Medieval Civilization - Dana Munro - ebook

An excellent history of the middle ages, covering the vast span of time from the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West to the Renaissance.Contents include:Victory of the Latin LanguageThe Landed Aristocracy and the Beginning of SerfdomTaxation in the Fourth CenturyInfluence of the MigrationsGermans in the Roman EmpireFaith and Morals of the FranksThe Hippodrome at ConstantinopleChristian Missions in Gaul and Germany in the Seventh and Eighth CenturiesThe Economic Influence of MonasteriesClunyMonks of the Twelfth CenturyThe Elements of FeudalismMutual Obligations of Lord and VassalsThe Realities of FeudalismFeudal WarsThe Church and FeudalismThe Church and FeudalismThe Exercise of Feudal Rights over the Church in Languedoc, 900-1250The Non - Universality of FeudalismByzantine CivilizationMoslem Civilization in SpainChivalryCharacter and Results of the CrusadesIbn Jubair's Account of his Journey through SyriaMaterial for Literature from the CrusadesClassical Learning in the Middle AgesThe Latin Classics in the Middle AgesThe Development of the Romance Languages, Especially Those of FranceEvolution of the German LanguageLife and Interests of the StudentsCity Life in GermanyAdvice of St. Louis to his SonLife of GerbertSaint BernardSouthern France and the Religious OppositionThe Intellectual Movement of the Thirteenth CenturyThe Antecedents of the RenaissanceSt. LouisThe Relation of Antiquity to the Renaissance 

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Dana Munro


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ISBN: 9781518336744


Victory of the Latin Language

The Landed Aristocracy and the Beginning of Serfdom

Taxation in the Fourth Century

Influence of the Migrations

Germans in the Roman Empire

Faith and Morals of the Franks

The Hippodrome at Constantinople

Christian Missions in Gaul and Germany in the Seventh and Eighth Centuries

The Economic Influence of Monasteries


Monks of the Twelfth Century

The Elements of Feudalism

Mutual Obligations of Lord and Vassals

The Realities of Feudalism

Feudal Wars

The Church and Feudalism

The Church and Feudalism

The Exercise of Feudal Rights over the Church in Languedoc, 900-1250

The Non - Universality of Feudalism

Byzantine Civilization

Moslem Civilization in Spain


Character and Results of the Crusades

Ibn Jubair’s Account of his Journey through Syria

Material for Literature from the Crusades

Classical Learning in the Middle Ages

The Latin Classics in the Middle Ages

The Development of the Romance Languages, Especially Those of France

Evolution of the German Language

Life and Interests of the Students

City Life in Germany

Advice of St. Louis to his Son

Life of Gerbert

Saint Bernard

Southern France and the Religious Opposition

The Intellectual Movement of the Thirteenth Century

The Antecedents of the Renaissance

St. Louis

The Relation of Antiquity to the Renaissance

The French Army in the Time of Charles VII




Adapted from G. Bloch, in Lavisse: Histoire de France

THE Latin which gave birth to the Romance languages was vulgar Latin, that is, the Latin of the common people. It accompanied the soldiers of the legions, the colons, and the emigrants of every kind, from Italy into the provinces, and thus became the language of the people of all Western Europe—the spoken, not the written, language. We can reconstruct this language to a certain extent, with the aid of the hints let fall by different writers, but only in a most general way. It is wellnigh impossible to follow the alterations which it underwent through contact with the native dialects in Gaul and elsewhere. The essential fact to remember is that it differed from the literary Latin of the educated classes. It gained undivided sway over the lower classes, to the exclusion of the speech of their fathers, and after a long and determined struggle with the literary Latin of the upper classes, it won recognition, when at length the decay of higher learning delivered to it the whole of society. It could now expand everywhere, develop freely according to its own inner law, and finally, under the form of the Romance tongues, usurp the place of the older Latin.

The complete victory of the popular Latin, in fact, only slightly preceded in point of time its own submission to these new idioms which it carried in the germ. It was in the fifth century that it definitely took possession of Gaul, throughout the whole extent of its territory, and from the highest to the lowest classes of the population. Only old Aquitaine, between the Pyrenees and the Garonne, successfully resisted complete conquest. There, in the Basque country, the Iberian speech, more tenacious than the Celtic, raised for itself an impregnable citadel. As for Brittany, it seems well proven to-day that the Celtic dialect, still current in its most remote districts, does not date back to the age of Gallic independence, but is merely an importation of the insular Britons who fled before the Saxons, from the fifth to the seventh centuries A.D.

Thus, by a kind of paradox, it is when she is about to succumb that Rome wins this last triumph. But it is only a seeming paradox. We must not be deceived by the division of history into convenient periods. The prestige of Rome survived her material power. She still remained, for the different peoples, the mistress of the world and the benefactress of the human race. She had just been captured by Alaric when Rutilius sang her immortal destiny, and it is about the same epoch that there appears for the first time in our texts the newly coined Romania, so happily conceived to designate, in one word, her empire and her civilization. It is not a matter for surprise that the victories of Latin were prosecuted in the midst of events which destroyed Roman unity.

The Romans did not make war on Celtic, the language of the Gauls. They undoubtedly knew that their rule would gain greatly through the diffusion of Latin, and they neglected nothing to extend its use. But in the furtherance of their object, they did not have recourse to any tyrannical measures. In the course of the third century, they even authorized the making of wills in Celtic.

Celtic disappeared before Latin because Celtic was barbarism and Latin was civilization. Latin attracted, therefore, all minds eager for culture; and it possessed the additional advantage of being the official language, without which it was impossible to get along.

