The Sumptuous Use of Food at Castle Marienburg (Malbork) at the Start of the Fifteenth Century
By Olga Długokęcka and Wiesław Długokęcki
Acta Poloniae Historica, No. 102 (2010)
Introduction: In the late Middle Ages (fourteenth – fifteenth centuries) the attitude towards sumptuousness in consumption, including eating, was one of ambivalence. On the one hand, it was condemned as being at odds with the ascetic models of the Christian religion, while on the other it functioned as one of the indicators of the prestigious political, economic and social position of a group or individual. Sumptuous feasts were characterized by both the excess in food consumed as by its luxurious nature, which was connected with the rarity and price of the dishes, or the ingredients they were composed from, as well as the sophistication with which they were prepared and served.
This dualism in attitudes to luxurious consumption is well illustrated in the relations to it prevalent in the orders of knighthood that came into being during the twelfth century at the time of the crusades. These were called into being to fight with the infidel (the Muslims) and to protect pilgrims in the Holy Land. The fundamental role in these orders was played by the knight-brothers. They took vows committing themselves to observe chastity, obedience and poverty (the absence of personal property). This group wielded a power that was hierarchical in nature, for priests-brothers and sariant-brothers performed a secondary role in the order. The knight-brothers, who were representatives of the politically, economically and ideologically dominant feudal class, also brought into their congregations a range of elements of secular group consciousness, including their lifestyle, in which the sumptuous consumption of food played no small role.
The greatest role amongst the religious orders of knights was played by the Teutonic Order. In the course of the thirteenth century they obtained a series of possessions in Palestine, where their main house was situated, in the Reich as well as in southern Europe (France, Italy). Besides this the Order succeeded in creating and consolidating territorial dominions in Prussia and Livonia, which in the years 1308–9 were expanded to include Gdańsk (Danzig) Pomerania. Individual Teutonic houses with commanders (Komtur) at the head governed commandries (Komturei), the territorial units into which Prussia was divided up. In the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth century, the Teutonic Knights – a religious corporation and at the same time collective territorial power – played an important political and economic role in central Europe.