The Foederites Germanorum (English: Confederation of Germania) was a loose tribute system between kingdoms in Eastern Europe, where a person from the court of every kingdom elected one king as High King above other monarchs. Few kingdoms or city-states in the Confederation were forbidden an elector in the Germanik þing but larger kingdoms often forced the þing to allocate them more electors.
Although members of the Confederation constantly fought one another in open wars and some kingdoms were plagued by internal unrest that rebellious lords instigated, the system persisted for nearly 200 years before being torn apart by the aspirations of certain kings. After one war fragmented the Confederation, its remnants continued to exist as a more coherent alliance of monarchs, orbiting the sphere of influence of the Gothic Kings, until steppe nomads from the East laid waste to half of the realms and claimed that land as their own.
From its beginning, the system was solely a means for kings to retain allies in the event that Rome or the legendary nomadic empires of the Far East attempted to conquer their realms. Association was the result of temporary unity under the Hunnic Confederation, facilitated after the death of King Attila by the intervention of Rome in an attempt to keep this original confederation together long enough for the Huns to enforce a mass migration away from the Roman world. Motives of fear and hope kept kings in the Confederation, despite the requirements of paying tribute to a High King and oweing him reverence.
The remnant of the Confederation became far more unified than the old system, with kings adopting one religion and serving one purpose. Unfortunately for its monarchs, the Confederation was surrounded by other kingdoms on all sides and often opposed to Roman interests in Eastern Europe. When its strongest members were lost, the union fell apart and the remaining kingdoms forged their own paths.
Over the two centuries from inception to fragmentation, the kingdoms of the Confederation nearly quadrupled in population as they settled into more organized agriculture and as settlements arose around the manors of territorial lords. By 800 CE, the realms of the Germanic and Sarmatian kingdoms were one of the major population centers of the world and gave birth to unique directions of art and religion.
From the beginning, the diversity and freedom of the kingdoms within the Confederation made general descriptions impossible without the occasional over-generalization or mention of exceptions. For example, the culture alone ranged from Sclavonic (Slavic) to Sarmatian, with even the Germanic culture inbetween varying dramatically between different realms. Even forms of government varied, but no difference was greater than that between steppe monarchies and the Germanic kingship, where the former did not even tie positions of power to land. By the 8th century, the rump kingdoms of the union had settled into more clearly defined political structures, although the nature of these systems led Romans to adamantly refuse to characterize them as "political" since there was no public participation.
Authority to govern a territory evolved from the simple monarchies that held Germanic tribes together before the Huns arrived. Most systems of this kind involved the allegiance of community or tribal leaders to a distant chieftain, who offered the protection of the entire kingdom to these local groups in exchange for tribute and levies of warriors. When tribal leaders settled land after the great migration, a person owned the land that he worked and no customs or laws existed to settle claims. There are few records of how disputes over land ownership got resolved or how frequent they were. However, the payment of tribute started as a practice of each community, under the knowledge that their tax and offers of military service were repaid by the protection of the king to whom they were offered. By the 7th century, this system had become a custom and was enforced by the laws of the king. Instead of paying tribute as a community, peasants simply owed their lord, who usually descended from the tribal leader of their ancestors, a regular tax and the lord himself owed a tax to his king who in turn paid tribute to the High King.
Although the system was not inherently oppressive, a peasant could be forced to give enough food that he could not feed his family during the Winter and starvation was not uncommon in later times (whereas in the early days, the tribal procedure of tribute and lordship tended to encourage a communal support for the weak and starving). Once a system of land tenure became the custom, the Germanic kingdoms were organized into hierarchies of fiefs. Each fief was a plot of land owned by one man who exacted rent from the people who worked that land but who owed his allegiance and various forms of tribute to another man. Different cultures had a different word for such land but most were derived from the Latin terms pagis (canton) or centeni (hundred) or from local terms such as scira (shire). These terms evolved alongside the diverse languages of the kingdoms.
Ownership of a fief was in the hands of a single person and was usually associated with a title to refer to the owner. Different terms for these lords tended to come from the Latin comitem (companion of a ruler), dux (general), augustus (emperor), or senator. The most consistent title in the Confederation was the Auguste (Grand Duke), who governed the Free Fiefs (Augusties) that existed in the Confederation but had no allegiance to any king other than the High King. Most of these lands were city-states that formed around the hall or manor of a community leader who had no king but some gained their independence over the course of the history of the Confederation, notably the powerful port towns along the Black Sea. Many Augusties were targeted by nearby kings, since they did not have the populations to field large armies but a few survived until the end of the Confederation.