It was the official language of the Roman government and of its agents of every grade. The Romans did not have the same respect for the rough dialects of the West as for Greek. They did not have their public acts translated into the Western languages. It was the business of the natives to understand these acts or to have them explained to them.

Latin was also the official language of the city governments. This point is clear in the case of the colonies, although there may be some difficulties with regard to the other kinds of cities. Unfortunately, the inscriptions which alone could settle the question conclusively are insufficient in number, and belong in general to a late epoch, about which there is no longer any question. Nevertheless, it is worthy of note that none has been found which is not in Latin. And at Bordeaux and at Saintes, there are inscriptions, written in Latin by the magistrates, which date from the first century. Is it likely that the Romans were less tolerant toward the language of their subjects than they were toward their institutions? In leaving them their self-government, is it conceivable that they required the rulers of the city to speak Latin? We do not know absolutely, but nothing justifies us in saying yes. In any case, the governments of the cities were entirely aristocratic, and aristocracies do not require to be forced to adopt the language of the conqueror.

Latin, then, was indispensable to the fraction of the aristocracy which claimed to monopolize senatorial or equestrian functions. It was no less necessary for those who restricted their ambitions to the practice of municipal law. The emperor Claudius withdrew the right from a deputy of a province of the East who could plead only in Greek. Even the lower classes had to use Latin in their law-court quarrels and in their appeals before the imperial treasury. And there can be no doubt that they were obliged to make use of it in their dealings with Italian merchants.

Latin crept into use by the most varied paths. It was spread not only by the immigration of freemen, but also by the importation of slaves. The slaves came from all parts of the world, and if they were to understand one another and their masters, they must have a language common to all. Old soldiers, going back to private life, brought it to their homes and taught it to their neighbors. The Church, in the third century, abandoned Greek and adopted as its official language the language of the government. Henceforward its great weight was thrown into the scale. Finally, the school, without being for Rome the brutal instrument which it has become for modern conquerors, exercised a decisive influence, all the more powerful because it embraced the whole man. It did not limit itself to teaching him a new language, but created in him, so to speak, a new spirit, and fundamentally transformed his sentiments and ideas. It was the school which really made the Gaul a Roman.

We know, unfortunately, very little about the elementary education. We can only judge, from various indications, that it was by no means neglected. The total number of illiterates cannot have been very great. The humblest inferior officers were expected to read the Latin watchword from the tablet on which it was written. There were schools for the sons of veterans. An inscription has been discovered at Aljustrel, in Portugal, which contains the regulations for the working of a mine, and it shows that schoolmasters were to be found even in the village which had sprung up about the mine. These elementary schools, the regimental schools perhaps excepted, were private. It had taken the Romans a long time to get the idea that instruction could be given by the State, and when at length they did get it, they appear never to have extended it to the education of the masses. But the search for knowledge was very active in this society, and the initiative of private individuals was sufficient.

We are better informed as to the establishments of a higher grade of education, for the use of the upper classes, and we find here some slight intervention of the public authority.

When Agricola was called to govern Britain, in 78 A.D., he was very zealous in introducing Roman customs. He was not content with inviting the people to build cities with temples, forums, and porticos. He saw to it that the children of the nobles were instructed in Latin. In this he merely followed the policy adopted a century before in Gaul. There, also, and to a greater extent than elsewhere, schools had been multiplied immediately after the conquest. Strabo, at the beginning of the first century, notes the fact and does not restrain his admiration. It is certain that these schools did not lack the encouragement of the Roman officials. But though the State favored, and, if need be, solicited, the initiative of the cities, it did not in the beginning venture to supplant it. Vespasian was the first to think of paying the teachers out of the public funds. Hadrian, Antoninus, and Alexander Severus had the same thought. It is rather difficult to say just what measures these different emperors took. It appears, from all the facts, that the State ordered the expenditures but did not assume them. It endowed a very few chairs in some famous centers, for example Rome and Athens, but elsewhere it left the municipalities to bear the expense. And what at first was only a benevolent, even if not an absolutely spontaneous, expense on their part, became obligatory. As this occurred precisely at the time when their financial embarrassments began, it is not hard to understand that they did not always acquit themselves of this duty with all desirable alacrity. To put an end to the abuse caused by their niggardliness, Emperor Gratian in 376 A.D. promulgated from his residence at Trèves, and transmitted to the prefect of the diocese of the Gauls, an edict fixing once for all the emoluments which each municipality should assure to its teachers. These varied with the importance of the city and the grade of the teacher.

When the State imposed upon the curias the burden of paying the salaries of the teachers, it left them, quite logically, the right of choosing them. That did not, of course, prevent its interference, even in cases where it had not founded or endowed the chairs. The cities, far from being displeased at the emperor’s interference in their affairs, were proud of such a mark of interest. Their felicitations were perhaps less warm when they learned the largeness of the salary which the emperor sometimes assigned to the teacher he sent them. Under the emperor Julian the respective rights of the State and the curias were regulated by a law, in accordance with which the curias were to continue to name the professors, though their choice was to be submitted to the imperial approbation. It was a special law, meant to exclude Christians from teaching. But there is no evidence that it was revoked after the death of its author.

