Full text of “Mediaeval History Europe From The Fourth To The Sixteenth Century”

Full text of “Mediaeval History Europe From The Fourth To The Sixteenth Century”








* * •• j 

Dean Guy Stanton Ford 

By N. S. B. Gras 

Third Edition 

By Harold U, Fapucnbr 

By Payson J. Treat 

By W. E. Lunt 

By E. T. Williams 

By G. C Sellery and A. C. Krey 



By Felix Flugel and H. U. Faulkner 

By Oliver P. Chitwood 

By W. Henry Cooke and Edith P, Stickney 

By Henry S. Lucas 

By Carl Stephenson 

(Other Volumes in Preparation) 

M E D I ^ m L 






Harper Brothers, Publishers 
New York and London 


mediaeval history 

Copyright, iQSSi Harper & Brothers 
Printed in the United States of America 
All rights in this hook are reserved. 

No part of the text may be reproduced in any 
manner whatsoever without permission in 
writing from Harper & Brothers 






Editor's Foreword xix 

Preface xxi 













^ TURY 59 














4. The ommiaD caliphate at Damascus 148 








































* 3. THE COMMUNES 360 






































































Genealogical Tables ) ^ 

V following page 725 

Chronological ChartsJ 

Suggested Readings 746 

Index 770 



I. Physical Map of Europe, Western Asia, and 

Northern Africa frontispiece 

II. The Roman Empire and Its Neighbors in the 

Fourth Century 9 

III. Europe at the Death of Clovis 75 

IV. The Growth of the Arab Empire 143 

V. The Anglo-Saxons in Britain 15S 

VI. Italy After the Lombard Invasion 161 

VII. The Formation of the Carolingian Empire 178 

VIII. The Disintegration of the Carolingian Empire 236 

IX. Europe at the Time of the First Crusade 

between pp. 274—275 

X. Latin States in Syria 340 

XI. Towns of Western Europe in the Thirteenth 

Century 344 

XII. The Extension jof the Capetian Domain 390 

XIII. The Eastern Mediterranean After the Fourth 

Crusade ' 529 

XIV. Spain at the Close of the Thirteenth Century 542 

XV. The Extension of German Power in the Baltic 581 

XVI. The Growth of the Swiss Confederation 595 

XVII. The Ottoman Empire in 1481 598 

XVIII. Central and Eastern Europe About 1475 635 

XIX. France at the Death of Louis XI 643 




1. Greek Entablature 124 

2. Dome on Pendentives 125 

3. Example of Carolingian Minuscule 227 

4. Plan of a Motte-and- Bailey Castle: Berkhampstead 261 

5. The Expansion of Medieval Cologne 349 

6. The Expansion of Medieval Ghent 350 

7. An Armillary Sphere 417 

8. Ground Plan of a Basilican Church 471 

9. Section of a Basilican Church 471 

10. Cross Vault 472 

11. Section of Notre-Dame du Port 474 

1 2. Arches 479 

13. Gothic Vault 480 

14. Skeleton of Amiens Cathedral 481 

15. Section of a Gothic Pier 482 

16. Ground Plan of Reims Cathedral 483 

17. The Basilisk and the Adder (Amiens Cathedral) 491 ' 

18. Dante’s Scheme of the Universe 689 

















(^Between pp. 390-391) 

Scenes from the Bayeux Tapestry 

The Colosseum (Rome) 

St. Sophia (Constantinople) 

M0SQ.UE OF Cordova, Doorway 
Great Mosq.ue (Damascus) 

Cathedral of Pisa 
Angouleme Cathedral 
Saint-Sernin (Toulouse) 

Abbey of Laach 

Sant’ Apollinare in Classe (Ravenna) 

Sant’ Ambrogio (Milan), Interior 

Abbey of V^zelai, Interior 
Saint-Trophime (Arles), Main Portal 

Ab b aye-aux-Hommes (Caen) 

Durham Cathedral 
Notre-Dame (Paris) 

Amiens Cathedral 

Lincoln Cathedral 
Salisbury Cathedral 

Reims Cathedral, North Side 
Notre-Dame (Paris), Chevet 

Salisbury Cathedral, Interior 
Amiens Cathedral, Interior 

Abbey of Vj&zelai, Portal 
Chartres Cathedral, Portal 

Virgin of the Annunciation (Reims) 
Mont-Saint-Michel, Cloister 
Vintage Capital (Reims) 

Mont-S Ai nt-Mich e l 
Kenilworth Castle (England) 

Cloth Hall (Ypres) 

Castle of Kerak (Palestine) 

Medici Palace (Florence) 

Cloth Hall (Bruges) ^ 

Illumination from the Duke of Berry’s **Book of 

Van Eyck, “The Man With the Pink” 

Giotto, **The Descent From the Cross” 
Masaccio, “The Tribute Money” 

Donatello, David” 

Ghiberti, Bronze Doors of the Baptistery 




(^Following page 725 ) 


I. The Carolingians 

II. The Capetian House until 1328 

III. Kings of England (1066—1485) 

IV. Saxon and Franconian Kings of Germany 

V. The House of Guelf 

VI. The Houses of Hauxeville and Hohenstaufen 
VII. The Valois House (1328—1498) 

VIII. The Houses of Luxemburg and Habsburg 


I. Fourth Century 
II. Fifth Century 

III. Sixth Century 

IV. Seventh Century 

V. Eighth Century 

VI. Ninth Century 

VII. Tenth Century 

VIII. Eleventh Century 

IX. Twelfth Century 

X. Thirteenth Century 

XI. Fourteenth Century 

XII. Fifteenth Century 


As A student primarily of what is called modern European 
history, the editor of this series has found himself more and 
more reluctant to capitalize and underline the word modern. He 
has never shared the idea that the only history worth while is 
that of the day before yesterday or since Watt patented a steam 
engine in 1769- With regret he has faced year after year the 
massed products of secondary schools whose growing numbers 
are in inverse ratio to what the secondary school history courses 
taught them of the beginnings of their own civilization and the 
origin of the economic, political and social institutions that shape 
their lives. The narrow view in the schools of what is significant 
in the evolution of western Europe forces the college teacher of 
modern history to explain the church, the beginnings of self- 
government, the rise of the middle class, the historic bases of 
democracy in education by the printed w’^ord, the origins of the 
scientific spirit and of the university they attend. Even such 
terms as Renaissance and Reformation are often words for some- 
thing as vague to these young people fresh from high school as 
is the quantum theory. 

I am therefore as a teacher of modern history and an editor 
glad to cooperate with a publishing house and with authors of 
known scholarship who make it possible for the college student 
and teacher to learn something of the historic heritage upon 
which this and coming generations must build what in time may 
be justly called modern history. This volume is my third op- 
portunity and the justification of the volume may well rest upon 
what its author says in his concluding note. I commend it to 
student and teacher alike as prologue rather than epilogue. 

But the justification would fail if Professor Stephenson had 
not preceded his conclusion by an exceptionally well-organized 
and clearly written text. He has steadily and sturdily kept as 
the core of his work the great historic and persisting institutions 
that take shape in the period we call mediaeval. These he has 
clothed with an interest that prepares the student to understand 
the succeeding centuries. As a student and teacher I am happy 
to see this volume take its place beside the other sound and teach- 



able volumes in this field in this and other series. They are a 
promising effort to give roots to a generation in danger of float- 
ing purposelessly like plankton in the shallow shoals of today. 

Guy Stanton Ford 


This introductory sketch of mediaeval history, being written 
primarily with a view to the needs of American college students, 
and being largely based on standard works, can have no very 
revolutionary subject matter. It will be found to differ from its 
predecessors in the field principally through its organization. By 
emphasizing chronological development, I have attempted to give 
a comprehensive view of European civilization stage by stage, 
in preference to a political narrative with a series of postscripts 
on other phases of life. That the volume is somewhat longer 
than many texts on the Middle Ages is mainly due to the in- 
sertion of additional illustrative material; anybody, I believe, 
learns more from one concrete example than from quantities of 
vague description. I have, furthermore, included a good deal 
that histories of Europe have sometimes omitted. I have given 
considerable attention — ^and yet it is inadequate — ^to the Moslems 
and their contributions to our culture. As England was an im- 
portant part of the western world, I have seen no justification 
for excluding that country from the picture. And I have felt 
it desirable to summarize the complicated story of the Slavic 
peoples and their neighbors, if only for the sake of reference — 
that the beginner may realize how far from new the contemporary 
problems of eastern European politics really are. In teaching a 
subject that can be indefinitely extended on all sides, each in- 
structor will naturally stress certain matters in preference to 
others. On the matters that are stressed he wants a text to be 
reasonably full ; should he find more than he needs on the other 
topics, he can easily leave some of it out. 

The various supplementary features of the book have been 
introduced as practical helps to the teadier and the student. The 
chapters have been broken into sections to display their content 
and to facilitate the making of assignments. Cross-references 
have been added to show connections that might otherwise be 
easily neglected. By excluding irrelevant details, the maps have 
been simplified to bring out particuar facts of historical geog- 
raphy. The Suggested Readings are precisely that — ^not a 
bibliography for the scholar, but a few suggestions for the aver- 
age student who may want to take a step bqrond the text. The 




choice of plates has not always been easy. A score of examples' 
usually came to mind when there was room for only one. In 
such cases the deciding factor has often been the character of the 
available photographs. The Chronological charts at the end of 
the book will, I hope, be of service to the student in reviewing. 
In the text various countties Mid various aspects of culture have 
had to be separately treated. Here their development may be 
seen in cross-section. The years are so plotted that each page 
will give a visual impression of One Century and its sequence of 
events. Mathematical accuracy should not, however, be expected. 
The author and the printer have merely done their best, within a 
very limited space, to indicate the proper relationships. 

I have, first of all, to thank Dean Guy Stanton Ford for his 
reading of the entire manuscript. Through his criticism, based 
on a fine appreciation of historical balance and clarity, all of my 
chapters have been greatly improved; some of them have been 
reconstructed. I am also exceedingly grateful to my colleagues. 
Professors M. L. W. Laistner, Nathaniel Schmidt, G. L. Hamil- 
ton, G. H. Sabine, and E. A, J. Johnson, who have read portions 
of the book in proof and have given me the benefit of their 
specialized knowledge. Mr. H. H. King, Faculty Research As- 
sistant in the Cornell University Library, has devoted weeks of 
painstaking labor to the verification of names, dates, titles of 
books, and other details throughout the whole volume. He has 
saved me from dofens of mistakes, big and little. Equal time 
and energy have been spent by my wife in the work of revising 
the manuscript and of compiling the index, which is infinitely 
better than it would have been if I had thrown it together myself 
at the last moment. 

In this connection I should also like to thank the Mediaeval 
Academy of America and numerous other publishers for per-* 
mission to reproduce drawings or to quote from their editions 
of authors. Separate acknowledgments will be found in the 
footnotes. For most of my plates I am indebted to the Library 
of the College of Architecture, which has kindly allowed me un- 
restricted use of the Andrew D. White collection of photographs. 

Carl Stbphenson 

Cornell University 
February, 1935. 



This book seeks to defend no particular thesis with regard to 
the period that has become known as the Middle Ages. For 
reasons that will be seen in the opening chapters, the contrast 
between ancient and mediaeval times can be readily appreciated, 
even though no precise line can be drawn to separate the two eras. 
At the other end of the narrative, however, no similar contrast 
appears. In the later fifteenth century there was no collapse of 
a world empire, with a characteristic civilization, to mark the 
close of one epoch and the beginning of another. The political 
and cultural diversity of Europe then continued without radical 
change; and so many peoples, states, institutions, and beliefs had 
emerged, either to flourish momentarily or to persist to our own 
day, that to embrace them all under one formula is quite impos- 
sible. Whether any of them, to the exclusion of others, can be 
designated as t3q)ically mediaeval may be gravely doubted. 

There is, in fact, no reason for trying to define the mediaeval, 
except to establish a distinction from the modern — a. project 
which has led to endless confusion. No such arbitrary procedure 
is here attempted. The outstanding developments of the dozen 
centuries that followed the reign of Diocletian are, in so far as 
they affected Europe, treated in order, and the reader is left to 
attach whatever labels he pleases. For the purposes of this his- 
torical sketch, they are considered mediaeval simply because they 
came! within a period called the Middle Ages. 

Nor is any apology needed for presenting a view of just these 
centuries. That they have a vital connection with the life of the 
present will be obvious to any one with sufficient curiosity to study 
history at all. For many who are interested in the origins of 
modern European civilization they must hold a peculiar fascina- 
tion, since in this respect they constitute the great formative 
period. And even if they had no direct bearing upon our own 
traditions, they would still possess the charm of the more primi- 
tive past. The most cold-blooded of scholars could not, if he 
would, take all the romance from the age when that term was 
first invented. 

Every historian must break historical continuity at some point. 
Why it is convenient not to extend this narrative beyond the year 
1500 will be indicated when the time comes to add another note 
by way of conclusion. 





At the very outset of our study- — ^and this is characteristic 
of historical investigation in general — ^we encounter an unsolved 
problem. We are confronted by the fact that the Roman Empire, 
after being a synonym of grandeur and stability for hundreds of 
years, disintegrated in the fifth century; and we„ cannot say with 
assurance just how it came about. All sorts of causes — ^political, 
economic, biological, psychological, and mystic — have been ad- 
\^nced for the fall of Rome; yet none of them has been accepted 
by scholars as altogether sufficient. Today, of course, it is no 
longer customary to coi^ider the event a sudden catastrophe such 
as befell Humpty Dumpty, and to assign it a date. We vtdliz^ 
that we have to do not merely with the pillaging of a city or with 
the end of a dynasty, but with the decay of a whole civilization; 
that the final crash of the Roman state had been long prepared 
by the rotting of its social fabric. No adequate consideration of 
so complex a problem can be attempted in these pages; all that 
is here contemplated is to show something of its magnitude and 

To gain any idea of how the Roman Empire declined, we must 
first see how it grew; how Roman dominion, by the opening of 
the Christian era,, came to extend throughout the Mediterranean 
world. Five centuries earlier, when .Athens was at the height 
of its glory, Rome was but one of many little states in central 
Italy ;)the Romans but one division of the sturdy, practical, and 
as yet crude people known as Latins, Within Another hundred 
years the Romans had absorbed the other Latin immunities and 
had started a triumphant march into Etruria and Campania.; 
Victorious wars of defense led to defensive alliances, .,and these 
imperceptibly to further wars and further alliances, ^pthe ^nd 
pf another century Rome was in undisputed control of all Italy 
south of the Apennines, This success was by -no- means due 
solely to force of arms. From Jhe outset the Romans had dis- 
played a surpassing gepius for political organiz-ation. Roman 
iminion had cmne ffiroughout the peninsula to mean peace and 

' 3 

The prob- 
lem of the 
“Fall of 

The growth 
of the 


The col- 
lapse of 
the sena- 


security, justice and toleration. Each Italian city, while recogniz- 
ing the superior authority of Rome in some respects, remained 
autonomous in all else. Except as specified by solemn treaty, 
every community was free to govern itself and to develop its own 
native institutions. At no time did the Romans proclaim a 
dictatorship of language or religion or culture. On the contrary, 
it was from their Greek allies that the Romans first learned to 
appreciate the finer things in literature and art. 

Contact with the cities of southern Italy introduced the 
Romans not only to the beauties of Hellenistic civilization, but 
also to the chronic rivalries of Hellenistic politics. Intervention 
in Sicily led to a bitter conflict with C arthage, and when that 
was ended, Carthage was no more. The Romans held all the 
western Alediterranean. Its islands and its shores, from the Po 
Valley and southern Gaul to Spain and northern Africa, were 
Roman provinces. And in the meantime, as Rome advanced 
from a small inland republic to a great maritime power, it was 
inevitably drawn into the troubled waters of the east. There, 
ever since the break-up of Alexander's empire, the three mon- 
archies of Macedon, Syria, and Egypt had been accustomed to 
decide all questions with regard only to their own rival ambitions. 
The advent of a western upstart broke the established balance. 
When the Hellenistic states objected, they were crushed with 
amazing speed and thoroughness. By the end of the second cen- 
tury B.C., Macedon and Syria had gone the way of Carthage; and 
if the Ptolemies still ruled in Egypt, it was by virtue of a Roman 

Through this dramatic series of conquests — one of the most 
tremendous in all history — ^what we know as the Roman Empire 
actually came into existence. As yet, however, Rome was 
properly just the city on the Tiber, still governed by its ancient 
laws. The Roman sphere of dominion was a haphazard accretion 
of subject territories, allied states, and vassal kingdoms, admin- 
istered by amafteur generals and statesmen; for the Roman 
magistrate, whether at home or abroad, was essentially a gentle- 
man elected for a term of years by his fellow citizens, ^he 
imperium (whence eventually our word empire) was the sttpreme 
authority of the republic, including civil, military, and religious 
functions, held by a group of officials rather than by one man.. To 
be a Roman citizen was to belong to the privileged body of Jtalians 
who alone enjoyed full legal rights in the dominant city; but even 


there all real power was restricted to the senatorial aristocracy — 
the few families who, by controlling the elections, named the 
magistrates and dictated their policies.' For hundreds of years 
the senatorial government had functioned well, as the stupendous 
success of the republic bore witness ; then with the closing century 
of the pre-Christian era came discredit and ruin. A constitution 
devised for a small city-state could not suffice for a world 

From the ensuing welter of domestic conflict emerged Julius 
Csesar, whose patrician name was to become a glorious title of The prin- 
royalty for future generations. The completed conquest of Gaul of 
won for him the devoted loyalty of the army; and this, combined 
with his championship of the popular cause and his skillful ^ 
manipulation of political alliance, brought him ultimately to the 
life dictatorship, which was monarchy lacking only the regal 
crown. Perhaps Caesar dreamed of establishing a permanent 
absolutism under which old distinctions would be ironed out amd 
the entire Roman world would be subjected to one system of 
administration. But he was struck down in the prime of life by 
senatorial conspirators, amd the definitive reorganization of ^e 
republic was left to his adopted son and heir, ..whom the world 
knows by his hohorary naime of Augustus. Whatever the motives 
tliat governed his action — ^and they are still a matter of dispute — 
^Augustus preferred compromise to radical innovation. Refusing 
all titles that smacked of monarchy, he chose to be called simply 
the first man {princeps, prince) of the state; so his regime is 
commonly referred to ais the principate. 

In theory the administration of Augustus made no sudden 
changy^ with-Ae past ; the republic remained tmaltered, except that 
^it was now headed by one manA-a principal magistrate and com- 
mander-in-chief chosen for life. The senate ^ivas retained, not 
merely as '^n order of supreme social honor, but asj a governing 
council for the city of Rome] and for those of the provinces that 
required Ao large body of 1:roops. The highest officials, both 
civil and military, were normally landed aristocrats. For a while 
they were still dected by the ancient assemblies, which also voted 
formal laws ; later these functions, in one way or another, came 
to be exercised by the senate and the prince. Although Roman 
citizenship thus lost much of its political significance, in other 
respects it continued to be a very valuable privilege. It brought 
the incalculdjle benefit of equd static tmder the Roman 



The exten- 
sion of the 

The suc- 
cession to 
the prin- 

law; it carried eligibility to the regular army and to othet 
branches of the imperial service; and socially it was the more 
highly prized because Augustus opposed any lavish extension of 
the right into the provinces. By these fundamental considera- 
tions he was led to reject a policy of indefinite territorial expan- 
sion arid to establish fixed boundaries with a reduced number of 
legions to guard them. 

After his failure to secure the line of the Elbe, Augustus made 
th^ Rhine and the Danube his northern defense. To the east the 
Parthians were held along the upper Euphrates and the edge of 
the Arabian de3ert. In Africa the Sahara provided a natural 
frontier to the south. Within the limits thus drawn, construction 
of highways and of other public works was actively pushed; but 
an even greater accomplishment was the development of the 
municipal system. As rapidly as was practical^ outlying terri- 
tories were organized into city-states {civitates) — self-governing 
towns, each surrounded by an attached rural district* Through- 
out the east the Romans constructed their municipalities after 
Greek models, merely continuing the process of Hellenization 
begun by Alexander the Great. In the west, on the other hand, 
where the Roman dominion was extended over more backward 
countries, the urban plan, together with the civilization that accom- 
panied it, was thoroughly Latin. By the time of Augustus, Sicily 
and Cisalpine Gaul (the Po Valley) had become in every way 
one with Italy proper; beyond them the shores of Transalpine 
Gaul, Spain, and Africa were dotted with flourishing Latin" 
colonies and native communities that rivaled them in prosperity# 
and culture. To advance this work of Romanization northward 
to the Danube and the Rhine, and southward to the Sahara, 
remained a chief objective of the principate. 

To the Mediterranean world at large the prince who assured 
the blessings of the great Roman peace was lord and master. 
Under the compulsion of public opinion, he tended to absorb all 
central authority.. His title of mtp&rafor, which earlier had been 
merely the designation of a victorious general, gradually came to 
have the force of “emperor.” His statue replaced that of the 
goddess Roma as the symbol of the Roman sovereignty in count- 
less local temples ; for in those days, when every city was supposed 
to be a free community, religious veneration took the place of 
what We call patriotism or national feeling# To the unforgiving 
remnant of the old senatorial aristocracy, however, the prince 


seemed no more than a tyrant. As the title passed from 
Augustus to unpopular members of his family, the ancient feud 
blazed up again, and various Caesars wreaked their vengeance 
in bloody deeds which subsequent historians have delighted to 
dwell on at length. Their scandalous accounts are now being 
corrected by the study of more sober records, which reveal a 
Smoothly running government controlled by experts, and millions 
of provincials thankful to it for the boon of an undisturbed life. 
To the idlers of the capital the follies and excesses of a degenerate 
Caesar might be matters of supreme interest; to the empire as a 
whole they could mean extremely little. 

In A.D. 68 occurred the death of Nero, the last of the Julian 
house. It then became apparent that the principate, while remain- 
ing an elective magistracy, had no regularly constituted electorate. 
The popular assemblies of the republic had been abolished; the 
senate, on which devolved the right of naming the prince, 
became more and more servile. A prince could follow the 
example of Augustus and designate his successor by the formal- 
ity of adoption; on the failure of such action, however, who 
should determine the succession? The only source of real au- 
thority was the army, which had long enjoyed the vague privilege 
of proclaiming imperatores. The army was not a coherent unit 
capable of making a prompt decision. There were in actuality 
jarious armies, scattered in various provinces under various 
commanders, and in Rome itself was the praetorian guard. Thus, 
^ithin the year following Nero^s death, each group of legions 
, along the frontier vied with the guard in making and unmaking 
emperors. Ultimately the prize was won in battle by Vespasian, 
whose low birth — ^lie was the son of a tax-gatherer — did not 
prevent his being ah excellent general and administrator. 
Vespasian secured the purple for his two sons, Titus and 
Domitian, but the dynasty ended with the assassination of the 
latter in 96. Then followed nearly a hundred years of unbroken 
‘calm^ during which the five '‘good emperors*' — ^Nerva, Trajan, 
Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius — ^reigned in sucr 
cession ; and of them the last four were all of provincial descenj. 

Thus the old aristocracy passed from control of the state; its 
passing showed not that the Roman nationality had been de- 
stroyed, but that it had been extended into the province^) The 
true Rome was now the empire itself rather than the imperial city. 
First the Latins, then the Italians, md finally the westerners in 








The em- 
pire in the 

general had been assimilated by the dominant people. This is one 
of the outstanding facts in European history. A polyglot of 
races, inhabiting quite dissimilar regions, received an impress 
which the revolutionary changes of all subsequent centuries have 
not entirely obliterated. The result, it must be repeated, was 
attained without resort to coercive legislation. If the west became 
Latin, it was due to the persuasive force of example. The great- 
ness of the Romans is preeminently attested by their power of 
disciplining the minds, as well as the bodies, of foreign millions. 

On the whole, the Roman Empire of the second century, judged 
according to our best historical standards, was in a healthful 
condition. Its military system, especially to our modern eyes, 
seems a marvel of efficiency; for,'nvithout the mechanical aids of 
today, it kept an enormous expanse of territory in a peace that 
has since remained proverbial. Thanks to the virtually continu- 
ous efforts of the emperors, the frontiers had been greatly 
strengthened since the time of Augustus. Tremendous lines 
of fortification were thrown across wild regions where neither 
desert nor river afforded adequate protection, as in Asia Minor, 
in the newly acquired provinces of Britain and Dacia, and in 
Germany, to connect the Rhine and the Danube. Along the 
frontiers were distributed small fortresses {castella) held by 
permanent garrisons, and at wider intervals the great legionary 
camps {castra)y which often attracted a considerable urban 
population. In the earlier period most of this construction was 
of earth and wood, but in the course of time masonry was sub- 
stituted — of such massive strength that much of it has lasted 
even to our own day. And the magnificent paved highways, 
which linked the military outposts, with the cities of the interior, 
were S.lso destined far to outlast the state that had them laid. 

Even better evidence of Roman vigor in the second century is 
provided by the ruins of countless towns that were then rising 
all over the west; for the policy of municipalization received active 
support from the successors of Augustus. It was, indeed, only 
natural that, as provincials came to occupy the throne, the atten- 
tion of the government should more and more be concentrated on 
the welfare of the provinces. Hadrian, for example, is shown 
constantly traveling from one end of the Roman world to the 
other, supervising the improvement of its defenses, the erection of 
public works, and the planning of new urban developments. The 
founding of new cities and the growth of old ones testified to an 

^p^i^Bottndftry of the Roman 

Boundary of territories aban- 
doned in the Third Century 
Scule of Miles 

The level- 
ing of the 

The mili- 
tary des- 
of the 



increase of population and marked a steady advance of the fron- 
tiers of civilization. With progress in material prosperity and in 
culture came extension of legal privilege. By the time of the 
Antonines, not merely the status of Italian ally, but full Roman 
rights, had been granted to scores of cities throughout the prov- 
inces. Roman citizenship and even the senatorial order were 
already becoming imperial in their scope. 

Thus, in spite of the many republican vestiges that remained 
embedded in the constitution, Rome by the second century was 
actually a world state controlled by an emperor. The experience 
of the past three hundred years had led to the gradual establish- 
ment of a monarchical system to insure peace and livelihood to 
the inhabitants of the empire. Such matters as imperial defense, 
finance, and the legal relations of men from different communi- 
ties had come under one uniform administration. The personal 
household of the prince had developed into a far-reaching bu- 
reaucracy, in which the places earlier held by freedmen were now 
eagerly sought by members of the noble orders. With the ex- 
tension of Roman rights, the governing aristocracy^ had ceased 
to be a narrow group of Italians and had become world-wide; 
had in fact become identified with the upper bourgeoisie of the 
provinces. The empire, as will be remembered, had from the 
outset been essentially a federation of autonomous city-states. It 
was no mere coincidence that the municipal system and the princi- 
pate reached their height together. 

The tranquillity of the second century, once broken, was never 
to return. One of its happiest features was the apparently easy 
solution that had been found to the problem of the imperial suc- 
cession. A series of four princes, with the cordial support of 
the senate, had been able each to adopt and install a good man 
as Caesar, the designated heir to the purple. Unfortunately, 
however, Marcus Aurelius insisted on giving the office to an un- 
worthy son, Commodus; and the latter’s assassination inaugu- 
rated another period of chaos. In 193, as in 68, the legions 
proved that theirs was the only substantial power ; but this time 
the civil warfare was more prolonged and it had more disastrous 
results. Septimius Severus, an African, was proclaimed by the 
troops on the Danube and, having disposed of various rivals in 
battle, he proceeded to turn the state into an undisguised military 
despotism. The senate was terrorized into subservience and 
privileges were showered upon the army. The legionaries’ pay 


was raised ; they were allowed to contract legal marriages and to 
enjoy domestic life outside the barracks. With increasing fre- 
quency common soldiers were commissioned as officers, and so 
launched on a career that might lead to the top of the imperial 

Such measures, if the army had actually remained what it was 
in theory — a select group of Roman citizens — ^would have had no 
serious consequences. As a matter of fact, however, the legions 
had long tended, on the refusal of the urban classes to enlist, to 
be recruited mainly from the peasant population of the outlying 
provinces. Under Caracalla, son of Septimius, Roman citizenship 
ceased to imply much more than ordinary free status, and only 
a modicum of Latin or Greek culture. The policy of the Severi 
led str^ght to the barbarization of the government. Was* that 
policy inspired by hatred of the ruling aristocracy or by failing 
confidence in its ability? Although other motives helped to 
dictate his attitude toward the senate, the victor of 193 un- 
doubtedly regarded the whole political situation from the sol- 
dier’s point of view. In his eyes the military needs of the state 
were paramount to all other considerations. And when we exam- 
ine the events of the succeeding century, we find it hard to con- 
demn such an opinion. The merit of an emperor strong enough 
to defend the frontiers, even if he was no gentleman, was soon 
to be appreciated to the full. 

Once more, in 235, assassination ended a short-lived dynasty 
and invited a contest for the purple, in which, as it happened, 
none of the entrants was able to gain an unchallenged decision. 
While one emperor held the city of Rome, others dominated the 
provinces- During more than a score of years civil warfare was 
virtually continuous; and as the legions followed their cham- 
pions to distant battlefields, the frontiers were left open to hordes 
of wandering barbarians. For the first time the Roman popu- 
lace became familiar with tribal names that future centuries were 
to make increasingly formidable.^ Alamans and Franks seized 
coveted lands along the Rhine and carried their pillaging raids far 
into Gaul. Goths broke into the Danubian provinces, slew an em- 
peror who tried to stop them, and, taking to the sea, looted the 
classic cities of the JEgean. Meanwhile the Roman dominion in 
Asia threatened to collapse before the attack of a reconstituted 

^ On these terbanaa peoples, see below, ch. iii. 



Persian kingdom. The Persians were finally checked, but the 
victory was won by an adventurer of Palmyra, who eventually 
threw off all Roman allegiance to form an independent state 
in Syria. 

In the latter half of the third century the Roman Empire was 
Aurelian thus faced with disintegration. Effective central authority had 
(270-275) ceased to exist and the provinces were organized for local defense 
into shifting groups, each with its own ruler. Already we en- 
counter a situation that was to become chronic in the mediaeval 
period. To contemporaries, however, the present disorder appeared 
only a temporary evil, the prelude to a new era of stabilization. 
This work was begun by Aurelian, who rose from the ranks to 
be hailed as the Restorer of the Empire. In five short years he 
disposed of all rival princes west and east, destroyed the rebel 
city of Palmyra, and reestablished the frontier along the Rhine 
and the Danube, abandoning to the barbarians all land to the 
north and east of those rivers. Aurelian’s murder by a petty 
conspirator was a calamity that threatened once more to plunge 
the world into chaos; fortunately another soldier-emperor was 
able to resume the unfinished task of reform and to devote his 
life to its completion. 

Of Diocletian’s early life little is known except that he was 
Diocletian born of a humble Dalmatian family and attained high honor in 
(284-305) the army under Aurelian and his successors. In 284 he was pro- 
claimed emperor by his troops and, being lucky enough to secure 
general recognition without a prolonged struggle, at once launched 
a program of imperial reorganization. Absolute monarchy, long 
since established in fact, was now formally proclaimed in law. 
The emperor was officially endowed with royal insignia and sur- 
rounded with the pomp of an oriental court. Social rank, as welly 
as legal authority, henceforth depended solely on his favor. All. 
officials, civil and military, were combined into an elaborate 
hierarchy with resonant titles to distinguish each grade from the ^ 
next. The senate, deprived of all functions in the central gov- 
ernment, became merely a municipal council for the city of Rome. 
Italy was reduced to the rank of a province. In fact, the whole 
empire was now treated as one territory, the inhabitants of which 
were all equally subject to the sovereign emperor. 

Diocletian’s system will in the main be recognized as an honest » 
attempt to meet existing fact. The maintenance of political 
unity demanded a military despotism, and, through the subordi- 


nation of everything and everybody to that consideration, the 
state was made to hold together for another hundred years or so. 
Yet the evils that had conspired to produce that necessity were 
not cured; they continued to reappear in aggravated form. 
The only remedy that the government could think of was more 
military despotism. Already under Diocletian the bureaucracy 
was being extended downward to absorb all responsible author- 
ity, even in the cities. The age-old self-government of the Graeco- 
Roman world was yielding to an official tyranny both oppressive 
and inefficient. A vicious cycle seemed to be at work : the help- 
lessness of the municipalities had led to the application of force 
from above, and this in turn served merely to produce greater 

The decrees of the later emperors thus betray a much graver 
deterioration than the passing of the semi-repuUican principate; 
they show that vitality had somehow gone out of the state. And 
if we compare the culture of the third and fourth centuries with 
that of the preceding age, the same fact is brought home to us 
even more convincingly. 


As noted above, an outstanding fact for the history of civ- 
ilization in the Mediterranean world is the distinction between 
the east and the west. In the former the influence of the Romans 
jyas necessarily ^j;estrirted to such matters as law, government, 
and milita^iy o rganiz ation : for the aesthetic and intellectual stand- 
ards of the Hellenized countries persisted unchanged by political 
conquest. There Greek continued -to. be-^theTangimge of educa- 
tion and culture. To be appreciated by urban society... hooks 
had to be written in Greek, ideas had to conform to the habits 
of \Greek thought, works of art had to ’^llow the Greek canons 
of good taste. Throughout the west, on the contrary, the ex- 
tension of Roman dominion generally implied the Latinization 
of the inhabitants. Except. in a-iewjocalitiesy asjfor^^e^^ 

Sicily, Greek was never more than a foreign tongue. Although 
RSfnarr aristocrats commonly knew Greek, they learned it as a 
polite accomplishment, together with other refinements of the Hel- 
lenistic world. As the Roman gentleman remained a Roman at 
heaft, so his culture, while incorporating many borrowings, re- 
mained distinctively Latin. In some fields the Greeks continued to 

The end of 
the prin- 

The Greek 
east and 
the Latin 

Roman art 



The re- 
vival of 
Greek cul- 
ttire tmder 
the prin- 


be supreme; in others the western genius made noteworthy con- 

Throughout the realm of the fine arts the Romans were never 
able to acquire the Greek delicacy of touch or the Greek feeling 
for the beautiful. In sculpture their taste was generally satisfied 
with mediocre reproductions of classic models, and in the decora- 
tion of their great monuments they preferred the ornate and the 
grandiose to the simple and the restrained. The Romans, however, 
produced marvelous portrait statues — for example, those of the 
early emperors — ^and they were magnificent builders. In the de- 
signing of forts, aqueducts, amphitheatres, basilicas, and other 
utilitarian structures they excelled. Although the exquisite sym- 
metry of a Parthenon lay beyond their talent, their developnient 
of the arch as a basic element in masonry construction would 
alone entitle them to distinguished rank in the history of the 
world’s architecture.^ 

To a certain degree, similar criticism will hold good of Roman 
literature. Latin verse generally lacked the spontaneity of the 
best Greek poetry. The Roman historians, as historians, were 
unquestionably inferior to the Greek. The Romans never Jeamed 
the value of metaphysical speculation or developed enthusiasm 
for natural science. On the other hand, in the domain of politics 
and practical morality they set a standard that has never been 
surpassed. It is their dominant interest in the Roman character 
that links together such authors as Cicero, Caesar, Sallust, Livy, 
Vergil, Horace, and Seneca. And in the second century the tra- 
dition was brilliantly maintained by Tacitus, Juven^, and Pliny 
the Younger. Under the early principate Latin writings continued 
to possess not merely elegance of form, but vigor and originality. 

In the east, furthermore, this same period saw a noteworthy 
revival of Greek thought and letters. There it had long been 
the tendency of educated men to retreat from contemporary actu- 
ality and to become absorbed in the criticism of classic texts. 
Grammar and rhetoric were studied with passionate devotion; 
manuals, dictionaries, and other compilations were produced in 
great variety; while purely literary endeavor degenerated into 
stylistic imitation. Endless dispute persisted over problems of 
logic and metaphysics, but as yet no scholar emerged to show 
that many of Aristotle’s most cherished abstractions were based 

2 See below, pp. 123 f. 


on error. The master's own spirit of inquiry was forgotten and 
his pioneering work in biology and physics was left without a 
sequel. The mathematical sciences fared somewhat better. In 
the third and second centuries b.c., Euclid, Archimedes, Apollo- 
nius, Eratosthenes, and Hipparchus had firmly established the 
principles of geometry, trigonometry, mechanics, astronomy, and 
geography; and throughout the later period a host of students 
kept their zeal for these subjects. In medicine, likewise, though 
np single writer attained the distinction of Hippocrates, good 
progress, especially in anatomy, continued to be made. 

To some extent, possibly, the Roman conquest had had a 
deadening effect on the intellectual and aesthetic life of the Hel- 
lenized world, but in general the decline was unquestionably due 
to more deep-seated causes than a mere change of political mas- 
ters. Since the days of Alexander the Great, classic Greece had 
suffered from chronic poverty and depopulation. Leadership 
in education and artistic activity had shifted from Athens and 
Corinth to the cities of Asia and Egypt, notably the more recent 
foundations of Antioch and Alexandria. Under Roman domin- 
ion those cities remained essentially as they had been before. 

Indeed, the principate brought appreciable improvement of con- 
ditions throughout the eastern Mediterranean, and it was pre- 
sumably this improvement that was reflected in the renewed glory 
of Greek literature. Between the reigns of Domitian and Mar- 
cus Aurelius flourished Dio Chrysostom, rhetorician and moral- 
ist; Plutarch, autlior of the enormously popular Lives] Arrian,. 
scholarly editor and historian; Lucian, whose satirical dialogues, 
pamphlets, and novels have proved him one of the world's most 
original writers. And in science we have during this same age 
the two illustrious names of Galen and Ptolemy. 

The former, the author of books on an astonishing variety of 
subjects, is chiefly. famous for those on medicine. Combining Galen and 
study of the classic authors with the results of his own experience, Ptolemy 
he produced the most comprehensive sketch of the science that 
had yet appeared. He discussed not only the use of drugs and 
other practical treatments, but also anatomy and physiology. Al- 
though much of his theorizing in the latter connection now seems- 
ex^avagantly foolish, his conclusions were based oii what was 
thefi bought to be sound authority. Ptolemy's books were simi- 
lar "worics qf great erudttioii, covering the whole field of mathe- 
matical astronomy ai^d geography. By his development of the 


system earlier set forth by Hipparchus, he consecrated for the 
scholars of the next thousand years the concept of a geocentric 
universe — one, as was later to be demonstrated, of many mis- 
taken ideas that he accepted. To our eyes, furthermore, his 
knowledge of geography was quite inadequate to support broad 
generalization. Yet in pure mathematics, especially in trigonom- 
etry, his work was a masterpiece of lucid exposition, well deserv- 
ing its later renown. 

To the typically Roman mind, as already remarked, these finer 
Philosophy reaches of speculative thought remained wholly foreign. Among 
in the the outstanding Latin writers, Lucretius (d. 55 B.c.) was the 
only one whose work was inspired by a deep love of philosophy 
in the Greek sense — ^that is to say, a rationalistic attempt to ex- 
plain the working of the entire universe and man’s place in it. 
Most of his compatriots, in so far as they had any philosophic 
interest, restricted their attention to the more practical sphere 
of ethics. For this reason they were attracted to Stoicism — ^ 
philosophy which, though originally based on metaphysical argu- 
ment, had been popularized as the religion of the educated Roman. 
Almost every western author of that age betrays its influence, but 
it was given its. noblest expression — ^most significantly — ^by the 
slave Epictetus and the emperor Marcus Aurelius. 

All things, says Epictetus, are of two sorts : those which are 
Epictetus in our power and those which are not. Outside our power are 
worldly fame and fortune— wealth, office, family, even our own 
bodies. He who concentrates his devotion on such matters is 
truly the slave, for he is always at the behest of others. On the 
contrary, our reason is our own; its rational judgments are 
under no outside control. The man who steels himself to prize 
only what lies in his own will to be and to do is free, for he is 
beyond all hurt. ‘1 must die. But must I die groaning? I must 
be imprisoned. But must I whine as well? I must suffer exile. 
Can any one hinder me from going with a smile, with a good 
courage, and at peace?” The tyrant orders me to tell a secret; I 
refuse, for that is in my power. He threatens to chain me. 
‘‘What say you, fellow? Chain me? My leg you will chain — 
yes, but my will — ^no, not even Zeus can conquer that.”® 

Epictetus was a slave and a cripple, but he is quoted by the 
emperor Marcus Aurelius : “You are a little soul, burdened with 

® Discourses, bk. i, ch. i. 


a corpse.’’ The man who ruled the Mediterranean world and 
was worshiped in provincial temples suffered from no delusions 
as to his real grandeur. “A spider is vastly proud of itself when 
it has caught a fly, one type of man when he has caught a tiny 
fish in a net, a third when he has speared a boar, a fourth when 
he has hunted down a bear, and a fifth when he has routed the 
Sarmatians.”^ “What poor creatures are these dwarfs of men, 
busied with their weighty matters of state and playing the philos* 
opher to their own satisfaction !” “All things happen in accord- 
ance with universal nature, nor will the time be long ere thou, 
like Hadrian and Augustus, shalt be nothing, and thy place 
unknown.” “Let it be thy hourly care to do stoutly what thy 
hand findeth to do, as becomes a man and a Roman, with care- 
fulness, unaffected dignity, humanity, freedom, and justice.”® 

The keynote in the Stoic doctrine is will power, self-control 
through reason. This reason, which sometimes appears as con- 
science or soul, is the divine element implanted in man by God, 
creator and governing principle of the universe. And since all 
men, in this respect, have the same fundamental endowment, they 
are equally sons of God, and so brothers to one another. The 
parts assigned them in the world’s drama may outwardly vary, 
but human character remains constant* If a man is true to his 
real self, he is true to Nature ; he will then understand the divine 
order that governs all things and will ask no other reward. This 
lofty creed, with its heroic standard of conduct and its cosmo- 
politan spirit, so perfectly combined the traditions of the republic 
with the ideals of the empire that its popularity in the Roman 
world is readily understandable. Stoicism, however, could appeal 
only to educated men — ^to self-reliant men who had confidence in 
human capacity. In an age of mounting ignorance and despair 
it could not survive. Such an age was ushered in by the calami- 
tous third century. 

In jth^ arts the deterioratiorLthat occurred during the period 
between Marcus Aurelius and Diocletian is no less than shock- 
ing. The fine series of imperial statues comes to a melancholy 
close ; even thg heads on the coins cease to be real portraits. Com- 
parison of the great triumphal arches reveals the failure of all 
skill in the carving of relief. Such realistic panels as are found, 

barbarian pec^le whoni Marcus Aurdius bad trouble in d^eating. See 
below, |>. 53* 

® M^/Uations, iv, 41 ; x, 10; ix, viii, 5; ii, 5- 



of Stoicism 

The decay 
of arts and 


failure of 


for example, on the arch of Titus give way on that of Septimius 
Severus to crudely scratched designs. And when, a few genera- 
tions later, Constantine erected his arch, he was reduced to filch- 
ing his decorations from the monuments of his predecessors. 
Meanwhile, too, the princes strove to maintain the Roman tradi- 
tion of magnificent building, but their structures were little 
more than piles of inferior masonry lacking all architectural 
beauty. The decline of Roman literature was even more abrupt. 
No historian arose to take the place of Tacitus, no poet to take 
that of Juvenal. Toward the end of the second century we en- 
counter the names of Aulus Gellius, a collector of anecdotes, and 
of Apuleius, a collector of stories; after them ensues a blank. 
Virtually the only branch of Latin letters in which progress 
continued to be made was jurisprudence. The work of expound- 
ing the fundamental principles of the Roman law, and so of 
facilitating its application to the entire Mediterranean world, was 
not halted.® 

Through the influence of the jurists many ideas of the Stoics, 
particularly their doctrine of the natural law, came to be in- 
corporated in the political and legal theory of the subsequent age. 
Otherwise that virile philosophy, from the third century onward, 
was supplanted by various forms of mysticism — ^an intellectual 
revolution that was to have momentous consequences for the de- 
velopment of European civilization. From the very outset Greek 
speculative thought had been chiefly remarkable for the fact that 
it discarded the authority of tradition and insisted upon the test 
of independent inquiry. Not infrequently, as we now realize, 
Greek scholars had tended to reason on the basis of insufficient 
data ; had allowed imagination to outstrip observation. Neverthe- 
less, the general validity of their method was amply demonstrated 
by the most brilliant advance in science that the world had yet seen. 
And although their schools of philosophy differed in the solutions 
offered to various problems, all believed in' man’s capacity to learn 
about himself and the universe through the normal human fac- 
ulties. In contradistinction to the typical Greek thinker, the 
mystic has always been the man who despairs of these faculties. 
Truth, he holds, can be reached only by contemplation, by shut- 
ting oneself off from the world, and by communing with the infi- 
nite through the medium of the soul. Regarded from this point 

• See below, pp. ii8 f. 


of view, the acceptance of Neo-Platonism by the scholarly world 
was equivalent to a declaration of intellectual bankruptcy. 

That system, supposedly a revival of Platonism, was in fact 
a pale reflection of what had been taught by the great Athenian. Neo- 
Plotinus (d. 270) divorced Plato’s “idealism” from its original Platonism 
context and developed it, together with various non-Greek ele- 
ments, to be the alleged quintessence of all philosophy and religion. 

The net result of his labor, however, was to demonstrate the ulti- 
mate futility of all thought, and so to preach the necessity, in the 
search for reality, of inner revelation though ecstatic vision. Thus 
the way was made clear for the acceptance of any creed with suffi- 
cient emotional appeal to captivate the imagination ; for although 
the ideas of Plotinus might continue to hold the devotion of a 
select few, most men would prefer a faith that was not reduced 
to metaphysical abstraction. By this time many an oriental 
mystery had come to attract the learned as well as the illiterate. 

Since under the Roman dominion each city or tribe was nor- 
mally free to worship whatever gods it chose, the possibility of The 
religious variation throughout the empire at large became vir- oriental 
tually infinite. As commerce or military service constantly pyrenes 
brought men of all communities into contact with one another, 
the more popular cults were carried throughout the length and 
breadth of the Mediterranean world; so they came to reflect 
the prejudices and aspirations of its cosmopolitan society. Bar- 
barous ritual was softened and elaborated to suit more refined 
tastes; crude mythology was explained in terms of Hellenistic 
philosophy to reveal its hidden significance. What had proved 
to be attractive features of one system were combined with others. 

By this process of gradual fusion, known as syncretism, the out- 
standing religions of the later empire all tended, despite a great 
variety of forms, to share the same fundamental elements. 

In an earlier age, presunfiably, the Romans had found spiritual 
exaltation in the worship of their ancient deities ; yet long before 
the establishment of the principate, the official cult had ceased to 
be more than legal formalism. Educated men regarded the tra- 
ditional stories of gods and goddesses — ^whether Greek or Latin 
—as sheer myth, and rejected all religious doctrine that could 
not be embraced under such a creed as Stoicism. On the other 
hand, the uneducated, to vdiom philosophy could offer slight 
consolation, naturally turned to the new faiths imported from 
the east Tiny. wliat the legalistic ceremonial in the offi- 



Isis, and 





cial temples of Rome could not provide : the emotional appeal of 
a highly sensuous ritual, the certainty of truth mystically revealed, 
and the assurance to the purified initiate of life in a blessed 
hereafter. They demanded only what every man could give — 
faith. And to all alike they promised a reward more precious 
than wealth could buy. It is no wonder that, with the progres- 
sive ruin of state and society, they numbered their converts by 
the million. 

Eventually one of these oriental faiths was to gain supremacy 
throughout the Roman world, but for several centuries it had 
to strive against many rivals for popular favor. Earlier mys- 
teries,, such as those associated with .Bacchus, god of wine, and 
Denieter, goddess of the harvest, celebrated the principle of 
fertility and, by depicting the return of vegetation to the earth, 
symbolized the initiate’s entrance into a new spiritual existence. 
These elements, together 'with many others, were combined in 
the worship of the Phrygian Cybele, whom the west knew as 
Magna Mater. According to the sacred legend, she restored the 
slain Attis to life through the power of her love; and about this 
theme of death and resurrection was developed a cult tliat be- 
came widely influential under the principate. Meanwhile a simi- 
lar myth concerning the resuscitation of Osiris by Isis, an Egyp- 
tian goddess, had been made the germ of another religion, 
remarkable for its hierarchy of priests, its elaborate liturgy, and 
its positive doctrine of immortality. A third popular mystery 
was that of Mithras, which originated in Persia and so was 
based on the sun-worship of that country. According to this 
system, known as Zoroastrianism, man’s nature, like the uni- 
verse, is the scene of perpetual conflict between the two gods of 
light and darkness, the forces of good and evil. The individual, 
to escape the realm of darkness after death, must hold to the 
light, must follow a strict code of morality. As aid in the struggle 
for righteousness, the cult of Mithras offered constant spiritual 
fortification. To gain admission to it, the candidate had to be 
purified through an elaborate ceremony. Thereafter he was said 
to be reborn. 

By the third century, as already remarked, these mystic re- 
ligions had borrowed much from one another. To all of them, 
for example, a sacrificial meal, in which the p^articipant symboli- 
cally partook of the divine substance, had become a common 
feature. All, likewise, tended to absorb the ancient astrology’ 


of the Babylonians, such as the lore connected with the signs 
of the zodiac and the division of time into periods of seven 
d^ys, each named for a heavenly body or its presiding deity. 

Though some of these cults had originally been marked by license 
rather than by restraint, all came with the passage of time to 
emphasize ethicab teaching, and each claimed to embody the essen- 
tial truths of every sect. Through metaphysical interpretation, 
all gods were held to be but manifestations of one supreme power; 
what every popular religion offered was an intermediary by 
whose agency the individual might secure salvation. The Chris- 
tian solution was but one of many offered; how it came to receive 
universal acceptance is a story of truly epic character. 

According to the familiar account of the gospels, Jesus was 
jborn — ^while Augustus still ruled at Rome — in the Judean town The 
of Bethlehem. Having been recognized* "by John the Baptist as Clmstian 
the prophesied Christ, the Messiah of the Hebrews, He devoted 
His life to preaching the kingdom which God was about to re- 
store to His people. But this kingdom, said Jesus, was not the 
earthly monarchy that the Jews had dreamed of reestablishing; 
it was a spiritual kingdom, to enter which a man must be born 
again jn^the, spirit Meticulous observance of the traditional law 
was of no avail; the outward act was less than the inward 
thought. In heaven the faith and love of a little child were of 
greater worth than all the learned holiness, all the sanctimonious 
piety in the world. Finally, because of His bitter attack upon 
sacred tradition and vested interest, Jesus was sent to death on 
the cross — a punishment commonly assigned to thieves and other 
disturbers of the peace. 

Then, as has so often happened, martyrdom served only to 
advertise an obscure cause. The small band of the faithful pro- 
claimed that Christ had risen from the dead, and that, through 
His abiding spirit, they were able to perform all wondrous works. 

Their fervor rapidly made converts; and one of the latter was 
the apostle Paul, who has left us his dramatic story in his own 
vivid words. He never knew the man Jesus; the gospel which 
he preached was that of the risen Christ, seen by him in blinding 
glory on the road to Damascus. And as the result of this 
preaching, the Christianity that became famous under the Roman 
Empire was Pauline Christianity. Paul was able, thanks to his 
Greek education, so to present a religion built of essentially Jewish 

The supe- 
riority of 

causes of 


elements that it could be understood throughout the Mediterranean 

Detailed treatment of the Christian doctrine and of the organ- 
ized Christian Church must be postponed for a succeeding chap- 
ter; but at this point it may be well to indicate a few general 
characteristics of Christianity as compared with its rivals. In 
the first place, the story of Jesus is compellingly beautiful — in- 
finitely superior, as a mere story, to the theme of any other 
oriental mystery. This story is itself the expression of a religious 
idea, for it tells of a savior who died to redeem all men, 
and so needs no symbolic interpretation to make it intelligible. 
Christianity could thus incorporate the mystic elements of other 
creeds while avoiding their crude or revolting features. Further- 
more, the ethical teachings of Jesus were of the very substance 
of His gospel, not a supplement borrowed from Greek philos- 
ophy. Christianity, as the event proved, appealed to all. It did 
not, like the cult of Mithras, exclude women; nor did it, like 
the cults of Cybele and Isis, exalt a feminine principle at the 
expense of others. Lastly, the Christian religion took over from 
Judaism its uncompromising monotheism. The world could 
never become Jewish in faith because the world would never be- 
come Jewish in nationality. Christianity, however, was launched 
as a religion for all peoples — a religion which declared every 
other to be false, a religion that was at once exclusive and aggres- 
sive. Therein lay the avowed hostility to the Roman state that 
was to invite persecution; yet therein lay also the strength that 
was ultimately to bring triumph. 


From the facts that have been noted, it is obvious that the 
advance of Christianity and the decline of the Roman Empire 
were intimately related. To say this, however, is not to affirm, 
as has been done, that the relation was one of cause to effect. 
General despair of human capacity to improve conditions on 
earth was perhaps a contributing factor in the final ruin of the 
state ; but would men despair of improvement before conditionV 
had become desperate? Neither Christianity nor any other form 
of spiritual consolation can be blamed for the evils which they 
helped men to forget. Besides, the rising flood of mysticism 
under the later empire was only one phase of an oriental reactiorf 
which may likewise be detected in arts and institutions. This 


reaction was prepared for by the weakening of Hellenism. In 
the west, as already remarked, the decay of culture, from the 
third century on, was even more tragic; and the ensuing reaction, 
since there was no older civilization to reassert itself, was neces- 
sarily toward barbarism. The time-honored allegation that the 
barbarian invasions caused the fall of Rome is thus seen to be 
entirely illogical. The process of barbarization was well under 
way long before the collapse of the frontier defenses permitted 
inroads by the tribes from beyond them, and was due, not to 
the infiltration of uncivilized peoples, but to the failure of the 
Romans to assimilate them. What was the reason for this 
failure ? 

The problem, it has been said, is essentially one of biology. 

If we could be entirely sure that the Roman Empire was based 
on the superiority of a Latin race, which was gradually corrupted 
by intermixture with inferior races, our inquiry would be satis- 
factorily closed. Unfortunately, we have little evidence to war- 
rant such a conclusion. The Latins vrere in truth a superior 
people. But who were the Latins? As far as we know, they 
were never a biologically pure stock. The Latinization of the 
west cannot be explained in terms of heredity, because the bulk 
of the westerners were never descended from Latins. And that 
the barbarian peoples of Europe were also endowed with great 
native ability was to be convincingly demonstrated in the subse- 
quent age. The fault clearly lay — ^to employ a crude metaphor 
— ^not in the raw material, but in the finishing process. The 
deterioration of Rome, we must conclude, was due to the weak- 
ening of forces that had earlier helped to make it great. What 
were these forces, and why did they weaken? 

All sorts of answers have been* given to the question. Count- 
less sermons have pointed to Rome as a horrid proof of the ThesignU 
text that the^ wages of sin is death. Learned writers fcav^ at- icance 
tributed the fate of the empii^e to su^h diverse factors as slavery, 
ted taxation, princely ^ibition, Jtlxe exhaustion of the soil, or ^ ® 
tfce lack of applied science. To repeat the arguments that have 
been marshaled against these and similar contentions is impos- 
sible in a brief review of the subject. Suffice it to say that they 
have been shown to be untrue or inadequate. One point, however, 
has become increasingly plain. The more Roman history has been 
discussed, the more it has been found to turn upon the fortune 
of the city-^t^^ In that institution the political and cultural life 



{ Economic 
i distress in 
\ the third 

of a caste 

of the Mediterranean world was concentrated. While the munici- 
pal system flourished, the empire flourished ; when one weakened, 
the other weakened. 

The first symptoms of the economic distress that was later 
to become general thus appeared in the cities under Marcus 
Aurelius. The emperor, in response to their appeals, sent special 
agents to supervise the local administration; but the situation 
failed to improve. During the third century troubles rapidly 
accumulated. To the ravages of civil war were added those of 
pestilence. The population declined and the loss was never made 
up. Lands ceased to be cultivated; urban properties stood va- 
cant; taxes remained unpaid. The state was faced with bank- 
ruptcy, and the non-productive regions, like Italy, with starvation. 
To secure cash, the government debased the coinage, and this 
served merely to drive all good money out of circulation. The 
poverty of the masses deepened and became chronic. The result 
was a frantic effort on the part of such, emperors as Aurelian 
and Diocletian to check the encroaching tide of ruin. As local 
initiative failed, • force was applied from above; and when civil 
authority broke down, the military was called in. The imperial 
federation of self-governing commonwealths degenerated into a 
despotism of the old oriental type, supported by a corrupt and 
rapacious bureaucracy. 

A prominent feature of this degeneration was the establish- 
ment j)f what amounted to a rigid system of castes. Many fac- 
tors helped to bring about the policy — especially the financial 
crisis of tlie third century. Diocletian was able to restore the 
coinage, but not the wealth of the people. Cash remained so 
scarce that the state had to collect most of its taxes in kind. As 
a consequence, its employees were in turn compelled to accept, 
produce for at least part of what was owed them. Even land 
was used for paying wages — ^as, for example, those of the troops. 
Soldiers already had been given a privileged status, had been 
permitted to marry and to have their own homes. Being now 
provided with fields from which to gain a livelihood,* they came 
to constitute an agrarian, as well as a military, class. And this 
system naturally enhanced a tendency already noted — ^the domi- 
nance of the army by peasants, especially by barbarians, who were 
always willing to accept land in return for service. 