The lord of a fief usually had his own hall, where he lived and watched over his land as well as peasants. As the sons of lords left or lords set out to acquire new land, the great kingdoms grew along the frontiers and the lesser kingdoms were overtaken by strong nations. Otherwise, a kingdom grew when its king or one of its lord received the allegiance of a tribal leader outside his own land. In this way, thousands of Sclavonic tribes joined the Confederation and the northern kingdoms of the Lombards and of the Franks became the largest and most powerful realms.
A King (Kunig in Saxonic, Kong in Gothic or Bavarian, Kranig in Frank, Reiks in Lombard or Anglic) was distinguished from other lords by his sacral significance and judicial authority. His vassal lords were subject to his laws and his people worshipped the gods of his household, indeed the entire culture of a kingdom (Kunigtum, Kongreich, Kranigost, Reikaz) was often influenced by the beliefs and customs of his court. Equivalents to kingship are found in the upper echelons of the Avar and Bulgar territories, as expressed by their terms Khan, Khagan, and Qagan (Monarch) as well as Khaganate and Qaganate (Kingdom).
As a liege lord, most kings were owed the loyalties and tribute of several great aristocratic houses, although the structure of these liege networks varied. In the Gothic and Lombard realms, the king was the liege of a small number of Dukes or Dukz (Dukes) who were themselves the liege lords of lesser houses. The power of these duchies caused frequent civil wars within those kingdoms but also gave the kingdoms great strength in war when their internal affairs were stable.
Above all kings was the Kaisar Germanik (High King of the Germans), who was elected to maintain order among the kings and grand dukes as well as to call all the realms together for war against outsiders. Every kingdom and some augusties kept princes or high priests in the household of the reigning Kaisar, as his Concile Germanik (Germanik þing, or Assembly of the Germans) which advised him. When a Kaisar died, his Concile elected his successor from among the kings and augustes of the realms. Since a Kaisar received tribute from all feudal lords and could call upon every Germanic kingdom in war, his realm possessed extraordinary revenues and could field the strongest of armies during his reign.
A King stood above his lords in matters of law, religion, and war. The last meant that a king had the right to exercise his rights against the attacks of other kings or unfaithful lords, through his power to levy an army. Wars between kingdoms were not impossible under the laws of the Confederation, nor were they infrequent, but every king was expected to kneel at the word of his Kaisar, who was only to intervene when a war threatened the stability of the Confederation itself.
Wars involving the entire Confederation were rare, due to the difficulty in mobilizing peasants over great distances. However, the Kaisars throughout history were often forced to levy local forces to keep the peace. A Kaisar was well within his rights to raise the entire Confederation to arms at his pleasure but such an event never manifested and would have only resulted in madness. In principle, around a tenth of the population was obliged to assemble for war at their lord's call, meaning the Confederation at its peak could have raised an army numbering in the millions if it had the capacity to support a beast of that size.
The khaganates had a different sort of custom for war. Their lifestyles were more martial and pastoral than the agrarian societies of the regular kingdoms but they were constantly fighting among each other after the deaths of powerful khans died. Armies of a sort were constantly mobilized for war and constituted a large portion of their small semi-nomadic populations.
Every lord delivered justice within his own lands according to the ways of his own people. Germans abided by a primitive sort of common law where a man could appeal to his lord when he believed himself or a friend to be treated unjustly and then await the ruling of his lord based on neither written nor customary laws. In effect, a poor ruling would either pass without incident or be met with the ire of the common people, with no standard for lawful judgements. However, a man could also appeal to a higher lord up to the High King himself should he feel it necessary to travel that distance for his case.
A lord of high standing could effortlessly overrule the judgements of his vassals, although even this ruling could be met with an insurrection on a different scale by the lord whose authority had been called into question. Again, the standard for laws rested in the reaction of his subjects and his own liege to his judgement.
