Friday, 24 June 2016

The Franks – part 3: Everyday Life

Originally published in Slingshot, issue 276, May 2011 / the magazine of the Society of Ancients

Typical Frankish longhouses
The Frankish empire was a well-developed society, which profited enormously from the Roman and Greek technical and scientific knowledge preserved by its many monasteries, or handed down by its rivals, the Byzantine Empire in the East and the Islamic Empire in the South.  Similarly, the general quality of life was much better than is often thought.  For most people life was as good, if not better, than during the heyday of the Roman Empire, thanks to the way the Carolingian society was structured.  With each social class having its clearly defined role, it was the responsibility of every landlord to take care that his familia, (servants, dependent peasants and half-free employees) was properly fed, before any food surpluses produced by his estate could be sold on the market.   
Usury and speculation, such as buying future harvests, was prohibited and punished with heavy fines.  As an important landowner, the Church had the same responsibility for its familiae as the secular lords.  Additionally, in return for the double tithes it received, the Church was legally obliged to provide hospitals, establish schools, and to feed and accommodate travellers, pilgrims, the poor and the needy.  Below I will focus on some aspects of everyday life.

Carolingian Clothing and Dress
Each social class had it own typical costume, a tradition that would be observed in Europe for a very long time. Clothing was often home-made from wool or linen produced at village level, but was also available on markets.  Such clothing tended to be very simply cut and was often undyed, which enabled the buyer to adapt the garment to his own taste.

Simple Folk
Most clothing for simple folk
had natural colours, which resulted in rather drab combinations of browns, reds and greys. Undyed woollen garments were either off-white or dark brown, depending on the sheep that had produced the wool.  By way of underwear, men usually wore a short coarsely woven linen undershirt, over which sleeved woollen or linen tunics were worn in various colours and of different lengths.  Trousers made of wool, linen or leather, were worn short and reached until just below the knee.  The calves were covered with a long strip of cloth that was wrapped around the lower leg and held in place with leather laces.  Winter clothing included leather boots, shoes, galoshes with wooden soles, sleeveless jerkins made from sheepskin, marten, mole otter and beaver fur, though the rich may have used more expensive, imported furs and sheepskin mittens.
Outer garments of normal folk were not washed very frequently, though underwear was laundered on a regular basis. Wood smoke, which permeated the interior of most people’s dwellings and as a result also their clothes, conveniently acted as a kind of deodorant.

Ordinary soldiers and me
n from middle social rank generally wore simple woollen or linen clothing.  Simpler garments included hooded headdresses (more typical among peasants), shirts (camisia) or tunics to the knee or above, mantles without hoods (mantella or cotta), simple cloaks (cuculla, also worn by monks), capes (capa) with or without hoods, stockings (pedules), underpants (femoralia) and a belt. 

Peasants were self-supporting and, amongst all other things, produced their own clothing and shoes. Based on written sources, we know that peasants normally wore a hood with a cape, a coarse woollen shirt to the knee and a white robe. Their leggings were strips of cloth wound round the leg and held in place by cross-garters, probably made of leather.  A straw hat was used for field work.  Peasants wore plump shoes, wooden clogs or shoes from thick cloth or woven bark and a knife in their belt.
Carolingian peasant

Women normally also wore a short coarsely woven linen undershirt by way of underwear, over which a simple woollen or linen sleeved tunic dress was slipped on, reaching down to the ankle. This had a vertical slit and was usually laced at the bodice to enable breast-feeding. Often trousers were worn underneath, as well as a tunic. Border and hems were often decorated or embroidered. Cloaks and mantles were used in bad weather and in winter. Fur was worn inside out to keep the body warm. With the coming of Christianity, women were expected to cover their hair in public with a loose shoulder cape, a mantle or a kerchief.

The elite
Usually the elite dressed
 in accordance with “national” fashion. Colourful silk and cotton garments were imported from the Byzantine and Moslem world. Embroidered decorations were wide-spread and often clothing was hemmed with coloured borders.  Tunics usually had a silken fringe. Instead of leggings, a cross-gartered hose was worn. The higher classes tended to wear longer tunics and capes, as did older people.  The elite mostly obtained their clothing from the workshops on their estates.  Linen and woollen clothing were dyed using e.g. woad (blue), madder and dandelion root (rose to crimson), scarlet (bright red to orange), walnuts (brown), broom and sorrel roots (green), ochre (red, brown and yellow), bark of the white ash (yellow), burnt wood or bone (black).  In winter a jerkin of marten, beaver or otter fur was a popular garment.

