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Book IX
Note B

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and Her Invaders

by
Thomas Hodgkin


2nd edition
Oxford University Press
London
1896

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

[image ALT: a blank space]

Book IX (end)

Vol. VIII
p276
Chapter X

The Life of the People

Sources: —

The laws of the Lombard kings Ratchis and Aistulf, as published in Muratori's Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, vol. I part II pp85‑93, and by Troya, Codice Diplomatico Longobardo, vol. IV pp198‑218 and 486‑502.

The Capitularies of Charles the Great, published in Migne's Patrologia, vol. XCVII pp121‑370, and in Muratori, ut supra, pp94‑125 (Caroli Magni Leges et Pippini Italiae Regis Leges).

Guides: —

Hegel, Geschichte der Städte­verfassung von Italien, vol. II pp1‑47, and Waitz, Verfassungs-Geschichte, vols. III and IV.

The story has now been told of the external events in the history of Italy during the seventy years which followed the death of Liutprand. We have read the letters of Popes, and witnessed the coronation of an Emperor, but have we drawn any nearer to the beating heart of the nation? Can we at the end of the story form any clearer idea than we possessed at the beginning as to the manner of life which men led in Italy during those dim chaotic years? Can we with any persuasion of its truth paint the picture of a Roman, a Lombard, or a Frankish home in the Italy of the eighth century? Do we know what men were thinking as they dressed their olives and their vines,  p277 or can we catch even a syllable of the gossip of the market-place, during those two generations while Italy was cutting the cables which bound her to Constantinople and accepting the dominion of the Frankish Augustus?

I fear it must be confessed that we have not the requisite materials for conducting any such enquiry into the social state of Italy in the eighth century. Literature altogether fails us. We have no Sidonius and no Claudian to disclose to us by letters or poems what was passing in the minds of men. The fountain of Paulus' story-telling has run dry, and even the Lives of the Saints, which often give such quaintly interesting anecdotes of social life, seem to fail us here. Our only resource must be to reap such scanty harvest as we may from the laws of the latest Lombard kings and the Capitularies of their mighty successor.

Later Lombard laws. Speaking generally, we may say that in the laws of Ratchis and Aistulf (no laws of Desiderius have come down to us) we see something of that tendency towards gentler manners and more liberal views which we found in the laws of Liutprand when compared with those of Rothari.1 Legislative evolution. In the prologue to the laws of Ratchis a claim is expressly made on behalf of progress in the art of legislation.

'The lofty Rothari,' says the king, 'drew up his code under Divine inspiration, for the benefit of the God‑preserved nation of the Lombards. His successor Grimwald, that most excellent king, after careful consideration of the hard cases which were brought before him, relaxed some rules and tightened others. Then by God's mercy our own foster-father, that most wise prince Liutprand, adorned  p278 as he was with all modesty and sobriety, after long and anxious vigils, expressed his desires in an edict which, with the consent of his faithful Lombards and their magistrates [judices], received his solemn confirmation. Now, by the help of the same Divine Redeemer, I Ratchis, after taking counsel with the magistrates of the Lombards, that is of those who dwell within the borders of Austria, Neustria, and Tuscia,2 find some things to be just and right in the statutes of my predecessors, and other things to have need of amendment,'

— which amendments are accordingly made in the pages that follow.

Tendency to diminish judicial oaths. We observe in these laws, and also in those of the next king, Aistulf, a tendency to exact fewer oaths of compurgation and attestation, 'which,' as Ratchis remarks, 'through love of gain often lead men into perjury,' and to rely more on the written deed,3 which, we may presume, more of the Lombard warriors could now decipher than in the first century after their great migration.

Rights of women enlarged. There is also a disposition to look more favourably on the claims of women to a share in the inheritance of a deceased ancestor. Thus in the case of a Lombard dying intestate and without male issue his maiden aunts are let in to a share of his estate, from which, before, they were excluded.4 Thus also a Lombard's widow was no longer strictly limited to the meta and morgincap,5 which alone she might inherit under the laws of Liutprand.6 Her husband might now leave  p279 her a life-interest in the half of his other property, a power which was, however, subject to certain limitations if she were a second wife, in order to guard the interests of the step-children.

Emancipa­tion of slaves. The emancipation of slaves seems to have been going steadily forward, and was, on the whole, favoured by the legislator. Probably the cause of freedom was helped even by an apparently restrictive law of Aistulf's7 (dated March 1, 754), which recited that 'some perverse men, when they had received their freedom, slighted their benefactors, and many masters, fearing to be thus treated, shrank from enfranchising their slaves.' It was therefore enacted that if a Lombard chose to emancipate his slave by the most solemn process,8 but at the same time to insert in the deed of enfranchisement a clause retaining the right to the freedman's services during his own lifetime, he might do so, thus virtually turning the gift of freedom into a bequest.