Among the schools which flourished in Gaul at the opening of the Christian era, those of Marseilles and Autun held the first rank. Marseilles had lost its political and commercial importance, and had turned its activities into another channel. It had always been one of the hearths of Grecian culture in the West, and more and more devoted its energies to education when other ambitions were vain. Like Athens, whose example it imitated and whose renown it hoped to rival, it sought consolation for its misfortunes in becoming a great university center. Varro called it the city of the three languages. At Marseilles the Gallic students and youths from Italy were educated together. The great Roman families willingly sent their sons thither. They could obtain at Marseilles the same instruction as in a Greek country, with the advantages of nearness to home and of an atmosphere reputed to be more moral. One of the glories of Marseilles was its scientific tradition. There is no evidence that it produced astronomers and geographers, as in the time of Pytheas, but its physicians were illustrious and made great fortunes. One of them, a contemporary of Nero, was rich enough to rebuild, at his own expense, the city walls, which had been destroyed by the siege of 49 B.C.

The school at Autun was very different. It was a real Gallic school and was highly prized by the youth of the land, who had escaped but yesterday from the discipline of the Druids. So great was the attendance about 21 A.D. that a rebel leader, a Sacrovir, desiring to secure the support or at least the neutrality of the whole Gallic nobility, believed that he had attained his object when he seized the students as hostages. The Roman government had not made an unwise choice in selecting Autun as the seat of a great school. It thus rewarded the Æduans, its faithful allies of old, and secured very generally the approbation of the Gallic people. Lyons would not have served so well. It was exclusively Roman, and the young Gauls would have felt that they were in a strange land. They were at home, on the contrary, in this fundamentally Celtic city, Autun, a place which was, at the same time, profoundly devoted to Rome. We do not hear anything more about the school of Autun until the second half of the third century. At that time, its great prosperity was ruined by civil war, and its beautiful buildings fell a prey, with the rest of the city, to the flames kindled by hostile soldiers. It partially recovered, however, from this sad blow, and the Cæsar, Constantius Chlorus ( 293-306 A.D.), gave it a striking proof of his favor when he sent the rhetorician Eumenius to direct it.

Eumenius was one of the great personages of Gaul, and the most illustrious son of Autun. He was not all Gallic, for he had Greek blood in his veins. His family came from Athens, which his grandfather had left in order to teach rhetoric at Rome. Thence he had passed to a chair in the school of Autun, attracted by its renown and no doubt by the advantages which it assured to its teachers. His grandson inherited his aptitudes and followed for a time in his footsteps. He was born at Autun, and lectured there, in his turn, with striking success. It was, this success which changed the course of his life. For Constantius Chlorus heard of his talents and attached him to his person, making him his magister memoriæ. This was the name given to one of the state secretaries whose business it was to draw up the documents which were issued from the imperial chancery. There were only a few higher offices in the administrative hierarchy. To abandon it and return to his professor’s place was to sink in the social scale. But the emperor was unwilling that it should be considered a disgrace. Not content with maintaining his salary at its existing high level, he doubled it, and to make his object more clear he wrote him the following letter, which he invited him to read publicly on taking possession of his new post:

“Our Gauls, whose sons are instructed in the liberal

arts at the city of Autun, and the young men themselves

who have so cheerfully served as our escort, assuredly

deserve that the cultivation of their natural abilities should

be looked after carefully. And what better could be of-

fered them than those riches of the mind which are the

only riches fortune can neither give nor take away. Ac-

cordingly, we have resolved to place you at the head of

this school, which death has deprived of its chief, you

whose eloquence and high probity in the conduct of our

affairs we have learned to appreciate. It is our wish, then,

that you should, without losing any of the advantages of

your rank, resume your chair of rhetoric in the aforesaid

city, which we desire, as you know, to reëstablish in its

former splendor. There you will mold the minds of the

young men and give them the taste for a better life. Do

not believe that these functions are derogatory to the hon-

ors with which you have been invested. An honorable

profession increases, rather than diminishes, a man’s

renown. In conclusion, it is our will that you receive a

salary of 600,000 sesterces ($30,000) from the city

treasury, so that you may clearly know that our clemency

treats you according to your merits. Farewell, most dear


Eumenius was generous enough to consecrate all this income to the restoration of the buildings. Unfortunately, these great efforts were only half successful. The heyday of city and of school had passed away forever.

It was not because the Gallic schools were in decay. They were never more alive than in this fourth century, which was a sort of resurrection for Gaul. The government never lavished more favors upon them, and if the municipalities in parts of the empire were found wanting, there is no trace of their negligence in Gaul. The current had merely been diverted into other channels.

The current followed the displacement of political life and moved toward the North. As early as the time of Marcus Aurelius ( 161-180 A.D.), Rheims is spoken of as another Athens. But it was Trèves, above all, which aspired to become a great educational center. The Cæsars installed in this new capital had the highest ambitions for the place. They endeavored to attract thither the most celebrated masters by offering them a remuneration one fifth higher than their colleagues elsewhere received. Trèves, nevertheless, never had, from the intellectual point of view, more than a secondary importance. Life was too unsettled upon this frontier, and German barbarism was too near and too menacing for the students to give themselves over, unreservedly, to the labors of the intellect. They found a more favorable center, a safer asylum, at the other extremity of Gaul.

Aquitaine was advantageously situated at this time. It had had its part in the calamities of the preceding century, but, since the strengthening of the empire, it had enjoyed profound peace. Sounds of war which rang across Belgium and the Lyons country echoed only feebly here. Its uninterrupted leisure, the inviolate riches of its fields and cities, marked it out as the last refuge in the Occident for the ancient learning. The happy genius of its people did the rest. The reputation of its rhetoricians became universal. It supplied them to Italy and to the East. It introduced them, as preceptors, into the imperial household. St. Jerome gives them a place in his Chronicle, and Symmachus, the most illustrious representative of Latin eloquence at the end of the fourth century, tells us in pompous phrases all that he owed to their lessons.

