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William Robertson

A View of the Progress of Society in Europe from the Subversion of the Roman Empire to the Beginning of the Sixteenth Century (1769)

Proofs and Illustrarions I-XII

Note editoriali

Home | Editorial note | Preface | Section I | Par. i-ii | Par. iii-v | Par vi-x | Section II
Section III (pp. 106-119)
| Section III (pp. 120-139) | Section III (pp. 141-166)
Proofs & Illustrations

Proofs I-XII | Proofs XIII-XVIII | Proofs XIX-XXIII | Proof XXIV-XXIX

Note [I], page 3.

The costernation of the Britons, when invaded by the Picts and Caledonians, after the Roman legions were called out of the island, may give some idea of the degree of debasement to which the human mind was reduced by long servitude under the Romans. In their supplicatory letter to Aetius, whch they call the Groans of Britain, «We know not (say they) which way to turn us. The barbarians drive us to the sea, and the sea forces us back on ther barbarians; between which we have only the choice of two deaths, either to be swallowed up by the waves, or to be slain by the sword». Histor. Gildæ, ap. Gale, Hist. Britan. Script., p. 6. One can hardly believe this dastardly race to be descendants of that gallant people who repulsed Cæsar, and defended their liberty so long against the Roman arms.


Note [II], page 4.

The barbarous nations were not only illiterate, but regarded literature with contempt. They found the inhabitants of all the provinces of the empire sunk in effeminacy, and averse to war. Such a character was the objet of scorn to a high-spirited and gallant race of men. «When we would brand an enemy» says Liutprandus, «with the most disgraceful and contumelious appellation, we call him a Roman; hoc solo, id est Romani nomine, quicquid ignobilitatis, quicquid timiditatis, quicquid avaritiæ, quicquid luxuriæ, quicquid mendacii, immo quicquid vitiorum est comprehendentes». Liutprandi Legatio apud Murat. Scriptor. Italic. vol. II, pars I, p. 481. This degeneracy of manners, illitterate barbarians imputed to their love of learning. Even after they settled in the countries which they had conquered, they would not permit their children to be instructed in any science; «For (said they) instruction in the sciences tends to corrupt, enervate, and depress the mind; and he who has been accustomed to tremble under the rod of a pedagogue, will never look on a sword or spear with an undaunted eye». Procop. de Bello Gothor. lib. I, p.4, ap. Script. Byz. edit. Venet. vol. I, A considerable number of years elapsed before nations so rude, and so unwilling to learn, could produce historians capable of recording their transactions, or of describing their manners and institutions. By that time, the memory of their ancient condition was in a great measure lost, and few monuments remained to guide their first writers to any certain knowledge of it. If one expects to receive any satisfactory account of the manners and laws of the Goths, Lombards, or Franks, during their residence in those countries where they were originally seated, from [512] Jornandes, Paulus Warnefridus, or Gregory of Tours, the carliest and most authentic historians of these people, he will be miserably disappointed. Whatever imperfect knowledge has been conveyed to us of their ancient state, we owe not to their own writers, but to the Greek and Roman historians.


Note [III], page 4

A circumstance, related by Priscus, in his history of the embassy to Attila, king of the Huns, gives a striking view of the enthusiastic passion for war which prevailed among the barbarous nations. When the entertainment, to which that fierce conqueror admitted the Roman ambassadors, was ended, two Scythians advanced towards. Attila, and recited a poem, in which they celebrated his victories and military virtues. All the Huns fixed their eyes with attention on the bards. Some seemed to be delighted with the verses; others, remembering their own battles and exploits, exulted with joy; while such as were become feeble through age, burst out into tears, bewailing the decay of their vigour, and the state of inactivity in which they were now obliged to remain. Excerpta ex Historia Prisci Rhetoris, ap. Byz. Hist. Script. vol. I, p. 45.


Note [IV], page 9

A remarkable confirmation of both parts of this reasoning occurs in the history of England. The Saxons carried on the conquest of that country with the same destructive spirit which distinguished the other barbarous nations. The ancient inhabitants of Britain were either exterminated, or forced to take shelter among the mountains of Wales, or reduced to servitude. The Saxon government, laws, manners, and language were of consequence introduced into Britain, and were so perfectly established, that all memory of the institutions previous to their conquest of the country was, in a great measure, lost. The very reverse of this happened in a subsequent revolution. A single victory placed William the Norman on the throne of England. The Saxon inhabitants, though oppressed, were not exterminated. William employed the utmost efforts of his power and policy to make his new subjects conform in everything to the Norman standard, but without success. The Saxons, though vanquished, were far more numerous than their conquerors; when the two races began to incorporate, the Saxon laws and manners gradually gained ground. The Norman institutions became unpopular and odious; many of them fell into disuse: and in the English constitution and language at this day, many essential parts are manifestly of Saxon not of Norman extraction.


Note [V], page 10

Procopius, the historian, declines, from a principle of benevolence, to give any particular detail of the cruelties of the Goths: «Lest» says he, «I should transmit a monument and example of inhumanity to succeding ages», Proc. de Bello Goth. lib. III, cap. 10, ap. Byz. Script. vol. I, p. 126. But as the change, which I have pointed out as a consequence of the settlement of the barbarous nations in the countries formerly subject to the Roman empire, could not have taken place, if the greater part of the ancient inhabitants had not been extirpated, an event of such importance and influence merits a more particular illustration. This will justify me for exhibiting some part of that melancholy spectacle, over which humanity prompted Procopius to draw a veil. I shall not, however, disgust my readers by a minute narration; but rest satisfied with collecting some instances of the devastations made by two of the [513] many nations which settled in the empire. The Vandals were the first of the barbarians who invaded Spain. It was one of the richest and most populous of the Roman provinces; the inhabitants had been distinguished for courage, and had defended their liberty against the arms of Rome, with greater obstinacy, and during a longer course of years, than any nation in Europe. But so entirely were they enervated by their subjection to the Romans, that the Vandals, who entered the kingdom A. D. 409, completed the conquest of it with such rapidity, that, in the year 411, these barbarians divided it among them, by casting lots. The desolation, occasioned by their invasion, is thus described by Idatius, an eye-witness: «The barbarians wasted everything with hostile cruelty. The pestilence was no less destructive. A dreadful famine raged to such a degree, that the living were constrained to feed on the dead bodies of their fellow-citizens; and all these terrible plagues desolated at once the unhappy kingdom». Idatii, Chron. ap. Biblioth. Patrum, vol. VII, p. 1233, edit. Ludg. 1677. The Goths, having attacked the Vandals in their new settlements, a fierce war ensued; the country was plundered by both parties; the cities which had escaped from destruction in the first invasion of the Vandals were now laid in ashes, and the inhabitants exposed to suffer everything that the wanton cruelty of barbarians could inflict. Idatius describes these scenes of inhumanity, ibid. p. 1235, c.f. A similar account of their devastations is given by Isidorus Hispalensis, and other contemporary writers. Isid. Chron. ap. Grot. Hist. Goth., 732. From Spain the Vandals passed over into Africa, A. D. 428. Africa was, next to Egypt, the most fertile of the Roman provinces. It was one of the granaries of the empire, and is called by an ancient writer the soul of the commonwealth. Though the army with which the Vandals invaded it did not exceed 30,000 fighting men, they became absolute masters of the province in less than two years. A contemporary author gives a dreadful account of the havoc which they made: «They found a province well cultivated, and enjoying plenty, the beauty of the whole earth. They carried their destructive arms into every corner of it; they dispeopled it by their devastations, exterminating with fire and sword. They did not even spare the vines and fruit-trees, that those, to whom caves and inaccessible mountains had afforded a retreat, might find no nourishment of any kind. Their hostile rage could not be satiated, and there was no place exempted from the effects of it. They tortured their prisoners with the most exquisite cruelty, that they might force from them a discovery of their hidden treasures. The more they discovered, the more they expected, and the more implacable they became. Neither the infirmities of age nor of sex; neither the dignity of nobility nor the sanctity of the sacerdotal office, could mitigate their fury; but the more illustrious their prisoners were, the more barbarously they insulted them. The public buildings, which resisted the violence of the flames, they levelled with the ground. They left many cities without an inhabitant. When they approached any fortified place which their undisciplined army could not reduce, they gathered together a multitude of prisoners, and putting them to the sword, left their bodies unburied, that the stench of the carcasses might oblige the garrison to abandon it». Victor Vitensis de Persecutione Africana, ap. Bibl. Patrum, vol. VIII, p. 666. St. Augustin, an African, who survived the conquest of his country by the Vandals some years, gives a similar description of their cruelty. Opera, vol. X, p. 372, edit. 1616. About an [514] hundred years after the settlement of the Vandals in Africa, Belisarius attacked and dispossessed them. Procopius, a contemporary historian, describes the devastation which that war occasioned. «Africa», says he, «was so entirely dispeopled, that one might travel several days in it without meeting one man; and it is no exaggeration to say, that in the course of the war five millions of persons perished». Proc. Hist. Arcana, cap. 18, ap. Byz. Script. vol. I, p. 315. I have dwelt longer upon the calamities of this province, because they are described not only by contemporary authors, but by eye-witnesses. The present state of Africa confirms their testimony. Many of the most flourishing and populous cities with which it was filled were so entirely ruined, that no vestiges remain to point out where they were situated. That fertile territory, which sustained the Roma empire, still lies in a great measure uncultivated; and that province, which Victor, in his barbarous Latin, called Speciositas totius terræ florentis, is now the retreat of pirates and bandittI,

