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Ed., J. S. Arkenberg

This guide has undergone a long period of gestation. It began as a list of feudal terms compiled by Michael Adams in November 1988. It was one of the first messages to circulate on MEDIEV-L, and then found its way to MALIN at the University of Kansas. Over the years, it became a cooperatiave effort as several other people added terms. In 1995 it found a home on ORB. It has been updated in December, 1998, to include quite a few economic terms, and many terms from Medieval Islam. If you have additions, please contact its current editor, J. S. Arkenberg at California State, Fullerton.

Alphabetical Index:

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z


ABBEY: A monastic community of either monks or nuns. Ruled by either an (m.) Abbot or (f.) an Abbess. Many times they owed some form of feudal obligation to a lord or lady or some higher organization. Basically they were self contained units, with all basic functions performed by their residents, and all their needs supplied locally. See also: "Priory" and "Monastery."

ABBOT/ABBESS: Ruler of a monastic abbey. The abbot or abbess generally lived in their own house on the abbey's grounds, eating and sleeping apart from the rest of the community. They also had their own income, again apart from the rest of the monastic lands. Up to the late middle ages, most abbots and abbesses were politically more important than most bishops.

'ABD: the commonest Arabic term for slave, often combined with one or another of the divine names or attributes to form personal names, for example, 'Abd Allah, slave of God; 'Abd al-Rahman, slave of the Merciful; 'Abd al-Karim, slave of the Generous. In most Arabic-speaking countries the word 'abd was in time specialized to mean "black slave," later simply "black." Male white slaves, usually military, were called mamluk. Other terms for slaves included ghulam and khadim.

ABJURATION: A renunciation, under oath, of heresy to the Christian faith, made by a Christian wishing to be reconciled with the Church.

'ADALA: rectitude, good morals. An Arabic legal term denoting certain qualities, possession of which is required for public and juridical functions and offices. The possessor of 'adala is called 'adl. A witness in proceedings before a qadl must be an 'adl. In time groups of recognized, irreproachable witnesses, called shahid or 'adl, came to form a branch of the legal profession and acted as notaries or scriveners.

'ADL: See: "'Adala."

ADSCRIPTICIUS: A type of serf. One who is bound to the soil.

ADULTERINE CASTLE: A castle built with out one's lord's approval.

ADVOCATE: Cleric with a doctorate in Roman or Canon Law with a monopoly of pleading in the Church courts.

ADVOWSON: The right to present a cleric to a vacant ecclesiastical benefice. A valued source of patronage, such rights often came as part of a fief, though it could be granted on its own. AEWDA: Oath-giver, compurgator.

AFFOREST: To make into a forest by application of forest law.

'AHD: Covenant or pact, usually used for political treaties and arrangements such as the appointment of an heir apparent, the safeguards conceded in a surrender on terms, and the limited rights granted to non-Muslims, whether inside Islam (See: "dhimma"); or outside it (See: "aman"). The person or group granted 'ahd is called mu'ahad.

AHL: people, family, or kin in Arabic.

AHL AL-BAYT: "People of the house," normally refers to the family and descendants of the Prophet.

AHL AL-DHIMMA: "People of the pact," refers to the protected non-Muslim subjects.

AHL AL-HARB: "People of war," denotes non-Muslims beyond the Islamic frontier.

ALCALDE: A city official ( Spain ) .

ALDERMAN: Most towns were divided into wards, and each ward had its own elected alderman. The names and functions of Borough Courts varied slightly from town to town, but generally the courts of the aldermen (often called a ward moot) dealt with the settlement of minor offences.

ALDIO: One who belonged to the general class of coloni; a serf or villein.

ALIEN PRIORY: A religious house subject to control of a monastery on the Continent.

ALLOD: Land not held of any feudal superior. In England after 1066 there were no allods.

ALMONER: See: "Obendientiary."

AMAN: Safety, protection, or, in battle, quarter, sometimes also the pardon given to a rebel or similar offender. It is used technically for the safe-conduct or pledge of security given to a non Muslim from outside Islam. See: "harbi." It may be given at the termination of hostilities or, more commonly, to an outsider visiting the Muslim lands for a limited period. The recipient of aman is called musta'min.

AMBER: A measure of four bushels.

AMBIHT-SMITH: Smith or carpenter.

AMERCEMENT: A financial penalty inflicted at the MERCY of the king or his justices for various minor offences. The offender is said to be IN MERCY and the monies paid to the Crown to settle the matter is called amercement. See also: "Fines."

AMIR: An Arabic title literally meaning "commander," often translated "prince." Amir al-Mu'minin, "Commander" or "Prince of the Believers," was one of the earliest and most distinctive titles of the Caliphs. The title "amir" was variously used of high military officers, governors of provinces, and of the virtually independent rulers who emerged in many parts of the Islamic Empire under the nominal suzerainty of the Caliph. In the tenth century the title Amir al-Umara', "amir of amirs," was adopted by the military rulers of the capital to indicate their primacy over the other amirs in the provinces.

AMOND: Free.

AMPHORA: A measure of five gallons.

AMSAR: The term applied to the fortress cities established or maintained by the Arabs in the early days of empire. The most important were Kufa and Basra in Iraq, Qumm in Persia, Fustat in Egypt, and Qayrawan in North Africa.

ANATHEMA: A condemnation of heretics, similar in effect to major excommunication. It inflicts the penalty of complete exclusion from Christian society.

ANCHORITE/ANCHORESS: A person (not necessarily a cleric) living a solitary religious life involving abstinence, chastity, and solitude. Sometimes they are attached to a monastery or church, living in a cell attached to the structure, and sometimes they live alone in the wilderness.

ANGYLDE: The money compensation which a wronged person is entitled to receive.

ANNONA: Annual levy on the wheat crop; tribute levied on proprietors of land to sustain the army.

ANSAR: "Helpers," those in Medina who joined the Prophet Muhammad after his migration to Medina from Mecca.

APOSTATE: The term used to describe one who leaves religious orders after making solemn profession. It is considered a serious crime in the eyes of The Church, being not only a breach of faith with God but also with the founders and benefactors of the religious house.

APPEAL: Private accusations by an injured party or his or her kinsmen for a criminal offence. Through the Middle Ages, the majority of criminal cases were brought on appeal.

ARATHRA: The amount of land that could be ploughed by a plough in a year.

ARDABB or IRDABB: A measure of capacity of varying value, in medieval times usually about 90 liters.

ARPENT: Two and a quarter perches; roughly 121 feet. As a measure of area it was equal to about five perches or from 0.84 to 1.28 acres.

'ARRADA: A medieval siege weapon, in which a projectile is propelled by a shaft driven forward by the release of a rope. Something close to a gigantic crossbow.

ASCETICISM: Severe self-denial undertaken for spiritual reasons.

ASSART: To turn woodlands into pasture or cropland. To assart lands within a forest without license is a grave offence.

ASSIZE: The meeting of feudal vassals with the king; it also refers to decrees issued by the king after such meetings. In English contexts it can also signify an inquest into certain matters held under authority of an Assize law, such as the Assize of Bread and Beer, or the Assize of Weights and Measures.

ASYLUM, Right of (also called Right of Sanctuary): The right of a Bishop or Abbot to protect a fugitive from justice or to intercede on his behalf, provided he has fled to the altar of a church and claimed sanctuary. Once asylum is granted the fugitive cannot be removed, until after 40 days' time. Fugitives who find asylum must then either give themselves up or pledge an "oath of abjuration" never to return to the realm. They are then given ten days to find passage to the borders of the realm (they are marked out by wearing certain conspicuous clothing). If found within the borders after this time they may be hunted down as before, but this time with no right of asylum.

ATABEG or ATABEK: Turkish title, meaning "father-prince," given to the tutors or guardians of Seljuq and other Turkish princes. In time the atabegs became powerful officers of state, even governors and founders of dynasties. In Mamluk Egypt the Atabeg was the commander-in-chief of the army.

ATHAS: Oaths.

ATHELING: Eldest son of a king.

ATTORNEY: The attorney represented clients in formal aspects of litigation, managing suits for absent clients, representing their interests in the various Courts of Law, taking out writs, and instructing pleaders. Professional attorneys appeared much earlier than professional pleaders, and down to the fifteenth century any person (usually a family member or friend) could represent another as his or her attorney even though they themselves were neither professionally trained nor retained.

AUGUSTAL: A thirteenth-century Italian gold coin copied after the aureus by Frederick II and weighing from 30 to 40 grains.

AUREUS: A gold coin created by Augustus as the chief unit in his monetary system. It weighed one forty-second of a pound but was later debased. It was the forerunner of Constantine's solidus and the Byzantine solidus or besant.

AUGUSTINIAN CANONS (also AUSTIN CANONS): "Clerical Monks" who followed the Rule of St. Augustine--based on Love of God and Neighbor, respect for authority, care of the sick, and self-discipline. Commonly called "Black Canons" from the color of their habits.

AUSTIN FRIARS: See: "Mendicant Orders."

AVER: Animal used in agriculture.


BAILIFF: (1) A manorial official, frequently charged with collecting rents for the landlord or exercising other administrative responsibilities, including the oversight of the agricultural and pastoral activities of the manor. Sometimes a salaried employee, in contrast to the Reeve, who was usually a serf and rewarded with rent reductions or a tenement. (2) A town official, usually in charge of raising the borough farm owed the king or the local lord, along with being the mayor's principal aides. In many towns the bailiff also had his own criminal court. See also: "Borough Courts."

BALISTA: Same as ballista.

BALISTARIUS: A cross-bow man.

BALLISTA: A cross-bow.

BALLISTARIUS: Same as balistarius.

BAN: A King's power to command and prohibit under pain of punishment or death, mainly used because of a break in the King's Peace. Also a royal proclamation, either of a call to arms, or a decree of outlawry. In clerical terms, an excommunication or condemnation by The Church.

BANU: "Sons of"; commonly used in the names of Arab tribes.

BARBER-SURGEON: Monk who shaves faces/heads and performs light surgery.

BARD: A minstrel or poet who glorifies the virtues of the people and chieftains.

BARID: From the Latin "veredus", Greek "beredos", a post-horse (cf. German "Pferd"), the term commonly applied to the post and intelligence services of Islamic states and also to the couriers, mounts, and stages. The head of the organization was called Sahib al-Barid, or "postmaster."

BARON: A vassal who holds directly from the Crown. It is not, of itself, a title, but rather a description of the "Tenants-in-Chief" class of nobility.


BARROW: An earthen burial mound.

BASTARD FEUDALISM: In the Late Middle Ages, the fief (usually land) given in return for military service, evolved into an annual monetary payment by a Lord to his vassal in return for service.

BAY'A: Recognition of authority, especially the act by which a new Caliph or heir apparent is proclaimed and recognized.

BEG, BEY: Turkish title, roughtly "lord" or "prince," often used as equivalent of the Arabic "amir."

BENEDICTINE ORDER: Monastic order founded by St. Benedictine. Benedictine monks took vows of personal poverty, chastity and obedience to their abbot and the Benedictine Rule. There was no overall governing structure for Benedictine monasteries, other than supervision (often disputed) by the local bishop. Commonly called "Black Monks" from the color of their habits.

BENEFICE (L. "beneficium"): A grant of land given to a member of the aristocracy, a bishop, or a monastery, for limited or hereditary use in exchange for services. In ecclesiastic terms, a benefice is a Church office that returns revenue.

BENEFICIUM: A benefice.

BENEFIT OF CLERGY: A privilege enjoyed by clerics, including tonsured clerks in minor orders, placing them beyond the jurisdiction of secular courts. All one had to do was claim benefit of clergy, and prove it by reading a line of scripture in Latin. Those who managed to read correctly were remanded to the custody of their bishop, under whom they would, presumably, be tried and punished by incarceration (in the king's courts every felony was punishable by death). In the later middle ages, as lay literacy rates rose, this became an item of abuse.

BESANT: Same as byzant, bisant.

BID'A: Innovation; a belief or practice for which there is no authority in the Sunna. In Islamic usage it is used in a sense approximate to heresy.

BIRELE: Cup-bearer.

BISANT: Same as byzant, besant.

BISHOP: The holder of this administrative Church office, an ordained priest, having authority over other secular clergy and most regular clergy and friars within his diocese, along with spiritual authority over those laypeople within the diocese as well. Hence, a powerful personage within any medieval kingdom.

BLA AND BLOT: Blue and bloody; an offense.

BLACK CANONS: See: "Augustinian Canons."

BLACK MONKS: See: "Benedictine Monks."

BLACK FRIARS: See: "Mendicant Friars."

BLODWITE: The fine for drawing blood.

BLOT: A sacrifice or offering to idols.

BOC-LAND: Land, the possession of which was secured by book, i.e., charter. See also: "Bookland."

BOLD-GAETAL: Lord's estate.

BONARIA: Same as bonnier.

BONDES: Heads of families; freemen serving as vassals.

BONNIER: Approximately ten arpents.

BOOKLAND: In Anglo-Saxon times, land held by charter and normally alienable. See also: "Folkland" and "Laenland."

BOOKS OF HOURS: The most common book to survive from the Middle Ages, this was a portable and usually highly decorated and illuminated prayer book for lay people, especially for women. They are usually the size of the modern pocket-book.

BOONWORK: Free but known services of boon tenants, those liable to boonwork.

BORDARII or BORDARS: Servile class between cottars and villeins.

BORH: Surety.

BORHBRYCE: Breach of surety.

BOROUGH (also burg, burgh and burh): In Anglo-Saxon England, specifically a planned town designed as a military strong point and center of political control in a designated region. Later, a town with the right of self-government granted by royal charter.

BOROUGH COURTS: See: "Courts of Law."

BOT: Amends, reparation, compensation.

BOVATE: Amount of land which could be worked by a team of oxen in a year.

BRETWALDA: See: "Brytenwealda."

BROTBAN: Bread money.

BRYCE: Breach, violation.


BRYTENWEALDA: The holder of this "office" had important religious and, in some sense, political powers. The holders came from different kingdoms in turn and there was no apparent continuity.

BURDATIO: A tax corresponding to the English relief or heriot; a tax, tribute, rent, or burden.

BURGBRICE: Violation of the peace of a royal borough, a king, or a great man.

BURGESS: The holder of land or house within a borough.

BURGH-BRYCE: Same as burgbrice.

BURGHERITHE or BURGHRITE: Jurisdiction over the burgh.

BURH: Castle or dwelling.

BYRBAN: Beer money.

BYTT-FYLLING: "Buccellorum impletio," a filling of butts; an obscure expression referring probably to the festivities common at the councils or local assemblies of the Anglo-Saxons, especially the guild-meetings.

BYZANT: The Byzantine solidus, or besant. After the fall of the Western Empire, Constantine's solidus became the gold coin of the Byzantine Empire. (A.D. 500.) Originally weighing 105 grains the besant was later debased. From about A.D. 900 it circulated throughout Europe as the chief gold coin until the introduction of Italian gold coins in the thirteenth century.


CAFICIUM: A kind of measure used in Spain.

CALIPH: An Arabic term meaning both deputy and successor, adopted as a title by the successors of Muhammad. The term came to connote imperial sovereignty, combining both religious and political authority. With the rise of the military power of the amirs and the sultans, the status of the caliphs declined, and they became little more than figureheads with some religious prestige.

CAMERA: A workshop for men, a term mostly used in Italy.

CAMERARIUS: A chamberlain, keeper of accounts.

CAN, CANNE: Clearance, averment.

CANON: A member of the chapter of a cathedral; or of a collegiate church; or of certain religious orders.

