On the Marches . . .

One of the fun bits of creating the world of the first eight Colplatschki books was digging into titles of nobility and their meaning. Americans don’t do titles. We so don’t do titles that “sir” can refer to a heroic person worthy of great respect or the young man who carried the groceries to the car. Dukes, counts, margraves, pfalzgraf, none of those mean much unless 1) you are a jazz fan or 2) you have a Pfalzgraf brand of china in your house. Nor do we generally refer to places as “marches,” in the sense of frontier or a semi-dangerous border. If I say “the Mark Brandenburg,” most people would assume I am referring to either a well-known guy named Mark Brandenburg, or that something redirected my train of thought and “the” shouldn’t be in front of the name. Actually I’m referring to the area near modern Berlin, using the medieval and early modern description. A March (or in German, mark) referred to the border, just as titles of rank referred to military or administrative duties, like the Margrave (Markgraf), the border lord/count.

The website Etymology Online has it thus:

“boundary,” late 13c. (in reference to the borderlands beside Wales, rendering Old English Mercia), from Old French marche “boundary, frontier,” from Frankish *marka or some other Germanic source (compare Old High German marchon “to mark out, delimit,” German Mark “boundary;” see mark (n.1)). Now obsolete. There was a verb in Middle English (c. 1300), “to have a common boundary,” from Old French marchier “border upon, lie alongside.” This is the old Germanic word for “border, boundary,” but as it came to mean “borderland” in many languages new words were borrowed in the original sense (compare border(n.), bound (n.)”border, boundary”). Modern German Grenze is from Middle High German grenize (13c., replacing Old High German marcha), a loan-word from Slavic (compare Polish and Russian granica). Dutch grens, Danish groense, Swedish gräns are from German.

For example, the Austrian state of Styria is Steirmark, the Styrian Mark, because of its borderland nature.

The borderlands.

The borderlands.

You see all those rivers flowing down from the Alps? Everyone and his cousin also could march up them. The hotel I stayed at on the outskirts of Graz sat at the foot of a Hausberg/Schützberg – the local mountain where everyone fled to for safety whenever [insert invader here] approached. Vienna had a similar problem.

The Danube as unWelcome Mat.

The Danube as unWelcome Mat.

If you look due north from the curved lake where it says Orvidek, then go a few kilometers upstream, you are at Vienna. You stand in the top of the main tower of St. Stephan’s Cathedral, look east, and think, “Oh nuts, there’s nothing between here and there.” You can see why everyone from the Indo-Europeans through to the Ottoman Turks and Russians have come through there. It really was, and in some ways is once more, a borderland, a march.

The English regarded Offa’s Dike, the border between England (civilized) and Wales (barbarians) as a march. The Welsh, looking the other direction, considered the English to be benighted pagans. And then came the Normans and Edward I and proved the Welsh to be not entirely incorrect in their assumption. The noble(s) in charge of the border defense were march wardens, keeping “watch and ward” over the danger zone. In German, the title is Count of the Marches, or Mark-graf (Markgraf), which got shifted in English to Margrave.

For those who are curious, this is why Joschka’s actual title is not just graf but Markgraf von Hohen-Drachenburg. After things settled down in the 1700s, the “Mark” got dropped, and we won’t go into the alt-history version of why his title and station carry political as well a social weight in Rada’s version of the world.

OK, what about Pfalzgraf? Ah, for that we go to Latin and the term “Palatine” as in the hill in Rome. Over the years, high officials in the later versions of teh Holy Roman Empire were called “Palatines” in addition to their own titles if they served in the court administration – Count Palatine, for example, or Pfalzgraf. Within Hungary, the Palatine served as the governor for the King (later Emperor, then King again), so Prince Eszterhászy could also serve as the Palatine of Hungary for the Habsburg emperor. So, what about the region of southwest Germany called the Rhineland-Pfalz, the Rhineland-Palatinate? Some of the subdivisions were lumped for the purposes of electing the Holy Roman Emperor under the same palatine, an administrative position that went back to Charlemagne and H.R. E. Version 1.0 (as compared the Ottonians and their revived Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation [H.R.E. 2.0].