Carolingian noble family

The pallia fresonica was a high-quality woollen cloth, which was renowned in entire Frankish empire.  Frisians were well-known traders in this material (hence its name “Frisian cloth”). Based on the many finds of weaving looms in the modern province of Friesland in Holland, it is likely that the Frisians produced this material themselves, though some scholars are of the opinion that it was manufactured in England and only traded by the Frisians. Fashionable upper class ladies wore a large gown over an undergarment with wide long sleeves, which was tied up high with a bejewelled girdle, which could weigh up to three pounds.  The veil would be held by a golden ribbon set with gems.  Rich ladies would be bedecked with necklaces and pendants reaching to the girdle, and wear additional brooches, earrings, hairpins, bracelets, rings, boxes with fragrances etc.  As abbesses were usually recruited from nobility, this description would also apply to the head of a convent.

Though fashion did not change as quickly as it does nowadays, it did develop. A nice example for this is the short cape, called the saie, which came into vogue in Charlemagne’s time. Charlemagne, being of large stature, is known to have loathed this garment. Notker the Stammerer, a monk from St. Gall has him say: “What is the use of these little napkins?” he asked “I can’t cover myself with them in bed. When I am on horseback I can’t protect myself from the winds and the rain. When I go off to empty my bowels, I catch cold, because my backside is frozen.” 

Notker remarks that when Charlemagne found out that the Frisians sold these small cloaks at the same price as the bigger ones, he gave orders that “at this price no-one should purchase from [the Frisians]any but the bigger cloaks, which were at once very broad and very long.” (“Two lives of Charlemagne”, by Thorpe, p. 133). Wardrobes, cupboards and lockers had not been invented yet, so that clothing, valuable possessions and documents were kept in wooden chests (scrinia).

National dress
Every nation wore it
s own typical clothes. The Aquitanians wore a short gown, baggy pants and boots; the Italian Langobards had a preference for loose garments, whereas Frankish clothes tended to be close-fitting.

Leather was produced by specialised craftsmen from the hides of cows, goats, sheep and even wolves. Each monastery had its own cobblers’ workshop, where boots, shoes and galoshes (derived from the word ”Gallic shoes”) with wooden soles were made. Shoes were often kept together by leather straps, whose function is comparable to that of the modern shoelaces.
a turn shoe

A wide-spread type of shoe was the so-called “turn-shoe”.  This typically consisted of a cow-hide sole and a softer leather upper, which were sown together inside out and then turned right side out once finished.  The poor, however, often did not wear shoes at all.

Settlements and Housing
People got up at sunrise when the cock had crowed, which in summer was between 4 and 5 am, in winter between 7 and 8 am, and went to bed at sunset.  In most dwellings there was no lighting, as candles were expensive and laborious to produce, so people simply went to bed when it got dark.  Like most settlements, villages were usually located on or near a river, or a stream and possessed at least one well, a cemetery, latrines and a waste dump.  Many villages were fenced in one way or another and had an additional moat. This was mainly to keep wild animals, such as wolves and bears, away and to prevent small children, cattle, pigs and other livestock from straying too far.
In more populated areas, older villages and on estates, longhouses were common dwellings, 8 to 9 meters wide and 15 to 30 meters long, housing 10 to 30 persons on average.  The far end of a longhouse was used as a stable for cattle, whose body-heat provided additional warmth in winter.
Frankish houses normally had low walls on the long sides and large overhanging roofs.  The frames were made of raw timber and the low outer walls were a wattle and daub construction. From this type of building the later half-timbered or timber-framed buildings (Fachwerkhäuser in German) developed, which can still be found in many parts of northern and Western Europe.
Grubenhaus or pithouse
Roofs were usually covered with thick layers of straw or reeds. Doors hung on wooden or iron hinges.  Skylights and small windows in the long walls, some of which had a pig’s bladder for a window pane, could either be closed with a wicker mesh, or wooden shutters and provided the necessary daylight.  Cracks were plugged with moss.  There was a fireplace for cooking and heating, over which a wooden flue was constructed which acted as chimney. The floor consisted of pounded soil.  Water was extracted from nearby streams or wells and natural needs were done in latrines.
Each settlement had a number of smaller buildings, known as Grubenhaus in German (i.e. sunken hut or pithouse), which were used as workshops or storehouses.  Whereas in most parts of the Frankish empire houses were single-floored wooden wattle and daub constructions, dwellings in southern France and around the Mediterranean tended to be built of stone (casa petrinea), with a cellar and a main floor at ground level.
The most widely diffused economic activity was that of dependent peasants in what we call a manor or a villa in Latin, from which the modern French word ville for town derives.  A villa was headed up by a maior or villicus.  A royal villa was called a fiscus, and was managed by a steward or iudex. The iudex was to see that the produce of the royal estate was brought to the court in plentiful supply, 3 or 4 times a year.  Such royal manors were particularly numerous in what is now northern France and western Germany, along the rivers Rhine and Main and more eastwards, in Franconia, Bavaria and Thuringia.  A fiscus consisted of a