CANON LAW: The system of governing The Church, including its clerics and lay persons in areas governed by Church jurisdiction. The latter generally included what today would be termed "Family Law" (marriage, divorce, bastardy), slander and defamation, the making and enforcement of wills, and other matters. Canon law was administered by the Church Courts.

CAPITALE: Capital, property in cattle or other chattels.

CARDINAL VIRTUES: Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude and Justice.

CARICA: A measure of weight.

CARMELITES: See: "Mendicant Friars."

CARTHUSIANS: A late medieval order of regular clergy, known for their emphasis on learning, contemplation, asceticism, and solitude. In England their houses were usually known as "charterhouses."

CARTULARY: Volume containing copies of charters, deeds, and other legal documents giving title to property. Commonly compiled by monks for their monasteries, but lay lords had them too.

CARUCATE: A measurement of land, equal to a hide (used in the Danelaw), fixed at 100 acres in England in the year 1194.

CASTLE: The main center of military and political control in the High and Later Middle Ages. Castles consisted of the following:

  • Arrow Loop: A narrow vertical slit cut into a wall through which arrows could be fired from inside.
  • Bailey: The yard or ward within the walls.
  • Barbican: The gateway or outworks defending the drawbridge.
  • Bastion: A small tower at the end of a curtain wall or in the middle of the inner curtain.
  • Batten: A sloping part of a curtain wall. The sharp angle at the base of all walls and towers along their exterior surface.
  • Battlement: A narrow wall built along the outer edge of the wall walk for protection of the defenders.
  • Berm: Flat space between the base of the curtain wall and the inner edge of the moat.
  • Cesspit: The opening in a wall in which the waste from one or more garderobes was collected.
  • Corbel: A projecting block of stone built into a wall during construction.
  • Crenelation: Another term for a battlement.
  • Curtain Wall: The outer wall, usually lower and not as strong as the inner curtain.
  • Daub: A mud and clay mixture applied over wattle to strengthen and seal it.
  • Drawbridge: A heavy timber platform built to span a moat between a barbican and the surrounding land. It could be raised when required to block entrance to the castle.
  • Dungeon: The jail, usually found in the base of the main tower.
  • Embrasure: The low segment of the alternating high and low segments of a battlement.
  • Finial: A slender piece of stone used to decorate the tops of the merlons.
  • Garderobe: A small latrine or toilet either built into the thickness of the wall or projected out from it over the moat.
  • Gate House: The complex of towers, bridges, and barriers protecting entrance to a castle.
  • Great Hall: The building in the inner ward that housed the main meeting and dining area for the castle's residents. Often the residents slept here as well.
  • Half-timber: The common form of medieval construction in which walls were made of a wood frame structure filled with wattle and daub.
  • Hoarding: A temporary wooden balcony suspended from the tops of walls and towers before a battle, from which missiles could be fired toward the base of the wall.
  • Inner Curtain: The high wall that surrounds the inner ward. Inner Ward: The open area in the center of a castle.
  • Merlon: The high segment of a alternating high and low segments of a battlement.
  • Moat/Motte: A deep trench dug around a castle to prevent access from the surrounding land. It could be either left dry or filled with water.
  • Mortar: A mixture of sand, water, and lime used to bind stones together permanently.
  • Outer Curtain: The wall that encloses the outer ward.
  • Outer Ward: The area around the outside of and adjacent to the inner curtain.
  • Palisade: A sturdy wooden fence usually built to enclose a site until a permanent stone wall could be constructed.
  • Portcullis: A heavy timber grille that could be raised or lowered between the towers of each gate house to open or close the passage.
  • Postern Gate: A side or less important gate into a castle.
  • Putlog Hole: A hole intentionally left in the surface of a wall for insertion of a horizontal pole.
  • Rubble: A random mixture of rocks and mortar.
  • Scaffolding: The temporary wooden framework built next to a wall to support both workers and materials.
  • Siege: The military tactic involving surrounding and isolating a castle, town or strong point by an army until the trapped forces are starved into surrender, or taken by treachery or assault.
  • Truss: One of the timber frames built to support the roof over the great hall.
  • Turret: A small tower rising above and resting on one of the main towers, usually used as a look out.
  • Wall Walk: The area along the tops of the walls from which soldiers defend both castle and town.
  • Wattle: A mat of woven sticks and weeds.
CATHEDRAL CHURCH: The church of the diocese where a bishop has his throne (cathedra) and where he presides. Usually simplified to Cathedral.

CAVAGIUM: Head tax.

CEAP: Bargain.

CEAPGELD: Sale price.

CELLARER: See: "Obendientiary."

CENOBITISM: The monastic life lived in a community as opposed to the solitary life. See: "Eremiticism."

CENSITAIRE: One paying a fixed quit-rent.

CENTENUM: The number 100.

CEORL: In Anglo-Saxon England, the free tenantry. Occasionally, if these could acquire enough land, they might move up to become thegns.

CESSPITS: Though most towns provided some sort of public latrines for the population (often projecting out over a river or bridge), these were mostly inadequate for the size of the town (e.g., London had sixteen public latrines in a population of 25-30,000). Thus private cesspits proliferated, dug in the yards behind the houses, sometimes even beneath the floorboards of a house, lined by either masonry or wickerwork. At intervals these would be cleaned and the contents either dumped in the local river or spread as manure in the vegetable gardens beyond the walls.

CHAMBER: One of the departments of the Household. Originally the king's personal quarters were his "chamber"--his apartments where he slept, as opposed to the Great Hall, where most of his household ate and slept. By the thirteenth century the chamber had developed into an office with clerks and servants. The importance of the Chamber in royal administration rose and fell over the centuries several times. The Chamber was presided over by the Chamberlain of England (a.k.a. of the Household). By the late fourteenth century the Chamberlain was one of the five main officers of the royal government, along with the Chancellor, the Treasurer, the Keeper of the Privy Seal, and the Steward.


CHANCERY: Originally part of the Household, by the thirteenth century it had gone "out of court." Its function was to issue charters, letters, and writs under the Great Seal of England. In combination with the Office of the Privy Seal, it provided the essence of a Department of State, Interior, and Defense. It kept copies of its letters on ten major rolls (membranes of parchment sewn together head to foot and rolled up for storage--though the lack of any index made these difficult to use): Charter, Close, Fine, Gascon, Liberate, Patent, Redisseisin, Scottish, Scutage, and Treaty. The officer of the responsible for the Chancery was the Chancellor. Up until the sixteenth century, most Chancellors were bishops. By 1380 over 100 clerks worked in this office, including some who came to play a significant role in later governmental administration, such as the Master or Keeper of the Rolls and the Keeper of the Hanaper. This office wrote the most formal letters, including appointments to office (from the highest to lowest), major grants (of land, money, privileges, franchises, annuities, etc.), and the many writs required to initiate legal action in the royal Courts of Law, or to conduct various types of judicial and criminal investigations.

CHANCELLOR: See: "Chancery."

CHANTRY: The endowment, either in perpetuity or for a term of years, of a priest to celebrate mass for the soul of the founder.

CHAPTER: (1) as prescribed in the Benedictine Rule, the daily meeting of a monastic community, which took place in the chapter house, for the reading of a chapter of the Rule, confession of faults, imposition of penance, and any other business of the community such as finances, property management, ongoing legal matters, and so forth. (2) Body of clerics, monks, or regular canons serving a cathedral church.

CHARTER: This is a public letter issued by a donor recording a title to property, frequently addressed to the general public.

CHARTER OF FRANCHISE: Documents granting liberty to a serf by his lord. The term also applies to the freedom granted to the inhabitants of a town or borough. The issue of a Charter of Franchise freed the town from servitude to its feudal lords

CHARTULARIUS: An officer who drew up documents; a serf freed by charter.

CHERISET: Originally an offering of corn at Martinmas. Afterwards this due was rendered in all kinds of produce.

CHIROGRAPH: This recorded an agreement between two parties, on virtually any subject. Each party received a copy of the agreement--written out in duplicate on the same piece of parchment, sealed, then cut in half by a wavy or indented line. Forgery could thus be checked by aligning the severed halves with each other.

CHIVALRY: The noble qualities a knight was supposed to have, such as courage, honor, loyalty, and readiness to help the poor and weak, especially women. See also: "Knight."

CHURCH: (1) The Catholic Church; (2) The most important building in any medieval town, village, or monastic complex. The nave was the western end of the church, with its own altar, used as a parish church. The choir was set off from the nave by a rood screen; in the choir the monks or nuns or priests sat in wooden stalls facing each other. East of the choir lay the high altar with its own carved screen or reredos behind it. Further to the east was the apse, where might be found a number of shrines and altars, including tombs of founders and patrons, abbots or abbesses (or bishops if this was a cathedral church), and perhaps a king or member of royalty.

CHURCH COURTS: See: "Courts of Law."

CINQUE PORTS: From the time of Edward the Confessor, these boroughs located on the English Channel gained special privileges in return for providing ships in time of war. From their position, the leaders of these boroughs, the "Barons of the Cinque Ports," came to have enormous political influence during the various civil wars of the Middle Ages.

CISTA: A chest.

CISTERCIANS: A reform order of Benedictines. Also known as the "White Monks."

CLAS: In Wales, a church staffed by secular canons (claswyr), who provided pastoral care for the church and its dependent chapels.

CLERICS OR CLERGY: Term used to include all members of the Church--both regular and secular clergy. The clergy are generally exempt from jurisdiction of royal courts as well as from military service. See also: "Benefit of Clergy."

CODEX: The usual form of book in the middle ages was the codex--the typical modern book. In medieval times this would consist of gatherings of parchment sewn together. A number of these gatherings could be bound together to form a book, with covers of either limp parchment or wooden boards, often covered by leather. Medieval books might range in size anywhere from small, palm-sized highly-portable volumes, to excessively large, stationary ones. Books could also, though, exist in roll or other specialized formats.

COLLATION: The act by which a bishop presented and instituted a cleric to a benefice in the bishop's jurisdiction.

COLLEGIA: Roman corporations of workmen.

COLONUS: A free man bound to the soil; in the Middle Ages regarded as unfree.

COMITATUS: Retinue, company of attendants.

COMMON LAW: The term referring to laws and procedures common to the entire realm; often also known as "Royal Law." In England, the term specifically applies to the system of law based on both statutory law and judicial precedent and administered by professional judges drawn from the ranks of professional lawyers.

COMMUNE CONCILIUM: Norman equivalent of the Anglo-Saxon Witan. Decisions taken at such meetings, either judicial or military, are binding on the vassals. This later developed into the "King's Council."

COMPURGATION: The clearing of an accused by the sacred oaths of others as to his or her innocence. See also: "Ordeal."

CONFESSION: The public or private acknowledgment of sinfulness regarded as necessary to obtain divine forgiveness.

CONFRATERNITY: An agreement reached between monasteries, or a house and a lay person, for the sharing of spiritual benefits.

CONSTABLE: The title of an officer given command of an army or an important garrison. Also the officer who commands in the king's absence.

CONVENT: See: "Nunnery."

CONVERSUS: (1) Adult convert to the religious life (cf., "oblate"); (2) Lay brother (in the Cistercian and other "new" regular orders).

CORONER: There were four coroners for each county (though many boroughs also had their own coroner). Their primary duties were to keep a separate roll of the pleas of the Crown (or Corone--hence Coroner) as a check on the Sheriff. But they also came to have the duty of examining all dead bodies and determining cause of death, along with any possible amercements.

CORRODY: A pension, in the form of lodging at a monastery, or an allowance of food, clothing, etc., granted to a lay person.

CORVESAR: A cordwainer.

COTTAGER: A peasant of lower class, with a cottage, but holding little or no land.

COUNT (L. Comes): The continental equivalent of the English Earl. Originally an office, it evolved into a title of nobility, ranking below a Duke but above both Baron and Knight.

COUNTY: An administrative unit stemming from Late Roman government originally governed by a Comes. In time, this evolved first into the region governed by the Count, then into the hereditary lands held by the Count (which by this time had become a title of nobility). In England, this is equivalent to the "shire"--originally governed by the Shire-Reeve or Sheriff (in Latin known as the Vice-Comes to designate the man who did the actual work, from the Comes/titular sheriff who held the title as a matter of honor and profit but did no work--under the Angevins the titular English sheriff disappeared leaving the Vice-Comes with both the title and power of "Sheriff").


COURTS OF LAW: The medieval English, like most medieval people, were subject to a wide variety of courts. Though the "central royal courts" which met at Westminster were the most important for the future development of the Common Law, most medieval Englishmen only had contact with one of the many others.

  • BOROUGH COURTS: These were developed forms of hundred, county, or manorial courts, with some additional privileges granted by charter. The precise rights and constitution of these courts varied from borough to borough. Generally, the aldermen (ward-moots), bailiffs, and mayors had their own courts, with additionally a Hustings Court (or its equivalent with a different name) which acted similarly to a county court. Boroughs with their own sheriffs, such as London, also had courts presided over by the latter officer.

  • CHURCH COURTS: The system of courts set up by the Church to enforce Canon Law. Generally deacons trained in the law served as the judges, advocates pled the cases, and proctors prepared the cases. Summoners served, in essence, as process servers. Church Courts had jurisdiction over most family matters and wills, sexual offences, marriage and divorce, bastardy, testate and intestate succession to personal property, defamation, battery of a cleric, and breach of faith. In case of conflict, the king's law prevailed.

  • COUNTY or SHIRE COURTS: From Anglo-Saxon times, each shire had its own court to which all freemen of the county had an obligation to attend. Its jurisdiction was originally limitless, including the right to outlawry, but these did not develop into royal courts until Angevin times. Shire courts usually only met twice a year--at Easter and Michaelmas--and judgments and pronouncements were given by those designated as "suitor" or "juror." Originally the local Earl, Bishop, or Abbot (or their representatives) presided, but in Norman times the sheriff took on this function, and with the Angevins a royal justice had to be present. Thus, by Late Medieval times, in practice the meeting of this court would involve the sheriff and some of his clerks and officers, the coroners, some of the bailiffs, the lords' stewards, those involved in suits, a royal justice, and enough of freemen owing suit of court to conduct business. By the fourteenth century rolls and files were kept of the proceedings, and professional pleaders and attorneys practiced before it. This court did not deal with criminal matters, though it did pronounce outlawry. Most intra-county disputes between the freemen of the shire were heard in these courts, along with criminal proceedings, tax collections, and so forth.
  • COURTS BARON: See: "Manorial Courts."

  • COURT OF CHANCERY: In the fourteenth century, the Chancellor, sitting in Chancery, began to hear various pleas for legal redress either not actionable in any other court (such as suits against the king or his officers), or for which no remedy existed (since the Chancery issued the writs which began every legal case in the royal courts--there existed a specific form of writ for each action, so where no writ existed the Chancellor might order one granted to fit the facts of a peculiar case). This court followed a modified form of informal complaint and procedure common to the Church Courts, though it was never a court of Canon Law. This informal procedure, with no limits on evidence or procedural matters, allowed the Chancellor to provide swift and inexpensive justice, especially for the poor and oppressed, the weak and foolish. Each case turned on its own facts, and there was no interference with any of the central royal courts (Common Pleas, Exchequer, King's Bench). By the end of the fifteenth century the Court of Chancery had became so flooded with suits that it became the third major court in the kingdom, ahead of the Court of Exchequer.

