Early Nordic Monarchy: Analogous to Micronational Absolutism

Europe’s Germanic Iron Age, lasting between approximately 400 and 800 C.E., was marked by the end of Roman dominance on the continent and the beginning of Germanic rule over much of the western territories. No original sources documenting the governance of southern Scandinavia during this time exist. In fact, there are almost no surviving historical records regarding this subject at all. Fortunately, the Angles who dwelled in the Nordic lands during this time carried to Britain the history of the local peoples in the form of legend. The most famous of the semi-historical myths later written in alliterative verse is Beowulf. The solemn narrative that is this epic poem tells of strength, heroism, and wise governing. During both the time Beowulf was written and the time it is believed to have taken place, absolute monarchy was the choice form of government. In fact, there are a number of parallels which may be drawn between micronational monarchy (especially when absolute) and the monarchy presented in the poem.

Throughout the history of humankind, the monarch has been an embodiment of the sovereignty of a people and their state. This is also true of all micronational monarchs; they are living, breathing symbols of their respective peoples and the independence thereof. This position is very meaningful in micronations, for the sovereign is often the driving force behind the nation. Accordingly, the micro-king is more than a typical ruler is, for they are also a key part of the everyday society of their nation. This societal role extends not only to the way civil society interacts, but also into areas of culture and political custom, especially under an absolute leader. Such was the case with the monarchs described in Beowulf. In Scandinavian towns at the time, the mead-hall was the center of social life. At the halls constructed and attended by kings, the ruler would dole out jewelry to his choice warriors, symbolic of his favor. Hroðgar, king of the Geats, is written to have done just this: “He handed down orders / for men to work on a great mead-hall” (Heaney translation, ll. 68-69), and there “doled out rings and torques at the table” (Heaney, ll. 80-81).

While thrones came to be inherited hereditarily, regardless of competence to reign, the monarchy of Beowulf seems to be quite hereditary in nature. The manuscript tells of a Danish king named Scyld Scefing, who was apparently a foundling as a child, but later rose to kingship because of his skill and wisdom (ll. 6-8):

…Syððan ærest wearð
feasceaft funden, he þæs frofre gebad,
weox under wolcnum, weorðmyndum þah

This can be literally translated “since he worthed / [in] fewship found, he of this comfort abode / waxed under heaven, [amid] honor prospered.” This means, by interpretation, that he was found destitute, but honorable prospered as he “waxed under heaven” and “worthed,” or proved, himself. This is compelling evidence of meritocracy in the early medieval Nordic system. In comparison to today’s macronational world, micronationalism places a disproportionate amount of emphasis on meritocracy. This is true in micronational monarchies, as well. While ability to govern is mostly irrelevant in constitutional monarchies with very limited powers granted to the head of state, political fluency is important to the micronational absolutist. For this reason, such a king (or queen) must needs be the best-suited for the role, proving themselves to their national partners, just as Scyld Scefing had to prove himself to rise to kingship.

There are certainly very compelling parallels between the absolute monarchy of micronationalism and that of early Scandinavia as recounted by the scribes that composed Beowulf. These parallels are few in number, but that is because the amount of narrative on government in the poem is very limited. Suffice it to say that Geats and Danes emphasized in their rulers traits that are emphasized in micronational rulers: cultural influence and skill in government.

Flameno Adam von Friedech

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