  • mansus indominicatus (demesne), which was the king’s central court
  • mansus ingenuilis (free mansus), exploited by free or half-free persons (ingenui, coloni, villeins or lidi). Half-free persons had certain rights, but were not allowed to abandon their land without permission
  • mansus servilis (unfree mansus), exploited by serfs (servi, hagalstaldi, or mancipiae). Slaves were also housed on the mansus servilis.
The biggest fisci consisted of several, often vast, villae, which in turn included smaller manors, called mansioniles. The most famous is a group of villae and mansioniles around the central manor of Annappes, near the modern town of Lille in northern France. This complex measured a combined total of almost 8,000 hectares, or more than 8,000 football pitches. The royal house on the crown estate would have been built of stone, the other houses on the fiscus would have been made of wood.
From about the middle of the 8th C. onwards, the structure and exploitation of big landownership in the Frankish empire underwent profound changes.  A bipartite structure was introduced on the big estates of the king, the church and the aristocracy.  This development would become known as manorialism and laid the foundation of the later feudal system. In France, manorialism would persist until the French Revolution, in Germany the Rittergut manors of the Junkers even survived until World War II.

Palas building of the palatium at Goslar

This bipartite structure developed in the north of France.  The system entailed that the part of the estate belonging directly to the lord of the domain was cultivated by the farmers, among whom the other part of the domain was divided, so-called tenements, tenures or holdings.  The tenants could cultivate these for themselves in exchange for services, deliveries of goods and payments to the lord and his demesne.  Though the Carolingian state, particularly its military organisation, was based on the existence of a large class of free people, mainly peasants, little is known about them. Free peasants often exploited their farms near or even in the midst of royal or ecclesiastical manors.
The lowest burden of field work of the unfree parts of the estate (mansus servilis) on most bipartite estates was usually two or three days a week.  On top of that, the unfree persons often had to be available for service at any moment, whenever they were ordered.  Free tenants usually had to provide services on fixed days or weeks per year, often 2 to 3 periods of fifteen days each.  In return, the higher classes were obliged to sustain their familiae, i.e. the unfree and half-free people depending on them. These had to be properly fed, before surpluses could be sold.

The palatium was a special kind of royal manor, also called curtis regia, villa regia or Pfalz in German.  When not campaigning against an enemy, the Frankish kings did not rule their realm from a central castle or palace, but moved around the empire between palatia with their entire courts and retinue, thus covering many miles a year. Though these were not palaces in the normal sense of the word, they were generally substantial complexes, which consisted of a palas (palace), a chapel and a manor.  Palatia were both self-sufficient and important regional food and goods producers.  The larger ones housed a population of several hundred servants, workers and administrators.
By the end of the tenth century, a network of a few hundred palatia covered the entire empire. Similar to a royal villa, the daily management of a royal residence was in the hands of a steward, or iudex.  To him reported the maiores (German: Meier), who were no longer recruited from nobility, as was the case under the Merovingians, but from the “mediocres homines, qui fidelis sunt” (common people, who have sworn an oath of allegiance). Furthermore, the royal steward ran a team consisting of civil servants, tax collectors, reeves, a forest superintendent, a master of the royal stables (mahrskalk, or comes stabuli) and a cellar master or quartermaster (mansionarius).
One of the most well known palatia is the one in Aachen, of which the floor plan of the palatial complex alone measured 150 x 150m.  Aachen developed into Charlemagne’s favourite residence, where he would spend Christmas and the consecutive winters during the last twenty years of his life.