Sometimes a Lombard would for the good of his soul leave a certain part of his property to 'venerable places' (churches or convents), and would direct that the slaves who cultivated it should receive their freedom and a small allotment of land for their support. It often happened, however, that the dead man's heirs disregarded his will, removed the landmarks which protected the allotment, and brought back the cultivators into slavery. This injustice was repressed by another law of Aistulf's,9 and the 'venerable places' were  p280 charged with the duty of seeing that the testator's intentions were not disregarded. Even if the testator were too near his end to comply with the regular form of manumission 'round the altar,'10 and if he only indicated to the priest who ministered at his death‑bed the name of the slave whom he desired to enfranchise, such dying request was to be held valid and the man was to receive his freedom, 'for it seems to us,' said Aistulf, 'the greatest possible benefit that slaves should be brought out of bondage into freedom, seeing that our Redeemer condescended to become a slave11 that He might set us free.'12 Noble words surely, even though uttered by the 'quite unspeakable' Aistulf.

In the case of a deed of emancipation a question might be raised. 'What consideration should be stated in the deed?' The king answers without hesitation, 'The slave's past services: they are the consideration for his freedom, for you cannot expect a slave to have anything else to offer.'13

Corruption and weakness of the magistrates. But notwithstanding all these indications of lessened barbarism, the laws of these two Lombard kings show how chaotic was still the social condition of their  p281 subjects. First and foremost among the causes of unrest was that besetting sin of barbarous monarchies and of barbarous republics, a corrupt and cowardly judicature. King Ratchis, who had a soul above the savagery of his nation and who evidently had some real yearnings after righteousness, says in one of his laws, 'I call God to witness that I cannot go anywhere to listen to a sermon, nor ride abroad (with any comfort), because of the cries for justice of so many of the poor.'14

In order to redress these wrongs King Ratchis directs that every judge shall sit daily on the judgment-seat in his city, and not intrigue for his own advancement, nor give his mind to the vanities of the world, but dwell by himself, keeping open and unbribed justice for all. 'If at any time he shall neglect to do justice to his ariman [free Lombard neighbour], whether the man be rich or poor, he shall lose his judgeship and pay his guidrigild, half to the king and half to the man to whom he has denied justice.'15 And the judge was moreover to exact from his own subordinate magistrates16 the same oath of incorrupt judgment and the same observance of that oath which he was ordered to render to the king.

Lawless combina­tions. When the courts of law fail, for any cause, to give forth such decisions as correspond with men's natural sense of justice, a semi-civilised people is apt to take  p282 the law into its own hands and to substitute the 'wild justice of revenge' for the halting logic of the law‑courts. Such seems to have been the case in Lombard Italy. 'In every city,' Ratchis complains, 'evil men are forming zabae or combinations against the magistrates.' The slight hints which the law gives us as to the nature of these 'zabae' remind us sometimes of an Irish land-league, sometimes of a Neapolitan 'Camorra' or a Sicilian 'mafia.' If any man unites himself with only as many as four or five others in order to defy the authority of a judge, to prevent people resorting to him for justice, or to oppose the execution of his decree after trial of a cause, he is to undergo the penalty imposed on the crime of sedition. But the same law repeats and enforces the penalties against idle and unjust judges, evidently showing that, in the king's opinion, combinations against the law were the result of unjust judgments.17

Strange insult to a wedding party. A curious illustration of the lawless character of the times is afforded us by a law of King Aistulf's.18

'It has come to our ears that when certain men were going with a bridegroom, to escort the bride to his house and were making their procession with paranymph and bridesmaids,19 some perverse men threw over them dung and filthy water. As we have heard that this outrage has been perpetrated in other places, and as we foresee that tumults and even murders are likely to be the result, we order that every free man who is guilty of such an offence shall pay 900 solidi  p283 [£540], half to the king and half to the bride's legal representative.20 If the deed has been done by slaves, their master must purge himself of all complicity in their guilt, or else pay the appointed fine of 900 solidi. In any case the slaves shall be handed over to the bride's representative, to be dealt with according to his pleasure.'

It seems probable that we have in this incident something more than the unmannerly horse-play of Lombard villagers. The successful bridegroom has probably won his bride from an envious neighbour, whose disappointment and rage are expressed in this filthy outrage, which as the king perceives, unless promptly and severely punished, may easily blossom into an interminable blood-feud. Even so from Buondelmonte's marriage with the daughter of the Donati sprang the long agony of the civil wars of Florence.21

Jealousy and suspicion of foreigners. Jealousy of all foreigners, including the dwellers in Roman Italy, and suspicions born of the Lombard's precarious tenure of dominion, are clearly shown in the laws of both the kings. Thus Ratchis says,

'We have been informed that certain evil men creep into our palace, desiring to find out our secrets from our favourites,22 or to worm out from our porters or other servants what we are doing, that they may then go and trade upon their knowledge in alien provinces. Now it appears to us that he who presumes to pry into such matters as these is not true in his faith towards us, but incurs grave suspicion [of treason]; wherefore we decide that whenever any one is discovered thus offending, both he who reveals the  p284 secret and he to whom it is revealed shall incur the risk of a capital sentence, and shall suffer the confiscation of his goods. For, as the Scripture saith, "It is a good thing to hide the secret of the king, but to reveal the works of God is honourable.'23

It is in accordance with this suspicious — shall we say Chinese — policy of self-exclusion that we read in another law of King Ratchis,24 'If any magistrate25 or any other person shall presume to direct his envoy to Rome, Ravenna, Spoleto, Benevento, Frank-land, Bavaria, Alamannia, Greece,26 or Avar-land without the king's order, he shall run the risk of his life, and his property shall be confiscated.'