Meanwhile, the state’s financial difficulties had also led it 
to extend the 'ancient system of requisitioning men,, animals, con- 


veyances, and materials. Although it could be justified as Trade and 
exempting the victim from an equivalent tax, such a practice, industry 
when placed at the discretion of unscrupulous subordinates, in- 
evitably led to the further burdening of an already overburdened 
people. This particular scourge fell mainly on the peasantry, 
but the merchant and the artisan were by no means free of simi- 
lar oppression. For a long time the trades regarded as essential 
to the state had been organized under highly privileged associa- 
tions called collegia. Among them were, for instance, the millers, 
bakers, and others who helped to supply the capital with food; 
the carpenters and masons who constructed public buildings; 
the craftsmen who furnished arms for the legions ; and the men 
who transported all these things by sea or land. As times grew 
worse an(^ public credit became insecure, business men naturally 
hesitated to undertake contracts that meant certain loss. So 
edicts were issued to- compel the performance of the customary 
duties, and finally to prohibit the member of a collegium from 
quitting his position, or his heirs from refusing the same re- 
sponsibility. Every trade and every profession, by the extension 
of this iniquitous system, thus tended to become a hereditary 
servitude, and all prospect of commercial revival through private 
initiative was utterly destroyed. 

Equally significant developments took place in connection with 
agriculture, which had always been of greater economic impor- Agricul- 
tance to the Roman world than industry. According to Diode- 
tian’s fiscal reorganization, each assessment district was made 
liable for a certain quota of land-tax units, based upon the pro- 
ductivity of the soil and the number of its inhabitants. The ar- 
rangement, it is true, was not supposed to be immutable, but 
the tendency was henceforth to avoid reapportionment and to 
place each territory under a fixed diarge. And since the land 
was worthless without cultivators, they too had to be converted 
into stable assets. Under the republic a good many estates had 
been worked by slave labor ; the establishment of world-wide peace 
ended the supply of cheap slaves and made such a method of 
agricultural exploitation generally unprofitable. Cash was lack- 
ing for the employment of hired labor ; so the proprietor had to 
settle his lands with peasants who would perform all necessary 
work in return for plots assigned to each. Such a tenant was 
called a colonus. 'Usually he was a freeman^ holding by lease 
for an unlimited period* Then, to assure the payment of the 



The deg- 
of the 
urban aris- 

assessed tax, the state forbade him to leave. He and his chil- 
dren after him became attaclied to the soil, to be bought and 
sold along with it. 

Even a more bitter fate befell the aristocracy of the provincial 
cities. Throughout the prosperous age of the empire, each of 
them was governed by its own municipal council, which, like the 
senate of the capital, installed the magistrates and supervised 
their administration. And as at Rome the senatorial order re- 
mained the highest social honor, so in each locality the distinction 
of being a curialis (i.e., one eligible to the urban curia) was 
eagerly sought. Since admission to the charmed circle was 
principally a matter of high property qualification, a man of any 
rank in life, even a freed slave, could found an aristocratic fam- 
ily by the simple expedient of amassing a fortune. To live as a 
gentleman, he would have to possess landed estates, ^nd part of 
his time would be spent on some villa in the country; but his 
chief residence would be his house in town, and there likewise 
would lie his political career. To obtain the dignity of public 
office, he would gladly spend huge sums on the building of tem- 
ples, baths, amphitheatres, or other works that might be needed. 

This, as we know from hundreds of inscriptions, was still 
the normal system in the second century. Two hundred years 
later how appallingly different was the situation! What was 
once a prized distinction had become a sort of official slavery. 
The hereditary rank of curialis carried with it responsibility for 
taxes assessed within the territory of the city. Collection con- 
stantly fell off; the mounting deficit had to be met by the unfor- 
tunate dignitary. The law forbade him to resign his wretched 
honor; if in despair he ran away, he might, like a fugitive 
colomtSy be captured and brought back. He was actually worse 
off than the colonus, for the latter was at least assured of a per- 
manent living for his family. The only fortunate man in all this 
miserable company was the great landlord who, through imperial 
favor, attained the senatorial order and so escaped the baneful 
liability for municipal office. Leaving the town to its evil des- 
tiny, he retired to a fortified estate in the country. There, sup- 
ported by his peasants and protected by his retainers, he defied 
the tyranny of bureaucrats and spent his days in the society of 
friends like himself. 

The culmination of all these unhappy developments was the 
ruin, in all but exceptional regions, of urban life and culture. 


Through the multiplication of cities, the frontiers of civiliza- The ruin 
tion had for hundreds of years steadily advanced; through the of the 
influence of the cities, the east had tended to become Greek and 
the west to become Latin. To make these results possible, there 
had been a constant increase in the ranks of the urban aristocracy, 
the affluent and educated bourgeoisie of the empire. Behind 
that class lagged the poor of the cities and the semi-barbarous 
peasantry of the countryside. Yet it was from the lower classes 
that the aristocracy was constantly recruited; the progress of 
one carried with it the progress of the others. As the reverse 
process set in during the third century, it naturally brought 
relapse toward more primitive conditions, those which we recog- 
nize as mediaeval. 

It would therefore appear that, if we could diagnose the mal- 
ady that came to afflict the towns, we should have a satisfactory 
explanation for the collapse of the empire and its culture. And 
in the light of what we know of such phenomena in other ages 
of history^ it is hard to escape the conclusion that the problem 
is essentially economic; for in general the prosperity of the 
towns must have been an economic prosperity. There is, indeed, 
much that remains doubtful in the history of the Roman cities 
and it would be wrong to make absolute generalizations about 
all of .them. The civitas was not merely a city in our sense of 
the word, but a territorial state organized about an urban center. 

The growth of the latter may thus in part be attributed to its 
importance as administrative headquarters of a district. It is also 
certain that very few of the ancient cities, especially in the west, 
were to any significant degree industrial settlements. Granting 
all this, however, can we doubt that the enormous wealth, which 
we find concentrated in the urban aristocracy of the second cen- 
tury, was principally gained through trade? If this conclusion is 
accepted — ^as it has been by many authorities — ^we are apparently 
forced to believe that the very complex series of events, popularly 
known as the fall of Rome, was intimately connected with the fail- 
ure of commerce. 

It is surely a remarkable fact that^e illustrious cities jof Greece 
tose and fell with the growth and decline of their comm^ceT The 
ihat as comings:ce was..shifted in the Hellenistic age to new cen- failure of 
ters, and* leadership in culture, wejit withjtj comnaeroe 

and that subsequently, in so far as ancient, ciygiz^tion persisted, it ? 

did so ^ where jncient _commerce_ re- 



mained least disturbed. The impoverishment of the western 
provinces was anticipated by that of classic Greece. The for- 
mer, it is true, were blessed with a more fertile soil, but this 
did not save them from disaster. With the predominance of 
agriculture, they entered the Dark Age of their history; their 
modern greatness began only with a subsequent revival of trade. 

There is still the question, Why did commerce fail? To that 
it must be frankly admitted that we have no definitive answer. 
We may say without fear of contradiction that commerce failed 
because people became too poor to buy. But whether we affirm 
that poverty increased or that wealth declined, we leave the fun- 
damental mystery as it was. And as long as our foremost experts 
of today, with all the exact information at their disposal, fail to 
tell us just what produced the recent depression, how can we 
expect to be entirely sure of what happened to a state that dis- 
integrated fifteen hundred years ago? Fortunately, the historian 
is not required to devise formulae in terms of final causes. Our 
inquiry has been pushed far enough to make the beginning of 
the mediaeval period reasonably intelligible; so, without further 
attention to what has become a classic riddle, we may proceed 
to consider the more obvious developments of the ensuing age. 




At the close of the third century Diocletian, as we have seen, 
inaugurated a series of reforms, thereby ho^Ding to correct the 
evils that had so nearly brought the Roman Empire to dissolution. 
One chronic source of trouble had been the succession to the 
purple; and it would appear that some of Diocletian’s measures, 
though individually of no very revolutionary character, were 
intended to provide a solution of the problem. For a long time 
the emperor had normally borne the title of Augustus, and his 
designated successor that of Caesar. Not infrequently, too, an 
Augustus, with excellent precedent behind him, had elevated a 
Caesar to supreme authority during his own lifetime ; for Roman 
tradition Jiad always favored a system of magistracies each 
held by two or more persons at the same time. The consuls, for 
instance, actually shared one office, apportioning its functions 
according to custom or to suit their own convenience. Wlien, 
therefore, Diocletian associated with himself Maximian, to act 
as Augustus in the east, no one could imagine that anything but 
the administration had been divided. Experience had proved 
that the _task of ruling the empire was too vast for one man, 
and the contrast between the Greek and Latin halves suggested 
a natural line of demarcation. Nor, when each Augustus then 
named a Caesar to be his subordinate, and eventually t6 succeed 
him, could any innovation be suspected. 

To what extent Diocletian himself regarded his plan as a 
permanent arrangement remains doubtful. Under his guiding 
genius, at any rate, it worked smoothly. In. 305 the aged em- 
peror not only abdicated his own office, but also induced Max- 
imian to follow his example. Their authority then passed to 
the two Caesars, Galerius and Constantins, for whom in turn 
subordinates were named. But at this point the system broke 
down. Caesars refused to be satisfied with inferior rank; sons 
of emperors defied settlements that exchn^d them from the 
succession ; allies st^l ^tervoaed to f^ace their favorites on the 


tian’s plan 
for the 





I (306-37) 




throne. It was thus by the old-fashioned method of sheer force 
that Constantine, son of Constantins, began his illustrious career. 

In 306, on the death of his father, Constantine was proclaimed 
by the legions in Britain — ^as one of six rival emperors. By 312 
death had reduced the number to four : Constantine and Maxen- 
tius in the west, Licinius and Maximinus in the east. An alli- 
ance between Constantine and Licinius then allowed each to 
dispose of his own particular enemy, and for about ten years the 
two victors shared the Roman world between them. In 324, 
however, the civil war was revived. Licinius was crushed in a 
decisive campaign and Constantine was left to do as he pleased 
’with the entire empire. He chose to keep it all for himself and, 
as if it were a family estate, ultimately divided it among his 
three sons. So ended Diocletian’s attempt, such as it was, to solve 
the problem of the succession. In his attitude toward the Chris- 
tians, which will be separately treated below, Constantine also 
reversed the policy of Diocletian; in all other principal aspects he 
maintained it. 

Supplemented by various measures of Constantine and his 
sons, Diocletian’s administrative system henceforth continued to 
be the basis of the imperial government, and as such was taken 
over by the barbarian states of the west. Much of it was ob- 
viously inspired by a dread of local dictators. Except in a few 
frontier districts, civil magistrates were stripped of military 
power and combined in an elaborate hierarchy extending upward * 
to the emperor. The provinces,. now much smaller than they had 
once been, were grouped in tliirteen dioceses, each under a vicar ; 
the dioceses in four prefectures, each under a prefect. The heads 
of all these administrative districts were appointed by the emperor, 
were shifted about at his pleasure, and were held directly respon- 
sible to him. Special agents {agentes m rebus) were constantly 
employed in the provinces to supervise the administration of 
the post roads, investigate complaints, spy oh local magis- 
trates, and make reports to the central government. Their imme- 
diate superior in the capital was the master of offices, who also 
acted as superintendent of the four great secretarial bureaus. 
The head of the legal department, responsible for the drafting 
of laws and the supervision of the whole judicial system, was the 
quaestor of the sacred palace. The chief officer of the imperial 
household, who tended to absorb various extraordinary powers, 
was the provost of the sacred bedchamber, a sort of grand cham- 


berlain. Two men, in one way or another, controlled finance : the 
count of the private estates and the count of the sacred largesses. 

These ministers, together with the praetorian prefect and other 
high officials who might be present, made up the co^tsistoriitm, 
or advisory council of the emperor. 

On the military side of the state service a similar hierarchy 
of officers was gradually created. Subordinate only to the em- MiHtary 
peror were the masters of horse and masters of foot — exalted per- admin- 
sons who, except in the case of actual hostilities, were likely to 
be seen in attendance at the imperial court. Throughout the 
provinces the actual command of the armies was in the hands 
of generals called duces (dukes), and below them, of course, was 
a series of divisional commanders and lower officers bearing a 
variety of titles. This, as was to be proved repeatedly, was the 
ladder of preferment leading to the imperial throne itself. In 
spite of the occasional elevation of a son by his father, tradition 
had it that the emperor should himself be a soldier, and in the 
4 oiig run the army always controlled the succession. 

Ui^er the principate the magi at the head gf the Roman state 
had been merely a chief executive of_^ the republic, but that The 
concept had faded in the third centujy. Tht later Roman em- emperor 
peror officially wore the royal crown and other trappings of a^^his 
oriental monarchy. His person and all that belonged to him ^ 
were sacred. Before him his subjects knelt as suppliants to a 
god and were honored to kiss the hem of his purple robe. In 
Latin he was known as domimts, lord; in Greek as basil etis, king. 

He was the source of all political power and all social distinction.^ 

He was the fountain of justice. His edicts, expressing his Indi- 
vidual will, were formal acts of legislation, the laws by which 
the state was governed. Under such a glittering autocracy it 
was natural that every man’s individual glory should depend 
upon his nearness to the refulgent throne. Official documents 
^of the late empire reveal service of the state, both civil and mili- 
tary, inextricably combined with service of the emperor’s person, 
and all servants meticulously graded according to their precedence 
at court and the corresponding titles of honor. Members of the 
imperial; family and a few other grand personages could alone 
be termed nobilissimi (most noble). The prsetorian prefects, the 
masters of horse and of foot, the master of offices, and the other 
high rmnisterS who attended the consistormm had the right to be 
called UhiS^^s fBl^strfeus). The immediate subordinates of 






these officials, such as the vicars and the heads of administrative 
departments, together with the governors of the more important 
provinces and the duces of the army, were described as specta- 
biles (admirable). Members of the senatorial order, lesser pro- 
vincial governors, and their military peers were clarissimi (most 
distinguished), while local functionaries and the like were only 
perfectissimi (most perfect). 

By the fourth century all the honorable distinctions of the re- 
public thus tended to be converted into marks of imperial favor. 
The equestrian order disappeared; the senatorial order became 
only a decoration. The designation of patrician (patricius) was 
likewise given, without any implication of political authority, to a 
very select few, who were then addressed by the emperor as his 
‘‘parents.^^ Another title which tended to increase in prominence 
was that of count. Literally the conies was the companion of 
the emperor, the ‘Triend of Caesar”; but what had at first 
been a sort of informal flattery hacflTecome official by the time 
of Constantine. The intimate circle about the prince were still 
counts ; so were the members of his council and the high digni- 
taries of the palace. The two counts who controlled finance have 
already been noted. There were many others, such as the count 
of the sacred vestment (chief of the wardrobe) and the count of 
the stable (constable). Eventually the style that betokened the 
successful courtier was extended into the provinces, for adminis- 
trators and generals were alike proud to achieve the companion- 
ship of the prince. 

These high-sounding titles, furthermore, were not without 
practical value. All the “illustrious,” “admirable,” “distin- 
guished,” and “perfect” gentlemen, together with their innumer- 
able underlings, were normally exempt from the ordinary state 
charges. The services which they rendered to the emperor were 
held to free them from more ignoble burdens ; and although each 
privileged group had characteristic obligations^ they were not 
oppressive. The clarissimi of the senatorial order, for example, 
made an occasional “offering” of gold" to tlie emperor and were 
theoretically liable for the expensive luxury of the consulship 
or prsetorship at Rome, but they were blessedly released from all 
municipal honors and from the more oppressive taxes. Besides,, 
their social rank tended to make them immune from the tyranny 
of rapacious officials. The maintenance of the court and the 


bureaucracy, however essential it may have been to the empire, 
tlius placed a crushing load on the productive masses. 

In the main, of course, tlie state had to be supported from the 
great taxes which, by the fourth century, had become virtually 
uniform throughout the empire. The indirect taxes were of 
various kinds. Duties were collected not only on imports and 
exports at the imperial frontier, but also on goods carried across 
certain interior lines or beyond certain points on sea or river. 

On every highroad and waterway the trader encountered toll 
stations where various articles were taxed at regular rates. In ad- 
dition, each city had the right of charging duties on articles 
brought for sale within its limits, and the profits went toward the 
expense of the urban government. While trade flourished, none 
of these indirect taxes could be thought excessive; as times became 
hard, the state increased its demands, exacting a percentage of 
the city tolls and laying special imposts on every organized trade 
and profession. And the less the revenue which could be got 
from commerce, the greater that which had to be taken from agri- 

Under tlie ear ly empi re a great variety of dues were collected 
from“fhe rural classes, and some of them persisted into the later 
period. We continue to hear, in some provinces, of a tribute 
Qrilnitum) from the land and a poll tax (capitatio) from the 
peasants. The heaviest fiscal burden, however, was that of the 
annona, Diocletian’s great tax in kind. For this purpose every 
district, Jn proportion to the fertility of the soil and the number 
of the inhabitants, was assessed in units called iugera (yokes) and 
capita (h^ds). The prpduce — grain, wine, oil, meat, etc. — 
was collected by state employees and gathered in central ware- 
houses, whence it was distributed to the troops and other con- 
sumers. Every five ye^s there was supposed to be a reappor- 
tionment; but since it was easier to juggle the figures than to 
carry out a thorough survey, the assessed valuations tended to 
become more and more arbitrary, and so to bear harder ojpi the 

The social results of failing trade and oppressive taxation 
have already been noted in the preceding chapter. The decay The great 
of the urban system — ^marked by depopulation, impoverishment, estates 
and the ruin of the curial class — continued unchecked. The west, 
especially, tended to become predominantly agrarian. Lesser men, 
either pcasat^ .p'tfK'iftors or landless fugitives from the cities, 


found it more and more necessary to secure the protection of 
the wealthy and powerful. The landed noble became patronns 
for an increasing host of economic dependents who tilled his 
fields, served in his household, and — despite the law — ^acted as 
his armed retainers. With the progressive weakening of the 
local administration, the imperial government was forced to rec- 
ognize the political strength of the great estate. The landlord 
was made responsible for the public obligations of his tenants 
and clients. He levied their taxes, compelled them to repair the 
roads and perform other duties to the state, tried them for petty 
misdeeds and collected their fines. In such matters the magnate 
'was, of course, the mere agent of the government; but if the 
latter became too weak to enforce its claim to the proceeds, would 
the great man forgo his exactions ? 

During the fourth century, probably, no one thought of this 
Changes possibility; thanks to the army, the emperor was yet strong, 
in the In fact, the military was the one department of state in which 
men like Diocletian and Constantine could be expected to show 
the greatest efficiency. In this connection, as in others, precise 
information concerning the imperial reforms is unfortunately 
lacking ; but we can be sure that the age witnessed developments 
of outstanding importance for the future. As remarked above, 
the legions posted along the frontiers had by. this time 'been 
turned into a privileged class of resident landowners, lacking all 
mobility. To make up for this obvious defect, Diocletian created 
a new field army which could be kept wherever the emperor 
pleased. .Both forces now included separate units of horse and 
foot, for the day of the infantry legion, with cavalry used only as a 
subsidiary arm, had definitely passed. And as time went on, the 
mailed horseman acquired ever enhanced prominence, until the 
army became almost exclusively a mounted body. 

Another significant tendency in the military organization of 
the fourth century was the greatly extended employment of bar- 
barians. The fact that the sons of legionaries were compelled by 
law to follow their fathers’ profession shows that the government 
was suffering from a shortage of men even in this privileged 
career. The task of holding the frontiers was indeed tremen- 
dous. Aurelian’s abandonment of Dacia and the triangle between 
the Rhine and the Danube had not shortened the lines of de- 
fense and, for reasons that will be seen below, the pressure of 
the outlying nations was unremitting. Diocletian’s military ar- 


rangements called for a total force of possibly half a million men ; 
if enough Romans could not be found, the emperors had to hire 
barbarians. So, in one way or another, streams of Moors in 
Africa, of Arabs in Syria, and of Germans in Europe entered the 
imperial service. The auxiliary divisions had from the earliest 
time been non-Roman ; by the fourth century even the “citizens’’ 
in the legions were such as Augustus would never have recognized. 

Besides, through extension of another ancient precedent, whole 
tribes had been admitted to the empire as allies {fcederati) and 
assigned lands in return for their engagement to patrol a section 
of the frontier. Ever since the days of Marcus Aurelius, such 
arrangements had come to be increasingly common; they were 
now to introduce a series of famous tragedies in the history of 
the later empire. 

The troubles of the third century also produced noteworthy in- 
novations in military fortification. Under the early principate. Military' 
the frontiers had come to be protected by elaborate works in earth fortifica- 
and masonry. Although the latter had been constantly strength- 
ened by the succeeding emperors, experience had proved that they 
were not always stoutly held. Once through the barrier, maraud- 
ing hordes had found the provinces lying defenseless before them. 

As a consequence, Ajurelian decided to fortify the capital, and soon 
every important city was encircled with stone walls. This practice, 
incidentally, gives us definite information concerning the relative 
size of urban areas under the late empire, for in most cases the line 
of the ancient walls is still clearly traceable. Thus we know that 
Aurelian’s fortification at Rome enclosed only a little more than 
3000 acres, and that Rome was by all odds the largest city of the 
Mediterranean * world. Alexandria, the metropolis of the east, 
contained somewhat over 2000 acres. But none of the provincial 
towns of the west extended beyond 1000 acres. Trier, the greatest 
city on the Rhine, covered 704 acres; Nimes, the greatest city of 
southern Gaul, 790; London, the greatest city of Britain, 330. 

And these places were quite exceptional. Throughout Gaul, for 
example, most cities contained less than 75 acres; many less 
than 50.^ 

The significance of these figures will be appreciated when it is 
noted that the legionary fortress, constructed to accommodate Hie citl^ 

five or six thousand men, normally covered about. 50 acres — ^ ofthelateij 

. ^ empire ' 

^ There are 640 acres in a mile; a plot measM^ half a mile on each 

side contak® >1 ^ 










much the same ratio that we find in a deijsely populated town 
of today. The Roman city, however, was primarily residential, 
rather than industrial. So we have to consider half a million 
inhabitants the maximum for the capital, and estimate the other 
cities with proportionately less. Judged by the standard of the 
western provinces, London, with perhaps 25,000, w^as a huge 
town, certainly five times as big as the average. Another very 
exceptional city of the late empire was Constantinople ; to under- 
stand how it came to be founded, we must consider the rise of the 
Christian Church. 


The concept of a. church distinct from the state was- originally 
foreign to Roman thought. Under the constitution of the prin- 
cipate, as of the republic, Qtie set of magistrates held all political 
functions — civil, militaiy, and religious. Any man legally elected 
was" considered competent to ascertain the will of the gods by 
formal methods of divination or to preside over the public cere- 
monial of worship; no especially sanctified priesthood was neces- 
sary. And as long as the Roman citizen outwardly submitted 
to the official deities, he was free to believe anything that he 
pleased. Citizens of other communities were permitted to main- 
tain any faith that did not conflict with the general peace of the 
empire ; but, as a sign of their proper reverence for the dominant 
state, they were commonly required to recognize by solemn act 
the cult of its living embodiment, Augustus — a. formality as ordi- 
nary to that age as an oath of allegiance to ours. 

Such requirements, in a polytheistic world, could be expected 
to offend nobody. The believer would willingly admit one more 
god to the Pantheon; the skeptic would regard an additional 
ceremony as a matter of no consequence ; even the devotee of an 
oriental mystery, while preferring one manifestation of divine 
truth, would normally concede that there might be many others. 
In this pol)^heistic world the Jew was an exception. To him all 
faiths save his own were sheer idolatry, an abomination in the 
sight of the Lord; he would never conform to the official system 
of Rome. But since the Jewish religion, with its strict observance 
of a peculiar law, could never be popular enough to be dangerous, 
the Romans, after considerable trouble, wisely accepted it as a 
national institution and exempted its followers from emperor- 
worship. Even after the destruction of the Jewish state by Titus 


(a.d. 70) and the consequent dispersion of the Jews throughout 
the provinces, their religious beliefs and practices were still 

To the Christians no such liberty was extended. Although the 
Roman government seems for a time to have considered Chris- The early 
tianity a mere sect of Judaism, by the close of the first century Christian 
the distinction between the two had become eminently clear. 

Most of the Jews would have nothing to do with the new faith, 
which, on the other hand, had spread rapidly through the Gentile 
population. The Christians held that they had been freed from 
the Hebrew law and, to emphasize the fact, celebrated the first 
day of the week in place of the Jewish sabbath. Yet in their 
monotheism they remained as intolerant of all other creeds as 
the Jews. In Roman eyes, consequently, the Christians were no 
better than seditious conspirators. Their associations were de- 
clared illegal; to be a Christian was to commit a crime. Thus 
it came about that the Christians were persecuted, not merely by 
such tyrants as Nero and Domitian, but also by the very best of 
the emperors. Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus 
Aurelius, in so far as they conscientiously tried tb enforce the 
law, were necessarily hostile to those proscribed by it. 

One of our earliest and best sources on the Christian persecu- 
tions is the letter written to Trajan by Pliny the Younger, then 
governor of Bithynia.^ He reported that he had discharged all 
suspects who made offerings of wine and incense to the statue of 
the emperor. Those who refused he had handed over to 

They affirmed, however, that this was the sum total of their guilt 
or error. On a certain day they would meet before dawn and sing 
in alternate verses a song to Christ as a god. They would bind 
themselves by oath, not for the sake of criminal acts, but as an en- 
gagement not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not to break faith 
and not to refuse the surrender of a pledge when it was demanded- 
It was their habit then to disperse, although they reassembled later 
in order to partake of food. 

Trajan replied that Pliny had acted very properly. The governor 
should not himself undertake to ferret out tlje^ people, nor 
should he listen to anonymous accusationsr But when Chris- 

3 Pliny, 's^ 9$ (?f)- 


in the 


tians were regularly denounced and found guilty, they should be 
punished according to the law. 

History has often proved that, merely as a matter of state 
policy, a little persecution is worse than none. The fact that 
the Roman government was so moderate prevented its staying the 
progress of the outlawed cult. And the joyous courage with 
which the condemned welcomed martyrdom proclaimed the qual- 
ity of their faith and converted many a spectator. The Christians, 
strangely enough, enjoyed a first respite from persecution through 
a vagary of the profligate Commodus. They again suffered under 
the Severi, and for another decade or so under the, predecessors 
of Aurelian ; then, during most of the third century, they were 
left in peace. Throughout that troubled period, indeed, the 
energy of the state was exhausted in meeting much more serious 
dangers than that offered by the mild followers of Jesus. 
Even when the emperors had time to devote to the Christian 
problem, their edicts w^ere chiefly directed against the making 
of new converts — 3. tacit confession that the duty of punishing 
Christians was becoming arduous. Furthermore, it was one 
thing to issue a decree and quite another to put it into 
effect. The increasing hesitance of provincial governors to en- 
force the law is good evidence of its increasing unpopularity. 

The third century was a period when many oriental mysteries 
made rapid progress; Christianity was one of them. During the 
earlier period, although Christian congregations had steadily mul- 
tiplied in all the more important cities* of the Mediterranean, they 
had mainly included the poor and uneducated. From now on, 
however, we hear of more and more Christians in all walks of life 
—-even in wealthy and socially prominent families. By gaining 
recruits within the upper classes, the outlawed faith emerged 
from its earlier obscurity and attained new political significance. 
The time had passed when even an enlightened emperor could 
believe that the Christians were commonly addicted to cannibalism 
and other foul practices. But with its enhanced prominence 
Christianity encountered a graver peril than governmental perse- 
cution : once it had attracted the attention of the fashionable and 
learned, there was a danger that it might be absorbed into the 
mystic philosophy o’f the schools, and so lose its charming sim- 
plicity and practical force. 

By the third century Christian apologists had clearly recognized 
the new enemy, and as a consequence their principal effort was 


shifted from the refutation of the Jews to that of the Gnostics. 
The latter were an ill-defined group of writers who, while differ- 
ing as to details, agreed in subordinating Christianity to a system 
of metaphysics. In order to explain how a material and imper- 
fect world could be derived from a spiritual and perfect God, 
they imagined a series of divine emanations, called ceons. One 
of them was the Creator described in the Old Testament; another 
was the Christ of the Gospels. Yet Christ, they held, was never 
really human; He was a spirit who merely pretended to die on 
the cross. Through this redemption those men in whom the 
material was overbalanced by the spiritual could secure salva- 
tion. Others, who were predominantly material, could not ; while 
a select few, the Gnostics proper, could attain spiritual perfection 
through mystic philosophy, and so needed no savior at all. 

Against these and allied doctrines appeared such able writers 
as Irenseus under the Antonines, and Tertullian under the Severi, 
proving that scholarship and eloquence were no longer confined to 
the pagan schools. Thanks to their efforts, Gnosticism, as such, 
failed of any permanent success, but similar ideas constantly re- 
appeared ill new guises. The age, as we have seen, was one of 
syncretism, when Neo-Platonists and other mystics were alike 
engaged in an effort to combine all truth in a single authoritative 
system. To affirm that Christianity absorbed nothing from its 
rivals would undoubtedly be wrong, for the church early adopted 
the policy of “spoiling the Egyptians” — ^that is to say, of taking 
any worthy custom from an adversary and adapting it to a sacred 
end. It is probable, for example, tliat Christmas came to be cele- 
brated in December because it would thus coincide with the great 
festival of the sun, which marked the first stage in the return of 
warmth and life to the earth, Easter corresponds to the pagan 
Floralia, the spring festival. And the Christian liturgy came to 
include many features common to a number of popular religions. 
In general, however, it must be admitted that, during this period 
of conflict, Christianity remained essentially .what it had been 
from the beginning; that controversy served rather to define its 
characteristic teachings than to obscure them. 

It had been a comparatively simple task for Christians to dis- 
tinguish themselves from Jews and pagans; it was another mat- 
ter, when various groups with conflicting ideas all pretended 
to be Christiaais, io separate the true, from the false. Who 
should dedd^^pid what basis should the decision be made? 





The prin- 
ciple of 



From the second century on we constantly hear of heresies — of 
doctrines which were advanced in the name of Christianity but 
which were rejected by the faithful. The concept of heresy of 
course implies the concept of orthodoxy, the standard according 
to which opinions are to be tested. And the establishment of this 
standard implies a recognized authority, either of writings or of 
oral tradition. 

In ecclesiastical history a collection of authoritative books is 
The canon called a canon. The Christian Bible includes two such canons 
of the Old that of the Old Testament and that of the New Testament. The 
Testament former the church of course received from the Jews ; so at first 
glance it might be supposed that the Jewish and the Christian 
canons would be the same. As a matter of fact, however, Chris- 
tianity, being a Hellenized religion, did not take over the official 
collection of Hebrew writings, but the Septuagint — a Greek ver- 
sion drawn up for the use of Hellenized Jews in Alexandria. 
And this collection included various books that had never been 
written in Hebrew — ^those later rejected by the Protestants, or 
marked in their Bible as Apocrypha. The New Testament, on the 
other hand, is a purely Christian compilation. It could not be 
recognized all at once, for it was not all written at once. If a 
New Testament canon eventually came to be universally accepted, 
that was the result of a gradual process not unmarked by 

Throughout the second century, as we know from contempo- 
The canon rary authors, certain of the New Testament writings were gen- 
of the New erally received as authoritative in all Christian communities. 
Testament were the Epistles of Paul, the four Gospels, and the book 

of Acts. With regard to epistles attributed to the other apostles, 
and to the book of Revelation, there was no such agreement. To 
them many local churches preferred writings that do not appear 
in the Christian Bible, notably the Shepherd of Hermas. As late 
as the fourth century we are told by Eusebius, the famous eccle- 
siastical historian under Constantine, that opinions were still 
divided on many books ; so the determination of the canon as 
we have it was part of the more thorough organization given the 
church in the period immediately following. The point is, of 
course, that the particular collection known as the New Testa- 
ment rests primarily on tradition. The inspired character of its 
separate parts had to be decided by men who themselves were 
somehow regarded as inspired. The recognition of an authorita- 


tive Scripture ultimately depended on the recognition of authorita- 
tive leaders. 

Whatever may have been the primitive system — ^and this is 
still a matter of violent controversy among the Christian sects — 
the church of the third century was based on the episcopate. 
Within each city the Christian congregation was considered a 
unit, subject to the jurisdiction of a bishop {episcopus, overseer)* 
Under him were various grades of subordinates, mainly priests 
(^presbyter, elder) and deacons {diacomis, helper). Among them 
they supervised Christian worship, cared for the sick and the 
needy, maintained discipline, and decided disputed questions. It 
was the bishops, however, upon whom devolved the chief re- 
sponsibility; and their authority was justified by the theory of 
the apostolic succession, that the episcopal power was identical 
with and derived from that which had been given by Christ to 
the apostles. The bishops were thus held to be the guardians of 
sacred tradition. But what if they disagreed? As long as Chris- 
tianity was unlawful, a practical solution of this problem was 
hard to find. To understand the outcome, we must therefore 
turn to the events that were to prove decisive for the organiza- 
tion of the church. 

As remarked above, Christianity had been declared illegal un- 
der the principate, and its adherents had been consistently perse-- 
cuted by the ablest of the princes. With the completion of 
absolute monarchy, the earlier policy would hardly be reversed. 
According to the previous system, the living emperor was accorded 
divine honors only in the provinces; Roman citizens were not 
required to worship him. Now, however, practically all distinc- 
tion between citizen and subject was erased; the emperor was 
formally installed as a god, to be adored even by the highest 
nobles. How could such an autocrat be expected to justify 
Christian rebellion? The restoration of order inevitably led to 
another era of persecution. Aurelian, we are told, issued a decree 
against the Christians, but did not live to carry it out. So the 
campaign for suppression was left to be resumed by Diocletian. 
Why the latter took no action t^ntil late in his reign does not 
appear ; but if there had been any doubt of his policy, it was re- 
moved by the edicts of 303. They proscribed the holding of 
Christian services and ordered the razing of Christian churches, 
the burning of the Scriptures, the imprisonment of the clergy, 
and the removal of all Christians from public office. Although 




The last 


The con- 
version of 


there was no bloodshed under this law, Diocletian finally dropped 
halfway measures just before his abdication, and commanded 
that every one perform the accustomed state sacrifices or suffer the 
ancient penalties for refusal. 

Enforcement, after the retirement of the elder Augusti, natu- 
rally came to depend on the personal disposition of their suc- 
cessors. In the west Constantius was inclined to be lenitot; so 
the only violent persecution was in the east, where Galerius • 
maintained bitter hostility tow^ard the Christians until, on his 
deathbed in 31 1, he gave up the struggle and issued a decree of 
toleration. Meanwhile, Constantine had succeeded his father. 
Like most of the emperors since Aurelian, Constantine in his 
younger days seems to have been devoted to the sun god (Sof 
l 7 izncfits)--r-the: cult which, together with the allied mystery of 
Mithras, was the ruling favorite of the army. He had been- 
brought up in Gaul and Britain, among the least Christian of the 
provinces ; nor is there any evidence that, through family connec- 
tions, he had received any direct instruction in Christianity. 
Nevertheless, before his defeat of „Maxentius at the Milvian 
Bridge in 312, Constantine seems to have become a convert to 
the faith. 

According to the story reported by Eusebius as having been 
told by the emperor himself, Constantine, while advancing oil 
Rome with his army, one afternoon saw in the sky a blazing cross- 
with the motto IN HOC VINCE (In This Conquer), and dur- 
ing the following night Christ appeared to him in a vision with 
the same message. Historically, of course, we have no method, 
by which the objective reality of such alleged miracles can be. 
tested; but, to judge from the subsequent actions of Constan- 
tine, he must have believed himself the recipient of some mystic 
revelation. Before engaging in battle with Maxentius, he had the 
Christian name placed on the shields of his soldiers and, having 
won the victory, he spent the rest of his life as a fervent, if not 
ethically perfect, Christian. The design was placed on his 
military standards, and Christian symbols also appeared on his 
coins and monuments. Some time after 311 he persuaded Lici- 
nius to join with him in guaranteeing entire freedom of worship 
to the Christians. Subsequently their church was recognized as 

a corporation legally capable of holding property and performing 


* The Greek letters Chi Rhc, standing for Christos. 


other acts. Besides, Constantine brought up his children in the 
Christian faith, more and more favored Christians in public office, 
and actively concerned himself with controversial problems of 
Christian doctrine. 

Thus, in 314, Constantine called a council of the western 
bishops at Arles, to settle the question of the Donatists — a, fanati- 
cal group in Africa wdio, refusing to recognize the newly installed 
bishop of Carthage, raised the broader claim that the official act 
of a clergyman, such as a baptism or a marriage, depended for its 
validity on his personal character. This doctrine the council re- 
fused to accept, and the Donatists were condemned.^ In addition, 
the assembled bishops issued canons (in this sense, rules) dealing 
with a uniform date for Easter and various matters of ecclesi- 
astical discipline. But within a few years there arose in the 
east a much more serious controversy, the echoes of which were 
to be heard for many generations. 

The trouble was started by a priest of Alexandria named Arius. 
By a logical process which to him seemed unescapable, he argued 
that, since Christ was the Son of God, He must have been 
younger than the Father; must, indeed, have been a creature 
rather than a divinity in the absolute sense. Otherwise, said 
Arius, Christians would have to admit that they were worshiping 
two Gods. This innocently propounded theory at once raised 
a storm of opposition. Eloquent champions — ^notably an Alex- 
.andrian archdeacon named Athanasius — at once arose to defend 
the traditional faith. They insisted that, although the doctrine 
•of the Redemption necessitated belief in the human character of 
Jesus, Christians must also believe that He was truly God, or 
their customary worship would be no better than pagan idolatry. 

In 325 Constantine, following the policy already inaugurated at 
Arles, summoned the bishops from all Christendom to decide 
the question of Arianism in a great meeting at Nicsea — ^the first 
oecumenical (or general) council in the history of the church. 
Before the assembled prelates — ^perhaps three hundred in all, in- 
cluding some from beyond the Roman frontiers — ^the emperor 
appeared in person to urge the cause of unity. The answer was 
a nearly unanimous declaration condemning the views of Arius 
and prescribing the formula of Christian belief which, with later 
amendments,- is» still known as the Nicene Creed. The victory 

* The pmctical' of tie decision will be readily appreciated in con- 
nection with (seevbelow, ch. ivp 

The Coun- 
cil of Arles 



of Nicsea 


The new 
era for 
and state 

The found- 
ing of Con- 


thus lay with those who, like Athanasius, considered the dictates 
of practical religion paramount to other considerations ,* for the 
official dogma of the church, as now defined, was a frank state- 
ment of an insoluble mystery. 

In another way the Council of Nicaea was a triumph for Con- 
stantine ; under his sovereignty and on his initiative a world-wide 
Christian organization had been proved capable of legislating 
with regard to its own affairs. Thereby a great revolution in 
Roman history was completed, for the concepts of church and 
state that henceforth dominated politics were utterly foreign to 
classic tradition — ^belonged rather to the age which we call medi- 
aeval. True, paganism still remained lawful under Constantine, 
but his sons were to begin the long campaign for its suppression. 
With one exception, all the succeeding emperors professed Chris- 
tianity; so the outcome could not be a matter of doubt. The faith 
that from the outset had asserted a monopoly of revealed truth 
could not be expected, now that it had gained control of the im- 
perial conscience, to brook any rivals. Constantine himself, 
though he wisely refrained from any effort to Christianize his 
capital with its staunchly pagan senate, carried out a policy which 
he presumably regarded as a pious substitute : he built a new cap- 
ital and there installed a new senate. 

That the founding of Constantinople would eventually con- 
tribute to the dissolution of the empire and the development of a 
non-Latin state in the east Constantine, of course, could not fore- 
see. And we may be sure that, if such a prospect had been 
magically revealed to him, he would have been appalled by it. His 
training had been almost exclusively western; he scarcely knew 
Greek at all. His fundamental policy seems essentially that of a 
Roman soldier-statesman, who believed that a mystic faith had 
led him to supreme authority in the world. The last stage in his 
upward career had been the war with Licinius. It was at least 
appropriate that a place which had been prominent in his final 
campaign should now be selected as the site for a new world- 
center — 3. monument to Christianity as well as to himself. 

Constantine, in any case, needed no voice from heaven to make 
him appreciate the military strength of Byzantium. The old 
Greek colony occupied the point of a small peninsula that juts 
into the Bosphorus just where it widens into the Sea of Mar- 
mora — a position which dominates the passage between the Black 
Sea and the Mediterranean, and which cannot itself be attacked 


from either. To the south of the promontory is the channel 
proper; to the north a narrow inlet called the Golden Horn, con- 
stituting a magnificent harbor. Across the peninsula Constan- 
tine threw a wall to enclose a space some four times as large as 
the ancient Byzantium. There he laid out his forum and raised 
his public buildings, including the senate-house, the palace, a num- 
ber of baths, and the enormous hippodrome. The prominent 
features of Rome were all reproduced except one: in the new 
capital there were no pagan monuments. On his great column, 
indeed, Constantine put what had been a statue of Apollo, but 
the original head was now replaced by another, to represent the 
imperial founder. 

Constantine formally consecrated his city in 330. From the 
west he brought many Latin colonists, and, with the growth of 
commerce, settlers naturally drifted to the new metropolis from 
all parts of the east. Within a hundred years another wall had 
to be built to enclose the flourishing suburbs that had grown up 
outside the first one. Thus arose one of Europe’s greatest cities, 
destined to maintain at least a semblance of Roman glory for an 
incredibly long time. Its far-reaching significance for the his- 
tory of the later empire must, however, be left to be considered in 
subsequent chapters. For the present it is necessary to divert our 
account from the classic lands of the Mediterranean to the people 
who were soon to occupy them. 


In taking up the history of any age, it is impossible for the 
student to read far without encountering the terms state, nation, The terms 
and race. And since they continue to be the source of much state, 
confusion, it might be well at this point to attempt an explanation 
of each. The modern European state is essentially a territory 
under the supreme authority of a particular government. No 
matter what he may think about it, the individual resident of such 
a state is subject to its jurisdiction. When, for example, a citi- 
zen of France crosses an imaginary line to the east, he ceases to 
be bound by French law and becomes bound by that of Ger- 
many, Yet, normally, he will still be considered a Frenchman. 

Although he leaves his state behind, he bears his nationality with 
him. A man’s nation may sometimes be known from his lan- 
guage, but not always. There is no Swiss language or Belgian 
language, and a perscm who sp^ks Spanish may belong to any 


races of 


one of a dozen nations. Descent obviously has nothing to do 
with the case or there would be — to mention one familiar instance 
— no American nation. 

On ultimate analysis, our present test of nationality will be 
found to rest on nothing but the feelings of the individual. To- 
day, it is true, every nation tends to have a government of its 
own — to be also a state. That is the result of very recent polit- 
ical developments. Throughout most of their history the states 
of Europe have been arbitrarily formed units, with bound- 
aries drawn by accident or caprice; and the Roman Empire, 
though a state in our sense of the word, was the antithesis of the 
modern nationalistic system. To the Romans, natio (nation) and 
gens (tribe) were vague terms referring to local peoples each 
distinguished by name and custom. There were multitudes of 
such groups inside the empire and, of course, multitudes of others 
beyond the frontiers. In the following pages, unless otherwise 
indicated, ‘'nation^' will be used to imply nothing more than this. 

If now we turn to the much abused word, race, it will be 
found to denote an altogether different concept. A man may 
change his state by moving away from it, his nation by trans- 
ferring his affections ; but his race he cannot change, because it 
is born with him. Properly understood, therefore, a race is a 
people marked off from others by hereditary characteristics — 
such as the black skin of the Negro. Although color, up to a 
certain point, is a useful guide in identifying races, it utterly fails 
when we come to consider the white inhabitants of Europe. 
Can they, according to some other scheme, be classified in distinct 

It is still the confirmed habit of many writers to speak of a 
Celtic, Slavic, Germanic, Latin, or even an Aryan race. But such 
differentiation is based merely on language, and language — 
however significant for the growth of culture — is not inherited. 
There are many instances in history of a population that changed 
its language as the result of conquest or of intermarriage. We 
can never be safe in assuming that, because two groups spoke 
kindred tongues, they were related by blood descent. So, of more 
recent years, it has become fashionable to divide Europeans into 
other races. The traveler who crosses the continent will, in fact, 
have no difficulty in perceiving three dominant types of men. 
In the south the majority of the people are short and slender. 


with dark complexions, black eyes, and long heads.“ In the cen- 
tral regions, on the other hand, round-headed men become the 
rule — stocky men with medium complexions and brown eyes. 

In the north, finally, the inhabitants principally tend to be tall, 
fair, and blue-eyed; and to have, like the southerners, long heads. 

These three types — ^known respectively as Mediterranean, Alpine, 
and Nordic — ^are presented by a popular school of writers as mark- 
ing the three fundamental races of Europe, through whose antag- 
onisms and interminglings the entire history of the western world 
can best be elucidated. 

Unfortunately for the student, the more closely this theory is 
examined, the weaker it appears. In the first place, the doctrine 
rests almost solely on modern observation of physical character- 
istics and takes for granted the primitive invasion of the conti- 
nent by the three races exhibiting those characteristics. Aside 
from a few scattered bones and certain vague remarks by ancient 
historians, we actually have no evidence concerning the appearance 
of early European peoples. Secondly, it assumes that such phys- 
ical traits as stature, complexion, and skull formation are 
essentially a matter of heredity. But this is strenuously denied 
by many scientists, who point out that climate, diet, and other 
environmental factors may produce radical alterations of human 
physique within a relatively short period of time. Lastly, even 
if we admit that such features as blondness and tallness and 
long-headedness constitute true tests of race, we are still left to 
wonder just what they may have to do with military genius, 
political capacity, commercial shrewdness, artistic skill, or any 
of the other qualities that make a people great in history. 

The conclusion must be that, although racial factors may have 
had tremendous importance for the development of European 
civilization, it is as yet impossible to define them or to assess 
their respective values. Until he can be more certain of his 
facts, the historian had better avoid the subject altogether. As 
far as the known history of Europe is concerned, the biologically 
pure race — ^whether alleged to be inferior or superior — is a fig- 
ment of the imagination. 

If now we turn to examine the actual inhabitants of the 
regions bordering on the Roman Empire, some, for the present, Frontier 
may be passed over with a mere glance. The Moors of northern peoples 

® That is to sa^ from bsidc to front than from side to side. 


Mode of 


Africa, the Arabs of Syria, and their more cultured neighbors, 
the Persians, need not occupy our attention until they rise to sud- 
den prominence in connection with Mohammedanism. It is rather 
the great belt of peoples extending from the plateau of central 
Asia to the North Sea who first affect the destinies of the western 
provinces : the widely extended nomads of the desert and the 
steppe, and beyond them the Slavs, Celts,, and Germans. These 
we may now take up in order. 

The first group embraces a multitude of wandering tribes who 
appear in the pages of history under a great variety of names — 
Scythians, Sarmatians, Huns, Bulgars, Avars, Mag}"ars, Mon- 
gols, Tartars, Turks,, and the like. Originally they have spoken 
a class of languages known as Ural-Altaic — 3, term that implies 
nothing more than a certain geographic distribution. As far 
back as recorded history extends, these tribes have, in fact, 
populated the wide region between the Altai Mountains on the 
south and the Urals on the north; and this range of habitation is 
accounted for by the fact that their life has, until very recent 
times, been purely nomadic. Throughout that entire country of 
desert and plain, agriculture is impossible ; the only wbj in which 
man may exist is through pasturage. He becomes a parasite de- 
pendent on his flocks and herds. If they die, he dies; where 
they go for food he has to go too. In tlie winter the slopes of 
the southern mountains provide the necessary pasturage and 
shelter, but with the advent of the summer drought the nomad 
is forced to take his animals to the northern grasslands. Thence, 
in turn, he is driven by the snows of the succeeding winter, to 
repeat the process interminably year in and year out. 

Under such conditions, obviously, the nomad can have no set- 
tled habitation, and his personal belongings must be reduced to 
what can easily be carried on his long journeys — a tent made 
of skins, together with its poles; cooking utensils, felt rugs, and 
a few pieces of furniture. His wealth consists of his domes- 
tic animals, in this region principally horses and sheep. Aside 
from a little wild grain, with occasional fish or game, the nomad's 
food is almost exclusively dairy produce ; and this is reduced, in 
case of a military expedition,, to the milk of a few mares which 
the warrior drives along with him. Social organization naturally 
depends on the mode of life. The smallest unit is the family, as 
many persons as can occupy one tent. The tents are combined 
into camps, and these into dans and groups of dans. In general, 


however, each chieftain does as he pleases, unless forced by su- 
perior show of arms to join some temporary coalition. Authority 
rests exclusively with the men, who leave all domestic labor to 
their womenfolk. 

To the ordinary occupations of pastoral life the nomads, 
throughout countless centuries, added those of professional ma- 
rauders, terrorizing and enslaving the peasantry of all exposed 
regions. The scourge of their raids was unceasing. Mounted 
on the tireless desert horses which they had been accustomed to 
ride since infancy, they covered unbelievable distances and struck 
without warning. In case of counter-attack, they could always 
find security in the wastes whence they had come. Inured to 
heat, cold, famine, and thirst, they passed with ease where others 
quickly perished. Normally these expeditions led to nothing 
that could be called political construction ; but every once 
in a while, impelled by economic calamity or overpopulation, 
some extraordinary outpouring of nomads brought destruction 
to far-distant states and substituted the ruthless dominion of the 
invaders. Such episodes are familiar in the history of China, 
India, Persia, Syria, and even Egypt. Nor did Europe escape. 
Not long after the death of Constantine the tremendous drive of 
the particular horde known as Huns began to have repercussions 
all along the Rhine and the Danube. 

In the eyes of civilized peoples, the Huns, like their kinsmen 
generally, seemed peculiarly loathsome. The chroniclers shudder 
at their savage fury and their bestial appearance. The primitive 
Asiatic nomad was indeed no beauty. Among his striking fea- 
tures are recorded a feck-set body with thin bowlegs; large 
round head and broad face ; prominent ears, big mouth, and flat 
nose ; dark eyes, widely spaced and obliquely sunken ; yellowish or 
swarthy skin, sparse whiskers, and black, bristling hair. And this 
physical exterior seems to have been backed by a stark fero- 
city that daunted all antagonists. Many of the original nomad 
traits, however, were quickly lost when the invaders, whose 
numbers were always relatively small, remained in the midst of a 
subject population. Having left their own women far behind, 
they took mates from the conquered territories. So, in the course 
of time, although their descendents might keep the ancient name 
and perhaps the ancient language, they would inevitably be as- 
similated to the type of the masses. 

Among the pe^es on whom the nomads preyed for countless 





The Slavs generations were the Slavs, who lived to the north of the steppes 
and to the south of the Baltic tribes, many of which were Ger- 
manic. According to the writers who first mention them, the 
Slavs were originally fair-skinned, but — ^presumably through in- 
termixture with Asiatics and others — ^they later tended to become 
predominantly dark. We know remarkably little about their racial 
origin ; whatever it was, and however it may have been to blame, 
the role of the Slavs in early European history was almost ex- 
clusively that of the hunted and oppressed. Probably geographic 
location had much to do with their unfortunate destiny. Placed 
between Asiatic raiders from the south and Germanic raiders 
from the north, the Slavs suffered unspeakable torments year 
after year, century after century. Thousands were driven by 
alien conquerors to till distant lands ; other thousands were carried 
into captivity and sold throughout the markets of the west — so 
that the name Slav® there came to designate the lowest person 
in society. Yet, out of their experience the Slavs developed a mar- 
velous talent for passive endurance. Though they were not 
heroic, they lived and multiplied. As conquerors killed one an- 
other off, the Slavs inherited their lands. As the more warlike 
nations drove westward to despoil the provinces of Rome, it was 
the Slavs who crept into the vacated territories. Without a single 
battle to win the attention of the chroniclers, they made the plains 
of eastern Europe almost solidly Slavic. 

In a much earlier age the Celts — or, as the Romans called them, 

The Celts the Gauls — ^liad inhabited the great interior forests of Europe 
as far east as the Elbe. Thence, in a great migration that for 
a time threatened to wipe out the little republic of Rome, they 
swept across the Alps into Italy and across the Rhine into the 
country which was thenceforth known as Gaul. A first wave of 
invaders, the Gaels, occupied the islands off the northwest coast, 
but the better part of the principal island — ^which thereby got a 
permanent name — ^was subsequently conquered by a second wave 
of invaders called Britons. All the ancient writers tell us that 
the invading Gauls were tall and fair; later the Celtic-speaking 
peoples are found generally dark. So we may guess that a Nordic 
type was lost through intermarriage with Mediterranean peoples. 
And if the Gauls had not been a mixed people already, they as- 
suredly became one after the Roman conquest. Compared with 

® Thence is derived our word slave — one of the ironies of history, for in the 
original language the meaning was “glorious.” 


that of other barbarians, the culture of the Celts was remark- 
ably advanced ; but as they became Latinized, its distinctive char- 
acter was utterly lost. It was only in the wilder parts of the 
British Isles that the Celts, as such, continued to have an inde- 
pendent history. Thus we are brought to the people who came to 
play so dramatic a part in the politics of the later empire — ^the 

The Germanic languages — ^like the Celtic, Slavic, Latin, Greek, 
and Sanscrit languages — constitute one group within the wider 
category known as Indo-European. Just how, if at all, the widely 
scattered peoples who spoke these related tongues were them- 
selves related is not known; nor can we be sure that all the 
tribes who used a Germanic dialect were descended from one 
primitive stock. Presumably it was from the Gauls that the 
Romans learned to call their new neighbors Gcrniani; at any rate, 
our usage is derived from the Latin. We may also be sure that 
the country which has been termed Germany for two thousand 
years was not the original home of the Germans, for their lands 
at first did not extend west of the Elbe. From the region about 
the Baltic the Germans moved southwest when the Celts migrate 
into Gaul, and archaeologists tell us that the newcomers owed 
much to their predecessors in the way of culture, including the 
use of iron weapons. 

From the pen of Julius Caesar we have our earliest description 
of the Germans in any detail, but a much fuller account is given 
us, a century and a half later, by Tacitus in his Germania, This 
little book, it is true, must be taken with a grain of salt, for in 
many places the author obviously touched up his picture to drive 
home, by way of contrast, a lesson for his degenerate compa- 
triots. On the whole, however, there is no reason for distrusting 
his information, which in many places is corroborated from other 
sources. Thus, with regard to the appearance of the Germans, 
Tacitus repeats the general verdict: "fierce blue eyes and reddish 
hair ; great bodies, especially powerful for attack, but not equally 
patient of hard work; little able to withstand heat and thirst, 
though by climate and soil they have been enured to cold and 
hunger."' Caesar describes them as living mainly by pasturag^ 
together with fishing and hunting; Tacitus emphasizes rather their 

None of the German tribes, he says, lived in cities; even within 
their villages fftatfs home was surrounded by a considerable 







Mode of 






open space. They used no masonry or tile; their houses were 
built of rude lumber, sometimes smeared with colored earth. As 
much land was occupied by the village as it heeded for the 
raising of grain — ^the only crop that was normally planted — 
and the fields were distributed among the villagers according to 
their rank. Because they had land to spare, they changed the 
arable yearly, and so did not exhaust the soil. But the German 
freeman was no agricultural laborer ; he preferred the loot of war 
to the profits of honest toil. When not fighting, he spent his 
time in idleness, leaving all work connected with house and lands 
to his women and dependents. Among the Germans slaves were 
not primarily household servants, like those of the Romans; 
rather they were coloni,'^ provided with houses and plots for 
which they paid the lord a share of the produce. 

By way of entertainment, the Germans had only one sort of 
show — ^an athletic sword dance in which the young men were 
very proficient. But they were also fond of gambling and of 
protracted drinking bouts, in which they consumed great quan- 
tities of a beverage fermented from barley and wheat (i.e., of 
course, beer). In other respects Tacitus describes their personal 
morals as being extraordinarily pure. He extols the simplicity 
of their marriage customs and the beauty of their family life. 
The picture that he paints is indeed so idyllic that he makes us 
suspect a little exaggeration. The individual Germans whom we 
later encounter were not at all models of virtue. And when 
Tacitus dwells on the almost superstitious regard in which the 
German women were held, we have to remember that it did not 
prevent their being given plenty of hard work. 

Only the menfolk played any part in warfare and politics. When 
the German youth attained man^s estate, the ceremony marking 
the event was a formal gift of arms, corresponding to the as- 
sumption of the toga virilis at Rome. Thereafter he bore his 
shield and spear on all public occasions. The tribal assembly was 
essentially a military gathering. Proposals were there submitted 
by the chief men, and if the people approved, they clashed their 
weapons. This is the nearest approach to a political system th^t 
is found among the early Germans. Some tribes had kings, but 
the latter seem to have been little more than leaders in war. Cer- 
tain families were regarded as noble, and everywhere the kindred 
group was very strong. Also there was the association described 

^ See above, p. 25. 


by Tacitus as the comitatus. Any famous chieftain might attract 
to himself a band of followers by the promise of adventure and 
booty. The relationship was highly honorable to both parties: 
the men received equipment and food, while in return they pro- 
vided their leader with a distinguished retinue and made possible 
his exploits. Together they fought and enjoyed the profits of 
victory, or, in case of bitter fortune, together died. Of this cus- 
tom much will be heard in later chapters. 

