The Prince`s Stone
The Duke`s Throne
The Homage

The Installation of the Dukes of Carantania

Dr. Jožko Šavli, KdB, FSAI
The Augustan Society Omnibus, Book 13, 1991 p. 12 ff. (excerpt)

The democratic ritual of the enthronement of Carinthian princes on a stone throne was unique in feudal Europe.
Until the coming of the Franks, the Slovenes had their own administration and elected their own rulers.
(Detail from a fresco by Gojmir Anton Kos (1896-1979))

Carantania, the Slovenian Duchy of the early Middle Ages, situated in the Eastern Alps (present-day Austria), arose after the decline of the Roman Empire in 476 on the territory of the Roman province of Inner Noricum. It was first mentioned by Paulus Diaconus as »provincia Sclaborum« (Slovenian province) in 595, and thereafter by Fredegar »marca Vinedorum« (Venetian march) in 631. Around 670, Annonymus Ravennas called the population in this territory »Carontanos«, and thereupon the denomination Carantania prevailed in the medieval sources.

Obviously the name Carantania must be of very remote origin, »car« meaning the rock, hence a country with barren rocky mountains. The word »kar«, as well as its palatalized form „cer" (pronounce „cher"), i.e., a cliff are still found in modern Slovenian.

The above mentioned name has also been preserved in the form of Korotan or Gorotan, the latter compounded from the Slavonic word „gora" (mountain) added to the Indo-European „stan" (country, home). The name corresponds also to the people, the Carni, who dwelt between the Eastern Alps and the Adriatic Sea even in the pre-Roman period.

The Slovenian origin of Carantanians has been explained by historians until nowadays through the hypothetical invasion of the Slavs coming to the Eastern Alps across the Balkans from their alleged original homeland behind the Carpathian Mountains. This invasion should have been accomplished after the year 568, when the Lombards, on their move to Italy, left Pannonia, thus opening up the way for the Slavs into the Eastern Alps.

Nevertheless, no historical record speaks about such an invasion. Moreover, the descendants of the Carantanians, the modern Slovenians, belong in fact to the group of the Western, and not the Southern Slavs, as could be concluded merely from their actual geographical position.

It seems that the Carantanians, like the Western Slavs, had their ancestors in the indigenous people called Veneti or Vendi (Wends) that survived in Middle Europe as the peasant class during the entire Celtic and Roman period. In medieval sources they are still named „Sclavi coinomento Vinedi" (Fredegarii Chronicon, ad a.c. 623) and their country was „termini Venetiorum qui et Sclavi dicuntur" (Vita s. Columbani, ad a.c. 618).

The differences between the Carantanians on the one side and the Southern as well as the Eastern Slavs on the other side are perceivable also in their cultural and social life. At the time when they were first mentioned in historical sources, in 595, the Carantanians, in contrast to the other Slavs, already had their own state with their own duke.

In 745 the Carantanian duke Boruth received support against the Avars from the Bavarians, already christianized by that time, and therefore he also decided to accept the Christian faith. Thus he recognized the supremacy of the Frankish king who was considered, because of his alliance with the Pope, the protector of the Church and of the Imperium Christianum, i.e., of the Christian World.

The conversion to Christianity was accomplished by Irish monks under the leadership of Bishop S. Modestus, a saint, who was sent to Carantania by the Bishop of Salzburg, S. Virgil (Fiorgil), an Irish monk himself. In 753, S. Modestus built the Cathedral „Sancta Maria in Solio" (St. Mary on the Throne), presently named Gospa Sveta in Slovenian, and Maria Saal in German. It is situated north of Klagenfurt/Celovec in the Austrian region of Carinthia and his sepulcher is also to be found there.

In this way Christianized Carantania entered the European community under aegis of the Frankish kingdom, which shortly after, with the coronation of Charlemagne as Emperor by the pope in 800, became Sacrum Imperium Romanum, i.e., the Holy Roman Empire. The denomination „Romanum" was an evocation of the former Roman Empire (restauratio imperii) that was Christianized under Constantine the Great and represented the Universe. This medieval empire survived for one millennium, until Napoleon put an end to it in 1806.

The incorporation of Carantania into the Holy Roman Empire did not mean the loss of its statehood and independence. But its sovereignty became limited. From now on the King or Emperor nominated the Duke of Carantania, who, however, could excersize his powers only, if he was accepted and confirmed by the Carantanian „veca" (pronounced „vechah"), meaning „assembly".

