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A ministerial ( Middle Latin ministerialis; plural: the ministerial ) is an official who is in the (originally ancient imperial ) service . In the early Middle Ages the ministerials were initially active at the local level and from the 11th century as unfree administrators and soldiers for royal estates and monasteries, and later also for the nobility. In the 13th century this originally non-free layer which formed from parts of state of the lower (or "ritterbürtigen") nobility out other parts emigrated to the ruling classes of the cities from ( patricians ). Their social and economic positions were very different.

In his main work, Economy and Society, Max Weber describes the ministerials as house officials, i.e. unfree house officials, in contrast to free officials whose appointment is based on a contract and comes about through free selection.

Concept history

The term “ministeriales” appeared in ancient times . In the Roman Empire he designated free palace servants, whose primary task was to feed the court. This group also had a special legal status and also had the opportunity to rise to higher offices through sufficient qualifications and proficiency.

Nevertheless, the term was subject to constant local and temporal change and exchange with other names. So “servus” ( slave ) or “servientes” ( servant ) are the most common terms that are used as a synonym for the term “ministeriales” and the related tasks. In the 7th century, the term "ministeriales" appeared in the Merovingian Empire for superior but subservient court servants . This remained so until the Carolingian dynasty - only here can the term “ministerialis” be roughly defined as the holder of an office or area of ​​responsibility, a “ ministerium ”.

It was not until the 11th century, when the ministerials began to spread, that the term became the definitive term for a privileged group of non-free service teams. A major part of the high medieval knighthood was recruited from these circles , even if the terms are not factually congruent. From the 13th century onwards, the ministerials were treated de facto as free.

Today in historical research a clear distinction is made between the king's ministerials (Reichsministerialen), the church and the nobility. However, this social and legal differentiation has no systematic terminology in the medieval sources.


In the Holy Roman Empire, ministerials were an upper class of originally unfree "Dienstmannen" (servants) in court, administrative and military service. They were entrusted with a special function by their landlord, such as managing a court ( inward ownership ), managing the finances (chancellery) or managing various estates, such as castle men . Originally, ministerials were often servants from the peasant class . Guarding, maintaining and defending a castle of the employer was often part of the service law of the ministerials in the High Middle Ages , often also the construction of a ministerial castle (usually a tower castle or a residential tower ) on lands with subjects liable to pay interest, which were entrusted to the ministerials according to feudal law ; the fiefs soon became hereditary. Through these tasks and their knightly way of life (with corresponding marriages) that resulted from them, they actually rose to become free and into the lower nobility. With the end of ministerial law at the end of the 13th century, they no longer took over and administered their masters' possessions only according to feudal law, but also in the legal forms of castle hats, caretakers or judges or as pledges.

Creation of the ministerial system

The ministeriality has its origin in the endeavors of the local rulers for intensive penetration, i.e. organization and control of their own area of ​​rule by non-free but weapon-capable servants.

In the eleventh century, population growth caused changes in economic structures. The need for better control of the local manorial rule , diocese or abbey led to the differentiated division of tasks in their administration . As a result of special abilities, proficiency or their merits, members of the familia of the rulership were assigned tasks by their masters, which enabled them to gain social advancement and improve their legal position. For example, you took over the management of a property or carried out the financial management . They received service goods as supplies, so they lived on the basic rent paid by a number of farmers. With the appropriate equipment, the stand formed the majority of the high medieval knights .

Emergence of ministeriality in churches and monasteries

The development of the ministerial system can first be seen most clearly in the case of the imperial church . With the help of dependent non-free officials, this attempted to limit the nobility's tendencies towards appropriation and to prevent the alienation of their own property and their rights.

The imperial church also benefited from the fact that in the 9th century royalty free put themselves in their service in order to escape the military service required by the king. The royal free thus became free, who now existed on monastery land, but were dependent on the church and obliged to serve it. The abbot of St. Gallen and Reichenau and the bishop of Constance from 981–983 Otto II provided 140 heavy armored riders for his Italian campaign. These can only have been former royal freelancers who transferred to the service of the church or were given to it by the king or emperor - because around 980 the three monasteries hardly had such a number of vassals .

Also a group of peasant suitors , who can be traced back to royalty- free , took fiefs from the church in order to be able to enlarge their property, and so came under their servitude. The "service team" system was created in a long and by no means straightforward process. The urge to form a group of their own grew as social advancement supported the group's self-esteem. The ministry was granted legal protection early on in the form of a special service law - an attempt to bind the loyal group that had become important and secure the church's autonomy and to make the positions in the service team attractive to others. Our first source on the ministerial service law is the Worms court law. Written from 1023 by Bishop Burchard von Worms , for the first time it lifts a group from the familia rulership association into a special position.