  • COURT OF COMMON PLEAS: In England, a court applying Common Law to hear disputes (or "pleas") between individuals but not involving the king. Almost all civil litigation was within its term of reference, as was supervision of manorial and local courts. This was the court which more than any other made the Common Law, and the chief of the "central royal courts." From the early thirteenth century (with brief exceptions) this court met in Westminster Hall for 15-20 weeks during the four law terms (Hilary, Easter, Trinity, and Michaelmas), and only in the mornings. When not in session, the justices of this court would be sent out on various commissions and circuits in the counties. The "Serjeants-of-the-Law" had a monopoly of pleading in this court.

  • COURT OF EXCHEQUER: Probably the oldest of the three "central royal courts," it normally held pleas relating to revenue or debts owing the king (or those where a plaintiff claimed to be "in debt to the king").

  • COURT OF KING'S BENCH: In England, a court applying Common Law to hear disputes (or "pleas") between individuals and the king, or in cases in which the king had an interest (thus including criminal law). This was the second of the "central royal courts" and met in Westminster Hall as well, for about the same periods as the Court of Common Pleas. Both attorneys and serjeants-of-the-law could plead in this court.

  • COURT OF THE EARL MARSHAL: This began in the mid-fourteenth century with jurisdiction over martial affairs such as treason, prisoners of war, ransom, and army contracts. It was presided over by the Marshal of England.

  • HIGH COURT OF ADMIRALTY: This began in the mid-fourteenth century with jurisdiction over naval affairs, but also many mercantile matters, especially involving those between foreign merchants on English soil, or between foreign and English merchants. It was presided over by a judge of the Admiralty, usually a Doctor of Law applying the Roman Law of the Sea.

  • HIGH COURT OF CHIVALRY: This had jurisdiction over disputed coats-of-arms, and followed Roman Law.

  • HUNDRED COURTS: Dating from ancient times, these met every three weeks or so in each hundred, and were attended by 40-50 people (those owing suit of court, bailiffs, various officials, and others with business to be heard), presided over by the hundred's bailiff. This court dealt summarily with minor criminal and civil cases, trespasses, debt less than 40s., breaches of contract, slander, and offences against the Assizes of Bread, Beer, and Weights and Measures. See also: "View of Frankpledge."

  • HUSTINGS COURTS (O. Eng., "House-Things"): Often but not always found in most boroughs, this court originally was set up for the settlement of trading matters and disputes arising from trade.

  • MANORIAL COURTS: Usually each manor held its own court, which regulated the agricultural affairs of the community and the enforcement of the bye-laws, labor services, transfer of manorial land, petty offences within the manor and against the servile dues, election of a reeve, etc. Such courts usually followed Customary or Manorial Law. In theory there should have been two types of manorial court, the Court Baron for free tenants, and the Court Customary for servile tenants, but in practice there was normally but one, meeting every three weeks or so, presided over by the lord's steward. The court also sometimes dealt with assault, trespass, and slander intra-manorially, and if the lord had a franchise, those rights were exercised through this court too.

  • PIE POUDRE COURTS: Courts held during the course of a fair, for resolution of disputes between merchants.

  • VIEW OF FRANKPLEDGE: A court held twice annually (at Easter and Michaelmas) by the sheriff in the hundred court in his tour (or "tourn") of the county or, especially by the thirteenth century, by a manorial lord including the right to oversee the activities of the members of local tithing groups and the enforcement of the assizes of bread and beer. Additionally, lesser offences such as failures in the Frankpledge system, obstructing highways, diverting watercourses, failing to raise the hue and cry, assaults, and breaches of local customs could be tried here and punished by pillory, stocks, or amercement.

  • WARD-MOOTS (or COURTS): Usually found in most boroughs, each ward usually had its own court over which its alderman would preside. These courts dealt with the settlement of minor offences.

CRANNOCK: A measure equal to a Bristol barrel.

CRANNOG: An Irish dwelling residing on a natural or man-made island.

CROFT: A small piece of arable land, sometimes, but not always, next to a house.

CROP ROTATION: In those areas that practiced 3-field crop rotation, the cycle consisted of 1) fall-sown grain, 2) spring-sown grain, 3) fallow. The principal fall-sown crops were wheat and rye, sown in October and harvested in mid-summer. The spring-sown field would get barley or oats or peas, and be harvested soon after the fall-sown field. The third field would lie fallow.

CUBIT: A unit of length equal to 0.443 meters or 18 inches.

CULDEE: In Scotland, either a hermit or a member of a collegiate-type establishment.

CULTURA: A cultivated field.

CUPA: A large vat, tun, cask, or pipe.

CUSTOMARY LAW: See: "Manorial Law."

CUVELLA: A bucket, pail, or tub.

CYMRAEG: The name for the Welsh language in Welsh.

CYMRU: The name for Wales in Welsh.

CYNE: Kin.

CYNEBOT: The atonement to the nation for the killing of the king.

CYNEDOM: The royal dignity.


DA'I: Summoner; a religious propagandist or missionary, especially among the Isma'ilis and similar groups. The mission is called da'wa.

DANEGELD: Tribute originally paid to the Danes (Dane Gold); later the system of personal taxation used to finance the king's activities.

DANELAW: That part of England roughly North and East of a Line from London to Chester where the Danes settled and hence where Danish Law held sway.

DANIQ: A coin or weight, one-sixth of a dirham or, more frequently, of a dinar.

DAR AL-HARB: "House of War"; the non-Muslim world beyond the Islamic frontier. Between the "House of War" and the "House of Islam" (Dar al-Islam) there must be, according to legal theory, a perpetual state of war until all the world accepts the rule of Islam (See: "jihad"). Until then the state of war may be suspended by truces but cannot be ended by a peace. A person coming from the House of War is called harbi.

DA'WAD: See: "da'i".

DEACON: The order just below a priest, one of the Major Orders. Deacons (and Archdeacons) assisted in matters of the parish not having to do with worship, such as care of the sick and poor, administration and maintenance of the local church and its lands, and administration of the Canon Law in the Church Courts.

DELITURA: Same as dilatura.

DEMESNE: The part of the lord's manorial lands reserved for his own use and not allocated to his serfs or free tenants. Serfs work the demesne for a specified numbers of days per week. The demesne may either be scattered among the serfs' land, or a separate area, the latter being more common for meadow and orchard lands.

DENARIUS: The English silver penny, hence the abbreviation "d." and the coin most common in circulation. See: "English Money." A penny; sometimes money in general.... First issued by the Romans during the Punic Wars replacing the didrachma as the main silver piece. At time of issue it was equal to 10 asses, but was later debased.

DESCRIPTIO: A tax on city property according to old valuations which were too high after the pestilence in the Eastern Empire.

DEVSHIRME: The Ottoman Turkish term for the periodic levy of Christian boys, collected for training and recruitment into the Janissaries, the Imperial Household, and the administration

DHIMMA: The pact or covenant accorded by Islam to the followers of other revealed religions living under their rule, according them protection and certain limited rights on the condition of their recognition of the supremacy of Islam. Members of religious communities benefiting from the dhimma are called dhimmi.

DHIMMI: See: "dhimma."

DHIRA': The cubit, or arm's length, subdivided into 24 digits. The length of the cubit varies in different regions and for different purposes. It is usually in the neighborhood of 50 to 60 centimeters

DIGIT: A measure of length equal to 10.48 mm.

DIHQAN: The country gentry of pre-Islamic Persia. Under the early Caliphate they retained for a while their fiscal functions and social privileges but later sank gradually to the level of the peasantry

DILATURA: Damages; a plea designed to create delay, generally founded upon some matter not connected with the merits of a case.

DINAR: From the Greek "denarion", Latin "denarius", the unit of gold currency under the Caliphate. The term went out of use between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries.

DIOCESE: A district subject to the jurisdiction of a bishop (with the "Archdiocese" governed by an "Archbishop"). The name is derived from the administrative districts created by the Roman emperor Diocletian. As Roman rule collapsed, often the local bishops either took control themselves in the face of anarchy, or were deputized to so govern by one of the Roman Emperors.

DIRHAM: From the Greek "drachma", the unit of silver currency used in the Islamic states from the beginning to the Mongol conquests. The term is also used to designate a weight, which varied greatly at different times and places and for different commodities

DISSEISIN: The forcible dispossession of a lawful possessor of land from enjoyment of the rights and profits of that land or other valuable perquisites.

DIWAN: An Arabic word of Persian origin, probably from a root meaning "to write." In early Islamic times the term was used of the central register of Muslim warriors and pensioners; later it denoted government departments in general. In the Ottoman Empire the diwan was a kind of state council, presided over by the Sultan and later by the Grand Vizier. The collected poems of a poet are known as his diwan.

DOLIUM: A cask of about 208 gallons.

DOMINICANS: See: "Mendicant Friars."

DOUBLE MONASTERY: Peculiar to England, a combined monastery for men and women, with separate sleeping quarters for them. Sometimes this took the form of two foundations side by side having their own buildings and cloisters but with a church in common. In either form both would be ruled in common by an abbot or abbess.

DOWER: In England, an amount of property or money or goods conveyed as a gift from the bridegroom to his bride upon marriage. Such property was controlled by her husband subject to the laws of waste, but upon divorce or his death it remained the property of the bride.

DOWRY: (1) A gift of land or an entrance fee offered to a religious house (especially a nunnery) with a new entrant. (2) The amount of land or money that accompanied a bride upon marriage from her family to her husband. cf. "Dower."

DRACHMA: The principal coin of ancient Greece; widely used, its weight and value varied in different times and places; 12 silver solidi among the Visigoths.

DRENG: The name given to a free peasant in Northumbria and sometimes in Yorkshire and Lancashire. The name usually implies that land is held in return for military service.

DRIHTINBEAH: Lord-ring, lord's compensation.

DRINCLEAN: Payment due from tenant to lord for ale.

DUKE: A title deriving from the Roman Dux, originally designating the governor of a special military district. Like comes, in time this first evolved into an office with supervisory powers over a number of counts and counties, and then into an hereditary title of nobility with rank superior to the count and second only to the King. In England, where the title did not appear until the time of Richard II, the title was reserved for members of the royal family until Tudor/Stuart times.

DUN: Scottish single family hill fort.

DYKKER: A bundle or last.


EALDERMAN: Same as ealdorman.

EALDORMAN: The chief magistrate of a shire. See also: "Earl."

"EALLE HORDAS BUFEN EORTHAN AND BENEOTHAN": All treasures above the earth and beneath.

EARL: The highest title attainable in medieval England by a nobleman not of royal blood. Also known in earlier times as Ealdorman, which evolved into Eorl (or "Jarl") with the coming of the Danes. Originally an office, with supervisory powers over a number of sheriffs.

EDOR: Homestead, farmhouse.

EIRE: The name for Ireland in Irish.

EMIR: See: "amir."

ENCLOSURE: The ceremony by which an enclosed one, anchorite or anchoress, is immured in a cell.

EORL: A nobleman. See also: "Earl."

EORLCUNDMAN: A man of noble birth, a thegn or knight.

EREMITICISM: The religious life as lived by hermits, individually or in groups (cf. "cenobiticism").

ERSE: The Irish name for the Irish Language.

ESCHEAT: The right of a lord to confiscate property held by a free tenant found guilty of a felony.

ESCHEATOR: The escheator's main duty was to safeguard the revenues gained from royal escheats. The escheator was to take the lands into the king's hands, discover their value by inquisition, and collect the revenue arising from the lands until he was commanded to deliver the lands to the rightful landholders.

ESNE-WORKMAN: Laborer, servant.

ESSART: See: "Assart."

EWAGE: Obligation of military service to a lord.

EXCHEQUER: The financial department of the royal government, originating as an office in the twelfth century. It had two parts: the Lower Exchequer of Receipt (where the money was received and issued), and the Upper Exchequer (where accounts were rendered on the chequered cloth table). The head of this office was the Treasurer (usually a bishop until the fifteenth century). Under him were the 4-5 Barons of the Exchequer (who heard accounts and judicial pleas in the Upper Exchequer), two deputy chamberlains in the Lower Exchequer, and over 100 clerks and servants. Sheriffs, in their role as regional chief accountants, presented reports to the exchequer at Easter and Michaelmas, and received tally sticks as their receipt, one half of the stick to the sheriff, the other to the Exchequer. Additionally, accounts were enrolled on the Pipe Rolls (membranes of parchment laid one on top of another and stitched together at the top) and kept as the Exchequer's own record, along with two sets of Memoranda Rolls, a Teller's Roll, and three sets of Receipt Rolls. Besides the sheriffs, most offices of the Household and the government had to render account as well. Money was paid out only through warrants issued either by the Chancery or the Office of the Privy-Seal (with payments recorded on Issue Rolls).

EXCOMMUNICATION: Exclusion from the membership of The Church or from communion with faithful Christians.

EXTENT: Valuation of land for tax purposes; value assigned to such land and property; the tax itself; to seize in satisfaction for debt; a survey.

EYRE (Latin Iter): The right of the king (or justices acting in his name) to visit and inspect the holdings of any vassal. This was done periodically, usually at irregular intervals of a few years. These were all-inclusive, comprehensive affairs, during which the powers of local officials such as sheriffs and coroners were suspended (and required to render account subject to heavy amercement). Large numbers of people would attend, to make account or to seek justice, and the justices would inquire into all manner of things--crimes and unexplained deaths, misconduct and negligence by officials, irregularities and shortcomings of all kinds, the feudal and fiscal rights of the Crown, and private disputes. Such eyres were known to provoke utter terror among the populace, many boroughs and counties preferring to pay heavily to ensure the eyre would not visit them (the 1233 Eyre of Cornwall caused most of the populace to flee to the woods to escape the eyre).



FAH: Foe.

FAIDA: Blood-money.

FAIR: A market held at regular intervals, usually once to twice a year. Fairs tend to offer a wider range of goods than normal markets. They are generally licenced by either the king, a local lord (including a bishop or abbot/abbess, or a borough). The Law of Merchants, often held in the Pie poudre courts, held sway over all trade conducted during the Fair.

FAQIH: The doctors of the law in Islam are called faqih.


FARSAKH: A measure of distance, based on the ancient Persian parasang and used in the eastern provinces of the Caliphate. It was regarded as the equivalent of three miles, as used in the ex-Byzantine provinces. The mile, of 4000 cubits, is estimated at about 2 kilometers

FATWA: A ruling or opinion on a point of holy law issued by a mufti and corresponding to the Roman "Responsa prudentium."

FARM: A fixed sum, usually paid annually, for the right to collect all revenues from land; in effect, rents or taxations paid in advance. Lords may farm land to vassals, receiving a fixed annual rent in place of the normal feudal obligation. Many sheriffs farmed out their shires, contracting in advance to pay a fixed annual sum to the crown, thus obtaining the right to collect any additional royal revenues for their own profit.

FEALTY (Oath of): The oath by which a vassal swore loyalty to his lord, usually on a relic of saints or on the Bible.

FEAXFANG: Seizing by the hair.

FELDE: Field.

FEOH, FIOH: Money, payment.

FERM: Rent. See also: "Farm."

FELONY: In feudal law, any grave violation of the feudal contract between lord and vassal. Later it was expanded in Common Law to include homicide, arson, rape, robbery, grand larceny, and aiding and abetting. Felons (along with Traitors) were uniformly punished by death and forfeiture of land and goods to the king. See also: "Trespass."

FICHT-WITE: Fine incurred for homicide.

FIEF: Heritable lands held under Lordship tenure; the lands of a tenant-in-chief. Sometimes this can apply to an official position. Often called a Holding. Normally a land held by a vassal of a lord in return for stipulated services, chiefly military. Sometimes unusual requirements were stipulated for transferring a fief.

FIEF-RENT: Money paid by a lord to his vassal annually in return for homage, fealty, and military service (usually knight service), or perhaps a butt of wine, a wheel of cheese, an animal, or a cord of timber. This became more common in the later middle ages, under the system known as Bastard Feudalism.