Tacitus further gives, in connection with the geography of the 
country, a long list of separate German nations, few of which are Germanic 
ever heard of outside his pages. In his day a whole series of 
petty tribes extended along the Rhine. On the upper Danube ^xg^tury 
were the Marcomanni and the Quadi; below them, along the 
Dacian frontier, the Asiatic Sarmatians. Within the next two 
centuries, however, this distribution of peoples was considerably 
changed. The Marcomanni and Quadi, after a desperate struggle, 
were definitely broken by Marcus Aurelius and ceased to be for- 
midable. On the upper Rhine there emerged a new group of 
Germans who described themselves as Alamans (meaning '‘all 
men’’), and it was to them that Aurelian was forced to 
relinquish the triangle between the two great rivers.^ On the 
lower Rhine another mass of tribes coalesced to form the great 
nation of the Franks (meaning 'Tree'’) ; and the Saxons, who 
came to dominate the lands adjacent to the North Sea, were evi- 
dently a similar confederation. Meanwhile, from the interior 
came Burgundians, Vandals, and others, willing to fight any one 
for a chance to fight the Romans. 

An even greater migration was that of the Goths who — for 
reasons that remain obscure — struck south from the Vistula and, 
having overcome the Sarmatians, invaded the Danubian prov- 
inces. There, although checked by Aurelian, they kept pos- 
session of Dacia. Henceforth we find them settled in two 
loosely organized divisions along the northern shore of the Black 
Sea: to the west the Visigoths and to the ,east the Ostro- 
goths. Both groups, owing to their geographical location, were 
soon brought into contact with the culture of the empire, in- 
cluding Christianity, while their military prowess eventually 
involved them in politics at Constantinople. This was the situ- 
ation as Rome weakened under the successors of Constantine, 

8 See above, 









and Valens 


The death of Constantine in 337 had as its result a series of 
wars and assassinations that eventually exterminated his family. 
First of all, various nephews were murdered for the benefit of the 
three sons. Next, one of the latter was defeated and slain by 
a second, but he in turn fell before a usurper, who was finally 
disposed of by the third brother in 353. So it came about that 
Constant ius II, whose original portion had been the east including 
Constantinople, reunited the empire under his sole authority and ' 
held it for some eight years. Then, in 361, the western armies 
proclaimed Julian, a nephew of Constantine who had somehow 
escaped the earlier massacre, and Constantins died while ad- 
vancing against the rebel. Julian’s short reign of three years 
was chiefly devoted to the revival and consolidation of paganism 
— a sort of mystic revenge for the deeds of his Christian cousinO 
By ecclesiastical historians, consequently, Julian has been brandei 3 r " 
with the name of Apostate (i.e., renegade) ; but the man’s fasci- 
nating personality, combined with the tragic brilliance of'. his 
brief career, has made him a great favorite with the historical 

I^ 363 Julian died of wounds received in battle with the Per- 
sians, and with him the dynasty of Constantine ended. A suc- 
cessor, hailed as Augustus by the army, lived to wear the purple 
for only one year. Then the office was secured in the same way 
by Valentinian. The son of a Pannonian peasant who had risen 
from the ranks to supreme command of the army in Britain, 
Valentinian was a thorough soldier with a reputation for strict 
discipline. As emperor, he set an admirable example to his 
subjects by hard, work and honest devotion to the public interest. 
Since he was a Christian, he annulled Julian’s edicts and reverted 
to the religious policy of Constantine. By economies and other 
reforms he sought to improve the administration and he gave hfe 
personal attention to the defense of the frontiers. Dying in 373^ 
he was succeeded in the west by his able and experienced son, 




Gratian ; in the east he had already, at the request of the troops, 
installed as Augustus his brother Valens. 

It was just before Valentinian s death that the Huns* appeared 
in Europe — ^an event that was to have momentous consequences The 
for the empire. Sweeping across the steppe, the nomads fell upon 
the Ostrogoths, many of whom were immediately subjugated, ^ 
Others fled westward to seek refuge in Dacia, whereupon some 
of the Visigothic chieftains appealed to Valens for permission 
to cross the Danube and to defend it as fcederati. Since there 
was long-established precedent for such action, and since hundreds 
of Goths had already proved their soldierly qualities in the Ro- 
man army, the request was granted. But Valens, now deprived 
of his brother’s counsel, foolishly placed in charge of the crossing 
certain incompetent subordinates w'hose high-handed methods 
brought about a violent quarrel with the newly arrived Goths. 

Defying the Roman government, they turned to looting the 
neighboring provinces — z congenial undertaking in which they 
.were quickly joined by other bands from beyond the frontier. 

Without waiting for the aid of Gratian, Valens led an inadequate 
force to drive the invaders back. The result was disaster. Near 
the city of Adrianople, in 328, the imperial army was destroyed 
and Valens himself was slain. 

TKe ultimate significance of the battle can only be appreciated 1 

in connection with the events of the ensuing century/, for the Gratian j 
moment it seemed to have no very serious consequences. To ( 375 -S 3 )[ 
succeed Valens, Gratian at once designated his best general, 
Theodosius, through whose diplomacy the Balkans were soon (37^-95)1 
pacified. The Visigothic tribes were settled along the frontier, 
and, having obtained what they had originally wanted, they held 
themselves in peace for the rest of the reign. The chief troubles 
of Theodosius arose in the west, where Gratian was defeated 
and slain by a usurper in 383. For the sake of the young Valen- 
tinian II, Gratian’s half-brother, Theodosius was finally com- 
pelled to intervene. The upstart was executed and the boy em- 
peror was reinstated. The real master of the western provinces, 
however, was Arbogast, a Frank who had attained high command 
in the army and who now bore the title of count. In 39^ Valen- 
tinian was found strangled— tte victim, as many bdieved, of 
Arbogast:, at any rate, -set a new emperor to suit him- 


self and so invited a punitive expedition on the part of Theo- 
dosius. In 394 a decisive battle was fought. Thanks to an 
opportune storm, which contemporaries regarded as a miracle 
from heaven, Theodosius won the victory; the rival emperor was 
slain and Arbogast committed suicide. Once more authority was 
held by a single prince, but it was only for a brief interval. Theo- 
dosius died in the next year, having already assured the succession 
of his two sons : in the east Arcadius, in the west Honorius. And 
since neither was competent for actual government, the former 
was placed under the tutelage of the praetorian prefect, Rufinus ; 
the latter under that of the Vandal, Stilicho, master of horse and 
foot, patriciits, and cousin by marriii^ of the young emperors. 

From this tale of bloody deeds it may be seen that, in spite 
of administrative division, the unity of the empire was no mere 
theory under an emperor like Theodosius. Until 395 the tradi- 
tions of Diocletian, Constantine, and Valentinian were well main- 
tained. If there were two Augusti, one w;as normally a sort of 
senior partner, with a dominating voice in all major affairs. And 
both were supposed to be mature men, chosen primarily because 
of their ability to command armies and defend the state. To this 
rule Valentinian II was an exception; out of veneration for his 
father, he was raised to the purple at the age of four and he 
never became more than a puppet emperor. That, of course, was 
a matter of small consequence as long as there was a Gratian 
or a Theodosius in the background. But what would happen if 
both princes were incompetent? The career of Arbogast had 
already supplied the answer. The empire, for good or for evil, 
would be ruled by the great military commanders, who, like their 
armies, were now generally barbarian. 

We are thus confronted by one of the crucial facts in the his- 

Barbaiians tory of the fifth century — a fact that must be thoroughly ap- 
praised before the barbarian invasions can be at all understood. 

Romans Arbogast has been called a Frank, and Stilicho a Vandal. Such 
identification was only a matter of descent. Both undoubtedly 
considered themselves Roman and were so considered by others ; 
were, in fact, as Roman as legal right could make them. Both 
held high public office and enjoyed the loftiest distinction at court, 
and Stilicho was married to the favorite niece of Theodosius. 
Today in America we all know of men prominent in politics, busi- 
ness, or the professions, who are commonly referred to- as Irish, 


Italians, Germans, Poles, and the like, but who are none the less 
American citizens and worthy members of the community. In 
accent or manner they may or may not betray a foreign origin ; 
in ability and culture they are vastly superior to thousands of 
Americans whose ancestors helped to found New England or 
Virginia. Their Americanization has depended on the degree to 
whijch they have been assimilated by the dominant element in so- 
ciety, not on their descent. To a certain extent it was the same 
in the Roman Empire : the question when a man ceased to be a 
barbarian was not always easy to answer. 

^ On the Roman side there was assuredly no race prejudice — es- 
pecially against the Germans, who frequently married into the 
noblest families of the empire. Barbarian charm had indeed be- 
come so fashionable among Roman ladies that a brisk trade was 
carried on in blonde wigs imported from the north. And it 
would be a grave error to suppose that the Germans, on their 
side, had the slightest feeling of nationalism. The barbarian 
hordes beyond the northern frontier were a heterogeneous lot — 
accidental combinations of tribes and fragments of tribes, who 
normally were as willing to attack each other as any one else. 
Defending the frontier were the Roman armies, but by the close 
of the fourth century they had long been recruited from among 
the barbarians. With them, whether or not they were Roman 
citizens, war was a profession; as long as they drew their pay, 
they cared nothing about the cause Nor was any patriotism de- 
manded of them. Individually they were good soldiers, armed 
and disciplined according to ancient Roman tradition. How well 
they fought depended largely on the quality of the high command. 

In this respect the administration of Theodosius was entirely 
successful. Despite increasing pressure from the barbarian peo- 
ples, the frontiers were solidly held, as they had been during 
the previous hundred years. Economic conditions, we know, 
were not good; yet contemporaries could have seen little cause 
for violent alarm. There was no sudden deterioration; and the 
imperial government, though not always enlightened, was active 
and sincere in its efforts to carry out reforms. Finally, in okj- 
nection with religious matters, the reign of TlKodoslus marked 
the definitive triumph of the Christian Church. Beftwe recog- 
nition by Constantine, Christiania could n(rt possibly — by the best 
estimates — ^have held ffie devoticm of more than cme-fi,fth of the 

and the 


population throughout the empire. It was accepted by the ma- 
jority only after it had become the personal faith of the emperor 
and was specially protected by law. Then, during the fourth 
century, it made rapid headway in the army and in official circles. 
The rural districts, however, remained largely pagan — ^as the 
word {pagan ns, countryman) itself implies. Besides, the ancient 
cults had powerful support in such strongholds of tradition as 
Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, and Athens. The edicts of Con- 
stantine’s sons proscribing all but Christian worship were declara- 
tions of pious intent, which merely threatened punishment; and 
they were of course repealed by Julian. Valentinian, as we have 
seen, merely restored the system of Constantine; so the establish- 
ment of Christianity as the only lawful religion of the state was 
primarily due to Theodosius. 

In his earlier reign that emperor, to be sure, seemed inclined 
to maintain the tolerant policy of Valentinian ; it was Gratian who 
first defied pagan sentiment by removing the statue of Victory 
from the senate-house in Rome. Later, when Theodosius — ^as he 
believed — ^had defeated Arbogast through the direct intervention 
of God, his faith became more aggressive. With Ambrose,^ the 
great archbishop of Milan, as his spiritual director, Theodosius 
deliberately undertook to suppress every enemy of Christianity. 
Pagan temples were converted to secular purposes, turned into 
Christian churches, or destroyed by fanatics. Minor acts of 
pagan worship were punished with fines, while the performance 
of sacrifices was defined as treason, involving the death penalty. 
At the same time Theodosius prescribed uniformity of Christian 
doctrine. Arianism,^ which had continued popular in the east 
even after the Council of Nicsea, was now condemned afresh and 
its supporters were compelled to submit or to go into exile. Se- 
vere measures were also enacted against other sects that denied 
the tenets of the orthodox faith. Thus came into being the laws 
against heresy which were to serve as a precedent for all Chris- 
tian states during the next thousand years. And the fact that 
so many generations elapsed before educated rrmi commonly cSs- 
agreed with Theodosius shows how inevitable his policy was. 
Religious toleration is natural only in an age of doubt and 

2 See below, p. 98. 
* See above, p. 43. 



It was an unfortunate coincidence for the Roman Empire that 
both sons of Theodosius were totally unfit to govern, so that in a Stilicho 
tifne of crisis all decisive action devolved on their respective min- and Alanc 
isters. In the west the actual ruler was Stilicho, patricins, master 
of troops, and soon the father-in-law of the emperor. These 
honors, it would seem, failed to satisfy the ambitious Vandal, 
for at the first opportunity he led an army toward Constantinople. 

There Arcadius had been placed under the control of Rufinus, the 
praetorian prefect. The latter, however, had many rivals — among 
them various barbarian generals. Likewise eager for power was 
the talented Alaric, whom the Visigoths now joined in recogniz- 
ing as their king. Theodosius, it will be remembered, had set- 
tled that people as fa^derati along the lower Danube. Northwest 
of them were established in the same way various bands of 
Ostrogoths and Huns; and on the Rhine similar settlements of 
Franks and others had existed from a much earlier time. The 
status of the Visigoths, accordingly, was no novelty. Nor was 
the fact that they should decide to have a king at all disturbing 
to Roman tradition ; such a title implied merely the l^dership of 
a protected tribe and had nothing to do with territorial sover- 
eignty. Alaric, however, longed for high command in the Roman 
army, and his people wanted better lands ; so, on the accessinniv€d 
at the assassination of Rufinus. Then, being occupied for several 

years with affairs in Italy and Afrka, he left tte Goths free to 
continue thdr d(^e(fatio^, wirile a ^ries of adventurers fought 
for qontrrf.of' tte astern ca|atai The was Akrfc 
finally extc^:^ fe«n Ai^Gaditis an military 

and^ havin^^^ped hfe' followers as prepared 

for largA" Atorfc reeei^ed 



population throughout the empire. It was accepted by the ma- 
jority only after it had become the personal faith of the emperor 
and was specially protected by law. Then, during the fourth 
century, it made rapid headway in the army and in official circles. 
The rural districts, however, remained largely pagan — ^as the 
word {pagamis, countryman) itself implies. Besides, the ancient 
cults had powerful support in such strongholds of tradition as 
Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, and Athens. The edicts of Con- 
stantine’s sons proscribing all but Christian worship were declara- 
tions of pious intent, which merely threatened punishment; and 
they were of course repealed by Julian. Valentinian, as we have 
seen, merely restored the system of Constantine ; so the establish- 
ment of Christianity as the only lawful religion of the state was 
primarily due to Theodosius. 

In his earlier reign that emperor, to be sure, seemed inclined 
to maintain the tolerant policy of Valentinian; it was Gratian who 
first defied pagan sentiment by removing the statue of Victory 
from the senate-house in Rome. Later, when Theodosius — ^as he 
believed — ^had defeated Arbogast through the direct intervention 
of God, his faith became more aggressive. With Ambrose,^ the 
great archbishop of Milan, as his spiritual director, Theodosius 
deliberately undertook to suppress every enemy of Christianity. 
Pagan temples were converted to secular purposes, turned into 
Christian churches, or destroyed by fanatics. Minor acts of 
pagan worship were punished with fines, while the performance 
of sacrifices was defined as treason, involving the death penalty. 
At the same time Theodosius prescribed uniformity of Christian 
doctrine. Arianism,^ which had continued popular in the east 
even after the Council of Nicaea, was now condemned afresh and 
its supporters were compelled to submit or to go into exile. Se- 
vere measures were also enacted against other sects that denied 
the tenets of the orthodox faith. Thus came into being the laws 
against heresy which were to serve as a precedent for all Chris- 
tian states during the next thousand years. And the fact that 
so many generations elapsed before educated men commonly dis- 
agreed with Theodosius shows how inevitable his policy was. 
Religious toleration is natural only in an age of doubt and 

2 See below, p. 98. 

® See above, p. 43. 




It was an unfortunate coincidence for the Roman Empire that 
both sons of Theodosius were totally unfit to govern, so that in a Stilicho 
tifne of crisis all decisive action devolved on their respective min- Alaric 
isters. In the west the actual ruler vsras Stilicho, patriciiis, master 
of troops, and soon the father-in-law of the emperor. These 
honors, it would seem, failed to satisfy the ambitious Vandal, 
for at the first opportunity he led an army toward Constantinople. 

There Arcadius had been placed under the control of Rufinus, the 
praetorian prefect. The latter, however, had many rivals — ^among 
them various barbarian generals. Likewise eager for power was 
the talented Alaric, whom the Visigoths now joined in recogniz- 
ing as their king. Theodosius, it will be remembered, had set- 
tled that people as fcrderati along the lower Danube. Northwest 
of them were established in the same way various bands of 
Ostrogoths and Huns; and on the Rhine similar settlements of 
Franks and others had existed from a much earlier time. The 
status of the Visigoths, accordingly, was no novelty. Nor was 
the fact that they should decide to have a king at all disturbing 
to Roman tradition ; such a title implied merely the leadership of 
a protected tribe and had nothing to do with territorial sover- 
eignty. Alaric, however, longed for high command in the Roman 
army, and his people wanted better lands ; so, on the accession of 
Arcadius, the Goths rose in revolt and invaded the defenseless 
provinces of Thrace and Macedonia. 

Stilicho, for reasons best known to himself, avoided hostilities 
with Alaric and marched on Constantinople, where he connived 
at the assassination of Rufinus. Then, being occupied for several 
years with affairs in Italy and Africa, he left the Goths free to 
continue their depredations, while a series of adventurers fought 
for control of the eastern capital. The result was that Alaric 
finally extorted from Arcadius an official military appointment 
and, having equipped his followers as Roman soldiers, prepared 
for larger operations. Just what encouragement Alaric received 
from Constantinople remains doubtful, but in 401 he turned west, 
apparently hoping to force profitable concessions from Honorius. 

The time was well chosen, for his inraskyn of Itaty came just as 
Stilicho was faced wiA the task of drivmg tedc other hordes of 
restless fcs^d^mli from the tipper Ds^he. Fot a number of years 
he staved off by force against the ; and 


population throughout the empire. It was accepted by the ma- 
jority only after it had become the personal faith of the emperor 
and was specially protected by law. Then, during the fourth 
century, it made rapid headway in the army and in official circles. 
The rural districts, however, remained largely pagan — ^as the 
word {paganus, countryman) itself implies. Besides, the ancient 
cults had powerful support in such strongholds of tradition as 
Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, and Athens. The edicts of Con- 
stantine’s sons proscribing all but Christian worship were declara- 
tions of pious intent, which merely threatened punishment; and 
they were of course repealed by Julian. V'alentinian, as we have 
seen, merely restored the system of Constantine ; so the establish- 
ment of Christianity as the only lawful religion of the state was 
primarily due to Theodosius. 

In his earlier reign that emperor, to be sure, seemed inclined 
to maintain the tolerant policy of Valentinian ; it was Gratian who 
first defied pagan sentiment by removing the statue of Victory 
from the senate-house in Rome. Later, when Theodosius — as he 
believed — ^Iiad defeated Arbogast through the direct intervention 
of God, his faith became more aggressive. With Ambrose,- the 
great archbishop of Milan, as his spiritual director, Theodosius 
deliberately undertook to suppress every enemy of Christianity. 
Pagan temples were converted to secular purposes, turned into 
Christian churches, or destroyed by fanatics. Minor acts of 
pagan worship were punished with fines, while the performance 
of sacrifices was defined as treason, involving the deatli penalty. 
At the same time Theodosius prescribed uniformity of Christian 
doctrine. Arianism,^ which had continued popular in the east 
even after the Council of Nicsea, was now condemned afresh and 
its supporters were compelled to submit or to go into exile. Se- 
vere measures were also enacted against other sects that denied 
the tenets of the orthodox faith. Thus came into being the laws 
against heresy which were to serve as a precedent for all Chris- 
tian states during the next thousand years. And the fact that 
so many generations elapsed before educated men commonly dis- 
agreed with Theodosius shows how inevitable his policy was. 
Religious toleration is natural only in an age of doubt and 

^ See below, p. 98. 
* See above, p. 43. 



It was an unfortunate coincidence for the Roman Empire that 
both sons of Theodosius were totally unfit to govern, so that in a 
tifne of crisis all decisive action devolved on their respective min- 
isters. In the west the actual ruler was Stilicho, patricius, master 
of troops, and soon the father-in-law of the emperor. These 
honors, it would seem, failed to satisfy the ambitious Vandal, 
for at the first opportunity he led an army toward Constantinople. 
There Arcadius had been placed under the control of Rufinus, the 
praetorian prefect. The latter, however, had many rivals — ^among 
them various barbarian generals. Likewise eager for power was 
the talented Alaric, whom the Visigoths now joined in recogniz- 
ing as their king. Theodosius, it will be remembered, had set- 
tled that people as fooderati along the lower Danube. Northwest 
of them were established in the same way various bands of 
Ostrogoths and Huns; and on the Rhine similar settlements of 
Franks and others had existed from a much earlier time. The 
status of the Visigoths, accordingly, was no novelty. Nor was 
the fact that they should decide to have a king at all disturbing 
to Roman tradition ; such a title implied merely the leadership of 
a protected tribe and had nothing to do with territorial sover- 
eignty. Alaric, however, longed for high command in the Roman 
army, and his people wanted better lands ; so, on the accession of 
Arcadius, the Goths rose in revolt and invaded the defenseless 
provinces of Thrace and Macedonia. 

Stilicho, for reasons best known to himself, avoided hostilities 
with Alaric and marched on Constantinople, where he connived 
at the assassination of Rufinus. Then, being occupied for several 
years with affairs in Italy and Africa, he left the Goths free to* 
continue their depredations, while a series of adventurers fought 
for control of the eastern capital. The result was that Alaric 
finally extorted from Arcadius an official military appointment 
and, having equipped his followers as Roman soldiers, prepared 
for larger operations. Just what encouragement Alaric received 
from Constantinople remains doubtful, but in 401 he turned west, 
apparently hoping to force profitable concessions from Honorius. 
The time was well chosen, for his invasion of Italy came just as 
Stilicho was faced with the task of driving back other hordes of 
restless fcsderati from the upper Danube. For a number of years 
he staved off disaster by playing one force against the other ; and 

and Alaric 



sack of 

to strengthen the defenses of Italy, he called legions from the west, 
thereby abandoning Gaul and Britain to their fate. 

During all this turmoil, Honorius had done nothing more than 
look after his personal safety. Shutting himself up in Ravenna, 
which had the double protection of walls and impenetrable 
marshes, he had permitted his master of troops to assume all re- 
sponsibility and win all the glory. Now, at last, the emperor 
asserted himself. In a fit of jealous fear, he commanded the 
execution of Stilicho on a charge of treason (408). The order 
was carried out, and so passed from the scene the one man able 
to check the advance of Alaric. The latter immediately invaded 
Italy, where he spent over a year negotiating with the fickle 
Honorius and levying blackmail on the panic-stricken inhabitants. 
Finally, as the emperor still refused to meet his demands, he 
starved Rome into submission and gave the city to his followers 
for three days’ pillage. Laden with booty and holding as a 
hostage the emperor’s sister, Galla Placidia, Alaric then turned 
toward the southern ports where ships had been collected for an 
expedition to Africa. But his fleet was destroyed by a storm, 
and before the end of the year the great adventurer was dead — 
buried, according to the famous story, in the bed of a river tem- 
porarily diverted from its course. 

To contemporaries Alaric’s sack of Rome seemed a frightful 
calamity. Pagan writers blamed it on the desertion of the an- 
cient gods, while Christian apologists called it divine retribution 
for the sins of the Romans. Neither group could restore the 
lost prestige of the empire. Although the Goths had done little 
more than carry off a mass of loose treasure, the incapacity of 
Honorius and the defenseless state of his dominions were clearly 
advertised to the world. Theoretically the empire continued; 
actually, in the west, it disintegrated. Virtually the whole re- 
gion beyond the Alps lapsed into political chaos — ^the prey of bar- 
barian chieftains and other local tyrants. The last of the old 
army in Britain was taken to Gaul by a usurping emperor, who 
was killed in 412. Meanwhile, as the Rhine frontier had been 
stripped of its defenders, hordes of Germans crossed it at will, 
to take whatever they pleased. 

Along the lower valley were the Franks, divided into two main 
groups: Salian and Ripuarian, the dwellers by the sea (sal, salt) 
and the dwellers by the river (ripa, bank). In the later fourth 
century the Salian Franks had already occupied the territory be- 


tween the Meuse and the Sdieldt, where, after checking their The 
further advance, Julian had recognized them as fcederati. Since Germans 
this was a thinly populated region of marsh and dune, the settlers 
had made it thoroughly their own; in the fifth century it knew 
neither the Latin language nor Christianity. Meanwhile the Ri- 
puarian Franks had been repeatedly prevented from crossing the 
frontier. Now, under Honorius, their ambitions were gratified 
and they gradually took over the country between the Rhine and 
the Meuse, together with the cities of Cologne, Aix-la-Chapelle, 
and Trier. Beyond the Moselle, however, their progress was 
blocked by the Burgundians, who had taken Worms, and by the 
Alamans, who had settled the region thenceforth known as Alsace. 

About the same time a conglomerate horde of Vandals, Sueves, 
and Alans^ passed over the Rhine at Mainz and, without stopping 
to preempt any of the frontier districts, pushed on through the 
heart of Gaul into Aquitaine. In 409 they crossed the Pyrenees 
into Spain, already paralyzed by civil war. There, after two years 
of ravaging, they were assigned lands as fcederati; but they were 
not to enjoy their new status for long. 

f-In 412 southern Gaul was occupied by the Visigoths under 
Alaric’s brother, Ataulf. He came with a sort of authorization The 
from Honorius, and witliin a short time he had persuaded Galla Vandals in 
Placidia to become his bride. Ataulf was murdered, but the event 
served only to strengthen the Roman alliance ; for Constantins, the 
new commander of the emperor’s troops, was willing to pay the 
Goths handsomely for the return of Galla Placidii^ The upsliot 
of this melodramatic story was thatfthe princess went back to 
Rome, married Constantins, smd in due coarse of time became 
the mother of the boy who was later to be crowned as Vakntinian 
III. ' Wallia, the successor of Ataulf, was commissioned by the 
government to take Spain away from the Vandals and their 
allies. After a terrific war, the Visigoths destroyed one division 
of the Vandals and most of the Alans. The survivcars then joined 
in electing a king, the famous Gaiseric, who in 429 transferred 
his whole people into Afri^ Of the original invaders, only the 
Sueves ware left in Spam, occupying the region of Galicia in the 
northwest comer. The rest of the peninsula eventually fell to the 
Visigoths, who came to hold a wdl-organized kingdom on both 
sides of the Pyrenees. In Africa Gaiseric met with no- efficient 

* Other Saeves (or SwaWaiis) gave their name to a region of southern Gettnany. 
The Aftins- were not Ommae, bat A^fie nomads related to the Huns. 




Saxons in 

tinian III 


and Aetius 

resistance. Within a dozen years he had taken Carthage and had 
forced Rome to recognize his possession of all the better provinces 
west of Tripoli. From this advantageous position the Vandals, 
collecting a powerful fleet, developed a profitable business of 
piracy through all the adjacent seas — ^the first time in many cen- 
turies that the Roman Empire had felt the lack of a navy. 

The later fifth century thus found a Vandal kingdom in Africa, 
a Suevic kingdom in Spain, a Visigothic kingdom in southern 
Gaul and in Spain, and to the north a series of smaller kingdoms 
held by Alamans, Burgundians, and Franks. Britain, meanwhile, 
had long since been abandoned by the imperial government. 
Honorius, in answer to appeals for aid, told the provincials that 
they would have to look after their own defense as best they 
could. Their best was not very efficacious. From the north 
Piets swept over the wall which Hadrian had built against them ; 
the western coasts were ravaged by Scots from Ireland, the east- 
ern coasts by Saxons from the shores of the North Sea. The 
attacks of these German pirates were, of course, no novelty in 
Britain, but it was not until the collapse of the military govern- 
ment under Honorius that they began to have momentous conse- 
quences. The details of the Saxon occupation given us by later 
chroniclers cannot be trusted. We may only be sure that about the 
middle of the fifth century sporadic raids gave way to perma- 
nent settlement; and as this progressed, Latin civilization was 
wiped out. The surviving British, in so far as they were not 
enslaved by the invaders, were driven into the mountainous re- 
gions of the west. 

In the midst of the havoc to which his weakness had largely 
contributed, Honorius died, to be succeeded by the four-year-old 
Valentinian III. Since the boy^s father was already dead, Galla 
Placidia, ex-queen of the Visigoths, now became regent. That 
lady — for all her remarkable energy — could not command an 
army in the field; so she raised an able general, Aetius, to be 
pafricius and master of troops. By this time the imperial army in 
Italy was reduced mainly to Hunnic mercenaries, and the fact that 
Aetius had spent several years living among that people undoubt- 
edly influenced his military career. Thanks to the Huns, he first 
secured control of Italy; then he undertook the restoration of 
Roman sovereignty in Gaul. As long as the barbarians remained 
within the regions that had been assigned them, Aetius left them 
alone; Whe^i, however, the Burgundians attempted to extend 


their power to the west, they were given over to the mercy of his 
Hunnic followers. Only a remnant of the nation survived, 
to be resettled in the country about Geneva, whence they spread 
south into the valley of the Rhone. Against the powerful Visi- 
gothic kingdom Aetius had no such success ; and as it turned out, 
his hostility was rather abruptly changed to warm friendship. 

The cause lay to the eastward. 

The Huns, as we have seen, had many years ago established 
themselves in southeastern Europe, but until the opening of the Attilaand 
fifth century they had never been combined in more than a loose ^he Huns 
confederation of tribes under separate chieftains. Then, about 
the time of Alaric, one Rua, or Rutila, had secured recognition 
as king throughout a wide region extending from the valley of 
the Don to that of the Danube. Rua was succeeded by his two 
nephews, one of whom, Attila, finally became sole king in 444. 

Physically, this famous chief is described as of the primitive 
nomad type which western eyes found so hideous; and in char- 
acter he was also like his fellows — ^treacherous, cruel, and rapa- 
cious. Attila, however, was no mere brigand. He was pos- 
sessed of a keen intelligence and, though illiterate, was a shrewd 
judge of men — sl born leader and diplomat. Extending and 
consolidating the dominion taken over from his uncle, Attila held 
terroristic sway over countless thousands of Slavs and Germans. 

The former, as usual, were treated as enslaved peasants; the 
latter — including Ostrogoths, Heruls, Gepids, and many others 
— were forced to serve in the Hunnic army. With such an 
overwhelming force at his disposal, Attila was able to treat 
even the proud Roman Empire as a mere dependency. 

In the east the government of Theodosius II proved scarcely 
better than that of Arcadius. The Huns invaded the Balkan The Battle 
provinces at will and carried, devastation to the very outskirts of 
Constantinople. Year after year the treasury was drained of gold 
to provide Attila with regular tribute, thinly disguised as pay pieids^ 
for his services in the Roman army! Then, about the time that (451) 
Theodosius died (450), Attila decided to shift operations to the 
west. Up to this point he had remained on good terms with 
Aetius and had continued to permit many of his subjects to 
enlist in the army of Valentinian III. Now, all at once, Aetius 
found himself deprived of his regular force and menaced by a 
terrifying host of invaders. As the Germans along the Rhine were 
neither united nor reliable, his only possible resource was a 

The death 
of Attila 


The end 
of the 


Visigothic alliance. Fortunately for the Roman cause, Theo- 
doric, king of the Visigoths, recognized the common danger and 
proceeded north tO' join Aetius with a splendid army of veterans. 
In the ensuing battle, fought in the region now known as Cham- 
pagne, Attila was checked; and although Theodoric was num- 
bered among the slain, it was he who deserved credit for the 

The result of this famous battle was that Gaul for the time 
escaped further devastation; beyond that all affirmation is haz- 
ardous, for we cannot tell what Attila would have done had 
he gained the day. It is very unlikely that, except for the purpose 
of exacting tribute, he planned any extensive conquest. As a 
matter of fact, his army was not destroyed; and Aetius seems 
to have used his influence to prevent his allies from following 
up the victory — indicating that he feared the Goths as well as 
the Huns. However this may be, Attila proceeded without 
hindrance to invade Italy, but after approaching Rome and col- 
lecting blackmail, he for some reason turned north again, to 
die in 453. With the passing of their great leader, the Huns 
once more scattered to the four winds and their empire disap- 
peared as rapidly as it had come into being. The subjugated 
Germans regained their independence and for the most part 
entered the Roman service as mercenaries or settled in the 
Danubian provinces as fcrdcratL 

At Constantinople, meanwhile, the dynasty of the great Theo- 
dosius had ended In 450 with the death of his grandson, Theo- 
dosius II, whose one great contribution to history was the code 
that bears his name — a collection of imperial edicts issued since 
the accession of Constantine.® Theodosius II had no heirs, but 
at the last moment he designated as his successor a brave soldier 
named Marcian, whose reign was chiefly remarkable for his 
refusal to pay the accustomed tribute to the Huns, Fortunately 
for the emperor, Attila's diversion toward the west and his sub- 
sequent death obviated the danger of reprisals, and comparative 
peace once more prevailed along the eastern frontier. Mardan’s 
reign lasted for only seven years, when the commander of the 
German mercenaries secured the elevation of an obscure general 
named Leo. Then, to the surprise of all, the new emperor exe- 
cuted his patron and replaced the German troops with Isaursans, 

® See below, p. 120. 


wild mountaineers from soutiiern Asia Minor. Leo’s chief de- 
pendence was the Isaurian chieftain Tarasicodissa, whose name 
was changed to Zeno when he married the emperor’s daughter. 

As the result of that happy alliance, Zeno himself secured the 
throne in 474; ^^nd the new Rome, though ruled by a strange 
Roman, at least escaped the danger of a German dictatorship. 

In the west, the old tale of incompetence and treachery, of 
murder and pillage, still continued. Galla Placidia died in 450, 
leaving the general Aetius all-powerful at court. Valentinian III 
did nothing until 454, when he unexpectedly developed enough 
energy, with the help of another conspirator, to murder Aetius 
— 3. deed which led to his own assassination in the following 
year. With tliis appropriate termination of the Theodosian 
house, the emperors at Rome became a series of puppets, set up 
and pulled down by barbarian chieftains. Momentarily, indeed, 

Italy was left without a military government, and the crafty 
Gaiseric used the opportunity for carrying out an unhampered 
sack of the capital. Sailing up the Tiber, the Vandals deliber- 
ately and systematically stripped Rome of its treasures, including 
even the gilded roofs of the temples. Yet in spite of the reputa- 
tion attached to their name in popular language, the Vandals 
seem to have stopped short of wanton destruction. Like Alaric’s 
Goths, they left the city empty of valuables, but standing. 

A few months later such an enterprise would have been im- 
possible, for Ricimer, a Suevic adventurer, by disposing of vari- Ridmer 
ous rivals, secured the position earlier held by Aetius and Stilicho. (4S'5“72) 
Until his death Ricimer ruled Italy to suit himsdf, installing 
four emperors one after the other and treating all with open (47^2) 
effrontery. For a short time after 472 no successor to Ricimer’s 
office appeared, and in the interim an emperor was sent over 
from Constantinople — 3 feeble effort toward imperial unity that 
accomplished notliing. In 475 Orestes, ex-secretary of Attila, 
obtained control of the army and deposed the eastern candidate 
in favor of his son, Romulus, nicknamed Augustulus. The troops 
who had made possible the coup cPetat were German mercenaries 
— Heruls and others who, since the death of Attila, had been 
settled in the Danubian provinces — ^and they now demanded their 
reward. Instead of being quartered in barracks, they wanted 
lands on which they could live like other barbarian gentlemen. 

Orestes refused; so the army proclaimed as king one of their 
own number, a certain Odovakar, or Odoacer, and in 476 he 

The end 
of the 

The rise of 





slew Orestes and deposed Romulus. The comedy was now 
played out. Odoacer dispensed with the farce of a western em- 
peror and sent the imperial insignia to Zeno at Constantinople, 
who in return allowed him the traditional title of patriciiis. 

In theory, the empire was once more united under one Au- 
gustus, but this was mere pretense. Odoacer, whatever his 
Roman title, ruled as the king of the Heruls and the other 
Germans who had raised him on their shields. Italy, with the 
removal of the shadow-emperor, became frankly a barbarian king- 
dom, like those already established in Africa, Spain, Britain, 
and Gaul. So, although the events of the year 476 were in them- 
selves relatively insignificant, they served to proclaim the passing 
of a great state. By the later fifth century Rome as a world 
power was dead, and in its place had definitely emerged a new 
political system which thenceforth, with temporary interruptions, 
was to characterize Europe. 

As long as he was left undisturbed, Odoacer was entirely will- 
ing to maintain the fiction of imperial control ; but his reverence 
did not extend to the point of tamely submitting when, in 488, 
Zeno sent another man to oust him. This was Theodoric the 
Ostrogoth, whose career is worth describing in some detail be- 
cause it may be considered the ideal of all the barbarian adven- 
turers. After the death of Attila, many Germanic peoples who 
had been subjects of the Huns were admitted as fwderati to the 
Danubian provinces. Among them were three Ostrogothic tribes 
under their respective kings. The usual altercations then en- 
sued over lands and subsidies, with the result that in 461 the 
emperor Leo arranged a new treaty with his troublesome allies: 
and in this connection one of the three kings sent his son Theo- 
doric as a hostage to Constantinople. There the boy remained 
for eight years, acquiring a warm admiration for Roman ways 
and absorbing at least a modicum of Greek and Latin culture. 

In 471, on the death of his father, Theodoric was elected king, 
and he immediately became involved in the maze of intrigue and 
violence which then characterized imperial politics. Theodoric 
played his cards skillfully and for a time enjoyed high favor at 
court, rising to be a Roman citizen, master of troops, and pa* 
fricius. In the year 484 he was actually named as one of the two 
consuls for the capital. He disposed of various rivals and united 
the Goths under his leadershijx But before long he was again 
at odds with the emperor and fell back on Alaric^s device of ex- 


torting further concessions by ravaging Thrace. Finally, in 488, 

Zeno hit upon the happy expedient of sending him to Italy with a 
commission against Odoacer. A change of administration in the 
west could not hurt the emperor, and he would be rid of a man 
who had grown dangerously powerful. 

Theodoric accepted the proposal and in 489 led his Ostrogoths 
over the Alps toward Rome. A series of battles gave him the Theo- 
mastery of the peninsula, except for the city of Ravenna, where 
Odoacer withstood a siege of two and a half years. Then, under 
the auspices of the local bishop, a treaty was sworn by the (489-93) 
antagonists under which they agreed to share the rule of Italy. 

As far as Theodoric was concerned, this was a mere ruse; for 
in the course of the banquet held to celebrate the reconciliation, 
he suddenly fell upon Odoacer and slew him. At the same time 
his troops carried out a general massacre of all important persons 
in the opposing army. By Ihis murder — and was it much fouler 
than that committed by Valentinian III? — ^the Ostrogoth became 
the unchallenged ruler of Italy. He made no change in legal 
relationships. Like Odoacer, he continued to hold a sort of im- 
perial lieutenancy, implied by his titles of pafricnts and master 
of troops, together with a personal kingship over his Germanic 
followers. How he organized his state will be seen in the fol- 
lowing section. 


From the facts noted above it should be quite clear thdt the 

Roman Empire did not fall through the shock of foreign conquest Thenature 

or become barbarized through any deliberate attack on its an- of the 

cient culture. When we come to examine the problem closely, 

... ., .... invasions 

It IS by no means simple to tell just what the barbarian invasions 

were. In the later fourth century the empire already contained 
thousands of Germans, but they were not ipvaders. They were 
men recruited by the government to serve in the regular army 
or settled as auxiliaries along the frontiers. The former, espe- 
cially, often attained full Roman rights and rose to high posi- 
tions in state and society. If they failed to become thoroughly 
Latinized, it was not because of antagonism on their part. The 
case of Alaric was fundamentally nothing new. In spite of 
attendant disorders, the Visigoths were officially admitted to the 
empire and awarded definite legal status. Alaric, like Stilicho, 
became master of tro^ m the imperial army. Although his 



methods were somewhat crude, he did not introduce civil war and 
rapine as novelties to the Roman troops. 

Then came the great barbarian inroads into Gaul. Franks, 
Alamans, Burgundians, Vandals and others poured across the 
frontier. Most of them, presumably, came without invitation; 
yet, ultimately, their occupation of Roman soil was legalized and 
their position in the state became indistinguishable from that 
of other foederati, such as the Visigoths and the Salian Franks. 
And when the mercenaries of Orestes revolted and proclaimed 
Odoacer as their king, they also were given lands and so became 
domiciled allies like the rest. Where does employment of bar- 
barians end and invasion by barbarians begin? If we allow our- 
selves to become fascinated by the forms of law, we may ulti- 
mately decide that there were neither invasions nor barbarians; 
that there was neither a western empire nor a fall of Rome. 

The truth is, of course, that by the fifth century legal theory 
was wholly belied by actuality. Under Aurelian Dacia was defi- 
nitely abandoned to the Goths; under Valentinian III Britain 
was no less definitely abandoned to the Saxons. For a time 
the imperial government kept up a pretense of authority in 
Africa ; but in the face of Gaiseric’s deeds, it could have deceived 
no one. By more gradual stages, Spain and Gaul were also lost. 
Whatever the official explanation of settlement by fcederati, those 
provinces were conquered and organized into kingdoms by vari- 
ous Germanic peoples. After 476, although Zeno in theory held 
the administration of an undivided empire, and although his 
sovereignty was specifically recognized by Odoacer and Theo- 
doric, he had as little real power in Italy as in Dacia. Zeno, 
himself a soldier and a semibarbarous one at that, unquestionably 
realized the truth. If he did nothing to change th€ situation, 
it was because he lacked the strength. Before long the strength 
was to be found, and used, by the clear-sighted Justinian. 

Another question raised by the history of Rome in the fifth 
The fate century is why the eastern half of the empire was able to survive 
of the east while the western half fell into ruin. The entire administrative 
system, civil and military, was the same in both regions, and it 
of the west ^ Latin, not a Greek, creation. Why should it perish in 
the land where it was native and persist in that where it was 
foreign? In the time of Augustus Hellenic civilization had long 
seemed decadent; yet it outlived that of the younger and pre- 
sumably more vigorous people. In large part this strange cul- 


mination was due to mere accident. Although the empire, 
through sheer weakness, was doomed to lose some of its west- 
ern provinces, Italy could surely have been hdd if the govern- 
ment there had been a little more efficient The rulers of the 
east were remarkable neither for wisdom nor for energy. It 
was only their good fortune that, sooner or later, most of the 
barbarian hordes were attracted to the rich lands of the west, 
and that the Persians launched no great offensive for another 
century and a half. 

Nevertheless, the divergent fate of east and west throughout 
the ensuing centuries suggests that we are dealing with scone- 
thing more fundamental than what we call luck. The empire in 
the east displayed a really astonishing vitality, surviving the 
Theodosian d3masty for a thousand years. During this entire 
period its life was the city of Constantinople, which still main- 
tained the imperial tradition after all its provinces had been 
given up. The old capital was utterly unable to support itself, 
for its population produced nothing. Deprived of the surround- 
ing dominions from which its wealth had been drawn, Rome was 
faced with extinction. Even as a military position, it was in- 
ferior to many other cities; Alaric proved that it could easify 
be reduced by cutting off the grain supplies from Africa. The 
new capital, on the other hand, quickly became the center of a 
flourishing trade that down to the present has never lagged. 

Like Alexandria, it has been a constant source of wealth for 
the power that has held it. And of all cities ever built, it is 
one of the most impregnable. Being on the sea, it cannot be 
starved into submission by a land force; with proper defense, 
it is immune from attack by water. How could a state utterly 
fail when it held Constantinople? 

In this connection it may be noted that the imperial gov- 
ernment in the east ccmtinued to run on a cash basis, employing The 
a paid bureaucracy and a mercenary army — which would ob- continued 
viously have been impossible if commerce load not been the chief 
resource of the state. It is surely significant that by the end of 
the fifth century the emperor was able to repeal much of the op- 
pressive legislation contained in the Theodosian Code — ^such as 
the burdensome tax on trades and professions, ffie responsibility 
of the curial class for the annona, and various other measures 
whkh had tend^ to in^Kjse a caste system on society. In the 
west no ecbnoJ!^ recovery took place. Instead, the decline &at 


(d- 383) 
and his 


had begun to have serious consequences in the third century 
gained increasing headway, to culminate, after the barbarian 
invasions, in what is known as the Dark Age./ 

Inevitably, under such conditions, the decay of Latin arts and 
letters continued unchecked. The restoration of order under 
Diocletian and Constantine, it is true, led to a sort of literary 
revival extending from the later fourth to the early sixth century. 
Yet, as will be seen in the next chapter, it produced almost noth- 
ing that was vital or original; and the Christian writings of 
that age, which included some eminent works, were in both style 
and spirit utterly foreign to the classic tradition. It is plain 
that, in many respects, the barbarization of society actually pre- 
ceded the barbarian invasions. Latin culture had been weak- 
ening for two centuries before the reign of Honorius. The 
new rulers of the provinces were not altogether to blame for 
the continuation of the process. Many of them, in fact, were 
interested in preserving what they could of Roman institutions. 

Of all the barbarians who settled within the empire in the 
fifth century, the J^oth s were furthest advanced in civilization. 
Even before they were permitted to cross the Danube, most of 
them had been converted to Christianity. Their’ first bishop was 
Ulfila s. It is said that one of his parents was a Greek Christian 
who had been captured by the barbarians. At any rate, Ulfilas 
was brought up in the faith and he devoted his life to spreading 
it among his countrymen. It so happened, however, that he had 
been trained and consecrated by the bishop of Constantinople, 
who was then the leader of the Arian faction. Ultimately, the 
Goths had the tragic experience of finding that they were here- 
tics. In an age when such questions aroused a fanatical ani- 
mosity that to us seems incredible, Arianism was to prove a great 
disadvantage to all the nations that upheld it — ^not only to the 
Goths, but also to the Vandals, the Burgundians, and the 

Along with Arianism, Ulfilas introduced the Goths to a regular 
system of writing — an art which the primitive Germans seem 
to have regarded as a sort of magic. From an early time certain 
rudimentary letters, or runes, had been known to a few skilled 
persons among them, who thereby were able to send secret mes- 
sages and, according to legend, to make powerful charms. Occa- 
sionally runes were also used for inscriptions on monuments, 
sword blades, and the like; but as far as we know, they were 


never adapted to more extensive composition. Accordingly, it 
was not until a Germanic people had been converted to Chris- 
tianity that its spoken dialect as a whole came to be expressed 
in writing, and for that purpose the Greek or the Latin alphabet 
was employed. In the history of literature the Gothic transla- 
tion of the Scriptures by Ulfilas ranks as .a momentous event, 
for it gives us our first direct knowledge of a Germanic language. 

The work is doubly precious because, on settling within the em- 
pire, most of the Germans adopted Latin for official and literary 

All the barbarian kingdoms on Roman soil at the end of the 
fifth century combined Roman and Germanic institutions, but Thegov- 
the combination w^as in varying proportions. The most thor- emment of* 
oughly Roman was that of the Ostrogoths in Italy. Thanks to 
good accounts of Theodoric by contemporary Greek historians, to (493-526) 
the letters of his talented secretary, Cassiodorus, and to the legal 
compilation described as the Edict of Theodoric, his government 
is very fully known. Under him the ancient administrative sys- 
tem continued without a break. He was surrounded by officials 
bearing the same titles as of old — ^governor, vicar, praetorian 
prefect, master of offices, count of the sacred largesses, and the 
like. At Rome the consuls and other magistrates were still an- 
nually installed and the senate still enjoyed tremendous prestige. 
Theodoric’s decrees were principally devoted to the enforcement 
of the Roman law. His taxes were the same as those collected 
under the Theodosian house. He even distributed grain to the 
populace of the capital and provided the accustomed shows. All 
military power, on the other hand, was reserved to the Goths, 
who were settled as fcederati on the lands assigned to them — 
presumably in the north of Italy. They continued to be governed 
by their ancient customs, because, not being Roman citizens, they 
had no recourse to the Roman law. They could not marry into 
Roman families and they were not eligible to civil office. This, 
however, was a legal disability, not one of race or of nationality. 

By act of the emperor a Goth might be made a Roman, as in 
fact Theodoric himself had been; and he was very proud of the 

In strict theory the kingship of the Ostrogoth, like that of 
Odoacer, was a personal leadership conferred by a group of 
Germans domiciled in the empire; his military and civil authority 
in Italy rested ttfK>n offices given him by Zeno. When dealing 


to Roman 





with the barbarian princes of the west, he acted as one sovereign 
among others, but he always treated the emperor with great defer- 
ence. His scrupulous attitude in such matters and the careful 
distinctions maintained throughout his government were not at 
all necessary; they arose from his admiration of Rome and all 
that it stood for. In every possible respect Theodoric consci- 
entiously tried to be a good Roman. Although he is said to have 
been illiterate, the greatest Latin writers of the day served at 
his court : Cassiodorus as his secretary, and Boethius as his mas- 
ter of offices.® He paid considerable attention to the repairing of 
aqueducts and other ancient monuments; and he himself erected 
buildings at Ravenna that rivaled in splendor the earlier structures 
of Galla Placidia — ^not of course in the style misnamed Gothic, 
but in that called Byzantine.*^ He favored the church and, in 
spite of the fact that he was an Arian, kept on remarkably good 
terms with the orthodox clergy. So great was his reputation for 
honesty that a disputed election to the bishopric of Rome was 
brought to him for settlement. He W’as a firm believer in tolera- 
tion and, once in power, generally abstained from acts of terror- 
ism. Aside from the rather mysterious execution of Boethius 
on a charge of treason, his reign ended in general tranquillity and 
good feeling — a bright interlude in a gloomy tragedy of degra- 

Next to Theodoric^s kingdom, that of the Visigoths was the 
strongest and best governed in the west. That people, as already 
remarked, had long been lawfully established in Aquitaine, and, 
as the consequence of their wars with the Vandals, had extended 
their dominion into Spain, where they encroached more and more 
upon the Roman provinces and upon the Suevic kingdom in the 
northwest. Under their able and warlike king, Eurk (466-84), 
the Visigoths also pushed rapidly eastward until they had secured 
most of Provence. Euric, like Theodoric, issued a code of law, 
and from it we can glean considerable information concerning the 
institutions of his state. In general, the government still fol- 
lowed Roman precedent, but not so completely as that of the 
Ostrogoth. Most of the great administrative officials had disap- 
peared. Each city with its surrounding territory was under the’ 
control of a count. Romans and Goths were legally distinct, each 
group being subject to its own law; and most of the Goths still 

« See below, p. 96. 

^ See below, p. 127. 


wore their barbarian dress and spoke their native language. The 
two groups of noblemen, however, dwelt side by side, gaining a 
livelihood from estates worked by slaves and coloni', and the 
invaders, being numerically weaker, soon tended to lose many of 
their old peculiarities. Latin was the language of the govern- 
ment and was generally spoken by all persons in authority. Al- 
though Germanic custom still persisted, it was of secondary 

Much the same conclusions may be drawn with regard to 
Africa, where, in spite of their military prowess, the Vandals The 
were swallowed up in a Latin population. What seems to be a Vandal 
reliable estimate — indeed a rarity in the chronicles of that day! 

— ogives the number of the Vandals who crossed from Spain 
as 80,000 all told. So Gaiseric’s force of warriors could hardly 
have been larger than that of Alaric after the sack of Rome, 
which is reported as 40,000. Such a group, though controlling 
the government by force of arms, could not possibly keep its 
national identity for very long, and with the adoption of lux- 
urious ways, the fierce vigor of the invaders rapidly ebbed. Upon 
his conquest of Africa, Gaiseric had forcibly usurped all im- 
perial authority, and under his despotic control the Vandal king- 
dom remained a great power in the western Mediterranean. But 
after the heroic founder had gone, his state weakened, and within 
a little more than half a century it had been utterly destroyed. 

The details of its constitution may therefore be passed over as 
a matter of relatively slight importance. 

As far as the Saxon kingdoms are concerned, their definite his- 
tory hardly begins before the introduction of Christianity in the The Saxon 
seventh century. For the earlier period we have practically no 
records ; we may be sure of only a few simple facts that may be ” 
deduced from the writings of a later day. By tradition there 
were three Germanic peoples who invaded the province : Angles, 

Saxons, and Jutes. The last of these, we are told, settled in 
Kent, and that region long continued to have marked peculiari- 
ties of custom. Angles and Saxons, on the other hand, seem to 
have been much the same. It does not matter whether we say 
Angles (i.e., English) or Saxons or Anglo-Saxons. This latter 
term, however, is useful to distinguish the Saxons of Britain from 
the Saxons of the continent. And in referring to the language 
of the barbarian conquerors, one has to say Anglo-Saxon or Old 
English, for they did not speak what we know as English, but 



The Bur- 
and the 
in Gaul 

The reign 
of Clovis 

various dialects related to Low German. Knowledge of Latin 
in Britain virtually disappeared by the sixth century, and 
when it was reintroduced by Christian missionaries, it never en- 
tirely supplanted the vernacular even in formal documents. We 
thus find writings in Anglo-Saxon, transcribed 4 n Latin charac- 
ters, as early as the seventh century, when certain local kings 
began to record the customary law in statements known as dooms. 
From these sources may be drawn much interesting detail con- 
cerning Germanic law and institutions — a subject on which more 
will be said in the following pages. 

In Gaul, as we have just seen, the Visigoths toward the later 
fifth century held the whole Mediterranean coast as far east 
as the Alps. To the north of Provence, meanwhile, the Bur- 
gundians had gradually built up a considerable kingdom, one 
of the most peaceable and the most thoroughly Romanized among 
the barbarian states. Settled as foederati in the region about 
Geneva, the Burgundians had pushed their dominion into the 
valley of the Rhone to include the important city of Lyons — 
the country since known as Burgundy. Here their position was 
formally recognized by the emperor, toward whom — ^through 
"fear of the Visigoths — ^they continued to be very respectful. And 
here they remained;' protected by the rivalry of their neighbors 
until the sudden advance of the Franks broke the established bal- 
ance and threw all Gaul into turmoil. For tlie early history of 
this famous people we are mainly dependent on Gregory of Tours, 
a famous bishop of the next century.® ITis account, of course, 
is largely based on tradition; but, while malting due allowance 
for the author’s easily recognized prejudices, we have every rea- 
son to believe in the essential truth of the story as he gives it 

In 481 a fifteen-year-old boy named Chlodowech— or, in mod- 
ernized form, Clovis — ^became one among several kings of the 
Salian Franks. He was the son of Childeric and the grandson 
of Merowech, and from the latter is derived the name applied to 
the family — Merovingian. The little territory which he inher- 
ited was about the city of Tournai, for as yet the Salians had 
made no attempt to penetrate far into Gaul. To the east of them 
lived the Ripuarian Franks and the Alamans. Below the Loire 
lay the great kingdom of the Visigoths. But between the latter 
and the Frankish lands a Gallo-Roman adventurer named Sya- 

« See below, pp. 158 £F. 

medi;eval history 

His con- 
quest of 

His con- 
version to 


grius maintained a sort of imperial governorship by means of a 
small mercenary army. Up to this point the Franks had seemed 
the least formidable of the barbarian peoples. Now, as if they 
had merely been waiting for an energetic leader, they rapidly 
became the dominant power in the west. 

Of Clovis’s character and motives we have no direct account, 
but his acts were eloquent. He must have been an ambitious 
man of tremendous personal force, combining audacity with 
shrewd calculation ; and he certainly was unscrupulous. In 486, 
heading a coalition of all the Salian chiefs, Clovis fell upon Sya- 
grius at Soissons, destroyed his army, and took over his do- 
minions. Following up his victory, the Frank then extended 
his power — ^by just what steps we do not know — over a wide 
territory reaching west to Brittany, south to the Loire, and east 
to the Meuse. This success marked him as an important politi- 
cal figure. His sister was now married to Theodoric the Ostro- 
goth, and he himself secured as bride the Burgundian princess 
Clotilda, who, in spite of her Arian relatives, had become an 
orthodox Christian. But Clovis, according to Gregory of Tours, 
remained heathen until God had helped him, like another Con- 
stantine, to win a battle over the Alamans in 496. However 
that may be, Clovis did intervene in a war between the Ripuarian 
Franks and the Alamans, with the result that the latter were 
crushed. While the fragments of their nation secured new lands 
in Rhaetia from the Ostrogothic king, Clovis took possession of 
their former holdings on the Rhine. 

