# How did kings and nobles come about?

What I mean is, how did tribal leaders evolve from being just the strongest men in the room to being complete rulers over large societies?

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Jasongreat
What I mean is, how did tribal leaders evolve from being just the strongest men in the room to being complete rulers over large societies?
Well the strongest men in one room decided that they were stronger than the strongest in the next room and invaded and conquered, then they set their eyes to the next and the next and pretty soon they were a big enough group that there was little chance the smaller tribes could stand up to them. This continued until pretty soon the stronger men of a single tribe ruled a country then another and pretty soon a continent. Once they ruled a continent, and even to a limited degree before that, they gave conquered land to their buddies, for services rendered or to subdue some rebelious tendencies of others, who then became nobles, imo.

Oh but it is much, much more complex than that. You can look to the lives of male lions for a demonstration of how it works when it is simply a matter of who is strongest. The life of a male lion tends to be short and brutal.

There has always been much more to it than that with human politics. The administration of a large scale regime requires assistance and cooperation from people you can trust. That trust is best won if there is something in it for them. Even better if their interests are entirely dependant on your remaining in power. It is a long time since being king or even being a nobleman depended on your physical strength. Loyalty and betrayal have long been what it is really all about. Much literature, from Greek plays, through Shakespeare to modern day novels, films and television series has been created to portray the processes by which power is won and maintained. And if one message underlies them all, it is that those processes are generally pretty unedifying. It is not the nice guys of this world that hold power.

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It's easy to understand how a leader might rise to prominence. The real question is how do their heirs hold that power? At some point, the population must either accept them as leaders, or succumb to force. In return, the leaders must protect them from outside forces and promote a common interest to survive.

arildno
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What I mean is, how did tribal leaders evolve from being just the strongest men in the room to being complete rulers over large societies?
In zillion different ways, giving rise to quadrillion different types of kingship and nobility.

A more answerable question would be:

How did the western world manage to wrest itself out of the grip of the nobles, a feat that is practically unprecedented within similarly highly organized societies?

Evo
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How did the western world manage to wrest itself out of the grip of the nobles, a feat that is practically unprecedented within similarly highly organized societies?
I read that the Black plague had a lot to do with it. The gaps in society created opportunity for lower class commoners to move up the chain, own land, go into business.

arildno
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I read that the Black plague had a lot to do with it. The gaps in society created opportunity for lower class commoners to move up the chain, own land, go into business.
Hmm. Going up the chain doesn't mean that the topmost layer will be any more solidaric towards those remaining behind.
Although the Black Plague probably was a period with accelerated influx in the nobility, it doesn't follow that those comprising the nobility lost much power over their remaining (or new) subordinates.
Personally, I'd favor the middle of the 17th century as the tipping point, where effective royal absolutism at the expense of noble power by means of civilian bureaucracy had its heyday.
The bureaucrat was in no position to build up a gang of followers or a landbase to start a feudal fragmentation of power, as had been the perennial head-ache for kings for centuries.

(The Norman monarchs of Britain had sought to prevent such fragmentation by splitting up the lands each noble had, the Germans uder the Ottonians had tried to make celibate bishops into competing potentates (and with less ability to feudalize for the benefit of their..progeny).)

But once the nobility's power had been curbed by the absolute monarch (with bloody rebellions like the Fronde), the civilian bureaucratic society had no use for the monarch either. His head might as well be lopped off...

Evo
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Don't forget all of the peasant revolts.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Popular_revolt_in_late_medieval_Europe

The plague did more than just devastate the medieval population; it caused a substantial change in economy and society in all areas of the world. Economic historians like Fernand Braudel have concluded that Black Death exacerbated a recession in the European economy that had been under way since the beginning of the century. As a consequence, social and economic change greatly accelerated during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The church's power was weakened and, in some cases, the social roles it had played were taken over by secular groups. Also the plague led to peasant uprisings in many parts of Europe, such as France (the Jacquerie rebellion), Italy (the Ciompi rebellion, which swept the city of Florence), and in England (the English Peasant Revolt).

Europe had been overpopulated before the plague, and a reduction of 30% to 50% of the population could have resulted in higher wages and more available land and food for peasants because of less competition for resources. However, for reasons that are still debated, population levels declined after the Black Death's first outbreak until around 1420 and did not begin to rise again until 1470, so the initial Black Death event on its own does not entirely provide a satisfactory explanation to this extended period of decline in prosperity. See Medieval demography for a more complete treatment of this issue and current theories on why improvements in living standards took longer to evolve.