FINE: A sum of money paid to the Crown to obtain some grant, concession, or privilege. Unlike amercement, a fine is not a monetary penalty, although failure to offer and pay a customary fine for some right, will undoubtedly lead to an amercement.

FIQH: The technical term for the science of Islamic law. Of the various schools of fiqh that arose among Sunm Muslims, four are regarded as orthodox. They are named after the jurists whose teachings they follow: Hanafi (after Abu Hanifa, d. 767); Maliki (after Malik ibn-Anas, d. 795); Shafi'i (after al-Shafi'i, d. 820); and Hanbali (after Ahmad ibn-Hanbal, d. 855). The Shi'a, Kharijites, and other sects have their own schools of jurisprudence, differing in some particulars from those of the Sunni.

FISCALINUS: A serf of the fisc; a serf on a royal or ecclesiastical estate.

FITZ (Latin Filius, French Filz): An Anglo-Norman prefix meaning son, most commonly associated with sons of the nobility.

FLEMENEFERTHA: The sheltering or harboring of outlaws.

FLET: House, home.

FLYMA: Runaway, fugitive.

FLYMANFYRMTH: Harboring a fugitive.

FODRUM: Money paid to king or emperor in lieu of lodging and provisions for them; a military tax imposed on vassals.

FOLKES-MOTE: Meeting of the folk or people in the shiremoot.

FOLKLAND: In Anglo-Saxon times, land held by Folkright. See also: "Bookland" and "Laenland."

FOLKMOOT: Same as folkes-mote.

FOLKRIGHT: In Anglo-Saxon times, the term applied to Customary Law.

FOLLES: Byzantine coins, sometimes of gold.

FORATHE: Oath taken by plaintiff and defendant at the beginning of the suit.

FORE-OATH: Same as forathe.


FORESTEL: (1) Hindering the pursuit of a criminal; (2) an assault on the king's highway.

FORFEITURE: The right of a feudal lord to recover a fief when a vassal fails to honor his obligations under the feudal contract.

FORFENGUS: Rescuing of stolen or strayed cattle.

FORISFACTUM:. Forfeiture upon transgression.

FOSTER: Nourishment, support.

FOSTERLEAN: Remuneration for rearing a child.

FRAELLUS: A rush basket; also the quantity of figs or raisins in such a basket.

FRANCHISE: A grant of royal judicial authority to a private individual. Over and above the right of each lord/bishop/abbot to exercise judicial authority over his or her own vassals or tenants (both free and servile), some exercised the authority of royal jurisdiction as limited or unlimited according to the nature of the original grant. The most frequently specified juridical rights included: sake and soke (jurisdiction in general--usually over the hundred court--which in practice included most police, social, and economic functions); toll (the right to take tolls on goods sold within the franchise, and to hear questions of dispute over such tolls); team (the right to supervise vouching to warranty or the presentation of evidence of the right to sell presented goods); and infangenetheof (the right to hang a thief caught red-handed within the franchise with the goods on him). Some also had jurisdiction over pleas of the Crown (i.e., criminal offenses against the King's Peace).

FRANCISCANS: See: "Mendicant Orders."

FRANKALMOIGN: Land granted in free alms, i.e., in exchange for prayers.

FRANK PLEDGE: The legal condition under which each male member of a tithing over the age of twelve is responsible for the good conduct of all other members of the tithing. Failure to control tithing members can lead to amercement of the entire tithing.

FREDUM: A fine for disturbing the public peace.


FRITH: Peace.

FRITH-BRICE: Breach of the peace.

FRITH-GEGILDAS: Members of an association for mutual protection.

FRUMGELD: First payment of wer.

FRUMTYHTLE: First accusation.

FUL: Unconsecrated ground.

FYRD: The Anglo-Saxon Militia. Special King's Peace prevailed while going to or from, or during Fyrd service.

FYRDWITE: The penalty for neglecting the fyrd.


GAEL: The name given to Celtic inhabitants of Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man. Not dissimilar to "Welsh" (Gwael=Wales=Welsh) or "Gaul" (Gael=Gaul).

GAENGGANG: Pregnant.

GAFOL: Rent.

GAFOLLAND: Rent-land.

GAIRTHINX: Donation, gift.

GEBUR: A dependent cultivator of the soil.

GELD: See: "Danegeld."

GEMOT: A meeting.

GENEAT: A dependent cultivator of the soil.

GENERAL CHAPTER: Annual meeting of the heads of all houses of an order of regular clergy.

GENTRY: See: "Knight."

GESITH: Companion or personal follower of the king. Later became the thegn.

GESITHCUND MAN: One who belongs by birth to the class of gesiths; in the West Saxon laws appears to be of the same dignity as the eorlcund man of the Kentish laws.

GHAZI: Arabic term meaning "one who took part in a ghazwa,"; later used to designate those who took part in the jihad against the unbelievers. The name was also adopted by associations of warriors, notably in Anatolia.

GHIYAR: The compulsory mark or sign worn by the dhimmis to distinguish them from Muslims. It usually consisted of a patch of cloth of a prescribed color and sometimes also of other items of clothing.

GHULAM: A young, male slave. The term is variously used of a servant or bodyguard, a palace guard or attendant, a young mamluk, or an artisan bound to a master.

GRANGE: (1) A farm estate of a monastery, worked by hired labor and supervised by lay brethren; (2) a system of farming, created by the Cistercians and followed by other orders, which existed outside the manorial system.

GREYFRIARS: See: "Mendicant Orders."

GRITH: Peace, protection

. GRITHBRECH: Breaking of the peace.

GUILD: A term applied to medieval trade associations. The aims of such associations were to protect members from the competition of foreign merchants and maintain commercial standards. The first guilds were merchant guilds, then later came craft guilds as manufacturing became more specialized. Guilds maintained a system of education, whereby apprentices served a master for five to seven years before becoming a journeyman at about age nineteen. Journeymen then worked in the shop of a master until they could demonstrate to the leaders of the guild that they were ready to become masters. Guild members were forbidden to compete with each other, and merchants were required to sell at a just price. There was a heavy religious component to most guilds, each of which honored their own patron saint through sponsoring festivals, and floats or even plays on major feast-days.

GYNAECEA: Women's quarters.


HADBOT: Compensation for injury to a person in holy orders.

HADD or HUDUD: Impediment, limit, frontier. Hadd denotes the punishments for certain offenses specified in the Qur'an: fornication, false accusation of fornication, drinking wine, theft, and highway robbery. The punishments are execution, amputation of the hand or foot or both, and flogging .

HADITH: A tradition relating an action, utterance, or decision of the Prophet. The corpus of hadith constitutes one of the major sources of Islamic law.

HAJJ: The pilgrimage to Mecca required of a Muslim at least once in his lifetime. One who has performed the pilgrimage is called Hajj in Arabic and Hajji in Persian and Turkish. Once in a lifetime at least, every Muslim who was able to make the pilgrimage to Mecca should do so. He could visit it at any time of the year, but to be a pilgrim in the full sense was to go there with other Muslims at a special time of the year, the month of Dhu'l-Hijja. Those who were not free or not of sound mind, or who did not possess the necessary financial resources, those under a certain age and (according to some authorities) women who had no husband or guardian to go with them, were not obliged to go. At a certain point on the approach to Mecca, the pilgrim would purify himself by ablutions, put on a white garment made of a single cloth, the ibram, and proclaim his intention to make the pilgrimage by a kind of act of consecration. Once he arrived in Mecca, the pilgrim would enter the sacred area. By the twelfth century at the latest these had taken the shape which they were to keep: the well of Zamzam, believed to have been opened by the Angel Gabriel to save Hagar and her son Ishmael; the stone on which Abraham's footstep was imprinted; certain places associated with the imams of the different legal madhbabs. At the heart of the haram stood the Kaa'ba, the rectangular building which Muhammad had purged of idols and made the center of Muslim devotion, with the Black Stone embedded in one of its walls. The pilgrims would go round the Ka'ba seven times, touching or kissing the Black Stone as they passed it. On the eighth day of the month they would go out of the city in the eastern direction to the hill of 'Arafa. There they would stand for a time, and this was the essential act of the pilgrimage. On the way back to Mecca, at Mina, two more symbolic acts would be performed: the casting of stones at a pillar signifying the Devil, and the sacrifice of an animal. This marked the end of the period of dedication which had begun with the putting on of the ibram; the pilgrim would take off the garment and return to the ways of ordinary life.

HALSEANG: A fine to avoid punishment.

HAMSOCNE: Breaking into a man's house.

HANAFI: See: "fiqh."

HANBALI: See: "fiqh."

HANSEATIC LEAGUE: An association of merchants and towns of northern Germany.

HARAM: An Arabic term conveying the meaning of forbidden, sacrosanct, or taboo. It is used especially for the holy places in Mecca and Medina and for sanctuaries in Jerusalem, Karbala', Meshed, and elsewhere. The word is also used at times to designate the women's quarters of a house.

HAUTBAN: A measure of wine.

HAVOTUS: A measure of grain among the Belgians.

HAWGABLE: See "Landgable."

HEALSFANG: A pillory.

HEARM: Hue and cry

HEGIRA: See: "Hijra".

HEMINA: Medieval measure equal to about 10 fluid ounces.

HEORTHFAEST: Having a fixed dwelling.

HEPTARCHY (seven kingdoms of the): Names given to the seven pre-Viking Kingdoms of England: Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria, Kent, East Anglia, Essex and Sussex (Lindsey never counted).

HERBAGE: Pasturage.

HERESY: Any religious doctrine inconsistent with, or inimical to, the orthodox beliefs of The Church.

HERIBANNUM: Originally military service; later a corvée.

HERIOT: Originally a deceased customary tenant's best beast or chattel due to his lord; later a death duty.

HERSE: A knight or minor noble in Scandinavia.

HESYCHIA: In Byzantine Mysticism, the aim was to go beyond ideas and beyond all images whatsoever, since these are only a distraction. Then the mystic would acquire a certain sense of presence that was indefinable and transcended all human experiences of a relationship with another person. This was called hesychia ("inner silence"). Thus, since words, images, and ideas tie you to the mundane world, you must use concentration to quell this, and only then hope to transcend reality. This was not a process of reflection, but an intuitive apprehension of God, resulting in a sense of the unity of all things, a freedom from distraction and multiplicty, and the loss of ego. You thus transcend yourself and become transfigured by the divine "energies" of God. This experience did not have to wait until death, but could be experienced consciously in the mundane world. Slowly, the "path" to God in Mysticism came to be seen as through ceaseless prayer, the constant repetition of the words "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me." A physical regimen designed to control the body, especially breathing, was also introduced to aid the mystic.

HIDE: A unit of measurement for assessment of tax, theoretically 120 acres, although it may vary between 60 and 240 acres. It is by custom the amount of land that can be cultivated by one eight-ox plow-team in one year. Originally the land of one family, the estate of the typical householder. For fiscal purposes the shire, the hundred, the township were rated at an arbitrary number of hides, which seldom represented their true acreage.

HIJRA or HEGIRA: The migration of the Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in A.D. 622, according to most accounts on September 20. The Muslim calendar dates, not, as is commonly supposed, from the Hijra, but from the beginning of the Arab year in which the Hijra took place, that is, from July 16, 622. The Muslim year is purely lunar and has 354 days. The months do not therefore correspond to seasons and there are approximately 103 Hijri years to one hundred solar years according to the Gregorian calendar

HION: Membrane, covering.

HISBA: See: "muhtasib."

HLAFAETA: A loaf-eater, or servant. HLAFORD: Loaf-giver, lord.

HLAFORDESGIFU: Gift to a lord, a form of rent.

HLOTH: A following, any number of men from eight to thirty-five.

HODIUM: A measure of grain among the Belgians.

HOLD: A Danish noble.

HOMAGE: The ceremony by which a vassal pledges his faith to his lord, and acknowledges all other feudal obligations, in return for a fief.

HOMOLA: One whose head has been shaved.

HONOR: The lands held by a tenant-in-chief of the Crown, which comprised a complex of rights and duties.

HORARIUM: The monastic timetable for daily liturgy:

  • Matins: 2-3 am winter, 1-2 am summer;
  • Lauds: 6-7 am winter, 4-5 am summer;
  • Prime: 7-8 am winter, 5-6 am summer;
  • Terce: 9-10 am winter, 7-8 am summer;
  • ext: 12-1 pm winter, 11 am-12 pm summer;
  • None: 1-2 pm winter, 2-3 pm summer;
  • Vespers: 4-5 pm winter, 6-7 pm summer;
  • Compline: 6:15-6:30 pm winter, 8:15-8:30 pm summer.
  • In between time was set aside for two masses, dinner and supper, listening to lectio divina, daily chapter, and work.
  • Bedtime in winter was 6:30 pm, 8:30 pm in summer.

HORDERE: Treasurer.

HOSPITAL: The medieval hospital was especially common in towns. These were places for the elderly and infirm to live out their days in some relative comfort--essentially a church, with the sick lying on their beds in the nave, from which they could observe and profit from the liturgy of as performed daily. Some hospitals were reserved for certain groups, such as guild members or women. Leper hospitals were commonly sited near the town gate or beyond the town walls, to isolate the lepers from the rest of the population.

HOUSEHOLD: Specifically, the King's Household. Because medieval government was originally directed personally by the king, his household and its members had a role in government. All medieval governmental departments began as a division of the Household, including Chancery, Exchequer, the Chamber, the Wardrobe, and the royal Courts of Law. At some point, some of these "went out of court" and ceased to be part of the Household; that is, they had permanent offices at Westminster and no longer traveled with the king, though remaining subject to his authority (often prescribed by statute) in some way. These latter included, notably, the Chancery, the Exchequer, the Courts of Law, and the Office of the Privy Seal. The size of the king's household varied from 400-700 men and women in the Middle Ages--servants, clerks, and officials, along with the latter's own servants and hangers-on. Most worked in the network of departments that provided food, drink, laundry, stable, beer, music, medicine, chaplains, and so forth, each department responsible for keeping and rendering their own accounts. The Steward of England (or of the Household (normally a nobleman)) had overall responsibility for running the Household, and, hence, became one of the five principal officers of State (along with the Treasurer, Chancellor, Chamberlain, and Keeper of the Privy Seal.

HOUSE STEADS: HOUSE STEADS are forts strategically placed on a craggy precipice.

HUDEUAT: Fish-tub.

HUE AND CRY: The requirement of all members of a village to pursue a criminal with horn and voice. It was the duty of any person discovering a felony to raise the hue and cry, and his or her neighbors were bound to assist in pursuing and apprehending the felon. Those who did not partake in the pursuit were subject to amercement, as was the entire village if the felon managed to escape.

HUNDRED: An Anglo-Saxon institution, and subdivision of a shire. Theoretically, it equaled one hundred hides; but hardly ever did so in practice. Generally each hundred had its own court which met monthly to handle disputes between its residents. In those parts of England where the Danes settled the Hundred was called a wapentake, in Kent a leet, and in Sussex a rape. See: "Courts of Law."

HUNDRED LAGHE: Law of the hundred.

HUNDRED SETENA: See: "Hundred-court."

HUSTENG: Court of a borough. See: "Court."

HYNDE: An association of ten men.

HYNDENMAN: The head man over ten hyndes.


