Humanities › History & Culture What Is a Baron? The Evolution of the Title of Baron Share Flipboard Email Print katoosha/Getty Images History & Culture Medieval & Renaissance History People & Events Daily Life American History African American History African History Ancient History and Culture Asian History European History Genealogy Inventions Latin American History Military History The 20th Century Women's History View More By Melissa Snell History Expert B.A., History, University of Texas at Austin Melissa Snell is a historical researcher and writer specializing in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. She authored the forward for "The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Crusades." our editorial process Melissa Snell Updated February 18, 2019 In the Middle Ages, baron was a title of honor given to any nobleman who pledged his loyalty and service to a superior in return for land that he could pass on to his heirs. The monarch was usually the superior in question, although each baron could parcel out some of his land to subordinate barons. Read on the learn about the etymology of the term and how the title has changed over the centuries. The Origins of "Baron" The term baron is an Old French, or Old Frankish, a word that means "man" or "servant". This Old French term derives from the Late Latin word, "baro." Barons in Medieval Times Baron was a hereditary title that arose in the Middle Ages that was given men who offered his loyalty in exchange for land. Thus, barons usually possessed a fief. During this time period, there was no specific rank associated with the title. Barons existed in Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. Decline of the Baron Title In France, King Louis XIV diminished the prestige of the baron title by making numerous men barons, thus cheapening the name. In Germany, the equivalent of a baron was freiherr, or "free lord." Freiherr at first connoted a dynastic status, but eventually, the more influential freiherrs rebranded themselves as counts. Thus, the freiherr title came to mean a low class of nobility. The baron title was abolished in Italy in 1945 and in Spain in 1812. Modern Usage Barons are still a term used by certain governments. Today a baron is a title of nobility ranking just below that of a viscount. In countries where there are no viscounts, a baron ranks just below a count.