are discernible the social classes which went to make up the social class hierarchies of the medieval period.
This period of human history began with an increase in the number of persons held in actual slavery. By 725 the price of slaves in Europe had dropped to the point where they sank "to a degree of subjection which had never before existed in the history of slavery." 59 Whether of not Dowd has his facts in perfect order here is doubtful, but the fact that there were still individuals and groups held as personal property, still stands as one of the essential factors in the earliest medieval social structures.
The exact nature of the transference from Roman control to feudal organization will have to await later treatment. In the ninth century hereditary social status was firmly established in France and Italy. This is not to say, of course, that such was not the case in the intervening centuries.
The same was true of the German territories. "The great German duchies which emerged from the ruins of the Carolingian Empire were led by their old nobility." 60
And when feudalism extended itself fair to the east into the "wastes of Russia," it did not ensnare free and equal men. "The tribes were headed by chiefs, military, civil, or religious (joupans, starostes, startchinas, knezos) . . . . " 61
What happened during feudalism is too familiar to call for a rapid survey at this point. When it is taken up, in a later chapter, it will be necessary to pursue small points carefully, step by step.
Other illustrations of widespread social class rigidity. Almost wherever one turns, much evidence of social class rigidity confronts the eye. "In Japan during her military age -- twelfth century to the middle of the nineteenth century AD. -- society was divided into five distinct groups." 62
55. Jacob L. K. Grimm, Deutsche Reichsalterthümer (Göttingen, 1854) p. 257; translation ours.
56. Ibid., p. 266.
57. Ibid., p. 267.
58. Op. cit., vol. II, p. 258; translation ours.
59. Jerome Dowd, Control in Human Societies (New York, 1936) p. 44.
60. Melvin N. Knight, Economic History of Europe to the End of the Middle Ages (Boston, 1926) p. 151; italics not in the original.
61. Boissonade, op. cit., p. 8.
62. G. S. Ghurye, Caste and Rage in India (London, 1932) p. 129.