About the same timet Clovis was induced to accept orthodox 
Christianity. Many facfors, apart from supernatural influences, 
helped to bring about the result, notably the urging of his wife 
and of the bishops throughout the Gallic provinces. Clovis, as a 
statesmanlike ruler, could readily perceive an enormous advan- 
tage in adopting the faith of the Roman world. All the impor- 
tant barbarian kings were Arians. Could he not, as champion 
of the true church, surpass them all? So he was baptized at 
Reims by the bishop Remigius who, says Gregory, admonished 
him in the famous words: ‘^Meekly bow thy head, O proud 
Frank. Adore what thou hast burned; burn what thou hast 
adored.” This was one of Europe’s great events, for it. led 
straight to the establishment of a Frankish empire in the wes^ 

Having disposed of the Alamans, Clovis turned to his other 
rivals in Gaul, the Burgundians and the Visigoths. The former 


were beaten, but spared on condition that they should engage 
in a joint campaign against the Visigoths. The decisive battle 
was fought in 507 at Vouille, near Poitiers, where Alaric II, the 
incompetent son of Euric, was slain. All his dominions north 
of the Pyrenees were being threatened by the allies when Theo- 
doric, whose warnings had been left unheeded, intervened to 
check the Frankish advance. Provence he occupied and kept 
for himself; the coast to the west, Septimania, he restored to 
the Visigoths. Clovis meanwhile took the rest of Aquitaine; 
and at Tours, in 508, he enjoyed the honor of wearing a purple 
robe sent him by the emperor, along with a privilege making him 
honorary consul. Although he was now “Roman” as well as 
Christian, he remained at heart the same old barbarian. Gregory 
tells how, by treachery and assassination, Clovis disposed of the 
other Salian kings ; how he instigated the murder of the Ripuarian 
king by the latter’s son; how he then sent messengers who, by 
a clever trick, slew the son ; and how he acquire 4 all the Frankish 
territory. “For daily,” remarks the pious Gregory, “the Lord 
laid his enemies low under his hand and increased his kingdom, 
because he walked before Him with an upright heart, and did 
that which was pleasing in His sight” 

To Clovis likewise we owe the remarkable document known 
as the Salic Law — a sort of code which he issued somewhere 
toward the end of his reign. The Edict of Theodoric, as we have 
seen, was principally derived from the Roman law; so was the 
collection made by the Visigothic king, Alaric II, and that by 
the Burgundian king, Gundobad. To a large degree, in fact, 
they were adaptations of the Theodosian Code, to govern cases 
affecting the Roman population. If the barbarian subjects of 
these kings were still tried according to Germanic custom,, the 
latter was not considered worthy of formal statement. Qovis’s 
compilation, on the other hand, reflected the institutions of the 
Franks themselves, and for that reason is of extraordinary in- 
terest to the historian. Among the Franks, as among the Anglo- 
Saxons and other Germanic peoples, law was essentially popular 
custom. It was not created by royal legislation; the duty of the 
king was merely to enforce it. For this purpose he appointed 
officials to preside over courts where decisions were made by the 
assembled freemen of the district. 

For his share in the administration of justice, the king re- 
ceived a portion of all sums collected from convicted persons, 

His con- 
quests in 
Gaul and 
among the 

The Salic 





but as yet the concept of crime had hardly emerged. Homicide, 
assault, theft, and other misdeeds were considered offenses against 
the individual and his kindred. If they were not compensated, 
they were entitled to secure revenge by prosecuting the blood 
feud. The Salic Law, like the Anglo-Saxon dooms, therefore 
consists largely in elaborate tariffs of charges made for all sorts 
of injuries. Their minute distinctions of penalty introduce us to 
the habits and prejudices of a primitive folk. Among the Franks, 
for example, to call a man a fox or a hare was an affront punish- 
able by fine ; to say that a man had thrown away his shield — z, 
reminiscence of Tacitus — ^was as serious as to strike him with 
the fist. From the list of sums paid for manslaughter — ^generally 
known as tvcrgelds — ^we furthermore obtain valuable information 
concerning social classes. The sum paid for a free Frank was 
tripled if the person were in the king’s service. This is clear evi- 
dence of a nobility based on the advancing power of the monarchy. 
And by the same test we may distinguish various groups of semi- 
free peasants between the warrior class and that of the slaves 

Trials, according to Germanic law, were extremely formalistic. 
First of all, the plaintiff had to summon the defendant and see 
that he appeared. Then a formal accusation was made by re- 
peating a solemn oath, and the court decided how the accused 
should clear himself. Occasionally a man of high reputation 
would be allowed to do so merely by swearing that he was inno- 
cent ; an ordinary person would normally have to bring a stated 
number of oath-helpers — ^nien who would swear with him that 
he was innocent. This process, called compurgation, did not 
require the production of any evidence. The oath was a sort of 
test by which, in theory, God would not allow the guilty to 
escape. So any failure to repeat the right w^ords, any hesitation, 
or any stuttering cost the defendant his case. 

As a further example of primitive formalism may be cited 
the custom of the chrenecruda reported in the Salic Law: 

If any one shall have killed a man, and having given up all his 
property, shall not have enough to fulfil the requirement of the law, 
he shall present twelve oath-helpers to swear that, neither above the 
earth nor under it, has he any more property than he has already 
given. Then he shall go into his house and shall gather in his hand 
dust from its four corners ; and then he shall stand upon the thres- 
hold, looking toward the interior, and then shall throw over his 


shoulder some of tliat dust upon the nearest relative that he has.. . • 
And then in his shirt, without girdle and without shoes, and with a 
staff in his hand, he shall jump over his hedge. 

By this procedure his nearest relative, or other persons thus desig- 
nated, became obligated to pay the remainder of the wergeld 
that was owed. Such were the legal usages that throughout a 
large portion of the western provinces came to supersede the an- 
cient and dignified law of Rome. 

At this point the account of the Germans in the empire must 
be broken off in order to examine other significant developments. 
If the period just reviewed seems no more than a wild confusion 
of disconnected happenings, that is inevitable. The history of 
Rome in the fifth century is, by itself, almost as meaningless as 
a nightmare. Of what was to emerge from that chaos no one 
at the time could have had the slightest inkling. The historian, 
wise after the event, can point to certain institutions as destined 
to survive. Of outstanding importance among them were the 
Christian Church, the Frankish monarchy, and the imperial gov- 
ernment at Constantinople. But the great Roman Empire was a 
thing of the past. The fate of the European world was thence- 
forth to lie with the barbarian peoples. 




rank of 


tion on a territorial basis modeled on that of the empire. In the 
earlier period the Christians of each city formed a relatively small 
community. At the head of it was a bishop, assisted in matters 
of worship by a group of priests; in matters of administration 
by a group of deacons. Yet the bishop remained^ in close touch 
with his congregation ; and when he died, his place was filled by 
a somewhat informal election, for the person to receive consecra- 
tion was designated by the faithful over whom he was to preside. 
Later, when the whole Roman world had been officially Chris- 
tianized, the government of the church inevitably became more 
complex and more rigidly defined. The unit of episcopal admin- 
istration remained the Roman civitas, eventually called the dio- 
cese. In each important city there was one and only one bishop, 
whose church was the cathedral.^ The diocese was then sub- 
divided into parishes, both urban and rural, each of which was 
intrusted to a priest named by the bishop. The deacons came to 
have important functions in connection with the mass and other 
services of the church, while routine work was passed on to a 
greatly increased staff of subordinates. As the episcopal office 
rose to greater prominence in 'sefciety and politics, it became a 
prize to be secured through influential patrons, or even to be 
fought over by rival factions. Consequently, although we still 
hear of episcopal elections in which popular acclaim was the de- 
cisive factor, the choice of a bishop was gradually taken over 
by the clergy of the diocese, and little was left to the populace 
but a sort of confirmatory applause to mark the end of the pro- 

In both civil and ecclesiastical administration a number of cizd- 
fates were combined to form a province, within each of which 
one city served as the metropolis. The bishop of such a city 
was styled the archbishop or metropolitan, and to him was nor- 
mally given the right of consecrating all bishops within his juris- 
diction. So far there was general agreement; but with regard 
to the higher ranks there were many causes of dispute. If the 
imperial system of government were applied in its entirety to the 
church, there would have to be prelates corresponding to the 
vicars and prefects. And would not the ultimate authority then 
be shared by the bishops of Rome and of Constantinople? As a 
matter of fact, the analogy was pushed to the extent of allowing 

1 From cathedra, the episcopal chair. The bishop's diocese is also called his 
see — from sedes, seat. 


certain bishops the title of primate or of patriarch, and the bishops 
of the two great capitals were exalted above all others. Never- 
theless, a rigorous hierarchy of ecclesiastical offices exactly corre- 
sponding to that of the state was never established. Although 
the influence of such an ideal was clearly perceptible in some 
quarters, it was offset from an early time by a factor of a totally 
different sort. This was the matter of apostolic foundation. 

If the authority of the bishop and the authority of Scripture 
were alike based on tradition, and that tradition was considered 
essentially apostolic, a church that could point to an apostle as 
its founder would inevitably be regarded with peculiar venera- 
tion. In the east there were a number of such churches, but 
only those of Alexandria and Antioch — cities of outstanding 
political importance — ^were mentioned in the canons of Nicsea as 
holding, along with Rome, special powers by virtue of ancient 
custom. Some writers were Inclined to add Jerusalem, but in 
that city there had really been no continuity of Christian organ- 
ization. The old Jerusalem had been destroyed by Titus; the 
Jerusalem of subsequent centuries was a new. settlement founded 
by Hadrian. In the west, at any rate, there was no ground for 
controversy. By the test either of apostolic foundation or of 
civil preeminence, Rome stood alone. 

The early history of the Christian community in the capital 
remains very obscure. According to a tradition which even 
Protestant scholars are today inclined to accept, both St. Peter 
and St. Paul ^were martyred at Rome, and the church there has 
always claimed the former of those apostles as its founder. The 
bishop of Rome, or pope, as he came to be known, has thus been 
distinguished as the successor of St. Peter and, on the basis of 
that succession, has proclaimed the doctrine of the Petrine su- 
premacy. In the Gospel of Matthew occur the famous words of 
Christ : 

And I say also unto thee that thou art Peter,^ and upon this rock^ 
I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against 
it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: 
and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven ; 
and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven, 

* In Aramaic, the veraacnlat pf Palestine, both words are Caipha, This has 
been called the.greatcsb pmn in histo^. It is partially kept in Greek and Latin 
by Peiros(m) and feitm. Mc^^rnt xvi, 18-19. 

The theory 
of the 



Damasus I 

issues of 
the fifth 


So the apostlesj according to the Roman view, were not endowed 
with equal powers but were placed under the headship of Peter 
— a headship which inevitably made the church a papal monarchy. 

To state this theory was of course one matter; to enforce it, 
quite another. For the first two Christian centuries the known 
history of the papacy is little more than the names of the bishops, 
and the oldest assertion of their primacy in the church comes 
not from them, but from ’others. It is only after the time of 
Constantine that certain popes begin to emerge from the sources 
as distinct individuals. Damasus, as far as we know, was the 
first to describe the Roman church as the Apostolic See — a 
phrase that was to serve as the ke3mote of his entire pontificate. 
In rapid succession he promulgated a positive statement of the 
Petrine supremacy, a digest of Roman belief and discipline, and 
what was henceforth to be the official canon of the New Testa- 
ment. And it was Daqjasus who encouraged the eminent scholar 
Jerome® to revise the Latin translation of the Bible. The papal 
exposition of the' orfftOdox faith was accepted in both east and 
west and had the active support of the emperor Theodosius. But 
the general council which he called at Constantinople in 381 
flatly contradicted the Roman claim that ecclesiastical authority 
was solely a matter of apostolic tradition. By declaring that Con- 
stantinople was the second see of Christendom because it was the 
new Rome, it implied that Rome was the first see merely because 
it was the older capital. Thus two irreconcilable views were 
brought into conflict, and although as yet both parties worked 
together in apparent harmony, the groundwork was laid for seri- 
ous controversy in the following centuries. 

The policy of the emperors was obviously opposed to the estab- 
lishment of an ecclesiastical monarchy except one reserved to 
themselves. As long as Rome remained the chief city of a prince 
who considered himself divinely appointed to control both church 
and state, the Roman bishop could hardly be more than a promi- 
nent subordinate — as, in fact, the patriarch of Constantinople 
continued to be in relation to the emperor there. The clergy of 
the new Rome were only too willing to proclaim their see co- 
ordinate with that of the pope. Nor was it certain that such 
apostolic foundations as Alexandria and Antioch, or even such 
western churches as Carthage and Milan, would accede to the 

* See bdow, p. 99. 


Roman program in its entirety. These issues could not be set- 
tled in a day or in a century ; they were left to be determined by 
historical circumstance, which one may or may not read as the 
working out of divine providence. It is in any case amazing how 
the events of the succeeding age conspired to enhance the papal 

In the fifth century came the collapse of the empire in the 
west, which not only removed the emperor from Rome but gave 
the western provinces into the hands of heathen and Arians. The 
great Latin heritage — a tradition of law and order, of unity and 
civilization — fell to the church to maintain. And the voice of 
this church, in what seemed a time of universal ruin, was recog- 
nized as the voice of St. Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, heard 
through the agency of the Roman pontiff. To the men of the 
west, at least, this appeared entirely fitting; for Rome, though 
bereft of an emperor, was still the imperial city. The leadership <- 
of the world was merely transferred from a temporal to a spir- 
itual Caesar. The state might perish, but the infallible church 
lived on. The barbarians might conquer the land, but might not 
the church conquer the barbarians? Perhaps, after all, their 
advent would not be found an unmitigated evil. Along with 
the last stubborn remnants of paganism, they destroyed the men- •. ; 
ace of local resistance to the Roman see. From the papal view- 
point the barbarian west was to prove more solidly Christian than 
the Greek east. 

By the opening of the sixth century the church was assuredly 
confronted by a magnificent opportunity, which — it must be ad- Pppes 
mitted — was admirably developed through the efficiency of the Smaus 
papal leadership. Not all the successors of Damasus were great 
men, but their average was high and they formed a brilliant innocrait I 
contrast to the successors of Theodosius. Siricius deserves men- (402-17) 
tion because he was the author of the first known papal decretals 
— formal letters onbodying decisions on points of law and doc- 
trine which had been submitted to Rome by other churches in 
the west. Under Innocent I there was a notable increase in 
such correspondence, and throughout it the pope never missed 
a chance of reiterating the Petrine claims. Yet in general the 
situation^ remained unchanged. While the empire was paralyzed 
by civil /war and invasion, the three great sees of the east — 
Alexandria, Antiodi, and Constantinople— were embroiled in a 

Pope Leo 
the Great 

The First 
Councils of 
(431, 449) 


series of theological controversies which owed much of their 
bitterness to political rivalry and personal animosity. 

Upon this troubled scene entered Pope Leo I, called the Great. 
Of his earlier career practically nothing is known except that he 
had long been identified with the Roman church and had proved 
his ability in the office of archdeacon — i.e., the deacon who acted 
as the bishop’s right-hand man. As pope he created an inspiring 
ideal for all subsequent generations, an outstanding example of 
religious sincerity, moral force, eloquence, vigor, and practical 
sense. He was one of the great preachers of all time; from that 
day to this his sermons have been considered models of their 
kind. Leo also, like his predecessors, took an active part in the 
definition of the orthodox faith and the suppression of heresy. 
He exercised a now undisputed sovereignty over the local churches 
4 n Africa and Spain, and in Gaul he victoriously opposed the 
effort of the archbishop of Arles to make himself independent. 
Meanwhile the east had once more been plunged into fanatical 
conflict over theology, and out of this confusion the statesman- 
ship of Leo was able to win a signal triumph for the Roman see. 

In 431 a general council, called at Ephesus by Theodosius II, 
had condemned Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, for so far 
distinguishing the divine and human natures in Christ as to 
deny to the Virgin Mary the title. Mother of God. On this occa- 
sion Nestorius had been supported by Antioch and opposed by 
Alexandria. Eighteen years later the emperor was induced to 
summon a second council at Ephesus to deal with another phase 
of the same controversy. Now the positions were reversed: it 
was the Alexandrian party which was accused of heresy (called 
the monophysite doctrine) — ^holding that Christ had really pos- 
sessed only one nature, the divine. Leo, carefully watching the 
course of events, protested that no council was necessary because 
the pope was thoroughly competent to settle the matter alone; 
but since the emperor decided against him, he prepared and dis- 
patched by deputies a summary statement or *^tome’’ to explain 
the doctrinal points at issue. In the west Valentinian III, of 
course, could not be expected to- do anything, and in the east 
Theodosius II obtained little but ill repute through what Leo 
was to brand as his Robber Council. The assembly was packed 
by Dioscurus, the Alexandrian bishop, and Leo’s tome was not 
allowed even to be read. By threats and violence a majority of 
the bishops were terrorized into condemning all the leaders of 


the opposition, and the single papal delegate who had spoken 
in the meeting was forced to flee after registering a formal pro- 
test against the whole proceeding. 

The result of this scandalous alfair was that Leo now received 
urgent and remarkably humble appeals from Constantinople and 
Antioch. As the recognized champion of justice and orthodoxy, 
he denounced the action taken at Ephesus and took vigorous 
steps to rehabilitate the men who had there been condemned. 
Theodosius did not move, but his successor, Marcian, clearly 
saw that to leave matters as they were would hopelessly discredit 
the imperial government and its policy of controlling the church 
through representative assemblies. So in 451 he called a new 
council to meet at Chalcedon, where a special deputation of im- 
perial ministers would see to the maintenance of law and pro- 
priety, The Council of Chalcedon, the largest assemblage of 
the sort that had been held, at once revoked the decrees of the 
Robber Council, reinstated its victims, and deprived Dioscurus 
of his see. Then the bishops proceeded to take up the problem 
of doctrine, and after mature deliberation approved the tome of 
Leo, which was made the basis of an official creed affirming the 
combination in Christ of two perfect natures, both the human 
and the divine. Up to this point the council had merely carried 
out the papal program ; toward the end of the session, however, it 
adopted a canon reaffirming the one promulgated at Constanti- 
nople in 381, As, it was stated, Rome had secured high ecclesias- 
tical privilege because it was the imperial city, so the new Rome 
was accorded equal privilege and should enjoy precedence second 
only to that of the ancient capital. 

Beginning in harmony between east and west, the council thus 
ended by assuring their disagreement; for Leo, of course, reg- 
istered determined protest against any such depreciation of the 
Apostolic See, and until his death in 461 labored to secure the 
rejection of the offensive canon. His effort was in vain, and his 
successors had to be content with the victory won by his policy 
in other respects. To many, indeed, the recognition already given 
to the papal demands seemed altogether excessive. Nestorians 
and monophysites still flourished in many quarters despite the 
ban of the empire, and from time to time determined attempts 
were made to, reverse the decrees of Qialcedon. Finally the em- 
peror Zeno sought to obtain religious peace with a theological 
statement of his own^ which instead brought papal excommunica- 


Council of 

Causes of 
east and 


medi;eval history 

Leo the 
Great in 




tion^ upon himself as well as tlie patriarch of Constantinople. 
Leo, of course, did not live to see this eventuality, but he unques- 
tionably would have approved it, as every staunch upholder of 
the Petrine supremacy was bound to do. The Greeks continued 
to be fascinated by metaphysical controversy and refused to aban- 
don it at the behest of the more practically minded Latins. That 
dilference was ineradicable. And by the close of the fifth cen- 
tury the political divergence of east and west was equally sharp; 
the former remained subject to an imperial government, while 
the latter fell into the hands of barbarian adventurers. 

Although Leo could not realize the fact, the destiny of his 
church lay with these barbarians ; along with them it was to mold 
a new and glorious western world. So it came about that in 
legend Leo’s greatest achievement was his miraculous repulse 
of Attila from the gates of Rome. As a matter of cold history, 
we cannot say just how the Roman delegation, of which Leo was 
one member, accomplished its object. There was, however, a 
certain poetic justice in making the great pope, backed by the 
portentous figure of St. Peter, the heroic defender of Italy 
against the foul Hun. Like other legends, this one had an element 
of truth — the strength of Leo’s moral leadership in an age of ruin 
and disillusionment. 


In general we may say that religion in all ages and climes has 
carried with it a certain element of mysticism — ^an unending 
search for hidden truth through some form of supernatural reve- 
lation. In this search men have very generally believed that they 
have been aided by asceticism — ^by denying themselves lawful 
pleasures or by inflicting upon themselves unnecessary hardships. 
Among the commonest of ascetic practices have been fasting; 
prolonged prayer at the expense of sleep; the renunciation of 
luxurious habits, including soft beds and bathing ; the wearing of 
uncomfortable clothes, such as hair shirts ; and celibacy. On cer- 
tain particular occasions the church required all Christians to ob- 
serve a stricter discipline than was normal — ^as, for example, on 

* In the broadest sense of the term, excommunication meant separation from 
the Christian communion — a. sort of spiritual outlawry which, since it involved 
exclusion from the sacraments, carried the threat of damnation. Throughout 
the entire medircval period it was the principal weapon used by bishops to cn» 
force their decrees. When two bishops denied each otheris authority by mutual 
excommunication, the result was a schism. 


Fridays and during Lent they should abstain from eating meat. 
The ordained clergy were held to a still more rigorous standard. 
The priest, as the shepherd of the flock, should set a good exam- 
ple by his holy life. Many things permitted the laymen, notably 
warfare, were forbidden him ; and, at least in the west, he was 
not supposed to marry. 

After all, however, the mystic devotions and ascetic exercises 
of the secular clergy were necessarily restricted by their calling, 
which was to live in the world (scBcula) and perform the work 
of the church among the people. To many this seemed inadequate 
for their personal needs. They felt that, to assure salvation, 
they must escape from the world and give themselves utterly to 
religion. So, in mediaeval usage, ^'the religious^’ was a term ap- 
plied specially to monks — also called the regular clergy because 
they came to live according to a rule (regula). Yet originally, 
as the word literally implies, the monk was a hermit who sub- 
mitted to no discipline except such as he chose to establish for 
himself. Retreating into solitude, he found a cave, or built a 
cell, where he could devote himself to the attainment of merit 
through continual worship and the mortification of the flesh. 
For sustenance he relied upon the offerings of the faithful, who 
thereby secured the blessing of his prayers. The Christian hermit 
was thus a variety of the oriental holy man, throughout countless 
centuries a very familiar figure in connection with many Asiatic 
mysteries. The life is relatively easy in a warm dry climate, 
such as that of Syria or Egypt, and it was in the latter country 
that the first noteworthy development of Christian monasticism 
took place during the fourth century. 

In this connection the first great name is that of St. Anthony 
of Egypt. After fifteen years of ascetic life on the outskirts 
of his native town, he retreated to a lonely spot in the desert and 
there spent twenty years as a hermit. Gaining a great reputation 
for sanctity, he was imitated by a host of others and, at their 
request (about 305), he finally established for them a sort of 
common discipline. But the Antonian system, which henceforth 
prevailed in Lower Egypt, prescribed no real community life. 
Each hermit occupied his own isolated cell and there devoted 
himself to whatever practices he liked, meeting with the others 
for church services only on Saturdays and Sundays. Accord- 
ingly, it was left for St. Pachomius, about ten years later, to 
draw up the first true monastic rule. Beginning his religious 

and the 


and St. 

St. Basil 

St. Simeon 
(d. 4S9) 

cism in 
the west 


career as a hermit, he was eventually led to found a series of 
religious communities. Although the members still occupied 
separate dwellings, they employed their time according to a defi- 
nite plan in divine worship, the reading of the Scriptures, and 
manual labor. By the close of the fourth century, we are told, 
there were no less than seven thousand Pachomian monks in 
Upper Egypt, and a similar system had been applied to several 
colonies of nuns. 

The next great step in monastic evolution was made in the last 
quarter of the fourth century by St. Basil, a Greek of Pontus. 
After studying the customs of the Egyptian hermits, he rejected 
them for his country and substituted what we still know as a 
monastery — a house where the monks all live together, sharing 
common quarters and participating in the samq routine existence. 
Under the Basilian rule no trace remained of individualism in 
worship or discipline ; the monk found each day taken up with a 
prescribed order of activity, which left nothing to personal ca- 
price. The principal objective was, of course, divine worship; 
but the many services were interspersed with hard work, which 
Basil thought preferable to exaggerated asceticism. 

This system of monastic life proved very popular and rapidly 
spread throughout the Hellenized regions of Asia and Europe, 
and thence among the Slavic peoples. Egj-pt, however, remained 
loyal to its own traditions, and in Syria hermits and extremists 
of all sorts continued to enjoy great renown. Among them one 
of the most distinguished was St. Simeon Stylites. Having been 
ejected from a monastery because of his refusal to be satisfied 
with ordinary austerities, he took up his abode on top of a pillar 
just wide enough to lie on. Tliere he lived without descending 
for thirty years, and in the course of that time increased the 
height of his perch from six to sixty feet, getting needed sup- 
plies by lowering a basket on the end of a rope. Under the force 
of his example, pillar saints for a while tended to spring up in 
large numbers, but the vogue was restricted to Syria. 

In the west, meanwhile, monasticism had apparently been in- 
troduced as a novelty from Egypt. By the close of the fourth 
century it became increasingly common for persons of good birth, 
both men and women, to renounce the world and adopt some 
form of ascetic life. Hermits appeared on all sides, and there 
were also many religious communities of the Pachomian type. 
The moitasteries of Tours and Larins in Gaul were especidly 


famous in the fifth century, and from there similar institutions 
were carried to Ireland by the famous St. Patrick, of whom 
more will be heard in the following pages. In spite of this early 
zeal, however, Egyptian monasticism won no lasting success in 
the west. Many of its practices were there rendered impossible 
by the more rigorous winter climate, and, more generally, its 
demands proved excessive to the Latin temperament, which had 
always been revolted by the vagaries of oriental mystics. Con- 
sequently, it was not until the system had been adapted to the 
new environment that it became a dominant force in European 
history. This was the work of the illustrious St. Benedict of 
Nursia, who thereby earned a place among the great reformers 
of all time. 

Benedict, we are told by Pope Gregory I,® was born of a noble 
family in the Roman municipality of Nursia and, like other 
youths of his class, was sent to be educated at Rome. There he 
quickly became disgusted with the vicious life of the fashionable 
world and decided to become a hermit. For a number of years 
he lived in a solitary cave overlooking the valley of Subiaco, 
being scantily fed by a friend in a nearby monastery. As the 
fame of his holiness spread abroad, disciples thronged to the 
vicinity, and Benedict soon found himself the spiritual director 
of a large community. Then came persecution from various rival 
establishments devoted to a laxer code of morals ; so, about the 
year 520, Benedict led a band of his most ardent followers to 
a new abode on the summit of ^a commanding hill called Monte 
Cassino. There, within the next few years, he composed the 
famous rule that was to dominate the religious life of the west. 
It has often been held that this rule was drawn up primarily for 
the group of monks at Monte Cassino, but careful analysis of 
Benedict’s language proves that from the outset he contemplated 
a reformed discipline for monasteries generally. Indeed, any one 
who reads the rule may readily perceive that it takes for granted 
the ideals of monasticism and restricts its emphasis to the means 
by which they are best to be attained. The keynote is practicality. 

He is, says Benedict in his prologue, ‘^about to institute a 
school for the service of God,” in which he hopes ^^nothing harsh 
or burdensome will be ordained.” In some respects it may seem 
a bit severe, but so it must be in order to "‘amend vice and pre- 

St. Bene- 
dict of 
(c. 480- 

C - 550) 

pose of 
his rule 

* See bdow, p. nIS, ' ^ 


The Ben- 

The abbot 


serve charity/’ And at the end he warns the reader not to be 
satisfied with what he has just perused. To mount the “lofty 
heights of doctrine and virtue,” he should study the Scriptures 
and the works of the holy fathers ; what Benedict has composed 
is “merely a little rule for beginners.” His discipline applies only 
to cenobites, “the best kind of monks” — ^those who live together 
as a religious community. After long training in the monastery 
one may safely become a hermit; without this experience Bene- 
dict considers the solitary life dangerous. There can be no true 
holiness without law; the man who shuts himself up without a 
shepherd is in his own fold, not the Lord's. 

(Anyone who desires to be admitted to the community must 
first serve for a considerable time as a novice, and so prove his 
determination and sincerity. Finally, after his fitness to enter 
has been demonstrated, he is to sign a solemn vow in writing of 
“stability, proper monastic conduct, and obedience ” — that he 
adopts the religious life and will remain steadfast in observing 
its demands, and will in all ways submit to the authority of the 
abbot, the elected head of the monastery. The monk, of course, 
abandons all worldly connections: he can have no family ties; 
he gives up his name, his rank, and his property. Benedict takes 
for granted his perpetual chastity, but specifically insists on his 
absolute poverty.*^ 

No one, without leave of the abbot, shall presume to give, or re- 
ceive, or keep as his own anything whatever: neither book, nor 
tablets, nor pen — ^nothing at all For monks are men who can claim 
no dominion even over their own bodies or wills. All that is neces- 
sary they may expect from the father of the monastery; and they 
shall keep nothing which the abbot has not given or allowed. All 
things are to be common to all. 

Under such circumstances, the responsibility of the abbot is a 
very heavy one ; he is answerable to God not merely for his own 
acts, but for those of his subordinates. In his keeping are the 
souls of the brethren, as well as their bodies, the house which 
they inhabit, and everything of which they enjoy the use. Before 
deciding any weighty matter he must call the monks together 
for consultation; then, after hearing their advice, he must do 
whatever he considers right, acting always “in the fear of God 
and according to the Rule.” Within the monastery he shall make 
no distinction of persons, whether freeborn or servile, except as 


one or another may excel in humility and good works. Accord- 
ing to the capacities and deserts of the brothers, he shall fill all 
offices in the monastery, apportion all routine work, and assign 
special tasks as the need for them may arise. He enforces the 
prescribed monastic discipline; yet, doing so, he is allowed wide 
discretionary powers in almost every particular. So it is not 
surprising that Benedict recurs again and again to the supreme 
importance of the abbot’s character. When a vacancy occurs, 
the monks shall elect one distinguished for virtue and wisdom, 

"‘even if [by order of seniority] he be the last in the community.” 

As to the daily life of the monastery, Benedict established a 
regime which — compared with the prevalent Egyptian System — The daily 
was eminently moderate and sensible. Divine worship, which 
he calls “the work of God,” is the chief duty of the brotherhood, 
and is to include principally the chanting of psalms, reading from 
the Scriptures, and prayer. There are to be eight regular services, 
or “offices,” beginning with matins at the “eighth hour of the 
night,”® followed by lauds at daybreak, and ending with com- 
pline at dusk, so that the brothers may retire without the aid of 
artificial light. This arrangement would allow an unbroken sleep 
of somewhat over eight hours in the winter. Since in the summer 
it would be less, compensation is made by a siesta after the mid- 
day meal. The monks are to sleep in their clothes — ^the regu- 
lar tunic and cowl, bound at the waist with a cord — ^but each is 
to have a bed in f:he common dormitory, together with a mattress, 
a blanket, and a pillow. 

Although opportunity is given the individual for prayer, read- 
ing, and contemplation, most of his day, outside the four or five Manual 
hours of religious service, is taken up with manual labor; for labor and 
“idleness,” says Benedict, “is the enemy of the soul.” In the 
summer the brothers are to begin whatever work is assigned 
them shortly after sunrise and are to continue until the fourth 
hour; then they are to engage in reading until the sixth hour 
(about noon), when they have their first meal. Afterwards, 
they are to rest in silence on their beds for somewhat over two 
hours, when the afternoon office is sung and all return to work 
until evensong, followed by supper, the final office, and bed at 
dark. In the winter, when everybody would rise later, reading 

® The Romans, like the Greeks, reckoned twelve hours of day, from sunrise 
to sunset, and twelve hours of night, from sunset to sunrise. So their hour was 
a variable quantity, d^en(^g in l^gth t^n the season of the year. 



is placed first on the schedule, then labor until dinner, which is 
had at the ninth hour and is again followed by reading. Sunday 
normally is to be a day of rest and meditation; yet even then, 
if any brother is unable or unwilling to occupy his time profitably, 
he may be set to work. 

By estimate, therefore, Benedict prescribes six to seven hours 
of daily labor — at least twice the time allotted to study. The 
abbot, however, is to moderate this routine for the benefit of the 
aged and infirm, and there are many tasks to be assigned besides 
agriculture — such as cooking and serving at table, care of the 
buildings and of all the monastic property, various skilled crafts, 
the copying of manuscripts and other clerical work, and the teach- 
ing of younger monks and of boys sent to be educated. Occa- 
sionally there may be missions outside the monastery, but no 
brother is to set foot beyond its precincts without tlie specific 
authorization of the abbot. Lastly, certain monks shall be ap- 
pointed to look after any guests who may arrive, for hospitality 
is enjoined by Benedict as a sacred obligation. Every one who 
comes, whether rich or destitute, is to be received in love and 
humility as if he were Christ Himself. 

Although the Benedictine rule prescribes fasting until noon or 
Food and later, it normally allows two meals a day. At each meal there 
drink are to be two cooked dishes, besides green vegetables and fruit; 

and each brother shall daily receive a pound of bread. The eat- 
ing of meat, like bathing, is generally forbidden, except in the 
case of invalids. Benedict, however, is generous in the matter 
of drink. He admits that wine has by some been declared im- 
proper for monks ; but in his day, he says, '‘they cannot be per- 
suaded of this.” So he permits a pint of wine to each monk 
daily, with an extra allowance because of specially hard work 
or hot weather. While deploring drunkenness and gluttony, 
Benedict does not discourage hearty eating. And it should be 
remembered that, by his definition, meat is only the flesh of four- 
footed beasts. 

This was and is Benedictine monasticism. Its direct influence 
on the religious life of Europe was incalculable, for it set a new 
and eminently practical standard of discipline not only for monks, 
but also; — with certain modifications — for nuns. And its more 
indirect contributions to the civilization of Europe were equally 
remarkable. Since, within fifty years after Benedict’s deatli, 
his system was officially adopted by the Roman church, its fur- 


ther progress will be considered in connection with the history 
of the papacy. 


As the empire lapsed into chaos, the Roman educational sys- 
tem, which had long ceased to have any contact with the actuali- 
ties of existence, continued on its course unperturbed. For cen- 
turies the mark of the gentleman had been his training in rhetoric 
— his ability to compose and pronounce declamations on conven- 
tional subjects in a conventional way. According to the accepted 
standard, the truly cultured should never by any chance be inter- 
ested in practical questions, should never say anything simply and 
directly. Themes had to be drawn from classical sources ; argu- 
ment had to proceed by the weaving together of literary allusions ; 
the style had to be elevated. Intricate, and ornate. The more diffi- 
cult it was to understand what the autlior was driving at, the 
more necessary it was for the refined audience to applaud the 
product; and the narrower the group that could play the game 
according to the rules, the greater the distinction of belonging to 
it. Such was the circle of elegant conversationalists pictured for 
us in the pages of IMacrobius (d. 423), and still reflected in the 
letters or^pollinaris SIdonius (d. 488) while the Goths were 
completin^heir conquest of southern Gaul. 

Under s^h circumstances, little could be expected of Latin 
literature in ifehe fourth and fifth centuries. Although there were 
many writingvsthey all suffered from the blight of artificial rhet- 
oric. The best mstorian of the age was Ammianus Marcellinus, 
who endeavored to continue the work of Tacitus down through his 
own lifetime, writing in all thirty books, of which only the last sev- 
enteen are extant. As a literary artist, Ammianus was a very 
inferior imitator of Tacitus; yet we are grateful to him for his 
straightforward account of the events leading up to the battle 
of Adrianople, where his narrative ends. The compositions of 
Symmachus, regarded by contemporaries as a peerless stylist, 
now seem a wearisome mass of turgid phrases, quite empty of 
meaning. Much the same criticism can be made of Ausonius, 
whose poetry, while occasionally giving us a valuable glimpse of 
the author’s native Gaul, can be read only at the expense of 
appalling fatigue. Claudian is better. He at least knew how tq 
compose musical verse in the true classical manner — enough to 
mark him as a 'genius in that age — but his subjects wer| un- 





letters in 
the fourth 
and fifth 






jThe intel- 
(of the 

worthy. Adulation of such men as Honorius and Stilicho can- 
not be great literature. 

Of more lasting influence were the compilers. Martianus Ca- 
pella’s Marriage of Philology and Mercury (early fifth century) 
consecrated for the Middle Ages the notion of the seven liberal 
arts, of which we shall subsequently hear much. Priscian’s In- 
stiHites of Grammar (late fifth century) remained the standard 
text in that field for many centuries.*^ And the works of Boethius 
were of supreme importance for the history of education in 
Europe. As already noted, that distinguished man, after long 
enjoying the favor of Theodoric the Ostrogoth, was finally exe- 
cuted on a charge of treason in 524. While in prison he com- 
posed the enormously popular Consolation of Philosophy — an 
allegorical melange of verse and prose which, strangely enough, 
includes no word of Christianity. For this reason the mediaeval 
tradition that made the author a holy martyr has become some- 
what discredited. Yet, pagan or not, Boethius performed a mem- 
orable service for western Christians when he translated into 
Latin certain of Aristotle’s works on logic, as well as Porphyry’s 
Isagoge, a manual on the same subject. These books, together 
with the editor’s own essays on the mathematical sciences, were 
to provide the most advanced education that the schools of the 
Dark Age knew. 

In this connection we encounter one of the dominating facts 
for the cultural history of the whole succeeding period-^tha| 4 iy 
the sixth century Gredc learning had virtually disappeared in the 
west. In the east the Latin tradition of Constantine remained 
strong until after the reign of Justinian; then it rapidly faded, 
making one half of the Roman Empire a land utterly foreign 
to the rest\ This is another fact of epodi-making significance, 
A third is that, (with the ultimate failure of the Roman state 
and the establishment of barbarian dominion in the western 
provinces, education there became essentially the monopoly of the 
church. 2 Such men as those mentioned above still maintained 
the tradition of pagan letters, but they had no successors. The 
intellectual leadership of their world had already passed to the 
great ecclesiastical writers, whose works, though not always ele- 
gant, had the surpassing merit’ of being vibrant with life. 

7 It was rivaled by the Grammatical Art of Donatus, a writer of the fourth 


Until the later fourth century the outstanding exponents of 
Christian thought were mainly Greeks. The first important Latin The Latin 
author to devote himself to the defense of the church was Ter- church 
tullian in the time of the Severi. A prolific and eloquent writer, 
he undertook the refutation of many heresies, only himself to fall 
under the ban of the orthodox for upholding an ultra-rigorous 
standard of Christian discipline. Although Lactantius, who 
flourished about a hundred years later, is famous for the perfec- 
tion of his Latin style, he fell short of greatness through igno- 
rance of the theology which he tried to discuss. Meanwhile, of 
course, the west had produced many worthy and heroic bishops 
but none of such commanding stature as Athanasius, the author 
of the Nicene Creed. Then, on the eve of the barbarian inva- 
sions, emerged three illustrious men : Ambrose, Jerome, and Au- 
gustine. They, together with Pope Gregory the Great, are called 
the four Doctors (that is to say, teachers) of Latin Christendom. 

Ambrose (Ambrosius), destined to be the ideal 'bishop of the 
western world, was born about 340 of an eminent Roman fam- St. 
ily that had long be^ devoted to Christianity. His father was Ambrose 
no less a person than the prefect of Gaul, one of the four high- 
est officials in the state. So the young Ambrose was naturally 
given the finest education available in the capital — Greek as well 
as Latin. Finally, having spent a number of years in the study of 
law, he entered the imperial service and was named by Valen- 
tinian I as a -provincial governor with headquarters in Milan, 
which normally was also the residence of the emperor. At that 
time the bishop of  which remained in 
the possession of Alamans, Bavarians, Lombards, and other 

1 See below, ch, vii. 



Even within this limited area the reconstituted empire of Jus- 
tinian had no real vitality. That only the most tenuous of bonds 
held the outlying provinces to Constantinople was to be proved 
within a surprisingly short time./ Long before Africa and Spain 
were reached by the Arab advance, Italy had in large part fallen 
to the Lombards, and Macedonia had been overrun by hordes of 
Slavs and Asiatics. How could a state unable to defend the 
Danube frontier dream of ruling the Mediterranean? Although 
we may admire the energy and determination displayed by Jus- 
tinian in his devotion to an ancient ideal, the fact remains that 
he squandered precious resources on a lost cause. His project 
of political reunification was from the outset hopeless of real 
accomplishment, and Jhe cost of his adventure was die exhaustion 
of his original empire. 

Justinian, one of the world’s greatest legislators, can hardly be 
accused of wanton misgovernment. Nevertheless, the mounting The ruin 
cost of his grandiose wars meant the continuance of extortionate of Italy 
taxes and official spoliation. To millions of his subjects the 
splendor of his reign proved to be no cause for rejoicing. And 
although the Roman conquest may have produced some benefits 
in Africa, it brought to Italy nothing short of ruin. The city of 
Rome, which had survived pillage by Goth and Vandal, was 
virtually destroyed by the frightful wars of the sixth century. 

Through five successive sieges the once glorious capital was 
reduced to a mass of wreckage. Under Justinian its time-honored 
privileges — ^notably the distribution of free grain — ^were not re- 
stored ; the result was depopulation and increasing misery. Sen- 
ate and consuls alike disappeared, and the only remaining mu- 
nicipal officials soon became papal subordinates. Nor was Rome 
the only one of the ancient cities to suffer. Henceforth urban 
civilization throughout the peninsula rapidly declined, leaving 
society to be dominated by the agrarian life of the countryside. 

This was the end of classic Italy. 

Justinian’s ecclesiastical policy was even less successful. His 
aim, of course, was complete uniformity — ^the inclusion of all Justinian’s 
Roman subjects within one church dominated by himself. This ecclesi- 
naturally implied the rigorous suppression of pagans and heretics, 
in which connection Justinian riot only confirmed the edicts of his ^ 
predecessors,; but excluded from the teaching profession all per- 
sons tainted with what he called Hellenism. The schools of Athens, 
with their illu^Jow Mstory running back to the days of Plato, 

1 12 


were closed; at Constantinople and elsewhere the faculties of in- 
structors were thoroughly purged of suspects. Although most 
Jews continued to enjoy a half-hearted toleration, they were ex- 
cluded from all state service — ^as were likewise all persons who 
could not prove their entire orthodoxy. Heretics were deprived 
of civil rights and subjected to severe penalties. Manichaeism^ 
was punished with death. 

In none of these matters was the opposition to the imperial ad- 
ministration strong enough to occasion serious trouble; but in 
connection with the monophysite doctrine,* condemned by the 
Council of Chalcedon, Justinian encountered a problem tliat defied 
all his attempts at solution. Arianism, as we have seen, was up- 
rooted in the empire, only to spread throughout the Germanic 
world beyond the frontier, whence it was reintroduced into the 
west during the fifth century. In much the same way Nestor ian- 
ism, driven frcan the Roman provinces, found a refuge in Persia. 
Thence it was widely extended in Asia by zealous missionaries 
and has persisted down to the present. The monophj'site heresy 
was to prove even more stubborn because in that regard the 
imperial government was never able to carry out a consistent 
policy. Immediately on his accession, Justin had ended the schism 
with Rome by supporting the canons of Chalcedon. For a while 
Justinian maintained the same attitude — one dictated alike by 
his passionate orthodoxy and by his ambition to regain Italy. 

Theodora, on the contrary, S3Unpathized with the monophysites 
and used her influence to relax the official persecution. So the 
■emperor swayed first one way and then the other. Ultimately 
his decision was largely controlled by the political situation. As 
soon as his armies had occupied Rome, he proclaimed a theologi- 
cal compromise and sought to force it upon all parties. One pope 
was deposed ; his successor was taken to Constantinople and Aere 
compdled, in some measure, to accept the imperial dictum. A 
general council summoned to meet in the imperial presence also 
submitted. Justinian felt tliat he had won a complete victory; yet 
he had merely aggravated the trouble. The monophysites, inst^id 
of agreeing to the official program, were encouraged to establish 
a separate church, which still continues today.'* And in tlie west 

2 See above, p. loi. 

3 On this and the following subjects, sec above, pp. 45, 86 f. 

^ It is commonly called the Jacobite church after its principal organizer, J^cob 
Baradseus, bishop of Edessa in the sixth century. 


the only effect of Justinian’s despotism was to assure the perma- 
nent antagonism of the papacy and thereby to weaken the impe- 
rial hold on Italy. The logical reply to the reign of Justinian 
was the pontificate of Gregory the Great. 


Justinian’s death in 565 ended the last brilliant chapter in 
what can properly be called Roman history. The three emperors The 
who succeeded him in the later sixth century were conscien- coming 
tious men of superior ability who remained loyal t6 his 
glorious tradition. Yet they had to abandon all thought of offen- 
sive warfare. Their energies were exhausted in a vain effort to 
defend the dominions inherited from Justinian. ' In the west 
Africa was successfully held because no formidable enemy ap- 
peared on that flank ; but most of Italy was lost to the Lombards,® 
and the Visigoths soon reduced the imperial province in Spain to 
a few cities on the coast. In Asia the whole Roman position was 
again threatened by the Persians. To the north the Danube 
frontier was lost as the Balkans were swept by a fresh horde 
of nomads from the steppe. These were the Avars, whose drive 
into Europe was largely a repetition of the earlier attack by the 

In the fifth century die latter had imposed their dominion over 
a wide territory extending from the Caspian to the valleys of 
the Danube and the Rhine. This event tended to produce a huge 
shift of populations in Europe. The westward movement of 
the Germans was greatly accelerated and the lands which they 
evacuated were occupied by masses of Slavs, either on their 
own initiative or as serfs of the Asiatic conquerors. By the end 
of the fifth century, however, the Hunnic power had been broken 
and the territory once ruled by Attila was divided among a large 
number of barbarian princes. On the upper Danube were now 
the Alamans and the Bavarians. ' Below them two other impor- 
tant Germanic peoples were engaged in a bitter struggle for su- 
premaiqr, the Lombards and the Gepids, who between them had 
conquered various lesser nations. The grasslands to the east 
were dominated by various groups of nomads, among whom the 
most prominent were known as Bulgars, presumably a remnant 
of the Huns reinforced by new arrivals from Asia. 

» See below, ch. vii. 


I The Avars 
I and the 
Slavs in 
the Balkan 

1 14 

Upon this conglomeration of peoples in the later sixth century 
fell the Avars, driven from their homelands by the encroaching 
power of the Turks.® Following the track of the Huns, the 
Avars subjugated the hordes of the Pontic steppe, and with 
them spread terror and destruction far to the north and west. 
By the later sixth century the Avar khan, Baian, ruled a vast 
tributary empire between the Black Sea and the Baltic. Like the 
Huns, the new conquerors formed a relatively small class, whose 
resources were chiefly obtained through merciless exploitation of 
the Slavic peasants. In tens of thousands the latter were driven 
into battle against the enemies of their masters or settled as en- 
slaved colonists in subject territories. The details of this po- 
litical upheaval are very imperfectly known, but there can be no 
doubt that it was one of the decisive events in the history of 
Europe. In particular, it began a new epoch for the Balkan 

Following a long-established precedent, Justinian had largely 
depended on barbarian fcederati for the defense of his northern 
frontier, and by the skillful distribution of subsidies he had been 
able throughout his reign to keep the Danubian provinces in a 
fairly peaceful condition. Among his most useful allies were 
the Lombards, whom he employed to hold back their fierce rivals, 
the Gepids. Under his successors this policy was reversed, with 
the consequence that the Lombards appealed for aid to the 
Avars. The latter proved to be terrible allies. The nation of 
Gepids was so completely destroyed that their name vanished 
from history. And shortly afterwards the Lombards, threatened 
by the same fate, moved westward into Italy, to bring a fresh 
series of calamities to that distracted country. Thus the Avars 
came to be solidly established in the old provinces of Dacia and 
Pannonia, whence the host at their command overflowed into 
Thrace, Macedonia, and Illyricum, 

This was the situation at the opening of the seventh century, 
when Maurice, Justinian^s third successor, resumed the offensive 
on the northern frontier. Thanks to a truce with Persia, he was 
able to make excellent progress, and by 602 the imperial forces 
were once more beyond the Danube. At this point he met dis- 
aster, not from the enemy, but at the hands of his own troops. 

« A kindred nomadic people who then dominated the Asiatic plateau from the 
borders of China to those of Persia. Much more will be heard of them in sub- 
sequent pages. 


Although he had earlier been faced by a serious mutiny in the 
east, the emperor now gave orders that the army, instead of re- 
turning to civilization, should spend the winter in the field. 

The command was the signal for another rebellion. Led by a 
brutal soldier named Phocas, the army occupied the capital, slew 
Maurice, and proclaimed its own commander — events which im- 
mediately plunged the empire into chaos. The government lost 
all hold on the provinces both east and west. While the Persians 
seized the opportunity to overrun Armenia and Syria, the Avars 
and their subjects obtained undisputed control over the interior 
of the Balkan peninsula. 

During these crucial years the head of the provincial adminis- 
tration in Africa was Heraclius, who had risen from obscurity to Heradius 
a high post in the army under Maurice. Refusing from the first (610-41) 
to recognize Phocas, he finally launched an expedition to depose 
the usurper and in charge of it placed his son, also named Hera- 
clius. The latter enjoyed a brilliant success. Hailed at Constan- 
tinople as a liberator, he was carried to the throne by popular 
enthusiasm, and so given charge of an empire on the point of 
dissolution. Justinian, because his offensives — ^under charge of 
subordinates — ended in a dazzle of glory, has gone down in his- 
tory as the last of the great Roman sovereigns. But why should 
Heraclius be forgotten? Engaged for thirty years in a heroic 
struggle against terrific odds, he won astonishing victories 
through sheer force of personal leadership. Although, by a tragic 
reversal of fortune, he finally met defeat, it was such as neither 
he nor any one else could have foreseen. To Heraclius is due the 
honor of saving all that was humanly possible to save of a 
doomed empire. 

For a dozen years after securing the crown, Heraclius was 
compelled to witness the continuous advance of his enemies on 
all sides. Spain, most of Italy, and the entire Danube valley 
had been irretrievably lost. Avars and Slavs roamed at will 
throughout the Balkans and penetrated far into the classic lands 
of Greece. It was now that the Long Walls, erected in the later 
fifth century to connect the Sea of Marmora with the Black Sea, 
stood the capital in good stead ; but even they were not always 
successfully held against the barbarians. A ruse of the Avar 
khan during pretended negotiations for peace gave him possession 
of these outworks, and although the city itself was saved from 
surprise, the wealthy suburbs were almost totally destroyed. 





Finally, in 619, Heraclius bought off the Avars at their own price 
and so obtained a short respite in which to concentrate his scanty 
resources against his principal foe, Persia. 

This great state had emerged in the third century through a 
victorious revolt against the Parthians. To a large degree the 
revolution was inspired by the traditions of the ancient Persian 
Empire which, after long dominating Greece, had fallen before 
Alexander the Great. On political grounds the Persian rulers 
were pledged to combat all Hellenic influence in the orient; and 
during the later period the cause was given a doubly sacred 
character by the anti-Christian agitation of the magi, the priests 
of the Zoroastrian religion.^ Under such circumstances, peace 
between Persia and Rome could never be more than temporary; 
and, as we have seen, the emperors of the third and fourth centu- 
ries had been repeatedly called on for great defensive campaigns. 
Then had ensued a lull as the Persian energies were diverted 
against the Turks, and it was not until the reign of Justinian that 
the eastern menace again became grave. To have his hands free 
for his western offensives, that emperor bought off the Persians 
with subsidies; but they were stopped by his successor, and the 
war blazed out again, just as the exhaustion of the empire began 
to show itself in the weakening of its defense on all fronts. 

The climax came with the usurpation of Phocas. After 602 
the Asiatic provinces lay at the mercy of the Persians, who natu- 
rally refused the overtures of Heraclius. In rapid succession they 
took Antioch, Damascus, and Jerusalem. By 619 they had 
reached Chalcedon, across the strait from Constantinople, and 
had J^egun the reduction of Egypt. But the very magnitude of 
these calamities proved an advantage to Heraclius. Since the 
most sacred relic of Christendom, the Holy Cross at Jerusalem, 
had been carried off by the invader, the war for its recovery took 
on the aspect of a crusade. For once the tumultuous populace 
of Constantinople was united in a common cause. The churches 
donated their sacred vessels to be made into coin. And the em- 
peror prepared himself by religious exercises to command in 
person a desperate expedition by which he vowed to win either 
victory or death. 

In the spring of 622 Heraclius solemnly intrusted the defense 
of the capital to subordinates and, with the small army that he 

See above, p. 20. 


had been able to assemble, crossed over to the Asiatic shore. The inva- 
Other troops would have to be found on the way. So Heraclius, sion of 
with amazing audacity, at once struck at Armenia, an excellent 
recruiting ground as well as a sympathetic Christian country. (623-27) 
Besides, the move might divert the invading Persians from Syria 
and Eg3^t. Advancing from Nicomedia, Heraclius outflanked 
the enemy position in Asia Minor and by the end of 623 he had 
actually taken the capital of Persian Armenia. The next three 
years he spent in successful campaigns to prevent the junction 
of the various armies sent to dislodge him ; then, in 627, he again 
took the offensive. Driving south from Armenia, he reached 
the Tigris at Nineveh and there won a victory just in time to 
glorify his celebration of the Christmas festival. Chosrofe, the 
Persian king, fled to Ctesiphon, and Heraclius, after coming 
within a few miles of the city, decided not to risk an attack. 

While the mountain passes were still dear of snow, he made good 
a retreat to his base in Armenia. 

No additional campaign was necessary. In the spring of 628 
Heraclius received the glad news that Chosroes had been over- The siege 
thrown by a palace revolution and that the new king was willing of Cen- 
to sign a treaty of peace. By the terms of the settlement thus 
made, the Persians evacuated all their conquests, reestablished the 
frontier as it had existed under Maurice, and restored the Holy (626) 
Cross to Christian possession. Meanwhile Constantinople had 
bravely withstood a last terrific assault from the Avar khan. In 
626 a barbarian host beset the city by sea and land, cooperating 
with a Persian army which advanced to the southern shore of the 
Bosphorus. But the day was saved by the imperial fleet, which 
destroyed the boats of the Avars and so prevented the union of 
the attacking forces. All attempts of the khan to storm the walls 
failed before the stubborn defense of the citizens. Discomfited, 
he finally withdrew his besieging hordes, and the Persians could 
do no more than follow his example. When, therefore, Heraclius 
returned in 629, bearing with him a fragment of the Cross as a 
sacred memorial of his triumph, the paeans of thanksgiving with 
which the capital resounded were entirely justified. 

In five years, however, a new storm burst in Asia : the Arabs 
launched the tremendous drive that was to destroy the kingdom 
of PersisM and (^d the Roman dominion in Syria, Egypt, and 
AfricaJ ^Jp to mis point, without regard to events in the west, 
the empire in the east had remained essentially as it was under 

of the 

The devel- 
of the 


Constantine. Henceforth its efficient area was reduced to a por- 
tion of the Balkan peninsula and Asia Minor — in reality a small 
Hellenistic kingdom built round the great capital, Constantinople. 
The southward advance of the Avars and Slavs had wiped out 
the Latin civilization of the Illyrian provinces — the homeland of 
Justinian — ^and removed from the later empire all but traces of 
Roman character. Accordingly, it has come to be known in his- 
tory as the Byzantine Empire — an apt designation, since the well- 
spring of its life was the city originally called Byzantium. 


Whatever judgment may be passed on Justinian’s foreign 
policy, there can be no doubt of his greatness as a legislator. His 
codification of the Roman law ranks among the world’s finest 
achievements in the realm of statesmanship — b. verdict which is 
borne out by the fact that his compilation has been in continuous 
use since the day when it was first promulgated. Although the 
empire over which he ruled perished long ago, his Corfnts lives 
on in states then undreamed of — ^not only in those of continental 
Europe and their colonies, but also in Scotland, Quebec, Loui- 
siana, and the republics of Latin America. Later we shall have 
occasion to see how this came about ; the present connection calls 
rather for a retrospect. Justinian’s enactment was the culmina- 
tion of a legal evolution extending over a thousand years. Origi- 
nally, when Rome was a small city-state, the Roman law was 
properly that which applied merely to the narrow class of Roman 
citizens. It was an inflexible system pervaded by archaic custom. 
The rights which it protected were relatively few, and to take ad- 
vantage of its protection, the individual had to follow a for- 
malistic ritual filled with solemn declarations and symbolic acts. 
Such arrangements were very well for a conservative agricultural 
community ; as Rome became the metropolis of the western Medi- 
terranean, the courts inevitably developed new methods of admin- 
istering justice. The ancient law of citizens (21/^; cknle) was 
constantly supplemented from the law applied to non-Romans 
{ms gentium). 

The latter, from the outset, was intensely practical, being for- 
mulated to govern the relations of men drawn from all countries 
by the lure of commercial opportunity. Thus it dealt primarily 
with contractual matters, such as sale, lease, partnership, loan, and 
pledge; but it also came to include many sensible innovations 


with regard to marriage, testamentary succession, conveyance, 
and the like. This law was administered by a special praetor with 
jurisdiction over foreigners at Rome, and it became customary 
for each of these magistrates to issue an edict defining the 
particular rules that he intended to enforce. The praetors with 
jurisdiction over citizens likewise promulgated edicts, and in the 
course of time introduced into the ius civile many of the speedy 
and effective remedies that characterized the other system — ^a 
development that was greatly accelerated under the principate. 

For a time the ancient methods of legislation by act of an as- 
sembly (Jex) or of the senate (^senatiis consultnm) still con- 
tinued ; but they gradually became obsolete as legislation took the 
form of imperial constitutions, technically classified as mandates, 
rescripts, edicts, and decrees. Inevitably, too, as the authority 
of the prince came to dominate that of the praetors, their power of 
modifying the law by proclamation was superseded. Under 
Hadrian the edicts of earlier magistrates were consolidated into 
one official document which could be amended by no one but the 
emperor. And during the same period the extension of Roman 
citizenship throughout the empire necessitated the removal from 
the civil law of its last archaic features and compelled its further 
adaptation to the needs of a cosmopolitan society. Educated 
Romans had long since fallen under the charm of the Stoic philos- 
ophy,® and in no respect was the influence of the latter more 
deeply significant than in the field of legal speculation. The 
Stoics taught that all men were brothers, being alike the sons of 
one Creator; that he had endowed them with common faculties 
and so given them a common responsibility to live according to 
reason — ^to observe the dictates of nature, which transcended all 
enactments by particular states. To the eyes of the Romans this 
natural law {ms natiirale) inevitably suggested their own ins gen-^ 
tiiim, which was a body of equity based on the usages of many 
communities, and. in the writings of the jurists the two concepts 
tended to be identified. 