As early as 1061/62, a stronger formation of the group of ministerials became apparent in Bamberg's service law. However, the rights of the ministerials were regionally and functionally different, although attempts were made to create a homogeneous legal situation. Since the system was effective, the principle of ministeriality quickly began to be carried over to secular forms of rule in the course of the 11th century, because the secular lords also recognized the use of the ministerial to consolidate and expand their rule.

Creation of the Reich Ministry

The Reichsministeriale held a separate position. They were subordinate to the King or Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire , performed extensive, high-level administrative tasks and performed military service as heavy armored riders. It is therefore only understandable that the Reich Ministry had to be recruited from a class that had an acceptable education to cope with administrative tasks, knowledge of court life and / or experience in combat.

The solution lay in the obligation of former, more or less independent royal free or royal interest, the "liberi". These represented a special group. It consisted of free people who, however, resided on royal property and were therefore restricted in their disposal of their property and had to fulfill obligations towards the king. On the one hand, they were obliged to do military service, on the other hand, they had to pay regular taxes, the royal interest. They were particularly important in the Carolingian era. They performed war service and other military tasks, such as messenger services or escorts. However, many of them changed their status. Documents and capitularies prove that a not to be underestimated part of them surrendered to the church or to secular lords in order to escape military service. In some cases, the king even gave the free kings to the church, but insisted on the continued fulfillment of duties, which, however, were often forgotten. It can also be ascertained that since the end of the 9th century some secular gentlemen were given military service by a group whose services were not based on fiefdom or bondage, but rather on older obligations that were once to be performed by the king. This group is the immediate predecessor of the Ministerials.

A large part of the imperial ministry, which should not be neglected, was also recruited from the large number of small, originally free aristocrats ( noblemen ) who began voluntarily to surrender to ministeriality in the 11th century and increasingly to it in the 12th and 13th centuries passed over. The theory of the royal free as the predecessor of the Reich ministerial is supported by the fact that large parts of the Reich ministerial also had free property at the same time and the ancestral seat, from which their name is derived, mostly belonged to this free property - for example in Lower Saxony and Eastern Franconia to observe. The named were therefore initially free and entered into a certain bondage.

Since King Konrad II. (1024-1039) they were called in as bailiffs or burgraves and district judges for the administration of the imperial property and, in the territorial rulers, the property; as Reich ministers, they supported the Salian and especially the Staufer imperial policy. From the 12th century, a process of adjustment to the class of the noble free began on the higher levels . The remnants of bondage gradually disappeared, the service fiefs became hereditary fiefs , also because often impoverished noble freemen voluntarily converted to the Reichsministerialle under reservation of their freedom rights.

The fact that this development of the imperial ministry began later than at the church level can be explained by the fact that the kings-free initially performed their service for the king or emperor. Over time, however, this group became on the one hand too independent and refused to fulfill their duties to the king as well as the recognition of his power of disposal over their goods, on the other hand they were too weak in their warfare to keep up with the development of the princely vassal armies. For this reason some of them were restructured and incorporated into the Reich ministry. This served the king and probably met with the encouragement of the kings-free concerned, who could hope for an increase in their property, wealth and influence. The reason why the king often assigned such administrative tasks to royal interesters and not to non-noble people, whose class was already established and solid, who had wealth and education, is due to the consideration demanded by the nobility, namely the hereditary allocation of land and people , so from fiefdom . A large part of the royal estate had already been lost, as the nobility drew this fiefdom to itself and made it hereditary. The system of ministeriality was, at least initially, a welcome substitute for this feudal system, which sometimes made losses.

Nevertheless, some of the great imperial ministerials succeeded in gradually appropriating the royal property they administered and - if they were lucky or had connections at the right time - then even as their own property, i.e. not even fiefdoms, sometimes even with the consent of the electoral kings of the late Middle Ages, which urgently potent supporters were required. Some of them became great secular lords, such as von Hagen-Munzenberg or von Bolanden , some even rose to the later imperial immediacy of the ruling nobility , such as the Reuss , Erbach and Waldburg houses . In terms of their representative furnishings, their castles, especially in the Staufer period (1138 to 1254), were able to compete with the so-called “dynasty castles” of their masters. Occasionally, however, ordinary servants who had made a career at the royal court were released and given important imperial fiefs, such as in 1195 Markward von Annweiler .