The most striking thing about these university professors is the place they held in society. They were generally rich, and had not always inherited their wealth, but frequently acquired it in the exercise of their profession. Their fixed salaries were often less than the revenues they derived from the liberality of families, and especially from the registration fees of their students, which naturally increased with the renown of the teacher. And it is to be remembered that they were free from all the taxes and charges which at that time weighed so heavily upon private fortunes. In addition, one must not forget the honor which attached to their position as teachers. As members of the curia, decurions and magistrates, they were in the first rank of the local aristocracy. Some, as we have seen, attracted the attention of the emperor, became provincial governors and pretorian prefects, and even attained the lofty though barren honor of the consulship.

The students were numerous. They had their organizations, their banners, and their meetings for conviviality and noise. The students belonged almost exclusively to the nobility or the middle class, although the emperor Alexander Severus had conceived the idea of bursaries for brilliant but poor youths. The upper classes were shut out from trade, which was left to freedmen, and from the army, which was becoming more and more the property of the barbarians. Accordingly, they threw themselves with ardor into the administrative career, the only one open to their ambitions. And it was through the portal of the liberal studies that the civil service was entered. High intellectual culture was in those days not only the indispensable mark of a well-born man: it was also the best ground for public office and advancement. An advocate of the fisc, a secretary of the chancery, or a pretorian prefect had to be, first of all, a man of letters. If the emperors took such a zealous interest in the prosperity of the schools, if they claimed the right to control rigorously the studies and behavior of the students, their reasons, it is plain, were not purely disinterested: it was because they saw in these youths their future civil servants, No society ever loved and honored learning more than this one. But it is open to the reproach of having pushed the worship of learning to the point of superstition.

We touch here the weak side of this brilliant and much- esteemed education. It has a double claim to our attention: it reveals, in several ways, the weaknesses of this declining civilization; and, in the second place, it does not completely perish with the society which it helped to destroy, but passes several of its features on to the medieval schools, through which, in some degree, it is perpetuated in the schools of to-day.

A school like that of Autun, for instance, was not a university in our sense of the word. It taught both the secondary and the higher subjects, i. e., it embraced grammar as well as rhetoric. It will be remembered that this is still the sacred division of courses in the French colleges. Grammar was not interpreted, any more than at present, in its narrower sense. It was made up of two parts: the art of speaking correctly, and a commentary upon the authors. These were the Greek and Latin authors, and the students began with the Greek. Homer and Menander were the favorites. The young Latins did not always take kindly to this strange tongue, but Greek none the less held its place of honor. It represented the most delicate and elevated side of this glorious civilization, which was already menaced and impaired by Christianity. The only non-Gallic teachers in Gaul of whom we know were of Greek origin. Among the Latin authors most enjoyed was, first of all, Vergil, the most popular of poets, already almost the god he was to become several centuries later. After him, with a long interval between, came Horace and Terence. The Latin prose writers were less appreciated, and the absence of their strong food had its consequences. But the greatest evil was the lack of positive knowledge, systematically taught. Undoubtedly the commentary upon the authors was not purely verbal, and involved a variety of explanations which touched geography, history, philosophy, and even science. But these came in only as the texts gave occasion for the commentary; they were not presented as separate wholes, and they did not lead to investigation. It is this sterile exegesis, this devotion to the book and to the letter, which continued to weigh upon the world even in the age of scholasticism.

The same objections apply to the studies of the higher grade. The narrowness of the program of study is astounding. There was no real study of the sciences; men were swept away from it by the progress of mysticism, and, moreover, the Romans never had esteemed the sciences save for their practical applications. There is the same absence of philosophy; the Romans had always distrusted it as vain babbling, and had left the monopoly of it to the school of Athens. Even law, the peculiar creation and most durable legacy of Rome to the world, had renowned masters only in Rome, Constantinople, and Beyrout. Rhetoric alone remained. A text to be commented upon and a theme to be developed—that was the whole of the higher education. Eloquence, the virile art of the society of antiquity, had become a frivolous and empty diversion. It had occupied such an important place among the ancients that the people of this age did not think of discarding it. But they reduced it to formal, conventional exercises, where the chief thing was to hide under elegance of expression the dearth of ideas. This discipline, which we ourselves have not entirely given up, had its value. It could supple and refine the intellect. But practised for itself, as an end, not as a means, and isolated from all solid study, it was sterile and dangerous. It accustomed the youth to value words above things, to emphasize form rather than content; it pauperized, it enervated the intellect. When a student examines its fruits in the most admired works of this time, the discourses of Himerius, the panegyrics of Eumenius, and the most of the poems of Ausonius, he finds them almost entirely lacking in substance and in thought, and he will be almost compelled to attribute to this teaching a large share in the general decay and ruin of the empire.



Adapted from G. Bloch, in Lavisse: Histoire de France

IN the fourth century most of the land in the Roman Empire was in the possession of the senatorial nobility. This nobility had its rise from the practice of conferring the office of senator without requiring the recipients of the honor to take their seats in the senate, or even to reside at Rome. Many of them lived in the provinces, and there were not a few who had never been away from home. They were senators, nevertheless, in the full enjoyment of the titles and privileges of their high station, and with the right of transmitting them to their children. Appointment to certain governmental posts or the mere will of the emperor would also confer it. Hence this nobility was more than a mere hereditary caste; it was an order to which all ambitious men might aspire.