System of passports. So too Aistulf orders the passes to be guarded, 'that our men may not pass over nor foreigners enter into our country without the king's command.'27 'Concerning navigation or commerce by land. No one ought to undertake a journey on business or for any other cause without a letter from the king or the consent of his magistrate: and if he transgresses he must pay his guidrigild.'28 Trade with 'Romans' forbidden. Another even more interesting law makes direct mention of 'Romans' (that is no doubt the dwellers in the Ducatus Romae and other fragments of Imperial Italy), as the persons with whom intercourse was forbidden. 'This also we wish concerning those men who without the king's permission trade with Roman men. If he be a magistrate who presumes to do this, he shall pay his guidrigild and lose his rank.  p285 But if he be a simple Freeman (arimannus), he shall lose all his property and go with shorn head [through the streets], crying aloud, 'So let all men suffer who, contrary to the will of their lord the king, engage in trade with Roman men, when we have a controversy with them.'29

The close-cropped head of the unpatriotic trader was probably a satire on the 'Roman style' of wearing the hair of which we have so often heard. The royal legislator in the pride of his national conservatism says to his rebellious subject, 'Since you are ashamed of the flowing locks of your forefathers and will trade with those well-trimmed, dainty citizens of Rome, we will shear away all the hair that Nature has given you, and send you bald-pated, a derision to all men, to cry aloud your ignominy through the city.'

Evidently whatever possibilities of advancement and culture slumbered in the Lombard's soul he had still in him much of the stolid barbarism of his forefathers. He was not yet nearly so ready to amalgamate with his Latin neighbours as the Visigoth and Ostrogoth had been three centuries before him. And he too must therefore in all fairness bear his share of the blame for having delayed the unification of Italy.

Effect of the Frankish conquest. We have now to consider what effect the Frankish conquest produced on the social condition of Italy. The conjecture may be hazarded that at any rate for some time no very obvious change resulted from that conquest. As has been already pointed out, the policy of Charles the Great was to put himself at the head of  p286 the Lombard nation, and we have no sign that his rule was generally felt as an insult or humiliation by the people of Alboin. Something of the old Teutonic kinship may still have bound the two nations together. Their languages — in so far as either nation still used the old German speech and had not changed it for the Latin volgare — may have been not wholly unintelligible to one another. We have not, moreover, any evidence of a design on Charles's part to reverse the conditions which had prevailed in Italy for two centuries or to put the descendant of the Lombard conqueror under the heel of his Roman serf.30

Dukes replaced by counts. One great change Charles certainly seems to have made, though probably not on the very morrow of the conquest. The Lombard dukes, with their undefined and dangerous power, were replaced by Frankish counts — one probably to every considerable city — directly responsible to their Frankish sovereign. It is suggested31 with some likelihood that this change was brought about during Charles's long visit to Italy in 781, after the revolt of Hrodgaud of Friuli had shown him the danger of leaving too much power in the hands of the old dukes of the Lombards.

Increased power of the Church. Doubtless one result of the conquest was to make all the inhabitants feel that the power of the Catholic Church, and pre‑eminently of the See of Rome, was more firmly rooted than before, though even under the Lombards the long list of grants of land, of slaves, and of houses to ecclesiastical persons gives us a vivid  p287 idea of the hold which the Church, notwithstanding her quarrels with the kings, had upon the minds of the people. One change doubtless took place, to the material enrichment of the church, namely the more uniform and systematic collection of tithes, the punctual payment of which is frequently insisted upon in Charles's edicts.32 In each city also the power and prestige of the bishop were greatly augmented. In many important matters he had virtually a concurrent jurisdiction with the count. These two great functionaries were exhorted to act in harmony with each other, but probably the bishop would be encouraged to report to his sovereign if he deemed that there was anything in the proceedings of the count deserving of censure.33

The Capitularies. Our best information as to the social condition not only of Italy but of all other portions of the Frankish  p288 Empire is to be derived from a study of the Capitularies, those marvellous monuments of the energy and far‑reaching, all‑embracing statesmanship of the great Emperor. Doubtless any one who expects to find in these documents a scientific system of legislation will rise from their perusal disappointed.34 The Capitularies are not and do not pretend to be a code. They are far more concerned with administration than with legislation properly so called, and if they must be compared at all, it should rather be with the minutes or memoranda of the English Privy Council than with the codes of Justinian or Napoleon.35

Ecclesiastical affairs. To the mind of a modern legislator, probably a disproportionate part of these edicts will seem to be devoted to the affairs of the Church; but Charles truly perceived that in the Church lay the one best hope of civilising and humanising the chaotic populations of his Empire, and that with a corrupt, a profligate, and an ignorant clergy the task would be hopeless. Therefore, though not himself a stern moralist, he insisted with almost passionate earnestness on a reformation of the manners of the clergy: though not himself a man of high literary culture, he pressed upon the churchmen, his subjects, the duty of acquiring for themselves and  p289 imparting to others at least an elementary knowledge of science and literature.

