FORM AND SEAL. RESEARCH INTO ARISTOCRACY'S STATUS IN THE THIRTEENTH CENTURY - AN INTRODUCTION (Formularz i pieczec. Przyczynek do badan nad pozycja moznowladztwa w XIIIw.)
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The author works on the assumption, that one of the indicators of a higher social status might be both: a type of a seal image, and a place taken by one's signature on a list of document's witnesses. One's aspirations to obtain and to prove his higher social status may be observed i.e. through a phenomenon of a usage of equestrian seals, which were characteristic of dukes in the fourteenth century Poland. This type of seal was strongly represented in sphragistics of aristocracy from Malopolska (Little Poland) in times of struggle for political power. The political and social unrest and decrease of dukes' power contributed to a rise of political significance of knights. The inspiration for Polish equestrian seals may be found in Western European customs, since in the Western Europe not only dukes but also aristocrats used them. The phenomenon of equestrian seals' usage concerns only a few most prominent members of Malopolska's elite. At that time other officials from Malopolska emphasized their social status in other ways. Outside Malopolska - in Pomerania, Cuiavia and Great Poland - historian would find only occasional cases of equestrian seals' usage by aristocracy. Those, who used them (in times of decrease of ducal power), were always the high and mighty of the political elite. The analysis of the historical sources brings the author to the conclusion, that during the struggle for the throne in Cracow after the death of Leszek Bialy (1227), the power of higher officials, especially Cracovian voivodes, was strengthen. Their social status was marked not only by an appropriate seal but also by the prominent location of their signatures at the list of document's witnesses, and their intitulation ('dei gracia pallatinus', 'dei miseracione pallatinus'). It should be also emphasized, that in documents the members of aristocracy employed the first person plural ('nos'). The level of participation of aristocracy in the political decision-making process was diverse and depended on the region. In this context the situation in Malopolska was unique, since the Cracovian throne that symbolized the supreme power and authority, depended on winning favour with the elite of the region. Therefore the earliest proofs of aristocracy's independence and its great political significance may be seen in equestrian seals' usage and special form of a document.
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