The Conversio Bagoariorum et Carantanorum, written ca. 870, points with careful legal precision to the continuous existence of the right of the Carantanians to elect their ruler. Thus we read in this charter that after the death of Duke Boruth, the Carantanians asked for his son Carast (Gorazd), who was held in Bavaria, but was released and returned to Carantania in 751 by order of the Frankish king, where upon they made him Duke, „eum ducem fecerunt". And again in 752 after Carast`s death, in a likewise manner they received his cousin Cheitmar (Hotimir) and gave him the dukedom, "ducatum illi dederunt".

This shows that the Carantanians, i.e. Slovenians, had preserved the right to accept the proposed duke or to reject him if they felt pleased to do so. Thus, in the 11th century they prevented the appointment of three dukes nominated by the Emperor, because they were unrelated to Carantanian nobility (no relation even from the mother`s side) and therefore not indigenous in sense of the „institutio Sclavenica" (Carantanian law). In 1058 one of those dukes, named Kuno, and his escort were stopped by the Carantanian army when trying to cross the frontier from Lombardy.
The Prince`s Stone

An interesting ceremony concerning the enthronement of the dukes of Carantania by the people, and of the Carinthia it became, has been mentioned in historical sources since the 13th century. The most important sources are:

   Schwabenspiegel" (Swabian Mirror), a collection of legal customs and uses, written ca. 1275;
   Oesterreichische Reimkrinik" (Austrian Rimed Chronicle), written ca. 1306 by the Knight Ottokar;
   Liber certarum historiarum" (The book of the True Stories), written ca. 1341 by Johannes Victoriensis, Abbot of Viktring/Vetrinj near Celovec/Klagenfurt.

The Installation

The story recorded by these and other sources is, in short, as follows:

The Duke of Carantania is archmaster of hunts in the Empire. No one should have him or make him a duke except the freeholders of the land (literally „fryen lantsassen"), the majority of the free peasants, represented by „homini boni" (good men). They form an assembly and elect the judge (chairman), a man who appears to them as the very best and the wisest, not taking into account noble birth, but only honesty. This was done first to observe their oath to the land and the country.

The same judge then asks the assembly, whether he, whom the Empire has given them, is suitable. If he does not please them, then the Empire must give them another lord and duke. If however, he pleases them, then all of them, rich and poor, by general consent, will give him a warm and respectable welcome, as it is just and as it is the custom of the land.

The installation of the duke takes place on a hill named Krnski grad (Karnburg) in Carinthia. There, close to the church of St. Peter, is a meadow with the so-called Prince`s Stone.

The new duke, accompanied with the banner of the country, surrounded by nobles and knights, walks up to the hill. With one hand he leads a spotted bull and with the other a black and white war horse. He puts aside his precious vestments, and then they dress him in a gray coat and gird him with a red belt from which hangs a big red hunting bag, such as it is suitable for the master of the hunts. Into it he has to put cheese, bread and other food. They give him a hunting horn firmly bound with red straps. Besides this, they put two shoes wrapped with red thongs on his feet. They wrap him in a gray cloak and then place on his head a gray Slovenian hat with a gray cord.

A free peasant mounts the prince`s Stone. This office belongs to him by right of succession and is hereditary in his family. The duke carries in his hand a stick and comes forward. Alongside him are walking the Count Palatine, the landgrave, and other nobles.

   The peasant sitting on the Stone proclaims in Slovene language: „Who is he that comes forward?"
   And those sitting around him answer: „He is the prince of the land."
   After this, he asks: „Is he an upright judge seeking the well-being of the country, is he freeborn and deserving? Is he a foster and defender of the Christian faith?"
   All answer: „He is and he will be."
   The peasant then asks: „By what right can he displace me from this my seat?"
   The people reply: „He will pay you sixty denari, and he will give you your home free and without tribute."

Whereupon the peasant, after giving the duke a gentle stroke on his cheek, proffers him the place. The duke mounts on the Stone and, drawing his sward, turns in all directions in order to show that he will be a righteous judge to all.  And it is narrated that the duke then takes a drink of cold water out of a rustic hat, so that the people, seeing this, may not crave for wine, but may be content with what the native soil produces to sustain life.

Finally, they lift him onto a horse and conduct him around the Stone three times. At the same time all of them sing their Slovenian Kirie-Eleison, praising God, because they have been given a new ruler in accordance with His will.

