Mark or march (or various plural forms of these words) are derived from the Frankish word marka ("boundary") and refer to an area along a border, e.g. the borderland between England and Scotland. During the Frankish Carolingian Dynasty, the word spread throughout Europe.

The Frankish word marka comes from Proto-Germanic marko, which itself comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *mereg-, meaning "edge, boundary". The root *mereg- gave Latin margo ("margin"), Old Irish mruig ("borderland"), Persian marz ("border, land"), and indeed even English "mark". It seems in Old English "mark" meant "boundary", or "sign of a boundary", and the meaning later evolved into "sign in general", "impression or trace forming a sign". The word "march" in the sense of borderland was borrowed from French marche, which had borrowed it from Frankish. The word "mark" in the sense of borderland is a modern borrowing from German Mark.


Catalonia and the "Spanish Marches"

Beyond the province of Septimania, after some early setbacks, Charlemagne's son Louis took Barcelona from the Moorish emir in 801. thus he established a foothold in the borderland between the Franks and the Moors. The Carolingian "Spanish Marches" (Marca Hispanica) became a buffer zone ruled by the Count of Barcelona, with its own outlying small separate territories, each ruled by a lesser miles with armed retainers, who theoretically owed allegiance through the Count to the Emperor, or with less fealty to his Carolingian and Ottonian successors. Each was the catlá ("castellan" or lord of the castle) in an area largely defined by a day's ride, the region dotted with strongholds becoming known by them, like Castile at a later date, as "Catalunya." Counties in the Pyreneees that appeared in the 9th century as appanages of the counts of Barcelona included Cerdagne, Gerona and Urgel.

In the early 9th century, Charlemagne issued his new kind of land grant the aprisio, which redisposed land belonging to the Imperial fisc in deserted areas, and included special rights and immunities that resulted in a range of independence of action. Historians interpret the aprisio both as the basis of feudalism and in economic and military terms as a mechanism to entice settlers to a depopulated border region. Such self-sufficient landholders would aid the counts in providing armed men in defense of the Frankish frontier. Aprisio grants (the first ones were in Septimania) emanated directly from the Carolingian king, and they reinforced central loyalties, to counterbalance the local power exercised by powerful marcher counts.

But communications were arduous, and the power center was far away. Primitive feudal entities developed, self-sufficient and agrarian, each ruled by a small hereditary military elite. The sequence in Catalonia exhibits a pattern that emerges similarly in marches everywhere. The Count is appointed by the king (from 802), the appointment settles on the heirs of a strong count (Sunifred) and the appointment becomes a formality, until the position is declared hereditary (897) and then the County declares itself independent (by Borrell II in 985). At each stage the de facto situation precedes the de jure assertion, which merely regularizes an existing fact of life. This is feudalism in the larger landscape.

Certain of the Counts aspired to the characteristically Frankish (Germanic) title "Margrave of the Spanish March, a "margrave" being a graf ("count") of the march.

The early History of Andorra provides a fairly typical career of another such buffer state, the only modern survivor in the Pyrenees of the Spanish Marches. There the


  • The march of the Danes


The name of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom in the midlands of England was Mercia. The name "Mercia" comes from the Old English for "boundary folk", and the traditional interpretation was that the kingdom originated along the frontier between the Welsh and the Anglo-Saxon invaders, although P. Hunter Blair has argued an alternative interpretation that they emerged along the frontier between the kingdom of Northumbria and the inhabitants of the Trent river valley.

Later border areas between England and Wales, and between England and Scotland, were denominated marcher.

The Earl of March is at least two distinct feudal titles: one, created 1328, held by the powerful border families of Mortimer (in the Peerage of England), in the west (Welsh marches) and one, Dunbar, in the northern marches (in the Peerage of Scotland).

Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, regent of England during minority of Edward III and usurper who had supplanted Edward II, was created an earl 1328. He was married to Joan of Joinville, whose mother was one of heiresses of French counts of La Marche and Lusignan. His family, Mortimer Lords of Wigmore, had been border lords and leaders of defenders of Welsh marches for centuries. He selected himself March as the name of earldom due to several reasons: Welsh marches referred to several counties whereby the title signified superiority compared to usual earldoms. Mercia was an ancient kingdom. His wife´s ancestors had been counts of March in France.

Patrick Dunbar, 8th Earl of Dunbar, was recognized in the end of 13th century to use the name March as his earldom in Scotland, otherwise known as Dunbar, Lothian, and Northumbrian border.