Duke? War leader in Latin “dux bellorum.”

Count? Latin again, “comes” a group of associates, later taken as comites to imply soldiers.

Baron? From Old English meaning a warrior (related to Beorn), some say is also from the Greek “baros” meaning a heavy load (like barometric pressure). The German verision is Freiherr -free lord, one who brings his own soldiers and arms. That’s why Rada says that the translation of her Azdhag title would Freifrau, although Herzogin, Duchess, or literally ” [female] one who leads armies into battle” is technically correct.

The eastern end of Austria, Hungary, and adjacent lands have been battlegrounds for a very long time. Austria was original the Ostmark, the eastern marches, and seems to be becoming so once again.

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8 thoughts on “On the Marches . . .

  1. That’s a great explanation. I find “unwelcome mat” both a delightful turn of phrase and a frighteningly succinct description of events in the Danube basin.

    On another note: I often get an uncanny feeling when reading your books and posts, because it seems they’re often directly or thematically related to non-fiction I’ve recently read, or am in the process of reading, or something I’m contemplating. Currently, I’m reading a history of Hungary, so this post is right up that alley. I started reading “Peaks of Grace” while reading a biography of another strong female, Caterina Sforza. You posted the first Rajworld chapter while I was contemplating British off-world colonization (through portals, not via spaceships) in a semi-steampunky setting in the late Victorian, for which purpose I’d just read the non-fiction “Mr. Kipling’s Army”. Psychic powers, Jung’s collective unconscious, or strange coincidence? The mind boggles. 🙂

    • I’d lean toward Jung. Although there’s been a resurgence in interest in eastern Europe/Habsburg stuff since 2010, as the TBR pile beside my desk and on my Kindle will attest.

      I really liked “Mr. Kipling’s Army.”

  2. Thanks for the history lesson. That whole area has been fought over pretty much since day 1. The dukes mixture of DNA in that area has to be truly interesting, considering who conquered it when, and how often… I’d bet a drill down had cousins fighting cousins by the early 1100s!

    • It does seems like every band of steppe nomads (and half the other peoples migrating to Europe) passed through the Danube basis at some point. I suspect this is because of geography. The shortest route to Europe from most of Asia goes through the Carpathians and into the Danube basis. Detouring around to the north (i.e. through Poland) is well out of the way.

      • Detouring north also runs you into the Pripet Marshes. The Iron Gates on the Danube are less useful as a pass than you’d think, but there are two passes through the Carpathians that served as the “oh no not again” routes into the Pannonian Plains. There are some fascinating fortified churches in those areas, where people stored grain and other vital supplies in the church, then rushed into it when trouble came.

      • While not as steeped in Eastern European history as many of you, the only ones I can recall off the top of my head who detoured around the northern route were the Mongols. And what route didn’t they take?

        All the others that I can think of invading through Poland, were already Poland’s neighbors.

      • I seem to recall (it has been several years since I read anything on them) that the Mongols went around the Pripet Marshes, but then a minor detour of a year or so was no big deal to them. The Khan’s generally seemed to give their subordinates quite a loose rein, and a son or two of Genghis’s seemed to have a habit of disappearing in one direction (with an army, of course) and showing up a few years later from another, with pledges from the leaders of various areas they had happened to pass through in between times.

      • The Mongols had different goals and were not worried, as you say, about a delay. They went where the lootable cities were, which had them bracket the Pripet and swing past Kiev to Krakow, then south to eliminate 50% of Hungary. A few Hungarians tried to help the Poles, but it was too little too late. Another Horde broke south earlier and did in the last caliph in Baghdad. Yet another group went into China and became the Yuan Dynasty.

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