Palatium in Aachen, with the chapel at the far end and the swimming-pool on the left

Aachen (Aquis Granni) was famous for its hot springs in early history and later for its Roman baths.  Charlemagne, who was an avid swimmer, had out- and indoor swimming pools constructed at his palatium here, which were large enough to accommodate 100 people. Originally a fiscus built of wood and half-timbered work, Charlemagne converted this royal residence into the largest secular structure that had been erected north of the Alps since the Roman period, with clear influences from Rome, Ravenna and Milan.  Of the palace at Aachen, important elements remain in the current town hall and, above all, the miraculously preserved Royal Chapel, whose construction commenced about 792 AD and which was later integrated in the Aachen Minster, which still stands today.  The Aachen royal chapel enjoyed such great prestige in the west that it was repeatedly imitated from the ninth to the eleventh century AD.
Aachen chapel inside today

Food and Drink 
Normally, there were two meals per day.  In summer, the main meal was eaten between 9 and 10 am, the second meal between 4 and 5 pm.  Meals consisted of stews, cabbage (krût), polenta, barley and oats porridge, smoked meat, hemp, beans, peas and fruit, especially apples, pears and grapes.  Meat was a luxury for common people and consisted normally of venison from smaller game, as larger game was reserved for the owners of the land.
At a villa cows, pigs, sheep, goats, geese, chickens and fish (in fishponds) were bred.  Most villae produced cheese, butter, eggs, honey, mustard, vinegar, beer, wine, bread, wax and soap, and cultivated foxtail-millet, sorghum, kitchen herbs, radish, turnips, peas, lentils, garden beans, broad beans, chickpeas, salads, onions, carrots and leeks.  For the better situated, which apart from nobility included canons and monks, bread was the staple food, especially the white variety.  Servants normally ate rye bread.  Part of the flour was used for polenta (pulmentum).
Also abbeys were important production centres for food.  Corbie Abbey in northern France produced 450 loaves of bread per day.  St. Gall in northern Switzerland is reported to have produced as many as 1,000 loaves a day. The monks and guests of Corbie Abbey consumed 600 pigs a year, 50 if which were destined for the abbot’s household.  Abbeys were also well-known consumers of cheese, especially during certain periods of the year (Lent, for instance), when the consumption of meat was forbidden.  Apart from the usual herbs, such as sage, parsley, rosemary, thyme, mint, aniseed, fennel, bay leaves etc., there was also no shortage of spices, the most common of which was salt.  Expensive imported spices such as pepper, cinnamon, galangal (blue ginger), caraway, mastic gum and cloves were widely used in the kitchens of abbeys and those who could afford them.
In the greater part of the Frankish empire wine was the staple drink, though not always of very good quality.  Beer was only drunk when one had run out of wine, which some considered a punishment.  In the Germanic northern and eastern parts of the realm, however, beer (cerevisia) was the principal drink.  Since beer could not be preserved for a longer period of time, it had to be produced according to requirements.  In certain areas cider and perry (from pears) were produced as well, but many people simply drank water. 

Health and Hygiene
Contrary to popular belief, personal hygiene did have people’s attention in Carolingian times. All palatia were equipped with cold and hot baths, and baths were taken at least once a week.  This was still a common frequency in many western European countries as late as 1960s.  In monasteries bathing was strictly regulated and bathing bans were used as a common punitive measure.  All abbeys possessed an herbal garden and a number of monks who were educated doctors.  Bloodletting (flebotomia) was a popular measure, but it was known that extensive usage should be avoided.  The Bibliotèque Nationale in Paris possesses 30 Carolingian manuscripts on medical science. Though this amount may seem low in comparison to the number of manuscripts produced in the contemporary Arab and Byzantine empires, even gynaecological works do not fail in this collection.

The Bearing of Arms
In the Roman Empire the bearingof arms had been mainly restricted to the military, but after the Migration Period it had become a habit among the entire population.  This was partly the result of the gradual militarisation of the society, starting with the reign of Emperor Constantine the Great (d. 337 AD).
Through the increased independence of the military chiefs (magistri equitum and peditum, duces and comites) in relation to those who held civilian power (praetorian prefects, vicars, proconsuls and provincial governors), the army commanders had now become directly answerable to imperial authority.  The old practice of cedant arma toga (“let military power give place to law”), symbolizing the end of professional service, no longer held, and civilian power had lost its precedence. Even service in certain civilian offices was now considered a form of military service, consequently necessitating the wearing of a uniform and military belt (cingulum).
Thus, it became standard practice for the ruling classes to carry arms, not only for their personal protection against brigands and robbers when travelling, but also as an important status symbol, a habit that harked back to ancient Germanic traditions.  Free persons (ingenui, integri and free coloni) were allowed to carry weapons when performing military duties. So were merchants and traders, due to the insecurity of the roads. For the unfree, however, the bearing of arms was strictly prohibited.

