, , , ,

Article to be published in: G. Ausenda, J. Hines & H. Steuer (eds.), Baiuvarii and Thuringi: An Ethnographic Perspective. Studies in Historical Archaeoethnology. Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Social Stress. International conference in San Marino, September 2004 (forthcoming 2013).


Agriculture with its main components farming and animal husbandry, as well as the major part of non-agrarian production (village based craft working and forest exploitation), are in principal well attested in the rural sphere of life both for the Baiuvarii and Thuringi. According to general assumptions based on literary evidences (Devroey 2001) and judging from the picture offered by settlement archaeology (for Thuringia see: Gringmuth-Dallmer 1983) far more than 90 per cent of the population must have been active in this sphere of rural economy.

A more superficial first view on information about economics which comes from a handful of written sources, iconography and the insufficiently known and analyzed archaeological evidence may easily produce the image of an early medieval rural economy, especially of agriculture, that in the words of Lynn White Jr. (1967) was “amazingly primitive – almost Neolithic”. Natural scientists have actually assumed that cultivated crops in post-Roman Bavaria were not much different compared to the Neolithic (Küster 1992) and the spectrum of domestic animals would not differ in principal from that of former times (von den Driesch et al. 1992). George Duby (1981), when evaluating the situation of the Carolingian times manorial estate of Staffelsee in Bavaria, which belonged to the church of Augsburg and was described in the Brevium Exempla (transl. Franz 1974), where no iron agricultural implements for ploughing are attested in the inventory of the curtis dominica, came to the conclusion that in Carolingian times Bavaria more often than not peasants had to work their fields virtually with their hands and fingernails or at least with simple wooden tools of Neolithic quality. A more developed agricultural practice would have spread over the territories east of the Rhine only after the new invented Frankish manorial system successively changed the traditional peasants’ backwardness in a difficult educational process that extended until the year 1000 AD and after.

What was the situation in Bavaria and Thuringia between fifth and eighth centuries? Did the Franks really conquer territories east of the Rhine that were underdeveloped and characterized by rural production structures of almost prehistoric outlook? Did they move eastward with the intention to invent technological and social improvements and ameliorations through establishing bigger manorial estates of the church, of the king and of the laic aristocracy? What about the so-called ‘agricultural revolution’ (White Jr. 1940, Duby 1954, Herlihy 1958 and recently Mitterauer 2004), the postulated upturn of the technological basis first of the large estates in the Frankish west starting with the establishment of the bipartite manorial system (Hägermann/Schneider 1991), which later should have influenced step by step the rural sphere of peasantry and led to the impressive high standard of agricultural technology and methods visible after 1000 AD from iconography and written sources? Did the‘agricultural revolution’ reach the east not until royal and ecclesiastical manorial complexes copyingthe Frankish model were established in Bavaria and Thuringia in the eighth to tenth centuries?

A more detailed examination of the sources seems to be necessary for solving this problem.