The great population loss brought economic changes based on increased social mobility, as depopulation further eroded the peasants' already weakened obligations to remain on their traditional holdings. In the wake of the drastic population decline brought on by the plague, authorities in Western Europe worked to maintain social order through instituting wage controls.[18] These governmental controls were set in place to ensure that workers received the same salary post-plague as they had before the onslaught of the Black Death.[16] Within England, for example, the Ordinance of Labourers, created in 1349, and the Statute of Labourers, created in 1351, restricted both wage increases and the relocation of workers.[19] If workers attempted to leave their current post, employers were given the right to have them imprisoned.[16] The Statute was strictly enforced in some areas. For example, 7,556 people in the county of Essex were fined for deviating from the Statute in 1352.[20] However, despite examples such as Essex, the Statute quickly proved to be difficult to enforce due to the scarcity of labour.

In Western Europe, the sudden shortage of cheap labour provided an incentive for landlords to compete for peasants with wages and freedoms, an innovation that, some argue[weasel words], represents the roots of capitalism, and the resulting social upheaval "caused" the Renaissance, and even the Reformation. In many ways the Black Death and its aftermath improved the situation of surviving peasants, notably by the end of the 15th century. In Western Europe, labourers gained more power and were more in demand because of the shortage of labour. In gaining more power, workers following the Black Death often moved away from annual contracts in favour of taking on successive temporary jobs that offered higher wages.[21] Workers such as servants now had the opportunity to leave their current employment to seek better-paying, more attractive positions in areas previously off limits to them.[16] Another positive aspect of the period was that there was more fertile land available to the population; however, the benefits would not be fully realized until 1470, nearly 120 years later, when overall population levels finally began to rise again.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consequences_of_the_Black_Death#Social_and_economic_effects

I've pulled a couple of books I'll try to skim through tonight (wish I could remember the book I read a few years ago) and see if I can come up with a better discussion.

Hmmm. There is something happening here for which I have been scolded in the past. Though I agree that the discussion as redefined by arildno promises to be a much more stimulating and interesting one, it is equally clear to me that it is not what the OP asked. This term ‘OP’, though I daresay it is common on forums, is one with which I was entirely unfamiliar before I came to this site. But it seems to me that there is fairly frequent mention here of the ‘intentions of the OP’, or debate about what the OP did or did not ask, or mentor admonishments of contributors who take their eye off the ball the OP tossed into the ring. I’m certainly not looking to stifle the discussion that is just taking off, nor even proposing the establishment of a new thread. I suppose I’m just registering my consciousness of what’s happening.

In any case, the usual account of the end of feudalism and the growth of democracy traces its origins to ‘The Enlightenment’, which is often seen as something that happened to the arts, but that was critically underpinned by a changing philosophical view of society. Which leads to the other point about the role of certain philosophers and their writings, and how influential they were. (As is so common among scientists, I have seen several cases of contributors to this site questioning the function and the value of philosophy. Surely this is one demonstration of its fundamental importance!) Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Thomas Paine being key figures here.

And then there were the two big revolutions. One in France and the other among a group of upstart colonialists who had some crazy notion that the fact that they paid taxes meant that they had some right to a say in how those taxes were used. It’s been a tale of ongoing development of those principles ever since, and clearly, the project is still not complete. There was, of course, also a rather significant civil war among those same erstwhile colonialists that some chap in a tall hat analysed as a test of democracy’s feasibility in a rather famous and unusually succinct speech. And then the European nations decided to further that test by bashing hell out of each other for half a century before working out that economic cooperation might be a slightly better way of doing it.

Well that’s my two minute version of it…

arildno
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In many ways the Black Death and its aftermath improved the situation of surviving peasants, notably by the end of the 15th century. In Western Europe, labourers gained more power and were more in demand because of the shortage of labour. In gaining more power, workers following the Black Death often moved away from annual contracts in favour of taking on successive temporary jobs that offered higher wages.[21] Workers such as servants now had the opportunity to leave their current employment to seek better-paying, more attractive positions in areas previously off limits to them.
Unless nobles were restricted in their capacity to fire those who didn't please them, I do not see that a higher mobility of the labourers is to their unambiguous advantage.

but no one has answered the OP!

--have I missed it?