The strength of this aristocracy, which, because of its advantages, swallowed up the lesser nobility, lay in its possession of the land. Landed property was in this era the chief source of public wealth and the most honorable sort of riches. It was, therefore, the source of all consideration and power. We shall examine the methods by which this nobility got possession of the soil and drew wealth from it, and in so doing we shall discover the causes of its power and gain an insight into the condition of the rural population.

The peculiarity of the Roman organization of landed property was its conception of the fundus or domain. This word had several synonyms: ager, meaning field, villa, the home of a master, and cortis, the court or yard of a farm. Fundus was, however, the strict legal term. The Romans carried the idea of the fundus with them into its provinces. The distinctive attribute of the fundus was its indestructible unity. It almost always bore the name, from generation to generation, of the man who had owned it in the far-off time when it had first been placed upon the tax-register. It might be broken up by sale or inheritance, but in the eyes of the law it remained undivided, and the coöwners merely possessed parts of it. If one man acquired several contiguous fundi, each retained its individuality and its name. The explanation of this peculiarity is undoubtedly the simplification of the work of taxation which resulted.

We must avoid confusing the fundus with a modern village. The Romans had no village in our sense of the word. The nearest approach to it was their vicus, a group of dwellings. Most European villages have a council or government of some sort of their own; the vicus had nothing of the kind. The smallest area which had, under the Romans, a right to make municipal regulations of its own was the civitas, which was composed of a town portion and a country portion dependent upon the former. The vicus, then, was not a division of the soil. All the soil was divided as follows: first the civitas, then the pagus, which was a subdivision of the civitas, and, finally, the fundus, which was a subdivision of the pagus. These were the only divisions known to the tax-officials. It should be clear that a fundus could not be part of a vicus, though there might be several vici on one fundus.

These vici were inhabited by tenants more or less unfree. There was another sort of vicus, dwelt in by freemen, but it was unusual, and toward the end of the empire it sank into insignificance before the onward march of the large estate. The growing importance of the large estate did not, of course, affect the permanence of the fundi. The joining of one fundus to another did not disturb its individuality, and, furthermore, the large estate was not necessarily composed of contiguous fundi. In Gaul the large estate of many a rich proprietor was scattered over a wide area, although there was a constant tendency to increase the size of the adjacent portions.

The struggle between the proprietors of large and of small domains has always been an unequal one. It was still more unequal in the period we are discussing. A large domain was more than so many acres of meadow, vineyard, forest, and cultivated land. It was a little world sufficient to itself and provided with agricultural toilers and artisans of every sort. How could a small proprietor compete with such an accumulation of resources? His expenses were relatively greater and his profits smaller. If his small capital gave out he could not borrow, for there was little money in circulation, and the rate of interest was exceedingly high. If political catastrophes prevented the cultivation of the soil and caused famine, he was ruined. That is what happened in the second half of the third century. And the vices of the system of taxation heaped to the full his cup of woe. We shall see below how the land-taxes fell with all their crushing weight on those least able to bear them. The small proprietor was compelled to abandon the struggle.

The enslavement of the rural population took place in a variety of ways.

One of the most usual was that of patronage. This was not a novelty. The Romans had always been familiar with it, and the Gauls had practised it before the Roman conquest. It did not involve any inconvenient personal subjection so long as the government of the State remained strong. But it became dangerous under the weak sway of the later Roman Empire. The empire at this time had little hold upon the senatorial aristocracy, which was powerful through its riches, its local attachments, and its independence, which the State itself had fostered. Its members were subject to the jurisdiction of the provincial governor in civil matters, but in criminal matters they had been exempted from responsibility to any one save the emperor or his immediate representative, the pretorian prefect, and these were too distant to be any real check. This practical immunity from external control explains adequately the lawlessness of the nobility. Their commonest breach of justice and the laws was perhaps the seizure of land, by fraud or force. The emperors in vain directed their functionaries to oppose such lawlessness, for they had, as we have just seen, rendered them powerless in advance. Is it surprising, then, if the weak landholders more and more fell into the habit of seeking from the strong that support which they could not get from the law? Such an one would apply to a powerful man, would commend himself to him, to escape the land-tax, gain a lawsuit, secure protection against an injustice, or obtain the means of perpetrating one. Patronage, or commendation, accordingly, spread like a huge net over the whole social body. The State, moreover, saw the peril. It declared all such agreements void, and threatened with severe punishments those who made them. It was useless. Then the State thought that it could compete with these private agreements by offering similar public ones. It offered to become a patron, against itself, in the person of the defensor of the city. It failed again. The mere idea of such a system was virtual abdication.

This commendation was generally completed by the precarium, which was also a very ancient usage. This was the name given to a grant of land which was made to an individual, free of cost, in response to his request, or prayer. Hence the name precarium. The precarium did not involve any abandonment of ownership by the giver. It was revocable “at will,” whenever he wished, in accordance with the legal doctrine that no one could be bound by his own generosity. Moreover, the grant was of necessity a gratuitous one, for any obligation imposed upon the receiver would have violated the essential nature of the precarium and made of it a species of legal contract. That was the theory. In practice, it is fairly certain that the receiver of a precarium was not satisfied to be a tenant at will, and that the landowner obtained some compensation. There had to be something to make the precarium advantageous to both parties, and, as a matter of fact, the proprietor did impose a rent upon his precarious tenant. The threat of eviction would, without any legal sanction, insure the payment of it. As long as the tenant paid his rent, he could be morally certain of keeping the use of the land and transmitting it to his children. The precarium, then, was nothing but a disguised method of renting land, in which the proprietor was not legally bound and the tenant-farmer had to rely upon usage for his possession and possessory rights.