Commerce and Trade
In the Carolingian period, wealth was more based on the possession of land than on money and society was rapidly adopting what later would be called a feudal structure.   Carolingian estates were not run to return a profit and there was no regular system of tax assessment. Economic growth was not the primary aim of ecclesiastical and royal estate-management, but rather the creation of a stable and predictable flow of goods and rent.  Nevertheless, it was normal that income was maximised by selling an estate’s surplus and account of such sales was required at Easter, when payments were to be made to the palace.
Silver denarius Charlemagne

Even in a largely self-sufficient economy like this money was needed as intermediary.  Kings, princes, nobles and dignitaries of the church, needed money to buy rare commodities, such as overseas spices, jewels, silk and other costly textiles, weapons and in general goods that could not be obtained by barter and trucking.
In the ninth century, there was a significant pressure towards the greater monetisation of the rural economy, when the high tributes to plundering Viking bands were often paid in cash. Interestingly enough, however, much of the moveable wealth thus accumulated did not find its way back to the Scandinavian homelands, but further stimulated the Frankish economy as Vikings sought to use it to acquire status-enhancing luxury goods.

Markets and emporia
The most important places where goods could be traded were markets and emporia.  The king decided about the establishment of a new trading place (emporium or portus) outside the walls of a town.  Major emporia were to be found along the river Scheldt (Valenciennes, Tournai, and Ghent) and the Rhine (Mainz), but especially along the Meuse (Verdun, Namur, Liège, Maastricht).  Similarly, the Carolingians had declared a royal monopoly on the establishment of markets. Only a royal concession could allow an abbey or a town to open a market.
Broadly speaking, goods were traded at two types of markets: the public market, or mercatus publicus or legitimus, situated in urban centres.  Here greater volumes produced by abbeys and churches were generally traded.  The second type of markets was the local private market, held on a rural manor, or villa, and was hence called a villa market.  Local markets were usually situated in the countryside.  Mostly these markets were held weekly.  Some developed into an annual fair, the most famous of which was perhaps the one organised by the abbey of St. Denis, north of Paris.  This annual fair was held on 9th October, the name day of St. Denis (Dionysius).  Toll was levied as most markets, but not on ordinary people, who were free of taxes for victuals and utensils bought or sold in small quantities (per deneratas). 
Dependent peasants were allowed to sell surplus production at these markets at a freely agreed price.  Some lords, however, did not respect this freedom of retail trade and tried to block it.  Typical commodities exchanged at markets were salt, wool, flax, finished textiles, iron objects, ploughshares, agricultural tools, surpluses of a peasant’s production, grain and seeds, horses and cattle.
Important trading routes

Markets grew into regular events, attracting ever-larger numbers of sellers and buyers. This prompted Charlemagne to instruct in his capitulare de villis of 802 AD that his agricultural tenants should not “waste their time in the marketplace”.  Time and place of markets were fixed, so that the king and magnates could levy tolls and taxes on cartage and sales, thus enriching the treasury.  Also in the passes through the Alps, officers of the fisc collected duties.
Charlemagne tried to regulate trade in that he published a capitulary in 806 AD, in which he forbade the sale of precious articles, slaves, horses and other animals during night-time and commanded that such transactions be conducted in public.  In this capitulary, the emperor also listed towns in which merchants going east had had to have their wares inspected (to prevent the smuggle of weapons, for instance), such as Bardovick, Scheessel, Magdeburg, Erfurt, Forchheim, Pfreimd, Regensburg and Lorch. “They are not to take arms and coats of mail to sell; and if they are discovered carrying them, all their stock is to be confiscated.”

Grain, wine and salt
According to Verh
ulst, the great estates in the Low Countries, northern France and the Rhineland, the Carolingian heartland, produced a surplus of grain, wine and salt, which were the main commodities transported over the rivers Rhine, Meuse, Moselle, Main, Loire and Seine.  Interregional trade, sometimes over distances of hundreds of kilometres, had its stations in urban centres of different size and importance.  As in Antiquity, salt was a key commodity and certainly the most transported merchandise over large distances, partly since it was the main preserving product and because it was only found, exploited and produced in a few locations.  Places at the estuary of the Po, such as Comacchio and Venice produced little else than just salt in these days.  Other well-known saltpans were around the mouth of the Loire, such as Baie de Bourgneuf. They were exploited by private entrepreneurs, partially on account of the king. From Nantes the salt was transported by ship along the Loire.  Another important salt-producing region was around Metz. Several abbeys in northern France and the German Eifel possessed saltpans east of Nancy, the production of which was exported down the Moselle on rafts. Prüm Abbey in the Eifel was the most involved in this production and transport.
On their way north, probably to Dorestad on the river Lek in Holland, which was called Frisia in those days, the salt traders from Metz passed important cities like Trier and Cologne.  Dorestad, which had over 1,500 inhabitants, was an important port for regional and international trade: wine from the Worms region, grain from Alsace and the Mainz region and quern-stones from the Eifel.  It was a hub for goods that were traded from and to the British Isles and Scandinavia.  At its peak in around 830 AD, Dorestad was minting by far the greatest number of the sole denomination in circulation in the Carolingian empire, the denarius, which had a purchasing power in 794 AD of twelve one-pound loaves of bread.
Impression of Dorestad