While the Vandals laid waste a great part of the empire, the Huns desolated the remainder. Of all the barbarous tribes, they were the fiercest and most formidable. Ammianus Marcellinus, a contemporary author, and one of the best of the later historians, gives an account of their policy and manners, which nearly resemble those of the Scythians described by the ancients, and of the Tartars known to the moderns. Some parts of their character, and several of their customs, are not unlike those of the savages in North America. Their passion for war was extreme. «As in polished societies (says Ammianus) case and tranquillity are courted, they delight in war and dangers. He who falls in battle is reckoned happy. They who die of old age or of disease are deemed infamous. They boast, with the utmost exultation, of the number of enemies whom they have slain, and, as the most glorious of all ornaments, they fasten the scalps of those who have fallen by their hands to the trappings of their horses». Ammian. Marc. lib. XXXI, p. 477, edit. Gronov. Ludg. 1693. Their incursions into the empire began in the fourth century; and the Romans, though no strangers, by that time, to the effects of barbarous rage, were astonished at the cruelty of their devastations. Thrace, Pannonia, and Illyricum, were the countries which they first laid desolate. As they had at first no intention of settling in Europe, they made only inroads of short continuance into the empire; but these were frequent; and Procopius computes that in each of these, at a medium, two hundred thousand persons perished, or were carried off as slaves. Procop. Hist. Arcan. ap. Byz. Script. vol. I, 316. Thrace, the best-cultivated province in that quarter of the empire, was converted into a desert; and, when Priscus accompanied the ambassadors sent to Attila, there were no inhabitants in some of the cities, but a few miserable people, who had taken shelter among the ruins of the churches; and the fields were covered with the bones of those who had fallen by the sword. Priscus ap. Byz. Script. vol. I, p. 34. Attila became king of the Huns, A. D. 434. He is one of the greatest ans most enterprising conquerors mentioned in history. He extended his empire over all the vast countries comprehended under the general names of Scythia and Germany in the ancient division of the world. While he was carrying on his wars against the barbarous nations, he kept the Roman empire under perpetual apprehension, and extorted enormous subsidies from the timid and effeminate monarchs who governed it. In the year 451, he entered Gaul, at the head of an army composed of all the various nations which he had [515] subdued. It was more numerous than any with which the barbarians had hitherto invaded the empire. The devastations which he committed were horrible; not only the open country, but the most flourishing cities were desolated. The extent and cruelty of his devastations are described by Salvianus de Gubernat. Dei, edit. Baluz. Par. 1669, p. 139, &c., and by Idatius, ubi supra, p. 1235. Ætius put a stop to his progress in that country by the famous battle of Chalons, in which (if we may believe the historians of that age) three hundred thousand persons perished. Idat. ibid., Jornandes de Rebus Geticis, ap. Grot. Hist. Gothor. p. 671. Amst. 1665. But the next year he resolved to attack the centre of the empire, and marching into Italy wasted it with rage, inflamed by the sense of his late disgrace. What Italy, suffered by the Huns exceeded all the calamities which the preceding incursions of the barbarians had brought upom it. Conringius has collected several passages from the ancient historians, which prove that the devastations committed by the Vandals and Huns, in the countries situated on the banks of the Rhine, were no less cruel and fatal to the human race. Exercitatio de Urbibus Germaniæ, Opera, vol. I, p. 488. It is endless, it is shocking, to follow these destroyers of mankind through so many scenes of horror, and to contemplate the havoc which they made of the human species.

But the state in which Italy appears to have been, during several ages after the barbarous nations settled in it, is the most decisive proof of the cruelty as well as the extent of their devastations. Whenever any country is thinly inhabited, trees and shrubs spring up in the uncultivated fields, and, spreading by degrees, form large forests; by the overflowing of rivers, and the stagnating of waters, other parts of it are converted into lakes and marshes. Ancient Italy, which the Romans rendered the seat of elegance and luxury, was cultivated to the highest pitch. But so effectually did the devastations of the barbarians destroy all the effects of Roman industry and cultivation, that in the eighth century a considerable part of Italy appears to have been covered with forests and marshes of great extent. Muratori enters into a minute detail concerning the situation and limits of several of these, and proves, by the most authentic evidence, that great tracts of territory in all the different provinces of Italy, were either overrun with wood, or laid under water. Nor did these occupy parts of the country naturally barren or of little value, but were spread over districts which ancient writers represent as extremely fertile, and which at present are highly cultivated. Muratori, Antiquitates Italicæ Medii, Ævi, dissert. XXI, V, II, p. 149, 153, &c. A strong proof of this occurs in a description of the city of Modena, by an author of the tenth century. Murat. Script. Rerum Italic. vol. III, pars II, p. 691. The state of desolation in other countries of Europe seems to have been the same. In many of the most early charters now extant, the lands granted to monasteries, or to private persons, are distinguished into such as are cultivated or inhabited, and such as were eremi, desolate. In many instances, lands are granted to persons because they had taken them from the desert, ab eremo, and had cultivated and planted them with inhabitants. This appears from a charter of Charlemagne, published by Eckhart, de Rebus Franciæ Orientalis, vol. II, p. 864, and from many charters of his successors quoted by Du Cange, voc, Eremus. Wherever a right of property in land can be thus acquired, it is evident that the country must be extremely desolate, and thinly peopled. The first settlers in America obtained [516] possession of land by such a title. whoever was able to clear and to cultivate a field, was recognised as the proprietor. His industry merited such a recompense. The grants in the charters which I have mentioned flow from a similar principle, and there must have been some resemblance in the state of the countries.

Muratori adds, that, during the eighth and ninth centuries, Italy was greatly infested by wolves and other wild beasts; another mark of its being destitute of inhabitants. Murat. Antiq. vol. II, p. 163. Thus Italy, the pride of the ancient world for its fertility and cultivation, was reduced to the state of a country newly peopled and lately rendered habitable.

I am sensible, not only that some of these descriptions of the devastations, which I have quoted, may be exaggerated, but that the barbarous tribes, in making their settlements, did not proceed invariably in the same manner. Some of them seemed to be bent on exterminating the ancient inhabitants; others were more disposed to incorporate with them. It is not my province either to inquire into the causes which occasioned this variety in the conduct of the conquerors, or to describe the state of those countries where the ancient inhabitants were treated most mildly. The facts which I have produced are sufficient to justify the account which I have given in the text, and to prove, that the destruction of the human species, occasioned by the hostile invasions of the northern nations, and their subsequent settlements, was much greater than many authors seem to imagine.