ICHOGHLANI: Turkish term, literally "inside boy," meaning "page of the inner (palace) service." It was applied in Ottoman usage to the boys recruited through the devshirme, and also to other recruits-slaves, hostages, and later even free-born Muslims selected and trained for the palace and imperial services

'ID: Festival. There are two major religious festivals in the Muslim year: the festival of sacrifices ('Id al-adha), which is connected with the Pilgrimage to Mecca, and the festival of breaking the fast ('Id al-fitr) after the end of Ramadan

IJAZA: License, that is, to teach; the document given by a Muslim teacher to a disciple certifying that he has satisfactorily attended a course and is therefore able to teach it. The certificate is often appended to the disciple's transcript of his master's lectures.

IJMA': Consensus, one of the major sources of Islamic law. Technically it is defined as "the unanimous doctrine and opinion of the recognized religious authorities at any given time." In the absence of any constituted ecclesiastical authority in medieval Islam, it comes to mean something like the climate of opinion among the learned and the powerful.

IJTIHAD: Literally, "exerting onself"; in the technical language of Islamic law, "the use of individual reasoning," later restricted to "reasoning by analogy." In the late ninth century it came to be accepted that only the great masters of early Islam had had the right to use individual reasoning and that, since all important questions had been considered and resolved by them, "the gate of ijtihad was closed." One who exercised ijtihad was called mujtahid.

IL-KHAN: See: "khan."

IMAM: A leader, especially in prayer, and hence by extension the sovereign head of the universal Islamic state and community. Imam is one of the titles of the Caliph. The term is also used by the Shi'a for their own claimants to the headship of Islam and in this sense connotes an extensive spiritual authority absent from Sunni usage.

IMPOSITIO: A tax on lands deserted by owners because of death or departure.

INBORH: Security, pledge.

INDULGENCE: Originally the remission of a temporal penalty incurred as a canonical penance for sin. By the late middle ages it had come to mean the commutation of a deed of penance for a payment of money.

INFANGTHEF: Same as infangentheof.

INFANGENTHEOF: Jurisdiction over a thief caught within the limit of the estate to which the right belonged.

INFIDEL: Any one having a strong adversity to Christianity.

IN-LAND: Demesne land; land retained by the lord instead of being let out.

INNS OF COURT AND CHANCERY: By the mid-fourteenth century the professional

attorneys and pleaders of the central courts in Westminster had formed themselves into a kind of guild, based around their residences in various inns located in and around Chancery Lane in London. Effectively they functioned as the Common Law university (as only Canon Law was taught at the two English universities of Oxford and Cambridge). The Inns of Court were: The Inner Temple, The Middle Temple, Gray's Inn, and Lincoln's Inn, along with Serjeants' Inn (for the exclusive use of the Serjeants-at-Law). The Inns of Chancery were: Barnard's Inn, Clement's Inn, Clifford's Inn, Thavies' Inn, Furnival's Inn, Lyon's Inn, New Inn, Staple Inn, and Strand Inn. These latter were of lesser status, for attorneys and chancery clerks who could not gain admission to the Inns of Court, and for students new to the study of the Common Law. In Tudor times these came under the control of the Inns of Court.

INQUILINUS: One who belonged to a class of tenants lower than coloni.

INTERDICT: The ecclesiastical banning in an area of all sacraments except for baptism and extreme unction. In general it does not ban high feast days. Used to force persons, institutions, communities, or secular lords to a view dictated by The Church.

IQTA': An administrative grant, often misleadingly translated fief. The term is used generically for a number of different types of grant, each with its own designation. The grantee paid no tax to the state but held in lieu of payment from the public treasury for service. His grant was thus in principle limited, functional, and revocable and carried only fiscal rights over the land and its inhabitants. At times such iqta' became long-term or even hereditary. A third type was a form of fiscal autonomy whereby the taxes for a region or group were commuted for a fixed annual payment


JAHILIYYA: Pre-Islamic Arabia.

JARIB: A measure of capacity, variously assessed at about 16, 26, and 29.5 liters, and in Mongol Persia at about 130 liters. Jarib was also used of a square measure, fixed for canonical purposes at 1,592 square meters but with local variants.

JIERESCHEVE: A payment made by burgesses to a royal official.

JIHAD: Effort or striving; the name commonly given to the Holy War for Islam against the unbelievers. Jihad, in medieval times usually understood in a military sense, was a collective duty imposed on the Muslim community by the Holy Law. A fighter in jihad is called mujahid.

JIZYA: The poll tax paid by protected non-Muslim subjects of the Muslim state (See: "dhimma"). The rate was in time fixed by Holy Law at one, two, or four gold pieces per annum for each adult male, according to his wealth

JONGLEUR: A wandering minstrel in medieval France and England, who entertained by reciting or singing.

JUND: Arabic word denoting troops or an army. In the early Caliphate it was used especially for the army corps quartered in the various districts of Syria and Palestine and hence to the districts themselves. The term was not used in this sense for the military districts of Iraq or Egypt, but it reappeared in Spain with the settlement of the eastern junds from 742 A.D.

JURY: In essence, a body of men sworn to give a true answer (a "veredictum" or verdict) to some question. There were juries of accusation, juries of inquest, grand juries, and petty juries. The latter became the jury of 12 common in criminal trials. Jurors were sworn to try evidence in court, and were expected to know about the case before coming to be sworn. However, if any communicated with a sworn juror during a trial, their verdict could be quashed. After hearing all evidence and charged to render a verdict, jurors were confined "without meat, drink, fire or candle" or conversation with others until they agreed on a verdict; and if they did not do so they were to be carried round the circuit in a cart until they did. The merest suspicion of juror misconduct was punishable by heavy amercement.

JUS PRIMAE NOCTIS: The right by which a lord may sleep the first night with the bride of a newly married serf; HOWEVER, this was a mythic invention of 19th Century writers of historical fiction: THIS NEVER OCCURRED IN THE MIDDLE AGES!!!

JUSTICES OF THE PEACE: Essentially a fourteenth-century creation, and originally known as the Keepers of the Peace, these were lawyers, magnates, and especially members of the Gentry appointed to suppress disorder, seek out and try felonies and trespasses, and enforce labor laws. These, along with royal justices sent on commission, became the major means of enforcing law and order in the countryside. They tried these cases four times a year (known as the "quarter sessions"--in effect miniature eyres), along with occasional shorter ad hoc sessions. Trials were normally by jury, and convicted felons hung, convicted trespassers fined or put in stocks. They could not hear appeals, or civil actions. The creation of this new office led to the further decline of the sheriff and the county courts, and especially of the hundred and private courts.

JUSTICIAR: The head of the royal judicial system and the king's viceroy when absent from the country. After the time of King John in England, there were no more Justiciars.


KAA'BA: Cubelike building, almost in the center of the great mosque in Mecca. The Black Stone, venerated as a sacred object is inside the building, built into the wall at the eastern corner The four inside walls are covered with black curtains (kiswa) fastened to the ground with copper rings. It is regarded as the focal point of the ceremonies of pilgrimage

KAFIR: Unbeliever, that is, one who does not accept Islam. Sometimes this term is applied to a heretical Muslim whose beliefs or practices go beyond the limits of permitted variation. The condition or doctrines of the kafir are called kofr. To denounce a person or group as kafirs, or a doctrine as kufr, is called takfir.

KEEPER OF THE PEACE: See: "Justices of the Peace."



KERMES: Red dye.

KHADIM: Servant or attendant, whether slave or free, male or female. At certain times and places the term connoted a eunuch; at others, a black slave or slavewoman.

KHAN: (a) a large building for the accommodation of travelers, merchants, and their wares. In Persia the usual term was karavansaray. (b) a Turkish title, originally a contraction of "khaqan" which, as a title of sovereignty, usually denoted supremacy over a group of tribes or territories. The title khan was used by Turkish Muslim rulers in central Asia from the tenth century onward. With the Mongols it was first used by Genghis and his descendants, later, by other rulers too. The Mongol rulers of Persia were known as Il-Khans, a term indicating subordination to a superior authority

KHARAJ: A generic term for taxes and tribute, later coming to mean the land tax as opposed to the poll tax

KHARIJITES: The earliest Muslim heresy. They differed from others on two main points: in their theory of the Caliphate, which was strictly elective and consensual, and in their rejection of the doctrine of justification by faith without works

KHATZB: See: "khutba."

KHIL'A: Robe bestowed by a sovereign as a mark of favor or honor.

KHUTBA: An address or sermon given during the public prayers in the mosque on Friday. In early times this was often a pronouncement by the sovereign or governor, dealing with political, military, and similar matters. Later it came to be a kind of sermon delivered by a preacher known as the khatib and normally included the bidding-prayer for the sovereign. Mention in the khutba was one of the recognized tokens of sovereignty or suzerainty in Islam; omission from it was a signal of revolt.

KILDERKIN: A cask of from 16 to 18 gallons.

KING'S PEACE: Originally the zone of protection around the king, violation of which was subject to penalty as a felony with trial before the king himself. Gradually English kings extended this zone of protection to their entire realm, and hence all criminal matters came under their jurisdiction (though in practice trespasses and lesser offences were handled by local courts).

KNIGHT: Originally the companion of a noted warrior who could afford to equip himself with arms and armor. As military tactics changed to favor the warrior mounted on a heavy warhorse, these evolved first into warrior retainers given at least enough land to support themselves and their warhorses as full-time professional warriors. Their status was below that of the barons (or nobility) of the realm, but above that of free peasants. With the rise of Chivalry and its ideals of loyalty and martial prowess within the context of generosity and "courtesy" the knighthood---until then considered thuggish and uncouth by the baronage--took on an idealism so powerful that not only did knightly behavior change, so did that of the baronage who now took up the new "knightly values" as their own. Over the course of time, knighthood evolved into an hereditary status, and stratified by 1500 into three hereditary ranks: knights, squires, and gentlemen. In the sixteenth century these "knightly classes" came to be called the Gentry.

KNIGHT'S FEE: In theory, a fief which provides sufficient revenue to equip and support one knight. This is approximately twelve hides or 1500 acres, although the term applies more to revenue a fief can generate than its size; it requires about thirty marks per year to support a knight.

KNIGHT HOSPITALLER: Holy order of knights pledged to administer to the sick and protect holy places during the Crusades.

KNIGHT TEMPLAR: Similar to the Knights Hospitallers, but more likely to provide protection and currency exchange for travelers to the Holy Lands. These were suppressed throughout Europe at the instigation of the King of France (who desired their wealth) in 1316. Their monastery in London, "the Temple," was then split into three, and the Inner and Middle Temples became the site for two of the five Inns of Court.

KUNEN: Same as cunen; possibly from tuna, a marten. (Polish.)

KUNYA: Part of the Arab personal name. The kunya was an appellation consisting of Abu ("father of") or Umm ("mother of") and followed by a name, usually that of the bearer's eldest son


LAADRING: Guide, avant-courier.

LAD: Purgation, exculpation; also, a form of service consisting in supplying the lord with beasts of burden.

LÆNLAND: Land held on conditional lease. See also: "Folkland," and "Bookland."

LAETUS: A member of the general class of coloni.

LAGAN: The right to things thrown up by the sea, lying on the shore, i.e., jetsam.

LAHSLIT: Fine for offences committed by Danes, corresponding to Anglo-Saxon wite.

LANDCEAP, LANDCOP: Purchase of land.

LANDGABLE: The basic money rent paid for a messuage of land in a town, normally due whether or not houses had been built on the tenement, and the total amount paid was determined by the number of tenements in the town, not the uses to which they were put. Sometimes this is known as hawgable.

LANDRICA, LANDHLAFORD: Lord of the soil, landlord.

LASTAGE: Toll exacted in markets or fairs, perhaps for buying and selling goods by measure. A custom exacted on a ship's lading.

LAUDATICUM: A tax of unknown nature.

LAW COURTS: See: "Courts of Law."

LECTIO DIVINA: A "sacred reading;" reading of the Scriptures and works of the Christian Fathers, for which St. Benedict allotted portions of the day, including during meals.

LEET: The term used for a subdivision of land in Kent equivalent to a hundred.

LEOD: Man, people.

LEODGELD or LEUDGELD or WERGELD: Fine paid for killing a man.

LESTAGE: See: "Lastage."

LEVE: Mercantile levy or impost; a fee for permission to trade.

LIBERTI: Freedmen.

LIBLAC or LYBLAC: Witchcraft.

LIDUS: One of the general class of coloni.

LITURGY: Public, as opposed to private, prayer.

LITUS: One of the general class of coloni.

LIVERY: To be given land as a gift from the king. Also the means to be given the right to wear a lord's livery (a modified form of his coat of arms).

LOGRIA: Gain or profit.

LORDSHIP: The system of governing whereby semiautonomous landed nobility have certain well-defined responsibilities to the king, in return for the use of grants of land (fiefs) exploited with the labor of a semi-free peasantry (serfs).

LOT: The share of taxation imposed upon an individual payer toward making up the aggregate required of the community.

LUMINARIUS: A man who pays a tax in wax for lighting the church.

LUNARIUS: A man who ploughed a field which took a month to complete.

LYSWE or LEASWE: Injury of kin.


MADHHAB: School of religious doctrine or law; usually applied to the four main schools of Sunni jurisprudence. See: "fiqh."

MADRASA: College or seminary for Muslim learning, frequently but not necessarily attached to a mosque. The Turkish form is medrese.

MAEGBOT: Compensation paid to family.

MAEGBURG: The kindred, kin.


MAHDI: Divinely guided; a messianic figure of the kin of the Prophet who according to popular belief, will return to earth and inaugurate an era of justice and plenty. His coming will be preceded and accompanied by various signs and portents. Many pretenders to this office have appeared in the course of the centuries. For the Twelver Shi'a, the Mahdi is the twelfth Imam in the line of 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet.

MAJOR ORDERS: The orders of Priest, Deacon, and Subdeacon. Progression upwards through the Minor Orders were required for entry into one of these orders.

MALIKI: See: "Fiqh."

MAMLUK: Owned, hence a slave. The term was in practice restricted to male white slaves, in particular those serving in the army and in government. This form of slavery came to be the usual path to military and political preferment and power. Many dynasties were founded by mamluks, the most notable being the Egyptian regime known to scholarship but not to contemporaries as the Mamluk Sultanate, which lasted from about 1250 to 1517.

MAN: In this sense to be a lord's man, to owe obligations to, in the forms of labor or service. A woman can be someone's "man."

MAN-AT-ARMS: A soldier holding his land, generally 60-120 acres, specifically in exchange for military service. Sometimes called a Yeoman.

MANBOT: Compensation for crime.

MANCIPIA: Goods, possessions, hence, slaves.

MANCUS: 30 pence.

MANOR: An administrative agricultural unit, which could be both exceedingly tiny or exceedingly large. Generally it had its own manorial court for 1) the settlement of disputes between peasants (both free and serf) holding land in the manor, and 2) for the regulation of the manor by the lord's bailiff or steward. It probably had its own hall, but not necessarily a manor house. The manor as a unit of land is generally held by a knight (knight's fee) or managed by a bailiff for some other holder. Often several manors might be under the supervision of a steward.

MANORIAL LAW: The system of law controlling tenure of servile land, inheritance, marriage practices, and personal relationships within a manor. Though this system was not recognized as a valid form of "law" by the king's courts at Westminster (See: "Courts of Law"), its various restrictions and requirements were recognized de facto by the manor's lord, and was the system under which the majority of medieval Englishmen lived.

MANUMISSION: The act of freeing a serf.

MANUNG: A district or population under the jurisdiction of a reeve.

MANWYRTH: cf. "Leodgeld."

MAQSURA: Box or compartment erected in the mosque for the ruler; usually near the prayer niche

MARABOTIN: A gold coin of the Arabs of Spain.

MARCA: A mark, eight ounces, two thirds of a pound; the mark of silver is 13 shillings and four pence; the mark of gold, £6 sterling.

