Eileen Power’s peasant Bodo has influenced our vision of medieval peasants for close to a century. Her image of a busy agricultural worker and his family serving on a great ninth-century estate, drawn from a variety of different sources in addition to the polyptyque of St.-Germain-des-Prés in which he briefly appears, has become the standard for textbooks and popular accounts. In spite of Power’s laudable effort to give an account of a lower-status person to whom the modern reader could relate, we know far less about Bodo or his contemporaries than she suggests. The difficulties of learning about the life of a supposedly typical peasant are illustrated by the peasant Hermod, who appears in the polyptyque of Montier-en-Der. The polyptyques, very few in number and all using different criteria to enumerate property and income, provide a dizzying array of peasant obligations: some owed rent but not labor, some owed set amounts of both rent and labor, and some seem to have been expected to provide labor at any times. The tenants themselves had a wide variety of status, from servile to free. These people were surrounded by others about whom we have no direct evidence, but there are indications that many of them must have been free-holders, not owing rents or labor dues to anyone, indeed perhaps providing hired labor to the manor. Twelfth-century hesitancy to copy ninth-century polyptyques into cartularies suggests that peasant status and obligations had thoroughly changed in the centuries after Bodo and Hermod, making them even less typical of high medieval peasants than they had been for those of the Carolingian era.
Bouchard, Constance B.
"Peasants and Polyptyques in the Ninth Century: The Peasant Hermod,"
Medieval People: Vol. 36:
1, Article 3.
Available at: https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/medpros/vol36/iss1/3