Note [VI], page 11.

I have observed, Note 2, that our only certain information concerning the ancient state of the barbarous nations must be derived from the Greek and Roman writers. Happily, an account of the institutions and customs of one people, to which those of all the rest seem to have been in a great measure similar, has been transmitted to us by two authors, the most capable, perhaps, that ever wrote, of observing them with propound discernment, and of describing them with propriety and force. The reader must perceive that Cæsar and Tacitus are the authors whom I have in view. The former gives a short account of the ancient Germans in a few chapters of the sixth book of his Commentaries: the latter wrote a treatise expressly on that subject. These are the most precious and instructive monuments of antiquity to the present inhabitants of Europe. From them we learn,

1. That the state of society among the ancient Germans was of the rudest and most simple form. They subsisted entirely by hunting or by pasturage. Cæs. lib. VI, c. 21. They neglected agriculture, and lived chiefly on milk, cheese, and flesh. Ibid., c. 22. Tacitus agrees with him in most of these points; De Morib. Germ. c. 14, 15, 23. The Goths were equally negligent of agriculture. Prisc. Rhet. ap. Byz. Script. V, I, p. 31, B. Society was in the same state among the Huns, who disdained to cultivate the earth, or to touch a plough, Amm. Marcel. lib. XXXI, p. 475. The same manners took place among the Alans; ibid. p. 477. While society remains in this simple state, men by unitying together scarcely relinquish any portion of their natural independence. Accordingly we are informed,

2. that, the authority of civil government was extremely limited among the Germans. During times of peace, they had no common or fixed magistrate, but the chief men of every district dispensed justice, and accommodated differences. Cæs. ibid. c. 23. Their kings had not absolute or unbounded power; their authority consisted rather in the privilege [517] of advising, than in the power of commanding. Matters of small consequence were determined by the chief men; affairs of importance by the whole community. Tacit. c. 7, 11. The Huns, in like manner, deliberated in common concerning every business of moment to the society; and were not subject to the rigour of regal authority. Amm. Marcel. lib. XXXI, p. 474.

3. Every individual among the ancient Germans was left at liberty to choose whether he would take part in any military enterprise which was proposed; there seems to have been no obligation to engage in it imposed on him by public authority. «When any of the chief men proposes an expedition, such as approve of the cause and of the leader, rise up and declare their intention of following him: after coming under this engagement, those who do not fulfil it are considered as deserters and traitors, and are looked upon as infamous». Cæs. ibid. c. 23. Tacitus plainly points at the same custom, though in terms more obscure. Tacit. c. 11.

4. As every individual was so independent, and master in so great a degree of his own actions, it became, of consequence, the great object of every person among the Germans who aimed at being a leader, to gain adherents, and to attach them to his person and interest. These adherents Cæsar calls ambacti and clientes, I e. retainers or clients; Tacitus, comites, or companions. The chief distinction and power of the leaders consisted in being attended by a numerous band of chosen youth. This was their pride as well ornament during peace, and their defence in war. The leaders gained or preserved the favour of these retainers by presents of armour and of horses; or by the profuse, though inelegant, hospitality with which they entertained them. Tacit. c. 14, 15.

5. Another consequence of the personal liberty and independence which the Germans retained, even after they united in society, was their circumscribing the criminal jurisdiction of the magistrate within very narrow limits, and their not only claiming, but exercising, almost all the rights of private resentment and revenge. Their magistrates had not the power either of imprisoning or of inflicting any corporal punishment on a free man. Tacit. c. 7. Every person was obliged to avenge the wrongs which his parents or friends had sustained. Their enmities were hereditary, but not irreconcilable. Even murder was compensated by paying a certain number of cattle. Tacit. c. 21. A part of the fine went to the king, or state, a part to the person who had been injured, or to his kindred. Ibid. c. 12.

Those particulars concerning the institutions and manners of the Germans, though well known to every person conversant in ancient literature, I have thought proper to arrange in this order, and to lay before such of my readers as may be less acquainted with these facts, both because they confirm the account which I have given of the state of the barbarous nations, and because they tend to illustrate all the observations I shall have occasion to make concerning the various changes in their government and customs. The laws and customs introduced by the barbarous nations into their new settlements, are the best commentary on the writings of Cæsar and Tacitus; and their observations are the best key to a perfect knowledge of these laws and customs.

One circumstance with respect to the testimonies of Cæsar and Tacitus concerning the Germans, merits attention. Cæsar wrote his brief account of their manners more than a hundred years before Tacitus composed his treatise de Moribus Germanorum. A hundred years make a considerable period in the progress of national manners, especially if, during that time, those people [518] who are rude and unpolished have had much communication with more civilized states. This was the case with the Germans. Their intercourse with the Romans began when Cæsar crossed the Rhine, and increased greatly during the interval between that event and the time when Tacitus flourished. We may accordingly observe, that the manners of the Germans, in his time, which Cæsar describes, were less improved than those of the same people as delineated by Tacitus. Besides this, it is remarkable, that there was a considerable difference in the state of society among the different tribes of Germans. The Suiones were so much improved that they began to be corrupted. Tacit. c. 44. The Fenni were so barbarous, that it is wonderful how they were able to subsist. Ibid. c. 46. Whoever undertakes to describe the manners of the Germans, or to found any political theory upon the state of society among them, ought carefully to attend to both these circumstances.

Before I quit this subject, it may not be improper to observe, that, though successive alterations in their institutions, together with the gradual progress of refinement, have made an entire change in the manners of the various people who conquered the Roman empire, there is still one race of men nearly in the same political situation with theirs, when they first settled in their new conquests; I mean the various tribes and nations of savages in North America. It cannot, then, be considered either as a digression, or as an improper indulgence of curiosity, to inquire whether this similarity in their political state has occasioned any resemblance between their character and manners. If the likeness turns out to be striking, it is a stronger proof that a just account has been given of the ancient inhabitants of Europe, than the testimony even of Cæsar or of Tacitus.

1. The Americans subsist chiefly by hunting and fishing. Some tribes neglect agriculture entirely. Among those who cultivate some small spot near their huts, that, together with all works of labour, is performed by the women. P. Charlevoix, Journal Historique d’un Voyage d’Amérique, 4to. Par. 1744, p. 334. In such a state of society, the common wants of men being few, and their mutual dependence upon each other small, their union is extremely imperfect and feeble, and they continue to enjoy their natural liberty almost unimpaired. It is the first idea of an American, that every man is born free and independent, and that no power on earth hath any right to diminish or circumscribe his natural liberty. There is hardly any appearance of subordination, either in civil or domestic government. Every one does what he pleases. A father and mother live with their children, like persons whom chance has brought together, and whom no common bond unites. Their manner of educating their children is suitable to this principle. They never chastise or punish them, even during their infancy. As they advance in years, they continue to be entirely masters of their own actions, and seem not to be conscious of being responsible for any part of their conduct. Ibid., p. 272, 273.

2. The power of their civil magistrates is extremely limited. Among most of their tribes, the sachem, or chief, is elective. A council of old men is chosen to assist him, without whose advice he determines no affair of importance. The sachems neither possess nor claim any great degree of authority. They propose and entreat, rather than command. The obedience of their people is altogether voluntary. Ibid., p. 266, 268.

3. The savages of America engage in their military enterprises, not from constraint, but choice. When [519] war is resolved, a chief arises, and offers himself to be the leader. Such as are willing (for they compel no person) stand up one after another, and sing their war-song. But if, after this, any of these should refuse to follow the leader to whom they have engaged, his life would be in danger, and he would be considered as the most infamous of men. Ibid., pp. 217, 218.

4. Such as engage to follow any leader, expect to be treated by him with great attention and respect; and he is obliged to make them presents of considerable value. Ibid., p. 218.

