Skip to Main content Skip to Navigation
Book sections

Chilvaric cultures in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries

Abstract : Chivalric culture in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Culture can be defined in two ways, one broad and one narrow. The term includes, firstly, information, practice and technique that allow mankind to control nature and a specific group to adapt to global society. It refers, secondly, to the erudite knowledge, to the artistic works and to any other form of science or creation of the human mind, considered as superior. Each of these two definitions seems to fit in a specific field of human sciences. More extensive, the first one concerns the sociology and even more 'cultural' anthropology, while the second, smaller, is rather used by historians of literature, of art and of science. This second definition of culture is reserved for the most sophisticated forms of knowledge and should not be confused, for example, with the gestures of manual work, with the structures of kinship or with the feast, which are so essential in the ethnological studies. In the categories, as convenient as misleading, in which each academic science tended to close, barely thirty years ago, the broader definition referred to material, popular and oral culture, and the narrow one to spiritual, elitist and writing culture. Nowadays, however, the interdisciplinary method shows us how these epistemological barriers are artificial and reductive. They should be abolished to restore the historical phenomenon throughout its life, its deepness and its richness. The medievalist studying chivalry would also be as wrong to move away from the anthropological definition of culture than from its elitist definition. He has indeed to apprehend his object as a whole, which includes values, attitudes, representations, ideology or literary and artistic creations, which he should not separate. For him, it is so important to know how the knight read or wrote a novel, made war, educated children, told a story, listen to a sermon or attended Mass. In other words, we need to know how he held his pen or his Psalter, but also his spear, the sleeve of his lover, his hawk or his spoon. Nonetheless, it would not be reasonable for us to level all these gestures, as if they were equally important in the evolution of the group of knights, who, because of their dominant position, acted as a model for lesser social categories. Perhaps a prisoner of the prejudices of his own socio-professional category, the author of this article believes that the intellectual activities of the aristocratic warriors deserve special treatment, mainly because they mark, in twelfth and thirteenth centuries, a shift in the evolution of Europe. Western culture owes much, including in its modernity, to the literacy of knighthood. Therefore, the literate knight (miles litteratus) will be particularly in the spotlight here. Like any historical object, chivalric culture can only be apprehended from documentary evidence that guides widely the researcher. However, for the Middle Ages, these sources are mainly produced by clerics, who describe in Latin, their elitist language of written communication, some practices that, like war, are prohibited to them. But even if they have received the tonsure and the sacred orders, these intellectuals are not strangers to the realities of chivalry. They only approach them according to mental categories and ecclesiastical values that distort necessarily their descriptions and their narrations, and more their judgments about their actors. While thinking and communicating about chivalry, they configure its ideological boundaries, influencing its evolution. Like them, some rare knights took the pen to write in vernacular: Bertran de Born, Robert de Boron, Snorri Sturluson, Wolfram von Eschenbach… Others chose to sponsor and guide the work of authors and jugglers.
Complete list of metadatas

Cited literature [8 references]  Display  Hide  Download
Contributor : Vanessa Ernst-Maillet <>
Submitted on : Thursday, December 15, 2016 - 2:56:49 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, September 5, 2018 - 1:30:07 PM
Document(s) archivé(s) le : Thursday, March 16, 2017 - 6:44:51 PM


Files produced by the author(s)


  • HAL Id : halshs-01417278, version 1



Martin Aurell. Chilvaric cultures in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Karl G. Johansson; Else Mundal. Riddarasögur : The Translation of European Court Culture in Medieval Scandinavia, 1, Novus Ferlag, pp.33-56, 2014, Bibliotheca Nordica, ISSN 1891-1315, 978-82-7099-806-7. ⟨halshs-01417278⟩



Record views


Files downloads