The transformation of the small proprietor into a tenant of this sort might result from a loan. The lender would prefer a more profitable kind of security than the ordinary mortgage. The borrower accordingly sold him his land for the amount of the loan, it being understood that he could buy it back by repaying the loan with interest. Until repayment he enjoyed the use of the land under a precarious title. If he never made repayment, which was generally the case, he remained a precarious tenant all his life long, and at his death his children could, with the consent of the creditor, take his place. Another method of constituting a precarium, apparently the most usual of all, was the extension of the commendation from the man to his land. After all, the protection of the man, unless his property were protected, would not suffice. But this protection, too, must be paid for. The small proprietor accordingly gave his land to the large one by a fictitious sale, which the law in vain condemned, and became the precarious tenant of his protector. After all, it was better to have a well-defended precarium than an estate liable to be pillaged by the first robber.

Commendation combined with the precarium was one of the most potent means of developing the large estate. But it was more than that. It contained in the germ the two institutions which are an epitome, or almost an epitome, of feudalism: vassalage and the fief. Another factor in this society paved the way for a new era: the advent of servitude of the glebe, which was not feudal but was the foundation upon which the whole feudal edifice rested.

A large estate was made up of two parts, the one cultivated directly by the proprietor, the other indirectly. The latter grew more and more at the expense of the former. The part directly exploited was not cultivated by free day-laborers,—they do not seem to have existed,— but by slaves who lived in common and worked in gangs under overseers who were also slaves. This system had its disadvantages. The slaves got no personal profit from their toil, and were consequently poor workers. In order to interest them in their work the proprietors adopted the idea of picking out the best workers and renting them bits of land to cultivate on their own account. These were the hut-slaves, so called because they had their own separate huts for homes. They enjoyed special advantages, but they still remained slaves and all their possessions belonged to their master. At the end of the third century, however, their situation grew more stable, and was therefore improved, when the government conceived the plan of inscribing them on the tax-register as a separate class, in order to secure an increase of the land-tax. These hutslaves, who were also called, after this enrolment, enrolled slaves (ascripti), were considered, for tax purposes, to belong to the soil, of which they determined the value.

The law, accordingly, forbade a proprietor to sell the land without them. As to selling them and keeping the land, there was no reason for that so long as they kept it productive.

The slaves of this class, the enrolled slaves, were, however, in a decided minority even at the close of the empire. But the freedmen, who were very numerous, as one can see from the place they occupied in the recruiting of the army, were in a similar position. Enfranchisement gave liberty, but not necessarily independence. It was the right of the patron, as the liberator was called, to fix the nature and extent of the duties owed to him by his freedmen by a definite convention, which was recognized and sanctioned by the laws. These duties generally consisted in material services, and more precisely in the master’s right to a prior share in the earnings of the freedman. If the freedman had been an agricultural slave, it was the custom to establish him on a bit of land as a tenant. The condition of a freedman tenant was no doubt superior to that of a slave tenant. He had rights and the slave had none, for the prohibition against selling the land without the slave tenant was not made in his interests but in the interests of the land, or rather of the imperial treasury. On the other hand, the condition of the freedman tenant was much inferior to that of the free tenant. He could not, like the latter, free himself from the services he owed his patron or from other restrictions, which varied according to the quality of his enfranchisement. The so-called Latin or Junianus freedman could acquire property outside of the plot assigned to him, but all such acquisitions went, after his death, to his patron. The freedman who was given citizenship could transmit his acquisitions to his children, but his patron had a right to the share of a child, and if there were no children, he took all. This, of course, is virtually the same as the mortmain of the feudal era. So much for the part of the large estate which was directly cultivated by the proprietor.

The part which was cultivated by the proprietor indirectly was intrusted by him to farmers of free birth. But while the slaves rose, little by little, to a condition in certain respects like that of the farmers, the farmers met them, so to speak, half-way down, by their transformation into colons. The names remain the same, but their meanings change. The serf of the Middle Ages is very different from the Roman slave, but he is only this slave in a new situation, and the name of both is always the same— servus. The man that we call a colon bears the same name as the free farmer he was originally, colonus. The problem is to find out how this free farmer became a colon, how his condition changed while his name remained unaltered. First of all, however, we must determine what this condition was.

The colon was not a slave. He was a freeman, of free birth. He had civil rights, of which the slave was completely destitute and of which the freedman possessed only a part. He could marry; he could found a family. He inherited property from his father and transmitted it freely to his children. True, he was not the proprietor of the land he cultivated as tenant, but he might have other lands in full ownership. He could sue his master, while a freedman could not bring suit against his patron at all. He was bound, chained, only by the land he held as tenant, He could not free himself from it. Neither could his children. His condition was not one of servitude in the strict sense of the word, for servitude is the condition of a person and his person was free. He was bound, nevertheless, to the soil by the bond of a colon, the nexus coloniarius. He did not have a master, but his land did; his land alone had a slave, and he was the slave. Hence the restrictions upon his liberty. Not only was he riveted to this land forever, he and his, but he could not leave it for even one day, and if he married he had to choose a woman from his master’s estate and from his own class—otherwise the woman, and any children she might have, would be lost to the master of the estate from which she came. Here again we see a characteristic of the later feudalism, the restriction on formariage.

The bond which attached the colon to the land did not, however, impose duties on the colon alone. The proprietor as well had strict duties to perform. He could neither send away his colons nor sell the estate without them. In case of a sale, the new proprietor could not install new colons to the prejudice of the old.

There were general causes which produced this institution of the colonate throughout the empire.