Next to salt and grain, a third bulk commodity was wine.  Wine producing regions in e.g. Alsace, around Worms and along the river Seine and the river Moselle traded their produce over long distances.  Many abbeys produced their own wine and brought their surpluses into commerce. The abbey of St. Germain-des-Prés, for instance, produced over seven times the quantity that it needed for its own consumption.  The surplus was shipped to St.Denis, which had the greatest wine market in Western Europe.

Merchants and traders
Many of the travelling merchants and traders were people from outside the Carolingian Empire such as Syrians, Jews and
Frisians. Since the middle of the eighth century, most of the commerce on and around the North Sea was in Frisian hands. Frisian merchants were at the service of the Carolingian manorial economy and its mainly ecclesiastical masters, but at the same time, they were left enough freedom for their own profitable operations. They operated along the Rhine, between Dorestad and the Alps and during the second half of the ninth century they had established colonies along this river in Cologne, Worms, Mainz, Duisburg, Birten and Xanten.
The Frisians were also regularly present at the fair in St. Denis and made regular trips to Birka on the island of Björkö, in Lake Mälar (west of Stockholm).  Goods that were frequently exported north were ceramics, glass, quern-stones and metallic objects. In turn, furs, hides, fells, slaves, wax, and amber were imported from these parts of the world.
Frankish trade with Eastern Europe was heavily controlled, as the frontier formed through central and southeast Germany by the rivers Elbe, Saale and Danube was not only a political, but also a military frontline. More specifically, the sale and smuggling of coats of mail, called bruniae, was severely repressed. However, there was a lively trade with the Russians and the Czechs of horses, slaves and wax. 
Trade with England, through Quentovic on the estuary of the river Canche in northern France (modern Nord-Pas-de-Calais) and Walichrum (modern town of Domburg) on the coast of Zeeland in the Netherlands, consisted mainly of wine, ceramics and quern stones, while from England textiles were imported to the continent.

Peasant ploughing field, Stuttgart psalter

Imports and exports
There were imports of oriental spices, silk and perfumes via Venice and some other formerly Byzantine ports in Italy, but these should not be overestimated.  The main export to the former Byzantine possessions in Italy and from there to Muslim North Africa consisted of slaves (Avars, Saxons, Danes, and Slavs).  Large slave markets were also to be found at Verdun, Lyon, Arles, Mainz, Regensburg and Raffelstetten (near modern Linz in Austria). The export of (castrated!) slaves to Moorish Spain from north-west Europe via southern France was equally important.  This trade was mainly in the hands of Jews, who also dominated the trans-Mediterranean trade. Important Jewish settlements could be found all over the empire: Aachen, Frankfurt, Rome, Pavia, Ravenna, Lucca, Lyon, Vienne, Arles, Chalon, Mâcon, Uzès, Narbonne, Soissons and Nantes.  The lending of money for interest was prohibited. In 814 AD this regulation was extended by the Capitulary for the Jews, in which it was stipulated that Jews were forbidden to engage in money-lending. 

