thane(redirected from Þegn)
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(Russian, druzhina), a band of warriors grouped around a tribal leader and, later, around a prince or king. This type of military organization is most characteristic of the period of the breakdown of the clan system and the emergence of feudal relationships.
Historical sources of the first century B.C. indicate that the thane of the ancient Germans was only a temporary organization, but by the first century A.D. it had become a permanent institution. The thane and its leader were bound by mutual obligations: the warriors were to defend their chief, and he in turn was to provide them with a living. Enriched by the spoils of war, these warriors were gradually transformed into a tribal military aristocracy. In barbarian law, they represented a priviliged stratum, often entitled to a higher wergild than the rest of the population. As a group, they supported the rising power of tribal leaders and the emergence of royal power. Among the German tribes, the societal role of the thane expanded greatly during the invasions into the Roman Empire (fourth to sixth centuries). As a result of the conquests and, later, of royal grants, thane members acquired landholdings and became a part of the rising class of feudal lords. Such bands of warriors were often found in the service not only of kings and princes but also of large private landholders. As feudalism developed, this system was gradually replaced by vassal relationships and corresponding types of military organization. The thane type of relationship was also characteristic of various non-Germanic peoples.