The lot of the farmers was a difficult one from the period of the Antonines on. The documents of this time are unanimous in representing their affairs as in a very bad condition, and as keeping them continually behind with their rent. Their situation could only grow worse as time went on. The proprietor could, to be sure, seize their goods, and finally evict those who did not pay. But what good would that do? The seizure of the farmer’s chattels would only have completed his ruin, and another put in his place would not have been more fortunate. It was more profitable not to seize or evict, but to take advantage of the embarrassment of the farmer and modify, to his detriment, the conditions of his holding. According to the Roman law, a farmer was obliged to pay a money rent fixed in advance. But farming on shares, although not recognized by the law, was a very common practice. If the parties abandoned the rent system for the share system, the change would be to the advantage of the proprietor alone. For the man who cultivated on shares had no rights the law would enforce, and the proprietor to whom he was indebted could exercise greater pressure upon him than before, by the threat of instant expulsion. In this way, there arose at an early period a whole class of tenants enslaved to their holdings.

The colonate arose in other ways also. Laborers in search of work would be installed upon uncleared lands. It was not necessary to pledge them to payment. They offered to the proprietor what they had to give—day-labor for the present and part of the crops for the future, when there should be crops. Meanwhile they remained upon the land of their choice, and when by their labors they had increased its value the proprietor no more thought of sending them away than they thought of leaving it. They were voluntary colons, and they did not differ, essentially, from those who had become colons from necessity.

A third class of colons was made up of the barbarians who were forcibly transplanted, or admitted, upon their request, within the empire. From these vigorous races, Rome demanded cultivators as well as soldiers. They were established upon the State domains or parceled out among individual proprietors. This sort of thing was common in Gaul at the end of the third century upon the territories devastated and depopulated by invasions.

There is no doubt that it was this latter sort of colonate which gave rise to the first legislative recognition of the practice. Hitherto, the colonate had been a private custom. But the law could not continue to ignore it after it had become a public institution. And the financial reform, which had, as we have seen, caused the fixing of the tenure of the slave, now affected, in a similar way, the lot of the colon. His name was inscribed upon the taxregister, and the same fiscal cause which attached him to the soil made it impossible for the proprietor to evict him.

The difference between the lot of the colon and that of the slave was, after all, chiefly theoretical. As a matter of fact, the colon had a master because his land had one, and because he was enslaved to this land. This is so true that the law which distinguished him from the slave more often distinguished him from the freeman, and as time went on he more and more came to differ from the freeman and resemble the slave. In fact, the precarious tenant himself was not a freeman in the full sense of the word.

The development of the large estate through commendation and the precarium, together with the development of serfdom of the glebe through the assimilation of the condition of the colon, and to a certain extent of the precarious tenant also, to that of the slave, were the means by which Roman society was transformed. Through them, there grew in strength, upon the ruins of the State, the landed aristocracy, which, with the exception of the Church, was the only institution which remained standing after the fall of the empire. Gradually, from this on, the senatorial nobility usurped sovereign powers. The large estate more and more became an organism distinct from, but analogous to, the civitas, and independent, if need be, of the State. The proprietor acted as magistrate for his tenants. He represented the State on his domain, and was able either to oppose or to substitute himself for it. The State determined the amount of his taxation; he levied it on his tenants and turned over the proceeds —provided he consented to turn them over and did not begin by driving off the tax-gatherer. The State again determined how many soldiers he had to furnish to the army; he picked the men and sent them to the muster. He handed over to the public authorities the wrong-doers who were pointed out to him, and it was not until he refused to deliver them up that the authorities ventured to send soldiers after them. He had a right of police and jurisdiction over his “men,” as they were already termed in Roman law, over his freedmen and colons, as well as his slaves. He could beat them with rods, like slaves. The colon and the freedman might, it is true, under some circumstances, bring him before the magistrate, but they were afraid to do it. The precarious tenant, who had given himself up wholly to his patron, could not, of course, attempt to do anything of the kind. All that the proprietor lacked, at this time, was military command, and, later on, when need arose he assumed that. Ecdicius, who is said to have fed four thousand poor men during a famine, raised at his own expense a troop of horsemen to repulse a Visigothic incursion.

The nobles resided almost exclusively upon their estates. It had not always been so. True, they had never completely abandoned the rural life they had led before the Roman conquest, although they had been beguiled by the attractions of the urban civilization of the Romans. But since the end of the third century the cities had undergone great changes. Behind their somber walls, in a restricted space, with their narrow, cumbered streets, their huddled and stuffy dwellings, and their public buildings reduced to petty proportions, they had lost all their charms. Under such circumstances, it would be a matter for surprise if the nobility had not abandoned the city for the country, their first love. Henceforth they went to the city only for infrequent and short visits, on the occasion of religious festivals, or public ceremonies. The remainder of their time was spent in princely fashion in the country.

The writings of the time give us a very good idea of their residences and of their life. On reaching the estate, one would have to pass through the villages of the serfs and the colons before coming to the villa proper, to the lord’s residence, the prætorium, as it was now called. This name is significant, for it always suggested to the Romans the idea of authority and command. The villa was composed of two distinct parts, the urban and the rural. The rural contained all the things needful for cultivating the soil, the buildings for housing, feeding, and for imprisoning, if necessary, the slaves, the stables, barns, granaries, oil- and wine-cellars, the mill, bake-house, winepresses, workshops, and smithy. All these were grouped around a large courtyard, the curtis of the Middle Ages. The urban part of the villa, located quite close at hand, was the dwelling which the master preserved for his personal use. It was a large, roomy residence, completely furnished and richly decorated, a real palace provided with all the refinements of comfort and luxury—with baths, porticos, inclosed promenades, spacious dining-rooms, special winter and summer apartments, picture-galleries, libraries, and gardens formally laid out and beautified with statues and artificial lakes. These sumptuous residences were to be found by the hundred in the empire, and numerous ruins enable us to reproduce their form.