5. Among the Americans, the magistrate has scarcely any criminal jurisdiction. Ibid. p. 272. Upon receiving any injury, the person or family offended may inflict what punishment they please on the person who was the author of it. Ibid. p. 274. Their resentment and desire of vengeance are excessive and implacable. Time can neither extinguish nor abate it. It is the chief inheritance parents leave to their children; it is transmitted from generation to generation, until an occasion be found of satisfying it. Ibid. p. 309. Sometimes, however, the offended party is appeased. A compensation is paid for a murder that has been committed. The relations of the deceased receive it; and it consists most commonly of a captive taken in war, who being substituted in place of the person who was murdered, assumes his name, and is adopted into his family. Ibid. p. 274. The resemblance holds in many other particulars. It is sufficient for my purpose to have pointed out the similarity of those great features which distinguish and characterise both people. Bochart, and other philologists of the last century, who, with more erudition than science, endeavoured to trace the migrations of various nations, and who were apt, upon the slightest appearance of resemblance, to find an affinity between nations far removed from each other, and to conclude that they were descended from the same ancestors, would hardly have failed, on viewing such an amazing similarity, to pronounce with confidence, «that the Germans and the Americans must be the same people». But a philosopher will satisfy himself with observing, «that the characters of nations depend on the state of society in which they live, and on the political institutions established among them; and that the human mind, whenever it is placed in the same situation, will, in ages the most distant, and in countries the most remote, assume the same form, and be distinguished by the same manners».

I have pushed the comparison between the Germans and Americans no further than was necessary for the illustration of my subject. I do not pretend that the state of society in the two countries was perfectly similar in every respect. Many of the German tribes were more civilized than the Americans. Some of them were not unacquainted with agriculture; almost all of them had flocks of tame cattle, and depended upon them for the chief part of their subsistence. Most of the American tribes subsist by hunting, and are in a ruder and more simple state than the ancient Germans. The resemblance, however, between their condition, is greater, perhaps, than any that history affords an opportunity of observing between any two races of uncivilized people, and this has produced a surprising similarity of manners.


Note [VII], page 11.

The booty gained by an army belonged to the army. The king himself had no part of it but what he acquired by lot. A remarkable instance of this occurs in the history of the Franks. The army of Clovis, the founder of the French monarchy, having plundered a church, carried off, among other [520] sacred utensils, a vase of extraordinary size and beauty. The bishop sent deputies to Clovis, beseeching him to restore the vase, that it might be again employed in the sacred services to which it had been consecrated. Clovis desired the deputies to follow him to Soissons, as the booty was to be divided in that place, and promised, that if the lot should give him the disposal of the vase, he would grant what the bishop desired. When he came to Soissons, and all the booty was being placed in one great heap in the middle of the army, Clovis entreated that, before making the division, they would give him that vase over and above his share. All appeared willing to gratify the king, and to comply with his request, when a fierce and haughty soldier lifted up his battle-axe, and, striking the vase with the utmost violence, cried out with a loud voice, «You shall receive nothing here but that to which the lot gives you a right». Gregor. Turon. Histor. Francorum, lib. II, c. 27. p. 70, Par. 1610.


Note [VIII], page 13.

The history of the establishment and progress of the feudal system is an interesting object to all the nations of Europe. In some countries their jurisprudence and laws are still in a great measure feudal. In others, many forms and practices established by custom, or founded on statutes, took their rise from the feudal law, and cannot be understood without attending to the ideas peculiar to it. Several authors of the highest reputation for genius and erudition, have endeavoured to illustrate this subject, but still many parts of it are obscure. I shall endeavour to trace, with precision, the progress and variation of ideas concerning property in land among the barbarous nations: and shall attempt to point out the causes which introduced these changes, as well as the effects which followed upon them. Property in land seems to have gone through four successive changes among the people who settled in the various provinces of the Roman empire.

I While the barbarous nations remained in their original countries, their property in land was only temporary, and they had no certain limits to their possessions. After feeding their flocks in one district, they removed with them, and with their wives and families, to another; and abandoned that likewise in a short time. They were not, in consequence of this imperfect species of property, brought under any positive or formal obligation to serve the community; all their services were purely voluntary. Every individual was at liberty to choose how far he would contribute towards carrying on any military enterprise. If he followed a leader in any expedition, it was from attachment, not from a sense of obligation. The clearest proof of this has been produced in Note 6. While property continued in this state, we can discover nothing that bears any resemblance to a feudal tenure, or to the subordination and military service which the feudal system introduced.

II, Upon settling in the countries which they had subdued, the victorious troops divided the conquered lands. Whatever portion of them fell to a soldier, he seized as the recompense due to his valour, as a settlement acquired by his own sword. He took possession of it as a freeman in full property. He enjoyed it during his own life, and could dispose of it at pleasure, or transmit it as an inheritance to his children. Thus property in land became fixed. It was at the same time allodial, I, e. the possessor had the entire right of property and dominion; he held of no sovereign or superior lord, to whom he was bound to do homage and perform service. But as these new proprietors [521] were in some danger (as has been observed in the text) of being disturbed by the remainder of the ancient inhabitants, and in still greater danger of being attacked by successive colonies of barbarians as fierce and rapacious as themselves, they saw the necessity of coming under obligations to defrend the community more explicit than those to which they had been suject in their original habitations. On this account, immediately upon their fixing in their new settlements, every freeman became bound to take arms in defence of the community, and, if he refused or neglected so to do, was liable to a considerable penalty. I do not mean that any contract of this kind was formally concluded, or mutually ratified by any legal solemnity. It was established by tacit consent, like the other compacts which hold society together. Their mutual security and preservation made it the interest of all to recognise its authority, and to enforce the observation of it. We can trace back this new obligation on the proprietors of land to a very early period in the history of the Franks. Chilperie, who began his reign A. D. 562, exacted a fine bannos jussit exigi, from certain persons who had refused to accompany him in an expedition. Gregor. Turon. lib. V, c. 26, p. 211. Childebert, who began his reign A. D. 576, proceded in the same manner against others who had been guilty of a like crime. Ibid. lib. VII, c. 42, p. 342. Such a fine could not have been exacted while property continued in its first state, and military service was entirely voluntary. Charlemagne ordained, that every freeman who possessed five mansi, I, e. sixty acres of land, in property, should march in person against the enemy. Capitul. A. D. 807. Louis le Débonnaire, A. D. 815, granted lands to certain Spaniards who fled from the Saracens, and allowed them to settle in his territories, on condition that they should serve in the army like other freemen. Capitul. vol. I, p. 500. By land possessed in property, which is mentioned in the law of Charlemagne, we are to understand, according to the style of that age, allodial land; alodes and proprietas, alodum and proprium, being words perfectly synonymous. Du Cange, voce Alodis. The clearest proof of the distinction between allodial and beneficiary possession, is contained in two charters published by Muratori, by which it appears that a person might possess one part of his estate as allodial, which he could dispose of at pleasure, the other as a beneficium, of which he had only the usufruct, the property returning to the superior lord on his demise. Antiq. Ital. Medii, Ævi, vol. I, pp. 559, 565. The same distinction is pointed out in a capitulaire of Charlemagne, A. D. 812, edit. Baluz. vol. I, p. 491. Count Everard, who married a daughter of Louis le Débonnaire, in the curious testament by which he disposes of his vast estate among his children, distinguishes between what he possessed proprietate, and what he held beneficio; and it appears that the greater part was allodial, A. D. 837. Aub. Miræi Opera Diplomatica, Lovan. 1723. vol. I, p. 19.

