On Writing Property, Power, and Authority

Property, Power, and Authority in Rus and Latin Europe, ca. 1000–1236 offers a new approach to the debate on feudalism triggered by Susan Reynolds’s famous Fiefs and Vassals. Charles West, writing in 2013, remarked that “only recently has the process of direct engagement with the kernel of Reynolds’s work begun.” Power, Property, and Authority participates in this process by broadening the geographical and linguistic scope of the debate and comparing texts written in “learned” and “vulgar” Latin, in Church Slavonic, in Anglo-Norman, and in East Slavonic.

Indeed, language is a core issue in much of the feudalism debate. In what is probably her most well-known passage, Reynolds criticizes the “confusion of words, concepts, and phenomena” present “in most discussions of the medieval forms of property and political relations.” Arguably, one way to disentangle words, concepts, and phenomena is to compare texts written in different languages.

A close reading of Latin chronicles and histories reveals parallels with texts from Rus, especially with those written in Church Slavonic, a “learned” language created for the purpose of translating from Greek. However, much more pronounced parallels exist between East Slavonic chronicles and Western vernacular and “vulgar” sources. Arguably, these parallels stem from similarities between the social and political organization of Latin Europe and Rus, similarities that may be difficult to discern from  the works of learned Latin authors who strove to fit their accounts of medieval politics into patterns provided by classical historiography. In this sense, “theoretical constructs,” alien to the reality that they tried to describe, may be already present in the medieval texts, only these constructs would be “pre-” rather than “post-medieval.”

From a comparison of Rus and Latin Europe based primarily on “vulgar” and vernacular sources, the former emerges as a regional variation of a European society, contrary to the common perception of Rus as a polity following a “special path” of social and political development, profoundly different from that of the West.

Introduction. 1-12
Chapter One. Rus and Latin Europe: Words, Concepts, and Phenomena  13-70

  • “Kings,” “Princes,” and “Disintegration”
  • Alternative Interpretations of “Disintegration” and the Question of Kingship
  • Kingship: A Problem of Definition
  • State, Kingship, and Lordship
  • “Kingdom” or “Aristocratic State”? A Source Problem
  • Princely Volost: Family Property or Rule by Assent?
  • County of Maine, Aquitanian Castra: Family Property or Rule by Assent?
  • The Kievan Prince and Royal Power: A Hypothesis
  • “Real” Power of the Kievan Prince: A Brief Assessment
  • Vsevolod of Kiev and the Community of Novgorod: Two Sources, Two Perspectives

Chapter Two: Medieval Texts and Professional Belief Systems: 71-112

  • Latin, Church Slavonic, and Vernacular Political Narratives
  • Rusian Chronicles: Elusive Realm, Ubiquitous Volost
  • Rusian Chronicles: Conflict and Legitimacy
  • William of Newburgh, Robert of Torigni, Jordan Fantosme: The Realm of England, Honur, and Seigniorie
  • William of Newburgh, Robert of Torigni, Jordan Fantosme: Conflict and Legitimacy
  • Monarchical Ideal versus Aristocratic Egalitarianism: Language and Audience
  • Rusian Chronicles and the Conventum Hugonis

Chapter Three. Elite Domination in Rus and Latin Europe: 113-152

  • Princely Power and Banal Lordship
  • Dan– Tribute, Taxation, or Neither?
  • A Special Kind of Property
  • Judicial Rights, Banal Lordship and “Feudal Revolution”
  • Rusian princes: Justice and Dan
  • “Castles” and “Towns”: The Power of Language
  • Gorod and the Dawn of Princely Power in Rus
  • “Banal Lordship” Hypothesis: Limitations of Rusian Sources
  • Volost, Honor, and Poesté

Chapter Four. Interprincely Agreements and a Question of Feudo-Vassalic Relations153-194

  • Oaths in Rus: Terminology and Sources
  • “Love” and “Friendship”
  • Feudo-vassalic Relations in Current Scholarship
  • Senior, Father, and Lord: Terminology of Hierarchical Relations in Rus
  • “Fathers” and “Sons” in a Comparative Perspective
  • “Bowing Down”: A Rusian Ritual for Creating a Hierarchical Relationship
  • Vsevolod the Big-Nest and the Glebovichi: Lord and Vassals?
  • Vsevolod, Rurik, and Roman: Mutuality of Obligations and Layered Tenure

Conclusions 195-200

by Yulia Mikhailova