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I am interested in important feasts of the upper classes (nobility), e.g., Easter or the baptism of important heirs, in the Eastern Frankish kingdom around 900 AD, specifically the Duchy of Saxony.

Different sources and my own considerations do not allow for a conclusion on whether men and women were together or in different rooms at these occasions:

  • Wikipedia says that the genders feasted separately in the early Middle Ages and only in the High Middle Ages with their courtly culture, they came together again.

  • On the other hand, Saxony was culturally closer to its Northern neighbors and considerably more “barbaric” than the rest of the Frankish sphere of influence.

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    Beda has a comment about that for the English Angles (gemanic tribe) some centuries before your target period. A Celtic princess married an Angle king. Beda complained that their different calendars for easter were causing difficulties and akwardness for all involved in the court. She was feasting and merry-making with her celtic companions and priest for Easter while he was still fasting for Lent at the Angle court. This would not be a problem if they were supposed to feast separately. Heck, imagine fasting while your wife and her friends from her place feast and party!
    – Luiz
    May 10 '19 at 13:40
  • @Luiz That is outside of the target setting though, which is c. 900 AD Saxony as opposed to c. 700 AD England. May 10 '19 at 13:46
  • ... So, the real issue could be what kind of feasts (ritualised feasts related to religion, royalty, etc that by necessity has to project power as opposed to private ones) and, ultimately, a judgement, whether it is necessary to be this precise. Only OP can guide us (HSE) on the level of detail required.
    – J Asia
    May 10 '19 at 14:53
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    Saxony proper, or the Saxon Eastern March?
    – Spencer
    May 10 '19 at 16:22
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    It is extremely likely that powerful women like Gerberga of Saxony or Matilda of Quedlinburg were present in the same rooms as their male relatives at the baptisms of important heirs born into their dynasty.
    – JRB
    May 10 '19 at 22:20
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+50

I recently came across something that seems to contain an exact answer to this question.

In 826, an exiled Danish king, Harald Klak visited the court of Louis the Pious with his wife and some followers, at what would become part of East Francia in 900. They were baptized by the Carolingian emperor, who according to Ermold the Black then held a lavish feast for the newly Christianized Danes. Ermold apparently described the seating at the feast in some detail in his Carmina in honorem Hludowici Caesaris.

Unfortunately I can't locate an English translation, and my Latin is, to put it mildly, really bad. Hopefully someone better at Latin could look into this. In the meantime, though, it seems at least Louis' queen, Judith of Bavaria, was present at the feast.

Discubuit laetus, lateri Iudith quoque pulcra Iussa, sed et regis basiat ore genu.

If I am not mistaken, this proves men and women did feast together in East Francia, specifically after baptisms, and in the general time period requested.


More generally, there doesn't seem to be any evidence for gender segregation at Frankish feasts as Wikipedia implied. In fact, we have some literary evidence of women playing key roles in hospitality events:

Hospitality, too, was an important form of gift exchange, and we have occasional references to queens organizing or presiding over feasting. It is likely that noblewomen, too, were involved in such exchanges within their own households.

Bennett, Judith M., and Ruth Mazo Karras, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe. Oxford University Press, 2013.

For example, from nearby Flanders, the Vita Rictrudis - written in 907 by the musician Hucbald - records that the eponymous heroine hatched a plot in which:

She encouraged the king to imagine that she wanted to yield to his will and arranged a banquet of sumptuous splendor suitable for a king at her estate in the villa called Baireius. She invited the king and his optimates and, with the salty seasoning of the banquet, they all enjoyed the sweetness of her talk.

Garver, Valerie L. *Women and Aristocratic Culture in the Carolingian World. Cornell University Press, 2012.

This obviously cannot be possible unless they feasted together. That such an arrangement did not merit comment by the author or arouse suspicion in the king indicates it was not considered unusual, at least by the Frankish author.

Moreover, this wasn't restricted to hosts. In the mid-900s poem Waltharius, the poet-monk Ekkehard depicts the heroine Hildegrund as participating in a feast Walther threw for the Huns:

Hildegund played a key role at the feast, drinking and acting normally, thereby helping to lull the guests into a false sense of security . . . [Walter] relied upon Hildegund to help create the festive atmosphere of the banquet in order that he might take advantage of social expectations.

Garver, Valerie L. *Women and Aristocratic Culture in the Carolingian World. Cornell University Press, 2012.

This is, again, obviously not possible unless women's presence at feasts was not considered out of the ordinary, or else it would've been far less suspicious to not have her appear at all.

Note that despite the poem's setting, the author - a monk of noble birth from modern German-speaking Switzerland - was evidently unfamiliar with actual Hunnic culture, and so transplanted the social norms he would've grown up under instead. This passage is thus an illustration of Frankish practices familiar to the author.


While I wasn't able to identify specifically Saxon examples, the evidence indicates that this is common practice throughout the Frankish realms, including East Francia, around 900 AD. It thus seems quite unlikely that Old Saxony would be different from all the surrounding regions.

