Rules and Rituals in Medieval Power Games

A German Perspective


Gerd Althoff´s new book collects fifteen of his more recent contributions, most of them previously published in German, which elucidate the functioning of prestate societies. Examples from the Frankish and later German realm (800-1200) are used to clarify how rules and political rituals governed behavior in the power games between kings, churchmen and nobles. Such rules (Spielregeln) and rituals guided public and private behavior despite the fact that they existed only as unwritten customs. The long-overlooked significance of this way of establishing order has sparked a vivid and controversial international discussion in the last decades which continues today.

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Gerd Althoff, Ph.D. (1974), Münster, has been Full and Senior Professor of Medieval History at that university from 1997-2018. His many publications include Spielregeln der Politik im Mittelalter (WBG, 1997); Die Macht der Rituale (WBG, 2003); and Family, Friends and Followers (Cambridge University Press, 2009).
"This volume is a welcome contribution. Gerd Althoff is a major German historian of the early Middle Ages whose generation of scholars developed a new perspective on German political history [...] The value of the cultural turn as found in the work of Gerd Althoff and his generation of historians has provided a signal service – most especially in German historiography – of separating medieval German history from the awfully destructive legacy of an intense nationalistic modern historiography centered on the German state. For helping provide this specific »German Perspective« we are in his debt and can appreciate the import of this volume in his honor."
Joseph P. Huffman, in Francia 2020 (4).
List of Illustrations
Original Publications

Part 1: Introduction

1 What Exactly Are Spielregeln?

2 Spielregeln and Rituals

3 Spielregeln, Order of Rank and Conflicts

Part 2: Rules

4 Authority and Violence of Kings in Tenth and Eleventh Century Germany

5 Rules of Conflict among the Warrior Aristocracy of the High Middle Ages

6 Openness and Secrecy: Two Fundamental Categories of Medieval Communication

7 Saxon Bishops in the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries: Strategies and Rules of Their Political Activities

8 The Perspective of an Expert: Gislebert of Mons

Part 3: Rituals

9 Rituals and Their “Spielregeln” in the Middle Ages

10 The Variability of Rituals

11 Rituals as Lingua Franca? Joint Cultural Practises at the Eastern Borders of the Realm

12 Symbolic Communication and Medieval Order: Strengths and Weaknesses of Ambiguous Signs

Part 4: Gregorian Revolution

13 Papal Authority in the High Middle Ages

14 Communicating Papal Primacy: the Impact of Gregory VII’s Ideas (11th–13th Century)

15 Examples of Justifying and Rejecting Churchly Violence at the Time of the Gregorian Revolution

Part 5: History in Literature

16 Do Poets Play with the Rules of Society?

17 Heroes Who Break the Mould: Duke Ernst and the Emperor Otto

Works Cited
All scholars, students and others who wish to understand the functioning of prestate societies, unwritten customs, binding rituals, institutions of decision-making and means of compromise.
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