Jurisprudence — ^the study of the principles underlying the law 
— ^had come to attract many able men under the later republic. 
According to the normal practice of the Roman courts, the magis- 
trate heard only the preliminaries of a suit ; after the nature of 
the controversy had been made clear, it was turned over for settle- 

lus Civile, 

and Ius 

The jurists 

®‘See above, pp. i6f. 


ment to a judge {index) agreed on by the two parties. Such a 
person was an ordinary private citizen with no specialized legal 
training, who was supposed to determine the facts and then render 
a decision according to the law already stated by the magistrate. 
But cases continually arose where the application of established 
precedents was extremely difficult, and on such occasions the 
judge would call for the opinion of an expert — ^usually a man 
who had made a reputation as a teacher in a law school. Conse- 
quently the jurists came to exert increasing influence over the 
administration of justice, and in order to assure sound results, 
Augustus began the custom of naming certain scholars as official 
advisers to the courts. The scheme worked admirably, for, while 
avoiding the danger of visionary innovations, it allowed the con- 
stant improvement of the law through the inspiration of philo- 
sophic ideals. In the course of the next three centuries arose a 
series of eminent jurists — ^among them Julian, Pomponius, Gaius, 
Papinian, Ulpian, Paulus, and Modestinus — ^whose works have 
never ceased to affect human thought and institutions. 

With the reign of Diocletian, the Roman law entered the last 
Justinian’s stage of its development in ancient times. The emperor was now 
legislation the only source of law; all republican forms and distinctions 
became obsolete. The long-established practice of adjudication 
through laymen advised by professional jurists was superseded by 
a thoroughly despotic system under which all judges were im- 
perial officials. This change, another indication of Roman deca- 
dence, eventually led to the final unification of the law in one 
authoritative body. As may readily be imagined, the magistrates 
of the sixth century were quite incompetent for the task of 
research in Latin archives. Even if all the pertinent manuscripts 
were available, how many Greeks of that day would be able to 
read them? The decisions of the courts had to rest on two 
great series of monuments: the constitutions of the emi)€rors and 
the writings of the jurists. The former, from time to time, had 
been gathered into collections — of which the most recent was the 
Theodosian Code — but they in turn had never been combined. 
And although judges were now forbidden to cite any books on 
jurisprudence except the classics of an earlier age, the latter 
constituted a huge library in themselves. To consolidate all this 
material in a single official publication was the undertaking which 
Justinian set himself to accomplish. 


Almost immediately after his accession to the throne, Justinian 
appointed a commission of distinguished lawyers, under the presi- The Code 
dency of Tribonian, to collect and edit the imperial constitutions. the 
This project was carried through with amazing speed. In less 
than two years the new compilation had been drawn up and 
promulgated — ^the first edition of what is properly called the 
Codex. Some five years later a second edition was issued, and ■ 
this is the volume that has come down to us. It includes 4652 
constitutions, arranged according to subject matter in twelve 
books. Some hundreds of these acts were Justinian’s own ; the 
rest were tliose of his predecessors, often in abridged and revised 
form, which henceforth could be cited only as they appeared in 
the Code. But since the emperor continued to legislate on all 
sorts of matters, it was subsequently found convenient to add a 
supplement known as the Novellm, or new constitutions. 

Meanwhile the commission had been enlarged and set upon the 
infinitely harder task of codifying the writings of the jurists. As TheDigest 
a preliminary, the emperor rendered decisions on fifty disputed and the 
questions and the experts were then commanded to summarize .the 
whole of Roman jurisprudence in fifty books. On each subject 
in turn they were to give the fullest and soundest opinions avail- 
able, whenever possible preserving the language of the original. 

How many manuscripts the commissioners examined is not 
known, but their final compilation actually cited 1544 separate 
works by thirty-eight authors. The result of this enormous 
labor, known as the Digesta or Pmdectce, was published in 533 
and, like the Code, was made legally binding on the courts, 
which were forbidden thenceforth to use the jurists except as they 
had been officially quoted. It was the preparation of the Digest, 
with the accompanying settlement of ancient controversies, that 
led to the revision of the Code. It also inspired the production 
of the Instituta, a textbook of first principles arranged accord- 
ing to the anal3dical plan adopted by Gains in the second century. 

Code, Digest, and Institutes (the Novels were an unofficial 
appendix) made up the Corpus Juris Civilis. Within this collec-- The 
tion it is not Justinian’s Code that constitutes what we think of 
under that name, but his Digest. The Code resembles rather 
a present-day collection of revised statute^; however, interesting 
it may be to the historian, the legislation that it contains 
has, of course, long been outmoded. On the other hand, the 

of Latin 
'in the east 






Digest, being a systematic exposition of fundamentals, can never 
become obsolete as long as Roman law remains a living system. 
For the same reason the Institutes must continue indefinitely to 
serve as an introduction to the subject. From the lawyer’s 
point of view it is therefore the two latter works that have 
always been especially valuable. Modern scholarship naturally 
prefers originals to any sort of compilation ; but we may be sure 
that, were it not for the Digest, the writings of the jurists would 
in large part have perished. All learning was then threatening to 
disappear in the west, and only Greek learning was to persist in 
the east. 

By the time of Justinian, in fact, Latin was almost a dead 
language at Constantinople. The emperor’s own Novels were 
issued in Greek, and before the end of the sixth century his 
great law books were commonly used only in Greek translation. 
]\Iany Latin words and phrases — ^the ghost of a famous Roman 
tradition — ^long continued to be official in connection with Byzan- 
tine law, government, and military organization; but eventually 
they lost all meaning or were absorbed into Greek. In its spoken 
form, Greek had come to reflect the cosmopolitanism of the cap- 
ital, becoming intermixed with Latin, oriental, and barbarian ele- 
ments. Even the vernacular of the educated was no longer classic 
in vocabulary, syntax, or pronunciation. Nevertheless, it re- 
mained so close to the ancient language that the latter could be 
maintained inviolate in all formal literature. Accordingly, when 
the Byzantine gentleman addressed his employees, he spoke one 
form of Greek ; while conversing at home, he used another ; if he 
attempted refined composition, he had to employ still a third. 

As was to be expected under such circumstances, literary educa- 
tion tended to become more and more artificial. The boy of good 
family continued to study grammar and rhetoric as it had been 
studied for centuries. He learned Homer and other poets by 
heart, and he gained an intimate knowledge of Herodotus, Thucy- 
dides, and the great orators — sl pagan tradition which the church 
in the east never broke down. Although, with the passing of the 
ancient schools of philosophy, advanced education became more 
thoroughly Christian, Byzantine literature kept such an ardent 
attachment to classic forms that originality was discouraged. The 
multitude of authors were content with imitations, commentaries, 
or anthologies. Verse continued to be written in ancient meters 


based on quantity. It was, however, inferior to the new Christian 
poetry which, being unbound by precedent, adopted the popular 
system of stressed syllables and rhyme. Greek prose, like the 
Latin prose of the late empire, chronically suffered from rhetorical 
over-adornment. In science, aside from a few practical inven- 
tions, no progress was made ; the best scholars of the age did no 
more than read and reread the famous texts of an older genera- 
tion. Yet good technical essays were written on law, administra- 
tion, and military affairs. Some of the church fathers were masters 
of prose style as well as of theological controversy. And in his- 
toriography the successors of Procopius maintained a relatively 
high standard. 

If we compare Byzantine learning and literature with what 
had preceded, it is at once apparent that the east suffered Byzantine 
no such cultural decline as introduced the Dark Age in the west, architec- 
The same truth emerges from a study of Byzantine architecture, 
which holds a recognized place among the world’s greatest styles. 

Very remarkably, it owed almost nothing to the Greeks. Despite 
certain features borrowed from the orient, it was fundamentally 
Roman — a fact that further testifies to the strength of Latin tradi- 
tion at Constantinople down through the reign of Justinian. As 
already remarked, the peculiar genius of the Romans made them 
superlative builders of utilitarian structures, which were generally 
characterized by employment of the arch. This element, of course, 
had been known for thousands of years, but hitherto it had never 
been developed into an architectural style. 

The fundamental principle may be very briefly stated : if placed 
on adequate piers, a semicircular arch of masonry, either stone Roman 
or ’brick, will hold up a portion of wall twice as wide as the arch is Greek 
high (see Figure 12 ). A single arch may be employed to provide a 
door, a window, or some other aperture; a series of arches may 
be raised to support an aqueduct, a bridge, or a much more elabo- 
rate superstructure. If extended, such an arch constitutes what 
is called a barrel (semi-cylindrical) vault. Continued in a circle, 
as if rotated on its axis, it forms a dome. And either vault 
or dome may be used as a roof* The principles of arched con- 
struction were thoroughly understood by the Romans; yet when 
they came to decorate their buildings they continued to be fasci- 
nated by Greek draditicm, to which the arch was entirely foreign. 

In their finest 4 orks the Greeks had held to a system inherited 






from ancestors who had built only in wood — a system in which the 
central element is a horizontal slab supported by columns. When 
a series of such units are placed side by side, the result is a colon- 
nade surmounted by an architrave. In the typical Greek temple 
the architrave bears a decorative frieze and a projecting cornice; 
and these three parts are together called the entablature (see 
Figure i). Such members could of course be decorated in a 
variety of ways, and the dilferent schemes of carving the capi- 
tals — ^the blocks placed on top of the columns — ^gave rise to the 

three classic orders, known as 
Doric, Ionian, and Corinthian. 

When the Romans built an 
aqueduct, they naturally made 
no attempt at adornment, leaving 
bare the simple row of piers and 
arches. But when the same 
method of construction was em- 
ployed for a monument intended 
to be beautiful, they sought to 
embellish the exterior by fram- 
ing the arches with quite un- 
necessary columns and entabla- 
tures superficially attached to the 
masonry walls. In the famous 
Colosseum, for example, the 
three tiers of arches are thus set 
off by the classic orders, one 
over the other — a characteristic 
bit of Roman ostentation never found in the works of ancient 
Greece (see Plate II). And this same obsession for pseudo- 
classic adornment led to even greater absurdities in such pre- 
tentious buildings as the baths of the later empire. It was not 
until the fourth century that architects, especially those in the 
east, began to free themselves from Greek tradition and to make 
their arches spring directly from supporting columns — a practice 
that in turn necessitated other changes (see Plate IV — San- 
PApollinare). Columns, when they were designed for the new 
purpose instead of being filched from pagan temples, became 
heavier. Capitals, to suit their new environment, were carved 
in unconventional designs, thus clearing the way for later experi- 
mentation in decorative sculpture. 


These innovations coincided with an increasing use of the 
dome, an architectural fashion which seems to have been spread The dome 
through Syrian influence. At Rome the Pantheon had long be- Pf^i- 
fore been covered with a dome, but since the building was itself 
round, the construction offered no great difficulty. The hard 
problem was to adapt the dome for employment on a rectangular 
building like a fifth-century church. In Syria this had been 
crudely accomplished by placing slabs of stone across the angles 
of a square aperture to form an octagon, from which the hemi- 
spherical dome was raised. The first artistic solution was in- 
vented by the Byzantine architects. It is known as a dome on 
pendentives® and cannot be dearly understood without the aid of 
a diagram (see Figure 2). The preliminary step is to design a 
dome touching the four comers of the square to be covered, and 
then to trim it off perpendicularly 
where it extends beyond the four sides 
of the square. The remaining portion 
will be an imperfect dome such as was 
actually placed over Galla Placidia’s 
tomb at Ravenna. The final step is to 
cut off the top of this first dome at the 
height of the arched openings on each 
side, and to construct the real dome 
over the cirde thus provided. _ ^ 

It was fitting that this great struc- Pendentives. 

tural achievement should have been 

first accomplished in the magnificent cnurcn 01 at. aopnia me 
(see Plate II), erected by Justinian to replace an older edifice church of 
burned during the Nika Revolt. Since the Turkish conquest of 
the fifteenth century, it has been used as a Mohammedan mosque,^® 
and at one time or anotlier parts of it have been removed and 
other parts — ^notably four lofty minarets — ^have been added. But 
the central portion, rebuilt after an earthquake in 558, yet stands 
as it was so lyrically described by Procopius nearly 1400 years 
ago — eloquent testimony to the solidity of its construction and 
to the excellence of its design. Structurally Justinian’s church 
is indeed one of the world’s marvels. The central dome, rising 
180 feet above the pavement, is more than a hundred feet wide 

® The pendentives are the four spherical triangles on which the dome rests. ^ 

At the present moment it is being turned into a museum by the Ttirkish 


and, together with the two half-domes built against it on north 
and south, covers an area some 250 feet in length. As noted, the 
dome is borne on pendentives, and they are held in place by four 
great arches springing from the four central piers, each of which 
is backed by a huge buttress. Since the dome is not held together 
by chains or other steel supports, it does not tower in the air 
like those of more modern times ; and for that reason the church 
of St. Sophia is often found rather disappointing. The materials 
also are rather mean — ^plain brickwork with a covering of plaster 
or, in the case of the dome, of lead. This is characteristic of the 
Byzantine style. The arcliitects paid little attention to the external 
appearance of their buildings and concentrated their talents on pro- 
ducing interiors of unparalleled brilliance. 

Sculpture, except for the adornment of capitals, altar fronts, 
Sculpture and minor details, was little used ; and in such places carving was 
and mosaic normally restricted to geometrical designs or those drawn from 
plants and birds, frequently showing Persian influence. But 
the smooth walls, arches, and vaults were made to blaze with color. 
Variegated marbles, stripped from pagan temples, were used in 
rich profusion throughout the lower portions of the church, while 
the upper surfaces were covered with splendid mosaics. In this 
art the Greeks of Constantinople attained a perfection whicli has 
been the despair of all subsequent generations. Bits of tinted glass, 
placed edgewise to catch the light, were made into remarkably 
beautiful pictures of a somewhat conventionalized t3q)e — com- 
monly human figures against a plain gold background, interspersed 
with trees, birds, animals, and other figures of symbolic meaning. 
The drawing of men and women was generally poor, with bodies 
out of proportion, attitudes stiff and ungraceful, and features lack- 
ing all individuality. The colors employed were few and crude. 
No attempt was made to produce more than a flat decoration. Yet, 
for these very reasons, Byzantine mosaic was more successful than 
if it had tried for greater realism or subtlety. The total effect is 
one of barbaric splendor, combined with a religious appeal that is 
the more direct and forceful because the art is primitive. The men 
who created these works had plainly lost all reverence for the in- 
sipid classicism of the preceding centuries. Their inspiration 
came rather from the orient and the new faith which had there 

Although the Byzantine style of construction was not perfected 


till the days of Justinian, the accompanying scheme of decoration 
was developed considerably earlier — ^not only in Constantinople 
and the surrounding region, but also in Italy. As we have seen, 
the chief residence of the emperors in the west, beginning with 
Honorius, was shifted from Rome to Ravenna, and it was there 
that the finest architectural monuments of fifth-century Italy were 
erected. Three of these remarkable works still remain : the baptis- 
tery of Bishops Ursus and Neon, the mausoleum of Galla Placidia, 
and the church of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, construction of which 
was begun by Theodoric the Ostrogoth. These buildings — espe- 
cially the first — ^liave wonderful mosaics, and in this respect, as 
well as in structural details, clearly show the directing hand of the 
eastern workman. Even more noteworthy is the domed church of 
San Vitale, built at Ravenna under the patronage of Justinian and 
Theodora, whose portraits appear in the famous mosaics that 
adorn its walls. The beautifully decorated church of San- 
t’Apollinare in Classe (see Plate IV) dates from the same period. 

The art of Constantinople did not, of course, end with the 
sixth century. It lived on, to have as widespread an influence 
as any other feature of Byzantine civilization — ^an influence that 
will be encountered in many connections, among Christians as well 
as among Mohammedans. 

arts in 


and the 



In previous chapters we have seen how the plateau of central 
Asia served as a vast reservoir of nomadic tribes, who from time 
to time overflowed with devastating effect into the surrounding- 
regions. Arabia, to a certain extent, has played a similar part in 
history. It is a roughly quadrangular peninsula, which on the 
north has no clearly marked natural frontier. There it abuts on 
two rich and famous countries : Syria, which lies on the eastern 
shore of the Mediterranean, and Mesopotamia, which is the valley 
of the Tigris-Euplirates. Time and again these countries have 
been swept by great migrations from out of Arabia. Such, it is 
generally held, was the common origin of the peoples known as 
Semitic, including the Assyrians, Chaldaeans, Hebrews, Phoeni- 
cians, and Aramaeans. The theory, however, is largely conjecture 
based on similarity of lang-uage ; it had no place in the traditions of 
the seventh century. 

Neither Romans nor Greeks had encountered anything more 
serious than petty raiding from the direction of the Arabian desert, 
the interior of which had remained unknown to them. Accord- 
ingly, the Arab conquest seemed to contemporaries as new and un- 
precedented as the Mohammedan faith, and the entire upheaval was 
considered essentially religious. Today we find it hard to be- 
lieve that any degree of mere fanaticism could possibly have ac- 
complished so tremendous a revolution in so short a time. To 
explain it, we must take into account economic and social condi- 
tions not only in Arabia, but also in the invaded districts. The 
religious factor provided merely a final impetus to latent forces 
which had been gaining strength for many hundreds of years. 
On the side of the Roman Empire Hellenism had long been weak- 
ening in the face of an oriental reaction, and this reaction was 
now championed and turned to enormous profit by the hosts of 
Islam. The problem is to see how these hosts came to be 

Whatever the condition of the Arabian borderlands, the inte- 
rior of the peninsula remains today as it has been throughout 



the whole of recorded history. It is the home of the Bedouins, The 
who yet live as they were living in the time of Mohammed, and Bedouij^: 
as — ^to judge from the stories in the Old Testament — ^the ancient Noiiiadic 
Hebrews had lived before they settled in the Promised Land. ® 

The Arab nomad depends for existence upon his flocks, and they 
in turn depend upon the pasturage of the desert. Normally the 
autumn rains produce a scanty vegetation, sufficient for sheep and 
goats if they are kept constantly on the move. Throughout the 
winter, accordingly, they are driven south, and then, just in ad- 
vance of the summer drought, they are turned north, to eat their 
way back to the point from which they started the year before. 

The ordinary beast of burden is the camel, but Arabian horses, 
bred for speed and endurance, have of course been famous for 

The life of the Bedouins is thus purely nomadic, and their 
social and political organization such as normally accompanies it. 

The patriarchal system is universal. Family groups, each under 
the absolute rule of its chief man, are united to form a tribe 
headed by a sheik. The latter holds authority over a certain 
strip of territory within which his people wander back and forth. 

It is part of his office to lead his young men on profitable expedi- 
tions against his neighbors. Caravan-raiding has been the special 
delight of the Bedouin for literally thousands of years. He has 
no use for centralized government and resists all interference 
with his time-honored habits. And we may be sure that, as long 
as the desert remains as it has been, its inhabitants — secure from 
outside molestation — ^will continue as in the past to do precisely 
as they please. 

Physically, the desert Arab is a splendid type of manhood — 
slender and graceful, with piercing black eyes and regular, often Physical 
handsome, features. In youth the women too are likely to be aud moral 
attractive, but, under the domestic labor to which they are doomed, 
their beauty soon fades. In bearing, the Arab sheik is the per- 
sonification of dignity combined with a certain, wild freedom 
that has ever endeared him to romantic authors. His courtesy 
and hospitality are proverbial, and according to his own peculiar 
standards — ^which do not exclude professional robbery and bloody 
feuds — he is strictly honorable. The average of intelligence 
among the Bedouins is high. Entirely illiterate, they are far from 
ignorant. They can recite from memory the genealogies not 
merely of tjieir jeibdmg men, but also of their famous horses 

The Arabs 
in the 


throughout an amazing extent of time. They have always been 
passionately fond of poetry, story-telling, and speculative discus- 
sion. And of all the nations of the globe they have proved them- 
selves, when in alien environments, among the most adaptable — 
extraordinarily quick to learn by observation and to apply to ex- 
cellent advantage the information thus acquired. 

Nomadic society tends to follow an invariable routine of exist- 
ence for an indefinite period, but this routine is one that de- 
pends on static conditions — 3. certain food supply and a limited 
population. If the former unduly decreases or if the latter unduly 
increases, the whole balance of life is wrecked. When, for exam- 
ple, climatic change brings persisting drought to a region that has 
earlier supplied regular pasturage, a host of tribesmen are imme- 
diately faced with starvation. To secure other territory, they 
have to drive out the present holders ; and such a disturbance, once 
started, may have repercussions in far-distant lands. Occurrences 
of this sort have been common in the history of nomadic peoples, 
and they help us to understand the case of Arabia in the seventh 
century. It has been argued with considerable plausibility that 
the gradual desiccation of the interior was fundamentally re- 
sponsible for the outpouring of its inhabitants. At any rate, in 
the light of what actually happened, we must believe that the 
country was overpopulated; that here, as In central Asia, hordes 
of land-hungry adventurers were ready to grasp the opportunity 
for migration and conquest just as soon as it was presented. 

In the seventh century the overwhelming majority of the popu- 
lation was nomadic; yet in certain localities there were tribes 
that had long since adopted a settled mode of life. Beside the 
infrequent streams agricultural communities had grown up, while 
along the coasts, both on the east and on the west, sea trade had 
developed a number of small towns, from which caravan routes 
led to the greater markets of Syria and Persia. In ancient times 
the most advanced section of the peninsula had been the south- 
western corner — ^what is now called Yemen. There a people 
known as Sabieans (whence the Biblical queen of Sheba) had 
built up a flourishing kingdom, from which famous gums and 
spices, such as frankincense and myrrh, were exported to the 
Mediterranean countries. And it was presumably from this re- 
gion that a Semitic language was carried into Ethiopia, the mod- 
ern Abyssinia. Although the earlier history of the connection re- 


mains obscure, the final result was the destruction of the Sabaean 
kingdom, early in the Christian era, by the Abyssinians. Mean- 
while new centers of Arabian civilization had arisen to the north. 

Trajan extended the Roman dominion over Petra and the lands 
of the Nabataeans, which thenceforth were organized as a prov- 
ince {Arabia Petrcca), Under imperial patronage the neighbor- 
ing Arab tribes were then enrolled as allies against the nomads. 
Persia, to defend the territory of Mesopotamia, followed the 
same policy. So, in the sixth century, we find two Arab kingdoms 
guarding the desert frontier, one as a Roman and the other as a 
Persian protectorate. By the opening of the next century both 
buffer states had been destroyed through the jealousy of the 
great monarchies which, being engaged in a bitter struggle with 
each other, overlooked the potential danger from the soutli. 
Yet at the time what actual menace could be detected in Arabia? 
Throughout the entire peninsula there was neither prince nor 
people who could boast of an authority more than local. The 
memory of man did not run back to an age when the Arabs 
had ever united in a common cause. What could be more incred- 
ible than that such a union would be brought about by an obscure 
camel-driver of Hejaz? 

That region, the strip of coast lying directly south of the 
Roman province, now held the commercial leadership of Arabia. 
Thither came vessels from Africa and India, bearing precious 
goods for trans-shipment to the north. The chief port for this 
traffic was Jidda, inland from which about fifty miles lay the 
little town of Mecca {Makka) the center of a flourishing trade 
with the desert Arabs and the starting-point of the chief caravan 
route to Syria. Some two hundred miles to the northward was 
Yathrib, later renamed Medina — ^ settlement principally devoted 
to the raising of dates. But Mecca was by all odds the more 
important commercially, and in addition it had the reputation of 
being a particularly holy place. It contained a square temple 
called the Kaaba (i.e., the cube), in which were housed the statues 
of various local deities and a sacred black stone, presumably a 
meteorite, for it was said to have fallen from heaven. To visit this 
shrine and to attend a sort of fair in the neighborhood, crowds of 
pilgrims annually came from far and wide. So Mecca, together 

^ In the following pages names will normally be given in the form 

f thronghlor^ with the more echolaarly spends in ps^^thesis. 

states of 
the north 

The region 
of Hejaz: 
Mecca and 







beliefs of 


with the tribe of Kuraish which furnished its ruling families, 
were known to Arabs everywhere. 

We have little sure information as to intellectual conditions in 
Mecca, or throughout Arabia generally. From time immemo- 
rial the Arabs had held poets and story-tellers in high esteem, and 
so had developed a literature of song and fiction that was virtually 
common to the entire people. It was, however, almost exclusively 
an oral literature preserved by memory. Writing as yet was 
used only in scattered communities along the frontiers. Although 
the Sabsean language is known from very ancient inscriptions, it 
had never become more than a local dialect. What is called classic 
Arabic was the vernacular of the Bedouins ; and the fact that it 
was elaborately developed, with rich vocabulary and vivid im- 
agery, is further testimony to the remarkable genius of the people. 
It came to be written through northern influence. Aramaic, the 
language of Christ and the apostles, had for hundreds of years 
been the principal means of communication among the traders of 
Syria and the adjoining regions. Spreading among the Naba- 
tseans, it inevitably reached also the Arabs of Hejaz, and when 
they came to write their own vernacular, they naturally adapted 
to the purpose the Aramaic alphabet. But in this respect, as in 
so many others, the career of Mohammed marked the beginning 
of a new epoch. 

Meanwhile there had also been an infiltration of foreign reli- 
gions into Arabia, for as yet the natives had no faith of their 
own that could compete with those of Syria and Mesopotamia. 
Although the Bedouins had a number of traditional beliefs with 
respect to the supernatural, they were of the most primitive 
kind. The people of the interior kept up a rather perfunctory 
worship of various local gods and goddesses, such as those hon- 
ored at Mecca; they recognized many sacred rocks, trees, wells, 
and the like; and they had a lively respect for the spirits {jinn) 
which, they thought, inhabited the desert. Along the northern 
frontier, on the other hand, the Arabs quite generally had adopted 
the cults of their civilized neighbors. On the side of Persia Zoro- 
astrianism had obtained an extensive following, while from Syria 
Jewish and Christian influences had come, at least in some meas- 
ure, to affect the western Arabs, notably those of Mecca and 
Medina. This fact must now serve to introduce the story of the 
illustrious prophet of Islam. 




Mohammed {Muhammad) was born at Mecca about the year 
570. His family, though belonging to the tribe of Kuraish, was Early life 
not wealthy, and as a boy of nine or ten he was left an orphan. 

Thus coming under the care of an uncle, Mohammed spent his 
youth in comparative poverty — a. period of which we know 
nothing except that he became thoroughly familiar with con- 
temporary methods of trade. Of formal education he could have 
had little; that he ever learned to write Arabic has been denied, 
but is not improbable. In his travels with caravans, however, 
Mohammed unquestionably picked up a great deal of miscellane- 
ous information. As a trader, he would have the opportunity of 
meeting men from different lands; as an intelligent Arab, he 
would store in his memory much of what they told him. And 
since there were many Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians, 
such a smattering of their doctrines as he later displayed would 
not be hard to obtain. We may be positive that he never read 
their Scriptures. 

By the age of about twenty-four Mohammed had so far per- 
fected his professional training that he was employed as com- Religious 
mercial agent by a wealthy widow of Mecca named Khadija. convictions 
And after he had successfully led a caravan to Syria on her 
behalf, he became the lady’s husband — ^her third. Mohammed 
was of course much the younger of the two, but the marriage was 
a happy one; and it was during his long life with Khadija that 
he began his career as a religious reformer. Being now a man of 
substance and leisure, he could devote himself to the problems of 
faith and conduct which must first have attracted his attention 
long before. The traditional pol3ffheism of the Arabs, he felt, 
was wrong; there was only one God (Allah), the creator of all 
things, in whose sight man must live righteously in order to win 
salvation on the awful day of judgment that momentarily im- 
pended. When the last trump sounded, the good would be raised 
to the everlasting joys of paradise, while the bad would be cast 
into the flames of hell. 

To Jews and Christians these ideas would seem very familiar; 
they must, in fact, have been somehow derived from such teach- 
ers. Mohammed insisted that his God was the God of the Jews 
and of the Christians — ^the God testified to by the prophets, in- 
cluding Moees, Abraham, Noah, and Jesus. The latter, he said. 

of AllaJa 


though miraculously born of the Virgin Mary, was not Himself 
divine. Since Christian doctrine was in his eyes incompatible 
with strict monotheism, he would have none of it. On the whole, 
therefore, his inspiration was essentially Hebrew. Christianity 
he regarded as at most a variety of Judaism. And even as the 
prophets of old had received direct commissions from the Al- 
mighty for tlie instruction of the people, might not he, Moham- 
med, be made the intermediary for a new dispensation from on 

It was not until Mohammed was over forty and had spent 
much time in prayer and fasting, that he was rewarded by visions 
which convinced him of his prophetic mission. From the angel 
Gabriel, as he told his wife and a few intimate friends, came the 
messages that were eventually to found a new religion for Arabia 
and the world. There can be no question of his sincerity. Even 
if his sayings were often tinged with practical or perhaps oppor- 
tunist considerations, we should no more impugn his honesty than 
that of his Hebrew predecessors, who also had employed common 
sense while acting as the spokesmen of God. The subconscious 
mind, as we know from the modem study of psychology, can 
perform marvels — especially in the case of a man like Mohammed, 
nervously high-strung, extraordinarily sensitive, and subject to 
periodic attacks of hysteria which he and others considered mani- 
fest evidence of supernatural powers. Yet, whether or not we call 
his visions hallucinations, the fact remains that they were real 
to him and to his followers; being so, they revolutionized the 
course of events in three continents. The historical importance 
of a religion is not that it is true, but that people believe it so. 

At first Mohammed had little success with his preaching. 
While his wife Khadija and his cousin Ali embraced the new 
faith from the outset, most of his relatives, including the uncle 
who had brought him up, held aloof. Among the other early 
converts the only prominent man was Abu Bakr, who was to 
remain Mohammed’s closest friend and adviser. Later he gained 
another important recruit in a young man named Omar (Umar)^ 
eventually to prove himself one of the world’s great statesmen. 
The majority of the Kuraish, however, bitterly opposed the up- 
start prophet, who denounced the traditional worship to whidh 
they were attached by business interest as well as by sentiment. 
They ridiculed Mohammed as a crazy poet. His teachings, they 
said, were absurd. How could God restore them to life after they 


had turned to dust and dry bones ? Why should they believe a 
simple fellow from among themselves, who ate like them and 
walked like them in the market ? If he had a divine commission, 
let him show them an angel or work for them some evident 
miracle. To which Mohammed replied with eloquent stories 
about the persecution of the ancient prophets and with lurid 
descriptions of the hell that yawned for unbelievers. 

Finally, after his position at Mecca had been further weakened 
by the death of his wife in 619, followed by that of his uncle. The 
Mohammed decided to leave that town for a more sympathetic Hegira 
environment. At Yathrib there was a considerable colony of 
Jews, or Judaized Arabs, at least some of whom were willing to 
recognize Mohammed as tlieir promised Messiah. There was, 
furtliermore, a long-standing feud between rival tribes of the 
neighborhood which had come to be found inconvenient for all 
parties. The upshot was that the men of Yathrib made a solemn 
treaty with Mohammed, swearing to accept whatever peace he 
might dictate and to protect him and his followers a§ members 
of their own families. l[So, in 622, the prophet and his little band 
of followers left Mecca, breaking all connection with their own 
groups of kindred. This was the famous Hegira® (Hijra ) — ^the 
Separation from Mecca, from which Mohammedans re^on their 
years. And it was a noteworthy event, for it marked the definite 
organization of the new religion. 

Yathrib was now renamed Medina (Madinat-an-Ndbi, City of 
the Prophet), and from there Mohammed continued the promul- The formal 
gation of his divine messages, now turned from short exhorta- 
tions in a higWy poetic vein to detailed edicts on social and politi- 
cal problems as well as on matters of faith and worship. The 
Mohammedan religion formally appears as Islam, meaning sub- 
mission to God. One who has made his submission is a Moslem 
(Muslim). His confession of faith is extremely siifiple: "There 
is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is His prophet.” .After cere- 
monial ablution with water or with sand, he should pray at certain 
fixed hours of the day — tradition says five times — ^and these 
prayers are accompanied by a mild discipline of bodily postures 
resembling athletic exercises. Service in the mosque is merely 
common prayer under the guidance of a leader, for there has 
never been a Mohammwkn priesthood. At first the faithful 

» ProBKJtmce with fifst syllable and with ah vowels short. 



prayed with their faces toward Jerusalem; subsequently, wlien 
Mohammed found that most Jews rejected his teaching, he sub- 
stituted Mecca. To that holy place the Moslem should make 
a pilgrimage at least once during his life. He should, further- 
more, give alms for charitable and pious ends, and he should fast 
from sunrise to sunset throughout the sacred month of Ramadan. 

These were and are the major requirements of Islam, to which 
were added from time to time a large number of moral precepts — 
rather modifications of existing custom than radical innovations. 
To a limited degree polygamy and slavery were both retained. 
The prophet himself, after the death of Khadija, took many 
wives, making such alliances for the sake of political advantage. 
Yet in various ways he sought to ameliorate the condition both of 
slaves and of women. Marriage customs were greatly improved. 
Sexual promiscuity, which earlier had been common, was severely 
punished. The primitive system of the blood feud, by which 
the family avenged wrongs done to its members, was restricted 
by enforcing the acceptance of compensation when that was 
rightfully offered.® The Arabs were already acquainted with 
taboos in connection with food and drink, and Mohammed wisely 
refrained from adding any very rigorous prohibitions. Moslems 
should abstain from the flesh of all animals slaughtered in the 
name of any god except Allah, as well as from pork and from 
wine. But the latter restrictions, it should be noted, could work 
no great hardship on the Bedouins. As the mark of a national 
cult, the new discipline was eminently sensible in its moderation. 

With respect to all these matters our primary source of infor- 
The Koran mation is the Koran {Quran, Reading), a collection of Moham- 
med’s saymgs, which in its present form dates from the period 
just after the prophet’s death. Most of its contents, however, 
had been written down earlier— -either by Mohammed himself 
or by others — and much of it had been committed to memory by 
the devout. The authenticity of its substance is thus unquestion- 
able, and allowance need only be made for revision of its wording 
and rearrangement of its parts. The latter consideration is of 
little importance, since the compilers — except for an opening prayer 
■ — merely placed the 114 chapters, or suras, in decreasing order 
of their length. The Koran is therefore so devoid of logical co- 
herence that to read and appreciate it as a whole is extremely 

® Compare the Germaoic customs noted above, p. 78. 


difficult. Each fragment must be taken as it was originally uttered 
— as a separate message delivered on a particular occasion. 

Thus understood, the Koran is magnificent. To the student 
of Arabian law and institutions the later suras promulgated at 
Medina are the most instructive; but as literature, revealing the 
very heart of Islam, the earlier ones are infinitely superior. Most 
of them, being short, are to be found toward the end of the 
book. In form they resemble modernistic verse, being made 
up of irregular lines without definite meter or rhyme pat- 
tern, but with rhythmic cadences and combinations of syllables 
according to resemblance of sound. Although Mohammed con- 
sidered the term an insult, he really was a poet, and a great one. 
To turn the Koran into matter-of-fact prose is to spoil it. Indeed, 
much of its beauty is inevitably destroyed by any kind of trans- 
lation. Nevertheless, those of us unfortunate enough to be igno- 
rant of Arabic may gain some inkling of the original by a good 
version in a modern language. 

This is the opening prayer (i) : 

Praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds. 

Merciful and compassionate. 

King of the Day of Judgment ! 
r Thee do we serve, and of Thee do we beg assistance. 

^ Guide us in the right way — 

The way of them who are pleasing in Thy sight, 

Not of them who bear Thy wrath; not of them who are astray 

Other suras are strongly reminiscent of the Psalms, but with 
'X)uches peculiar to Arabia, For example (Ixxxvii) : 

/Praise the name of thy Lord, the Most High, 

Who created and designed all things. 

Who preordained them and directs them ; 

Who makes the grass to grow in the pastures, 

: And then bums it brown like straw. ... 

» Happy is he who purifies himself 

And remembers the name of his Lord in prayer. 

But ye prefer the life of this world, 

Though that to come is better, and is everlasting. 

For this of a truth was in the books of old, 

The books of Abraham and Moses. 

On one occasion we ate told that Mohammed had for several 
days failed'to receive my revelation and was on that account being 





ridiculed by his enemies. Then God spoke to him as follows 
(xciii) : 

By the splendor of day. 

And by the darkness of night — 

Thy Lord has not forsaken thee, nor does he hate thee. 

Verily the life to come shall be kinder to thee than is the present; 
Thy Lord shall give thee a reward and thou shalt be well pleased. 

Did he not find thee an orphan and give thee shelter? 

Did he not find thee wandering and give thee guidance? 

Did he not find thee in need and give thee riches ? 

Wherefore oppress not the orphan. 

Drive not the beggar away. 

But proclaim the goodness of thy Lord. 

The majestic opening of this sura — in form a solemn oath — ^is 
characteristic of many others. Among them the one following 
is perhaps the finest (c) : 

By the panting war-horses. 

Striking fire from their hoofs. 

Charging at dawn, 

Under a cloud of dust 
Piercing the enemy host — 

Truly man is ungrateful toward his Lord, 

And he himself is witness of his ingratitude ; 

For truly his heart is set on worldly gain. 

Does he not know that, when the graves are opened. 

All in the breasts of men shall be as daylight? 

That on this Day their Lord shall know them ? 

The Last Judgment is an ever recurrent theme, and is described 
under many names. For instance (ci) : 

The Day of Smiting! What is the Day of Smiting? 

And what can make thee understand the Day of Smiting — 

The Day when men shall be as scattered moths, 

When the mountains shall be as flecks of carded wool ! 

He whose balance is well weighted — ^lae shall gain a life joyful ; 

He whose balance is yet empty — ^Iie shall go down to the pit of hell. 
And what can make thee understand the pit of hell ? 

Burning fire! 1 

Paradise (Ivi), on the contrary, is a cool place, watered by 
streams and shaded by thornless trees which bear an inexhaustible^ 
crop of delicious fruits. There shall dwell the “people of tl^ 



right hand/* reclining on sumptuous couches, eating choice viands, 
and quaffing a heavenly beverage that causes neither headache nor 
drunkenness! They shall be waited on by handsome pages, 
always in the bloom of youth, and as wives shall have hotiris 
created for them by a special providence — ^lovely damsels with 
eyes like black pearls 1 

To the modern reader these descriptions of rewards and pun- 
ishments in the hereafter must seem rather childishly realistic ; but 
for that very reason did they not hold a greater appeal to a primi- 
tive people ? The audience to which Mohammed addressed him- 
self could hardly have appreciated a doctrine based on philo- 
sophical abstraction. Like all successful reformers, he had to 
teach new ideals in a familiar language. The rich imagery of 
the Koran was only such as even the illiterate Bedouins delighted 
in. And its religious ideas were so lofty that they could offset, 
in the eyes of the more sophisticated, a possible crudity of pres- 
entation. After all, the essence of Mohammed’s preaching was 
not belief in hell fire and heavenly bliss, but man’s submission to 
God, to be shown by repentance and a virtuous life. 

As a religion, Islam was founded during the prophet’s ministry 
at Mecca. His later life was devoted to the establishment of an 
organization to enforce its dominion ; and since there was no pre- 
existing Arabian state, his system was of necessity semi-political. 
At Medina Mohammed was confronted by multifarious problems. 
He had to prescribe details of worship and everyday morality for 
his followers. He became involved in conflicts with the Jews and 
other local inhabitants who, refusing to recognize his prophetic 
mission, opposed his authority on all occasions. Also to be con- 
sidered was the project of speading the faith among the Bedouin 
tribes. All these matters depended on the outcome of the feud 
with Mecca. Since the Hegira, the band of Moslems had, of 
course, ceased to owe any loyalty to the tribe of Kuraish, and 
they now, with the constant support of revelations from heaven, 
began raiding the caravans of their erstwhile kindred. This 
policy led to greater hostilities, and finally, in 624, Mohammed 
gained his first major success. At Badr, near the Red Sea, his 
followers won a pitched battle against a force that outnumbered 
them three to one. The Meccans had never ceased their clamor 
for a miracle. This, the victors, was now afforded them ; 
for without tl^ hdp of God’s angels, who c^ppeared beside him in 

med’s re- 
ligious and 

The cap- 
ture of 


the field, the prophet could never have prevailed against the hos- 
tile army. 

Then ensued three more years of desultory fighting, in which 
the troops of Islam — as yet only a few hundreds — sometimes won 
and sometimes lost. Yet on the whole the Moslem cause steadily 
advanced. The antagonistic Jews were driven from Medina arid 
their lands were confiscated by the faithful. More booty flowed 
in from successful raids against the enemy. Then, in 627, Mo- 
hammed obtained another signal victory. An army of several 
thousand men, recruited by the Kuraish from among their Bed- 
ouin allies, besieged Medina but were repulsed through Mo- 
hammed’s employment of a trench as a line of defense — a trick 
which he is said to have learned from a Persian slave. However 
this may be, the battle proved another turning-point in the history 
of Arabia. The prophet became undisputed master of his city 
and so found himself in a position to assume the offensive against 

Thenceforth the opposition rapidly weakened. In 628 a ten 
years’ truce was sworn between the two parties and Mohammed 
for the first time was able to carry out the sacred pilgrimage 
to Mecca which he had continually emphasized as an essential 
part of the new faith. The occasion served mainly to advertise 
the prophet’s increasing fame, and several prominent men of the 
Kuraish — among them the great warriors, Khalid and Amr ibn 
al-As — announced their conversion to his cause. In the follow- 
ing year came the final triumph, when the breakdown of the truce 
brought the renewal of hostilities. Mohammed, now possessed 
of an overwhelming force, was allowed to occupy Mecca almost 
without striking a blow, and the first chapter in the Holy War of 
Islam may be said to have come to a close. 

Mohammed used his power wisely. The Kaaba was formally 
purified by casting out the idols which it had so long housed. But 
the temple itself was preserved, and with it the sacred black 
stone — ^an action justified by a special revelation. The Meccan 
cult, the prophet declared, had originally been founded by Abra- 
ham ; his modern successor was merely restoring its pristine char- 
acter. Thus, consciously or unconsciously, Mohammed made the 
revolution easy for the Kuraish to accept As a matter of fact, 
they soon found that, by guarding Islam’s holiest shrine, they 
stood to gain infinitely more than they had ever thought to lose. 


And with that ultimate testimony to the might of Allah, all resist- 
ance crumbled. 

To the mass of his converts the sudden death of Mohammed 
in 632 was a frightful calamity. But his work was done. Within 
ten years after leaving Mecca as a fugitive he had returned as 
a conqueror. His fame had spread throughout the length and 
breadth of Arabia ; and while as yet all the Bedouin tribes had by 
no means submitted to his dominion, the war which he had pro- 
claimed against the enemies of Islam was to bring an amazing 
series of triumphs such as his wildest dreams could never have 


The first problem raised by the unexpected death of Moham- 
med was how to perpetuate the organization which he had 
founded. On this point, strangely enough, the prophet had an- 
nounced no revelation; yet it was one that could hardly have 
escaped consideration by his relatives and associates. In spite of 
his many weddings, Mohammed was survived by only one child, 
Fatima, daughter of Khadija. She was married to Ali, the 
prophet's cousin, and by him had two sons. If the headship of 
Islam were declared hereditary like that of an ordinary family, 
the office would fall to Ali ; but he was more remarkable for his 
piety than for his ability. Rather than to him, Mohammed's 
confidence had been given to three tried counselors : Abu Bakr, 
Abu Ubaida, and Omar, And their position was further strength- 
ened by the fact that in his later years Mohammed's favorite wife 
was the young and spirited Aisha, daughter of Abu Bakr. When 
the crisis arose, it was this group that was prepared for decisive 

Coming before the assembled tribesmen — ^among whom the 
rivalry of Mecca and Medina was already threatening to produce 
armed conflict — ^Abu Bakr, as spokesman for the prophet's com- 
panions, insisted that the leadership be given to one of their 
number. He suggested Omar or Abu Ubaida, but they joined 
in acclaiming the elder statesman himself. The excited crowd 
was swept off its feet, and Abu Bakr was enthusiastically rec- 
ognized as caliph {Khalifa, Successor of the Prophet). Thus in- 
formally, and in apj^arance without premeditation, was estab- 
lished the institution which was thenceforth to dominate the 
Mohammedan world. And although there were factions that 

The death 
of Moham- 
med (632) 

Abu Bakr 
and Omar 

The unifi- 
cation of 

raids into 
and the 


remained bitterly hostile to the new settlement, its astounding 
success made organized opposition for a time impossible. The 
aged Abu Bakr was left only two years of life; then, on his 
nomination, the caliphate passed to Omar, whose rule of ten 
years ranks as one of the most brilliant in history. It was this 
caliph who formally adopted the style. Commander of the Faith- 
ful {Amir al-Mtiminin). 

One great responsibility of the caliphate was the Holy War 
to extend Moslem supremacy throughout Arabia. Mohammed’s 
authority, in spite of legendary exaggeration, had scarcely reached 
beyond the district of Hejaz, and at the news of his death even 
those Bedouins who liad already been subjected tended to throw 
off allegiance to Medina. This reaction was immediately checked 
by the energy of Abu Bakr. Under command of Khalid, the 
little army of Islam won battle after battle against the tribes of 
central Arabia, so that within hardly more than a year the caliph 
could shift operations from the desert to the adjoining regions, 
thus resuming a project already contemplated by Mohammed. 
As he had perceived, nothing would so quickly stimulate adhesion 
to the sacred cause as profitable raids against a common foe.. 
Accordingly, while offensives were still being pushed in the 
southern peninsula, Abu Bakr sent various bands of volunteers 
into Syria and Mesopotamia. 

The time was well chosen. Persia, since the great defeat ot 
some five years earlier, had fallen into a state of helplessness. 
The deposition of Chosroes IP had been followed by a prolonged 
civil war, and the ultimate recognition of his grandson, Yez- 
degerd, had brought only a superficial restoration of the mon- 
archy. Nor were conditions much better in the Byzantine Em- 
pire. Heraclius seemed exhausted by his heroic campaigns 
against Persia. His provinces were groaning under an atrocious 
burden of taxation, and to economic grievances were added those 
occasioned by the imperial policy of religious despotism. Out- 
side the Hellenized population of the great cities the government 
had few loyal supporters. The inhabitants of the countryside, 
exploited for a thousand years by the Greek aristocracy, would 
fight no desperate battles in its behalf. The Semitic peasantry 
of Syria, like that of Mesopotamia, would inevitably feel more 
akin to Arabs than to Byzantines or Persians. And the desert 

‘See above, p. 117. 



The battle 
of the 


of Syria 

tribes along the border, although they might be Christian or 
Zoroastrian in faith, would be only too willing to join expedi- 
tions that promised unlimited plunder. 

The possibilities of an aggressive campaign on the part of 
the Moslems were thus tremendous and were clearly advertised 
by Khalid’s great raid of 634. His first success was at Hira on 
the Euphrates, which paid him well to get rid of him. Thence 
he turned toward Syria, where scattered Arab forces were being 
threatened by a Byzantine army under Theodore, brother of 
Heraclius. Combining speed with good generalship, Khalid 
drove past Palmyra and Damascus, effected a junction with his 
compatriots, and with the combined forces met and defeated 
Theodore in July, 634. Just at this point Abu Bakr was suc- 
ceeded by Omar, and that caliph, at once appreciating the oppor- 
tunity that lay before him, began the systematic conquest of the 
old Roman provinces. While roving bands of Arabs occupied 
the exposed countryside, Khalid advanced to the siege of Damas- 
cus, which, with the help of allies inside the wails, was taken 
before the end of 635. 

Meanwhile Heraclius had collected a new and greater army, 
and in the spring of 636 it fell upon Khalid's little force which 
had been pushed some hundred miles to the north of Damascus. 
Again showing rare generalship, Khalid made no effort to hold 
his recent conquests, but rapidly fell back on the valley of the 
Yarmuk, a westward-flowing tributary of the Jordan that would, 
if necessary, afford a sure means of escape into the desert. That 
eventuality, however, did not arise. Khalid's retreat had allowed 
him to call up needed reinforcements, while his opponents had 
been seriously weakened by the rivalry of their generals and by 
the desertion of their Arab allies. After weeks of futile skir- 
mishing with an elusive foe, the Byzantine army was trapped 
between two converging streams and there annihilated in August, 

Thus was established the military superiority of the Arabs, 
which was due not only to the greater mobility of their light 
cavalry, but also to the intelligence of their commanders and to 
the ilan of their troops — ^the characteristic verve of the Bedouin 
•intensified by religious exaltation. Furthermore, the battle of 
the Yarmuk assured the Arabs unmolested possession of Syria. 
Henceforth they had merely to consolidate their positions and to 
organize a permanent government — a task which Omar assigned 


to the wise and experienced Abu Ubaida. Under his able direc- 
tion, Khalid and the other Moslem generals quickly rounded out 
their occupation. To the north the recapture of Damascus was 
at once followed by the capitulation of Antioch, Aleppo, and 
all the Byzantine fortresses below the range of the Amanus. To 
the south all Palestine was speedily taken, except only the greater 
cities, which offered stubborn resistance to the invaders. But at 
last Jerusalem fell in 638, and Caesarea in 640. The Asiatic tide 
had turned, sweeping away the work of Alexander and his Roman 

As long as the issue in Syria still hung in doubt, Omar began 
no major operations in Mesopotamia; then, after the great vic- 
tory on the Yarmuk, a relatively small force was sent against 
the Persiains to avenge the defeat of a marauding expedition 
several years earlier. The result must have come as a surprise 
to both parties. Yezdegerd’s best army was shattered in one 
battle, and the whole of Irak (i.e., the lower valley of the Tigris- 
Euphrates), together with the capital city of Ctesiphon, fell into 
the hands of the Arabs. The next step was to connect Irak and 
Syria by reducing the rest of Mesopotamia — a. task completed 
by the capture of Mosul in 641. For a time the Persians suc- 
ceeded in holding the line of the mountains to the east, but by 642 
that too had been broken and all but local resistance to the Moslem 
advance came to an end. The last of the Persian kings, a fugitive 
far beyond the Caspian, is said to have been slain by one of his 
own satraps in 651, while the triumphant forces of Islam were 
occupying the remains of his kingdom. By the second half of the 
century, at any rate, the ancient state of Persia had been obliter- 
ated and a new epoch had begun for the history of western and 
central Asia. 

Meanwhile Omar had launched a third great offensive. This 
was against Egypt, where conditions once more proved an enor- 
mous advantage to the invaders. Not only was the province suf- 
fering from the usual evils of overtaxation and maladminis- 
tration, but it was also — even more than Syria — paralyzed by 
religious discord. For a long time the population had been rather 
sharply divided into two parts ; the Hellenized inhabitants of the 
cities, and the descendants of the original Egyptians, or Copts. 
The former, which included the ruling aristocracy, were naturally 
obedient to the emperor and accepted his dictates in religion. The 


of Persia 



of Egypt 



The Arab 
and the 
spread of 

latter, on the contrary, were fervently monophysite and the 
tyranny of Cyrus, installed by Heraclius as patriarch of Alex- 
andria, served merely to intensify their bitter opposition to the 
government. At this propitious moment there appeared from 
beyond the isthmus a Moslem army under the command of Amr 
ibn al-As, a general who had proved his ability during the cam- 
paigns in Syria. In 640 he broke the defending force of Byzan- 
tines and followed up this success by capturing the Egyptian 
Babylon (or Cairo). The sympathy of the Copts, the personal 
ambitions of Cyrus, and the death of Heraclius (641) all con- 
spired to make the subjection of the province ridiculously easy. 
Even Alexandria was surrendered before the end of 642, and in 
the next year Amr completed his conquests by seizing the adjoin- 
ing district of Barca. 

Whatever doubt of Allah’s omnipotence had still lingered in 
the minds of the Arabs vanished before the stupendous victories 
of the years following the death of the prophet. When ancient 
and powerful states had been swept away like straw before the 
desert wind, what further justification of the Moslem claims 
could be demanded? One who was not drawn to Islam by 
sincere faith would inevitably be attracted thither by material 
advantage. Here were countries of fabulous wealth placed at the 
disposal of God’s elect. By becoming one of that blessed group, 
even the poorest Bedouin might attain riches and honor. The 
prophet himself had declared that the good things of the world were 
for the faithful ; it was their sacred duty to force the unbeliever 
to submit and pay them tribute. Thus the conquest of Persia, 
Syria, and Egypt was no mere series of military adventures. 
The Arabs by tens of thousands poured into the occupied lands 
to exploit their resources, and this migration permanently altered 
their social complexion. 

The expansion of Islam, however, was not solely due to the 
shifting of the Arabian population. Large numbers of Zoroas- 
trians, Jews, and Christians became enthusiastic converts to the 
new faith. Its creed and discipline, as we have seen, were 
extremely simple ; to accept them must have seemed to many, if 
not an actual religious advance, a mere change of ritualistic 
forms. And the practical considerations were most alluring : the 
Moslems were the lords of creation, the rest of mankind their 

* See above, p. 112. 


servants and tributaries. The notion that Mohammedanism was 
a religion of the sword, forced upon defenseless masses by a 
bloodthirsty horde of fanatics, is the exact contrary of the truth. 

The Moslem conquest was a political conquest; its leaders depre- 
cated unnecessary slaughter of unbelievers, or even their com- 
pulsory conversion, because they were to be the financial support 
of the government. Fundamentally, the Arab state began much 
like that of the Huns or of the Avars — ^as a glorified system of 
tribute-taking. Further consideration of this question, however, 
must be postponed until we have examined the later fortunes 
of the caliphate. 

In 644 the triumphant presidency of Omar was brought to 
an untimely end by an obscure assassin ; but before he died, the Othman 
caliph named an electoral commission of six men, authorized to (^ 44 "" 55 ) 
select one of their own number to succeed him. The choice 
ultimately fell on Othman, a member of a prominent Meccan 
family known as Ommiads (more properly Umayyad, descended 
from Umayya). Othman proved a much easier master than 
Omar had been — ^perhaps that was why he was elected — ^yet no 
amount of good nature could make up for utter lack of states- 
manship. Before long the new caliph^s weakness, together with 
his policy of filling the greater offices with his own relatives, led 
to widespread discontent. As the great wars of conquest came 
to a close, the flow of captured treasure naturally dwindled, while 
the increase in the number of true believers meant a proportionate 
decrease in the revenue from taxation. The government was as 
yet a haphazard affair without any sound financial basis, and 
Othman was no constitutional reformer. As a matter of fact, he 
was totally unable even to maintain order in his dominions, and 
finally, in 655, an insurrection at Medina resulted in his murder. 

The natural result of this affair was a reaction against the 
caliphate as originally established, and the first man to gain by it Ali 
was Ali. As the son-in-law of the prophet, he was the logical 
chief of the legitimist party — ^those who protested that the head- 
ship of Islam could rightfully be held only by a member of Mo- 
hammed’s own family, and that, accordingly, the first three ca- 
liphs were usurpers.. Proclaimed at Medina after the murder of 
Othman, Ali found his chief support in Irak and Persia; so he 
established his capital at Kufa on the Euphrates. Syria, on 
the other hand, was mdkt the control of the Ommiad, Muawiya, 
whom Omar bad appointed to the governorship. An able and 



The Arabs 
on the sea 
and in Asia 


energetic man, Muawiya at once took up the cause of the mar- 
tyred Othman and before long he succeeded in forming an alliance 
with Amr, the master of Egypt. These two carried all before 
them in the west. In 660 Muawiya was hailed as caliph at Jeru- 
salem, and with the assassination of Ali in the following year, 
the legitimist cause collapsed. 


With Muawiya the caliphate may be said to have passed from 
the republican to the monarchical stage. As Medina had now 
ceased to be in any respect the true center of .\rab dominion, 
and as the caliph’s chief support lay in Syria, he moved the capi- 
tal of Islam to Damascus. This transfer, in more ways than 
one, was a change from Arabian to Roman custom. Hitherto the 
caliphate had been essentially a personal leadership of the faith- 
ful — a. religious office with certain political functions attached. 
Henceforth it was to be a territorial kingship which carried with 
it control of faith and morals. The caliph thus came to be sur- 
rounded by professional ministers chosen solely with a view to 
their political usefulness — ^among them many Christians. He 
headed a regular system of administration largely borrowed from 
the Byzantine Empire. Lastly, Muawiya succeeded in placing 
the state on a dynastic basis. At his death in 680 his son secured 
the throne in spite of opposition from Arabia and Irak. A legi- 
timist insurrection headed by a son of Ali was put down, and 
for the next seventy years the caliphate remained a monopoly of 
the Omraiad house. 