Network of old Roman roads in France

Travel by road
Though the general
state of network Roman roads had deteriorated, it was still there and very much in use.   Travel in the eighth and ninth centuries was similar to travel in Roman Times and more often than not an adventurous undertaking.   Most people tended to travel in groups, and due to the insecurity of the roads, merchants and traders were allowed to carry swords, a privilege which normally only applied to the military and to nobility. 
Charlemagne significantly expanded the network of highways and secured them with castles and palatia. Around 800 AD there was also a well developed infrastructure of trunk roads or highways, called Hellwegen in German, from the Old Low-German hellwech, probably meaning a clear and regularly cleared road which was light during the day.
Highways had to be maintained and kept clear at a minimum width of a spear’s length (about 3 meters).  As many of these roads led through dark forests populated by wolves, bears, bison, buffalo, aurochs and not to forget outlaws, the desire for wide clear roads is understandable.  Heavily travelled parts of the road, such as the crossroads areas were often paved, otherwise highways were dirt roads until the time of the stage-coach, without any kind of pavement.  As these roads were important for the salt trade, a key commodity in those days, another interpretation of the word hellwech is thought to be salt road, based on the Greek (hals) and Celtic (hal) word for salt.
On foot people would normally manage 30 to 40 km a day.  On frequently travelled roads, inns, which provided food and drinks but no accommodation, were to be found at 20 km intervals.  As hotels or hostels did not exist, monasteries were obliged to offer hospitality to travellers and pilgrims.  On horseback, normally a distance of 70 km per day could be covered.  With a horse-exchange about halfway, this distance could even be extended to 120 km per day.  The average speed on horseback would vary from 7 to 12 km/h, whereas with a horse-exchange the average speed could be increased to 12 to 15 km/h.  For business travel, horses could be changed at official stations, called paravereda, from which the modern French palefroi (palfrey, or parade horse) and the German Pferd (horse) derive.  This system dates back to Roman times, in which these stations generally held a maximum of 20 horses.

Reconstruction of a Roman carruca, Xanten
The heavy wide plaustra carts, drawn by horses or oxen, were the typical means of transport by road.  Other cart-types in use were the benna, which was usually drawn by horses, and the carpentum, drawn by oxen.  The carrucawas a covered travel carriage drawn by horses, which very much looked like its Roman predecessor. 
As the horse collar and harness had already just been invented carts could now be drawn with the breast and not with the neck as in the old days.  Until Carolingian times oxen had been the typical draught animal, since they were more suitably built for the traditional “neck-traction” technique than horses.  The great disadvantage of a span of oxen, however, was that it was inflexible and only travelled at an average speed of 3 km/h.  With the introduction of the horse-collar, oxen were more and more replaced by the quicker and more versatile horse.  This development shortened travel and transport time considerably and also made it quicker and easier to plough a field.

Travel by water

Carolingian barge
Travel by water was another much used alternative, especially for bulk transports.  Einhard, one of Charlemagne’s courtiers, once travelled by boat from Ghent (on the river Scheldt in Belgium) to Seligenstadt (east of Frankfurt on the river Main), which today is a distance of around 470 km over land, and was two weeks en route.  He first sailed down the Scheldt towards the North Sea, then up the Rhine, where he changed ships in Dorestad or Tiel. From here he travelled further upstream to Mainz, and then due east up the river Main.

The ruling classes on travel
As travel was a time-consuming and expens
ive undertaking, the nobility tried to make use of so-called tractoriae, which were originally a Roman institution and existed until 865 AD.  These were parchment documents, drawn up by the local authorities, or even by the King, stating that the bearer of the document had a right to free board and lodging.  Noble envoys and vassals of the king were entitled to sufficient food and accommodation for their retinue and horses.  In this way, e.g. bishops could claim daily provisions of 40 two-pound loaves of bread, 3 modii (39.3 liters) of drinks, 1 pig, 3 chickens, 15 eggs and 15 modii (200 liters) of horse fodder.  A vassal could claim 17 loaves, 1 modius of drinks and 2 modii of horse fodder
In the middle of the ninth century the royal court travelled at a speed of around 25 km a day. It has been recorded that Charles the Bald (born in 823 AD) and his retinue needed four weeks to travel from Langres in France to Pavia in Italy, a distance of 550 km, and another three weeks to travel from Pavia to Rome (584 km).  In the first case, the party had to negotiate the Alps and covered almost 20 km per day.  In the second instance, it managed almost an average of 28 km a day.
Charlemagne travelled with his entire court, including wives, children and grandchildren in bennae, carts with massive wooden wheels, and in the lighter carrucae, which had spoked wheels.  For the event that a stop-over had to be made and the palatium or monastery in question could not provide sufficient accommodation for the entire retinue, the benna carts carried a sufficient number of tents, “portable” beds and other accoutrements to make sure that everyone would spend a comfortable night.