In the same manner liber homo is commonly opposed to vassus or vassallus; the former denotes an allodial proprietor, tha latter one who held of a superior. These free men were under an obligation to serve the state; and this duty was considered as so sacred, that freemen were prohibited from entering into holy orders, unless they had obtained the consent of the sovereign. The reason given for this in the statute is remarkable: «For we are informed that some do so, not so much out of devotion, as in order to avoid that military service which they are bound to perform». Capitul. lib. I, § 114. If, upon [522] being summoned into the field, any freeman refuse to obey, a full Herebannum, I, e. a fine of sixty crowns, was to be exacted from him according to the law of the Franks. Capit. Car. Magn. ap. Leg. Longob. lib. I, tit. 14, § 15, p. 139. This expression, according to the law of the Franks, seems to imply, that both the obligation to serve, and the penalty on those who disregarded it, were coeval with the laws made by the Franks at their first settlement in Gaul. This fine was levied with such rigour, «That if any person convicted of this crime was insolvent, he was reduced to servitude, and continued in that state until such time as his labour should amount to the value of the herebannum». Ibid. The Emperor Lotharius rendered the penalty still more severe; and if any person, possessing such an extent of property as made it incumbent on him to take the field in person, refused to obey the summons, all his goods were declared to be forfeited, and he himself might be punished with banishment. Murat. Script. Ital. vol. I, pars II, p. 153.

III, Property in land having thus become fixed, and subject to military service, another change was introduced, though slowly, and step by step. We learn from Tacitus, that the chief men among the Germans endeavoured to attach to their persons and interests certain adherents whom he calls comites. These fought under their standard, and followed them in all their enterprises. The same custom continued among them in their new settlements, and those attached or devoted followers were called fideles, antrustiones, homines in truste dominica, leudes. Tacitus informs us, that the rank of a comes was deemed honourable; De Morib. Germ. c. 13. The composition, which is the standard by which we must judge of the rank and condition of persons in the middle ages, paid for the murder of one in truste dominica, was triple to that paid for the murder of a free man. Leg. Salicor. tit. 44, § 1 et 2. While the Germans remained in their own country, they courted the favour of these comites by presents of arms and horses, and by hospitality. See [Note VI]. As long as they had no fixed property in land, these were the only gifts that they could bestow, and the only reward which their followers desired. But upon their settling in the countries which they conquered, and when the value of property came to be understood among them, instead of those slight presents, the kings and chieftains bestowed a more substantial recompense in land on their adherents. These grants were called beneficia, because they were gratuitous donations; and honores, because they were regarded as marks of distinction. What were the services originally exacted in return for these beneficia cannot be determined with absolute precision; because there are no records so ancient. When allodial possessions were first rendered feudal, they were not, at once, subjected to all the feudal services. The transition here, as in all other changes of importance, was gradual. As the great object of a feudal vassal was to obtain protection, when allodial proprietors first consented to become vassals of any powerful leader, they continued to retain as much of their ancient independence as was consistent with that new relation. The homage which they did to their superior, of whom they chose to hold, was called homagium planum, and bound them to nothing more than fidelity, but without any obligation either of military service, or attendance in the courts of their superior. Of this homagium planum some traces, though obscure, may still be discovered. Brussel, tom.I, p. 97. Among the ancient writs published by D. D. De Vic. and Vaisette, Hist. de Langued., are a greaty many which they call homagia. [523] They seem to be an intermediate step between the homagium planum mentioned by Brussel, and the engagement to perform complete feudal service. The one party promises protection, and grants certain castles or lands; the other engages to defend the person of the granter, and to assist him likewise in defending his property as often as he shall be summoned to do so. But these engagements are accompanied with none of the feudal formalities, and no mention is made of any of the other feudal services. They appear rather to be a mutual contract between equals, than the engagement of a vassal to perform services to a superior lord. Preuves de l’Hist. de Lang. tom. II, 173, et passim. As soon as men were accustomed to these, the other feudal services were gradually introduced. M. de Montesquieu considers these beneficia as fiefs, which originally subjected those who held them to military service. L’Esprit des Loix, l. XXX, c. 3 et 16. M. l’Abbé de Mably contends, that such as held these were at first subjected to no other service than what was incumbent on every free man. Observations sur l’Histoire de France, I, 356. But upon comparing their proofs and reasonings and conjectures, it seems to be evident, that as every free man, in consequence of his allodial property, was bound to serve the community under a severe penalty, no good reason can be assigned for conferring these beneficia, if they did not subject such as received them to some new obligation. Why should a king have stripped himself of his domain, if he had not expected that, by parcelling it out, he might acquire a right to services, to which he had formerly no title? We may then warrantably conclude, «That as allodial property subjected those who possessed it to serve the community, so beneficia subjected such as held them to personal service and fidelity to him from whom they received these lands». These beneficia were granted originally only during pleasure. No circumstance relating to the customs of the middle ages is better ascertained than this; and innumerable proofs of it might be added to those produced in L’Esprit des Loix, l. XXX, c. 16, and by Du Cange, voc. Beneficium et Feudum.

IV, But the possession of benefices did not continue long in this state. A precarious tenure during pleasure was not sufficient to satisfy such as held lands, and by various means they gradually obtained a confirmation of their benefices during life. Feudor. lib. I, tit. I, Du Cange produces several quotations from ancient charters and chronicles in proof of this; Gloss. voc. Beneficium. After this it was wasy to obtain or extort charters rendering beneficia hereditary, first in the direct line, then in the collateral, and at last in the female line. Leg. Longob. lib. III, tit. 8. Du Cange, voc. Beneficium.

It is no easy matter to fix the precise time when each of these changes took place, M. l’Abbé Mably conjectures, with some probability, that Charles Martel first introduced the practice of granting beneficia for life: Observat. tom. I, p. 103, 160; and that Louis le Débonnaire was among the first who rendered them hereditary, is evident from the authorities to which he refers; Ibid. 429. Mabillon, however, has published a placitum of Louis le Débonnaire, A. D. 860, by which it appears, that he still continued to grant some beneficia only during life. De Re Diplomatica, lib. VI, p. 353. In the year 889, Odo, king of France, granted lands to «Ricabodo, fideli suo, jure beneficiario et fructuario", during his own life; and if he should die, and a son were born to him, that right was to continue during the life of his son. Mabillon, ut supra, p. 556. This was an intermediate step between fiefs merely during life, and [524] fiefs hereditary to perpetuity. While beneficia continued under their first form, and were held only during pleasure, he who granted them not only exercised the dominium, or prerogative of superior lord, but he retained the property, giving his vassal only the usufruct. But under the latter form, when they became hereditary, although feudal lawyers continued to define a beneficium agreeably to its original nature, the property was in effect taken out of the lands of the superior lords, and lodged in those of the vassal. As soon as the reciprocal advantages of the feudal mode of tenure came to be understood by superiors as well as vassals, that species of holding became so agreeable to both, that not only lands, but casual rents, such as the profits of a toll, the fare paid at ferries, &c., the salaries or perquisites of offices, and even pensions themselves, were granted and held as fiefs; and military service was promised and exacted on account of these. Morice, Mém. pour servir de Preuves à l’Hist. de Bretagne, tom. II, 78, 690. Brussel, tom. I, p. 41. Brussel, tom. I, p. 41. How absurd soever it may seem to grant or to hold such precarious and casual property as a fief, there are instances of feudal tenures still more singular. The profits arising from the masses said at an altar, were properly an ecclesiastical revenue, belonging to the clergy of the church or monastery which performed that duty; but these were sometimes seized by the powerful barons. In order to ascertain their right to them, they held them as fiefs to the church, and parcelled them out in the same manner as other property to their sub-vassals. Bouquet, Recueil des Hist. vol. X, 238, 480. The same spirit of encroachment which rendered fiefs hereditary, led the nobles to extort from their sovereigns hereditary grants of offices. Many of the great offices of the crown became hereditary in most of the kingdoms in Europe; and so conscious were monarchs of this spirit of usurpation among the nobility, and so solicitous to guard against it, on some occasions, they obliged the persons whom they promoted to any office of dignity, to grant an obligation, that, neither they nor their heirs should claim it as belonging to them by hereditary right. A remarkable instance of this is produced, Mém. de l’Acad. des Inscrip. tom. XXX, p. 595. Another occurs in the Thesaur. Anecdot. published by Martene et Durand, vol. I, p. 873. This revolution in property occasioned a change corresponding to it in political government; the great vassals of the crown, as they acquired such extensive possessions, usurped a proportional degree of power, depressed the jurisdiction of the crown, and trampled on the privileges of the people. It is on account of this connexion, that it becomes an object of importance in history to trace the progress of feudal property; for, upon discovering in what state property was at any particular period, we may determine with precision what was the degree of power possessed by the king or by the nobility at that juncture.