'Diligently enquire,' he says to his commissioners,36 'how every priest has behaved himself in his office after his ordination: because some, who were poor before they took orders, have grown rich out of the property wherewith they ought to have served the Church, and have bought themselves allodiaa and slaves and other property, and have neither made any advance in their own reading, nor collected books, nor increased the vessels belonging to the Divine service, but have lived in luxury, oppression, and rapine.'

'Let the priests,37 according to the Apostle's advice, withdraw themselves from revellings and drunkenness: for some of them are accustomed to sit up till midnight or later, boozing with their neighbours: and then these men, who ought to be of a religious and holy deportment, return to their churches drunken and gorged with food, and unable to perform the daily and nightly office of praise to God, while others sink down in a drunken sleep in the place of their revels.'

Schools and school-books. 'Let there be schools in which boys may learn to read.38 In every monastery and bishop's palace let there be copies of the Psalms, arithmetic-books and grammars, with Catholic books well-edited: since often when men desire to pray aright to God they ask amiss owing to the bad editing of their books. Do not allow your boys to corrupt the text either in writing or in reading. And if you need to have a Gospel or Psalter  p290 or Missal copied, let it be done by men of full age, with all diligence.'

Grammar. 'Enquire how the priests are wont to instruct catechumens in the Christian faith, and whether, when they are saying special masses either for the dead or the living, they know how to make the required grammatical changes, in order to turn the singular into the plural number or the masculine into the feminine gender.'39

'Let the churches and altars be better built. Let no priest presume to store provisions or hay in the church.'40

'Let all the people, in a reverent, prayerful and humble manner, without the adornment of costly raiment, or enticing song, or worldly games, go forward with their litanies, and let them learn to cry aloud the Kyrie Eleison, not in such a rustic manner as hitherto, but in better style.'41

'Let not the scribes write badly: and let every bishop, abbot, and count keep his own notary.'42

Some of the passages which have been here quoted do not apply specially to Italy, but there can be no doubt from the general tenour of Charles's administration that he strove to raise the standard of literary cultivation in Italy as well as in other parts of his dominions. The need was at least as great in Rome as in the cities by the Rhine: it was probably greater. In reading through the Capitularies one is struck by the extremely barbarous character of the Latin in the 'Lombard Capitularies' as compared with those published at Aachen. The fault is probably that of the  p291 Italian secretaries by whom they have been transcribed, and we thus reach a similar conclusion to that which is forced upon us by a perusal of the Liber Pontificalis and the papal letters. At the close of the eighth century Rome was the last place in which to look for correct Latinity, or even a moderate acquaintance with the classical authors. Scholarship, which had died out on the banks of the Tiber, was born anew by the Ouse and the Tyne, in the archiepiscopal school at York, and the monastery of Jarrow.

Charles as champion of the weak. But important as was Charles's work in guarding the morality of the Church and raising the standard of literary culture, he himself would doubtless have declared that the most important of his duties as supreme ruler of the state was the defence of the rights of the weak and helpless, and the repression of tyranny and corruption on the part of the rich and the powerful. Over and over again, Charles repeats that it is his sacred duty to protect the widow and the orphan. For this he pledges his 'ban,' that mysterious word which was in after years to bear so awful a meaning when offenders were put to the ban of the Empire.43

The eight-fold ban. The eight-fold ban, the eight crimes which were considered to be especially against the peace of 'our lord the king' and which were punishable with a fine of 60 solidi [£36], were: —

1. Dishonouring holy Church.

p292 2. Injustice towards widows.

3. The like towards orphans.

4. The like towards the poor man who cannot defend himself.

5. Rape or abduction of a freeborn woman.

6. Fire-raising: the burning of another man's house or stables.

7. Harizhut, the forcible breaking down of another man's hedge or cottage.

8. Refusal to go forth with the host.44

Two important administrative changes were made by Charles in order to guard the poorer class of his subjects at one end of the social system and his own sovereign authority at the other from the injustices and encroachments of the functionaries whom he was compelled to employ, yet who were in a certain sense the common enemies of both.

Institution of scabini. I. The first of these changes was the introduction of scabini, or as we should call them, jurymen, into the courts of justice. It is admitted45 that in the earlier  p293 stages of Frankish and probably also of Lombard society the free men had been in a certain way associated with the king's officer in the courts of justice, but the procedure was apparently fitful and irregular: the frequent attendance of a large body of free men at the courts became a burden to themselves, and the whole custom of popular co‑operation in the administration of the law was in danger of falling into disuse. Charles accordingly directed that out of the body of free men in each district should be chosen seven men, untainted by crime, whose duty it should be to decide, not only as our jurors do, on questions of fact, but also on questions of law, in the presence of the count, centenarius,46 or other judicial officers. To these men was given the name scabini;47 they were chosen sometimes by the count and people jointly, sometimes by the king's commissioners (missi), but once chosen they probably held their office for life. That office was evidently an honourable one, and, at least during the ninth century, they probably acted as an important check on the lawless proceedings of a corrupt or arrogant governor. One interesting passage in a late capitulary, issued from Charles's court at Aachen, shows that their duty consisted quite as much in courageous condemnation of the guilty as in protection of the innocent. 'Let not the vicarii suffer to be brought before them those robbers who have been previously condemned  p294 to death by the count. If they dare to do this, let them suffer the same punishment as the robber himself, because after the scabini have judged and condemned a man it is not permitted to either count or vicarius to give him back his life.'48 It is important to observe that in this and other passages the actual decision is recognised as being the work of the scabini alone. The count has to give effect to the verdict (as we call it), but he has nothing to do with pronouncing it, nor is he allowed to set it aside. In the law itself we seem to have an indication of a state of things like that which has sometimes existed in the back-settlements of America and had led to the 'wild justice' of lynch‑law; cases in which the moral sense of the community calls for the execution of a criminal, who through fear or favour is shielded by the governor of the State. An especial interest for us in this institution of the scabini is furnished by the fact that, though it came into Italy from over the Alps, the most numerous proofs of its existence, at least throughout the ninth century, are furnished by Italian documents.