MARCHER LORDS: The name commonly given to Norman landholders on the Welsh border. In Germany a Marcher Lord was known as a Markgraf or Margrave, and in France as a Marquis, from which this spread to Britain in Tudor/Stuart times as the Marquis, an intermediate title of nobility between Duke and Earl.

MARK: A measure of account accepted throughout western Europe as equivalent to 8 oz. of silver (no coins known as Marks ever circulated in England). In England a mark was two-thirds of a pound or 13s. 4d. or 66.66 pence.

MARKET: A place where goods may be bought or sold, established in a village or town with the authorization of a king, or secular or ecclesiastical lord. This noble extends his protection to the market for a fee, and allows its merchants various economic and judicial privileges. See also: "Fair."

MARTINMAS: November the eleventh.

MAWALZ: See: "mawla."

MAWLA or MAWALI: An Arabic term, the commonest meaning of which is "freed slave," "freedman," or "client." After liberation, the mawla retains certain ties with his former master and becomes a client member of his master's tribe. The same term was used by adoptive or client members of a tribe who were not necessarily former slaves. In the early Islamic centuries the term mawali was applied generally to the non-Arab converts to Islam.

MAZALIM or MAZLAMA: The investigation of grievances was a court of inquiry, conducted at first by the Caliph in person and later by an official appointed for the purpose, to examine complaints of miscarriage or denial of justice brought against agents of the government, powerful individuals, or the qadis themselves. It became a regular judicial institution with its own rules and procedure.

MAYOR: Most boroughs or towns were headed by a mayor, elected annually by the burgesses in the borough court, as administrative chief and representative to the king or the local lord (depending on the status of the town). The mayor usually had his own court.

MEDIMNUM: A Greek measure of about six pecks.

MENDICANT ORDERS: A general term for the various orders of Friars, indicating they lived by begging.

  1. Friars Minor or Franciscans: Founded by St. Francis of Assisi, these emphasized preaching. As a consequence, they were instrumental in the establishment of the University. Commonly called the "Greyfriars" from the color of their habits.

  2. Friars Preacher or Dominicans: Founded by St. Dominic, these emphasized the pursuit of learning and intellectual activity for combating heresy, and were equally important to the development of the University. Commonly called "Blackfriars" from the color of their habits.

  3. Austin Friars: Originally eremetical, these followed the Rule of St. Augustine, and emphasized urban preaching.

  4. Carmelites: Originally eremetical in Palestine, they were another urban mendicant order, but allowed more time for study and meditation than the others. Commonly called "Whitefriars" from the color of their habits.

MERCHET: The sum paid by a villein to his lord for leave to give his daughter in marriage.

MESA: A measure larger than a cupa; a doliolum.

MESSER: A custodian of the harvest.

MESSUAGE: A piece of land, varying in size, but large enough to accommodate a dwelling.

METHEL: Council, meeting.

MICHAELMAS: Feast of St. Michael on the 29th of September.

MIGERIA: A liquid or dry measure.

MILITARY RELIGIOUS ORDERS: See: "Knights Templar" and "Knights Hospitaller."

MILK or MÜLK: Form of ownership in Islamic law, similar to freehold.

MILLENUM:. The number 1000.

MILLEROLE: A varying liquid or dry measure of Provence.

MILLRAB: See "qiblah."

MILREIS: A coin used in the western part of the Mediterranean.

MINISTERIAL: One of a class of freedmen, peculiar to Germany, emanating from the fiscalinus and performing military and Domestic services.

MINOR ORDERS: Any of the four lower orders preceding the subdiaconate, required for entry into the Major Orders. All those matriculated into a university or college at the minimum were in one of these orders: Porter (i.e., doorkeeper), Lector, Exorcist, and Acolyte.

MINSTER CHURCH: A parish church or cathedral staffed by a chapter of regular clergy, instead of the more usual secular clergy.

MINSTREL: A poet and singer, also called a jongleur or troubadour, who lives and travels off of the largess of the aristocracy.

MISKENNINGA: A penalty for a mistake in repeating the set formula in which a litigant was expected to state his case.

MISSI: Royal agents under the Carolingians.

MITHQAL: Unit of weight, particularly for precious metals, based on the Byzantine solidus. The dinar weighed one mithqal of an average standard weight of 4.231 grams.

MONASTERY: A place where Monks or Nuns live for a religious life. The physical components consisted of: Chapter House: The place where the daily meeting of the community took place.

  • Church: The most important building in the monastic complex where much of the day was spent in prayer and worship. For the components of a Church, see: "Church."

  • Cloister: The arched walkways built around a square of grassy land where the monks spent much of their time, especially in warmer days. On all four sides the central area was surrounded by a low wall with arcades and a roof which thus provided covered passageways all around.

  • Dormitory: The barracks-style sleeping quarters of the monks on the second floor of a building, generally on the east range of the cloister (novices usually had separate quarters). Below this was usually located the monks' Day room.

  • Infirmary: A place of recuperation for the sick, and retirement for the elderly monks.

  • Lavatorium: Trough with running water where the monks washed their hands before meals.

  • Library: Adjacent to the church, the books were usually kept here (including those liturgical books normally used for the liturgy). At first kept in chests, then in cabinets, eventually the books came to be chained on shelves with sloping desks.

  • Refectory: Building where the monks ate their meals in common and in silence, while listening to a reading.

  • Reredorter: Building containing the monastic latrines--usually located over a ditch or stream.

  • Scriptorium: Sometimes a special building, sometimes just a place on the south wall of the cloister, where the monks copied books and documents.

  • Warming Room: Particularly common in northern countries, a place next the fireplaces of the kitchen, for the monks to gather and warm-up.

MONEY: The common currency in England in the late middle ages and until decimalization in 1971 was the Pound consisting of a pound of silver which was divided into 20 shillings (20s.) or 240 pence (240d.). One penny equaled two half-pence or four farthings. Thus, for example, £1 11s. 6d. was the equivalent in decimal terms of £1.575.

MONEYER: A person licenced by the crown to strike coins, receiving the dies from the crown, and keeping 1/240 of the money coined for himself.

MONK: See: "Regular Clergy."

MORGENGIFU: Morning-gift, gift from husband to wife on the morning after marriage.

MORTH: Murder.

MORTHERAS: Murderers.

MORTMAIN: The grant of land into the "dead hand" of a corporate body, which, on account of its perpetual existence, could not be liable for the payment of succession dues. This applied to churches, monasteries, and universities.

MU'AHAD: See: "'ahd."

MUDD: Measure of capacity in early Islam, probably a little over a liter.

MUFTI: Authoritative specialist in Islamic law, competent to issue a fatwa. Unlike the qadi, the mufti was not at first an official appointee. His status was private, his function advisory and voluntary, and his authority derived from his personal scholarly reputation. Later some rulers appointed official muftis from among recognized scholars.

MUHTASIB: Officer entrusted with the maintenance of public morals and standards in the city, especially in the markets. His task was defined as "promoting good and preventing evil," that is, detect and punish immorality, the use of false weights and measures, the adulteration of wares and similar offenses, and generally to enforce the rules of honesty, propriety, and hygiene. He was appointed by the state but was usually a jurist by training. The function of the Muhtasib is called hisba.

MUID: Approximately 52 liters; 16 setiers.

MUJAWIR: A sojourner, especially in or near a mosque or holy place, whose purpose was study or religious meditation.

MUJAHID: See: "jihad."

MUJTAHID: See: "ijtihad."

MUND: The Old English term for the King's Peace. Breaches of the mund were punished by a fine called a mundbreche.

MUNDBRECHE: Violation of the king's protection.

MUND-BYRD: Guardianship.

MUQATA'A: Term used in a variety of technical senses, mostly connected with the collection of taxes in the form of a global, agreed sum instead of by variable, separate assessment. It often, but not always, connotes some form of tax farming.

MURABIT: See: "ribat."

MURDRUM: Originally, a heavy fine of 46 marks assessed on the hundred which did not apprehend the killer of a Norman in its area. Later, a killing done in ambush or in secret.

MURENA (murex): A kind of shell fish, the animal of which yields a purple dye.

MUSTA'MIN: See: "aman."

MUWALLAD: Literally begotten, born; originally a person, usually a slave, of non-Arab origin brought up among the Arabs. The term was later applied to the children of non-Arab converts to Islam to distinguish them from first-generation converts. Later the term was applied to the children of mixed marriages, Arab and non-Arab, slave and free, black and white. At some stage it seems to have acquired the meaning of "mulatto."

MYSTICISM: There was another phenomenon of worship always present, always tending to slip outside the main structure. Mysticism was anti-intellectual--focussing on Faith, not Reason. The purpose was to reach an emotional state, to give to the individual an immediate experience, "touching" God. In Christianity, tremendous emphasis was placed upon the Passion and the Resurrection. By literal imitation of Christ's suffering you get closer to Christ, suffering patiently for your own salvation (for at the heart of Christianity is PAIN--the pain of a spiritual being forced to live on earth and die a horrible death). In Islam, from an early date, the desire for purity of intention had given rise to ascetic practices, perhaps under the influence of eastern Christian monks. Implicit in them was the idea that there could be a relationship between God and man other than that of command and obedience: a relationship in which man obeyed God's Will out of love of Him and the desire to draw near Him, and in so doing could become aware of an answering love extended by God to man. Such ideas, and the practices to which they gave rise, were developed further during these centuries. There was a gradual articulation of the idea of a path by which the true believer could draw nearer to God; those who accepted this idea and tried to put it into practice came to be known generally as Sufis.


NA'IB: Deputy or substitute, especially of a qadi. In the Mamluk Sultanate the Na'ib al-Saltana was a sort of deputy Sultan

NOVICE/NOVITIATE: (1) Member of a religious house who has not yet taken final vows; (2) the period spent as a novice.

NUMMUS: A generic term for coins, especially small coins.

NUN: A woman dedicated to the religious life, and usually a member of a religious order.

NUNNERY: A monastery for women. Also know as a Convent.


OBEDIENTIARY: Monk, Canon, or Nun who has been assigned particular administrative responsibilities in the running of the monastery.

  • Almoner: Distributed alms to the sick and poor.

  • Cellarer: Had charge of all the property, rents, and revenues of the house, supervised the servants and any lay brethren, and bought supplies.

  • Chamberlain: Provided clothes, shoes, and bedding for the monks and lay brethren.

  • Infirmarian: Oversaw the welfare of the sick and elderly in the Infirmary.

  • Kitchener: Oversaw preparation of all meals.

  • Novice-Master: Prepared postulants and novices for taking their vows.

  • Precentor: Responsible for the correct number of books for the liturgy.

  • Prior or Sub-Prior: The second-in-command to the Abbot/Abbess, who had general oversight of the monastery itself and those in it.

  • Sacrist: Responsible for the security and cleanliness of the monastic church, and the provision of vessels for the altar.

  • Succentor: Responsible for music and chant in the monastic church, and for the monastic library.

    OBLATE: Child placed by parents in a religious house with a view to taking vows when he or she reached the required age; the practice was rejected by the Cistercians and gradually died out.

    OBOLE: One-half denarius or halfpenny.

    OFERHYRNES: Contempt; disobedience; also, penalty attached thereto.

    OFGANGFORDELL: Form of ordeal.

    OPEN FIELDS: The normal system of cultivation in medieval Europe. These fields were made up of bundles of long narrow strips, the length of each representing the distance that the plow could be expected to travel before turning, with the width the amount of plowing that could be done in a day. Each community would normally have several such open fields, and each peasant possessed strips (determined by wealth and status) in each of them. See: "Crop Rotation."

    OPUS DEI: Literally, the "Work of God"; the performance of the liturgy, the daily round of services in the monastic church.

    ORA: The eighth part of a mark; sometimes reckoned at twenty pence, sometimes at sixteen pence. Fifteen orae equaled one pound in the tenth century.

    ORDEAL: A method of trial in which the accused was given a physical test (usually painful or dangerous) which could only be met successfully if he or she was "innocent" in the eyes of God. For this a cleric had to be present. At the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 clerics were forbidden to take part in such trials, which in turn spurred the creation of the jury system in England and the tribunal system of Roman Law on the Continent (in England Trial by Combat remained until technically outlawed in the early nineteenth century--but since a cleric was never a part of this type of trial the 1215 decision had no effect on its use). See also: "Compurgation."

    ORDELAS: Ordeals.

    ORDINARY: The bishop of a diocese.

    ORPIMENT: A yellow dye.

    ORWIGE: Outlawed.

    OUTLAW: Originally, a man declared to be "outside the law" and hence no wergild or other penalty might be attached to his killing. The king received all of his goods and chattels and his lord any land he held (of little deterrent to those who had none). From 1329 onwards, the outlaw could no longer be killed at will.


    PADISHAH: Persian title of sovereignty, often understood to connote imperial supremacy. It was used chiefly by Persian and Turkish-speaking dynasties.

    PALATINATE: In England, a county in which the tenant in chief exercises powers normally reserved for the king, including the exclusive right to appoint judges, hold courts of law, and coin money. The king's writ was not valid in a County Palatinate.

    PANNAGE: The privilege or money paid for the privilege of feeding swine in the woods.

    PARASANG: A Persian measure of length about 30 stadia or three miles.

    PARCHMENT: Usually the soaked and scraped skin of a sheep, but it could be prepared from the skin of any animal. With proper care, parchment can last virtually forever.

    PARISH: Each diocese was divided at its ultimate level into parishes, each with its own church and priest.

    PASCUARIUM: Payment for pasturage.

    PASSAGE: The toll upon goods or passengers.

    PATRIARCH: The Patriarch was the head of the Church in the East, invested by the emperor in a magnificent ceremony befitting his high office. Under the Patriarch there were metropolitans, archbishops, and bishops. Each bishop supervised the administration of his own diocese and his court, which included such officials as an oikonomos (in charge of administration of church property), a chartophylax (in charge of the chancery), a skevophylax (in charge of vestments, relics, etc.) and many others.

    PATRON: Founder of a religious house, his or her heir, or the person to whom his or her estates passed; the patron had responsibility for protection of the interests of a religious house in secular affairs.

    PEDAGIUM: Toll on those using a public highway or crossing a bridge.

    PICTURA: A portion of a field or vineyard.

    PIPE ROLL(S): A record of an audit of the accounts of each sheriff held at Michaelmas each year at the Exchequer.

    PISA: A weight of approximately one pound.

    PITTANCE: Small dishes of food and drink allowed to members of a religious community on special occasions, for example, on the anniversary of a patron.

    PLEADER(S): The pleader, also know as the narrator (in Latin) or the countor (in French), stood beside a litigant in court and narrated his tale (Fr., "count"), according to precise formulaic phrases, subject to correction. Use of the wrong plea or the wrong words in a plea could lead to dismissal or loss of the case--with no right of appeal. See also: "Serjeants-at-Law."

    PLEDGE: A personal surety. An individual who guarantees the appearance in court or performance of an obligation by another.

    PLOUGH-LAND: The amount of land which can be worked by a team of eight oxen in a year.

    PONDERA: Measures used for wool and cheese.

    PONTAGE: Bridge-toll.

    PORTAGE: Carriage or transportation; fee for this.

    PORT-REEVE: The chief magistrate of a mercantile town.

    POSTULANT: One seeking admission to a religious community.

    POTESTAS: Authority of a lord or father in Roman law.

    PREBEND: A benefice in a cathedral or collegiate church. Part of revenue of a cathedral; portion of land; a tithe; holder of a prebend; provender; food allowance.