The province of France called Marche, sometimes Marche Limousine, was originally a small border district partly of Limousin and partly of Poitou.

Its area was increased during the 13th century and remained the same until the French Revolution. Marche was bounded on the north by Berry, on the east by Bourbonnais and Auvergne; on the south by Limousin itself and on the west by Poitou. It embraced the greater part of the modern département of Creuse, a considerable part of Haute-Vienne, and a fragment of Indre. Its area was about 1900 sq. m.; its capital was Charroux and later Guéret, and among its other principal towns were Dorat, Bellac and Confolens.

Marche first appeared as a separate fief about the middle of the 10th century when William III, duke of Aquitaine, gave it to one of his vassals named Boso, who took the title of count. In the 12th century it passed to the family of Lusignan, sometime also counts of Angouleme counts of Limousin, until the death of the childless Count Hugh in 1303, when it was seized by Philip IV of France. In 1316 it was made an appanage for his youngest son the Prince, afterwards Charles IV and a few years later (1327) it passed into the hands of the family of Bourbon. The family of Armagnac held it from 1435 to 1477, when it reverted to the Bourbons, and in 1527 it was seized by Francis I and became part of the domains of the French crown. It was divided into Haute-Marche (i.e. "Upper Marche") and Basse-Marche (i.e. "Lower Marche"), the estates of the former being in existence until the 17th century. From 1470 until the Revolution the province was under the jurisdiction of the parlement of Paris.

See County of Marche.

Several communes of France are named similarly:

Germany and Austria

The Germannic tribes that Romans called Marcomanni, who battled the Romans in the 1st and 2nd centuries were simply the "men of the borderlands."

Marches were territorial organisations created in the Middle Ages by the Holy Roman Empire. In modern German, "Mark" denotes a piece of land that historically was a borderland, as in the following names:


For the modern Italian regione called "The Marches", see Marche.

From the Carolingian period onwards the name Marca begins to appear in Italy, first the Marca Fermana for the mountainous part of Picenum, the Marca Camerinese for the district farther north, including a part of Umbria, and the Marca Anconitana for the former Pentapolis (Ancona). In 1080 the Marca Anconitana was given in investiture to Robert Guiscard by pope Gregory VII, to whom the countess Matilda ceded the Marches of Camerino and of Fermo. In 1105 the Emperor Henry IV invested Werner with the whole territory of the three marches, under the name of the March of Ancona. It was afterwards once more recovered by the Church and governed by papal legates as part of the Papal States. The Marche became part of the kingdom of Italy in 1860.

Marche were repeated on a miniature level, fringing many of the small territorial states of pre-Risorgimento Italy with a ring of smaller dependencies on their borders, which represent territorial marche on a small scale. A map of the Duchy of Mantua in 1702 (Braudel 1984, fig 26) reveals the independent, though socially and economically dependent arc of small territories from the principality of Castiglione in the northwest across the south to the duchy of Mirandola southeast of Mantua: the lords of Bozolo, Sabioneta, Dosolo, Guastalla, the count of Novellare.


The European concept of marches applies just as well to the fief of Matsumae on the southern tip of Hokkaido which was at Japan's northern border with the Ainu people of Hokkaido, known as Ezo at the time. In 1590, this land was granted to the Kakizaki clan, who took the name Matsumae from then on. The Lords of Matsumae, as they are sometimes called, were exempt from owing rice to the shogun in tribute, and from the sankin kotai system established by Tokugawa Ieyasu, under which most lords (daimyo) had to spend half the year at court (in the capital of Edo).

By guarding the border, rather than conquering/colonizing Ezo, the Matsumae, in essence, made the majority of the island an Ainu reservation. This also meant that Ezo, and the Kurile Islands beyond, were left essentially open to Russian colonization. However, the Russians never did colonize Hokkaido/Ezo, and the marches were officially eliminated during the Meiji Restoration in the late 19th century, when the Ainu came under Japanese control, and Ezo was renamed Hokkaido, and annexed to Japan.


  • Marquis, Marchese and Margrave (markgraf) all had their origins in feudal lords who held trusted positions in the borderlands. The English title was a foreign importation from France, tested out tentatively in 1385 by Richard II, but not naturalized until the mid 15th century, and now preferably spelled "marquess."pl:Marchia

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