Institution of missi dominici. II. The second expedient to which Charles resorted in order to secure justice for the humblest of his subjects and keep his provincial governors in order, was that of missi dominici, or, as we might translate the words, 'royal commissioners.'

We have in the recent course of this history made acquaintance with many missi or envoys of Pippin and Charles speeding southwards with messages from their master, sometimes to the king of the Lombards,  p295 sometimes to the Emperor at Constantinople, most frequently of all to the Pope. But the missi whom we are now considering, and who are generally known by the addition dominici, have a different office from these. They are not ambassadors, but are more like the staff-officers of an army, sent from head-quarters in order to see that every regiment is in a state of efficiency. They were generally sent forth two and two, a layman being joined with a distinguished ecclesiastic in each commission. Their multifarious duties. Their duties were so manifold that it is hard to give a succinct description of them; but they were undoubtedly ordered to watch with jealous vigilance the proceedings of all functionaries acting in the king's name, and to see that neither the rights of the crown nor the liberties of the subject suffered either through their lethargy or their rapacity. In the province to which they were accredited they had to review the heriban, or national militia, and exact the fines payable by all liable to military service who failed to attend the levy. They were to see to the exaction of tithes and the due observance of the Lord's Day; to defend the rights of churches, widows, orphans, and all who had special need of their protection; to see that the landowners who held beneficia from the king or the church were not impoverishing the beneficium in order to enrich their own adjoining properties; to choose scabini, advocates, and notaries in the several places visited by them, and to hand in, on their return to head-quarters, a list of the persons so nominated. Finally — and this seems to have been one of their most important functions — they were to conduct enquiries as to the legal status of such alleged slaves as claimed to be free men. We know from a certain capitulary  p296 of Charles,49 which describes in pessimistic tone the disorders of the land, that great ecclesiastics as well as secular nobles were at this time forcibly reducing the poorer free men to beggary and slavery. So keen in some cases was the slave's desire for freedom that he was believed to have actually murdered a relative, father, mother or uncle who being incontestably a slave might have disproved his claim to be born free and so have dragged him back into servitude.50

There can be little doubt that the control exercised by the missi dominici in the king's name was cordially detested by the counts and other permanent officers of the state. Even where the governor was not actively rapacious and unjust, he was apt to procrastinate in the performance of his duties. For a day's hunting or some similar diversion he was too ready to shorten or altogether omit the holding of his placitum.51 Now came the two Imperial missi, the very note of whose character was strenuousness,52 who held their office only for a year, and were intent on showing to their master at the year's end a good report of work done in his name. These men listened to the complaints  p297 of disappointed suitors for justice, tore to shreds the official excuses for procrastination and delay, tested the venal evidence of the great man's dependants, and in short made the corrupt or lethargic count feel that life was not worth living till the backs of the missi were turned and they were once more safely on their road. In a capitulary which three of the Imperial missi put forth on their own account53 (probably about the year 806), at the commencement of their tour, they hint a consciousness of their own unpopularity. 'Moreover,' say they, 'take good heed lest you or any one in your service (as far as you can prevent it) be found guilty of any such trickery as to say, "Be quiet! be quiet! till these missi have passed this way; and after that we can settle these cases comfortably with one another"; and so either avoid or at any rate postpone the giving of justice. Strive rather that all may have been duly settled before we come to you.'

Importance of the institution. It has been well said by a German commentator54 on the functions assigned to the missi dominici, that in order to form a right estimate of the value of this institution we must ask ourselves what would have been the state of the Empire without it. 'We have abundant evidence of the grasping character of the Frankish [and probably also of the Lombard] grandees. We see their unceasing attempts to aggrandise themselves at the expense either of the Emperor or of the still existing remains of the free commonalty. We observe how these selfish endeavours, if not strenuously  p298 resisted, must have injured trade and commerce and the general well-being of the people. It was the missi who alone could battle against these tendencies, armed as they were with yet greater and more wide-reaching powers than those of the counts, but with powers which, on account of the shortness of their duration (generally not more than a year or two) and the peculiar way in which they were entrusted to them, were less liable to selfish abuse. Thus we have perhaps to thank the institution of the missi for the fact that the poor independent freeholder did not disappear even sooner than was actually the case, that the Emperors, Charles's successors, were not earlier stripped of their power for the benefit of those who had once been only the Emperor's officers.' Still even in Charles's time, notwithstanding all his efforts for the protection of his people, the residuum of official tyranny which he could not succeed in suppressing was working great evil in the land. We seem to be reading over again the well-known lines in Goldsmith's Deserted Village when we read the Capitulare Langobardicum issued by Pippin (of course with his father's approval) from his palace at Pavia, probably in the spring of 803:

Melancholy tone of the Capitulare Langobardicum, 'We hear that the officers of the counts and some of their more powerful vassals are collecting rents and insisting on forced labours, harvesting, ploughing, sowing, stubbing up trees, loading waggons and the like, not only from the Church's servants [probably on beneficia granted by the Church], but from the rest of the people; all which practices must, if you please, be put a stop to by us and by all the people, because in some places the people have been in these ways so grievously oppressed, that many, unable to bear their  p299 lot, have escaped by flight from their masters or patrons,55 and the lands are relapsing into wilderness.'56

and of the Capitulare de Expeditione Exercitali. Some years later, in the Capitulare de Expeditione Exercitali, published at Aachen in 811, the old Emperor utters a doleful lamentation over the general reign of violence and lawlessness throughout his dominions, an anarchic tyranny which prevents him from getting a proper supply of free and well‑fed soldiers for the national militia.

'1. The bishops and abbots,' he says,57 'have no proper control over their tonsured clergy and the rest of their "men"; nor have the counts over their retainers.58

'2. The poor complain that they are being thrust out from their property, and that, quite as much by the bishops and abbots and their advocati, as by the counts and their centenarii.

'3. They say that if a poor man will not give up his property to the bishop, abbot, or count, these great men make some excuse for getting him into trouble with the courts, or else are continually ordering him on military service till the wretched man, quite ruined, volens nolens has to surrender or sell his property. At the same time his neighbour who has surrendered his property [and thus become a serf instead of a free man] is allowed to remain at home unmolested.

'4. They say that bishops and abbots as well as counts are sending their free men home [instead of causing them to serve in the army] under the name of household servants.59 The like is done also by  p300 abbesses. These are falconers, huntsmen, tax‑gatherers, overseers,60 tithing‑men,61 and others who entertain the missi and their followers.

'5. At the same time they constrain poorer men to go against the enemy, while they allow men of means to return to their homes.'

The rest of the complaints deal chiefly with the diminished authority of the counts over their own pagenses, and with cases of flat refusal to answer to the ban of the Emperor summoning them to the field. The whole Capitulary gives an idea of tendencies towards disorganisation and disruption, hardly kept in check even during the lifetime of the mighty Emperor himself.

Strong set of the current towards feudalism. For this was in truth the question which presented itself for solution at the beginning of the ninth century. Was Western Europe to escape from feudalism or to undergo it? Was she to be welded together by the strong hands of a series of monarchs like Charles into a well-compacted Empire, such as the old Roman Empire had been at its best estate, governed by a highly trained, well-organised class of administrators, going forth from the seat of empire to enforce the will of their sovereign in distant provinces and returning thereto at regular periods, with rhythmic movement like the pulsation of the heart? Or was the right to govern, with all its privileges and all its temptations, to be grasped by those representatives of the sovereign as their own private property, used for their own aggrandisement in wealth and power, and transmitted from father to son like a hereditary estate? The Roman proconsul or the feudal baron —  p301 which was it to be for the next seven centuries? The answer is well known. Whatever may have been the wise and noble designs of the great Austrasian king, his assumption of the title of Augustus did not lead up to the formation of a state like that which was ruled by Hadrian or Antoninus, but led instead to the Feudal Anarchy, which history has called, with unintended irony, the Feudal System.

The reader may perhaps have noticed that I have refrained from using the technical terms of feudalism in describing the political relations of Charles and his subjects; that 'suzerain,' 'vassal,' 'homage' have been generally avoided in these pages. This has been done because the feudal relation had not yet in the time of Charles the Great acquired that definiteness and precision which it possessed in later centuries. Yet the potent germs of feudalism were undoubtedly working in the body politic. There was the practice of 'commendation'; beneficia were held of the Church or the king on the condition of performing certain services; the lord (senior) had his dependent followers (homines); even the word vassus is of frequent appearance in the Capitularies. The political solution was already crystallising into feudalism, and possibly no king or Emperor could have arrested the development of the process. Charles himself in his Capitularies recognises and defends the feudal obligation. 'Let no man,' he says,62 'renounce his lord after he has received from him so much as the value of one solidus,63 with these exceptions; if the lord desires to kill him, or to beat  p302 him with a stick, or to defile his wife or daughter, or to take from him his inheritance. . . . And if any lord summon his retainers to assist him in doing battle with an adversary,64 and one of the compeers shall refuse to obey the summons and shall remain negligently at home, let that beneficium which he possessed be taken away from him and given to the man who abides true to his fealty.'

Here we have not only a full recognition of the right of the lord to his vassal's military service, but also (which is more extraordinary in so great a statesman as Charles) we have imperial sanction given to that most anti-social of all feudal practices, the levying of private war. Herein we see how different after all was the Roman Empire remodelled by Charles the Great, from the Roman Empire of the Caesars. Imagine the astonishment of Augustus or Hadrian at finding such a sentence among the edicts of a successor.

