Barbarian peo­ples who do not till the soil have no ter­ri­tory of their own, and are, as we have said, gover­ned more by the law of nations than by civil law. Therefore they are always armed. Thus Tacitus tells us that “the Germans never conduc­ted any busi­ness, public or pri­vate, without being armed.”1 They indi­ca­ted their opi­nion2 with a sign they made with their wea­pons.3 As soon as they could bear them they were pre­sen­ted to the assem­bly ; a jave­lin was pla­ced in their hands4 : at that moment they left child­hood behind ; they were part of the family, and became part of the repu­blic.5

Childebert II was fif­teen when his uncle Guntram decla­red him a major and able to govern by him­self.6 He said to him : “I have pla­ced this jave­lin in thy hands as a sign that I have given thee my entire king­dom” ; and tur­ning to face the assem­bly, conti­nued : “You see that my son Childebert has become a man : obey him.”7

In the law of the Ripuarians we see this age of fif­teen, the abi­lity to bear arms, and majo­rity all going toge­ther. “If a Ripuarian has died or been killed,” it is said there, “and has left a son, he may not pro­se­cute or be pro­se­cu­ted until he is fully fif­teen, at which time he will ans­wer for him­self or choose a cham­pion.”8 His mind had to be suf­fi­ciently for­med to defend him­self in court, and the body also to defend itself in com­bat. Among the Burgundians,9 who also had the prac­tice of com­bat in judi­ciary actions, majo­rity was again at fif­teen.

Agathias tells us that the wea­pons of the Franks were light. They could the­re­fore attain majo­rity at fif­teen. Subsequently the wea­pons became heavy, and were already quite so in Charlemagne’s time, as is appa­rent in our capi­tu­la­ries and roman­ces : those who had fiefs,10 and who the­re­fore had to do mili­tary ser­vice, no lon­ger attai­ned majo­rity before the age of twenty-one.11

Nihil neque publicæ neque privatæ rei nisi armati agunt (Tacitus, De moribus Germanorum [ch. xiii]).

Si displicuit sententia [fremitu] aspernantur ; sin placuit frameas concutiunt [‘If they disapprove his opinion, they reject it [with grumbling] ; if they approve it, they brandish their spears’] (ibid [ch. xi].).

Sed arma sumere ante cuiquam moris quam civitas suffecturum probaverit. [‘[no] German bears arms unless the city has recognized his ability to do so’ (ch. xiii)].

Tum in ipso concilio vel principum aliquis, vel pater, vel propinquus, scuto frameaque juvenem ornant [‘Then in the presence of the council one of the chiefs, or the young man’s father, or some kinsman, equips him with a spear and shield’, ch. xiii].

Hæc apud illos toga, hic primus juventæ honos ; ante hoc domus pars videntur, mox reipublicæ. [‘That is their robe of manhood ; these are the first honors ; until then they were members of a family, now they become citizens’].

He was scarcely five, says Gregory of Tours (book V, ch. i), when he succeeded his father in the year 575 ; therefore he was five. Guntram declared him a major in 585, therefore he was fifteen.

Guntramnus data in manu regis Childeberti hasta ait : hoc ist judicium quod tibi omne regnum meum tradidi [‘Gonthram after placing these tokens into the hands of king Childebert, said : This confers on you all or my realm.’] (ibid., book VII, ch. xxxiii).

Tit. 81.

Tit. 87.

There was no change for commoners.

St. Louis attained his majority only at that age ; that was changed by an edict of Charles V in the year 1374.