The period of disorder that ensued upon the death of Omar 
naturally interrupted the advance of Moslem conquest; then, 
with the reorganization of the caliphate at Damascus, the offen- 
sive was triumphantly resumed on all fronts. As governor of 
Syria, Muawiya early turned his energies to the construction of 
a fleet, and in this project he was ably seconded by Amr in Egypt, 
The result was the establishment of a Mohammedan naval suprem- 
acy on the Mediterranean that lasted for the better part of five 
centuries and vitally affected the later history of Europe. In 
649 the Arabs took Cyprus, and from this base they directed 
plundering expeditions against Rhodes, Crete, the .£gean islands, 
and the coasts of Asia Minor. In 655 a Byzantine fleet, per- 
sonally commanded by the emperor, was utterly destroyed in a 
battle which was to prove as decisive as that on the Yarmuk. 


It not only isolated the imperial possessions to tlie westward, but 
also exposed Constantinople to direct attack by sea — ^an advan- 
tage that was to be pushed with great ardor by the Ommiad 

From Mesopotamia the Arabs had already penetrated far into 
Armenia, and this whole country — ^both the Persian and the 
Roman halves — ^was now definitely conquered. From SjTria and 
from the shore of the Black Sea Muawiya’s armies converged on 
Chalcedon, while year after year his fleet sought to force an 
entrance to the Bosphorus and so to assure the fall of the great 
city. But the Greeks, while abandoning their outlying territories, 
were always able to muster enough strength by sea to defend 
their capital ; and after the death of Muawi]^ the Moslems tem- 
porarily relaxed their eiforts in this direction. In Asia Minor, 
too, the Byzantine fortunes took a slight turn for the better, so 
that, by the end of the seventh century, the Arabs were once more 
being held along the line of the mountains to the south. The 
next great triumph for Islam, as the event soon proved, was to 
be won in Africa. 

From Amr’s position at Barca it was an obvious policy to 
launch raids into the imperial provinces to the westward, but 
no attempt at systematic conquest of these lands was made until 
after the final success of Muawiya. Advancing without serious 
resistance through Tripoli, the army of the caliph then, in 670, 
established a great military base at Kairawan, and thence began 
the reduction of the ancient Carthaginian territory. From the 
first the Byzantines, having lost control of the sea, were power- 
less to defend their possessions ; the formidable enemy was rather 
the Moors, who in the previous century had almost undone Jus- 
tinian’s conquest of the Vandal kingdom. Since then, through 
the constant arrival of fresh recruits from the wild borderlands, 
their hold on the country outside the great cities and fortified 
camps had steadily strengthened. And as the Arabs, unused to a 
peasantry of such independent spirit, maintained their usual atti- 
tude of magnificent pride, the Moors rose in revolt and drove 
them out of the whole region west of Barca, 

This defeat coincided with a civil war over the succession to 
the caliphate; then another able Ommiad, Abd-al-Malik (685- 
705), made good his claim to the throne, and under him the 
tost territory was slowly but solidly reoccupied. The new com- 
manders follow®! a policy of force combined with diplomacy to 

The con- 
quest of 


o£ Spain 


in Asia 


detach the Moors from the Byzantine cause, and it succeeded 
admirably. A last naval expedition from Constantinople in 697 
failed to achieve its objective. Carthage fell, and the entire 
southern C9ast of the Mediterranean came into the hands of the 
Moslems. Many years were of course to be spent in the reduc- 
tion of the mountainous interior, but in the meantime thousands 
of Moors found a fresh outlet for their untamed energy by 
espousing the cause of Islam. Thanks to their religious fervor and 
warlike ambition, Musa, the African governor, eventually secured 
the armies wherewith to undertake the invasion of Europe. 

Concerning the later history of the Visigoths there is little 
of interest to record. By the opening of the seventh century 
they had finally annexed the lands of the Sueves in Galicia and 
retaken the Mediterranean shore from the Byzantine garrisons. 
This advance, however, was due rather to the weakness of the 
enemy than to the strength of the Visigothic kingdom, the annals 
of which become a wearisome succession of petty conspiracies 
and insurrections. To a prince seeking an adventure with which 
to occupy his restless subjects, Spain seemed a promising field. 
So in 71 1 Musa authorized one of his lieutenants, a certain Tarik, 
to lead a force of Moors across the strait. Skirting the rock 
that still bears his name (Gibraltar, Gcbcl Tarik), he landed in 
the Bay of Algeciras and thence proceeded toward Cadiz. Rod- 
erick, doomed to be the last king of the Visigoths, tried to drive 
back the invaders, but instead suffered a crushing defeat. Before 
the end of the summer Tarik was in Toledo, the royal capital. 
What had begun as a mere plundering expedition thus turned 
into another momentous triumph for Islam. Musa appeared on 
the scene with a larger army, and as the result of his campaigns, 
the Visigothic state soon went the way of Persia. Within seven 
3^ears the Moslems had reached Septimania beyond the Pyrenees, 
and within a further seven years they were raiding the plains 
of central Gaul. 

In the orient, also, the hosts of Islam were still advancing. 
While completing the reorganization of Persia, the Arabs — 
thanks to the zealous recruits whom they found among the Ira- 
nians — ^pushed their raids far beyond its frontiers into the lands 
of the Turks, Chinese, Afghans, Thibetans, and Hindus. There, 
as usual, marauding served as a preparation for conquest. By 
the second quarter of the eighth century the domains of the 
caliph had come to include the valleys of the Indus and the Oxus, 
with advance posts extending into Turkestan. In Asia Minor, 


however, the Byzantine power, which had earlier seemed on the 
point of utter collapse, revived sufficiently to hold a frontier ex- 
tending roughly from Adana on the Mediterranean to Trebizond 
on the Black Sea. And out of the warfare in this Anatolian 
country emerged a general named Leo, who secured the imperial 
cronm in 717 — just in time to organize the defense of the capital 
against another great attack of the Moslems by land and sea. 

Again the issue turned on the holding of the Bosphorus and 
when, after twelve months of bitter fighting, the caliph’s fleet had 
been driven off, his armies abandoned the campaign. 

The Arab Empire of the eighth century, reaching from the 
Atlantic Ocean to the Himalayas, was the ultimate product of The 
marauding expeditions undertaken by the nomads of Arabia, i^ature of 
When they came into the territories of their powerful neighbors, 
they brought with them no political institutions beyond those of 
their ancient tribal system, and no political ambition beyond that 
of collecting tribute. But they were not mere savage despoilers | 
like the Huns. On taking over the administration of the con- 
quered lands, they carefully preserved anything that might be 
turned to their own advantage. The provincial organization of 
Romans or Persians they left intact, merely substituting Arabs 
for natives in the topmost offices. Subordinates, as long as they 
proved loyal to their new masters, remained unmolested. Ac- 
cordingly, the only persons to suffer complete ruin were the mem- 
bers of the old official aristocracy. To lesser men — such as peas- \ 
ants, laborers, petty traders, and civil servants — ^the Moslem 
conquest was a blessing rather than a calamity. Their burdens 
under the new regime could be no heavier than those already 
borne, and by the easy process of accepting Islam they could 
themselves enter the favored class in the state. 

Hundreds of thousands quickly grasped the advantages offered 
by the new faith, and throughout the centuries down to the 
present their descendants have largely remained Mohammedan. 

Legally they became Arabs as well as Moslems, for converts had 
to be adopted into Arab tribes and receive Arab names. At 
first such recruits were treated as an inferior order ; but eventu- 
ally, as the nomads dropped the primitive customs of the desert 
and mixed with the native population, maintenance of the old 
distinctions became impossible. The religion, language, and to 
some extent the traits .of the; conquerors came to be shared by the 
inhabitants of a: region, and although the latter were not 

Arabs like the Bedcwis' who bad remained in the homeland, their 



if the 
O mmia H 







culture may properly be called Arabic. The Romans of the prin- 
cipate were by no means all descended from citizens of the ancient 
state on the Tiber; what is known as Latin culture was largely 
Hellenic by origin. Even if the Arabs borrowed much from 
Greeks, Romans, Persians, and Hindus, the civilization which 
they developed truly reflected their own genius and ranks as one 
of the greatest contributions made by any people in history. 

Fuller discussion of this subject must be postponed until a 
later chapter, for at present we are dealing merely with the earlier 
caliphate, which came to an end in 750. Although the Ommiads 
were still able to extend their dominions both to the east and to 
the west, it soon proved impossible to support the state from the 
profits of war and conquest. Consequently, the ancient freedom 
of true believers from all tribute was gradually restricted to an 
exemption from personal taxes, and lands were assessed without 
regard to the holders. Yet, while the Ommiads thus broadened 
the liability for taxation, they maintained the old tradition that 
the original Arabs constituted a ruling aristocracy. Political au- 
thority and social eminence remained virtual monopolies of a few 
families from Mecca and Medina — ^ policy which, coming more 
and more into conflict with the interests of the Moslem popula- 
tion, produced increasing discontent. 

As was to be expected, the opposition came to a head in Persia, 
where a deep antagonism to Syrian domination outlived the 
monarchy from which it had been inherited. There the preju- 
dices of the Iranian population coincided with the ambitions of 
the Arab tribes who had momentarily enjoyed great prestige 
during the caliphate of Ali. And there the legitimist party nat- 
urally maintained its headquarters. By fanatics of this persua- 
sion Ali and his son were glorified as holy martyrs, and various 
religious doctrines were turned into watchwords for the sacred 
cause of revenge. From time to time they launched insurrec- 
tions, but none had any success until the Ommiad dynasty had 
come into general disrepute throughout the empire. Then a 
revolutionary movement, obscurely begun in the extreme east of 
Persia, suddenly swept everything before it. In 750 a certain 
Abu-l-Abbas, great-great-grandson of Mohammed's uncle, Abbas, 
was proclaimed caliph in Irak. The Ommiads and their friends 
were massacred and within a few years the capital of the Arab 
empire was moved to the newly built city of Bagdad on the 
Tigris — B. momentous event for the history both of Islam and 
of Christendom. 




By the time that the Arabs had swept across Africa to invade 
Spain and Gaul, two great powers had risen to a dominating 
position in western Europe : the Frankish kingdom and the 
Roman church. The former, as established by Clovis,^ stopped 
considerably short of the Mediterranean coast, leaving the upper 
‘Rhone valley to the Burgundians, Provence to the Ostrogoths, 
and Septimania to the Visigoths. On the northeast, however, it 
reached well beyond the Rhine, for it included not only the an- 
cient territory of the Ripuarian Franks, but also that of the 
Alamans. In the interior of Germany two important nations 
held lands adjoining those of the Franks. To the north were the 
Saxons; below them, between the Main and the Saale, the 
Thuringians. Along the upper Danube, in the old province of 
Rhaetia, lived the remnants of the Alamans under the protection 
of the Ostrogoths, and down the river were situated the Bava- 
rians, the Lombards, and the Gepids. On the death of Clovis 
in 511, his realm was divided among his four sons. They were 
an able, warlike, and unscrupulous lot. Like their father, they 
took whatever they could without the slightest regard for moral 
principles. Indeed, they respected each other’s rights only 
through fear of each other’s strength; when one of them died, 
his children were likdy to be murdered and his domains to be 
seized by his brothers. Such details must here be passed over. 
By 558 the three elder Merovingians had perished; so the entire 
kingdom was reunited by Clotar (or Lothair), the youngest, who 
himself died in 561. 

Meanwhile the Frankish dominion had been extended in vari- 
ous directions, for the royal brothers, in spite of their jealousies, 
generally ccK>perated for the sake of offensive war. Their first 
expedition, against the Burgundians in 523, broke the power of 
that kingdom, but was prevented from ultimate success by the 
intervention of Theodpric the Ostrogoth, So they turned to 
the side of Germ^y, where they subjugated the Thuringians and 

under the 
sons of 

1 See abov^ 74 f. 



and their 


in the later 




brought their supremacy as far east as the Slavic settlements 
on the upper Elbe. Then, as the Ostrogoths weakened after the 
death of Theodor ic, the Merovingians once more directed their 
attention to the south. They definitely conquered Burgundy, and 
by threatening to ally with Justinian, they extorted from the 
Ostrogothic king all his territory on their side of the Alps. This 
arrangement resulted in the Frankish annexation of Provence 
and the extension of a Frankish protectorate over the Alamans 
and the Bavarians on the Danube. At that point they were 
checked by the Lombards, and in the opposite direction they 
failed to take Septimania from the Visigoths. 

By the second half of the sixth century the Franks thus held 
important rank in the western world. They ruled almost all 
Gaul, together with a wide territory to the east of it. And their 
prominence tended to be enhanced by the evil fortunes that befell 
their greatest rivals. Both the Vandal and the Ostrogothic king- 
doms were destro37ed by Justinian. The Visigothic state persisted 
in Spain for well over another hundred years, but long before it 
was annihilated by the Moslems it had fallen into complete decay. 
Of the other Germanic peoples on the continent, only one was to 
play a leading part on Roman soil, namely, the Lombards, whose 
invasion of Italy will be considered in the following section. The 
Gepids were crushed by the Avars. The Bavarians, Alamans, 
and Thuringians recognized Frankish overlordship. The Saxons 
and the Frisians remained wild and heathen, like the Scandinavian 
peoples to the north. Even their kindred who had settled in 
Britain were as yet hardly touched by Latin civilization. 

There the Anglo-Saxons had occupied the whole agricultural 
plain of the southwest and partitioned it into many small king- 
doms: Northumbria, East Anglia, Mercia, Kent, and the East, 
Middle, South, and West Saxons (Essex, Middlesex, Sussex, 
and Wessex). In the highlands of the north lived the Piets, en- 
gaged in warfare with invading Scots from Ireland. The Piets 
were probably Celtic; the Scots were assuredly so, as were the 
Britons. The latter, called Welsh by the Anglo-Saxons, still 
held the rough country in the west of Britain; but as the West 
Saxons seized the valley of the Severn and the Mercians reached 
the sea at Chester, the Britons were driven into the three separate 
regions of Cornwall, Wales, and Strathclyde. Meanwhile, to 
escape destruction at the hands of the Germanic barbarians, num- 
bers of Britons had crossed the Channel into the nearby Armor- 


lean peninsula. Like the Welsh who stayed behind, they were 
rather Celtic tribesmen than Roman gentlemen; for even if their 
ancestors had possessed any Latin culture, it had been lost in 
the troubled century preceding. Into the westernmost part of 
Gaul the invaders thus brought the Celtic speech and customs 
which, despite the tremendous changes of subsequent ages, have 

persisted down to the present. Brittany, as the land came to be 
named after its new inhabitants, thus became a country entirely 
foreign to the Merovingian kingdom. 

That kingdom, as marked on the map, has an imposing appear- 
ance, but its grandeur should not be exaggerated. What little The 
strength it possessed in the early sixth century quickly faded in 
the subsequent years. The decline began when Qotar, last sur- 
viving son of Clovis, partitioned the reunited kingdom among his vingians 
four sons. Two of led by their wives, became involved 







in a bloody feud, which was perpetuated under their children and 
grandchildren. During this barbarous war the two rival courts, 
one at Metz and the other at Soissons, became the centers of 
two virtually independent principalities: Austrasia, so called be- 
cause it lay to the east, and Neustria, the newest territory of the 
Franks. Even after the Neustrian ruler had finally exterminated 
the rival dynasty, Austrasia maintained its separate identity 
under the domination of the local aristocracy. Burgundy and 
Aquitaine had long been autonomous. On the Danube the Bava- 
rians threw off the overlordship of the Franks and in Thuringia 
their control was at most a doubtful quantity. Meanwhile, too, 
the royal authority had become a mere sham. Dagobert (d. 639) 
was the last of the Merovingians who amounted to anything. 
Thenceforth the house of Clovis degenerated into a series of 
inconsequential puppets controlled by favorites. 

On the subject of the Merovingian government controversy 
once raged between the rival schools of Germanists and Roman- 
ists : the scholars who sought to derive everything important from 
the Germans and those who insisted on a Roman origin for all 
significant institutions. Today historians are inclined to regard 
the problem in a more sensible way — ^to explain the Frankish 
constitution as a haphazard combination of odds and ends, rather 
than a logical development of some one system. In general, how- 
ever, it appears that the forms of the monarchy were Roman. 
The king was more of a despot than a simple barbarian chief- 
tain, and he issued orders to a host of dignitaries with titles 
borrowed from the imperial court— chamberlains, seneschals, mar- 
shals, constables, and the like. For purposes of local adminis- 
tration the old Roman civitas was normally the unit employed, 
but in regions beyond the Rhine rural districts about important 
royal estates were substituted. In each of these units the king 
named a count {comes or graf) to carry out his orders and 
hold office during his pleasure. Upon the counts depended the 
stability of the whole political structure, for it was through 
them alone that the king could enforce his rights, which may 
be classified as judicial, military, and fiscal. 

It is impossible to generalize with regard to the administration 
of justice, except to say that everything had come to depend on 
local custom.- The Merovingian king did not legislate like a 

2 See above, p. 77. 


Roman emperor, and it was only occasionally that he issued 
comprehensive instructions to his agents. Earlier princes had 
often promulgated codes for the settlement of disputes among 
the various groups of their subjects, but by the seventh century 
the old national distinctions had pretty well broken down. 

Whether a man was governed by the Roman law or by some 
variety of barbarian law — ^Frankish, Visigothic, or Burgundian — 
became largely a matter of accident. Each little region had 
its own usages administered by its own court. There, under the 
presidency of the count, judgments were rendered by a group 
of prominent landowners {rachintburgiy who knew what rules 
and penalties should be enforced. The character of this cus- 
tomary law varied according to the dominant tradition of the 
countryside: in the south it remained fundamentally Roman; in 
the north it was almost purely Germanic. 

In connection with military obligations, too, the earlier con- 
trast between Roman and barbarian disappeared under the Mero- The army 
vingians. In time of war the king treated all able-bodied men 
as Franks, liable for service when called. But he did not, of 
course, summon the whole force at one time; only the neigh- 
boring population was normally mustered for a particular 
campaign. The man in charge of such proceedings was usually 
a duke a high commander placed in charge of a wide, 

territory^ — especially one on the frontier — ^and so given authority 
superior to that of m'any counts. Under this system the army 
could hardly be more than a haphazard collection of rudely armed 
infantry. In the sixth century, apparently, the Franks overcame 
their enemies through strength of numbers rather than through 
superiority of organization. It was not for another two hundred 
years that the Frankish host became an efficient body of cavalry 
able to meet the Saracens on even terms. 

The financial structure of the Merovingian kingdom was ex- 
ceedingly simple. Officials were paid no regular salaries; in- Finance 
stead they were given landed estates from which to support 
themselves, together with a share of the revenues that they might 
collect for the king. The administration of justice was a source 
of income rather than an expense. Military service was exacted 
without remuneration, as were also necessary provisions, mate- 
rials, transportation, and labor. As a whole, the government cost 
the king little m cash, 3^ he was supposed to maintain his do- 
mestic estahlidbmeat frotp the proceed of his own estates. As 








of Tours 


a consequence, the Merovingian state — if it can be honored with 
such a title — depended very little upon public taxes. And that 
was necessarily the case, for the imperial fiscal system had long 
since fallen in ruins. 

Diocletian’s taxes, of course, were never abolished. The scanty 
records of the Merovingian kings prove that they continued to 
enforce, as best they could, whatever rights came to them by 
Roman tradition. Yet, without an efficient governmental ma- 
chine, it was impossible for them either to collect the old imposts 
or to assess new ones. As time passed, the direct taxes, both real 
and personal, tended to lose their original character altogether 
— to become a sort of rent owed from certain lands only or a 
charge on the heads of particular men, chiefly the unfree. On the 
other hand, the indirect taxes continued to be levied on highways, 
rivers, and coasts. But all these dues, with the acquisition by the 
aristocracy of special privileges and exemptions, ceased to be royal 
monopolies and came to be attached to many great estates. This 
weakening of the central government, accompanied by the fading 
out of distinctions between public and private rights, came to be a 
prominent characteristic of feudal society — a subject which will be 
given detailed treatment in a later connection. 

The Merovingian kingdom, although it perpetuated a num- 
ber of imperial forms, was thus a poor imitation of the Roman 
state, even as that had been in its last stage of decadence. In 
the earlier period the Frankish monarchy seemed great and 
powerful chiefly through the ruthless energy of the kings. When 
they degenerated into the utter incompetents of the seventh cen- 
tury, their kingdom was shown to be a sprawling territory with- 
out cohesion or unity, inevitably doomed to disintegrate unless 
in some way the royal authority could be restored. Under such 
circumstances, Latin civilization in Gaul threatened to disappear 
altogether. The official documents issued by the king prove that 
his clerks were ignorant of the simplest grammatical rules. Their 
handwriting was a grotesque scrawl. Compared with the bar- 
barism that prevailed under the later Merovingians, the culture 
of fifth-century Rome appears a golden age. 

In the midst of the calamitous wars between Neustria and 
Austrasia lived Gregory, bishop of Tours from 573 to 594. His 
writings are our chief source for the political and ecclesiastical 
history of Gaul during the fifth and sixth centuries, but they are 
even more valuable for their revealing glimpses of contemporary 


thought and morals. Gregory was born in 538 at Clermont in 
Auvergne. His family was one of the most distinguished in the 
province, being of senatorial rank and carrying the tradition of 
high office in both state and church. The boy, in preparation for 
an ecclesiastical career, was given the best education then avail- 
able, and in 563 he was ordained deacon. Shortly afterwards, 
seeking a cure for his chronic ill health, he went to the famous 
shrine of St. Martin at Tours. While living in that city, he won 
the reputation for holiness and all-round ability that led to his 
election as bishop. 

During his pontificate of twenty-one years Gregory was promi- 
nent in local politics, and on many occasions came into direct 
contact with the rival kings and queens of the Merovingian house. 
His devotion, however, was primarily given to the church, and it 
was in this interest that he composed his famous books : the His- 
tory of the Franks, the Miracles of St Martin, and various other 
essays and biographies. At first, he tells us, he was loath to 
undertake literary endeavors because he realized the inferiority 
of his Latin. Grammar, he confesses, he had never been able 
to master: he could be sure neither of genders nor of cases. As 
a rhetorician, he was at most a '"stolid ox.^’ Yet he found en- 
couragement in the thought that, even because his writing was 
crude, it would be understood by all readers, and that he could 
best serve God by not trying to be other than he was. By descent 
a Roman gentleman, Gregory thus chose to lead a useful life 
rather than to sink himself in a dead world of tradition. For 
his honesty and sincerity, for his simplicity and enthusiasm, the 
historian as well as the clergyman must be intensely grateful. 

In his own story Gregory well illustrates the decay of learning 
among the aristocracy, the brutality of the life to which its mem- 
bers had become accustomed, and the complete dominance of the 
church over the minds of the educated. His naive attitude toward 
the deeds of Clovis has already been noted,® and it is character- 
istic of the author. In his eyes the outward acceptance of the 
orthodox faith served to excuse what would otherwise be the 
blackest iniquity.. He was inclined to interpret all events, even 
the most absurd trivialities, as evidence of supernatural interven- 
tion, either divine or diabolic. Although much of his history is 
extremely valuable as a graphic picture of contemporary society, it 

3 See abcjve, pp. • 

of the 



is full of edifying anecdotes. With regard to the efficacy of holy 
relics, his faith was boundless. He had the utmost scorn for 
scientific medicine, preferring to the prescriptions of physicians 
the marvelous powers of St Martin. A drink mixed with dust 
from the holy man’s sepulcher Gregory found a sovereign remedy 
for ailments of the stomach. Licking the rail in front of the tomb 
cured a sore tongue; the cloth that hung there, when rubbed on the 
throat, removed a troublesome fishbone. Objects taken from the 
sacred environment would allay fevers, cast out devils, prevent 
storms, and perform many other wonders. In all such matters 
Gregory was the child of his time — ^that which we know as the 
Dark Age. 







of Italy 

Immediately after his first success in Italy, Justinian pro- 
claimed the restoration of the old imperial government, with its 
sharp separation of civil and military authority. But as the 
Gothic war persisted, that method of administration proved quite 
impractical, and the commander of the army, Narses, was given 
complete control of the government, with subordinate generals 
{duces) in charge of the provinces into which the peninsula was 
divided. Even after the death of Justinian in 565, followed by 
the recall of Narses in 567, the arrangement still continued. The 
supreme representative of the emperor was styled the exarch, with 
headquarters at Ravenna. This city together with the surround- 
ing territory, was thenceforth known as the exarchate ; the other 
districts, now permanently organized, were called duchies {dii- 
catus ). That the military system thus came to be perpetuated was 
due to the Lombard invasion, which produced a state of chronic 

Only a few facts are known concerning the earlier history of 
the Lombards. At one time they had been neighbors of the 
Saxons in the lower valley of the Elbe, but by the later fifth 
century they had established themselves on the Danube between 
the Bavarians and the Gepids. Although nominally converted to 
Arian Christianity, they still had the reputation of being utterly 
savage, and for that reason were especially sought as recruits for 
the Byzantine army.'* The greatest victories of Narses were, 
indeed, largely won with Lombard auxiliaries. Then the Avars 

< See above, p. 108. 


appeared on the scene and the Lombards decided to move. Ill 
feeling had arisen between them and the government at Con- 

stantinople, and a picturesque legend tells us that Narses invited 
them to cross the Alps as revenge for his disgrace. There is no 
need to fall back on such invention; Italy, now that the Gothic 

i 62 mediaeval history 

The extent 
of the 

power was broken and the emperors were distracted by' hostilities 
on many fronts, was easy prey for any horde that chose to take it. 
The Italians were probably fortunate that their visitors were 
Lombards rather than Avars. 

The story of the Lombard conquest is a very famous one. 
With its romantic plot and gory details, it has been told and 
retold in countless books. What has not been so frequently em- 
phasized is the fact that it is almost wholly taken from the 
pages of Paul the Deacon,^ who lived over two hundred years 
later and has been proved generally unreliable. It is impossible, 
therefore, to be sure of an3d:hing in this connection beyond the 
meager series of events attested by contemporary sources. In 568 
the Lombard king, Alboin, led his people into the fertile valley 
of the Po. This region he easily conquered from the weakening 
Byzantine government, and it has since been known as Lombardy. 
But Alboin’s reign was cut short by assassination, as was that of 
his successor; whereupon the Lombard nobles decided to dispense 
with a king, and none was elected for ten years or so. Then, 
through fear of the Franks, the monarchy was revived about the 
year 584, after which the crown passed, often by usurpation and 
murder, to a long series of rulers. 

Meanwhile various Lombard chiefs, with their respective 
bands, had penetrated far into the peninsula. There they set up 
a series of principalities which, in imitation of the Byzantine sys- 
tem, came to be called duchies. The Lombard dukes, however, 
were very slightly, if at all, under the control of the king. And 
the imperial power was now reduced to a collection of scattered 
provinces, isolated from each other as well as from Constanti- 
nople. Of these the exarchate of Ravenna was the most impor- 
tant. To the north of it, along the marshy estuaries of the rivers, 
extended the duchy of Venetia, where the great city of Venice 
was yet to arise ; and at the head of the Adriatic the Byzantines 
also held the peninsula of Istria, with the city of Trieste. Ad- 
joining the exarchate on the south they had the region known 
as Pentapolis, but this territory was widely separated from their 
other possessions : Apulia, Calabria, Sicily, the duchy of Naples, 
the duchy of Rome, and, in the extreme north, the coast of 
Liguria, with the city of Genoa. 

A glance at the map will show that the empire thus kept all 

® See below, p. 233. 


the great seaports, leaving to the Lombards the interior of the 
peninsula and the less important coasts. Their kingdom, as we 
have seen, consisted primarily of the Po Valley; but even this 
region was really controlled by the local counts, who are said to 
have numbered over thirty and who, like those of Gaul, had for 
centers of their administration the outstanding Roman cities. 

Although the kingdom extended south of the Apennines over 
Tuscany, the royal authority was weaker there than in Lombardy. 

And the four great duchies of Trent, Friuli, Benevento, and 
Spoleto were independent principalities in everything except 
name. Under such circumstances, it is quite evident that the 
Lombard kingdom possessed few of the attributes that we con- 
sider essential to the existence of a true state. Again we discover » 
the forms of Roman law serving to mask a very crude barbarian 
exploitation. In fact, what has already been said of the Mero- 
vingian monarchy can be applied, with the change of a few names, 
to that of the Lombards in Italy. 

Of infinitely greater significance for the future of Europe was 
the conte mporary developmen t-of the Roman church. The papal Gregory 
theory hadrTFen eloquently promulgated by Leo the Great in the *he Great 
fifth century. Yet, in spite of occasional deference to Rome, the (S9o~6o4) 
doctrine in its eitirety had never been accepted by the four great - 
eastern patriarchs: those of Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, 
and Alexandria. A hundred years after Leo the situation re- 
mained unchanged, except that the issue had been somewhat 
sharpened through the emperors’ attempts to enforce their own 
authority. On the other hand, all opposition to the papal claims 
had ended with the barbarian invasions. Then, in the next cen- 
tury, a series of Asiatic conquests revolutionized the course of 
events in Syria and Egypt. Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria 
— three great apostolic foundations — were submerged by the hc^ ts | 
of Islam. And as they losT all prominence in the Christian world, i 
there remained as the rival of Rome only Constantinople, an 
upstart city with a church that was great only through imperial 

Halfway in point of time between Justinian and Mohammed 
the see'o’f St. Peter was held by the eminent statesman and 
teacher. Pope Gregory I. He was bom about the year 540 of 
a noble and wealthy Roman family, one which had long been 
distinguished in bcrfh i|mrch and state. Of his youth nothing is 
definitely known,, that he received a good education in 

i 64 mediaeval history 

Rom^ and 

Latin grammar and rhetoric ; of Greek he remained entirely igno- 
rant. As he grew to manhood, he witnessed the final phase of 
the Gothic war, the last gloomy years of Justinian’s reign, and 
the invasion of Italy by the Lombards. During this time Gregory 
apparently worked through the lower grades of a political career, 
for in 573 he appears as prefect of Rome — ^the highest municipal 
office in the city. But within a year or so he had resigned his 
honors, given his fortune to charity, converted his family mansion 
into a monastery, and there become one of the brothers, presum- 
ably under the rule just composed by the famous Benedict of 

It was about 578 that Gregory was called from his retreat to 
be ordained deacon at Rome, and not long afterwards he was sent 
as papal ambassador to Constantinople. The period was one of 
critical importance for the papacy. The popes had found the 
Byzantine conquest by no means an unmixed blessing; under 
Justinian they had enjoyed less toleration than under the Arian 
Ostrogoths. Even after the death of that willful emperor they 
remained in an uncomfortable position. To submit to eastern 
opinion and modify the canons of Chalcedon was to lose the sup- 
port of the west; to refuse to do so was to inviteJmperial perse- 
cution. Nevertheless, for a pope unwilling to renounce moral 
grandeur the way was clear. What could he do but follow the 
tradition of Leo the Great? And as it turned out, this decision 
was made easier by the Lombard invasion. Although the Lom- 
bards were heretics as well as savage barbarians, they constituted 
an effective counterpoise to the ambitions of the emperor. The 
logic of the situation inevitably suggested that the papacy, to 
assure its necessary independence, play off one potential enemy 
against the other. 

Whether or not Gregory appreciated this truth when he went 
to Constantinople, he did so after a residence there of about seven 
years. Officially, his mission — ^to secure imperial aid against the 
Lombards — ^was a complete failure. The g mperor Mgurke,® pre- 
occupied with wars against the Avars and the ]Pefsiansi could or 
would do nothing for Italy. That country, Gregory discovered, 
must work out its own salvation — a conviction that he brought 
back with him to Rome and ultimately made the corner-stone of 
the papal policy. For a while, however, he again retired to his 

® See above, p. 114. 


monastery, this time as abbot. Then, on the death of the pope 
in 59^> Gregory was unanimously raised to the vacant see. His 
reluctance to assume. authority was not the conventional modesty 
of the bishop elect, for he always regretted the years of his abbacy 
as the happiest of his life. Yet, if ever a man was fitted by birth, 
training, and capacity for the office to which he was elevated, it 
was Gregory. During the fourteen years of his pontificate the 
nobility of his ideals, combined with his rare practical wisdom, 
brought the Petrine supremacy from the realm of theory to that 
of actuality. With him the papacy may be said to have become 
definitely a world power. 

While Gregory always maintained a formal attitude of deep 
respect toward the emperor, this did not prevent his following a Gregoiy’s 
policy that at times verged on insubordination. By an edict of Lombard 
Justinian, the bishops throughout Italy had been associated with Policy 
imperial officials in the work of local administration. Then came 
the Lombard advance, and since it cut off Rome from the exar- 
chate, the pope was left de facto ruler of his capital. With or 
without special authorization, Gregory proceeded to assume re- 
sponsibility for the defense of the city. Indeed, he went so far 
as to negotiate a truce with the Lombard king and to advise the 
emperor that it should at once be extended into a permanent 
settlement. For this action he was severely reprimanded by 
Maurice in what Gregory regarded as an insulting letter. His 
reply was, to say the least, frank. He virtually accused the em- 
peror of negligence in the handling of Italian affairs, and it was 
characteristic of the age that the government was too feeble to 
take action against him. Finally, after a more capable exarch 
had been sent to Ravenna, Gregory's policy was officially adopted. 

In 599 general peace was signed with the Lombards, recognizing 
their title to the lands which they had so long occupied. 

In his dealings with the prelates of the east, Gregory could do 
little more than reiterate a claim to sole headship for the see of The papal 
St. Peter. In the west, on the other hand, his superior authority supremacy 
was not merely asserted but actually enforced. Throughout Italy, ^ 
except for a few refractory bishops in the north, the papal will 
was generally recognized, both within and without the Lombard 
territory. In Africa, likewise, Gregory's supervision of all major 
ecclesiastical affairs was constant and efficient. Nor was there 
any question of the papal supremacy in Gaul. The trouble there 
was to maintain even a semUanc^ of Christian unity and disci- 



pline when the Frankish kings, plunged in murderous feuds, ap- 
pointed and controlled the local clergy to suit their own selfish 
interests. It was largely in vain that Gregory preached reform 
of public or private morals to the Merovingians and their bishops ; 
yet it was not without consequence that the cause of idealism 
was identified in the minds of the more intelligent Franks with 
that of papal intervention. And in Spain, meanwhile, Gregory 
won a great triumph through the conversion to the orthodox faith 
of Recared, king of the Visigoths — an event followed by general 
submission to the papal authority throughout the country. 

Gregory’s famous mission to Britain was of even greater sig- 
The nificance; but this subject, together with his interest in the ad- 

Patrimony vancement of monasticism, will be separately treated below. The 
Peto result of his labors in many directions was to give the papacy 
the international character that it was to maintain in the succeed- 
ing ages. Being actually independent of such transitory factors 
as imperial residence or political favoritism, it could logically as- 
sert a universal authority transcending all temporal arrange- 
ments. The practical Gregory, however, saw that, to preserve this 
fortunate status, the papacy must be put on a sound economic 
basis. Scattered throughout Italy and the other western prov- 
inces lay the estates that constituted the Patrimony of St. Peter — 
chiefly lands donated to the Roman church by pious benefactors. 
Under Gregory the administration of this property was brought to 
a new state of efficiency. Although some of it was leased to tenant 
farmers, the greater part was worked directly by the church 
through stewards, almost always clergymen, appointed by the 
pope. Gregory’s correspondence reveals the meticulous care with 
which he looked after each source of income, whether fields, do- 
mestic animals, or peasant cultivators. His attention to detail is 
nothing short of amazing. While engaged in multifarious proj- 
ects of world-wide interest, he still found time to issue specific 
instructions to his agents concerning everything that they were 
supposed to do — from the supervision of agricultural routine to 
matters of poor relief and reports on the conduct of local ecclesias- 
tics. Gregory, in fact, was a model landlord — ever watchful of 
legal obligations and material resources, but always just, chari- 
table, and humane. 

Even yet we have not reached the contributions for which 
Gregory's Gregory enjoyed the greatest fame in the Middle Ages. As a 
writings statesman and administrator his influence was profound and last- 


ing, but in these respects his personality became merged in the 
dominant tradition of the papacy. As an author, however, 
Gregory remained an individual, loved and revered by coimtless 
millions, both learned and unlearned. Among the four Doctors 
of Latin Christianity^ he was beyond question the most popular. 
For scholarship in itself Gregory cared nothing, and for conven- 
tional literary style he expressed positive dislike. The simplicity 
of his writing was the result not so much of ignorance as of 
conscious effort. His books, like his acts, were wholly governed 
by practical considerations. He composed them for the average 
reader of his day and — as it happened — of many centuries to 
come. In the succeeding age, though all students continued to 
admire the towering genius of Augustine, few could understand 
what he had written. Everybody who could understand Latin 
could understand Gregory. 

One of the great pope’s most widely read books was that en- 
titled Pastoral Care — a manual on the character and duties of the 
bishop, which he wrote shortly after his elevation to the papacy. 
No ordinary man, says Gregory, should be chosen for so re- 
sponsible a task. The bishop must be a trained man, but along 
with his learning he should po^ssess spiritual purity, despising all 
pleasures of the flesh and all goods of this world. Especially to 
be shunned is the man*who seeks ecclesiastical preferment through 
'ambition, or the man whose erudition is the cloak of pride and 
viciousness. The bishop is the pastor of the flock, who must 
teach by example as well as by words ; the physician of souls, who 
must himself enjoy the health that he tries to share with others. 
To be a successful ruler, he should above all have a broad and 
sympathetic understanding of human nature, so that he may be 
able to distinguish one kind of people from another and to vary 
his instruction to suit the needs of each. Gregory enumerates 
no less than thirty-six distinctions of this sort, and then devotes a 
chapter to the admonitions that must be given to each pair of op- 
posites : such as men and women, masters and servants, prelates 
and subordinates, the rich and the poor, the joyful and the sad, 
the wise and the foolish; the sick and the well, the impudent and 
the bashful, the gluttonous and the abstinent. This is the meat 
of the book — ^practical advice from a practical man who was him- 
self a distinguished bishop. 




’ See above, p. 97. 



In the Pastoral Care preaching is emphasized as one of the 
The chief episcopal duties, and in this respect as in others Gregory 

Homilies provided a model for future generations. His sermons were 

enormously popular not only when they were delivered, but also 
in their published form, as Homilies on the Scriptures. These 
were simple discourses to explain texts from the Bible and through 
them to present the lessons of Christianity. Devoid of all florid 
rhetoric, they spoke plainly for the edification of plain people. 
Gregory had a talent for direct and forceful statement, which — 
despite the pseudo-classic tradition — was then as now the best 
form of eloquence. And to drive home a moral, he adopted the 
unconventional device of the pious anecdote. Thus the popular 
story of saint or of sinner was introduced to formal ecclesiastical 
literature, and another precedent of great significance was set for 
the Middle Ages. 

This same vein was further developed by Gregory in his re- 
The markable Dialogues, As the name implies, the author expounds 

Dialogues his subject by means of a conversation with a friend — one Peter, 
who combines extraordinary curiosity with a rather slow wit, 
and so is made to represent the audience for whose instruction the 
volume is compiled. Aside from the slender continuity thus pro- 
vided, the Dialogues are a collection of marvelous stories concern- 
ing holy men and women, to illustrate the ever present power of 
God — ^and of the devil — in daily life. The entire second book is 
devoted to St. Benedict of Nursia and constitutes, as noted above, 
the earliest biography of that illustrious monk. Yet, like the 
first and third books, it resolves itself into a series of visions and 
other miracles. The fourth book tells how various persons, both 
good and bad, met death, and seeks by such examples to demon- 
strate the immortality of the soul. 

Gregory’s honesty in reporting these tales of the supernatural 
is, of course, unquestioned. The extent to which they are to be 
believed is a matter of faith, not of historical evidence, for most 
of them are presented merely on the basis of traditional knowl- 
edge. Students of history are interested in these narratives pri- 
marily because they reflect the convictions of the early Middle 
Ages, when everybody constantly expected and discovered miracu- 
lous events in everyday life. Gregory the Great, like all educated 
Europeans of the time, was inclined to explain almost any occur- 
rence as the result either of divine or of satanic influence. Greg- 
ory’s book — and it is only one of many similar compositions — 


relates a profusion of marvels. There are literally scores of 
apparitions, prophecies, ecstatic visions, and raisings from the 
dead, as well as miraculous cures, inventions, and deeds of all 
kinds. Gregory tells of streams that changed their beds at saintly 
command ; of birds, beasts, and serpents that fulfilled commissions 
given them by holy men; of wicked magicians, haunted houses, 
and disembodied ghosts ; of demons who appeared on all sorts of 
occasions and in all sorts of guises. The catalogue of diabolic 
pranks and priestly remedies is rich and varied. To be appreciated 
however, the stories must be read in full. 

Much Christian doctrine, obviously, is woven into the Dich 
lognes, but Gregory’s chief work in the realm of theology is that The 
called the M or alia, a commentary on the book of Job. Although M or alia 
neither his method of exposition nor the conclusions which he drew 
were invented by the author, the book brought into absolute clarity 
much that had been obscure in the earlier sources. Here, for ex- 
ample, appeared in complete form the allegorical system of Bibli- 
cal interpretation that was to remain fundamental to all medi- 
aeval scholasticism. To Gregory the entire Old Testament 
contained a hidden prophecy of the New Testament. The books 
of the Hebrews, to be sure, were valuable for their literal message; 
yet they were infinitely more valuable for the mystic revelation 
that underlay the superficial meaning of the words. To under- 
stand the former was a task for the comparatively simple ; appre- 
ciation of the latter was the test of true wisdom. And this wis- 
dom, it should be noted, was not something which the individual 
could secure through his unaided faculties. Without the sacred 
tradition of the church he was powerless to discover the truth. 

This is the starting-point of Gregory’s entire exposition of 
Christianity. Although violent controversy still rages over the Gregory’s 
precise origin of various doctrines and usages of the mediaeval theology 
church, every one must admit that, at least in large part, they go 
back to Gregory the Great, and that he did no more than restate 
the established beliefs of his day. Most of his theology he took 
from the massive works of St. Augustine ; other ideas, which his 
own writings emphasized for the first time, he evidently adopted 
from oral tradition — 2l procedure which must seem entirely logical 
and right to one who accepts that tradition as itself inspired. In 
Gregory’s works we accordingly find definite presentation of 
such mediaeval beliefs as the constant intervention in human life 
of angels and demons, the efficacy of prayers to the saints, the 


The con- 
of the 

St. Patrick 
(d. 461) 


sacrificial nature of the eucharist, and the purification in purgatory 
of men who fail to perform adequate penance in this life. These 
doctrines illustrate ohe phase of Gregory’s remarkable mentality. 
Whether or not we believe what he believed, we must recognize 
the commanding greatness of a man who could be eminent, not 
only as a monk and a bishop, but also as a statesman, an adminis- 
trator, and a writer. 


From the testimony of archaeology, as well as of written 
sources, we may be certain that Christianity was introduced into 
Britain during the time of the Roman occupation, but the extent 
of its progress remains doubtful. It is probable that the faith 
had been adopted by only a minority of the population before the 
province was abandoned to the barbarians. The Anglo-Saxon 
invaders were entirely heathen, and, as the result of their con- 
quests, the British church was broken and isolated from the 
continent. Latin civilization suffered a complete collapse. In the 
meantime, a famous British missionary, had undertaken the con- 
version of the Irish — or Scots, as they were then called — in the 
neighboring island. 

The future St. Patrick — ^according to the traditional stoiy, 
which is now accepted by most historians — was born in Britain 
of Christian parents about 389 and originally named Sucat. As 
a youth he was taken by Irish pirates and held captive by them 
for six years. Having then effected his escape by means of a 
ship bound for Gaul, he became a monk at Lerins, the most promi- 
nent of the pre-Benedictine monasteries in that country. Later 
he was ordained deacon at Auxerre, where he passed many years 
in the service of the local church, being now called by a Latin 
name, Patricius. But his great desire was to carry the gospel to 
the wild people who had enslaved him, and finally, in 432, he 
was consecrated bishop and formally dispatched on a mission to 
Ireland. Spending there the rest of his long life, he had the satis- 
faction of seeing the bulk of the people enrolled under the stand- 
ard of the Cross. Until Patrick’s advent, Christianity had made 
slight headway in the island; henceforth it was to have an 
organized church, the fame of which soon extended throughout 
the western world. 

From the beginning this church seems to have been peculiar in 


many ways. Irish life was still dominated by the tribal system; The 
the population was divided into a large number of clans, each church in 
under a petty king. When such a chief was converted, his fol- ^^ 1 ^^ 
lowers were normally converted along with him; so the clan be- 
came also the unit of ecclesiastical government. And as the 
missionaries were monks, the center of all Christian activity 
remained the monastery, which, being of the Egyptian type, 
was really a colony of hermits. The abbot acted also as arch- 
bishop and consecrated a large number of lesser bishops to attend 
to the work of the church among the people. Other monks de- 
voted themselves to study and teaching — ^to such good effect 
that, between the sixth and the eighth centuries, the Irish monas- 
teries were renowned for their learning throughout the entire 
west of Europe. While Gregory the Great at Rome was igno- 
rant of Greek, it was being read in a savage country that had 
never been part of the empire ! The Irish monks, it is true, made 
few original contributions in the field of thought, but they well 
appreciated the importance of preserving what had been handed 
down to them. Their manuscripts are among the most beautiful 
ever produced. Written in clear and handsome characters, such 
works were also decorated with amazing skill. The delicate 
tracery and lovely coloring of a manuscript like the Book of Kells 
(eighth century) were rivaled at the time only by the designs of 
oriental artists — a fact indicating obscure monastic connections 
with Egypt and Syria. 

I Among all their activities, however, the Irish monks continued 
to be preeminent for austerity and religious enthusiasm. They St. 
were great travelers, seeking by choice the wildest and most Columba 
inaccessible places. The barren islets of the adjoining seas be- 
came dotted with the cells of holy men, who prided themselves B^tish 
on facing one ’of the world’s most disagreeable climates without mission 
even the comfort of a fire. All of them, however, were not satis- 
fied with a purely contemplative life. In 563 one Columba, who 
had already helped to found several monastic communities in his 
native land, established himself with a band of companions on 
the island of Iona. There, eventually, arose a great monastery 
which served as headquarters for the Christianization of the 
nearby British coasts. Under Irish influence the church was re- 
vived and reorganized in Wales. .(And through Columba’s own 
efforts, the faith was carried to^ the Welsh of Strathclyde, to the 
Scots of Galloway^ Jnd beyond to the Piets. )Nor was it 



strange, after such developments, that missionaries from' the 
west should penetrate into the adjacent kingdom of Northumbria. 
Thither^ from Iona came the pious and learned Aidan (d. 651) 
who, following the Irish custom, combined the offices of abbot 
and bishop. His Holy Island (Lindisfarne) was made into a 
center like that which earlier had been his home. 

As the Irish missionaries pushed their activities among all the 
St. Celtic peoples, they inevitably reached Brittany, and from there it 

Columban was easy to see that much work remained to be done throughout 
an^his^^^ the Merovingian dominions. In many regions the Franks, 
continental tho^gli nominally converted to Christianity, remained wholly bar- 
mission barous. Often the priests were hardly better than their parish- 
ioners. And in the Germanic lands to the east the population 
was still largely heathen. Such was the environment found by 
Columban, the renowned disciple of Columba. Settling as a 
hermit in Burgundy about tlie year 585, he soon attrafcted enough 
followers to establish several monasteries, of which the most 
famous was at Luxeuil. Thence the influence of his monks 
quickly extended in all directions ; for most of them, like their 
brethren in the British Isles, were not content with a cloistered 
existence but insisted on playing an active part among the people. 
This, of course, led to bitter remonstrance on the part of the 
secular clergy, and through their favor at various royal courts, 
they brought persecution upon the saintly leader. 

Columban, driven from Luxeuil, eventually made his way to 
the shores of Lake Constance, where he preached for a time to 
the Alamans, and where a great monastery came to bear the 
name of his disciple, St. Gall. Before long Columban was again 
forced to move, and this time he sought a quiet refuge in Italy. 
At Bobbio, on the slopes of the Apennines, he founded the last 
of his monasteries and there he died in 615. By that time many 
religious communities had come to follow his rule, and for a 
century or so their number continued to increase. Columban's 
system naturally embodied the peculiar features of Celtic monas- 
ticism already noted — ^an extremely austere discipline combined 
with remarkable freedom for the individual. These hermit 
priests, as long as they kept the zeal of fresh converts, maintained 
a high standard of Christian conduct; but would such a lax or- 
ganization be practical in a less idealistic age? And how could 
it be reconciled with the established government of the western 
church? The influence of the Celtic monks was to prove of 


lasting importance for the development of European culture, yet 
•ultimately their system yielded to that of Benedict. 

From Rome, in the meantime, had been launched a missionary 
enterprise which was eventually to absorb and surpass that of 
the Irish. Bede, the great English scholar of the eighth century,® 
tells how Gregory, before he became pope, saw some Northum- 
brian boys in the slave market at Rome and so became fired with 
ambition to Christianize their country. Whatever may be thought 
of that popular legend, there can be no question of Gregory’s 
interest in the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons. The opportunity 
for action arose toward the end of the sixth century, when .®thel- 
bert, king of Kent and overlord of various other regions, married 
Bertha, a Merovingian princess. She, of course, was a Christian, 
and it was stipulated that she might bring with her a Frankish 
bishop. The man whom she chose, however, lacked the talent for 
missionary endeavor; and since nothing more could be expected 
from the clergy of Gaul, the pope decided that the time was ripe 
for his intervention. 

Gregory had begun his ecclesiastical career as a monk and 
had spent several. years as abbot. Though later called on to serve 
the church in the world, he remained an ardent champion of 
monasticism and devoted much care to the founding of new re- 
ligious communities and the reform of old ones. To him, as is 
proved by his letters on the subject, the monastic ideal was that 
of St. Benedict. Gregory held that a monk should stay in his 
monastery unless specially authorized to leave by his abbot and 
by the bishop of the local diocese; only under such circumstances 
could he share the work of the secular clergy. And if a priest 
wished to take the vows, he should surrender his parish and sub- 
mit to monastic discipline like the rest of the brothers. The two 
callings, for the good of both, had to be kept distinct. The pope, 
therefore, while applauding the Christian zeal of the Irish, disap- 
proved of their lax organization. His dispatch of Roman mis- 
sionaries to Britain was an epoch-making event not only for the 
Anglo-Saxons, but for the entire western world. 

The story of this mission and its results must be very briefly 
summarized. In 596 Gregory sent to Britain a group of Bene- 
dictine monks, headed by Augustine, from Gregory’s own mon- 
astery in Rome. In 597 they arrived at Canterbury, the old 

to Britain 

« See beiow, pp. 220 



The con- 
of the 

:ion of 

Roman city which now served as JEthelbert’s capital. Within 
a short time the king had been converted and Kent had become the 
first Christian state of the Anglo-Saxons. Thence the Gospel was 
carried to the neighboring kingdoms, but many years passed 
before all of them accepted it. Mercia, under the staunch heathen, 
Penda, offered especially stubborn resistance, and his victories 
counteracted an earlier success of the Romans in Northumbria. 
In 655, however, Penda was killed in battle by Oswy of North- 
umbria, and the extension of his overlordship marked also the 
final triumph of Christianity among the Anglo-Saxons. Mean- 
w’’hile Aidan and his Celtic monks had established themselves in 
the northern kingdom and Oswy was faced with the embarrassing 
task of choosing between two rival Christian churches. 

The fundamental antagonism of the Roman and the Irish eccle- 
siastical systems has been emphasized above. It was inevitable 
that the party which supported the one would refuse all com- 
promise with that which supported the other. Instead of using 
the round tonsure that was now customary, the Celtic monks 
shaved the front of the head from ear to ear. They also fixed 
the date of Easter by a computation that had elsewhere been aban- 
doned. These practices, however, were mere symbols of inde- 
pendence; the great issue before Oswy was whether his people 
should or should not be enrolled in the great church that looked 
to Rome for its leadership. To settle that question, the king 
summoned to the monastery of Whitby in 664 a council of clergy 
and laymen, and, after long argument by the representatives of 
both sides, decision was rendered in favor of Rome. The Irish 
thereupon left Northumbria and all the Anglo-Saxons were 
brought within one church. 

It had been Gregory's original intention to divide Britain be- 
tween two metropolitans, one at London and one at York. Lon- 
don, however, proved inhospitable and so Augustine, having re- 
turned to Gaul for consecration, was installed as archbishop at 
Canterbury. Although much credit is due him for the establish- 
ment of Christianity among the Anglo-Saxons, the enterprise 
from the outset was planned and directed by the pope. Gregory's 
correspondence in this connection remains a monument of polit- 
ical wisdom as well as of religious zeal. Augustine was advised 
to convert heathen temples into Christian churches rather than to 
destroy them, and, whenever possible, to adapt heathen practices 
to the celebration of Christian festivals, ‘Tor," said Gregory, 


‘‘it is undoubtedly impossible to root out everything at once from 
savage hearts; he who wishes to ascend a height must mount, 
not by leaps, but step by step.’^ 

Gregory did not, of course, live to see more than the victory 
of his church in Kent; it was only after the Council of Whitby 
that the Roman ecclesiastical system was extended throughout 
the hther kingdoms. The man chiefly responsible for this accom- 
plishment was Theodore of Tarsus, archbishop of Canterbury 
from 669 to 690 — ^the first prelate of that see to enforce his au- 
thority as primate of Anglo-Saxon Britain. Although York re- 
mained the head of an ecclesiastical province, its archbishop was 
treated by Theodore as a subordinate The pontificate of Theo- 
dore may thus be said to have ended the period of missionary ef- 
fort and begun that of permanent organization. In his day the 
Celtic lands still maintained their peculiarities, but by the end of 
the next century general conformity to Roman practice — ^at least 
in superficial matters — ^had been established, and more complete 
subjection to papal authority inevitably accompanied the political 
changes of the subsequent age. 

For the continent, too, the Christianization of the Anglo-Saxon 
kingdoms was to have momentous consequences. As the influence 
of the Celtic monks in their own country yielded before that of 
the Roman missionaries, it became impossible for Columban’s 
foundations to maintain their original independence. By the end 
of the seventh century the Benedictine system, with the powerful 
backing of the papacy, had definitely gained supremacy in western 
Europe. And by that same time the work of spreading the Gospel 
to heathen lands had come under the direction of Anglo-Saxon 
monks, acting as zealous agents of the pope. About 690 Willi- 
brord, a Northumbrian educated in Ireland, undertook the task 
of converting the Frisians, who inhabited the estuary of the Rhine 
between the Franks and the Saxons. He was so successful that 
some five years later he was summoned to Rome and there conse- 
crated bishop of Utrecht under the name of Clemens. 

Shortly before Willibrord’s death He was joined in Frisia by 
a man destined to win even greater renown. This was Winfrid, 
a West Saxon monk, who had felt the urge to quit the career of 
a learned recluse for that of a missionary among the heathen. 
But Winfrid’s stay in Frisia was brief. Having — ^under the 
name of Boniface — secured direct authorization from the pope 
in 719, he b^ook himself to eastern Austrasia, where he soon 

on the 



and the 
tion of 


reported thousands of converts among the Thuringians and other 
Germanic peoples] Hitherto all effort toward Christianizing 
these regions had been sporadic. Irish monks and other volun- 
teers had founded monasteries and local churches without the 
slightest supervision on the part of any central authority, for 
the chaotic conditions that prevailed throughout the Merovingian 
dominions had prevented any decisive action from the monarchy. 
In such an environment Boniface, as he is always known, showed 
a superlative genius for organization. In the name of the pope, 
he created a unified ecclesiastical system for this entire East 
Frankish territory. Older monasteries were reformed and new 
ones established on all sides — chief among them the illustrious 
Fulda. Bavaria and Thuringia, together with the adjacent coun- 
try, were divided into bishoprics and placed under the archbishop 
of Mainz — ^an office eventually held by Boniface himself. Yet, as 
an old man of seventy-four he still longed for a fresh world to 
conquer. Resigning his see, he resumed his missionary career 
among the Frisians and was there slain by heathen pirates in 754. 

As Augustine had begun a new epoch- for Britain, so Boni- 
face — B, product of the earlier mission — ^began a new epoch for 
Germany. A century and a half of European history serves as a 
commentary on the surpassing wisdom of Pope Gregory I. 



In 639 occurred the death of Da^obert, great-great-grandson 
of Clovis, and with him seemed to die the last spark of Merovin- 
gian ability. Henceforth the members of the royal house ceased 
to play any part in the world of affairs ; they became rois faineants 
— ^Icings in name only, who spent their lives in seclusion and were 
hardly seen by their subjects except when, like long-haired dolls, 
they were drawn in their regal ox-carts from one estate to an- 
other. As a lot, they were pampered weaklings, dying young and 
leaving other weaklings to succeed them. For over a century, 
accordingly, while the crown was still worn by the members of 
one dynasty, all real authority was exercised by their chief min- 
isters, whom we know as mayors of the palace.^ Whatever the 
exact origin of the office, there can be no doubt that its greatness 
depended on control of the royal resources. By the seventh 
century the mayor of the palace, in any of the Merovingian king- 
doms, was not merely the chief officer of the household, but also 
head of the entire government, and he usually commanded the 
army in person. 