Triumph of the disruptive agencies after the death of Charles. In this brief and imperfect sketch of the internal organisation of Charles's Empire I have necessarily hinted at some of the causes which were to frustrate many of his noble and far‑reaching plans. We all know that, as a matter of fact, the disruptive agencies that were at work throughout his vast dominions were too mighty for his feeble successors to contend against; that the diverse races which had seemed to be welded together into one commonwealth by the labours of himself and his ancestors, sprang apart in one generation  p303 after his death, 843 and that the treaty of Verdun signed by his grandsons practically constituted France, Germany, and Italy into three separate countries with something like their present boundaries.65 We know too that feudalism triumphed over all the attempts of the central power to check its progress, that duke and marquis and count and baron made their titles hereditary, and became virtually, each one, sovereign in his own domain; that thus ten thousand disintegrating influences destroyed the unity not only of the Empire, but even of each of the three kingdoms into which it was divided.

But all this belongs to another chapter of history from that which is closing before us. In the course of my now completed work I have attempted to follow the fortunes of Italy and the successive races of her conquerors during nearly five hundred years. The story opened by the death‑bed of Julian in a tent on the Assyrian plain; it closes by the tomb of Austrasian Charles with the notes of the Planctus de Obitu Karoli ringing in our ears. In that space of half a millennium, kingdoms have risen and fallen; the one great universal Empire has crumbled into hopeless ruin; the Teuton, the Sclave and the Hun have seated themselves in the cities of the old Latin civilisation; the religions of Jupiter and of Woden have faded away before the spreading light of Christianity, and the religion of Mohammed has overspread three continents; the whole outlook of the world has been changed. Now in 814 the Debateable Land is traversed. It is true that the waters of Chaos will still for  p304 centuries continue to roll over Europe, but the old classical world has finally passed away, and we see fully installed before us those two great figures, the German Emperor and the sovereign Roman Pope, whose noisy quarrels and precarious reconciliations will be the central events of European history during the Middle Ages.


The Author's Notes:

1 See vol. VI p395.

2 No mention of Benevento or Spoleto.

3 The 'cartula vendicionis.'

4 Aist. Lex i (x apud Troya, IV.493).

5 See vol. VI p200 for an explanation of these words.

6 Lex Liut. VI.49 (Troya, III.494).

7 Aist. Lex ii (Muratori), xi (Troya, IV.495).

8 'Si quis Langobardus pertinentes suos thingare voluerit in quartâ manu.' For the explanation of 'thingation' and 'by the fourth hand' see vol. VI pp194 and 206.

9 iii (Murat.), xii (Troya, VI.495).

10 See vol. VI p405.

11 'Took upon Him the form of a servant' (μορφὴν δούλου λαβών), Philippians ii.7.

12 'Quia maxima merces nobis esse videtur, ut de servicio servos (sic) ad libertatem deducantur, eo quod Redemptor noster servus fieri dignatus est, ut nobis libertatem donaret.'

13 The Lombard word which I have translated 'consideration' is launegild, which was explained in the laws to be 'wider-donum' or 'contra-donum,' that which was, or was supposed to be, the equivalent gift handed over by the receiver of a benefit to the giver. The doctrine of this launegild, which lasted on in some parts of Italy till the twelfth century, is discussed in a very thorough manner by Val de Lièvre in his treatise 'Launegild und Wadia' (Innsbruck, 1877).

14 'Quia nec alicubi ad hortacionem' [another MS. reads 'orationem'] 'possumus procedere aut ubicumque caballicare propter reclamaciones multorum pauperum hominum' (Troya, IV.200).

15 This apportionment of the guidrigild obscurely expressed in law i (or ix) is plainly set forth in law vii (or vi).

16 'Sculdahis suus (see vol. VI p578) centeni et loco-positi.'

17 See Law of Ratchis, vii (vi), Troya, IV.207.

18 xv (vi), Troya, IV.498.

19 'Cum paranimpha et troctingis.' The troctingae are without doubt bridesmaids. The paranimpha is the chief bridesmaid.

20 'Mundwald' (see vol. VI p404).

21 Dante, Paradiso, XVI.140‑141.

22 'Deliciosis.'

23 Ratch. Leges, ix (viii), Troya, IV.210.

24 Law vi (v), Troya, IV.206.

25 Judex.

26 The text has 'Reciam,' but 'Greciam' seems a probable emendation.

27 Aist. Lex v (Troya, VI.490).

28 vi (ibid.).

29 Aist. Lex iv (Troya, VI.489).

30 This conclusion, which is I think the natural result of a study of Charles's Capitularies, is the same that is arrived at by Hegel (Die Städte­verfassung von Italien, II.28‑32).

31 By Hegel (Ibid. II.3).

32 It seems to be now admitted that the Carolingian dynasty did not introduce but only systematised and made more rigorous the exaction of tithes on behalf of the Church. Waitz says (Verf.‑Gesch. IV.120), 'Tithes frequently claim the attention of Pippin, Charles, and their successors. Their laws sharpen up the obligation to make this payment out of property of all kinds: an obligation which the Germans bitterly resented. Yet it cannot be said that Charles first introduced or even first legalised this obligation. He and his father only recognise the Church's prescriptive claim as binding, and thereby give it a new significance. They also issue new directions about the doubtful questions which might arise in connection therewith.'

