Seniorate principle describes the medieval hereditary regulation of numerous Eastern European princes and royal houses. In contrast to Western Europe, neither a single heir was established, nor was the land divided into independent domains among all heirs. Although there was also a basic division, the new principalities were not assigned to the sons of the deceased ruler, but only for a limited period. If a holder of a princely title died, the other beneficiaries moved up. As a rule, there was a particularly prominent and powerful principality, which usually fell to the eldest son. This then had, at least pro forma, the supremacy over the territories of his brothers, so that the Reich Association should be preserved.
The seniority principle has two major shortcomings: Firstly, the older beneficiaries usually died first, which meant that all others would move up to the “next higher” title of prince. As a result, hardly any of those involved could or wanted to stabilize their rule in an area, because they could be expected to move into a better position at any time. Second, the number of participants in this “heritage carousel” rose rapidly, as not only the brothers of the first generation of heirs, but also their sons were soon included in the seniority principle. This resulted in a further fragmentation of the territories and intensified conflicts between brothers, uncles and nephews.
In late antiquity , Geiseric had already decreed a corresponding succession order among the vandals . The seniorate principle was particularly pronounced in the Rus . Although there had probably been similar approaches before, after the seniorate, the inheritance regulation was first laid down in detail under Yaroslav the Wise in the middle of the 11th century. Yaroslav wanted to rule out the chaos of the throne, as they had accompanied his accession to the throne, for the future. However, this did not succeed. Rather, the seniority principle was the most important reason for the division of the Rus in the Middle Ages, which was largely ended only by the rise of Moscow , which began in the 14th century . The seniority principle was also adopted in Poland , Bohemia and Hungary , albeit in modified forms, which were intended to limit the number of participants. In Russia, too, later efforts were made to exclude the sons of younger brothers entitled to inherit. Overall, the seniority principle was only rarely used in its pure form, as individual princes with military power and the support of neighboring empires were repeatedly able to achieve a better position in the line of succession.
In the Holy Roman Empire , a similar arrangement was known for senior citizenships. This involved the awarding of some imperial-free possessions, in which imperial knights were only subordinate to the immediate ruler ( king or emperor ) for centuries .
- 1913: Eugen Ščepkin: The right of succession in the old Slavonic royal houses. In: Archives for Slavic Philology. Volume 34, 1913, pp. 147–202 ( full text on archive.org).
- 1880: Maximilian Kantecki: The will of Bolesław Schiefmund. Seniorat and Primogeniture in Poland. Chocieszyński, Posen 1880 (doctoral thesis University of Wroclaw; full text on bib-bvb.de).
- 1847: Georg Rühl: Majorat, Minorat, Primogenitur, Seniorat. In: Karl von Rotteck , Carl Theodor Welcker (ed.): Das Staats-Lexikon. An encyclopedia of all political sciences for all classes . Volume 8. New edition. Hammerich, Altona 1847, pp. 699–701 ( full text in the Google book search; reprint: 1990).