King Charlemagne receiving the Oath of Fidelity and Homage from one of his great Feudatories or High Barons
Originally, the possession of a benefice or fief meant no more than the privilege of enjoying the profits derived from the land, a concession which made the holder dependent upon the proprietor. He was in fact his "man," to whom he owed homage, service in case of war, and assistance in any suit the proprietor might have before the King's tribunal.
When the Franks took root in Gaul, their dress and institutions were adopted by the Roman society. This had the most disastrous influence in every point of view, and it is easy to prove that civilisation did not emerge from this chaos until by degrees the Teutonic spirit disappeared from the world. As long as this spirit reigned, neither private nor public liberty existed. Individual patriotism only extended as far as the border of a man's family, and the nation became broken up into clans. Gaul soon found itself parcelled off into domains which were almost independent of one another. It was thus that Germanic genius became developed.
The King of the Franks, in the midst of the Military Chiefs who formed his Treuste, or armed Court, dictates the Salic Law (Code of the Barbaric Laws).
The tariff of indemnities or compensations to be paid for each crime formed the basis of the code of laws amongst the principal tribes of Franks, a code essentially barbarian, and called the Salic law, or law of the Salians. Such, however, was the spirit of inequality among the German races, that it became an established principle for justice to be subservient to the `rank` of individuals. The more powerful a man was, the more he was protected by the law; the lower his `rank`, the less the law protected him.