33 This is the conclusion which Hegel (II.22) draws from the remarkable words of a capitulary of Charles the Bald (876): 'Ipsi nihilominus episcopi singuli in suo episcopio missatici nostri potestate [the power conveyed by the commission of a missus dominicus described below] et auctoritate fungantur.' It is true that this capitulary is dated sixty‑two years after the death of Charlemagne and that ecclesiastical power was largely increased in that interval.

34 This appears to be the cause of the disparaging remarks of Gibbon (chap. XLIX; VI.17 in Smith's edition), who seems to have been mentally comparing Charles with Justinian. But his language leads me to doubt whether he had carefully studied any of the Capitularies except the De Villis, a most interesting document but no fair sample of the collection as a whole.

35 I have not met, even in Waitz's monumental work, with any more helpful remarks on Charles's Capitularies than those which are contained in M. Guizot's twenty-first lecture on the History of Civilisation.

36 Capitulare Ecclesiasticum, 809 (p324 in Migne's Patrologia).

37 Ibid.

38 Cap. Ecclesiasticum, 789 (p177, Migne).

39 Cap. Gen. Aq. 802, p247.

40 Cap. de Presbyteris, 810 (p325).

41 Statut. Salisb. 799 (p207).

42 Cap. Duplex, 805 (p283).

43 According to Waitz, V.‑G. III.318‑325, the word bannus signified (1) the solemnly uttered and published word of the sovereign; (2) the penalty attached to its infraction; (3) the crime which incurred the penalty; (4) the military power of the Emperor, the great war‑lord; (5) his general power to protect all his subjects, but especially the widow, the orphan, and the stranger, to defend them from oppression, and to preserve the public peace.

44 'De illos (sic) octo bannus (sic) unde domnus noster vult quod exeant sol. lx. Cap. 1. Dishonoratio sanctae ecclesiae. 2. Qui injustè agitate contra viduas. 3. De orfanis. 4. Contra pauperinus (sic) qui se ipsus (sic) defendere non possunt, qui dicuntur ur (? un) vermagon (= vermögen). 5. Qui ruptum facit, hoc est qui feminam ingenuam trahit contra voluntatem parentum suorum. 6. Qui incendium facit infra patriam, hoc est qui incendit alterius casumº aut scuriam. 7. Qui harizhut facit, hoc est qui frangit alterius sepem aut portam aut casam cum virtute. 8. Qui in hoste non vadit.

'Isti sunt octo banni domino (sic) regis unde exire debent de unoquisque (sic) solido (sic) lx.'

The date of this law (apud Migne, p126) is supposed to be about 772, i.e. before Charles's conquest of Italy, but doubtless his Italian dominions would be governed in the spirit of it.

45 See Waitz, Verf.‑Gesch. IV.389; Savigny, Gesch. des Röm. Rechts, I.241.

46 The centenarius, or ruler of a Hundred, was the next man in office under the comes. Practically the word seems to have become almost synonymous with vicarius (Waitz, Verf.‑Gesch. III.393).

47 Grimm derives this word from scafan (= the modern German word schaffen, to make), and the derivation is approved by Waitz, ibid. IV.390.

48 Cap. Aquis. 813, p361.

49 Cap. de Expeditione Exercitali, 811 (pp333‑4).

50 This extraordinary statement is contained in a capitulary of 803 (p258 in Migne; cv in Muratori), as well as in the above capitulary of 811 (p334, Migne).

51 'Volumus atque jubemus,' says Charles in the Capitulare Aquense (807, p309), 'ut comites nostri, propter venationem et alia joca, placita sua non dimittant, nec ea minuta faciant'; and he goes on to appeal, as he was well entitled to do, to the example which he, the mighty huntsman, set them by the frequent and diligent holding of his placita.

52 '[Jubemus] ut tales sint missi in legatione suâ, sicut decet esse missos imperatoris strenuos, et perficiant quod eis injunctum fuerit' (Cap. de Instructione Missorum, p327).

53 Capitulare Missorum Dominicorum (p294).

54 E. Dobbert, 'Ueber das wesen und den Geschäftskreis der Missi Domenici' (Heidelberg, 1861), ad finem.

55 'A dominis vel patronibus (sic) suis lapsi sunt.' As Muratori points out, the slave would flee from his dominus, the aldius or serf from his patronus.

56 p253 (Migne).

57 pp333‑4 (Ibid.).

58 'Pagenses.'

59 'Ministeriales.'

60 'Praepositi.'

61 'Decani.'

62 Cap. Aquisgranense (813), p361.

63 'Quod nullus seniorem suum dimittat postquam ab eo acceperit valente solido uno.'

64 'Si quis fidelibus suis contra adversarium suum pugnam aut aliquod certamen agere voluit et convocavit ad se aliquem de comparis suis ut ei adjutorium praebuisset.' Of course the vassals are 'compeers' to one another, not to the lord.

65 But with the long narrow strip of Lotharingia interposed between Germany and France.


Thayer's Note:

a Roughly speaking, real estate not held in fief.


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