More danico

The phrase more danico is a Mediaeval Latin legalistic expression which may be translated as "in the Danish manner" or "by Norse customary law". It designates a type of traditional Germanic marriage practiced in northern Europe during the Middle Ages.

The institution

The examples that have come down to us involve powerful rulers in a union with a highborn woman of somewhat lesser rank. Rarely, it occurred to legitimize an abduction, as with Rollo and Poppa, who was taken after a battle at Paris; but this is not a defining characteristic. While Roman law had not distinguished between elopement and abduction (both being raptus in parentes), the distinction was significant in Germanic law. Still, according to Reynolds, the consent of the parentes was required in the more danico case. This consent could still be obtained after the fact, if an elopement was involved.

The word "secular" here should not be interpreted to mean that no context of Germanic religion was involved. Although the form of any ritual that might have been employed is unknown, it is sometimes assumed that it was a type of handfasting.

More danico permitted polygyny (serial or simultaneous), but is not synonymous with it. The "putting away" of a more danico wife could apparently be done at the mere wish of the husband; the rights of the wife are unclear. Often the putting away was done with the intention of marrying a still higher-ranking woman more christiano; but since there are numerous instances of the husband returning to the more danico wife, it is possible that the relationship had merely been deactivated or kept in the background. The union could also be fully dissolved, so that the wife was free to marry another man. Her consent in the matter may or may not have been required; again, the consensual aspect is unknown. (See below.)

By tradition and customary law, the children of such a relationship were in no way considered of lesser rank or disadvantaged with respect to inheritance. Many sons more danico went on to become dukes or kings by succession or conquest.

Increasingly discouraged by the Christian church, the practice gradually died out. Proponents of the Friedelehe theory claimed that the institution left a vestige in the institution of morganatic marriage, but this interpretation is now discredited.

Status of Germanic marriages in a Christian society

It was not until the nation consciousness of the western nations was well developed and national laws were codified that it became the norm that all persons in a country were to be subject to the same law. Previously, each man was held accountable according to the laws of his own people.

By accepting baptism and vassalage under a Christian prince under Charles the Simple after the Treaty of Saint Clair-sur-Epte in 911, Rollo had placed the Vikings of Normandy on the inevitable path of Christianization; but they clung to some old customs.

There was a perennial political tension between canon law and the traditional law. The Church deprecated traditional unions at every chance, employing the terms "bastardy" and "concubinage" to consolidate its own power. On a purely political level, temporal rulers of more fully Christianized entities did not ignore the advantage of denigrating their enemies in moral terms with respect to their marriage customs, as for example did Archbishop Mauger and Count William of Talou in their attacks on William the Bastard.

The instrumentality of Christian clergy at a marriage ceremony was not specifically required by the Church until the Council of Trent on November 11, 1563.

Historical examples

The Roman ethnographer Tacitus writing in his De origine et situ Germanorum described the customs of the Germanic tribes and praised their monogamy. However, by the Viking age they had acquired a reputation for their polygyny.

Speaking of the Swedes, Adam von Bremen said:

North Germanic

Norman

Danish-English

Hiberno-Norse

West Germanic

Frankish

Any discussion of West Germanic marriage customs leads directly into a consideration of the Frankish Lex Salica. Its well-known inheritance laws, resulting in the institution of morganatic marriage, reflect customary marriage arrangements structured according to the status of the bride.

Although the term more danico is not generally applied to their unions, the Merovingian and Carolingian kings had a similar practice.

The Latin phrase

Known to us from the histories of William of Jumièges and Orderic Vitalis, the purport of the phrase more danico is based in both the historical context, as well as in the meaning of the words within the fabric of the Latin language and the underlying Old Norse.

Orderic Vitalis spoke Old English until the age of ten, when he was forced to adopt Norman French; he wrote in a stilted, but fluent and educated Mediaeval Latin. In the vernacular he would have spoken of the custom as danesche manere (Norman French), as would William of Jumièges, who was Norman, but also wrote in Latin.

More

More "by custom" is an "ablative of manner", the subject form being mos. In Lewis & Short's Latin Dictionary, the semantic range of the Latin word mos is elongated along the axis of arbitrary?required, extending from "wont" or "caprice" on the one end, to "law" or "precept" on the other end:

Thus the term mos/mor- captures the ambiguity between the official Christian view of the practice as a despicable and self-indulgent "fashion", on the one hand, and the Germanic institution sanctioned by ancient traditional "law", on the other hand.

Danico

During the Viking Age, the essentially tribal entities that became the modern Scandinavian nations differed in some customs, but had a concept of themselves as a unity. For example, according to the Gray Goose Laws of the Icelandic Commonwealth recorded in 1117, Swedes, Norwegians, Icelanders and Danes spoke the same language, using'' or dansk tunga ("Danish tongue") or norrønt mál ("Nordic language") to name their language, Old Norse. Here "dansk" meant "Norse". Furthermore, "more danico'' (Danish efter dansk skik'') was not merely a "Norse custom", but prevalent among other Germanic peoples such as the Franks (see below).

It is also worth noting that Rollo, founder of the Norman dynasty, is claimed as Norwegian in the Norse sagas, but as Danish by William of Jumieges.

References

Bibliography

See also

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