Ministerials of other gentlemen

Since the 12th century, other gentlemen (princes, counts and noble free) also made more and more frequent use of such economically secure servants who were capable of weapons. Many were able to do service as knights by having the appropriate material equipment (horses, weapons and servants, sometimes even their own manorial lords subject to taxes ) . Sometimes they brought this equipment with them, sometimes it was given to them. While many of the ministerials serving as knights were initially only paid castle men on their masters' castles, since the 13th century the wealthy knightly families have also built their own fortified houses, although they required the sovereign permit to build castles. The ministerial castles were mostly characterized by their proximity to rural settlements and villages, from which they were supplied and to which they in turn offered protection. Their location was primarily dependent on the respective topographical situation and often also secured the territory of their masters, to whom they had to "open" their castles on request. The ministerial castles were mostly small systems of the type of residential tower , tower hill castle or pond house . Noble freemen , who changed to the ministerial office , assigned their previously vacant seats to the liege lord and took them as fiefs from him when they entered his service. By exercising gradually becoming ceremonial court offices ( butler , steward , treasurer , etc.) that were established at that time by royal model of the royal courts, became a top tier reputation, additional ownership and influence.

Ministerials grew into lower administrative services and at the same time into arms service. As armed riders, although dependent, they soon came closer to the social position of their masters than to their rural origins. They adopted the cultural customs of knighthood and formed the knighthood with smaller members of the older nobility ( noble free ). In the third generation of knightly way of life and knightly connubium , they were then considered "knightly" and thus as members of the nobility. Their tasks thus ensured that the knightly ministerials - regardless of their unfree origin - rose to the lower nobility in the course of the 13th and 14th centuries . This contributed to the fact that their fiefdoms became hereditary and thus they had seats in line with their rank, after which they often named themselves. However, the fiefs were usually hereditary only in the male line , so that when it expired, the fiefdom fell back on the feudal lords. As a rule, the feudal lords then reissued the fiefs, to followers who were important to them or who could pay for them, but sometimes also to descendants or relatives of the former ministerial family.

A problem faced by many ministerial families was that they were simultaneously serving different masters in an effort to increase their fiefdoms. If there was then a quarrel or war between them, these followers inevitably had to become unreliable for their masters, as they were obliged to both by oath and fief. In the 13th century, simultaneous service for several gentlemen in the mostly small-scale imperial areas was more the rule than the exception. From the second half of the 13th century, some feudal lords therefore switched to subordinating fallen ministerial castles to their lordly chamber and merely giving them new castle hats. The difference to the award according to feudal law was that the contract with the knightly castle man (later usually referred to as castellan or castle captain) was limited to a few years and the remuneration was in the form of fixed goods or sums of money. The owners of a castle hat were often changed in quick succession in order not to let the office become hereditary again. If the supervision of the slopes from the goods belonging to the castle was added, the castle hat was called maintenance . If, in addition, the administration of justice was also exercised within a court district, the respective office holder was referred to as a judge. Often, however, the expenses for the remuneration of such functionaries as well as the maintenance of the numerous castles exceeded the funds of the princely chambers, which had to bear the growing costs of the court rulings; therefore, the princes or ruling counts in the 14th and 15th centuries often began to pledge the castles, including their courts, rights and income, to knightly families .

Since the ministerials now more as freight manager and authority on the Erbuntertanen operated because as a rider fighters who gave rulers from about 1300 to the array of their growing cities or professional mercenary armies preference in warfare. Even ministerials who were obliged to serve in the army under ministerial or feudal law were now often paid for participating in campaigns, at least if the service days prescribed in the feudal deed were exceeded; alternatively, they could also buy their exemption from military service.

Other families formed the basis of the urban ruling classes ( patriciate , city nobility or honesty). The next generation for the higher church service was also recruited from both groups, combined with preparatory academic studies. The groups rooted in the subordinate service cultivated intensive marriage contacts.