In this way the first act of the installation of the Carantanian duke has finished. In this ceremony, each action and each piece of clothing had a particular meaning.

The „homines boni" as delegates of the people, and the peasant as performer of the enthronement of the duke, were free men because only as such could they act independently. Sixty denari was the symbolic price in sense of a contract of transfer of power to the duke, and so it became valid.

The same Stone which with its hardness and durability represented invariability and eternity, was a symbol of the divine character of power.

The stick in the hand of the duke was the scepter. The fresh water drunk from the hat symbolized life. The bull as the symbol of agriculture and the warhorse as a symbol of the army represented the basis of the State structure. The gray pieces of clothing represented the transitory nature of earthly things (the colour of dust). So the gray hat meant the ruler`s dignity and the gray cord on the hat their transitory life; with the gray coat on his back the duke became indigenous with the country.

The red pieces, on the contrary, symbolized the spiritual and eternal things (the colour of the Holy Spirit), so the red belt was a sign of virtue, the red thongs around the shoes were, in sense of the Bible, a sign of walking when announcing God`s message; the red bag represented the spiritual riches, etc.

A particularity which merits mentioning is the preservation of the Slovenian language in the investure ceremony, because since the beginning of the Christian era Latin had been used at all public functions.
The Duke`s Throne

Initially the duke of Carantania was elected by the representatives of the people, but later he was only confirmed, or rejected, by the popular assembly named „veca", „placitum", in Latin, or „taiding" in German. It is significant that the roots of the word „veca" (palatalized from „vetja"), are the same as those of the Witena Gamot in England (Indo-European „vet", discussion, process), the latter composed the peers from whom the king was elected.

The Carantanian assembly, or „veca",however, conserved its original character as a popular, i.e. national meeting, and it was also the judicial assembly of the country. Therefore, the popular or people`s judges were present there, and one of them was elected as chairman. The nation itself as mentioned above, was represented by the „good men", the delegates.

During the development of feudalism in Carantania this part prevailed after the 10th century, the „veca" grew into a feudal seigniority and it was preserved until the 16th century. Its sentence was obligatory to feudal lords as well.

The duke remained at all events the supreme judge in the country. After assuming power over the country in the ceremony on the Prince' Stone, he took office as the supreme judge as well. After the installation, another seat was provided for this act, namely the throne. Following the enthronement on the Stone the ceremony proceeded, as historical sources show, as follows:

The duke hastens with his escort from the hill of Krnski grad over the wide field to the cathedral Maria in Solio. There the bishop or a supreme prelate celebrates Mass, assisted by prelates of the land, superiors, and abbots, and blesses the Duke, still wearing his rustic dress, according to the instructions of the pontifical book. After the ceremony these vestments are distributed among the poor according to the instructions of his chamberlain. Then he goes to a banquet where the marshal, the chamberlain, the seneschal, and the butler distinguish themselves with their services.

Then the duke and his escort proceed to the field close to the cathedral. There one can see a tribunal erected and it is named the Duke`s Throne. From this seat the duke judges and renders justice to all plaintiffs. There he also bestows the fiefs associated with the land and belonging to him. On the other side of the Throne sits the Count Palatine (the king`s representative) who confers fiefs to those who were refused by the duke , so as to not prolong the quarrel!

When sitting on this Throne, the duke could also be accused, but only by a Slovenian man, of not having given him his due. The plaintiff must speak in this manner:

„I don`t know, good Sir, what you mean as to not having given me the satisfaction."
Upon that, if he wished, the duke could reply, I don`t know, good friend, what you mean. I don`t understand your language."

What did this mean? Until the duke received his fief Carantania from the Emperor, anybody could bring him to trial. Afterwards, however, only a Slovenian could accuse him. This impeachment, in the sense of the valid Carantanian law (institutio Sclavenica) could not be rejected.

Anyway, as the Prince of State subordinates only to the King`s Court, the duke could evade the accusation, making the pretext of not understanding the Slovenian language. But the duke could be sued anew by the Slovenian man before the King`s Court, and then, as the prince of the Slovenian land, he has the right to justify himself only in Slovenian.

Should the duke betake himself to the court of the Roman Emperor, he should go there in the rustic dress belonging to the Duke of Carantania, and bring him a stag (as the hunt`s archmaster). And no one should despise himself if he does not remove his hat in the Emperor`s presence, because this is his right.