One circumstance more, with respect to the changes which property underwent, deserves attention. I have shown, that when the various tribes of barbarians divided their conquests in the fifth and sixth centuries, the property which they acquired was allodial; but in several parts of Europe, property had become almost entirely feudal by the beginning of the tenth century. The former species of property seems to be so much better and more desirable than the latter, that such a change appears surprising, especially when we are informed that allodial property was frequently converted into feudal by a voluntary deed of the possessor. The motives which determined them to a [525] choice so repugnant to the ideas of modern times concerning property, have been investigated and explained by M. de Montesquieu, with his usual discernment and accuracy, lib. XXXI, c. 8. The most considerable is that of which we have a hint in Lambertus Ardensis, an ancient writer qquoted by Du Cange, voce Alodis. In those times of anarchy and disorder which became general in Europe after the death of Charlemagne, when there was scarcely any union among the different members of the community, and individuals were exposed, single and undefended by government, to rapine and oppression, it became necessary for every man to have a powerful protector, under whose banner he might range himself, and obtain security against enemies whom singly he could not oppose. For this reason he relinquished his allodial independence, and subjected himself to the feudal services, that he might find safety under the patronage of some respectable superior. In some parts of Europe, this change from allodial to feudal property became so general, that he who possessed land had no longer any liberty of choice left. He was obliged to recognise some liege lord, and to hold of him. Thus Beaumanoir informs us, that in the counties of Clermont and Beauvois, if the lord or count discovered any lands within his jurisdiction for which no service was performed, and which paid to him no taxes or customs, he might instantly seize it as his own; for, says he, according to our custom, no man can hold allodial property. Coust. chap. 24, p. 123. Upon the same principle is founded a maxim, which has at length become general in the law of France, Nulle terre sans seigneur. In other provinces of France, allodial property seems to have remained longer unalienated, and to have been more highly valued. A great number of charters, containing grants, or sales, or exchanges of allodial lands in the province of Languedoc, are published Hist. Génér. de Langued. par D. D. De Vic. et Vaisette, tom. II, During the ninth, tenth, and great part of the eleventh century, the property in that province seems to have been entirely allodial; and scarcely any mention of feudal tenures occurs in the deeds of that country. The state of property, during these centuries, seems to have been perfectly similar in Catalonia and the country of Rousillon, as appears from the original charters published in the Appendix to Petr. de la Marca’s treatise de Marca sive Limite Hispanico. Allodial property seems to have continued in the Low Countries to a period still later. During the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries, this species of property appears to have been of considerable extent. Miræi Opera Diplom. vol. I, 34, 74, 75, 83, 817, 296, 842, 847, 578. Some vestiges of allodial property appear there as late as the fourteenth century. Ibid. 218. Several facts which prove that allodial property subsisted in different parts of Europe long after the introduction of feudal tenures, and which tend to illustrate the distinction between these two different species of possession, are produced by M. Houard, Anciennes Loix des François, conservées dans les Coutumes Angloises, vol. I, p. 192, &c. The notions of men with respect to property vary according to the diversity of their understandings, and the caprice of their passions. At the same time that some persons were fond of relinquishing allodial property, in order to hold it by feudal tenure, others seem to have been solicitous to convert their fiefs into allodial property. An instance of this occurs in a charter of Louis le Débonnaire, published by Eckhard, Commentarii de Rebus Franciæ Orientalis, vol. II, p. 885. Another occurs in the year 1299, Reliquiæ MSS, omnis Ævi [526], by Ludwig, vol. I, p. 209; and even one as late as the year 1337, ibid. vol. VII, p. 40. The same thing took place in the Low Countries. Miræi Oper. I, 52.

In tracing these various revolutions of property, I have hitherto chiefly confined myself to what happened in France, because the ancient monuments of that nation have either been more caravel preserved or have been more clearly illustrated, than those of any people in Europe.

In Italy, the same revolutions happened in property, and succeeded each other in the same order. There is some ground, however, for conjecturing, that allodial property continued longer in estimation among the Italians than among the French. It appears that many of the charters granted by the emperors in the ninth century conveyed an allodial right to land. Murat. Antiq. Med. Ævi, vol. I, p. 575, &c. But in the eleventh century, we find some examples of persons who resigned their allodial property, and received it back as a feudal tenure. Ibid. p. 610, &c. Muratori observes, that the word feudum, which came to be substituted in place of beneficium, does not occur in any authentic charter previous to the eleventh century. Ibid. 594. A charter of King Robert of France, A. D. 1008, is the earliest deed in which I have met with the word feudum. Bouquet, Recueil des Historiens des Gaules et de la France, tom. X, p. 593, b. This word occurs, indeed, in an edict, A. D. 790, published by Brussel, vol. I, p. 77. But the authenticity of that deed has been called in question, and perhaps the frequent use of the word feudum in it, is an additional reason for doing so. The account which I have given of the nature both of allodial and feudal possessions receives some confirmation from the etymology opf the words themselves. Alode or allodium is compounded of the German article an and lot, I e. land obtained by lot. Wachteri Glossar. Germanicum, voc. Allodium, p. 35. It appears from the authoritiesd produced by him, and by Du Cange, voc. Sors, that the northern nations divided the lands which they had conquered in this manner. Feodum is compounded of od, possession or estate, and feo, wages, pay; intimating that it was stipendiary, and granted as a recompense for service. Wachterus, ibid. voc. Feodum, p. 441.

The progress of the feudal system among the Germans was perfectly similar to that which we have traced in France. But as the emperors of Germany, especially after the imperial crown passed from the descendants of Charlemagne to the house of Saxony, were far superior to the contemporary monarchs of France in abilities, the imperial vassals did not aspire so early to independence, nor did they so soon obtain the privilege of possessing their benefices by hereditary right. According to the compilers of the Libri Feudorum, Conrad. II, or the Salic, was the first emperor who rendered fiefs hereditary. Lib. I, tit. I, Conrad began his reign, A. D. 1024. Ludovicus Pius, under whose reign grants of hereditary fiefs were frequent in France, succeded his father A. D. 814. Not only was this innovation so much later in being introduced among the vassals of the German emperors, but even after Conrad had established it, the law continued favourable to the ancient practice; and unless the charter of the vassal bore expressly that the fief descended to his heirs, it was presumed to be granted only during life. Lib. Feud. ibid. Even after the alteration made by Conrad, it was not uncommon in Germany to grant fiefs only for life. A charter of this kind occurs as late as the year 1376. Charta ap. Boehmer. Princip. Jur. Feud. p. 361. The transmission of fiefs to collateral and female heirs took place very slowly among the Germans. There is extant a charter [527], A. D. 1201, conveying the right of succession to females; but it is granted as an extraordinary mark of favour, and in reward of uncommon services. Bohemer. ibid. p. 365. In Germany, as well as in France and Italy, a considerable part of the lands continued to be allodial long after the feudal mode of tenure was introduced. It appears from the Codex Diplomaticus Monasterii Buch, that a great part of the lands in the marquisate of Misnia was still allodial as late as the thirteenth century. No. 31, 36, 37, 46, &c. ap. Scriptores Hist. German. cura Schoetgenii, et Kreysigii, Altenb. 1755, vol. II, 183,&c. Allodial property seems to have common in another district of the same province, during the same period. Reliquiæ Diplomaticæ Sanctimonial. Beutiz. no. 17, 36, 58, ibid. 374, &c.


Note [IX], page 14

As I shall have occasion, in another note, to represent the condition of that part of the people who dwelt in cities, I will confine myself in this to consider the state of the inhabitants of the country. The persons employed in cultivating the ground during the ages under review may be divided into three classes:

I, Servi, or slaves. This seems to have been the most numerous class, and consisted either of captives taken in war, or of persons, the property in whom was acquired in some one of the various methods enumerated by Du Cange, voc. Servus, V, 6, p. 447. The wretched condition of this numerous race of men will appear from several circumstances.