After the Liberation War (664-681), the Confederation lost over four-fifths of its territories as they each gained independence. The defeat left it landlocked with only five kingdoms and eleven augusties. On its border, five of the seven kingdoms that had issued forth from its fragmentation stood, at odds with their origin. From largest to smallest, these free kingdoms were:
- the Great Sarmatian Empire
- the Kingdom of Lombardy
- the Kingdom of Francia
- the Khaganate of the Bulgars (Bulgaria)
- the Saxon Kingdom (Saxony)
- the Three Kingdoms of the Angles and the Andals (Angland)
- the Kingdom of Kiev
At its peak, the High King of the Confederation levied an army of 140,000 men, mostly taken from the ranks of the peasantry but accompanied by regiments of Gothic cavalry and nomadic horse archers. Facing this army, the host of 40,000 foot soldiers and ~700 horsemen that came from Lombardy were desperately outmatched. After the fragmentation, the capacity to levy soldiers that a Kaisar possessed grew with improvements in agricultural practice and the logistics of mobilizing large armies.
When the Huns were overthrown, their confederation consisted of 4 million people, most of whom had migrated with High King Ilek after his father's defeat against Rome. These people settled into unorganized agrarian societies dotted with villages and a few larger towns, each somehow connected to the original tribal society of their migratory years. The population swelled both from the bounties of newly sown farmland and the acceptance of other nomadic tribes into the confederation.
Unfortunately, the lands of Eastern Europe were far from the fertile plains around the Mediterranean, limiting the Confederation's capacity for agriculture. Nature kept the density of people down through famine and plague but their numbers slowly grew.
By 664 CE, the confederation reached its peak population of 16 million, distributed among its kingdoms as follows:
- Kingdom of Lombardy: 2,700,000 Germans and Sclavenes
- Kingdom of the Alans: 2,300,000 Sarmatians
- Kingdom of Francia: 2,200,000 Germans and Sclavenes
- Marcommanic Kingdom: 1,300,000 Dacians
- Khaganate of the Bulgars: 1,100,000 Bulgars and other steppe people
- Kingdom of the Ostrogoths: 1,100,000 Germans
- Kingdom of Saxony: 990,000 Germans
- Kingdom of Bohemia: 920,000 Germans
- Thoringian Kingdom: 840,000 Germans
- Angland: 730,000 Germans
- Kingdom of the Andals: 580,000 Germans
- Kingdom of Kiev: 320,000 Sclavenes
- Free Fiefs and other kingdoms: 1.1 million Germans, Sclavenes, Dacians, and Sarmatians
From the late 7th century, the speech of Germans in the confederation was a motley of the Gothic tongue and other Germanic languages. Around 850, High King Gerivald (III) created the first endogenous record of the reign of a High King, recruiting some priests to create a unified alphabet for the Goths and other Germans. Bavarian, as his new lexography came to be called, was enforced in royal courts to facilitate communication between kings through letters. The Gothic language written in Bavarian script became the lingua franca of the ruling class eventually supplanting local languages within royal households and the high nobility.
While Gothic remained the upper class language of the Bohemian, Bavarian, and Gothic realms (even after the latter's collapse), the former members of the Confederation had developed distinct languages of their own. The most widespread languages outside of the Confederation were Latina, Hellenike (Greek), Langobarda (Lombard), Frantsina (Frankish), and Anglish.
The creation of Bavarian marked the beginning of a literary tradition in the Germanic world, preceding the River Chronicles of Lombardy by almost half a century. This period is the start of Germanic history written by locals rather than Romans.
Kingdom of Gotha
Formerly the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths, the powerful Kingdom of Gotha was foremost of the five kingdoms that composed the Confederation after the Liberation War. After High King Viseric proclaimed his rights to the former Vesigothic lands in 794, each rulers styled himself as King of Gotha, the High Lord of All the Goths. As frequent holders of the high kingship, the Gothic kings were viewed by foreigners as the ruling power behind the confederation.
Unfortunately for the Goths, their aspirations of forming a regional empire were dashed by the invasion of the Khazar Turks. By 810, their High Lord was a prisoner and their lands fully occupied by the Khazars. As the dominant member of the Confederation, Gotha brought down the entire alliance with its fall, leading to the dissolution of the office of High King.
Centuries later, the Gothic lands were reunited under a single ruler, whose conquests managed to incorporate parts of Vesigothic land that had been under the Lombards for centuries. This Kingdom of Gotha became a major player in the political struggles of Eastern Europe in the wake of the Roman Civil War.