The house that was to be called Carolingian, after its most dis- 
tinguished member, began its brilliant career in Austrasia. There, 
in the time of Dagobert, a certain great landlord named Pepin 
acted as mayor of the palace, and his descendents were ultimately 
able to make the honor hereditary. For a considerable time their 
rivals at home and in the other kingdoms kept them in compara- 
tive obscurity. Then Pepin II, grandson of Pepin I, crushed the 
Neustrian mayor in battle (687) and made himself supreme in 
both regions. This proved to be the opening of a new epoch in 
Frankish history, for it brought under one strong ruler the two 
main fragments of the Merovingian domain. Pepin’s success was 
given permanence by the deeds of his remarkable son, Charles. 
The latter, though illegitimate,, made good a doubtful claim to 
his father’s office through a display of energy and determination 

1 See above, p. 156. The latin is mc^or domus, which is more Kterally repre- 
sented by the expression “major-domo.” 

♦. 177 

The Aus- 
of the 





that the age sorely needed. Having speedily forced recognition 
in Neustria, Aquitaine, and Burgundy, he again subjected the 
Alafnans and the Bavarians to Frankish dominion. And by ac- 
tively supporting the work of the, Anglo-Saxon missionaries be- 
yond the Rhine, Charles secured three great advantages : Chris- 
tianity was spread to the heathen, the cause of the monarchy was 
advanced in Germany, and his own family was endeared to the 

In the midst of these significant projects, the Austrasian mayor 
was compelled to divert his attention to southern Gaul, where in 
720 the Moors had crossed the Pyrenees to complete the conquest 
of the Visigothic provinces. From Septimania, following their 
usual practice, they sent raids into all the adjoining regions. In 
732, having utterly defeated the duke of Aquitaine, they laid 
siege to the city of Poitiers and threatened even Tours, with its 
holy shrine of St. Martin. The danger was great and it was for- 
tunate for the Franks that they had a man of genius to lead them. 
With an army composed at least in part of heavy-armed cavalry, 
Charles met the Moslems near Poitiers and stopped the trium- 
phant advance that had brought them across Africa and into 
Europe. This battle was not so decisive for world history as 
used to be stated in popular books. The caliphate was on the 
eve of a profound revolution that was to break the power of the 
Ommiad dynasty and turn its empire into a cultural union of 
autonomous states.^ The great days of Arab conquest were al- 
ready, past when the Frankish mayor saved the city of Tours. 
Yet the victory was a notable one in Christian annals. By it 
Charles gained not only the surname of Martel (the Hammer), 
but the acclaim of the western world. Furthermore, it coincided 
with a series of events that induced the papacy to look to the 
Franks for aid. 

In 717 the Byzantine Empire had found an able and energetic 
ruler in Leo III, erroneously known in history as the Isaurian.® 
Having earned great prestige through his successful defense of 
Constantinople against the Moslems, Leo undertook a vigorous 
reform of the state. Much of his work, particularly in the realms 
of military and financial administration^ was well conceived; 
thanks to his leadership, his remnant of the ancient Roman Em- 
pire again became relatively secure and prosperous. His religious 

2 See below, p. 202. 

* See above, p. t^u ^ 


battle of 
Tours (or 

Leo III 
and the 


east and 

of the 


policy, on the other hand, was not so fortunate. During his early 
life in southern Asia Minor, Leo had become intimately 
acquainted with Mohammedanism, as well as with other faiths 
which rejected much of the contemporary Christian doctrine. 
Especially widespread at that time was the sect of the Pauli- 
cians, who condemned virtually the whole sacramental system, 
the institution of an ordained clergy, and what they termed the 
pagan ritual of the church. While sympathizing ndther with 
heretic nor with Moslem, the emperor seems to have been con- 
vinced that they were right in at least one respect : the customary 
use of images and pictures in Christian worship smacked too 
much of idolatry. 

In 725, accordingly, Leo denounced the practice and launched 
an official campaign of iconoclasm (image-breaking). Though 
zealously supported by many of the educated, the decree was in- 
tensely unpopular with the mass of the people. Riots broke out 
both in Greece and in Italy. The aged patriarch of Constanti- 
nople, because he opposed the change, was supplanted by one more 
subservient to the imperial will. Of all the great sees — ^now that 
Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria were submerged by the 
Saracens — only Rome was left to voice the. opposition to Leo’s 
arbitrary dictation, and of the papal attitude there could be no 
question. Gregory II (715-31) vigorously protested the em- 
peror’s action. His successor, Gregory III, called a council of 
ninety-three bishops, which formally excommunicated all who 
accepted the iconoclastic program. Thus east and west were once 
more at odds over a matter of religion and the pope became all 
the more strongly confirmed in his determination to maintain po- 
litical independence. 

At Rome, meanwhile, the Lombard danger had again become 
acute. That people had long since abandoned the Arian heresy 
and, through continued residence in the peninsula, had tended to 
become indistinguishable from the rest of the Italians. And as 
long as the king’s effective rule hardly extended beyond the Po 
Valley, he could be no serious menace to the security of the pope. 
Now, however, the Lombard monarchy suddenly developed un- 
expected strength. In 712 the crown passed, as the result of a 
successful revolt, to a certain Liutprand. During his reign of 
thirty years he was able not only to annex a considerable portion 
of the exarchate, but also to establish real control over the duchies 
of Spoleto and Benevento. When the pope sought to protect the 


dukes, the king replied by threatening Rome itself. The icono- 
clastic controversy made cooperation with the emperor Leo im- 
possible; so Gregory III, in 739, sent an embassy to Charles 
Martel. He was beseeched to bring aid to the beleaguered city 
and in turn to be recognized there as consul — ^at least a suggestion 
that the Frankish ruler might take the place of the emperor as 
sovereign over the papal duchy. 

Charles, as it happened, was unwilling to embark on such an 
adventure. Liutprand had been closely allied with him against 
both the Saracens and the Bavarians, and he was no longer an 
adventurous youth. So, at the time, no Frankish army was sent 
over the Alps, and the Italian question remained to trouble a new 
generation of political leaders. Charles Martel died in 741, hav- 
ing already — ^as if he were the sole possessor — divided the Mero- 
vingian kingdom between his two sons: Austrasia and the Ger- 
man duchies to Carloman, Neustria and Burgundy to Pepin. 
Before the end of the same year ^Zacharias had succeeded Gregory 
III on the papal throne. Liutprand lived on till 744; then, after 
two other kings had been deposed, the Lombards proclaimed 
Aistulf, who at once revived the Byzantine war and defied the 
pope to hinder his conquests. Meanwhile the death of Emperor 
Leo III in 740 had brought to power his son, Constantine V — 
a fanatical iconoclast whose violent measures served only to 
aggravate the existing schism. 

The eighth century thus witnessed the emergence of two great 
powers in the west, both of which — by a remarkable coincidence 
— lacked the ultimate* sanction of legality. The Frankish mayor 
of the palace actually reigned and yet could wear no crown; 
the pope governed the duchy of Rome but remained the subject of 
an emperor in Constantinople with whom he had forbidden all 
good Christians t 6 have any dealings. Was not the alliance of 
these two powers inevitable? All the great events of the previous 
hundred years — ^the collapse of the Byzantine Empire, the trium- 
phant advance of the Saracens, the victory of the papal missions 
in Germany, the revival of the Lombard monarchy — contributed 
to the one momentous result. The dramatic climax of this de- 
velopment came on Christmas, 800 ; the logical preliminaries were 
provided by the career of Pepin HI. 

For six years the two sons of Charles Martel ruled the Frank- 
ish lands together, cooperating to such good effect that they 
easily crushed all separatist tendencies in troublesome regions like 

and the 

Pepin I 

tion in 
(754, 756) 


Aquitaine and Bavaria. Then, in 747, the elder brother decided 
to become a monk, and Pepin was left to rule alone. Four years 
later certain Frankish prdates appeared before Pope Zacharias 
and asked his advice as to the value of the Merovingian kingship. 
The pope replied that, in his opinion, the man who had the actual 
power better deserved the royal title than one who had not. So, 
in the autumn of 751, a great assembly of the Franks was held at 
Soissons, and there Mayor Pepin III became King Pepin I, 
through election by his people and through solemn consecration 
by the prelates of the church. The last of the Merovingian kings, 
with shorn locks, was sent to spend the rest of his days in a mon- 
astery, and the house of Clovis ended in oblivion. 

Aistulf, the Lombard king, had in the meantime launched his 
offensive against the exarchate; and it was final, for Ravenna fell 
in 751. He then occupied Pentapolis, established his personal 
authority at Spoleto, and laid siege to Rom^. Nor would he agree 
to an armistice until tribute was paid him as sovereign over that 
duchy. Stephen II, the recently elected pope, thereupon an- 
nounced that he would come to Gaul for an interview with the 
king. In the summer of 754 he did so. Following the ritual 
of the Old Testament, he anointed Pepin with consecrated oil and 
declared excommunicate all Franks who should dare to refuse him 
recognition as lawful monarch. At the same time he proclaimed 
Pepin as patricius of the Romans — a title that vagfuely served to 
recall the distingushed series of imperial representatives in Italy 
that had ended with Theodoric the Ostrogoth. But if the office 
was more than an empty honor, what right had the pope to bestow 
it? Although the language displayed a certain respect for tradi- 
tion, the act was as revolutionary as Pepin’s assumption of the 

The important fact was that the Frankish king had already 
pledged intervention in Italy. Within a few months he led an 
army across the Alps and defeated the Lombards in battle. Ais- 
tulf signed a treaty ceding the exarchate and Pentapolis to the 
pope and promising tribute to Pepin as overlord. But the en- 
gagements were not carried out, and, after repeated exhortations 
from Stephen, Pepin again invaded Italy in 756. This time he 
seized the disputed lands and by formal charter gave them in 
perpetual ownership to the church of St. Peter. Thus came into 
existence the Papal States of history — ^an irr^^ilar territory ex- 
tending across the peninsula from Rome on the west to Ravenna 


on the east. Aistulf barely outlived his defeat, being accidentally 
slain before the end of the same year. His successor was De- 
siderius, duke of Tuscany, who also was to prove a troublesome 
neighbor for the papacy. 

For the remainder of his life, however, Pepin was allowed to 
concentrate his attention dn domestic affairs. Before intervening 
in Italy, the new king had succeeded in conquering all Septimania 
except Narbonne. In 759 this city too came into his possession, 
and for the first time the Frankish dominion reached the line of 
the Pyrenees. Aquitaine still remained a source of chronic 
trouble, and it was not until after a prolonged war that the re- 
bellious duke was killed in battle and his duchy subjected to royal 
administration. On the eastern frontier the kingdom remained 
much as it had been left by Charles Martel. There the work of 
that valiant warrior was to be taken up by his grandson and 


Following long-established precedent, Pepin divided his do- 
minions between his two sons : Charles to have Austrasia, Neus- 
tria, and the northern half of Aquitaine; Carloman to have Ala- 
mania, Burgundy, Provence, Septimania, and the rest of 
Aquitaine. From the first they lived on bad terms with each other, 
and in all probability civil war was prevented only by the sudden 
death of the younger brother in 771. Charles then acted promptly, 
seizing the entire inheritance, while Carloman’s widow and chil- 
dren took refuge with the Lombard, Desiderius. Meanwhile 
Charles had married a daughter of that king, but he now repu- 
diated the lady and prepared for the invasion of Italy. In this 
policy he was strongly supported by the newly elected pope, 
Hadrian I, who complained that Desiderius was seeking to undo 
Pepin^s settlement. 

In 773 the matter finally reached a crisis. Charles led an army 
southward, outflanked the position of Desiderius in the Alps, 
and shut him up in Pavia. Then, leaving his troops to continue 
the siege, the Frank paid a ceremonious visit to the pope at Rome, 
Pepin’s donation, somewhat amplified, was confirmed and the two 
princes swore a solemn alliance. Inside a few months Pavia had 
surrendered, and with the capture of Desiderius, Charles assumed 
the kingship of the Lombards for himself. So began a new epoch 
in the history of Italy^ iwhich throughout many centuries was to 

The con- 
quest of 






of the 



and the 


be intimately associated with the Frankish monarchy. Charles’s 
control, of course, was primarily restricted to those regions which 
had been held by Desiderius, but from the outset he acted as 
much more than a theoretical overlord within the Papal States. 
His authority was recognized over all the northern peninsula ; oc- 
casionally he even intervened in the duchies of Spoleto and Bene- 
vento. Perhaps he might eventually have brought all southern 
Italy under his dominion, if in the meantime his attention had 
not become absorbed in more grandiose ambitions. 

It would seem that Charles was primarily interested not in 
fighting Greeks or Saracens for the control of the Mediterranean, 
but in completing the Frankish conquest of Germany. This 
Merovingian project, after languishing for a hundred years or 
so, had recently been revived by Charles Martel. He and Pepin, 
by actively backing the missionary efforts of the' Roman church, 
had greatly strengthened the royal authority tleyond the Rhine. 
Alamania, Thuringia, and even Bavaria were now much more 
effectively held than ever before. The stubborn Frisians had 
gradually yielded to the combined force of Christian persuasion 
and Frankish arms. There remained the fierce Saxons, who up 
to date had never paid more than intermittent tribute to their 
powerful neighbors. The logic of the situation inevitably urged 
the vigorous young king, for the glory of God and for the exten- 
sion of his own realm, to undertake the reduction of this wild 

In the eighth century the Saxons still lived very much as the 
Vandals or Goths or Franks had lived at an earlier time. They 
constituted no unified nation and had no firm political organiza- 
tion. They were divided into three secondary groups, called the 
Westphalians, Eastphalians, and Engers; but these in turn were 
mere aggregations of other tribal units which normally joined 
only for some extraordinary purpose, such as a great war of self- 
defense. Virtually to a man, they were yet heathen, devoted to 
ancient deities which had earlier been worshiped by the Anglo- 
Saxons. The region which they occupied included roughly the 
valleys of the Lippe, the Ems, and the Weser, extending east to 
the line of the Elbe and Saale, and north to the country of the 
Danes in Jutland. As yet Saxony was a savage region of forest, 
plain, and marsh, with scattering agricultural settlements and an 
occasional fortified refuge, or burg. 

Even before his descent into Italy, Charles had led a prelimi- 


nary expedition into the Saxon territory, advancing to the Weser 
and forcing the recognition of his supremacy by the Engers. 
Then, having disposed of the Lombards, he returned to the unfin- 
ished task. In 775 a greater campaign extended the Frankish 
dominion over all the Saxons, and new fortresses were built to 
keep the conquered territory in subjection. A Frankish assem- 
bly held there in 777 promulgated measures looking toward the 
Christianization of the inhabitants and the organization of a more 
permanent government. The Saxons, however, would not tamely 
submit to their new masters, and whenever Charles’s back was 
turned they reverted to their customary insubordination. After 
780, accordingly, the king tightened his system of administration 
and issued the cruel Capitulary for the Saxon Territory, prescrib- 
ing the death penalty for all who refused baptism or continued 
heathen practices. 

The result was a general insurrection of the Saxons under the 
leadership of the Westphalian Widukind — b. movement in which 
many of the Frisians immediately joined. Accepting the defiance, 
Charles, during the years 784-85, crushed the rising in blood. 
Eventually the whole country was subdued; Widukind yielded 
and received baptism. And although there continued to be spo- 
radic outbreaks, followed by violent reprisals, Saxony thenceforth 
constituted an integral part of the Fra^ish kingdom. In 789 the 
first Saxon bishopric was established at Bremen. Others were 
rapidly created while great Benedictine monasteries were erected 
on all sides. Within another century Saxon scholars and mission- 
aries were glorifying the work which their ancestors had so bit- 
terly opposed. 

Almost immediately after gaining a decisive victory in Saxony, 
Charles turned his attention to Bavaria. That territory had in 
some fashion or other belonged to the Frankish kings for over 
two centuries, but the subjection had been little more than nomi- 
nal. Even more recently, with the revival of the monarchical au- 
thority under the Carolingians, the Bavarian ruler had generally 
conducted himself like an independent prince. Tassilo, the pres- 
ent duke, had earlier deserted Pepin in the midst of his war in 
Aquitaine and had then entered into dose alliance with the Lom- 
bard, Desiderius. Charles, having himself had many causes of 
complaint, seems deliberatdy to have resolved upon Tassilo’s 
ruin. In 787 an overwhdming force occupied Bavaria and com- 
pelled the duke to acknowledge the king’s supremacy. Nor was 

The con- 
quest of 

The con- 
quest of 

The de- 
of the 






this all. In the very next year Tassilo was suddenly accused of 
treason, deprived of his duchy, and immured for the rest of his 
life in a monastery. 

Though xmaccompanied with bloodshed, this action amounted 
to the armed conquest of another great province, and it completed 
the establishment of Charles’s dominion on a wide front ex- 
tending from the western end of the Bciltic to the head of the 
Adriatic. The next step, obviously, was to organize this frontier 
by breaking any hostile force that might threaten it from the east 
and by erecting along it a system of permanent defense. During 
the last decade of the eighth century that work was made possible 
chiefly through the final defeat of the Avars — ^the Asiatics who 
had come to dominate the lower Danube Valley, the interior of 
the Balkan peninsula, and a belt of Slavic lands to the northward-^ 
For a time they had threatened Italy and southern Germany, but 
on that side they had finally been held in check by the Lombards 
and the Bavarians. 

• Now that Charles had taken over the territories of both these 
peoples, it was logical that he should accept their responsibilities 
with regard to the nomads of the steppe. As a matter of fact, 
the Avars, though still maintaining their power in Pannonia and 
Dacia, had long ceased to be very formidable. Toward the Black 
Sea the Bulgars, and toward the Adriatic the Serbs, Croats, and 
other Slavs had made themselves independent. Carinthia had been 
taken by the Bavarian dukes, and it was from there that Charles 
rapidly pushed his control southeast to the Dalmatian coast. 
Driving the Avars beyond the Danube, the Frankish army finally 
broke tlieir huge round camps, which were called the Rings. 
Thence the victors carried home enormous treasure — ^the accumu- 
lated loot of a thousand raids — ^and Charles could justly assert 
that he had won another momentous victory for the Cross of 

As the eastern boundary was finally drawn, the Frankish king- 
dom contained Istria, Carinthia, Bavaria, Thuringia, and Saxony; 
beyond them lay a series of frontier districts called marks or 
marches, each under a special count with extensive military au- 
thority who was known as a marquis or margrave (markffraf). 
These borderlands included, south of the Danube, Croatia and 
Pannonia; north of the Danube, Moravia and Bohemia, the coun- 

< See above, p. 114. 



try of the Czechs; and east of the Saale and Elbe, the territory of 
the Sorbs, Wiizi, and other Slavic peoples. Against the Danes, 
similarly, a march was created in the region that was later to 
become known as Holstein. As the Franks were held on other 
fronts, they, with their new recruits from Germany, now tended 
to surge eastward, conquering, converting, and exploiting the sav- 
age tribes of the interior. 

While devoting many years to the reduction and defense of 
Germany, Charles had not forgotten his western possessions. The 
Having inherited from Pepin effective control of Aquitaine and creation 
Septimania, he was in a position to intervene in Spain. Until 
732 the Moslem advance into Europe had triumphantly continued ; 
then, after the victory of Charles Martel, the Moors had little by 
little been driven back on the Pyrenees. This reversal of their 
fortunes in the west was symptomatic of their declining strength 
in the east. The Ommiad dynasty fell in 750, and with the re- 
moval of the caliphate to Bagdad, the hold of the central govern- 
ment over its outlying provinces rapidly weakened. Abd-ar-. 
Rahman, last survivor of the Ommiads, escaped from Damascus 
and made his way to Cordova. There, from 756 on, he ruled as 
emir, successfully defying the authority of the Abbasid caliph. 

As a consequence, appeals against the emir were carried to Charles 
from various interested persons. Even the gorgeous caliph 
Harun al-Rashid,® in far-away Bagdad, sent him wonderful gifts 
and flattering letters urging his cooperation against the usurping 

Charles, early in his reign, seems to have been persuaded that 
he might actually conquer Spain with little effort. But an expedi- 
tion in 778 utterly failed, and on the return journey his army was 
ambushed by the Christian Basques in the pass of Roncevaux and 
some of his noblest followers were slain — ^an incident from which 
pious legend developed a glorious epic for the feudal age.® To 
Charles himself it probably served merely as a warning not to 
indulge in fantastic projects beyond the Pyrenees. Adopting a 
defensive policy, he thenceforth sought merely to check the Sara- 
cen raids that still occasionally troubled Gaul. By 795 sufficient 
territory had been occupied for the organization of a frontier dis- 
trict, and six years later a further advance of the Franks gave 
them the city of Barcelona, 'fhus arose the Spanish March, 

» See below, p. 202. 

• See below, pp. 293 £• 





of 800 


which was to remain an outpost of northern influence for many 
centuries to come. 

In the meantime, however, another matter of surpassing inter- 
est had turned men’s attention from such paltry events as the 
capture of a Spanish fortress or two. This was nothing less than 
the revival of the imperial office in the west, and in order to grasp 
its significance we must carefully examine the preliminaries that 
led up to it. In 754 Pepin, newly elected king of the Franks, 
received from the pope the title, patrickis of the Romans, and 
shortly afterwards he took the exarcliate from the Lombards and 
gave it to the Roman church. Charles, continuing to bear his 
father’s titles, confirmed Pepin’s donation and then, after the 
fall of Desiderius, assumed the Lombard kingship. In 781 he 
had Pope Hadrian crown his second son, Pepin, king of Italy, and 
his third son, Louis, king of Aquitaine. But these acts were 
mere formalities. The kingdom of Aquitaine was created largely 
to please the native population, and its establishment made no 
change in the actual administration. The kingdom of Italy was 
only Lombardy with a few minor additions, including neither the 
exarchate nor the duchy of Rome. In those regions Charles him- 
self continued to act as sovereign, and his authority there must 
have been exercised not as king, but as patrickis of the Romans. 

Hadrian I, though he fully cooperated with Charles on all occa- 
sions, was a distinctly proud and forceful prince. In 795, how- 
ever, his place was taken by Leo III, who soon proved himself 
more submissive to the great Frankish ruler. He at once notified 
Charles of his election to the papacy, and from the outset he 
dated his acts in the year of that monarch's reign. Perhaps he 
anticipated the need of outside support. At any rate, tlie opposi- 
tion of certain local nobles led in 799 to a riot in which the pope 
was cruelly handled. Escaping ihrough the timely aid of certain 
Frankish ministers, Leo fled to Charles, who at once provided 
the forces necessary to re-establish him in his capital. But the 
arrest of the conspirators brought a flock of evil charges against 
the pope, and Charles decided that the matter ^demanded his per- 
sonal attention. In November, 800, he proceeded to Italy. A 
great assembly of clergy and laity was held at Rome early in 
December, and it was there decided to allow the pope to clear him- 
self by his unaided oath.^ This he at length did on December 23, 

^ See above, p. 78. 


swearing' on the Gospels that he was wholly innocent of what had 
been alleged against him. 

Two days later, being now formally reinstated as supreme 
pontiff, Leo presided over the Christmas festival in St. Peter’s 
church. After mass had been said, and while Charles was praying 
at the altar, the pope placed a diadem on his head and the assem- 
bled throng shouted, “To Charles Augustus, crowned of God, 
great and pacific emperor of the Romans, life and victory!” Are 
we to believe, as we are told by the official annalists, that this 
ceremony took Charles entirely by surprise and that he was actu- 
ally displeased at the high honor so unexpectedly thrust upon him? 

The statement seems incredible. The stage was too carefully set 
for the affair to have been other than premeditated. Charles was 
not a man on whom, to try experimental coronations. Nor was 
Leo the sort of prelate who would dare to concoct such a plan on 
his own initiative. The assumption of the imperial title was the 
dramatic climax of Charles’s whole career. He must have 
willed it. 

As far as justification w’as concerned, the facts spoke for 
themselves. His territory was much larger than that held by The nature 
any Byzantine emperor since Heraclius; fiis personal authority of the 
was infinitely greater than that of any western ruler since Theo- Carolmgian 
dosius. The tradition of an indestructible Roman Empire still 
charmed the minds of men,' including unquestionably that of 
Charles himself. The west had had no resident emperor since 
476; now one was again installed. In strict theory, of course, 

Leo had no more right to bestow the crown than Charles had to 
assume it ; but a pope had earlier given a Frankish king the title 
of patriciiis and it was now superseded by the title of emperor. 

The revolution had been so gradually brought about that to 
contemporaries it seemed logical enough. Besides, legalization 
might be procured from Constantinople. To this end Charles 
devoted earnest efforts, and just before his death he was assured 
that, in return for the cession of Dalmatia and Venetia, his newly 
acquired rank would be recognized by the Byzantine emperor. 

So emerged the institution which, in its later form of the Holy 
Roman Empire, was to live to a preposterous old age — until, in 
fact, the myth of its existence was exploded by Napoleon’s guns 
at Austerlitz. In 800 it was somewhat more of an actuality; yet, 
when examined closely, it is seen to have been fatally weak from 
its very inception. Its only real strragth was the might of the 



one man whom later generations were to call Charles the Great, 
or Charlemagne. It was truly his empire, the Carolingian Em- 
pire. Though glorified by the blessing of the church, it was in- 
spired by nothing but his personal ambition and was Roman 
merely by virtue of a tradition. It might just as well have been 
called the kingdom of the Franks, for Italy was no more of a 
separate state than was Bavaria or Burgundy or Aquitaine or 
many another region within its bounds. The fact that it included 
all the Germanic kingdoms of the continent has given it, to mod- 
ern eyes, a specious appearance of unity. Would it have been 
much less coherent if it had embraced Sicily, Spain, Ireland, Po- 
land, and Macedonia? As it was, it lacked all national solidarity, 
and the common bond of religion never had any political strength. 
Could such a hasty agglomeration of disparate lands and peoples, 
though styled an empire, succeed under conditions which had pro- 
duced the disintegration of Rome? We should hardly suppose so. 
Before attempting a more positive statement, let us look more at- 
tentively at the internal structure of the monarchy. 


At the head of the Carolingian state stood the king, whose 
The tv-ing office was essentially the same as it had been under the Merovin- 
gians, for the title of emperor added little to his real authority. 
Like other barbarian monarchs, he had three principal functions : 
to command the army, to administer justice, and to protect the 
church. He was not supposed to be absolute. Extraordinary 
measures were adopted on the counsel of his great men ; matters 
of supreme importance were promulgated at great assemblies 
called Fields of May, though they were not always held in that 
month. To deduce principles of democracy or of constitutional 
government from the informal practices of the Carolingians is to 
read modem notions into an age that knew them not. It is quite 
impossible to define the respective rights of king and people in 
terms of strict legalism. A powerful ruler like Charlemagne 
might often act despotically, and we may be sure that his acts 
were mainly inspired by his own interest. Yet he would always 
have admitted that the law was fundamentally ancient custom, 
over which he had no arbitrary control. And he knew that, if he 
violated it too flagrantly, he would incur the penalty of armed 

Between the administration of Charlemagne^s household and 



that of his empire no clear distinction was drawn. One set of The 
high officials superintended both. Prominent among them were officers of 
the chamberlain, who acted as governor of the palace and of the 
royal treasure; the seneschal, who managed the king’s food and 
in some degree supervised the estates that produced it ; the butler, 
who had charge of the royal cellar and vineyards ; and the marshal 
or constable, who, through his control of the stable, had high 
command in the army. Below these great officials were a host of 
subordinates with shifting powers, whom it would be tiresome to 
enumerate. A few words, however, may be said of the king’s 
religious service, because it came to have certain very significant 
developments. The chapel (capella) was originally the repository 
of that sacred relic, the cloak (cappa) of St. Martin, and the 
chaplain was the custodian. Later, however, all the clergy at- 
tached to the palace were said to belong to the royal chapel, and 
their chief, the arch-chaplain, became a very important person at 
court. Under him were not merely the priests who administered 
the sacraments to the king and his family, but also the clerks who 
wrote his letters and the notaries who drew up his legal docu- 
ments. The chancellor, as head of this particular department, 
emerged after the time of Charlemagne. 

As in the earlier period, the agents of the central government 
in the provinces were the dukes and the counts. Under the Dukes and 
Merovingians there had been many powerful dukes who con- counts 
ducted themselves in all ways like local kings. With the Carolin- 
gian succession, their offices were generally abolished and dukes 
of the old princely type remained only where the royal authority 
was more or less nominal, as among the Lombards of southern 
Italy, the Basques on the Pyrenees, and the Bretons in their iso- 
lated peninsula. Elsewhere within the empire the title of duke 
was merely a synonym for that of marquis — a, frontier count who 
held certain extraordinary powers. It was, in fact, through 
, his counts that Charlemagne governed his dominions; the key 
i to his success lay in his control of those all-powerful lieutenants. 

Without regard to the boundaries of sub-kingdoms like Italy 
and Aquitaine, Charlemagne appointed counts at his own pleasure, 
holding them constantly subject to his orders and removing them 
whenever he became convinced’ of their treachery or incompe- 
tence. The trouble was, of course, to keep efficient check on the 
acts of unscrupulous agents widely separated from the court and 
paid through grants of land in the regions which they administered. 



The difficulty was principally met by the prodigious activity of 
the emperor himself, who was continually moving about at the 
head of his troops. To the same end, however, Charlemagne sys- 
tematically employed missi — ^men ‘‘sent out'’ from headquarters 
to inspect the operation of the local government. This was a 
practice which had formed a regular part of the Roman admin- 
istration,® but which had generally lapsed under the Merovingians. 

By his elaborate decree of 802, the emperor announces that he 
The missi has chosen from among his wisest nobles, both clergymen and 
laymen, those who shall go about the whole kingdom to see that 
the various enumerated classes of persons are living as they 
should. Whenever the missi hear of any injustice in the law as 
then administered, they are to report back to him so that he may 
remedy it. They are to listen to all complaints and investigate 
the facts by securing the sworn testimony of witnesses; and if 
they and the local authorities are unable to render justice, they 
are to refer the matter to the king. They are to see that all men 
take an oath of fealty to Charles as emperor ; that no one neglects 
a summons to his army, disobeys his ban, or wrongfully makes 
away with his property; that families do not prosecute blood 
feuds after just cpmpensation for injuries has been offered; that 
causes are not maintained in court by oppression or bribery ; and 
that a dozen other matters are seen to. The missi are to super- 
intend not only the acts of officials and ordinary laymen, but also 
those of priests and monks, who should live according to the 
holy canons. Every one must strive, to the extent of his ability, to 
govern his conduct by the precepts of the Almighty. 

There is, unfortunately, every reason to believe that the re- 
The capit- suits attained by Charlemagne’s envoys fell far short of his pious 
ularies ideals; the age was not noted for universal observance of the 
golden rule. Nevertheless, there can be no question of the em- 
peror’s sincerity, and, thanks to his earnest efforts, his govern- 
ment set a relatively high standard of honesty and efficiency. In 
spirit, at least, it was infinitely superior to that of the Merovin- 
gians — a truth that emerges with especial force from the great 
ordinances called capitularies. They were not invented by Charle- 
magne, but under him they were issued in unprecedented num- 
bers to deal with every phase of the royal administration. Occa- 
sionally one capitulary was restricted to one subject — ^as, for 

« See above, p. 30. 


example, the improvement of education, the care of the imperial 
estates, affairs of Italy, or the organization of the Saxon terri- 
tory. Usually, however, the capitulary was a haphazard mass 
of decisions that chanced to be rendered at the same time. And 
the fact that they were so utterly unsystematic — that they indis- 
criminately treated of church and state, law and discipline, public 
and private rights — is quite typical of the government that pro- 
duced them. 

Though Charlemagne considered himself responsible for the 
administration of justice throughout the empire, he of course 
introduced no uniformity of practice. Law continued, as before, 
to be a matter of local custom. Each little region still had its 
own popular court which enforced rules drawn from Roman, 
Frankish, Gothic, Burgundian, Lombard, Bavarian, or other tra- 
ditional usage. The presiding officer was still the count or his 
subordinate. One reform, however, was introduced in the Caro- 
lingian period ; in place of the rachimburgi, who had occasionally 
served as judgment-finders in the Merovingian courts,^ Charle- 
magne had the counts appoint regular boards of judges. These 
men, called scabini, were important local landowners, who came 
to act for the whole assembly except at the general sessions — 
usually three a year — ^when all suitors had to attend. On a some- 
what wider scale, the same procedure was probably followed in 
the extraordinary courts held by the missi, and even in the cen- 
tral court of the king. The nucleus of the latter would be the 
royal ministers and advisers, but at any moment it might be 
indefinitely extended by calling in *‘the people.” 

Between such a great meeting and a military convocation no 
distinction was necessarily made. Scarcely a year passed without 
the launching of some major campaign; so the Field of May often 
coincided with the mobilization of an army. In theory the an- 
cient principle still held good that all able-bodied men were 
liable for service, but far-reaching modifications of the primitive 
system were rapidly introduced. Specific rules were established 
prescribing the weapons and defensive armor to be possessed by 
each person in proportion to his means. And since the obligation 
of serving at one's own cost for a period of three months was a 
heavy one, the emperor restricted it to men owning certain 
amounts of land — ^amounts which varied from region to region 






» See above, p. 157. 








according to the distance from the scene of war. For this pur- 
pose, therefore, estates came to be assessed in a rude unit known 
as the manse or hide — ^the land presumed requisite for the support 
of one family. Great landlords were made responsible for one 
soldier from every so many hides. Small men were grouped 
together so that by joint contributions one of them might go. 

For the procuring of mounted troops, similar arrangements were 
even more essential. The emperor might, of course, require cer- 
tain properties to furnish horses instead of men ; but to obtain a 
force of expert cavalry, something better was demanded than 
casual levies made through the count. This truth had long been 
appreciated, Charles Martel, needing horsemen with which to 
combat the Saracens and lacking funds to hire them, solved the 
difficulty, we are told, at the expense of the church. He took 
ecclesiastical lands and granted them to his own retainers as 
life estates, or benefices, in return specifying military service 
with horses and arms. Presumably, however, the king had 
already created such benefices out of his own property; at any 
rate, it became increasingly common, toward the end of the cen- 
tury, for all great men to do so. Charlemagne, to strengthen his 
army, encouraged the practice, providing that in time of war 
armed retainers might follow the standard of the lord whom they 
served. So, alongside the levies of the counts, two additional ele- 
ments tended to acquire enhanced prominence: the bands of the 
king’s own personal followers and the similar bands furnished 
by the grandees of the realm. This, as will be seen in connection 
with feudalism, was a development of great significance for the 
future of Europe. 

In financial organization, likewise, the monarchy remained fun- 
damentally as it had been in the previous age. The two great 
political concerns of the royal administration, justice and mili- 
tary defense, were taken care of through service on the part of the 
individual subject. In the same way the maintenance of public 
works, the housing and provisioning of royal agents, and the 
transportation of men and materials were secure by direct requi- 
sition. An endless plague of such exactions had, in fact, con- 
tinued to affiict the countryside since the days of the Roman 
Empire. Nor was there any interruption in the levy of indirect 
taxes, now called theloneay tolls. On the other hand, the ancient 
system of taxes on land and persons had so far decayed that only 
indistinct vestiges of them henceforth appear in the records. And 


Charlemagne invented no new imposts to take their places. Trib- 
ute might be collected from newly subjected peoples, but the near- 
est approach to a general tax throughout the empire was the 
practice of taking contributions, styled gifts {dotia), from the 
great men when they attended the formal assemblies. That they 
in turn recouped themselves by requiring similar offerings from 
their followers is extremely probable. Finance, like military serv- 
ice, was tending to become a matter of seignorial arrangement, 
that is to say, a matter brought under the control of the lordly 
class in society. 

The bulk of Charlemagne’s income, plainly, was got from his 
own estates, for he was the greatest landowner in the kingdom. 
This side of the emperor’s activity is known to us in intimate 
detail from his famous capitulary concerning his villas {Capitu- 
lar e de Villis) which contains minute instructions as to how they 
should be managed. Each villa was placed under a steward 
called maior or villicus, responsible to a superior official who 
acted as superintendent for a considerable number of such prop- 
erties. The steward saw to the cultivation of the estate and had 
the produce carried to central barns, where the superintendent 
kept it for the disposal of the emperor. Each steward, according 
to the capitulary, was to make out an annual statement, describing 
the sources of income under his care and listing everything that 
was produced: grain, hay, fruits, nuts, vegetables, wine, beer, 
vinegar, oil, flax, hemp, honey, wool, hides, horns, tallow, meat, 
lumber, firewood, domestic animals and fowls, eggs, dairy prod- 
ucts, game, fish, and all manufactures. He was to keep account 
of all the tenants and their respective obligations ; to see that there 
were skilled artisans for the production of all necessary articles ; 
to make an inventory of all buildings, tools, and furnishings ; and 
to attend to a dozen other matters as well. And from extant 
reports made by his agents, we may see that the emperor’s regula- 
tions in this connection were actually enforced. 

Charlemagne, regarding himself as the anointed of God and 
the successor of Theodosius, constantly asserted a general power 
of supervision over the church. His capitularies regularly in- 
cluded measures affecting both clergy and laity. Even when 
problems arose of a purely ecclesiastical nature, it was through 
his initiative and under his presidency that action was taken by 
the bishops in council.. They, in fact, were normally quite sub- 
missive to his desires^ for episcopal flections were under his con- 




and the 



trol. State and church he evidently considered two departments 
of one government: for some duties he employed counts, for 
others bishops. The pope he seems to have regarded somewhat 
as the Byzantine emperor regarded the patriarch of Constanti- 
nople. He very plainly held that Rome was under his supreme 
jurisdiction and that he merely allowed its bishop such autonomy 
as befitted a distinguished prelate. In all matters, however, he 
acted entirely on his own responsibility, feeling that he was him- 
self the holder of a divine commission. The pope, on his side, 
seemed to acquiesce in the imperial leadership. Charlemagne’s 
services to the cause of Christianity were evident to all, and Leo 
III had good reason for personal gratitude as well. Besides, 
there was no threat of an immediate dictatorship over the see of 
St. Peter. The emperor chose to live far from Italy; he was 
exactly what the pope wanted — a powerful but distant protector. 

Abbots, too, Charlemagne virtually appointed; through them 
The he sought to maintain a high level of religious discipline and so 

Carolingian to advance the civilization of his country. All the great 
monastery nionasteries had now been brought under the Benedictine sys- 
tem. Except by special authorization, the monks stayed 
within their respective houses, where the ancient routine of divine 
service and manual labor was supposed to be kept up indefinitely. 
Much, however, depended on the character of the abbot and the 
relative wealth of the community. Although the brothers were 
individually sworn to poverty, collectively they might have any- 
thing that they could possibly want. When all the necessities of 
life were supplied by peasants on outlying estates, there was no 
necessity for the monks themselves to do any hard work. Their 
manual labor would consist mainly in caring for one another and 
for the monastic buildings. The latter normally included a 
church for the daily offices ; a chapter house for meetings of the 
brothers; a refectory where they ate; and a dormitory where 
they slept. In addition, there would have to be a kitchen and 
various storehouses. The principal buildings were often arranged 
about an open quadrangle with an arcaded cloister, which was a 
center of monastic activities except in the severest weather. The 
individual monk, it must be remembered, had no room of his 

Very commonly, in the time of Charlemagne, both abbots and 
Grants of bishops held extensive temporal authority. This was the conse- 
immunity quence of a gradual development which had begun long before 


with the Merovingian charters of immunity. Such a grant as- 
sured the beneficiary that within a specified territory he should be 
immune from the jurisdiction of the count; that he should there 
exercise the regalian rights himself. Originally, perhaps, he 
was obliged to make an equivalent return to the king; but by 
the ninth century the effect of an immunity was to give the 
immunist the profits of justice, tolls, military service, and other 
dues that normally would have accrued to the state. As every 
important monastery and bishopric obtained the privilege, their 
heads became actual princes, sharing the king’s sovereign author- 
ity and equaling the counts in official dignity. Thus was devel- 
oped another important element in the society known as feudal — 
a subject which at once introduces us to some of the most difficult 
problems in European history. 

Definitive solutions, fortunately, do not have to be attempted 
in an elementary sketch such as this. An outline of social condi- 
tions existing in the Carolingian period is not hard to draw, and 
the obscure stages by which those conditions had been evolved 
may be summarily passed over. For reasons already set forth, it 
is difficult to avoid the conclusion that western Europe witnessed 
a progressive economic decline from the third century onward. 
Though not primarily the result of the barbarian invasions, it 
was undoubtedly stimulated by them. In both Gaul and Italy 
conditions were much worse in the sixth and seventh centuries 
than they had been in the fifth. And by the eighth, Arab sea 
power had broken almost all the ancient routes across the Mediter- 
ranean. With Africa, Spain, and Septimania in the hands of 
the Moslems, and with Italy tom by chronic warfare, the lands 
to the northwest of the Alps were further isolated. It is very 
significant that Charlemagne’s revival of learning was inspired 
by the example of Irish and Anglo-Saxon monasteries.^® Charle- 
magne’s state was entirely a construction of the mainland, which 
left Dalmatia, Venetia, and southern Italy to Byzantine control 
and had little success against the Moors of Spain. The Carolin- 
gian Empire was a brilliant but superficial accomplishment; it in 
no way provided the foundation for a new political order. Eco- 
nomically, the period was one of continuous deteripration. Europe 
was not to emerge from the Dark Age for another three hundred 





w See below, pp. t 

The decay 
of trade in 
the west 


Whatever may have been its causes, this economic decline car- 
ried with it a progressive decay of commerce, and so tended to 
make society more and more thoroughly agrarian. By the ninth 
century, the overwhelming mass of the population lived through 
agriculture and fell into two main classes : the few, who consti- 
tuted the aristocracy of landlords, and the many, who constituted 
the servile or semi-free peasantry. Such a society had no con- 
spicuous place for a town-dwelling middle class of traders. Small 
industry, of course, continued, for people had to have manufac- 
tured articles; but production was localized on the great estate. 
As described in Charlemagne's capitularies, artisans were at- 
tached to the villa and subordinated to its agrarian routine. Trade 
tended to be reduced to petty dealings in a neighborhood market 
which was attended only by persons who could conveniently go 
there and return home within tlie one day when it was held. 
The market itself necessitated no resident population of mer- 
chants ; the sellers were normally peasants with surplus produce. 
It is significant also that the only money coined under the Caro- 
lingians was silver pennies ; and since the minting privilege was 
widely distributed, each little region came to have its own cur- 
rency — ^ situation that bespeaks small transactions on the part of 
folk who were chronically poor. 

In the east no such thoroughgoing decline took place. There 
commerce continued to flourish, and there the cities of the Arabs 
continued to rival those of the Greeks. Moslem Africa and Spain 
remained in close touch with Egypt and Syria, preserving a bril- 
liant culture of which more will be seen in the following chapter. 
The Italian ports, too, never lost touch with the great metropolis 
of Constantinople; and while the Franks fought for control of 
the interior, the city of Venice, under Byzantine protection, arose 
on the lagoons of the upper Adriatic. From these regions bands 
of wandering merchants, usually Syrians and Jews, still pene- 
trated into the remote provinces of the west, but all the evidence 
tends to prove that they were relatively few in number. And on 
their infrequent visits they brought principally articles of luxury 
— ^perfumes, drugs, spices, precious stones, armor, silks, and the 
like — ^which could be afforded only by the very wealthy. Com- 
merce of this kind could give permanent employment to few per- 
sons in Gaul or Britain. 

Throughout the old Roman territories, it is true, we constantly 
hear of places called cities (civitates), which still bore their an- 


cient Latin names. Physically they continued to exist. Yet, be- 
fore any real continuity of urban life is presupposed, certain facts 
must be taken into account. Many of the cimtafes in Gaul and 
other regions had never been much more than centers of adminis- 
tration and defense ; and after the fifth century official usage made 
no distinction between the civitas and the castrum, which origi- 
nally had been a fortified camp.^^ Furthermore, archaeology 
proves that what had been relatively great cities, like Cologne and 
London, lost all but a few of their inhabitants long before the time 
of Charlemagne. Land within the old walls sometimes reverted 
to gardens, or vineyards, or pasture. And though bishops and 
counts commonly used cities for their capitals, the persons whom 
they attracted were principally soldiers, clerks, and serving men, 
supported, like their masters, by the labor of peasants on ad- 
joining estates. The inevitable conclusion must be that, in spite 
of possible exceptions, the cities of the Carolingian Empire were 
chiefly military positions and official residences. They had little 
or no mercantile life and they included few, if any, professional 
traders or artisans. Economically, they were not centers of pro- 
duction. Socially, they had no peculiarity to mark them oflf from 
the countryside. Politically, they lacked every vestige of true 
municipal organization. When, subsequently, we again find flour- 
ishing towns in the west, they appear as new developments, bear- 
ing no real connection with the cities of antiquity. 

Today scholars are by no means so confident as they once were 
that liberty was universal among the primitive Germans; some 
have gone so far as to affirm the opposite. In any case, the noble 
German had no prejudice against tlie enslavement of the other 
fellow. When the barbarians came into the empire, they were 
quite willing to adopt any institution that added to their wealth 
or authority. There can, for example, be no doubt concerning 
the persistence of the Roman villa under the new masters of the 
countryside; the model for the mediseval manor was unquestion- 
ably the great estate of the later empire. There we encounter the 
division of the arable between the proprietor and the tenants so 
that each of the latter had his own plot in return for rents and 

^ See above, pp. 8, 35. The confusion of the Latin words is reflected in the 
vernacular languages. The Germanic burg (Jburh, bury, borgo, etc.) appears in 
the names of many Roman cities and other fortified places. The Latin castrum 
became the Anglo-Saxon ceaster or Chester and was applied in Britain either to 
old dties or to legionary camps. In Welsh the same word was turned into caer— 
as in Oaerleon ^Cdstrusis Oarmarth^s., Oarhsl^ and the lilce. ^ 

of the 
Dark Age 

of the 





labor owed to the former. Among the cultivators there were 
slaves {send) as well as the theoretical freemen called coloni. 
Eventually, however, all came to be settled in much the same way; 
through imperial legislation the coloni were as firmly attached to 
the estate as if they had been slaves. By the fifth century, the mass 
of the agricultural population in the west had already become an 
economically dependent peasantry. And as the government deputed 
its authority to the great landlords, this dependence came to have 
also a political character. 

Then came the barbarians, who for the most part seem merely 
to have taken over a share of the existing estates, leaving them to 
be cultivated as before. Although the invaders were for a while- 
differentiated from Romans, all such distinction had utterly van- 
ished by the time of Charlemagne. There remained only one 
agrarian aristocracy, usually speaking a Latin dialect throughout 
Gaul, but in dress, custom, and mentality predominantly barba- 
rian. Beneath this aristocracy Roman dependents, poorer Ger- 
man settlers, captives in war, and other subjected persons had 
been fused into the villein class of the Middle Ages. To what 
extent free Germanic villages may have been established on im- 
perial soil or may have survived in territories beyond the frontier 
is a dubious matter. Such villages, in so far as they existed, must 
have rapidly disappeared, for in Carolingian times the system of 
seignorial exploitation was well-nigh universal. Many, perhaps 
most, of the peasants were legally free; yet economically they 
were unfree, being reduced to the position of coloni. Even the 
servus became what we know as a serf; and to designate the 
rightless bondman, a new word was introduced — slave or esclave, 
derived from the unfortunate Slavs whom the nomads sold in 
droves to the peoples of the west.^^ 

Along with the development of manorialism — ^the economic 
subjection of the masses to great landlords — ^the records of the 
Merovingian period reveal a striking tendency toward dependent 
tenure on the part of men who were entirely free. In the trou- 
blous centuries of the Dark Age the lot of the small proprietor 
became increasingly hard. Often, to secure necessary protection 
or relief from oppressive exactions, he would give his land to a 
church and receive it back as a benefice (beneficium)^ an estate 
held of the church in return for some service, whether substantial 

“ See above, p. 50, below, ch. xi. 



or nominal. In the same way a bishop, abbot, or other lord 
might of his own initiative grant benefices to worthy adventurers 
who would agree to fight in his defense. And the same result 
would be obtained when a destitute man requested land from 
which to gain a livelihood. In the latter case the benefice might 
also be called a precaria because it had been granted in answer to 
prayer (preces). The name is a matter of secondary interest. 

The important point to remember is that the benefice was not the 
holding of a peasant within an estate ; rather it was an estate itself 
— ^that is to say, land under cultivation, together with the cul- 

The precedents for all such developments in land tenure were 
undoubtedly Roman, but alongside them we find another widely Corn- 
prevalent institution which seems to have been essentially bar- mendatior 
barian in origin. This was the honorable relationship of lord and 
vassal.^* For protection the primitive German had looked pri- 
marily to his family or clan, which was solemnly bound to avenge 
any wrong done to one of its members. Though vestiges of the 
ancient tribal system lasted for many centuries in the Germanic 
states of western Europe, the actual power of the kindred groups 
rapidly waned before the advance of the royal authority. Yet the 
times remained lawless ; murder and robbery thrived in spite of 
royal decrees and judicial prosecutions. Experience proved that 
a great man was an exceedingly useful ally. So the weaker com- 
mended themselves to the powerful, and the latter proportionately 
gained in prestige. Even the king encouraged the practice, for he 
could then hold the superior person responsible for the deeds of 
his followers, and the number of elusive vagabonds would be 
reduced. These factors stimulated the extension of the custom 
which Tacitus had described as the comitatus. It remained a per- 
sonal relationship— from one side lordship, from the other vas- 
salage. The tie might involve the obligation for support in war 
and it might carry with it the tenure of a landed estate. In the 
Carolingian period the combination of these elements was by no 
means necessary or usual ; how it came to be made universal will 
be seen in connection with the feudalism of the ensuing period. 

** “Lord” is from the Anglo-Saxon Wa/wi, meaning provider of bread; “vassal" 
appears in Late Latin as vassus, one various terms used to designate a man 
in the sense a retainer. 



east and 

The Arab 
under the 



(When we refer to the five centuries that followed the bar- 
barian invasions as the Dark Age, we are, of course, speaking in 
relative terms. The darkness was not absolute, for at no time was 
the light of culture entirely extinguished. It is in fact possible, 
by concentrating attention on forms and traditions, to obtain an 
impression of wonderful continuity from ancient to mediaeval 
times. This is to gain a false perspective of European history. 
If, rather, we contrast actual conditions in the seventh century 
with those in the second century, we seem to be faced with the 
results of a frightful catastrophe — ^the utter collapse of a great 
civilization. In the west, at any rate, there was a Dark Age, 
which was very dark indeed. The Carolingian Empire marked 
some improvement; yet its relative barbarism will at once be 
appreciated when it is compared with the contemporary empire 
of the Arabs. 

Just before Pepin was crowned at Soissons, the Ommiads were 
supplanted in the caliphate by the Abbasids. The second of the 
latter dynasty was al-Mansur (754-75), who designed and built 
the new capital at Bagdad on the Tigris. Soon after him reigned 
the famous Harun-al-Rashid (786-809), and the latter was suc- 
ceeded, after a short interval, by al-Mamun (813-33). Under 
these gor'^eous princes the caliphate lost the remaining vestiges 
of its old simplicity. The rulers of Islam were no longer Arab 
chieftains living on terms of equality with their nomad followers, 
but oriental despots raised to a dizzy height above their subjects, 
among whom the great families of Mecca and Medina were 
treated quite like other Mohammedans. The Abbasid revolution 
thus reacted to the benefit of a wide constituency — especially the 
Iranian population of Persia — ^and this fact gave an entirely new 
character to the civilization of the succeeding period. 

By breaking the old aristocracy, however, the Abbasids accele- 
rated the transformation of their empire into a loose union of 
autonomous provinces. Spain, as has been noted, led the way, 
coming under the absolute control of an Ommiad emir at Cor- 



dova. In 788 another rebel, claiming descent from Fatima and 
Ali, secured dominion over the westernmost portion of Africa, 
the modern Morocco, where the succeeding emir built himself 
a new capital at Fez. Early in the next century the emir of 
Kairawan made himself virtually independent, and after 868 a 
Turkish adventurer secured a similar position in Egypt and 
Syria. Meanwhile, to the eastward, various powerful governors 
had successfully followed the same policy. By the end of the 
ninth century, accordingly, the caliph governed only the central 
portion of his theoretical empire, and even there he lived in con- 
stant fear of his own ministers and generals. He kept himself 
in magnificent isolation, guarded by half-savage Turks; and to 
maintain his authority in the palace, he developed a capricious 
terrorism equaled in few epochs of history. Such a despot, 
actually known to few outside his harem and his household of 
slaves and eunuchs, lacked the heroic and inspiring character of 
the early caliphs. His headship of the faith remained little more 
than a legal form; religious unity was lost among the “two and 
seventy jarring sects'' of Omar Khayyam. 

Nevertheless, the great Arab empire continued to possess a 
common civilization that sharply distinguished it from the rest The 
of the world. From the Oxus and the Himalayas to the Sahara Arabic 
and the Pyrenees, Moslem society and culture were very much 
the same. Despite the endless quarrels of Mohammedan theo- 
logians, all recognized the sanctity of the Koran and obeyed the 
command that it should not be used in translation — ^a fact which 
maintained the supremacy of Arabic tliroughout the world of 
Islam. No one could there be thought educated unless he knew 
the vernacular of the Prophet, And tliat flexible language soon 
proved itself equally well adapted to the technicalities of philos- 
ophy and science. By the eighth century relatively few who spoke 
Arabic were of pure Arab descent; they were not even all Mos- 
lems. Thousands of Hindus, Parsees, Jews, and Christians 
learned the dpminant tongue as a matter of course, and so came 
into a position to combine the learning of a dozen scattered 
countries. Through them the culture of Islam rapidly developed 
the cosmopolitan richness and variety that characterized it under 
the Abbasids. 

The linguistic unity of the Arab dominions was also a great Trade and 
stimulus to commerce. The. Moslem conquest by no means ruined culture 
the cities of Syris^ Africa, Their economic connec- 



tions with Greece and Italy were, it is true, largely destroyed; 
but to make up for the severance, they were now brought into 
much closer contact with Persia and the orient* The caravan 
trade of central Asia naturally fell into the hands of the Arabs, 
who had long been expert in that business. They brought the 
precious goods of China and the Indies direct to the ports of 
S3rria. On the north they had access to the Black Sea and, 
through the nomads of the steppe, dealt largely in furs and 
slaves from eastern Europe. From Egypt they penetrated into 
Ethiopia, and from the Sahara into the gold-bearing country 
about the Niger. By sea their ships linked the coasts of India, 
Persia, Arabia, and eastern Africa as far south as Madagascar. 
Much of this traffic converged on Egypt, where Alexandria and 
Cairo enjoyed unparalleled prosperity through the trans-shipment 
of goods bound to the westward. The Mediterranean, except for 
the Adriatic and the ^gean, became virtually the sole possession 
of the Moslems; from the mountains of Asia Minor to those 
of Spain the shores of the mainland were all theirs. In the 
ninth century one or another of the nearby emirs secured the 
Balearic Islands, Sicily, Malta, and Crete. A hundred years later 
it was still doubtful whether Italy could be successfully defended 
by the Christians. 

In spite of these offensives in the Mediterranean, however, the 
great period of Arab conquest had come to a close. The sumptu- 
ous wealth of the Moslem cities in the following centuries was 
the product of their teeming economic life, rather than of war. 
There was, of course, fighting on the frontiers, and the chronic 
rivalries of princes led to occasional hostilities ; yet in general the 
age was one of peace and prosperity. The commerce and industry 
of Islam then approached — ^possibly surpassed — ^the standards of 
the ancient world. Mercantile activity produced not only mate- 
rial riches, but also, by stimulating the interchange of customs 
and ideas, a more lasting treasure of cultural achievement. Al- 
though we admit that Arabic civilization was the work of a very 
heterogeneous population, the Arabs deserve the chief credit 
It was that talented and adaptable people who built the empire 
and established the traditions that governed its destiny. 

The art of the Arabs was t3rpical of their avilization. Odds 
Arabic art and ends from the four corners of the earth were combined with 
new elements to produce a strikingly original result. In archi- 
tecture, for example, the Arabs obviously began with the forms 


of construction already existing in Persia and 83^3. The first 
of the great Mohammedan buildings was the so-called mosque of 
Omar at Jerusalem — a timber dome placed over an octagon of 
masonry. It employs semicircular arches supported by columns 
taken from older structures and is principally decorated with 
mosaic. Here is very little that can be surely ascribed to the Arabs 
themselves. On the other hand, the splendid mosque at Damas- 
cus, built early in the eighth century, contains many original fea- 
tures. The horseshoe arch appears prominently and the whole 
building is dominated by minarets — ^slender towers from which 
the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer (see Plate II). The 
greater mosques that subsequently arose at Cairo, Bagdad, Cor- 
dova, and elsewhere repeated the same elements : domes and cu- 
polas in a variety of forms, lofty minarets, and horseshoe arches, 
often pointed or cusped (see Figure 12 and Plate II, Cordova). 

