Between village and town. Rural society in Rheingau and Rheinhessen in the late Middle Ages
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Rheingau and Rheinhessen are small regions situated on both banks of the river Rhine, in the south-west of Germany near the city of Mainz. In the Middle Ages these regions were densely populated due to their central location, the importance of the Rhine as transport axis and their good conditions for agriculture. The land was especially suitable for vineyards in the villages on the river bank. The Ingelheim court records provide insights into the late Medieval societies of such villages. Above all, society was complex and stratified; we find noblemen, artisans, peasants and day-labourers living as neighbours within the villages. A common feature of the different ZAA groups was the involvement in viticulture: Nearly everyone, even farm hands, worked part time as winegrowers on small parcels of land. Vineyards were mostly leased land. The land was fragmented since – in the case of offspring – property had to be divided among the children in equal shares regardless of their sex. People had social links beyond their villages and regions, and mobility was high; serfdom was not common and people could easily leave the village. Economy was formed by the needs of viticulture. This came along with an export orientation and a dependency on credits, since most winegrowers received money only once a year, when they sold their wine. Sales were managed directly by the producers, by local merchants, by foreign traders, but also by local or regional cooperatives. The wine as even brokered in the trade centre Cologne. These communities were agrarian and agricultural, but they had ceased to be plain rural, even if they could not be considered urban. All in all, this agricultural landscape challenges our view of rural societies as well as our view of the relationship between town and country.
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