Throughout history rulers were aware that power (potestas) in itself was insufficient to govern a people. They also needed authority (auctoritas) to attest the greatness of their power and, above all, to prove it was superior to that of others. In medieval and early modern times the growing separation between the spiritual and the secular and the replacement of the so-called ‘horizontal’ feudal system by ‘vertical’ monarchical rule, made the problem of authority into a fascinating socio-political phenomenon. Auctoritas, which, unlike potestas, is not a biblical notion, mainly relied on the prestige of Roman legalistic traditions. In a society where rulers tried to strengthen their powerbase and wanted to impose a monarchical and even an absolute system of government, the Roman concept of authority, due to its alleged effective-ness became the typological model by means of which they tried to implement a rule most suitable to their own ends. The structure of traditional society slowly disappeared and was replaced by a socio-political system in which all power was in the hands of a single ruler whose authority was presented as uncontested, and even as benefitting from God’s consent.
This volume offers a selection of the papers presented at the conference on The Growth of Authoriry in the Medieval West sponsored by the Netherlands Research School for Medieval Studies (Groningen, 26-29 November 1997). These contributions study some of the many ways in which rulers tried to assert their authority either directly or indirectly. It includes essays both general and specific in scope, dealing with the literary, historical or iconographical traditions of the Middle Ages.
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