The entire ceremony of the installation was in use for the last time in 1414 on the occasion of the enthronement of Duke Ernst the Iron (Ernst der Eiserne) from the Leopoldine line of the Habsburg family who ruled Inner Austria, i.e., Carantania.
The Homage

His son and successor, Frederick III, was elected Roman King in 1440 and Roman Emperor 1452. In 1443 he visited Carinthia (Carantania) and he insisted on being exempt from the ceremony as incompatible with royal dignity. He bestowed the fiefs in Št. Vid, the chief town of the province, and issued a letter with the statement that the non-observance of the ancient ritual did not absolve his successors from observing it.

This may be as he said, but the succeeding Habsburg dukes, who all ascended the throne as Roman Emperors too, did not maintain the popular ceremony of installation. Sitting on the Duke`s Throne, and at times represented  by substitutes, they received only homage from the States. This ceremony was also held in Slovenian. After 1660 homage to the ruler was paid in the country-house of Celovec. The ruler gave his oath that he would recognize the privileges of the country.

The Emperor Charles VI was the last of the rulers to receive the homage, in 1728. His daughter and heiress, Maria Theresa, rescinded the practice because the privileges of the country were included „forever" in the Law of the Pragmatic Sanction, necessary for the validity of a female successor on the Imperial Throne, and passed by the States in 1720.

Through the centuries, this ceremony, however, aroused the curiosity of numerous social theoreticians and writers. It was described by A. S. Piccolomini - Pius II - in his work De Europa (Memmingen ca. 1490), and thereafter by J. Bodin, the father of contractual theory, in his Les Six Livres de la République (Paris 1576) and so on.

Piccolomini's description made this ceremony known and popularized in all Europe. It served as a source for numerous writers and among them were M.A.C. Sabellicus (Eneades Rapsodiae Historicae, Opera Omnia, Basel 1560) and P. Mexia (Silva de Varia Lezion, Seville 1570).

The stone as symbol of coronation can also be found in other nations in Europe. For example, the coronation stone is found in England. It is a gray sandstone that stands now on the ground of the modern Guild Hall in Kingston, where seven Anglo Saxon Kings were crowned.

Another stone, the so-called Stone of Scone (a yellow sandstone) is placed under the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey. It was associated with the crowning of Scottish Kings and was also called the Stone of Destiny or Liag Fáil in Scottish Gaelic. In 1296, the stone together with Scottish regalia, was transferred from the monastery of Scone in Scotland to London and placed into Westminster Abbey. It symbolized that the kings of England would be crowned as kings of Scotland also.

In Sweden, according to Olaus Manus (1560), the magnates elected their king at a stone named Mora Sten that was placed in a meadow near Uppsala. The king, after having been elected, mounted the stone, swung his sword and took an oath to respect the law. Thereupon the crowning in the church followed. Eric Knutsson was the first Swedish king who was elected at the stone and swore his oath on it in 1210. The last was Kristian I in 1457.

The great similarity between the stones and ceremonies to the rites of the enthronement of the Dukes of Carantania is striking and one is forced to ask himself if they have a common root.

The symbolic meaning of the stone in such ceremonies is not in the classical Graeco-Roman tradition. If there is a common root, it would have to be sought in the pre-Roman period, when the ancient Veneti, and after them the Celts, dominated Europe.

In contrast to this, many nations had as a symbol of sovereignty, a chair or stool on which they installed their rulers. So, the Czechs had their Dedicný trun (ancestor`s throne) in Prague, the Ukrainians their Ocetny stol (father`s throne) in Kiev.

These ancient symbols and rituals, in which the elements are reminders of the transfer of sovereignty, should be researched and considered by students of political philosophy.

   Grafenauer, B. , Ustocevanje koroških vojvod in drzava karntanskih Slovencev, Zusammenfassung: Die Kärntner Herzogseinsetzung und der Staat der Karantanerslawen, Ljubljana 1952
   Felicijan, J., The Genesis of the copntractual Theory and the Installation of the Dukes of Carinthia, Cleveland 1967
   Mal J., Die Eigenart des karantanischen heryogtums, in Südostforschungen, Munich 1961
   Vilfan, S., Evoluzione statale degli Sloveni e Croati, in Settimae di studio del Centro italiano di studi sull' alto medioevo (XXX Gli Slavi Occidentali e Meridionali nell`alto medioevo), Spoleto 1983