What I mean is, how did tribal leaders evolve from being just the strongest men in the room to being complete rulers over large societies?
What is it in the character of make-up of a leader that gains him dominance over other leaders?

arildno
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but no one has answered the OP!

--have I missed it?

What is it in the character of make-up of a leader that gains him dominance over other leaders?
there is much one could say:
1. As direct descendants of the core lineage.
2. As interpreters of the god's Will
3. Accrual of prestige at critical times.
4. Accrual of dominance in a slightly asymmetric tit-for-tat subsistence economy.
On the last one, think of a peasant village with little more than subsistence existence.
Social relations will naturally build up around smoothening individual members' periods of bad luck vs. good luck, i.e, communal sharing (this doesn't mean that cheaters and parasites who never contribute will be tolerated. on the contrary..)

However, if one member systematically is materially superior than the others, he'll never be on the receiving end, but only on the giving end.
that is, unless he is given compensation for that, for example a heavier "word" in the village council, the rest of the community will, in practice, be parasites on his perennial good fortune.
And thereby, such individuals will grow into a position of local dominance that the others, however grumblingly, will see the moral justification of.

Evo
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I'd favor the middle of the 17th century as the tipping point, where effective royal absolutism at the expense of noble power by means of civilian bureaucracy had its heyday.
The bureaucrat was in no position to build up a gang of followers or a landbase to start a feudal fragmentation of power, as had been the perennial head-ache for kings for centuries.

(The Norman monarchs of Britain had sought to prevent such fragmentation by splitting up the lands each noble had, the Germans uder the Ottonians had tried to make celibate bishops into competing potentates (and with less ability to feudalize for the benefit of their..progeny).)

But once the nobility's power had been curbed by the absolute monarch (with bloody rebellions like the Fronde), the civilian bureaucratic society had no use for the monarch either. His head might as well be lopped off...
Should we focus on this period then? Sounds good to me.

arildno
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Should we focus on this period then? Sounds good to me.
That period is, at the very least, closely related to the time when the nobility lost their local position as judge,jury&executor of punishment for misdemeanors and other crimes committed by "their" small-folk.

That this legalistic battle (with the central authority and its representatives) would not have happened unless there had been a period of gestation before it, is pretty clear.

Whether that gestation period had its ultimate origin in the Black Plague or in, say, the rise of feudally independent townships is harder to make out.

Many societies have decided that they no longer want Kings or similar
e.g.
Israelites
Athenian democracy
Roman Republic
English Civil War
French Revolution
Weimar Republic
Russian Revolution

Their alternatives just never seem to last very long before a new absolute leader emerges.

there is much one could say:
1. As direct descendants of the core lineage.
2. As interpreters of the god's Will
3. Accrual of prestige at critical times.
4. Accrual of dominance in a slightly asymmetric tit-for-tat subsistence economy.
On the last one, think of a peasant village with little more than subsistence existence.
Social relations will naturally build up around smoothening individual members' periods of bad luck vs. good luck, i.e, communal sharing (this doesn't mean that cheaters and parasites who never contribute will be tolerated. on the contrary..)

However, if one member systematically is materially superior than the others, he'll never be on the receiving end, but only on the giving end.
that is, unless he is given compensation for that, for example a heavier "word" in the village council, the rest of the community will, in practice, be parasites on his perennial good fortune.
And thereby, such individuals will grow into a position of local dominance that the others, however grumblingly, will see the moral justification of.
Fascinating. I came up with maybe two out of your four. Is there a rise to dominance of any particular historical figure that most catches your interest, and how it came about?

arildno
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It is perhaps more of a period that catches my interest, rather than a particular person:
The early middle ages, i.e, post-antiquity to-and-through Carolingian times.

This is when Europe as we know it was forged.

Some bigshots I've had the pleasure to read:
1. Marc Bloch and his pioneering "Feudal Society". Although the study of feudalism (and the rise of it) has gone different ways after his study, it remains essential in uncovering "What questions to ask", if not "What are the answer?"

More directly on the Early Middle Ages,
Chris Wickham's monumental "Framing the Early Middle Ages" is indispensable.
It is particularly good at arguing that nobility had sufffered a systemic shock by the dissolution of the Roman Empire, and in the power vacuum created, more egalitarian, closed peasant economies developed, particularly in France. The swift re-tribalization of post-Roman Britain is also commendably shown.