Measures and Time

There was an enormous diversity of measures and weights, though rulers, and particularly Charlemagne, did undertake attempts to reform and standardize measurements. In practice, many parallel systems remained in use.  Of the Roman measures that had been handed down over the years, some were favoured especially, such as the Roman foot (29.64 cm), or the slightly longer Drusus foot (33.33 cm).  One passus was 5 Roman feet (1.48 m).
Larger distances were measured in leuga (leagues), which varied in length between 2.222 to 4.5 km.  The standard Carolingian mile was to become 2.222 km.  However, Roman miles (1.8 km) and Germanic miles (0.75 to 0.9 km) were used in parallel.  A large number of surface measures was in use, of which the Franks favoured the bonuarium (bonnier, bunder; around 1 hectare)The most important “standard” measure of capacity was the modius (8.75 litres). The Roman pound (0.327 kg) or the Carolingian pound (0.445 to 0.491 kg) were used to weigh goods. Twelve ounces were one pound.
Daylight was subdivided into 12 “hours” which were longer in summer than in winter.  Hence time was a relative, not an absolute concept.  Though the accurate oriental water-clock was already known, it was more regarded as an interesting toy than a useful tool to measure time with. Mechanical clocks or hourglasses did not exist yet, but bells did. Bells were a Celtic invention and the word “clock” derives from the Celtic word for “bell”. Glocke in modern German and cloche in French still mean “bell” today. 
Bells were especially rung by monks in the large network of monasteries, where life was strictly organised and time (for prayers) played an important role.  Here time was measured with sun-dials and candles with hour-marks on the side. Abbey bells were rung at the hours below.  Note that the listed daybreak and sunset times are only roughly correct at the latitude of Rome for the months of March and September (without daylight savings time adjustments).
Night                 1 am: Matins
Night                 3 am: Lauds
1st hour             6 am: Prime (daybreak)
3rd hour             9 am: Terce
6th hour           12 am: Sext
9th hour             3 pm: Nones
12th hour           6 pm: Vespers (sunset)
Night                 9 pm: Compline
The above survey is based on the lengths of the days in Rome in the months of March and October.  In everyday life, however, people simply got up at dawn and went to bed at sunset.
Sources and suggestions for further reading 
  • Annales regni francorum  unde ab a.741 usque ad a. 829 AD qui dicuntur annales laurissenses maiores et Einhardi, ed. F. Kurze, MGH SRG 6 (Hannover, 1896)
  • Regesta Chronologico-Diplomatica Karolorum, Die Urkunden sämmtlicher Karolinger, Dr. Johann Friedrich Böhmer, Franz Varrentrapp, Frankfurt am Main, 1833
  • Borst, Arno, Computus, Deutsche Taschenbuch Verlag, München, 1999
  • Borst, Otto, Alltagsleben im Mittelalter, Insel Verlag, Frankfurt, 1983
  • Contamine, Philippe, War in the Middle Ages, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford 1984
  • Costambeys, Marios, Matthew Innes and Simon  MacLean, The Carolingian World, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2011
  • Coupland, Simon, Carolingian Arms and Armor in the Ninth Century, in Viator: Medieval and Renaissance Studies v. 21 (1990)
  • Feffer, Laure-Charlotte, Pierre Forni & Patick Périn, De Clovis à Charlemagne, Les jours de l`Histoire, Casterman 1989
  • Gimpel, Jean, The Medieval Machine, the Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages, Penguin Books, New York, 1977
  • Guisepi, Robert, The Church In The Early Middle Ages, 1992,
  • Hägermann, Dieter, Karl der Grosse, Biographie, List Taschenbuch, 2003
  • Le Jan, Régine, Les Mérovingiens, Que sais-je?, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 2006
  • McKitterick, Rosamund, Charlemagne, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2008
  • Nicolle, David, The Age of Charlemagne, Men-at-Arms Series Nr. 150, Osprey Publishing, 1984
  • Nicolle, David, Carolingian Cavalryman AD 768-987, Warrior Series Nr. 96, Osprey Publishing 2005
  • Périn, Patrick & Pierre Forni, Au temps des royaumes barbares…, La Vie Privée des Hommes, Hachette, Paris, 1984
  • Riché, Pierre, Die Welt der Karolinger, Philipp Reclam jun. Stuttgart, 1999 (original title “La Vie quotidienne dans l’empire Carolingien”, Hachette, 1963)
  • Riché, Pierre, The Carolingians, a Family who forged Europe, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia PA,1993 (original title “Les Carolingiens, une famille qui fit l’Europe”, Hachette, 1983)
  • Thorpe, Lewis, Einhard and Notker the Stammerer, Two Lives of Charlemagne, Penguin Classics, 1969
  • Trapp, Wolfgang, Kleines Handbuch der Maße, Zahlen, Gewichte und der Zeitrechnung,Philipp Reclam jun. Stuttgart, 2001
  • Verhulst, Adriaan, The Carolingian Economy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2002

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