1. Their masters had absolute dominion over their persons. They had the power of punishing their slaves capitally, without the intervention of any judge. This dangerous right they possessed, not only in the more early periods when their manners were fierce, but it continued as late as the twelfth century. Joach. Potgiesserus de Statu Servorum. Lemgov. 1736, 4to lib. II, cap. I, § 4, 10, 13, 24. Even after this jurisdiction of masters came to be restrained, the life of a slave was deemed to be of so little value, that a very slight compensation atoned for taking it away. Idem, lib. III, c. 6. If masters had power over the lives of their slaves, it is evident that almost no bounds would be set to the rigour of the punishments which they might inflict upon them. The codes of ancient laws prescribed punishments for the crimes od slaves different from those which were inflicted on freemen. The latter paid only a fine or compensation; the former were subjected to corporal punishments. The cruelty of these was, in many instances, excessive. Slaves might be put to the rack on very slight occasion. The laws, with respect to these points, are to be found in Potgiesserus, lib. III, cap. 7, 2, and are shocking to humanity.

2. If the dominion of masters over the lives and persons of their slaves was thus extensive, it was no less so over their actions and property. They were not originally permitted to marry. Male and female slaves were allowed, and even encouraged, to cohabit together. But this union was not considered as a marriage: it was called contubernium, not nuptiæ or matrimonium. Potgiess. lib. II, c. 2, § 1. This notion was so much established, that, during several centuries after the barbarous nations embraced the Christian religion, slaves, who lived as husband and wife, were not joined together by any religious ceremony, and did not receive the nuptial benediction from a priest. Ibid. § 10, 11. When this conjunction between slaves came to be considered as a lawful marriage, they were not permitted to marry without the consent of their master, and such as ventured to do so, without obtaining that, were punished with great severity, and sometimes were [528] put to death. Potgiess. Ibid. § 12, &c. Gregor. Turon. Hist. lib. V, c. 3. When the manners of the European nations became more gentle, and their ideas more liberal, slaves who married without their master’s consent were subjected only to a fine. Potgiess. Ibid. § 20. Du Cange, Gloss. voc. Forismaritagium.

3. All the children of slaves were in the same condition with their parents, and became the property of the master. Du Cange, Gloss. voc. Servus, vol. VI, 450. Murat. Antiq. Ital. vol. I, 766.

4. Slaves were so entirely the property of their masters, that they could sell them at pleasure. While domestic slavery continued, property in a slave was sold in the same manner with that which a person had in any other moveable. Afterwards slaves became adscripti glebæ, and were convoyed by sale, together with the farm or estate to which they belonged. Potgiesserus has collected the laws and charters which illustrate this well-known circumstance in the condition of slaves. Lib. II, c. 4.

5. Slaves had a title to nothing but subsistence and clothes from their master; all the profits of their labour accrued to him. If a master, from indilgence, gave his slaves any peculium, or fixed allowance for their subsistence, they had no right of property in what they saved out of that. All that they accumulated belonged to their master. Potgiess. lib. II, c. 10. Murat. Antiq. Ital. vol. I, 768. Du Cange, voc. Servus, vol. VI, 451. Conformably to the same principle, all the effects of slaves belonged to their master at their death, and they could not dispose of them by testament. Potgiess. lib. II, c. 11.

6. Slaves were distinguished from freemen by a peculiar dress. Among all the barbarous nations, long hair was a mark of dignity and freedom; slaves were, for that reason, obliged to shave their heads; and by this distinction, how indifferent soever it may be in its own nature, they were reminded every moment of the inferiority of their condition. Potgiess. lib. III, c. 4. For the same reason, it was enacted in the laws of almost all the nations of Europe, that no slave should be admitted to give evidence against a freeman in a court of justice. Du Cange, voc. Servus, vol. VI, p. 451. Potgiess. lib. III, c. 3.

II, VillanI, They were likewise adscripti glebæ or villæ, from which they derived their name, and were transferable along with it. Du Cange, voc. Villanus. But in this they differed from slaves, that they paid a fixed rent to their master for the land which they cultivated, and, after paying that, all the fruits of their labour and industry belonged to themselves in property. This distinction is marked by Pierre de Fontain’s Conseil. Vie de St. Louis par Joinville, p. 119, édit. de Du Cange. Several cases, decided agreably to this principle, are mentioned by Murat. Ibid. p. 773.

III, The last class of persons employed in agriculture were freemen. These are distinguished by various names among the writers of the middle ages, arimanni, conditionales, originarii, tributales, &c. These seem to have been persons who possessed some small allodial property of their own, and besides that, cultivated some farm belonging to their more wealthy neighbours, for which they paid a fixed rent; and bound themselves likewise to perform several small services in prato vel in messe, in aratura vel in vinea, such as ploughing a certain quantity of their landlord’s ground, assisting him in harvest and vintage work, &c. The clearest proof of this may be found in Muratori, vol. I, p. 712, and in Du Cange, under the respective words above mentioned. I have not been able to discover whether these arimanni, &c. were removeable at pleasure, or held their farms by lease for a certain number of years. The [529] former, if we may judge from the genius and maxims of the age, seems to be most probable. These persons, however, were considered as freemen in the most honourable sense of the word; they enjoyed all the privileges of that condition, and were even called to serve in war; an honour to which no slave was admitted. Murat. Antiq. vol. I, p. 743, vol. II, p. 446. This account of the condition of these three different classes of persons will enable the reader to apprehend the full force of an argument which I shall produce in confirmation of what I have said in the text concerning the wretched state of the people during the middle ages. Notwithstanding the immense difference between the first of these classes and the third, such was the spirit of tyranny which prevailed among the great proprietors of lands, and so various their opportunities of oppressing those who were settled on their estates, and of rendering their condition intolerable, that many freemen, in despair, renounced their liberty, and voluntarily surrendered themselves as slaves to their powerful masters. This they did, in order that their masters might become more immediately interested to afford them protection, together with the means of subsisting themselves and their families. The forms od such a surrender, or obnoxiatio, as it was then called are preserved by Marculfus, lib. II, c. 28; and by the anonymous author, published by M. Bignon, together with the collection of formulæ compiled by Marculfus, c. 16. In both, the reason given for the obnoxiatio, is the wretched and indigent condition of the person who gives up his liberty. It was still more common for freemen to surrender their liberty to bishops or abbots, that they might partake of the security which the vassals and slaves of churches and monasteries enjoyed, in consequence of the superstitious veneration paid to the saint under whose immediate protection they were supposed to be taken. Du Cange, voc. Oblatus,vol. IV, p. 1286. That condition must have been miserable indeed, which could induce a freeman voluntarily to renounce his liberty, and to give up himself as a slave to the disposal of another. The number of slaves in every nation of Europe was immense. The greater part of the inferior class of people in France were reduced to this state at the commencement of the third race of kings. L’Esprit des Loix, liv. XXX, c. 11. The same was the case in England. Brady, Pref. to Gentile. Hist. Many curious facts, with respect to the ancient state of villains or slaves in England, are published in Observations on the Statutes, chiefly the more ancient, 3d edit. pp. 269, &c.