    PRECARIUM: A charter whereby land is received in usufruct on condition of an annual payment; a customary tax originating in a payment on the request of the lord; corvee; payment in kind.

    PREMONSTRATENSIAN: Also known as the White Canons, A reform order of regular clergy, founded in North-Eastern France in the twelfth century, based upon a stricter observance of the Rule of St. Augustine. Thus an austere version of the Austin Canons.

    PRIMOGENITURE: The right of the eldest son to inherit the estate or office of his father. This did not become fully the custom until the thirteenth century. Before, inheritance was originally split equally among the surviving sons (called "Coparcenary" in East Anglia and "gavelkind" in Kent) or passed to the oldest surviving brother (witness King John's taking the throne instead of his older brother's eldest son), or to the youngest surviving son ("Ultimogeniture" or "borough English").

    PRIORY: Any monastic house administered by a prior or prioress. A smaller monastic establishment than an Abbey.

    PRIOR/PRIORESS: (1) Head of a monastic house of lesser status than an abbey; (2) in an abbey, the second-in-command of the abbot or abbess; sometimes called the claustral prior or prioress.

    PRISAGE: Toll levied by royal officials on provisions, especially on wines.

    PRIVY-SEAL, OFFICE OF THE: After the Chancery with its Great Seal went "out of court," the king, still requiring a seal to authenticate less formal letters than those issued by the Chancery or to send order to the latter, came to use his personal seal, or privy-seal. At first under the control of the Keeper of the Wardrobe, in 1313 a Keeper of the Privy-Seal was appointed, and soon the Privy-Seal Office too "went out of court." This office was created to supplement Chancery, was closer to the king and his Council, and gave effect to their decisions by sending out instructions and warrants to officials along with less formal records. This office had only 10-12 clerks.

    PROCTORS: Legal representatives of individuals or corporate bodies, usually in association with the Church Courts, but also to the king's council. Effectively the equivalent of the attorney.

    PURPRESTURE: A piece of land illicitly appropriated from the land of another.

    PURVEYANCE: Provision of supplies or services for an overlord.


    QADI: Judge administering the Holy Law of Islam.

    QA'ID: Leader, especially a military leader or senior officer. In Muslim Spain it connoted a general, an admiral, or even a commander-in-chief. In North Africa it was also used for tribal or regional chiefs recognized or appointed by the government.

    QALANSUWA: High, often conical cap worn by men, either under the turban or by itself.

    QAYSARIYYA: From Greek "kaisareia," or "imperial," "belonging to Caesar"; a public building or group of buildings with markets, shops, workshops, warehouses, and sometimes living quarters.

    QIBLA: The direction of Mecca, toward which Muslims turn in prayer. In mosques it is indicated by the prayer niche or millrab.

    QIRAT: From the Greek "keration", a grain or seed; one twenty-fourth part of a mithqal and, by extension, one twenty-fourth part of any whole.

    QIST: Measure of capacity, variously assessed at from 1.2 to 2.5 liters.

    QUADRANS: A farthing.

    QUARTANUM: One-fourth part of various measures.

    QUESTE: Tax or tribute.

    QUINTAL: A hundred-weight.

    QUINTARIUM: A measure of weight; a fifth of various measures.

    QU'RAN: This crystallized a language--Arabic--and was Arabic culture's crucial document not just because of its content but because one had to learn Arabic to read the Qu'ran. It is a visionary's book, but written down after Muhammed's death from his oral recitations. It is believed to contain all of God's message to Muhammed, word for word, and, as the full and final revelation of God's message, it contains all knowledge which any human being needs to know.

    QURRA': Readers, especially of the Qur'an.


    RAMADAN: During Ramadan, the month in which the Qur'an was first revealed, all Muslims above the age of ten were obliged to abstain from eating and drinking, and from sexual intercourse, from daybreak until nightfall; an exception was made for those who were too physically weak to endure it, those of unsound mind, those engaged in heavy labor or war, and travellers. This was regarded as a solemn act of repentance for sins, and a denial of self for the sake of God; the Muslim who fasted should begin the day with a statement of intention, and the night might be filled with special prayers. In drawing nearer to God in this way, Muslims would draw nearer to each other. The experience of fasting in company with a whole village or city would strengthen the sense of a single community spread over time and space; the hours after nightfall might be spent in visits and meals taken in common; the end of Ramadan was celebrated as one of two great festivals of the liturgical year, with days of feasting, visits and presents.

    RAPE: 1) The Sussex equivalent of a Hundred. 2) Originally, the abduction (Latin raptus) of a woman for purposes of marriage. Mostly this did NOT involve any non-consensual sexual intercourse; though when it did it constituted a capital felony. Occasionally the rape was a consensual act between lovers frustrated by the woman's father's or guardian's plans for her arranged marriage to another (thus in some sense similar to an elopement).

    RATL: Unit of weight, varying greatly with time, place, and the material weighed and ranging from under a pound to more than 4 pounds.

    RA'IS: Head or chief; a title given to certain functionaries in medieval Islamic administration. The ra'is might be the head of a government department. Under the Seljuqs and their successors the term was most commonly used for the officer in charge of civil affairs in a city, whose duties included police duties. He might be either a notable of the city, recognized and appointed by the royal authority, or a royal officer.

    REAFLAC: Robbery.

    RECTOR: The incumbent of a parish in receipt of all its income, responsible for the pastoral care of parishioners.

    REEVE: A manorial official charged with responsibility for the economic and agricultural management of a manor, similar in function to a bailiff, except that reeves were often of villein or servile status and were usually not paid a salary but instead released from labor services or granted a piece of property or both. Effectively, the manorial foreman.

    REGALIA: Royal rights.

    REGULAR CANONS: Communities of Secular Clergy living under a monastic rule, especially the Rule of St. Augustine.

    REGULAR CLERGY: Monks or Nuns--whether Benedictines, Carthusians, Cistercians, Premonstratensians, etc., so called because they follow a rule (Latin, regula).

    RELIEF: Monetary payment by the heir to a freehold tenement, paid to the lord for permission to enter into the property.

    REP-SILVER: Reaping silver.

    RIBAT: A fortified Muslim monastery, usually in the border areas between the Islamic world and its non-Muslim neighbors. Its inhabitants, called Murabit, were pious volunteers, dedicated to the jihad for Islam.

    ROMFEOH: Peter's Pence.

    ROTA: A measure, less than a quintarium.

    RUM: Arabic word for Rome. In medieval times this was the normal Islamic term for the Byzantine Empire and was sometimes extended to European Christians in general. After the Turkish invasion of Anatolia, the term was commonly used for the former Byzantine territories under Turkish rule and sometimes even for the Turks themselves.


    SAC: Jurisdiction in matters of dispute.

    SACCUS: A sack, probably of definite size and varying in different times and countries.

    SACRIST: See: "Obendientiary."

    SADAQA: Alms, probably from the Hebrew "sedaqa", sometimes used in the general sense of almsgiving and sometimes, more technically, as a synonym of "zakat".

    SALANDRA: An Alexandrian ship.

    SALAT: At first, salat was performed twice a day, but it later came to be generally accepted that it should take place five times a day: at daybreak, noon, mid-afternoon, after sunset, and in the early part of the night. The times of prayer were announced by a public call (adhan) made by a muezzin from a high place, usually a tower or minaret attached to a mosque. Prayer had a fixed form. After a ritual washing (wudu') the worshipper performed a number of motions of the body---bowing, kneeling, prostrating himself to the ground---and said a number of unchanging prayers, proclaiming the greatness of God and the lowliness of man in His presence. After these prayers had been said there might also be individual supplications or petitions. These prayers could be performed anywhere except in certain places regarded as unclean, but it was thought a praiseworthy act to pray in public together with others, in an oratory or mosque. There was one prayer in particular which should be performed in public: the noon prayer on Friday was held in a mosque of a special kind (jami') possessing a pulpit (minbar). After the ritual prayers, a preacher (khatib) would mount the pulpit and deliver a sermon, which also followed a more or less regular form: praise of God, blessings invoked on the Prophet, a moral homily often dealing with the public affairs of the community as a whole, and finally an invocation of God's blessing on the ruler.

    SAUMA: A measure of capacity varying with locality.

    SAYYID: Lord, master. At first this title was applied to the chief of an Arabian tribe; later it was used as an honorific appellation for other men of authority, including Sufi saints and teachers. Sayyidi or Sidi ("my master"), was a usual form of respectful address to such persons. The term Sayyid was also used extensively, but not exclusively, for the descendants of the Prophet .

    SCEAT or SCAET: Four sceats equal one penny.

    SCHEPEL: A bushel.

    SCIPPOND: A measure; possibly "schippond," a unit of weight in Baltic trade varying from 300 to 400 pounds.

    SCOT-ALE: Payment demanded of the vassals for entertainment in which they shared.

    SCOT AND LOT: A traditional phrase to denote the rights and duties of a citizen. Scot may denote an assessment on a local community, lot the dues paid by the individual member.

    SCUTA: A dish.

    SCUTAGE: The sum that the holder of a knight's fee may pay his lord in lieu of military service. Sometimes used as a form of tax.

    SCUTELLA: A little dish.

    SECRETARY OF STATE: See: "Signet-Seal."

    SECULAR CANONS: Communities of clergy, for example those serving a cathedral chapter, who do not live under a monastic rule, and may be allowed to hold private property.

    SECULAR CLERGY: A cleric admitted to one of the Major or Minor Orders, not living under a monastic rule, for example, the parish priest.

    SELION: A narrow strip of land of variable length lying between two furrows in the open field.

    SELIQUA: Same as siliqua.

    SERF: A semi-free peasant who works his lord's demesne and pays him certain servile dues in return for the use of land, the possession (not ownership) of which is heritable. Also known variously as villeins (French, from whence villain), boors (Old English gebur), churls (Old English ceorl), and naifs (Latin nativus)(or knaves).

    SERJEANT: A servant who accompanies his lord to battle, or a horseman of lower status used as light cavalry. Also means a type of tenure in which service of a non-knightly character is owed a lord. The holders of such tenure in serjeanty might carry the lords' banner, serve in the wine cellar, make bows or arrows or any other of a dozen occupations. Serjeants pay the feudal dues of wardship, marriage, and relief but are exempt from scutage.

    SERJEANT-AT-LAW: The specialized form of professional pleader in the central royal courts, especially the Court of Common Pleas, where they held a monopoly of pleading. These appeared especially at the end of the thirteenth century, and developed their own guild based on the Inns of Court in the fourteenth century. In medieval times they wore a "coif"--a white silk or linen head covering tied under the chin. In conjunction with the justices of the Court of Common Pleas (appointed from their ranks by the beginning of the fourteenth century), they made the Common Law.

    SERVI: Slaves or serfs.

    SERVILE DUES: Besides labor duties on the landlord's demesne and public roads--which usually amounted to three days of work per week, except during planting and harvesting, servile tenants were usually required render other rents and fines as follows:

  • Capitage: A cash payment rendered by servile tenants of a manor excusing their personal appearance in courts at views of frankpledge.

  • Chevage: A cash payment rendered for license to live or travel outside the manor, payable annually.

  • Fysilver: A cash payment to the landlord as a substitute for an earlier payment of fish to meet the landlord's needs during Lent.

  • Gersuma: An entry fine by an incoming tenant to the landlord for permission to take possession of a tenement.

  • Hennesilver: A customary rent, originally a payment of hens to the landlord, later commuted to a cash payment.

  • Heriot: A payment by the widow of a tenant of servile land to the landlord upon the death of her husband, often being a surrender of their best beast, frequently commuted to a cash payment.

  • Hewethyr: A customary rent involving sheep.

  • Leyrwite: A monetary penalty imposed on servile female tenants for fornication.

  • Maltsilver: A customary rent; originally a payment of malt to the landlord, later commuted into a cash payment.

  • Merchet: A cash payment to the landlord for permission to marry outside the manor.

  • Millage: Tenants were required to grind their grain at the landlord's mill for a fee; those who did not were heavily amerced at the meeting of the Manorial Court.

  • Pannage: A cash payment for the right to let pigs forage in the wood.

  • Sheriff's Rent: A customary cash rent often paid by both free and serf, assessed on virgate holdings and originally intended to help pay the expenses of the sheriff while he performed his duties.

  • Suit of Court: All serfs had the obligation to attend the manorial court, with amercement for those who did not.

  • Wethersilver: A customary rent, originally the payment of a wether to the landlord's flock, but commuted to a cash payment.

  • Winesilver: A customary rent, substituting a cash payment for personal service in the landlord's vineyard.

    SERVILE LAND: Land requiring servile dues. Free peasants could hold servile land as long as they performed the servile dues required (dangerous for a free peasant as a lord might then claim the free peasant as his serf--with the evidence the performance of these servile dues), and serfs could hold free land (which had no servile dues--and again was dangerous, but this time for the lord as the serf could claim freedom--with evidence his lack of performance of servile dues).

    SESTER: A measure of four gallons.

    SESTIERE: A sixth part of the city of Florence.

    SETIER: About three and a quarter liters.

    SHAFI'I: See: "fiqh."

    SHAHID: A witness, more specifically one whose name appears on the list of trustworthy witnesses drawn up under the qadi's authority. See also: "'adala."

    SHAHADA: First of them was the shahada, the testimony that "there is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Prophet of God". The making of this testimony was the formal act by which a person became a Muslim, and it was repeated daily in the ritual prayers. It contained in essence those articles of faith by which Muslims distinguished themselves from unbelievers and polytheists, and also from Jews and Christians who lay within the same tradition of monotheism: that there is only one God, that He has revealed His Will to mankind through a line of prophets, and that Muhammad is the Prophet in whom the line culminates and ends. A regular affirmation of this basic creed should be made daily in the ritual prayer, salat, the second of the Pillars.

    SHAMBLES: The area of a town where the butchers threw out their waste products in the street to be consumed by dogs and other scavengers. Usually this was near the river, and thus drained directly into the town's water supply.

    SHARI'A: The Holy Law of Islam

    SHARIF or ASHRAF: Noble, well-born; at first used generally of the leading families, then more particularly of the descendants of the Prophet

    SHAYKH or SHEIKH: Arabic word meaning "old man," "elder"; used in a wide variety of contexts: for the chiefs of tribes, religious dignitaries, for the heads of religious fraternities or of craft guilds and generally as a term of respect for men of position, authority, or advancing years.

    SHERIFF (from "Shire Reeve"): The official who is the chief administrative and judicial officer of a shire. Many of the sheriff's duties were taken over by the royal justices, the coroners, and the keepers (later justices) of the peace. Sheriffs notably collected the king's taxes and forwarded them to the Exchequer. The sheriff also was responsible for administering justice and enforcing the laws; summoning jurors; apprehending felons; maintaining royal castles; enforcing various mercantile matters; executing judicial and administrative writs and decrees; holding inquests, assizes, the county court, the sheriff's tourn, and the view of frankpledge; seizing and attaching persons, lands, and chattels; supervising elections; enforcing obligations for public works; and keeping extensive administrative records.

    SHI'A: Party or faction, hence specifically the party of 'Ali, the kinsman and son-in-law of the Prophet. The Shi'a began as a group of Muslims who advocated the claims of 'Ali, and later of his descendants, to the Caliphate. It developed rapidly into a religious movement differing on a number of points of doctrine and law from Sunni Islam. The Shi'a split into many subsects the most important of which are the Ithnsiashart (or "Twelver") Shi'a---so called because of their acceptance of twelve Imams, the Isma'ilis, and the Zaydis.

    SHIRE: See: "County."

    SICLA: Liquid measure.

    SIGLA: Same as sicla.