A noble had many ways of spending his time. To say nothing of the public duties, which he could not escape, the administration of his domains and the cares of superintendence consumed a good portion of his time, although the pleasures of château life still held a very prominent place. The nobles paid visits to one another, they rode horseback, they played dice and tennis, and, above all, they hunted. The Gauls, for example, were ardent hunters, and the well-stocked forests of their country gave them every opportunity to indulge their passion for the chase. Hunting scenes are a favorite subject in the mosaics with which they ornamented their apartments. They had packs of dogs with carefully kept pedigrees; they chased the stag, the wild boar, the wolf, and the aurochs; they used the crossbow and loosed the falcon like twelfthcentury lords. In the midst of their diversions, literature was not forgotten. Never, in fact, were the upper classes more devoted to it. They wrote witty and pretentious letters, full of mannerisms, and with the secret hope that they would be widely read and might one day form a collection like Pliny’s. They doggedly wrote verses. To excel in this mental exercise was equivalent to an honorary title. They took pride in excelling in verse as later generations did in wielding deep-biting swords. It is in this particular that this aristocracy differed from its successor. Although fond of all physical exercises, it had no taste for the business of arms, which it regarded as unworthy, and from which it had been weaned by the imperial policy. In a similar way the inviting and peaceful villa is distinguished from the castellum of the Middle Ages. Between this pleasure-house and the fortress of feudal times, one cannot help but feel that a world has crumbled.

And yet the feudal château already begins to appear, the fortress which is to throw its heavy shadow over the country-side for centuries to come. The first invasions and the appearance of robber bands had left a feeling of insecurity, which the ever-recurring evil of brigandage kept alive. The days of the Roman peace, the pax romana, were gone forever. Every one felt it more or less clearly, and sooner or later took precautions against sudden attacks. The villa was transformed, as the cities had been, since the days of Aurelian and Diocletian. A wall sprang up around it. The beautiful residence of Pontius Leontius, close to Bordeaux, is to this day fortified with ramparts and towers capable of braving a siege. It is the burgus Pontii Leontii, Leontius’s fortress, and undoubtedly it is not the only one which from that time bore a warlike name. Thus, on all sides, and from all points of view, we see multiplied symptoms which announce the end of a great historic period and the advent of a new society.



Adapted from G. Bloch, in Lavisse: Histoire de France

THE reigns of Diocletian ( 284-305) and Constantine ( 306-337) were marked by great financial innovations. Of the many causes producing these changes, the principal one was the distress occasioned by the disasters of the preceding century. To meet the expenses of the reorganized empire, it was necessary to wring from taxation all it could be made to yield. Indirect taxes were relatively unimportant. The tax upon manumissions had fallen with the numerical decline of the slaves. The succession tax which Augustus had placed upon citizens, as a set-off to their immunity, lost its raison d’être with the universal extension of citizenship. Both of these taxes were abolished. The customs-duties, town dues, transit tolls, and taxes upon sales were retained, as were also the monopoly of salt and the exploitation of mines and imperial lands. But by far the most fruitful sources of revenue were the direct taxes upon land and persons.

The assessment of the land-tax was altered. Hitherto its basis had been the jugerum, and each proprietor had been taxed according to the number and the quality of the jugera which he possessed. Diocletian devised the scheme of dividing the land into portions of equal value, which consequently varied in extent according to the quality of the soil. Each of these portions, whether owned by one man or several, formed the unit which bore the tax. The number of these units in the whole empire, in each city, and in each province, being known, and the total amount of the tax to be levied being determined, miscalculation and loss were out of the question. The same method was applied to the direct tax upon persons. It, also, rested upon a taxation unit (caput) made up of one or several persons. It is a question still to be decided whether or not this human capitation tax was superadded to the land-tax just discussed. The question is purely theoretical, for the small proprietors who paid this tax disappeared little by little.

A single principle determined the organization of personal taxation. This was neither to lighten the burden of the poor nor to increase that of the rich, but simply to seize, in every case, the point where each class of the population laid itself open to fiscal attack.

The result of this principle was that the capitation tax became a plebeian capitation tax. It fell upon the plebs alone, that is to say, upon every one who was not at least a curial, or, in other words, who was not a landowner, since there was scarcely a landowner who was not a member of the municipal nobility, at least. And, by a new restriction, the urban plebs, the plebs of the cities, ceased to be liable for it. In place of it, they were required to pay a special tax, the chrysargyrus, so called because payable in gold and silver, while. other taxes could, in general, be paid in kind. The chrysargyrus was a tax levied on industry and commerce—upon every form of labor save agricultural labor. Thus the plebeian capitation tax was restricted to the workers in the fields, the colons, or, what amounted to the same thing in the end. to their masters, who were compelled to advance the tax for them.

If the noble classes were freed from the capitation tax, they were none the less bound to make certain personal contributions over and above their land-taxes. The curials paid the tax of coronary gold which, from a voluntary gift of provincials to victorious generals, had become a regular state tax. The members of the senatorial order paid an analogous tax, the aurum oblatitium, as well as a supplementary land-tax, the gleba senatoria. Senators who attained the pretorship were heavily taxed; they had to provide the public spectacles in the capital of the East or of the West. The municipal magistrates of the various cities bore a similar burden. In general, there was no high functionary who had not to pay the price of his elevated rank.