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    In the Latin verse, with that "pulcra" in femenine, I'd say Jussa was also a woman. Oct 6 '20 at 20:13
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    Very good answer. Thank you. Oct 7 '20 at 12:04
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    @user1021794 Oh, I thought you were asking about noble women? Yes, given the limitation of sources, my answer is only intended to cover the nobility. That said, I would be very surprised if the situation differed for commoners. Ritualistic formalities is a luxury usually reserved for the upper class, and all sources seem to treat women's presence as a matter of course. If women had to be specifically allowed, one would expect at least an occasional note that one was present due to status or circumstances. Note also that even monks and nuns intermingled in Carolingian double monasteries.
    – Semaphore
    Oct 7 '20 at 14:41
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    Very good answer. Nitnitting, in 826 Louis The Pious was king of the Franks and Emperor of the Caroligian Empire, but not of "East Francia" which did not exists yet. The feast itself that you mention must have happened in Mainz, which would later be in either Middle Francia or East Francia depending on which of the successive partitions you consider.
    – Evargalo
    Oct 8 '20 at 10:21
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    @Evargalo Good point, I'll clarify the answer.
    – Semaphore
    Oct 8 '20 at 10:45
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It is surprisingly difficult to find an answer to this question from open sources. The time period defined around 900 AD in East Francia (and specifically the duchy of Saxony) coicide in my understanding with the Ottonian era in Germany. As far as this period is concerned, feasts were extremely important as is argued in the book Kingship and Justice in the Ottonian Empire. Sadly I do not have full access to it however it mentions the following in pages 134-135:

The feasts, as a political tool, entailed rulers and great men publicly and ritually celebrating alliances and friendships, engaging in gift exhanges, and demonstrating their power and legitimacy. As centers for ritual behavior, feasts were points where a disruption of that ritual space could symbolize much more than just bad manners... Timothy Reuter once remarked that the "tenth and eleventh centuries were the age of the convivium, the ritual banquet." These convivia, feasts, were important political events, public demonstration of relationships, including hierarchies of authority, friendships and alliances, and assertion of concensus. In the year 936, according to the monk and contemporary chronicler Widukind of Corvey, Otto I was crowned and anointed king at Aachen. After a long and very detailed description of Otto's coronation ceremony, Widukind writes:

After the praise of the Lord and mass had been solemnly celebrated, the king went down to the palace and took his place at the marble table, ornate with its royal panoply, where he sat with the bishops and all the people. The dukes served. Duke Gisebelt, whose authority encompassed this place, obtained all of the supplies. Eberhard lookaed after the table. Hermann the Frank served as cup-bearer. Arnulf was responsible for overseeing the horses and choosing the place to make camp... After these festivities, the king honored each of the princes with an appropriate gift according to his royal munificence, and then dismissed the great crowd filled completely with joy.

This is an example of the ritual importance of feast during the time period discussed. The vassals serve their king in the feast and he in return rewards them with gifts for that service.

The Ottonian era in Germany which rougly encompasses the 10th century and who had their powerbase in Saxony was a period of strong women such as Adelheid, wife of Otto the Great, Theophanu wife of Otto II and their daughter, Sophia. Although set around 100 years after the 900 AD time set for the question, the feast of Werla in 1002 still reflects the court dynamics and rituals prominent throughout the Ottonian era. The context of the feast was the following, found here:

The nobles of Saxony had come together at Werla to discuss which man they would collectively endorse as the new king. Amongst them were Adelheid of Quedlinburg and Sophia of Gandersheim – Otto III’s sisters and leaders of Ottonian imperial convents within Saxony. Henry had sent a delegate to the assembly to make his case, following the advice of his supporter, Count Liuthar of the Northern March. Henry’s representative offered the Saxons rewards and promises of ‘many good things’ to those who would support Henry’s claim to the kingship. These promises were persuasive. The majority of those gathered responded that Henry should indeed become the next king, and they swore to support him in his bid for the throne. Thietmar reported that this decision greatly upset Ekkehard, who fought back against the public affirmation of Saxon support for his rival that very evening. A table had been richly prepared for the imperial sisters in the palace at Werla following the assembly. Ekkehard ‘took over it’ and dined there in the company of Bishop Arnulf of Halberstadt and Duke Bernhard of Saxony, greatly disturbing Adelheid and Sophia. The next morning, ‘as everything which he had anticipated would happen in that place had turned out differently to what he had hoped for,’ Ekkehard departed in the company of his other supporter, Bishop Bernward of Hildesheim, to the latter’s see, where he was received in the manner of a king. Shortly after the assembly, Ekkehard was set upon and murdered at Pöhlde by a group of Saxon noblemen, which included the sons of Count Siegfried of Northeim. Thietmar commented that while he could not explain this murder himself, he had heard that some linked it to the events at Werla, attributing it to the insult and threatening remarks that Ekkehard had publicly made to Otto’s sisters at the feast.

As I understand this quote, a feast was prepared for the assembly that was to crown the new king in which Adelhaide and Sophia held a prominent place. As they influenced greatly the outcome of the election it makes sense that they would also partake in festivities. Women of power during 10th century East Francia/Germany could participate in ritual feasts if it was allowed from their hierarchy and the power dynamics.

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