    SIGNET-SEAL, OFFICE OF THE: After the Office of the Privy-Seal went "out of court" in the fourteenth century, the signet-seal was developed to allow the king to continue to send instructions. Its keeper came to be called the Secretary of State by the sixteenth century--in medieval times he was always a clerk, never a bishop, with 4-10 clerks under him. This office wrote the king's more personal letters, along with instructions from the king to the Privy-Seal to issue letters or warrants, including warrants to get Chancery to issue a letter (thus, to make an appointment, the king would have to instruct the Secretary of State to issue a letter under the Signet-Seal to send to the Keeper of the Privy-Seal, ordering the latter to send a letter under the Privy-Seal to the Chancellor, ordering the latter to issue a letter of appointment under the Great Seal--a practice done for the benefit of the clerks of each office who largely worked under a form of commission).

    SILIQUA: One and one-third silver solidi among the Visigoths.

    SILIQUE: One twenty-fourth of a solidus.

    SIMONY: The buying or selling of spiritual things, particularly Church offices and benefices.

    SIPAHI or SPAHI: Persian word meaning "soldier" and later specialized to mean a horse soldier. In the Ottoman Empire the sipahi or spahi was a quasi-feudal cavalryman who received a grant known as timar.

    SITULAE: Measures containing eight setiers.

    SOC: Jurisdiction; a liberty, privilege, or franchise granted by the king to a subject; also the area within which that franchise is exercised.

    SOCN: Sanctuary, right of protection.

    SOKEMAN: Another name for a free tenant.

    SOKEN: Same as soc.

    SOR-PENNY: Customary payment for pasturage.

    SPIRITUALIA: Church property such as churches, glebe (church land), tithes, burial dues, etc., from which income is derived (cf. "temporalia").

    SPORTA: A basket.

    STABILITAS: The right of a lord to force a vassal to live on his land.

    STALLAGE: Money paid for permission to have a stall in a market or fair.

    STATER: A gold coin worth three solidi among the Visigoths; a silver coin of various values.

    STAUELA: Settle, bench.

    STERMELDA: Court officer (uncertain).

    STEWARD: The man responsible for running the day to day affairs of the lord's lands (usually supervising several manors).


    STICA: A bundle of 20 eels.

    STRIKE:. The rased bushel.

    STRONDE: Shore.

    SUBDEACON: A member of one of the Major Orders, ranking below a Deacon. Essentially an assistant to the latter.

    SUFFRAGANS: Bishops who were ordained so that they could conduct such services as required the possession of episcopal orders, such as ordinations and confirmations. They did not, however, possess jurisdictional powers such as those enjoyed by a diocesan bishop.

    SULTAN: Abstract noun meaning "ruler" or "power", particularly that of the government. At first informally, then, from the eleventh century, officially, it was applied to the person of the ruler and came to designate the supreme political and military authority, as contrasted with the religious authority to which the Caliphs were increasingly restricted.

    SULUNG: A measurement of land in Kent. Equal to two hides.

    SUNNA: See: "Sunni."

    SUNNI: Muslim belonging to the dominant majority group in Islam, sometimes loosely translated "orthodox." A Sunni is a follower of the Sunna, the accepted practice and beliefs of the Islamic community, based on the precedents of the Prophet, his Companions, and his accredited successors, as established and interpreted by the consensus of the learned.

    SURSISE: Penalty for contempt of court.

    SYXHYNDEMAN: One whose wergeld is 600 shillings.


    TABULARIUS: A serf freed by charter.

    TAILLE: Any imposition levied by the king or any other lord upon his subjects; a tax upon the profits of the former; a property tax.

    TAKBIR: To pronounce the formula Allahu Akbar, "God is very great."

    TALLAGE: A tax levied on boroughs and on the tenants living on the royal demesne.

    TALLY: Same as a "tally stick".

    TALLY STICK: "When the sheriff (or anyone else) paid in money at the Exchequer, he was given a tally stick as a receipt on which the sum was recorded by notches cut in the wood. The payer gave the money to one of the Tellers in an upper room at the Exchequer; the teller wrote a bill of receipt which was dropped through a pipe to the floor below where the tally cutter 'struck' a tally and the details written on two of its faces; the junior deputy chamberlain struck with a mallet a cleaver held by his senior to split the tally lengthwise; the senior read out one part (the stock which the payer would receive) and the junior checked the other (which was kept in the Exchequer), and clerks checked the written records." Tally sticks continued to be used until 1826; when they were used at last to fire the boilers in old Westminster Palace in 1834 they caused a massive fire which burnt the medieval palace to the ground (only Westminster Hall survived).

    TAMLIK: See: "milk."

    TARAWTH: Special prayers recited during the night in Ramadan.

    TARIN: A gold coin.

    TAYLASAN: A kind of hood or scarf, worn over the head and shoulders or the shoulders only. In earlier times it was regarded as the distinguishing mark of the doctors of the Holy Law.

    TEAM: The right of compelling the person in whose hand stolen or lost property was found to vouch to warranty, i.e., to name the person from whom he received it.

    TEMPORALIA: Possessions such as land, rent, mills, etc., from which income is derived (cf., "spiritualia").

    TENANT-IN-CHIEF: A lord or institution (the Church being most common) holding land directly from the king. All Earls were Tenants-in-Chief.

    TERUNCII: Small coins.

    THEAM: See: "team."

    THEGN OR THANE: Originally meaning a Military Companion to the King in Anglo-Saxon England. It has come to mean a land-holding administrative office. Originally a servant, especially an armed servant; then one who becomes noble by serving the king in arms; the possessor of five hides of land. The thegn before the Conquest occupied nearly the same position socially as the knight after it.

    THELONY: Toll levied on imports and exports.

    THEODEN: Chief, lord, prince, king.

    THEOW: A slave.

    THING: A law-court or assembly.

    THRYMSA: A coin worth three pence Mercian.

    TIHTBYSIG: Of bad repute.

    TIHTLE: Accusation. A Furmtihtle is the first accusation, a Withertihtle is a cross-action.

    TIMAR: See: "sipahi."

    TIMMERA: A measure; a quantity of small skins, 40-120 according to the skin, packed between two boards.

    TINE: A tub or cask.

    TINEMAN: Tithing man; a free man.

    TIRAZ: Word of Persian origin meaning embroidery, hence embroidered or brocaded robes, and then the workshop usually state-controlled, in which these were manufactured. Tiraz was often embroidered with suitable inscriptions. The wearing of tiraz and the granting of tiraz to other persons were royal prerogatives.

    TITHE: One tenth of a person's income given to support the local parish church.

    TITHING: A group in rural society consisting of ten or more males twelve years of age and older responsible for producing its members in court and for reporting illicit acts by group members to the sheriff or his representative at the annual view of frankpledge.

    TOFT: A small holding.

    TONNA: A measure (ton-a measure of capacity for wine; also a weight measure for cheese).

    TONSURE: The rite of shaving the crown of the head of the person joining the regular or secular clergy. It symbolized admission to the clergy.

    TORSELLUS: A bundle, probably of definite size.

    TOURNEY: Mock combat for knights. Regulated by the 1270 Statute of Arms, which aimed to prevent such tourneys from turning into the rape, pillage, and murder of the villages and towns where the tourney took place.

    "TOWN AIR IS FREE AIR": Words used in many franchisal charters to proclaim the freedom of any serf who managed to live there for a year and a day with out being claimed by his or her lord.

    TREASURER: See: "Exchequer."

    TRESPASS: The medieval term for our modern "misdemeanor." In the Middle Ages these included assault, wounding, damage to property and others down to selling bad beer and bread. Most of these were heard in the various local courts. Punishment for trespassers consisted of an amercement, or time in the stocks. See also: "Felony."

    TRIBUTARII: Freedmen; semi-serfs who formed part of the class of coloni.

    TRIENS: One third of a gold piece or solidus in Gaul in the sixth century.

    TROUBADOUR: Any of a class of lyric poets and poet-musicians who lived in Provence, Catalonia, Southern France, and Northern Italy in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries who wrote poems of courtly love and chivalry , usually with intricate stanza form and rhyme scheme.

    TUN: Villa, dwelling, town.

    TWELFHYNDEMAN: One whose wergeld is 1200 shillings.

    TWYHYNDEMAN: A man whose wergild was 200 shillings.


    UDAL: Allodial; freehold tenure in absolute ownership.

    'ULAMA or 'ALIM: A scholar, specifically in religious subjects. The term 'ulama is used to describe the class of professional men of religious learning who form the nearest Muslim entity to a clergy.

    ULEMA: Anglicized Turkish form of the Arabic 'ulama.

    UMMA: Arabic term meaning approximately "community," used of both religious and ethnic entities. The two were not clearly differentiated, although the religious meaning usually predominated. The term was commonly used for the community of Islam as a whole; it was also used for non-Muslim entities, both religious and ethnic . It was not normally used in medieval times for ethnic groups within Islam.

    UMM WALAD: Literally "mother of a child"; a slave-women who has born her master a child and thereby acquired certain legal rights.

    UNCIA: Six solidi among the Visigoths.

    UNCUS: A measure of land among the Danes, Prussians, and Poles.

    'USHR: Tax imposed by the Holy Law on Muslim-owned property for charitable and other purposes.

    USURY: The interest charged on a loan. Forbidden by Canon Law (based upon biblical injunction) to all Christians (thus Jews and others were exempt). Usually gotten around by giving the lender actual possession of property and its income during the life of the loan--thus the income served as the interest.

    UTFANGENTHEOF: Jurisdiction over a thief caught outside the limit of the estate to which the right belonged.

    UTWARE: Service.


    VAS: A vessel, probably of definite content.

    VASSAL: A free man who holds a fief from a lord to whom he pays homage and swears to be faithful. He owes various services and obligations, primarily military. But he is also required to advise his lord, attend his lord's court (i.e. suit of court), and pay him the traditional feudal aids required on the knighting of the lord's eldest son, the marriage of the lord's eldest daughter and the ransoming of the lord should he be held captive--wardship, relief, scutage, etc..

    VAVASOR: An inferior baron, or vassal; holding of a baron.

    VENALITII: Dealers (in slaves).

    VICARIUS: A deputy.

    VIERTALES: Quarters (of hodia).

    VIEW OF FRANKPLEDGE: See: "Courts of Law."

    VICAR: Incumbent of a parish church which has been appropriated to a religious corporation; the religious house receives all the income, and gives a portion of it to the vicar in return for his undertaking pastoral duties.

    VILL: A geographical unit, equivalent to a civil parish.

    VIRCA: Tenure by delivery of a wand.

    VIRGATE: A unit of arable land, varying in size from 18-40 acres, though the "average" virgate was a 30-acre unit of land.

    VIZIER: See: "wazir."


    WALI: In the religious sense it means something like saint or holy man, that is, a "friend of God". In law it denotes a guardian or legal tutor. In political and administrative usage it means the authorized holder or executant of an office, a function, a duty, or a privilege.

    WALREAF: Despoiling the dead.

    WAPENTAKE: In northern England and the Midlands, a subdivision of a shire; the equivalent of a Hundred.

    WAQF: Form of endowment or trust, of land or other income-producing property, the proceeds of which are assigned by the founder to a specific purpose. The endowment, which is irrevocable and permanent, may be either for some pious object, such as a mosque, school, or charity, or for the benefit of named persons, normally the founder's family.

    WARDROBE: That part of the king's Household which was originally the space in the Chamber where the king's clothes and personal possessions were stored. Over the course of time it evolved and came to have its own clerks and servants, run by a Keeper of the Wardrobe, and his subordinates, the Controller of the Wardrobe, and the Cofferer of the Wardrobe. The Keeper of the Wardrobe was particularly important, as he was responsible for receiving money for the Household's expenses, for checking the accounts of its departments, and for rendering these accounts in the Exchequer. The Controller kept a second set of accounts as a control on the Keeper. The Cofferer was responsible for holding coin and accounting for it. The Wardrobe came to have two main subsidiary departments: the Privy Wardrobe in the Tower of London for military supplies, and the Great Wardrobe near Baynard's Castle for civil supplies such as cloth, furs, and spices. Like the Chamber, the Wardrobe's importance in royal administration rose and fell several times over the course of centuries.

    WARDSHIP: The right of a lord to the income of a fief during the minority of its heir. The lord is required to maintain the fief and to take care of the material needs of the ward. When the ward comes of age, the lord is required to release the fief to him or her in the same condition in which it was received, without wasting it.

    WASITA: Officer of state under the Fatimid Caliphs, corresponding approximately to the wazir.

    WASTE: The term generally given to land which is unusable or uncultivated within a holding. It is not taxed. Land can also be wasted by the feudal guardian, or a lender to whom it was pledged as collateral for a loan. Such wasting was actionable at Common Law.

    WAX TABLETS: This was the commonest form of writing surface in the middle ages--a wood tablet covered with a layer of wax in which were scratched letters using a stylus. The wax could be smeared over and prepared for new writing at will. Often tablets would be joined together with 1-5 other tablets.

    WAZIR: A high officer of state, usually a civilian. The power and status of the office varied greatly. In some periods, as under the early Abbasids, the wazir was the head of the bureaucracy and virtually in charge of the day-to-day conduct of government. Under the Seljuq Sultans he was effectively head of the administration. At other times he was a relatively minor official. The Ottoman Sultans had several wazirs, the chief of whom came to be known as the Grand Vizier.

    WED: A pledge.

    WER: The pecuniary estimation of a man, by which the value of his oath and the payment for his death were determined.

    WERGILD: In Anglo-Saxon times, all society was graded according to blood-price or wergild- the sum of money reckoned as proper compensation in case of homicide.

    WEY: A measure of weight equal to a pondus.

    WHITE CANONS: See: "Premonstratensians."

    WHITE FRIARS: See: "Mendicant Orders."

    WHITE MONKS: See: "Cistercians."

    WIC or WICH or WYCH: Town, especially one with a market.

    WITAN (also called the Witenagemot): Council composed of nobles and ecclesiastics which advised the Anglo-Saxon Kings of England. By custom it also "elected" or ratified the successor to the throne. Resembles the commune concilium.

    WITE: A mulct, a payment by way of punishment, opposed to bot, which is compensation to the injured.

    WRIT: In England writs took the form of a letter couched in the form of a command. The king was the most frequent issuer of writs, usually in the form "Henry, king of the English, to ____, greeting. Do _____. Witness, the Chancellor. At Gloucester." Writs could be issued either "patent" (meaning any and all could look at it), or "closed" (meaning it was intended only for the person to whom it was addressed).

    WUDE: Wood.

    WUDEHEWET: Cutting of wood.

    YARD-LAND: Thirty or forty acres in possession of a gebur.

    YEOMAN: See: "Man-at-Arms."

    YOKE: A measurement of land in Kent equal to one quarter of a sulung.

    YSENBRUN: Galebrun, French coarse brown cloth.


    ZAKAT: The alms tax, one of the five basic duties of a Muslim. According to Islamic law it is collected from certain categories of property and assigned to certain specified purposes: for the poor, the needy, the, relief of debtors, the liberation of slaves, the welfare of wayfarers. The giving of zakat was regarded as an obligation on those whose income exceeded a certain amount. They should give a certain proportion of their income; it was collected and distributed by the ruler or his officials, but further alms might be given to men of religion for them to distribute, or else given directly to those in need.

    ZANJ, ZANJI: The people of East Africa, and hence more loosely, blacks in general.

    ZINDIQ: Used extensively to denote the holders of unpopular or heretical beliefs, particularly those regarded as dangerous to the state and society.

    ZUNNAR: The distinctive belt or sash which non-Muslims were required to wear.

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