Note [X], page 16

Innumerable proofs of this might be produced. Many charters, granted by persons of the highest rank, are preserved, from which it appears that they could not subscribe their name. It was usual for persons who could not write, to make the sign of the cross in confirmation of a charter. Several of these remain, where kings and persons of great eminence affix signum crucis manu propria pro ignoratione literarum. Du Cange, voc. Crux, vol. III, p. 1191. From this is derived the phrase of signing instead of subscribing a paper. In the ninth century, Herbaud, Comes Palatii, though supreme judge of the empire by virtue of his office, could not subscribe his name. Nouveau Traité de Diplomatique par deux Bénédictins, 4to tom. II, p. 422. As late as the fourteenth century, Du Guesclin, constable of France, the greatest man in the state, and one of the greatest men of his age, could neither read nor write. St. Palaye, Mémoires sur l’ancienne Chevalerie, tit. II, p. 82. Nor was this [530] ignorance confined to laymen; the greater part of the clergy was not many degrees superior to them in science. Many dignified ecclesiastics could not subscribe the canons of those councils in which they sat as members. Nouv. Traité de Diplom. tom. II, p. 424. One of the question appointed by the canons to be put to persons who were candidates for orders was this: «Whether they could read the gospels and epistles, and explain the sense of them, at least literally?», Regino Prumiensis, ap. Bruck. Hist. Philos. V, III, p. 631. Alfred the Great complained, that from the Humber to the Thames there was not a priest who understood the liturgy in his mother-tongue, or who could translate the easiest piece of Latin; and that from the Thames to the sea, the ecclesiastics were still more ignorant. Asserus de Rebus Gestis Alfredi, ap. Camdeni Anglica, &c. p. 25. The ignorance of the clergy is quaintly described by an author of the dark ages: «Potius dediti gulæ quam glossæ; potius colligunt libras quam legunt libros; libentius intuentur Martham quam Marcum; malunt legere in Salmone quam in Solomone». Alanus de Art. Predicat. ap. Lebeuf, Dissert. tom. II, p. 21. To the obvious causes of such universal ignorance, arising from the state of government and manners, from the seventh to the eleventh century, we may add the scarcity of books during that period, and the difficulty of rendering them more common. The Romans wrote their books either on parchment or on paper made of the Egyptian papyrus. The latter, being the cheapest, was of course the most commonly used. But after the Saracens conquered Egypt in the seventh century, the communication between that country and the people settled in Italy, or in other parts of Europe, was almost entirely broken off, and the papyrus was no longer in use among them. They were obliged, on that account, to write all their books upon parchment, and, as the price of that was high, books became extremely rare, and of great value. We may judge of the scarcity of the materials for writing them from one circumstance. There still remain several manuscripts of the eighth, ninth, and following centuries, written on parchment, from which some former writing had been erased, in order to substitute a new composition in its place. In this manner it is probable that several works of the ancients perished. A book of Livy or of Tacitus might be erased, to make room for the legendary tale of a saint, or the superstitious prayers of a missal. Murat. Antiq. Ital. vol. III, p. 833. P. de Montfaucon affirms, that the greater part of the manuscripts on parchment which he has seen, those of an ancient date excepted, are written on parchment, from which some former treatise had been erased. Mém. de l’Acad. des Inscript. tom. IX, p. 325. As the want of materials for writing is one reason why so many of the works of the ancients have perished, it accounts likewise for the small number of manuscripts of any kind previous to the eleventh century, when they began to multiply, from a cause which shall be mentioned. Hist. Littér. de France, tom. VI, p. 6. Many circumstancers prove the scarcity of books during these ages. Private persons possessed any books whatever. Even monasteries of considerable note had only missal. Murat. Antiq. vol. IX, p. 789. Lupus, abbot of Ferrières, in a letter to the pope, A. D. 855, beseeches him to lend him a copy of Cicero de Oratore and Quintilian’s Institutions; «for», says he, «although we have parts of those books, there is no complete copy of them in all France». Murat. Ant. V, III, p. 835. The prince of books became so high, that persons of a moderate fortune could not afford to purchase them. The countess of Anjou paid for a copy of [531] the Homilies of Haimon, bishop of Halberstadt, two hundred sheep, five quarters of wheat, and the same quantity of rye and millet. Histoire Littéraire de France, par des Religieux Bénédictins, tom. VII, p. 3. Even so late as the years 1471, when Louis XI borrowed the works of Rasis, the Arabian physician, from the faculty of medicine in Paris, he not only deposited in pledge a considerable quantity of plate, but was obliged to procure a nobleman to join with him as surety in a deed, binding himself, under a great forfeiture, to restore it. Gabr. Naudé Addit. à l’Histoire de Louys XI par Comines, édit. de Fresnoy, tom. IV, p. 281. Many curious circumstances, with respect to the extravagant price of books in the middle ages, are collected by that industrious compiler, to whom I refer such of my readers as deem this small branch of literary history an object of curiosity. When any person made a present of a book to a church or monastery, in which were the only libraries during several ages, it was deemed a donative of such value, that he offered it on the altar pro remedio animæ suæ, in order to obtain the forgiveness of his sins. Murat. vol. III, p. 836. Hist. Littér. de france, tom. VI, p. 6. Nouv. Trait. de Diplomat. par deux Bénédictins, 4to tom. I, p. 481. In the eleventh century, the art of making paper, in the manner now become universal, was invented; by means of that, not only the number of manuscripts increased, but the study of the sciences was wonderfully facilitated. Murat. ibid. p. 871. The invention of the art of making paper, and the invention of the art of printing, are two considerable events in literary history. It is remarkable that the former preceded the first dawning of letters and improvement in knowledge towards the close of the eleventh century; the latter ushered in the light which spread over Europe at the era of the Reformation.


Note [XI], page 17

All the religious maxims and practices of the dark ages are a proof of this. I shall produce one remarkable testimony in confirmation of it, from an author canonized by the church of Rome, St. Eloy, or Egidius, bishop of Noyon, in the seventh century. «He is a good Christian who comes frequently to church, who presents the oblation which is offered to god upon the altar; who doth not taste of the fruits of his own industry until he has consecrated a part of them to God; who, when the holy festivals approach, lives chastely even with his own wife during several days, that with a safe conscience he may draw near the altar of God; and who, in the last place, can repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. Redeem then your souls from destruction, while you have the means in your power: offer presents and tythes to churchmen; come more frequently to church; humbly implore the patronage of the saints; for, if you observe these things, you may come with security in the day of retribution to the tribunal of the eternal Judge, and say, «Give to us, O Lord, for we have given unto thee". Dacherii, Spicilegium Vet. Script,. vol. II, p. 94. The learned and judicious translator of Dr. Mosheim’s Ecclesiastical History, to one of whose additional notes I am indebted for my knowledge of this passage, subjoins a very proper reflexion: «We see here a large and ample description of a good Christian, in which there is not the least mention of the love of God, resignation to his will, obedience to his laws, or of justice, benevolence, and charity towards men». Mosh. Eccles. Hist,. vol. I, p. 324.


Note [XII], page 17

That infallibility in all its determinations, to which the church of Rome pretends, has been attended with one unhappy consequence [532]. As it is impossible to relinquish any opinion, or to alter any practice which has been established by authority that cannot err, all its institutions and ceremonies must be immutable and everlasting, and the church must continue to observe, in enlightened times, those rites which were introduced during the ages of darkness and credulity. What delighted and edified the latter, must disgust and shock the former. Many of the rites observed in the Romish church appear manifestly to have been introduced by a superstition of the lowest and most illiberal species. Many of them were borrowed, with little variation, from the religious ceremonies established among the ancient heathens. Some were so ridiculous, that if every age did not furnish instances of the fascinating influence of superstition, as well as of the whimsical forms which it assumes, it must appear incredible that they should have been ever received or tolerated. In several churches of France, they celebrated a festival in commemoration of the Virgin Mary’s flight into Egypt. It was called the feast of the Ass. A young girl, richly dressed, with a child in her arms, was set upon an ass superbly caparisoned. The ass was led to the altar in solemn procession. High mass was said with great pomp. The ass was taught to kneel at proper places; a hymn no less childish than impious was sung in his praise; and, when the ceremony was ended, the priest, instead of the usual words with which he dismissed the people, braved three times like an ass; and the people, instead of the usual response, «We bless the Lord», brayed three times in the same manner. Du Cange, voc. Festum, vol. III, p. 424. This ridiculous ceremony was not like the festival of fools, and some other pageants of those ages, a mere farcical entertainment exhibited in a church, and mingled, as was then the custom, with an imitation of some religious rites; it was an act of devotion, performed by the ministers of religion, and by the authority of the church. However, as this practice did not prevail universally in the catholic church, its absurdity contributed at last to abolish it.

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