Important ministerials and ministerial families

See also


  • Kurt Andermann and Peter Johanek (eds.): Between non-nobility and nobility . Stuttgart 2001.
  • Josef Fleckenstein : Chivalry and the knightly world. Siedler, Berlin 2002, ISBN 3-88680-733-9 .
  • Werner Hechberger : Nobility, ministerialism and knighthood in the Middle Ages. Oldenbourg, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-486-55083-7 ( Encyclopedia of German History 72).
  • Johanna Maria van Winter: Chivalry. Ideal and reality . Munich 1965.
  • Karl Bosl : The Reich ministry of the Salier and Staufer. A contribution to the history of the high medieval German people, state and empire . Stuttgart 1951.
  • Joachim Bumke : Ministeriality and knight poetry . Munich 1976.
  • Volker Rödel: Imperial fiefdom, ministry, castle crew and lower nobility. Studies on the legal and social history of the nobility in the Middle and Upper Rhineland during the 13th and 14th centuries . Marburg 1979.
  • Thomas Zotz : The formation of ministeriality . In: Die Salier und das Reich, Vol. 3: Social and ideological change in the empire of the Salians, ed. by Stefan Weinfurter with the assistance of Hubertus Seibert. Sigmaringen 1991, pp. 3-50.
  • Harald Derschka : Die Ministeriale des Hochstiftes Konstanz ( Constance working group for medieval history: lectures and research. Special volume 45). Thorbecke, Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-7995-6755-0 ( online )
  • Philipp Heck : The origin of the Saxon service team. In: Vierteljahrschrift für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte 5, 1907, pp. 116–172 ( digitized version ).
  • Jan Ulrich Keupp : Service and Merit. The Ministerials Friedrich Barbarossas and Heinrich VI. (= Monographs on the history of the Middle Ages. Vol. 48), Hiersemann, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-7772-0229-0 (also: Bielefeld, Univ., Diss., 2002).
  • Knut Schulz: Ministeriality, Ministeriality . In: Lexicon of the Middle Ages (LexMA). Volume 6, Artemis & Winkler, Munich / Zurich 1993, ISBN 3-7608-8906-9 , Sp. 636-639.

Web links


  1. ^ Max Weber: Economy and Society. 5th, revised. Edition, Tübingen: Mohr, 1976, p. 131f.
  2. ^ Jan Ulrich Keupp: Service and merit. The Ministerials Friedrich Barbarossas and Heinrich VI. Stuttgart 2002, p. 30ff.
  3. from four million people in Germany and Scandinavia around the year 1000 to eleven million in the fourteenth century. The resulting German east settlement and the improvement of agriculture, z. B. through three-field farming or metal plows, led to movements in the social structure of medieval society, cf. Hartmut Boockmann: Introduction to the History of the Middle Ages, Munich 2001
  4. Heinrich Dannenbauer (ed.): Basics of the medieval world. Sketches and studies. Stuttgart 1958, p. 338.
  5. This theory is based on the fact that such free peasants are mainly to be found around Carolingian royal estates, which is an indication that these are former royal free peasants whose task was once the penetration of the territory. See Heinrich Dannenbauer (ed.): Basics of the medieval world. Sketches and studies. Stuttgart 1958, p. 331.
  6. Cf. Knut Schulz: Ministerialität, Ministerialen . In: Lexicon of the Middle Ages (LexMA). Volume 6, Artemis & Winkler, Munich / Zurich 1993, ISBN 3-7608-8906-9 , Sp. 636–639., Here Sp. 638
  7. In the Bamberg service law of 1062, the local ministerials were given passive feudal capacity from birth, their own place of jurisdiction and the privilege of evidence, honorary privileges such as carrying arms and even the ability to be ordained, and were given tasks in high court offices. Cf. Knut Schulz: Ministerialität, Ministerialen . In: Lexicon of the Middle Ages (LexMA). Volume 6, Artemis & Winkler, Munich / Zurich 1993, ISBN 3-7608-8906-9 , Sp. 636–639., Here Sp. 638
  8. ^ Arl Bosl: The Reichsministerialität the Salier and Staufer. A contribution to the history of the high medieval German people, state and empire . Stuttgart 1951.
  9. Heinrich Dannenbauer (ed.) : Basics of the medieval world. Sketches and studies. Stuttgart 1958, p. 331
  10. Heinrich Dannenbauer (ed.): Basics of the medieval world. Sketches and studies. Stuttgart 1958, p. 349.
  11. This of course no longer applies to the period from the middle of the 12th century, when the imperial ministries approached the nobility and also tried to make their fiefs hereditary, until they finally merged with the nobility in the 14th century and became feudal recipients.
  12. Armin Torggler, Die Burghut , considerations on the management of medieval castles in the Tyrolean region, ARX. Castles and palaces in Bavaria, Austria and South Tyrol , published by the South Tyrolean Castle Institute, 2/2018 p. 35-42