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Zacour, N. P.; Hazard, H. W. (ed.) / The impact of the Crusades on Europe

VI: Social Evolution in Latin Greece,   pp. 175-221 PDF (18.9 MB)

Page 190

the end of the twelfth century.25 In the areas from which they came (except
for the city of Venice) society was strictly stratified, social status being
virtually synonymous with legal status and transmitted by inheritance. Each
class was governed by its particular legal system. Social promotion involving
the crossing of class boundaries was largely restricted to the lower strata
of society, when servile peasants became free. Promotion to the upper class
of society was rendered most difficult by the development of class-consciousness
within the ranks of the feudatories, illustrated by the ceremony of dubbing
and the evolvement of the nobility into an order, with its specific rituals,
morals, and obligations, as well as a particular life-style and mentality.
Personal bonds of a private nature, backed within the knightly class by vassalage,
provided the backbone of social and political hierarchy, while judicial and
legislative authority, as well as the right of taxation, were essentially
vested in private hands; the concept of a state was alien to the minds of
the members of the knightly class. 
 All these features of political institutions and social structure were transplanted
by the feudal elite to Greece. Prerogatives exercised by the Byzantine imperial
government until a few years before the conquest passed into the hands of
the upper echelons of the Latin knightly class. The feudal hierarchy is best
known in the principality of Achaea. At most, it had only three ranks below
the prince: there were his direct vassals, whether liege men or feudatories
of simple homage; among the liege men the barons enjoyed a special position
as his tenants-inchief. In turn, all the liege men of this first rank could
have vassals of their own, and so too could those of the second rank. Social
differentiation within this Frankish elite was pronounced, and the gulf between
vassals of simple homage and greater feudatories was especially marked; members
of the lowest stratum, among whom sergeants were included, were not members
of the knightly class. This fact goes far to explain the gradual integration
of Greek archontes within their ranks and, in some cases, even within the
ranks of the knightly class. Besides, Italians of non-noble descent also
gained access to this class, whose nature thus evolved in the course of the
thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. 
 A hierarchy of fiefs corresponding to that of the feudatories, knights 
 25. For what follows see Jacoby, "The Encounter," pp. 883—885, 887—888,
890, 901—902. On the integration into the feudal hierarchy of Slays
and, exceptionally in 1263, of Turkish leaders who were baptized see ibid.,
pp. 900—901. The description of the feudal hierarchy in the present
work, vol. II, p. 249, should be corrected. The social ethos of the knights
was reflected in their life style, the books they read, and the literary
works they composed, as well as in the wall paint~ ings that adorned their
mansions: see Jacoby, "La Littérature francaise" and "Knightly Values".

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