As Marc Bloch showed, most of the noble families dominating in the High Middle Ages could not trace their lineages further back than the murky 9th and tenth centuries, that corresponds to the re-nobilization period of Wickham's, when the nobles' tentacles regrasped the hold of intermittently independent peasant communities.

A major study on the importance of migrations throughout this period that should be mentioned is Peter Heather's "Empires and Barbarians".

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arildno
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To take a nobility that started out as essentialy a priesthood, we need look no further than the patricians of ancient Rome.

Religion&power was tightly interwoven in Rome ( as in most countries), and since consuls, censors, praetors and similar offices had many religious functions, the patricians could claim a pre-eminence for such offices in the Republic, since they were, essentially, the Fathers of the constituent tribes of Rome, with particular affinities with the Gods. (They had particular religious duties as well, for example the marriage type they "ought" to contract).
The rich members of the non-patrician plebeians resented this, and internal bickering in the civic elite brought about the merging of the two classes, into a nobilitas, with essentially pecuniary asset estimation as entrance criterion.

I'm as fascinated with history as I am ignorant, arildno, and living in Los Angeles where the hour is 3:40 am for me.

Do you have a particular part of Middle Ages Europe you are most fond of? England, the German states, France? I think of the middle ages as the interrarium following the break-down of Roman imperial rule by force with the emergence of a Papal dominance, initially weak, still out of Rome.

arildno
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Do you have a particular part of Middle Ages Europe you are most fond of? England, the German states, France? I think of the middle ages as the interrarium following the break-down of Roman imperial rule by force with the emergence of a Papal dominance, initially weak, still out of Rome.
1. Roman dominance of Germany had ended back in the 3rd century. Those piss-poor provinces never paid off much, either (Neither did Britain). When the imperial chaos with soldier emperors worsened as the 3rd century progressed, Germany slipped out of Rome's grasp. But Rome's wealth did, of course, remain in the minds of the Germanic tribes..

2. It is a hotly contested question how deleterious and catastrophic the 5th century Germanic invasions really were, and in which form they are to be called "invasions", rather than "elite replacements", with much of the social fabric intact.
Walter Goffart is the pre-eminent historian espousing the "elite replacement" theory (with his seminal 1980's book "The Techniques of Accomodation" being indispensable reading), whereas Peter Heather is building up his reputation as we speak as a spokesman for the traditionalist, yet highly modified "invasion" hypothesis.

3. On the technical field, the early middle ages were no Dark ages at all, with many types of inventive technology having its roots here:
new types of ploughs, development of water mills, development of forge/smelting technology, and new harnesses so that horses could replace the ox as the primary beast of burden.

Evo
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More directly on the Early Middle Ages,
Chris Wickham's monumental "Framing the Early Middle Ages" is indispensable.
Egads, the book costs $220.00. arildno your knowledge is just amazing. Do you own a vast library? arildno Science Advisor Homework Helper Gold Member Dearly Missed Egads, the book costs$220.00.
In hardcover, perhaps?
I bought mine, in paperback, from amazon.com for just under 50$https://www.amazon.com/dp/0199212961/?tag=pfamazon01-20&tag=pfamazon01-20 The book takes a panoramic view of the whole Mediterranean region, plus developments on the fringes of the previous Roman Empire, like Ireland, Scandinavia, Germany (but not the Slavonic regions). The time frame is roughly 400-800AD. arildno your knowledge is just amazing. Do you own a vast library? I own most of the history books I've read, yes. I have to spend my money on something besides cigarettes Last edited by a moderator: Evo Mentor In hardcover, perhaps? I bought mine, in paperback, from amazon.com for just under 50$
https://www.amazon.com/dp/0199212961/?tag=pfamazon01-20&tag=pfamazon01-20

The book takes a panoramic view of the whole Mediterranean region, plus developments on the fringes of the previous Roman Empire, like Ireland, Scandinavia, Germany (but not the Slavonic regions).
The time frame is roughly 400-800AD.

I own most of the history books I've read, yes. I have to spend my money on something besides cigarettes
I rather liked hordes of barbarian invaders.

I'd love to read your collection, is much of it in English?

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arildno
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I rather liked hordes of barbarian invaders.
then you should definitely invest in Peter Heather's "The Fall of The Roman Empire", a mere 12 bucks read:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/0195325419/?tag=pfamazon01-20&tag=pfamazon01-20
Astronuc has also read that one.
It is the most up-to-date invasion hypothesis study of this event.