March (territorial entity)

"Marches" redirects here. For a commune in France, see Marches, Drôme. For other uses, see March (disambiguation) and Marche (disambiguation).

A march or mark was, in broad terms, a medieval European term for any kind of borderland, as opposed to a notional "heartland". More specifically, a march was a border between realms, and/or a neutral/buffer zone under joint control of two states, in which different laws might apply. In both of these senses, marches served a political purpose, such as providing warning of military incursions, or regulating cross-border trade, or both.

Just as counties were traditionally ruled by counts, marches gave rise to titles such as: marquess (masculine) or marchioness (feminine) in England, marquis (masc.) or marquise (fem.) in France and Scotland, margrave (Markgraf i.e. "march count"; masc.) or margravine (Markgräfin i.e. "march countess", fem.) in Germany, and corresponding titles in other European states.

Etymology

The word "march" derives ultimately from a Proto-Indo-European root *mereg-, meaning "edge, boundary". The root *mereg- produced Latin margo ("margin"), Old Irish mruig ("borderland"), and Persian and Armenian marz ("borderland"). The Proto-Germanic *marko gave rise to the Old English word mearc and Frankish marka, as well as Old Norse mörk meaning "borderland, forest", [1] and derived form merki "boundary, sign", [2] denoting a borderland between two centres of power.

It seems that in Old English "mark" meant "boundary" or "sign of a boundary", and the meaning only later evolved to encompass "sign" in general, "impression" and "trace".

The Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia took its name from West Saxon mearc "marches", which in this instance referred explicitly to the territory's position on the Anglo-Saxon frontier with the Romano-British to the west.

During the Frankish Carolingian Dynasty, usage of the word spread throughout Europe.

The name Denmark preserves the Old Norse cognates merki ("boundary") mörk ("wood", "forest") up to the present. Following the Anschluss, the Nazi German government revived the old name 'Ostmark' for Austria.