Comitatus (classical meaning)
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. 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.
This Germanic form of brotherhood had a profound effect on women, as can be seen by the prime example The Wife's Lament. The genre of the frauenlied was created during the same time as comitatus was being practiced. This genre almost always consists of a woman being left by her husband because he needs to be with his liege lord. In the words of the Wife's Lament, "that man's kinsmen began to think in secret that they would separate us." Since this is a fraternal society, another example of the treatment of women is the almost complete 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 including females at all.
Because of the close relation to the liege lord, the men serving in comitatus were closer to their kinsman than to their wives. Some of the most beautiful poetry written in the Exeter Book is written in memory of a dead liege lord. More is written about religious information, and one is written about the loss of a woman. The Husband's Message though thinking of women shows how they were considered possessions by the men of the tribes. In "The Husband's Message" he lists her after many of the belongings he has already obtained almost like another object to be gotten. In this poem, the women were left all alone during a feud. The man, though he claims to love the woman, chose to leave her alone in order to be with his brothers and liege lord of the clan. Even though there is a 'love poem' written in early medieval times, this poem shows that the love portrayed was questionable.
- Anglo-Saxon military organization
- Varangian Guard
- German Guard
- History 231 Notes
- 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.