As far as painting and sculpture were concerned, Moslems 
from the outset suffered from one disadvantage; they were for- 
bidden by the Koran to make representations of human beings 
or of any living animal. The rule was not always observed in 
secular art, but it was natural that in the prohibited field Arabs 
should make no remarkable progress. By way of compensation 
Moslem artists came to excel in all forms of ornamentation that 
were strictly lawful. Following models already perfected in the 
orient, they drew charming patterns from flowers and leaves, 
either naturalistic or conventionalized. And from geometrical 
figures they developed the intricate and graceful designs that 
became known as arabesques. These schemes of decoration were 
applied in rich profusion to both the interior and the exterior 
of the later Moslem buildings — ^among which the most familiar 
are the Moorish palaces of Spain. Even greater skill was shown 
in the minor arts that flourished ever3rwhere throughout the Mo- 
hammedan world. Whether he worked in stone, wood, ivory, 
metal, glass, pottery, doth, or leather, the Arab craftsman pro- 
duced things of surpassing beauty. No lengthy description of 
such products can be attempted here; it need only be said that 
among the great artistic triumphs of the world rank the Arabic 
luster ware, enamded pottery, brass and steel inlayed with gold 
and silver,^ carved ivory, brocaded silk, pile carpets, and tooled 

1 Called damascening, ^ter the city of Damascus. 







tions from 
the Greek 

Poets had flourished in Arabia long before Mohammed’s time; 
and although he was not very favorable to the profession, it 
continued to enjoy great honor. As the Arabs spread over the 
world and increasingly adopted city life, the older poetic forms 
naturally became obsolete and popular demand shifted from con- 
ventional tales of tribal warfare to matters of personal experi- 
ence — in other words, toward lyric themes. Yet the old passion 
for story-telling lived on; tales from every land were reworked 
and put into prose. This was the origin of the collection known 
as the Thousand and One Nights, which in some measure reflects 
the early Abbasid age. As would be expected, the Arabs also 
maintained a high standard in the writing of history. Merely to 
list the names and works of important Moslem historians between 
the seventh and tenth centuries would fill a page of print — a cata- 
logue that must be left to more specialized works on the subject. 

Exactly what, if any, influence was exerted in Christian Europe 
by the more popular forms of Arabic literature remains a con- 
troversial subject. In the realm of learning, however, no one 
has doubted or can doubt that western borrowings from the 
Arabs were of epoch-making importance. The marauders and 
conquerors of the seventh century, of course, brought with them 
nothing that could be called scholarship. The rudiments of their 
science and philosophy, as of their ^rts, had to be taken from the 
lands which they invaded. There, especially in the cities of Syria 
and Egypt, they found great schools with traditions of study 
running back to the golden age of Athens. Immense libraries 
were stocked with books embodying the accumulated wisdom of 
a thousand years. But since they were in Greek, they remained 
closed to the inquiring minds of Islam, as did the writings of 
Hebrews, ‘ Persians, Chinese, and Hindus. Such works had to 
be translated into Arabic before the cause of higher education 
among the Moslems could be far advanced. 

With the development of a cosmopolitan civilization under 
the Abbasids, conditions became favorable for the introduction 
of Hellenistic learning. The needed intermediaries were readily 
found. Since the time of Justinian, various groups of Chris- 
tians, particularly Nestorians and Jacobites,^ had extended their 
missionary efforts far into central Asia, and through their agency 
many Greek works had already been put into Persian and Ara- 

2 See above, p, 113, 


maic. Besides, there were numerous Hellenized Jews who had 
been led to make a thorough study of Arabic. Thanks to the 
patronage of the caliphs the work of translation was rapidly 
accomplished. Begun under al-Mansur, it was continued under 
al-Rashid and greatly developed under al-Mamun, who organized 
a regular school for the study of Greek philosophy and science. 
The chief translator of this later period was a Nestor ian Chris- 
tian named Hunain ibn Ishaq (d. 877) — a skilled physician and 
a prolific writer. Hunain and his pupils translated Galen, parts 
of Hippocrates, and a large number of other books on medicine 
and allied subjects. Ransacking the cities of Eg^^pt and Syria 
for manuscripts, they formed at Bagdad one of the greatest libra- 
ries in the world. Other scholars, meanwhile, had turned their 
attention to such authors as Aristotle, Euclid, Archimedes, and 
Ptolemy. Eventually the whole body of Hellenistic learning was 
made available to Moslem students, who thus continued without 
a break the work of the Greeks under the Roman Empire. 

The mass of writings to which the Arabs fell heir was already 
a strange mixture, combining classic philosophy and science with 
mystic elements from Neo-Platonism. To this mixture the 
Arabs contributed the sacred tradition of the Koran, together 
with considerable lore from JPersia, India, and even China. The 
result was an original advance in thought which can be best 
appreciated by examining particular fields of study. Hunain, 
the translator, was one of four great Arabic scholars in the later 
ninth century. As an author, he added to the wisdom gained 
from wide reading the results of his own experience as a prac- 
tising physician. Among his works were commentaries on the 
classics of medicine, a compendium of the subject as a whole, 
and the earliest known treatise on the eye. A contemporary of 
his, al-Kindi, has the distinction of being called the first Arab 
philosopher. He was, at any rate, the first Arab to make an 
extensive study of Aristotle and so to become interested in the 
reconciliation of that system with orthodox Moslem theology — 
a project that was to occupy his successors for many centuries. 
Al-Kindi was a sort of universal scholar, writing not merely on 
logic and metaphysics, but also on meteorology, optics, spe’cific 
gravity, and music. The reputation which he came to enjoy may 
be judged from the fact that — rightly or wrongly— no less than 
265 books are attributed tQ him. 

In astronomy, aird jn^ematics, meanwhile, we have the great 

ophy and 
science in 
the ninth 





names of al-Farghani and al-Khwarizmi. Since the reign of 
al-Mansur the Arabs had been acquainted with the work of Ptol- 
emy, thenceforth known as the Almagest.^ And together with 
this book, they had come to be familiar with the astronomical 
instruments of the ancients — especially with the astrolabe, by 
which the relative positions of the heavenly bodies can be ascer- 
tained and data secured for the calculation of latitude. The 
next step was to build observatories for the compilation of elab- 
orate astronomical tables. With the expert aid of al-Farghani, 
the undertaking was carried out by the caliph al-Mamun. The 
result, of course, was increasing activity in the field of mathe- 
matics, and it was there that the Arabs made their most impor- 
tant contribution to science. 

From the Greeks had come the perfected geometry of Euclid, 
together with Ptolemy’s fundamentals of trigonometry. The 
latter was now greatly developed by the scholars of Islam, and 
in addition they virtually created the mathematical process which 
still bears its Arabic name, algebra. These were great accom- 
plishments, and yet they were less important than the invention 
of our everyday arithmetic. The nine signs which we know as the 
Arabic numerals were apparently derived from the Hindus. Be- 
sides, the Arabs employed a zero, by means of which figures 
may be arranged in columns to designate units, tens, hundreds, 
thousands, and so on. Just how the system came to be perfected 
is still being debated by historians; but as far as may now be 
judged, the introduction of the all-important zero was original 
with the Arabs. What a vast improvement the new arithmetic 
was over that of the Latin world may be realized by any one 
who tries to add, subtract, multiply, or divide while using only 
the Roman numerals. 

In the following period Arabic science continued to make 
splendid progress. To mention only a few of many distinguished 
names, we encounter in the tenth century al-Razi (Rhazes),^ 
physician and writer on medicine, physics, astronomy, and the- 
ology; al-Farabi (Alpharabius), philosopher and musician; Ibn 
al-Haitham (Alhazen), brilliant student of optics; al-Battani 
(Albategnius), mathematician and astronomer. Nor was this 

* This is the Latinized form of the Arabic corruption of certain Greek words 
in the original title. 

* The names in parentheses are those given to the Arabs by Latin writers of 
the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. See below, chs. xviii, xid. 


the end. Medicine reached a new height with the illustrious Ibn 
Sina, more familiar to us as Avicenna (d. 1037) ; general science 
with al-Biruni (d. 1048) ; astronomy with the loved poet, Omar 
Khayyam (d. 1123) ; and philosophy with Ibn Rushd, best known 
as Averroes (d. 1198). To discuss the contributions of all these 
writers is out of the question in this cursory sketch. It may, 
however, be noted that the finest medical essay of the Middle 
Ages was that of al-Razi on smallpox ; that the theory of meas- 
ured music® began with al-Farabi; and that the study of mirrors 
and lenses by Ibn al-Haitham was a noteworthy step toward the 
invention of the microscope and the telescope. 

A very remarkable feature of Arabic science was its practical 
aspect. The greatest of the theoretical writers by no means de- 
spised an interest in common things. A chemist might write 
not only on the composition of the universe, but on paint, dye- 
stuffs, and glass-making. Dozens of handbooks were composed 
on animals, plants, trees, stones, and metals. In one way or an- 
other, the Arabs covered the whole range of manufacture, agricul- 
ture and navigation. Through trade th^ came to lead the world 
in their knowledge of geography.® It was their voyagers who seem 
to have made the earliest use of the magnetic compass. Paper- 
making and block-printing'^ were both Chinese inventions, intro- 
duced into the west by the Arabs. Their knowledge of fireworks, 
drawn from the same source, was probably the foundation for 
the European invention of gunpowder.® 

To the mediaeval scholarship, sis well as to the mediaeval art 
of Islam, the world is profoundly indebted. Yet there were msiny 
fields in which the Arabs, like all their contemporaries, went 
astray. Although they carried out much sound research in 
astronomy smd medicine, both subjects remained encumbered with 
mistaken theories and popular superstitions. In general, the 
astronomers of Islam based their work on Ptolemy’s Almagest, 
which consecrated the notion of a geocentric universe. Accord- 
ing to that doctrine, the round earth was encircled, one after the 
other, by the spheres of air, water, and fire — ^thus making’ up 
the four material elements of Aristotle. About these stationary 
spheres revolved the seven planets: the moon. Mercury, Mars, 

‘ See below, p. 469, 

• See below, p. 654. 

’ See below, p. 715. 

• See below, p. 629. 






the sun, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn. The/eighth heaven was that 
o£ the fixed stars, including the belt of constellations known as 
the zodiac. To account for the apparent motions of all these 
bodies, Ptolemy had perfected a series of intricate mathematical 
explanations. The planets, for instance, were supposed to de- 
scribe not only great orbits about the earth, but at the same 
time lesser circles called epicycles.® Such formulae, together with 
the whole Ptolemaic system, were commonly accepted in the Mos- 
lem world, for they were sufficiently accurate to comprehend any 
observations that could then be made. The Arabs, however, elab- 
orated the Greek concept of the celestial spheres by imagining 
them not as geometrical abstractions but as actual shells of trans- 
lucent substance, like crystal. 

To supply a motive force impelling the stars along their sev- 
eral paths, even the best scholars fell back on an appeal to angels 
or spirits of some sort; and at that point science tended to give 
way to mythology. From very ancient times the seven planets 
had been associated with divisions of time,^® traits of human 
character, metals, and many other things. The signs of the 
zodiac were thought to have mystic significance in various ways, 
especially in connection with the health and happiness of indi- 
vidual men. By mathematical computation, one familiar with 
the stars could evaluate the celestial influences that had ruled 
any person since the moment of his birth. The casting of a horo- 
scope then seemed no more mysterious than the prediction of an 
eclipse. If the sun could affect the growth of crops and the 
moon could control the movement of the tides, why could not 
Mars govern the course of a war or Venus that of a love affair? 
In the absence of scientific demonstration to the contrary, the an- 
cient lore of the Chaldseans and Persians naturally continued to 
flourish among the Arabs. Indeed, for many centuries to come, 
every astronomer, merely by applying his science, was likely to 
be also an astrologer. 

In Arabic medicine the situation was very similar. Despite 

® By way of illustration, imagine a long arm revolving on a pivot; then a short 
arm revolving on a pivot at the end of the long arm; finally a light attached to 
the end of the short arm. 

The week is, of course, a group of seven days named for the seven planets. 
The English Sunday, Monday, and Saturday still betray their celestial connec- 
tions. The other days commemorate Germanic deities substituted for Mars, 
Mercury, Jupiter, and Venus. The latter names clearly appear in French: 
mardi {martis dies), jeudi (jams dies), etc. 



much excellent work, the science as a whole was retarded by Medicine 
undue veneration for the authority of Galen. His physiology and 
was in particular the source of endless confusion. The vital alchemy 
principle in the human body, he taught^ was the pneuma (liter- 
ally, breath), which was manifested in three forces: the psy- 
chical, the animal, and the natural. The first had its seat in the 
brain, the second in the heart, the third in the liver; and they 
respectively acted through the nerves, the arteries, and the veins. 

Man, said Galen, was the universe in miniature. Corresponding 
to the four Aristotelian elements (earth, air, water, and fire) 
were the four bodily humors : blood, phlegm, yellow bile (choler), 
and black bile (melancholy). As one of these humors predomi- 
nated over the others, the individual’s temperament was said to 
be sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, or melancholic. 

This fantastic system, accepted without question by the 
scholars of Islam, readily lent itself to combination with the 
current beliefs in astrology, magic numbers, and the mystic prop- 
erties of things in general. Under such circumstances, the 
philosopher who sought to discover the secrets of medicine and 
chemistry was inevitably drawn into what we know as alchemy. 

If all substances are formed from common elements, transmuta- 
tion of one into another is theoretically possible. The alchemist’s 
ideal was the same as that of the modern scientist, but the medi- 
asval scholar wasted his time in seeking impossible refinements. 

For example, by purifying ordinary mercury he tried to obtain 
philosophical mercury — ^which would be the veritable principle 
of mutability. With such an elixir, one could change anything 
to anything else! Centuries were to pass before the doctors 
either of Islam or of Christendom were to decide that the pursuit 
was vain. 


Even a cursory review of the subject demonstrates the absurd- 
ity of regarding either the Byzantine or the Frankish empires The de- 
as bulwarks of civilization against the destructive hordes of 
Asia. If Europe had been taken by the Moslems, its subsequent 
development would have bem vastly different, but the immediate 
result of the conquest might well have been to raise the level of 
material prosperity and of culture. The history of Byzantine 
civilization, when ail possible credit ftas been allowed it, is one 
of general stagnati6h. It was khportaat as a conservative;^ not 



The degen- 
eration of 

as a progressive, force. To balance the many original accom- 
plishments of the Arabs during the centuries after Heraclius, is 
there one forward-looking achievement that can be attributed to 
the Greeks of the old empire? In the west, despite the heroic 
deeds of an occasional statesman or reformer, the story is one of 
steady deterioration. 

Economically, the Dark Age was the culmination of a long 
decline — ^the reversion to a dominantly agrarian society, marked 
by the near extinction of commerce and urban life. An accom- 
paniment of this social decay was the gradual failure of Latin 
culture. The fine arts suffered first. From the third century on, 
Roman architecture and sculpture lost all vitality. The east, it 
is true, witnessed a noteworthy artistic revival with the perfec- 
tion in the sixth century of the style known as Byzantine. This 
style, however, remained essentially foreign to the west, which 
of its own produced nothing remarkable in architecture for an- 
other five hundred years. Latin letters proved more vigorous. 
The classical tradition outlived the disastrous third century and 
kept its fascination for the educated Italian even into the reign of 
Theodoric the Ostrogoth. That was the end. Thenceforth the old 
literature ceased to live, and became merely a subject to be studied 
in the schools. Poetic composition based on quantity entirely 
lapsed, except as an antiquarian diversion. Latin prose no longer 
followed the ancient standards; although it was adapted to new 
and useful purposes, it developed in ways that would have seemed 
barbarous to Cicero. 

As a matter of fact, the average Roman had never talked the 
language of Cicero; with the passage of time, the divergence be- 
tween that language and tlie spoken vernacular became wider and 
wider. In the east, literary Greek was kept alive through the 
unbroken traditions of classical education; in the west, the failure 
of such education made a knowledge of literary Latin increasingly 
difficult to obtain. By the seventh century, a man like Gregory 
of Tours found it impossible to observe the conventional rules 
of grammar because the dialect of the countryside had long 
ignored them. Genders, declensions, and conjugations became 
hopelessly confused; case endings were dropped off; construc- 
tion was revolutionized by the increased employment of prepo- 
sitions and conjunctions; tense came to be expressed by auxili- 
aries ; spelling was altered to fit local pronunciation ; many words 
were forgotten, while new words were introduced from colloquial 


usage. Long before the barbarian invasions, a good deal of 
German had crept into Latin through the influence of the army, 
and the process was of course accelerated in the later centuries. 

The depth of this degradation was reached in Merovingian 
Gaul. There the Latin even of the king's official instruments 
became unspeakably bad and was matched by a handwriting that 
to us seems childishly grotesque. Yet the ignorant clerks who 
wrote the jargon were attempting to use a learned tongue. That 
was the trouble. If they had composed these acts in the spoken 
vernacular, the result would probably have been more sensible 
and pleasing. It would assuredly have been of great interest 
to philologists, who are still disputing many points in connection 
with the origin of the Romance languages. It is, of course, uni- 
versally held that the modern French, Provencal, Italian, Spanish, 
Portuguese^ and Rumanian were derived from vulgar Latin, i.e., 
the language of the people rather than of books. But the extent 
to which they were individually affected by pre-Roman elements 
remains doubtful. That, for example, the French u and the 
French nasalization of a vowel before % or m were due to pecu- 
liarities of Gallic pronunciation is affirmed by some scholars and 
denied by others. 

In the present connection such minor questions may be left 
to one side. The important matter is that, in spite of all invasion 
and conquest by Germanic peoples, the spoken Latin of the native 
population persisted throughout a wide region of western Europe. 
This language is referred to by contemporary writers as the 
lingua romana (French roman, English romance ). One or another 
of its dialects has been continuously used by the mass of the people 
in Italy, Gaul, and Spain, where the Goths, Lombards, Burgun- 
dians, Franks, and other Germans rapidly forgot their own 
tongues. In Africa Romance was lost before the Berber speech 
of the ancient inhabitants and the Arabic of the Moslem in- 
vaders; but in Spain historical accident — of which more later — 
brought about its ultimate victory. The Greek of southern Italy, 
which persisted far into the Middle Ages, was an exception, as 
were certain languages of Gaul. 

From time immemorial the slopes of the P3rrenees have been 
held by the Basques, who have maintained their own vernacular 
despite the advent of Celt, Latin, German, and Arab. Basque, 
therefore, is one of the very oldest languages of Europe and on 
that account is of especial interest to the philologist. Another 

The origin 
of the 

and Celtic 



isolated region of Gaul was Brittany, which was settled by Celtic- 
speaking Britons during the migration of the Anglo-Saxons. 
Of much greater importance historically is the linguistic frontier 
which now cuts across Belgium and northeastern France, and 
which has remained fundamentally unchanged since the fifth cen- 
tury. Ever since the left bank of the Rhine was given by the 
Romans to Franks and Alamans as f oe derail y Germanic dialects 
have prevailed along it. From the speech of the Alamans is 
directly descended that of the present-day Alsatians ; and Flemish, 
like the closely related Dutch, is a modern form of the Low 
German spoken by the Salian Franks. Elsewhere in Gaul the 
triumph of Romance was complete, as will be more fully explained 
when we come to the subject of mediaeval French literature. 

Of the old Celtic tongue little trace remained at the time of 
the barbarian invasions except in place names, such as those de- 
rived from the designations of Gallic tribes.^^ In Britain, on 
the other hand, Latinization had been thorough only in the south- 
east of the island, and there the process was undone by the Anglo- 
Saxon conquest. To the north and west persisted the Celtic dia- 
lects which are today represented by Welsh and Gaelic. Between 
^ them and the Germanic speech of the invaders spoken Latin 
virtually perished. Anglo-Saxon, which is known to us from 
writings of the seventh and following centuries, shows almost 
no Romance borrowings — ^a fact which testifies to the solidity of 
the barbarian occupation. In respect to language, as to institu- 
tions, the English country was an extension of continental 

On the east, the boundary of Charlemagne's empire virtually 
Slavic coincided with the linguistic frontier, except that to the north 
languages the former excluded the Germanic nations of Scandinavia. From 
the Baltic to the eastern shore of the Adriatic extended a vast 
territory throughout which the dominant speech was Slavic. 
There, as early as the Carolingian period, divergence had already 
produced the two major groups of North Slavs and South Slavs. 
Of the many dialects spoken by the former, the chief descendants 
are Russian, Polish, Czech, and Slovak, to which are related 
such Baltic languages as Lithuanian and Lettish. Within the 
southern group are classified the Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, and 

^ So, for example, Auvergne from the Avemiy Poitou from the Pictavi, Reims 
from the Remiy Soissons from the Stiessionesy Amiens from the Amhianiy Paris 
from the Parisiiy etc, 


Bulgarians ; for the last-named, though originally Asiatic, eventu- 
ally adopted the Slavic speech of their dependents.^^ 

In the eighth century the Balkan peninsula had as intricate a 
mixture of peoples as it has today. Since the time of Justinian, 
Avars, Bulgars, and Slavs had gradually occupied the interior, 
crushing or driving out the resident Germans. The Greeks held 
Thrace, the coast of Macedonia, and most of the Peloponnesus. 
Latin was still heard along the Dalmatian shore, but throughout 
the rest of Illyricum it had disappeared. Elsewhere in the Bal- 
kans there extended a wild jumble of nationalities which has 
continued to defy systematic classification. Here, preeminently, 
language is no test of race. Many of the nomadic invaders, like 
the Bulgars, became Slavicized; others, along with thousands of 
Slavs, seem to have become merged in a Greek- or Latin-speaking 
population. By some strange accident Latin was carried east 
into Dacia and so became the basis of the modern Rumanian. 
Just how this came about remains a mystery, for the old story 
that the speech of the ancient Roman garrison survived the 
devastating floods of Sarmatians, Goths, Heruls, Huns, Bulgars, 
Avars, and other savage invaders is utterly incredible. But with- 
out stopping longer on the European confusion of tongues, let us 
return to the simpler topic of Latin education. 

The collapse of the imperial government in the west necessarily 
involved a revolution in methods of instruction. As the state 
schools disappeared, and with them the old professional teachers, 
learning became virtually a monopoly of the clergy, who had 
their own ideals of education. The attitude of the church fathers 
has already been well illustrated in the views of Ambrose, Jerome, 
Augustine, and Gregory the Great. All four were fundamentally 
mystic, in that they placed first the necessity of faith and to that 
entirely subordinated the use of the rational faculties.. All, fur- 
thermore, were enthusiastic advocates of monasticism, and three 
of them at one time or another were actually monks themselves. 
Jerome and Augustine were both scholarly men who in youth had 
been passionately devoted to pagan letters, but who, by virtue of 
what they considered supernatural warnings, deserted that calling 
for the service of the church. Thenceforth their study, though 
profound, was consecrMed to pious ends: to refute pagans and 
heretics, to expound the truths of revelation^ and in all practical 

The ideals 
of ecclesi- 

» See bdaw, pp. ■ 





ways to advance the cause of Christianity. A passionate delight 
in literature or learning as ends in themselves they were inclined 
to consider sinful. Gregory admonished the erudite to forsake 
their “foolish wisdom’’ for the “wise foolishness of God.” 

Although similar opinions were held by the great organizers 
of monasticism, the varieties of monastic discipline permitted wide 
divergence of conduct. Among the Irish monks, in particular, 
there were many who spent their lives in studying and copying 
texts ; yet their conscious purpose was solely the promotion of the 
true faith. Through pious works each hoped to attain salvation, 
and by spreading the knowledge of sacred books he hoped to 
convert the heathen. These Irish monks, it should be remem- 
bered, commonly acted as priests among the people, and for that 
calling education was especially demanded. Latin was not their 
native language; to read it and to write it, they had to obtain 
formal instruction. For this purpose the study of pagan letters 
continued to be thought essential. The best models of composi- 
tion were known to be the classics, and from them might also be 
gleaned many edifying lessons in human character and conduct. 
To combat worldliness, should not one first become familiar 
with it? 

The Benedictine system of education seems to have given less 
encouragement to scholarship. Benedict, of course, authorized a 
limited amount of clerical work ; the monastery had to have mis- 
sals from which to learn the routine of divine service, and books 
for those brothers who knew how to read. To supply this de- 
mand, younger monks were to be given instruction by those most 
competent to teach them, and boys from the outside might be 
permitted to share the lessons thus offered. Nevertheless, the 
Benedictine monastery was not primarily an educational institu- 
tion; the religious life which it enjoined consisted essentially of 
divine worship alternating with manual labor. Certain hours 
were devoted, by way of rest, to reading or contemplation; but 
the average monk would be neither willing nor able to engage 
in arduous study. It was exceptional that a Benedictine house 
became a center of intellectual life. 

In the course of the seventh and eighth centuries Benedictine 
monasticism was rapidly extended all through the west of Eu- 
rope, superseding in particular the organization fostered by St. 
Columban and his followers on the continent. The change was in 
the nature of a practical reform sponsored by the papacy, and 



•^•eatly contributed to the efficiency of the church cann' 
By the strict isolation of the regular clergy, ho\ 
^ ? monastery lost whatever prominence it had enjoy< 

'H'i-yr. ic Irish system as a center of education for priests. Ea( 
of monks became subject to the discipline prescribe 
^ tr’-' -t.'.jbot. If he chanced to have scholarly leanings, his hou 
i.ccome famous for its learning; but such abbots were rel 
?cw. The average monastic library in this early age w; 
a pi ess containing perhaps a score of books — ^mainly tho, 
t er^^^ tor Christian worship. The average monastic school w; 
r’ roup engaged in the study of elementary subjects lil 

; t .p and Latin composition. More advanced work was 

Mcr ^ individual enterprise and was all too often overbalanc< 
1 y r.v: illiteracy of the majority. 

1 ular clergy, meanwhile, were left responsible for tl 

w' e church in the world. To accomplish this work, pries 

had to have a certain amount of education. If the 
uU! not be obtained in monasteries, the bishops wou 
ovide it. Eventually the cathedral school became 
-.nent feature of ecclesiastical organization, but in tl 
e rij oerio^i, if such an institution existed, it remained very 0 
SCI re. Aral we may be sure that, at least in eighth-century Gai 
the fiftesthood was generally debased. Even the bishops we 
frequ ^:lly ignorant and. worldly, spending their lives in fami 
feud, pontical intrigue, warfare, hunting, and other favorite pu 
suits of jhe senii-hnrbarons nobleman. Those exceptional prelat 
who were competent to act as intellectual leaders found the 
energies so :doCirbed by the Christianization of new countries, < 
the attempted reform 01 old ones, that much scholarly endeav 
was beyond th.in. ll h not remarkable that, under such circur 
stances, the sevealh and eighth centuries were a singularly unpr 
ductive age in litei nture and leamiing. Authors worth mentionii 
in the history of hairt pean thougii| were exceedingly few, ai 
such as there were had a tnent^l ou^pok which to us seems i 
credibly childlike. ' If the> were the f^t teachers, what shall ^ 
think of their pupils? * \ 

The enormous success, ol Gregory thi^Great as a writer W5 
of course, due to his genius for ^^i^ainin^^ge subjects in simj 
language; men used his^ popultll^ions^ ^far as possible, 
preference to older and more difficm.bo^a* ^Bie same tenden 
was clearly marked in all fl|^^^^^^^time, in fa 

The sec- 
tdax dergy 


Writers of 
the Dark 



Isidore of 
(d. 636) 

the decline of scholarship had stimulated the production of man- 
uals and epitomes, which in turn were frequently combined into 
still briefer texts. In this way the body of actual knowledge 
among the learned suffered a continuous loss of substance, and 
men were confirmed in the pernicious habit of accepting state- 
ments merely because they had long been repeated. Among the 
post-classical authors whose works were constantly cited as au- 
thoritative were, in addition to the church fathers, Boethius, 
Martianus Capella, Priscian, and Orosius. Of these the first 
three have already received brief notice;^® the fourth, a mediocre 
pupil of Augustine, enjoyed the distinction of having composed 
the most popular book on ancient history during the early Middle 
Ages. As a supplement to his master’s City of God, Orosius 
developed the thesis that the distress of the contemporary world 
really marked an improvement in human affairs. To prove that 
ancient times had not been happy, he picked all the worst calamities 
from the classic authors and combined them in one horrific narra- 
tive. The result was not accurate history, but it was easy reading 
with an edifying moral — Whence its great vogue in the schools. 

With the Vandal invasion, Roman Africa lost its intellectual 
preeminence, and Justinian’s reconquest, however beneficial in 
other respects, brought about no revival of Latin scholarship.. In 
Spain, meanwhile, the churcL preserved what for those times 
was a superior culture, the chief exponent of which was Isidore, 
bishop of Seville from about 600 to 636. As if to celebrate 
Gregory the Great’s conversion of the Visigoths, Isidore produced 
a series of books that at once made his name synonymous with 
learning. He was a prolific author, writing on theology, history, 
literature, and various sciences. Finally, toward the close of his 
life, he composed a summary of his teachings and gave it the title 
of Etymologice. The book had an immense success, for it served as a 
manual of universal knowledge throughout the next five centuries. 

From Isidore’s Etymologies, accordingly, we may gain a more 
complete picture of what constituted wisdom in the Dark Age 
thanr from any other one volume. The key to the compilation is 
provided by its title. Isidore believed that the essence of a thing 
was contained in its name: by discovering the derivation and 
significance of the latter, one could come to understand the for- 
mer. So his compendium resolves itself into a series of defini- 

^ See above, p. 96. 


tions based, often enough, on purely fanciful etymology. The 
following examples will at least serve to illustrate his approach 
to a variety of subjects.^^ 

Night {nox) is so called from injuring {a nocendo')^ because it 
injures {noceat) the eyes. It has the light of the moon and the stars 
so that it may not be unadorned and that it may console all who work 
by night; also that the light may be adequately tempered for those 
creatures that cannot stand sunshine.. .. 

Man (^hojno) is so called because he was made of earth (^ex humo), 

as is told in Genesis The liver (iecur) has its name because 

there is resident the fire which flies up into the brain. Thence 

it is spread to the eyes and the other senses and members and by 
its heat it changes into blood the liquid that it has drawn from food, 
and this blood it supplies to the several members to feed and nourish 
them.. .. The spleen {splen) is so called from corresponding to 
(a supplemento) the liver on the opposite side, so there may be no 
vacuum. And certain men say that it was also made on account of 
laughter. For by the spleen we laugh, by the bile we become angry, 
by the heart we gain wisdom, and by the liver we love. 

The ant (formica) is so called because it carries morsels (ferat 
micas) of grain. For it looks forward to the future and in summer 
makes ready food to be eaten in the winter. At the harvest, too, 
it picks out wheat and refuses to touch barley. After a rain it 
always puts out the grain to dry. It is said that in Ethiopia there are 
ants shaped like dogs, which dig up golden sand with their feet and 
watch it to see that no one carries it off ; and those that do take it 
the ants pursue and kill. 

Frequently the author’s information was somewhat more accu- 
rate than is displayed in these passages, but that was because he 
sometimes copied from more reliable sources. In no case can 
we attribute much critical insight to Isidore himself, for all he 
did was to compile a scrapbook from older writings, good, bad, 
and indifferent. Often he adopted statements that flatly contra- 
dicted each other, and occasionally we may be positive that he 
quite misunderstood what he sententiously repeated. Even the 
plan of the book Isidore in large part took from Cassiodorus, 
Theodor ic’s famous secretary, who had spent the last years of 
his life in a monastery and had there written a comprehensive 
sketch of ecclesiastical education. Following Cassiodorus, Isi- 
dore first sketched the ^v^ lft>eral arts^^ and then passed on to 

‘ - i ". ' ' ' ^ ' 

V, 21; ' 

^ See the following sedaon. * ' ' - ' " ". > ^ 

Irish and 


(d. 73S) 


a review of medicine, law, theology, the natural sciences, and 
other great subjects — ^all covered in the same desultory and super- 
ficial way. The contrast between the book’s lofty pretensions and 
its feeble performance seems ridiculous to us ; yet we should not 
laugh at a man who was doing what he could to enlighten a 
desperately ignorant world. 

In Italy, meanwhile, Gregory the Great had composed his many 
influential works, and in Gaul Gregory of Tours had written his 
truly remarkable History of the Franks. For real devotion to 
scholarship, however, we must turn rather to the British Isles, 
where monks had long been aigaged in the enthusiastic study 
of ancient books, both Christian and pagan. By the seventh cen- 
tury we find not only Irish, but Anglo-Saxons, with an excellent 
knowledge of literary Latin and occasionally with a smattering 
of Greek as well. For instance, Aldhelm, a West Saxon who 
died in 709, had a wide acquaintance with the classics and, by 
way of diversion, composed riddles in accurate hexameter verse. 
The rather pedantic Aldhelm was to be far surpassed by the 
great scholar, Bede. He was a Northxunbrian who, as a boy of 
seven (about 680), began his education under the famous Benedict 
Biscop, abbot of Wearmouth. Later Bede became a monk at 
Jarrow and there spent the rest of his life, dying in 735. 

In Bede the learning of the Irish monks was combined with 
the devotion to papal ideals characteristic of the Anglo-Saxons. 
Thus, although Bede’s familiarity with pagan letters was exten- 
sive and his knowledge of Greek remarkably thorough, all his wis- 
dom was entirely subordinated to the practical ends of Christian 
teaching. His works never betray even an unconscious delight in 
literature as an aesthetic study. Among his numerous writings 
the majority are concerned with the exposition of Scripture— a 
field in which he of course followed the method consecrated by 
Gregory the Great, but in which he was far from being a mere 
imitator. For the use of his pupils he early composed a series 
of essays on grammar, orthography, and other elementary sub- 
jects, drawing liberally from Isidore. And that he maintained a 
lively interest in the sciences is proved by his publication, in later 
life, of two books: one on the nature of the universe and the 
other on chronology. The former is largely an adaptation of 
Isidore; but in the latter he made a valuable contribution to west- 
ern education, popularizing the system of dating events as before 
Christ or in the year of the Lord (a. d.). 



The book for which Bede has been chiefly famous is, however, 
the Ecclesiastical History of the English) and for once a mediaeval 
reputation has been confirmed by modem criticism. Bede’s his- 
tory is by far the best written in western Europe between the 
seventh and the twelfth centuries, not merely because of' his ex- 
cellent Latin, but because of his superior intelligence and thorough 
honesty. He was almost invariably careful — ^and that was no 
less than a marvel — ^to give the source of his information. Much 
he reported on his own knowledge; for earlier events he relied 
on documents preserved in local archives, on written accounts that 
were provided for his express purpose, and on oral tradition 
which he got by interviewing persons known to be well informed. 

Often he quoted letters and charters in full; when the tale was 
only a matter of hearsay, he frankly said so. 

We cannot, of course, expect Bede to be critical of the universal 
belief that human life was constantly subject to supernatural in- 
tervention. His books are filled with accounts of miracles, many 
of them given on his own authority. He says that a snake will 
die when brought into the air of Ireland ; that even a tincture of 
scrapings from Irish manuscripts will cure snake-bite. He tells 
how the sudden recovery of a sick horse led to the discovery of the 
place where Oswald, the Christian king of Northumbria, had been 
slain in battle ; and how a great hole was made there as people took 
the dirt away for the sake of its well-known curative properties. 

And there is much else of the same sort. Yet, if all the writers of 
the age had been as scrupulous as the venerable Anglo-Saxon 
scholar, how much better would be our knowledge of it ! 


Recent criticism has tended somewhat to belittle Charlemagne’s 
role as an innovator in the field of learning. That lie was deeply Charle- 
interested in the cause of education is apparent from his own let- magne 
ters and decrees ; many of his capitularies, as we have seen, dealt 
widi the conduct of the clergy, and any great reform in that con- 
nection would have to be based on a general improvement of in- 
struction. In all such matters, however, he was merely continuing 
projects begun under his predecessors. Both his father and his 
grandfather had warmly supported the activities of the papal 
missionaries and organizers, prominent among whom were 
learned Anglo-Saxon monks. The illustrious Boniface had long 
been a teach» before he undertook his greater work on the cmi- 


tinent. Clearly it was such men as he, rather than the Carolin- 
gians, who inaugurated the reform of the Frankish clergy. Yet 
it was characteristic of the emperor that he should assume the 
initiative in advancing any cause which he considered essential 
to the welfare of church or state. 

There is no evidence that Charlemagne established any new 
system of schools for the kingdom at large; in this connection, as 
in others, he seems to have relied more on personal supervision 
than on radical innovation. He himself saw that learned abbots 
and bishops were placed in key positions, and through them strove 
to raise the general level of clerical education. It was already cus- 
tomary for a number of teachers to be attached to the royal court 
for the instruction of young nobles in elementary subjects. From 
such a nucleus Charlemagne early developed his famous palace 
school, which was to serve throughout his reign as a center of 
educational propaganda. And to superintend the work, he secured 
in 781 the distinguished Northumbrian scholar, Alcuin, who had 
long directed the most famous school in Britain — ^that of York, 
founded by Archbishop Egbert, a pupil of Bede. 

Alcuin was therefore the representative of a noble tradition, 
Alcuin and he was a man eminently fitted to carry out the king^s plans, 

and his To Aix-la-Chapelle, Charlemagne’s favorite residence, Alcuin at- 

associates tracted teachers from all sides — Irish, English, Italians, and Span- 
iards, as well as Franks of Gaul and Germany. Within this early 
generation were few noteworthy authors, but their enthusiasm 
for learning, imparted to their students, inspired the production 
of many influential works in the following century. On men 
from this group Charlemagne conferred great abbeys and bish- 
oprics, intrusting to them the task of organizing local schools, 
collecting libraries, reproducing ancient texts, standardizing the 
services of the church, and improving the quality of ecclesiastical 
music. Such projects, badced by the amazing energy of the 
emperor himself, rapidly produced the cultural advance in his 
empire that is often known as the Carolingian Renaissance. The 
description is somewhat exaggerated. What was actually done 
was to make more general a system of education that already ex- 
isted in isolated communities, particularly those of the British 

Although in minor respects some of the Carolingian scholars 
may have surpassed Bede, on the average they were distinctly 
inferior. Alcuin’s own books were not at all remarkable, con- 


sisting chiefly of dialogues on the liberal arts and of commentaries 
on the Scriptures. In both respects his work was continued with 
great success by his pupil, Hrabanus Maurus, who rose to be 
abbot of Fulda and archbishop of Mainz (d. 856). Hrabanus 
wrote a number of books that were regarded as authoritative for 
centuries: among them a sort of universal encyclopaedia, which 
was only a revision of Isidore’s Etymologies; a long essay on 
the education of the clergy, which was largely a compilation of 
extracts from the church fathers ; and many volumes of Biblical 
interpretation, using, of course, the allegorical approach. These 
products, on the whole, were characteristic of Carolingian schol- 
arship, which but rarely ventured into the more dangerous fields 
of original speculation. A profound thinker was out of place in 
the ninth century; it was the very mediocrity of Hrabanus. that 
assured his renown. 

Aside from official documents, our chief sources for the po- 
litical history of the period are monastic annals — ^records of con- 
temporary events kept year by year. When conscientiously writ- 
ten in one of the greater abbeys, such annals might be filled with 
interesting information; but all too often they degenerated into 
meager lists of deaths, calamities, and trivial portents. Of much 
greater interest from the literary point of view are two famous 
historians : one who ended and one who began his career during 
the reign of Charlemagne. Paul the Deacon was a Lombard who, 
after a number of years in the service of Desiderius, retired to 
the monastery of Monte Cassino and there devoted himself to 
study and writing. He was resident at Charlemagne’s court for 
only a short time ; we have no evidence that he was ever promi- 
nent in the palace school. Returning to Italy in 787, he spent 
his last years in composing the History of the Lombards — a work 
cut short by his death some time before 800. The book proved 
enormously popular not only because it told another chapter in 
the triumph of the orthodox faith, but because it was filled with 
a great variety of engaging stories. As already noted, Paul’s 
history is not to be trusted as a recital of fact. The earlier part 
is little more than picturesque legend and the author unfortunately 
did not live to reach the age of which he had direct knowledge. 

About the time that Paul the Deacon was writing his history, 
a young Frank named Einhard came to the palace school from t^ 

Paul the 

w See above^ 

(d. 840) 

The fate of 




monastery of Fulda. Having been born beyond the Rhine, he 
spoke German as his native tongue, but through intensive study 
he had already obtained a fluent command of Latin. At Aix 
Einhard won the friendship of the emperor and more especially 
of Prince Louis, who, on becoming king, loaded him with offices 
and distinctions. Einhard thus was able to pursue a literary 
career without becoming either priest or monk, and w^hile a mere 
layman to write the most remarkable biography of the early 
Middle Ages. Being steeped in the Latin classics, Einhard con- 
sciously set out, as a second Suetonius, to describe the deeds of 
another Caesar, the late emperor Charlemagne. This fact is of 
great significance for evaluating his book as a historical source. 
In that respect it cannot always be taken literally, for the author 
constantly borrowed language from his model. Nevertheless, as 
a literary essay, Einhard’s of Charlemagne was a brilliant 
piece of work, made doubly remarkable by the environment in 
which it was produced. And parts of it have real historical 
worth. In particular, the graphic picture of the aged emperor is 
unforgettable and should be read by every one interested in the 
Carolingian age. 

Einhard, it is clear, represented that current of mediaeval 
thought which prized literary study as something beyond an ele- 
ment of practical education. Like many of the Irish and Anglo- 
Saxon monks, he felt that, within limits, admiration of the classics 
was not incompatible with Christian character. In the ninth cen- 
tury there were even prominent clergymen who shared his atti- 
tude. Lupus, abbot of Ferrieres, devoted much more time to 
pagan letters than to theology. And among less prominent stu- 
dents many are known to have attempted imitations of classic 
authors. To modern eyes the most remarkable of them was John 
the Scot, an Irishman who came to Gaul about the middle of the 
ninth century and who seems never to have secured ecclesiastical 
preferment. His knowledge of Greek was so excellent that he 
even tried his hand at verses in that language. But his truly sig- 
nificant accomplishment was a book which he called On the Divi- 
sion of Nature, a reconciliation of Christianity and Neo- 
Platonism, which few if any of his contemporaries could have 
understood. John the Scot was the only man of the period whose 
mentality approached that of the greater church fathers, and he 
had no intellectual heirs. 

However brilliant the occasional success of am Irish, Anglo- 


Saxon, or Frankish student in literary experimentation, they The seven 
were the advocates of a lost cause. Scholarly investigation of liberal arts 
antiquities was out of the question, and an uncritical devotion to 
the ideals of ancient authors could lead only to affectation. The 
future lay with the men who gave their energies to the advance- 
ment of practical education, such as had been advocated by 
Gregory the Great. In theory the instruction given by the Caro- 
lingian schools, whether attached to monastery or cathedral, was 
based on the seven liberal arts. This was an idea which had been 
constantly emphasized by authoritative writers for some hundreds 
of years. Under Charlemagne it was given final consecration by 
the teachings of Alcuin and his associates. The sacred seven were 
divided into two groups: the trivium, consisting of grammar, 
rhetoric, and dialectic; and the quadrivium, consisting of arith- 
metic, geometry, astronomy, and music. What of all this did the 
student actually get? 

In the first place, he would learn to read and write Latin, The 
which in itself was an accomplishment far beyond the average trinum 
prince of that time. Einhard tells us that even the great emperor 
never learned the art. He kept writing materials under his pillow 
and in moments of leisure attempted to master the formation of 
letters, “but he began it too late and the results were mediocre.” 

Having gained a knowledge of elementary Latin, the youth could 
proceed with such fundamental texts as Donatus and Prisdan,” 
together with the popular commentaries by Martianus Capella, 

Boethius, Isidore, Bede, Alcuin, and Hrabanus. Besides, if he 
were to perfect his style, the leading masters agreed that he should 
have at least selections from the pagan classics. The more zedous 
learner would not stop with a mere knowledge of grammatical 
construction ; according to ancient tradition, the first of the lib- 
eral arts included much that we should call literature or history. 

This, however, was a secondary consideration, pursuit of which 
depaided on the talents and S3nnpathies of the instructor. 

In rhetoric and dialectic ordinary instruction was restricted to 
the reading of standard treatises by Alcuin and his predecessors, 
all of whom said very much the same. Classical oratory had lost 
all practical meaning except as it might be adapted to the needs 
of the Christian preacher. To be effective, he now had to speak 
in the vernacular .and would probably find the homilies of Gregory 

See above, p, 96. 



The quad- 

The devel- 
opment of 

more useful than theoretical discussions of the ancient art. Dia- 
lectic, too, had slight practical importance in the Carolingian age; 
and even if curiosity impelled a student to exhaust all his au- 
thorities, he could not progress very far. After working back to 
Boethius, he could read in translation Porphyry’s Isagoge and 
those logical essays of Aristotle which were called the Organiim. 
Of Plato nothing beyond the Timcetts was available in Latin. All 
the rest of Greek philosophy and science, aside from scattering 
quotations, remained unknown in the west. 

From this fact it follows that the learning imparted under 
the head of the quadrivmm was negligible. Neither the Romans 
nor the Greeks before them had been able to do much with arith- 
metic because they had continued to use letters for numerals — a 
system under which addition and subtraction remain very for- 
midable operations, while multiplication and division are almost 
impossible. And since even Euclid’s geometry was lacking in the 
western libraries, the Carolingian scholar could not be expected 
to be very proficient in advanced mathematics. On the theoretic 
side he had only such essays as those of Boethius, Isidore, and 
Bede; on the practical side he was interested in nothing more 
abstruse than determining the date of Easter (the first Sunday 
after the first full moon after the vernal equinox). Music had 
been included in the quadrivmm through the Greek discovery of 
the mathematical ratios underlying the musical scale; but the 
notion of music as a liberal art was now little more than a vague 
tradition, and the actual technique of playing instruments or of 
singing was not a subject of academic instruction. 

Accordingly, aside from fundamental training in grammar, 
the education offered by the Carolingian school was very super- 
ficial, consisting of little more than definitions and catch phrases. 
Compared with the contemporary learning of the Arabic world, 
that of the Latin west was puerile. Yet, if it had not been for 
the enthusiasm of Charlemagne and his helpers, our irreparable 
losses of ancient literature would have been immensely greater; 
for many a classic has come down to us through a single manu- 
script written in some Frankish monastery. To the obscure 
scholars of the eighth and ninth centuries our modern culture is 
also indebted for the system of letters in which this book is 
printed — a remarkable development, of which only the first stage 
may be considered here. 

For their formal writings the Romans employed the large 

light in the dark age 227 

square letters which are familiar to us as capitals; for informal 
writing they employed, as we do, a running hand, or cursive. 
Both, in modified form, persisted into the subsequent period. 
Roman cursive finally degenerated into the atrocious scrawl of 
the Merovingian charters, but in the meantime what may be 
called a cursive influence had changed the shape of the large hand 
in which books were commonly written. In the uncial style 
rounded forms came to characterize many of the letters, such as 
'C for T, ^ for D, and m for M. And as the breakdown of 
oriental commerce took papyrus out of the western markets and 
compelled the use of parchment, the factor of economy became 
increasingly potent. To get more words on a page, the scribe 
had to use smaller letters and squeeze them closer together. 
Some, to preserve their distinctive shapes, were extended 
above the line, others below. The ultimate result was the 
form of writing called minuscule — ^little letters, with capitals in- 
serted for emphasis — ^as distinguished from majuscule, which con- 
sisted only of large letters. 

J[ fufhxindouolcnf^jl^cnci^c^uamoJioduQfyx^^ 

Uxtyep^tofeph^ cumrcomun^dicxxcfi'utr^oms^ ,IU 

Figure 3. — ^Exahple of Carolingian Minuscule.® 

The precise way in which this evolution came about is a highly 
technical and somewhat controversial subject. It need only be The 
remarked here that by the eighth century there were several well- C^hngiaii 
defined minuscule hands : the Irish, from which was derived the 
Anglo-Saxon ; the so-called Visigothic, which had been devised in 
Spain; and the Beneventan, universally employed in southern 
Italy. Through the migrations of scholars and the interchange 
of manuscripts, all of these hands became known in Gaul, where 
the Carolingian revival of learning produced an increased demand 
for handsomely and legibly written books. Through this demand 
there eventually was developed the Carolingian minuscule, char- 
acterized by the rounded form of its letters and its general dis- 
tinctness and simplicity (see Figure 3). Written in this beautiful 
hand and illuminated in color — the method of decoration perfected 
by the Irish monks — a manuscript became a treasure of art as 

® The reads^^ In sectmdo naleis exponere quomodo duos patres 

potuearit habere c^us ecmiunx dicta uirgo maria, illud. ♦. 



well as of learning. It was no wonder that, indirectly, the books 
of the ninth century later became the models followed by the 
printers of Italy, from whom our most popular type has been 

Outside the narrow field of Latin education there was no Caro- 
lingian Renaissance. Vernacular literature as yet did not exist, 
except in the form of heroic tales chanted by wandering minstrels. 
Einhard tells us that Charlemagne had these “ancient barbarian 
poems” put into writing; none of them, unhappily, has survived, 
and we may only guess that they were somewhat like the 
sagas preserved from a later age. As far as the fine arts were 
concerned, we have only one Carolingian monument of any im- 
portance. Einhard says : 

He also constructed at Aix an extremely beautiful basilica, which 
he adorned with gold and silver, with candelabra and balustrades and 
doors of massive bronze. And since he could not procure elsewhere 
the columns and marbles necessary for his building, he had them 
brought from Rome and Ravenna. 

Charlemagne’s church is still preserved as a chapel within the 
cathedral at Aix-la-Chapelle. It is, as Einhard implies, built in 
the Byzantine style, but it is not imposing, being only a domed 
octagon some forty-seven feet across. Was not this pathetic 
little imitation of Roman grandeur somewhat typical of the king’s 
whole imperial structure? 

“ See below, p. 715. 




In the ninth century Europe was afflicted by another series of 
barbarian invasions. Peoples who had acquired a modicum of The 
civilization were subjected to inroads such as their own ances- vikings 
tors had visited upon the Roman provinces a few centuries earlier. 

These new marauders, coming* from the region now known as 
Scandinavia, were of the Germanic stock that had long inhabited 
the shores of the Baltic. According to their respective places of 
origin, they may be classified as Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes ; 
but at that time the three, distinct nations of today hardly existed 
^much less the three territorial states which are now marked 
on the map. To attempt more than vague national distinctions 
among the northern pirates of the ninth century is not worth the 
effort. It will be simpler, as well as more accurate, normally to 
refer to them all as vikings — the name by which the sea-raiders 
called themselves, meaning creek-men, or men of the fjords. 

The Germans who had earlier terrorized Europe had been 
drawn into the Roman- Empire and had there developed inland 
states. Even the Anglo-Saxons, on settling in Britain, had 
largely abandoned seafaring for agriculture. The Scandinavian 
peoples, on the contrary, were allowed no choice. The Swedes 
and Norwegians were virtually surrounded by water, and the 
Danes were cut off from the continent by the frontier of Charle- 
magne's empire. To reach the outside world, the northerners had 
to take to boats. Their own rocky shores could provide a scant 
living for only a small population; so younger sons and all dis- 
contented persons naturally turned to the sea as an avenue leading 
toward wealth and adventure. What the southern steppes were to 
the nomad the rivers and inlets of the north became to the viking. 
Although Scandinavians had occasionally appeared as freebooters 
at an earlier time, it was not until the ninth century that their raids 
became a source of terror throughout the Christian northwest. 

The fundamental cause of the outpouring was overpopulation, 
but there were contributory factors. The advancing authority of 
various local kings undoubtedly added to the dissatisfaction of ad- 







venturous spirits and drove them to find an outlet for their en- 
ergies abroad. And the defenseless condition of the neighboring 
countries, quickly advertised by the success of preliminary expe- 
ditions, encouraged a growing stream of invaders. 

For the character and activities of the vikings we are dependent 
upon the contemporary accounts of Christian chroniclers, eked out 
by the northern sagas.^ But the latter, being written down at a 
much later time, give traditional stories in poetic form and must 
be used with great caution. To draw a complete picture of the 
primitive vikings in their homeland is out of the question ; only 
a few of the more certain facts need be stated in the present con- 
nection. The vikings were still heathen. Although Christian 
missionaries appeared in the Scandinavian countries during the 
ninth century, the bulk of the people continued to worship Woden, 
Thor, and the other Germanic deities to which the Anglo-Saxons 
had earlier been devoted. At first the vikings showed no mercy 
for Christian churches or for Christian clergy. It was, in fact, 
the wealth of the monasteries and cathedrals that from the outset 
chiefly lured the northern plunderers. And along with their 
looting, they seemed to take a savage delight in devastation and 
bloodshed. Putting entire settlements to the torch, they slaugh- 
tered the inhabitants with a cold fury that spread universal horror. 

The political and social organization of the vikings was that 
which had earlier been common to all the Germans — a dominant 
tribal system, supplemented by honorable associations for war- 
like adventure. The comitatus described by Tacitus reappears 
in the wandering band of warriors led by the Scandinavian jarL 
As far as institutions were concerned, the invaders could con- 
tribute little that was new to the semi-barbarous nations of the 
west. In the material arts of civilization, as in matters of educa- 
tion and morals, the vikings were learners rather than teachers. 
In one respect only they were manifestly superior to the peoples 
whom they despoiled : they were beyond doubt the greatest sailors 
of Europe. In open boats, propelled by oars or small sails, they 
not only skirted the coasts of Europe from the Baltic to the 
Mediterranean, but constantly made long voyages into the stormy 
north Atlantic, where days had to be spent beyond the sight of 
land. How great their accomplishments were on the sea can best 
be understood from an enumeration of their actual expeditions. 

1 See below, p. 290. 


As the Scandinavian peoples spread across the seas, geographic 
position naturally dictated the routes which they took. The The viking 
Swedes, facing east, were attracted to the southern shore of the 
Baltic; the Norwegians, facing west, tended along with the Danes 
to attack the British Isles and the Atlantic coast of Europe. The 
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells how, in 787, “three ships of the 
Northmen” landed in Wessex and there slew the king’s reeve who 
tried to arrest them, not knowing who they were. “These,” says 
the chronicler, “were the first ships of the Danish men that sought 
the land of the English.” This is the oldest recorded instance of 
a viking expedition, but we may be sure that it was not the first. 

Raiders must already have appeared among the Shetlands, Ork- 
neys, and Hebrides, and thence sailed down the shores of Britain 
and Ireland. In the next half-century they carried destruction 
to virtually every part of both islands. Iona, Lindisfarne, and 
dozens of other religious houses were destroyed. The kingdoms 
of Northumbria, East Anglia, and Kent were pillaged from end 
to end. The city of London was taken and sacked. 

The vikings also found splendid opportunities for looting on 
the continent. Beginning with inroads in Frisia, they gradually 
pushed their fleets along the coast to Brittany, Gascony, and 
Spain. Utrecht, Rouen, Paris, Nantes, Saintes, Bordeaux, and 
Seville went up in flames. In 859 a great expedition actually 
rounded Gibraltar. Plundering the Mediterranean shore as far 
as Italy, the marauders took Pisa and Luna, thinking that the 
latter was Rome itself. Yet this was only a raid on a grand scale ; 
the vikings first developed a policy of systematic conquest in re- 
gions nearer home. There the visits of the northerners became 
more frequent and more prolonged. Instead of leaving at the end 
of the summer, they would spend the winter in the invaded coun- 
try. Capturing a walled city, or building a fortified camp, they 
would use it as headquarters for expeditions by land. To secure 
transportation, they would steal horses from the unfortunate in- 
habitants. Finally, if they remained unmolested, they would send 
for their families and m^e their occupation permanent. Some- 
times the native population was subjected and forced to supply 
the conquerors with food; sometimes colonists were brought from 
the homeland and settled in regions that had been entirely dev- 

In Ireland the former plan was adopted. From a series of 
strongholds alot^ the eastern coast, such as Dublin, Wexford, and 






in the 


Waterford, the vikings dominated the countryside, compelling the 
local peasantry to pay them tribute. In Britain, on the other 
hand, the Danes^ not only conquered but largely recolonized wide 
sections of Northumbria, Mercia, and East Anglia. As centers 
of government they used either old Roman cities like York, Lin- 
coln, Leicester, and Colchester, or newly erected fortresses like 
Nottingham, Derby, and Stamford. By the last quarter of the 
century they were attacking Wessex both by sea and by land. On 
the continent there was a similar extension of viking operations. 
At the mouths of the principal rivers — ^particularly the Rhine, 
Scheldt, Somme, Seine, and Loire — Danes and Norwegians 
founded great camps, which tended to grow into permanent set- 
tlements. From these points, advancing either by boat or on 
horseback, they carried destruction throughout the interior. 
Scarcely a city of northern and central Gaul escaped them. 
Amiens, Noyon, Beauvais, Orleans, Tours, Poitiers, Angouleme, 
Limoges, and innumerable other places were sacked and burned. 
It was not until the closing years of the century tliat the vikings 
were driven out of most regions and so led to concentrate their 
efforts in the lower Seine valley and the adjacent coasts. 

Eastern Europe, too, witnessed a series of remarkable events. 
In 865, as we are told by Byzantine historians, Constantinople 
was attacked by tlie Rhos. These Russians — or Varangians, as * 
they are sometimes called — ^appear from other sources to have 
been Swedish vikings, who had by tliat time secured control of 
the river routes connecting the Baltic and the Black Sea. Just ; 
when or how this result had bear effected we cannot be certain ; 
we may guess that it was the result of continuous raiding on 
the part of the northern adventurers, lured ever farther by the. 
wealth of the orient, for which the slaves and furs of eastern 
Europe had long been traded. From piracy and brigandage, as ; 
usual, the transition to political conquest was easy. Novgorod ’ 
and Kiev became important centers of trade and of domination ^ 
over the neighboring Slavs. Thus, as will be explained in a sub- s 
sequent chapter, was formed the nucleus of a great empire. J 

Many years were to elapse before Russia emerged as a Euro- 
pean power. In the ninth century the attention of the Slavic 
world was centered rather on the sudden rise of the Bulgarian 
monarchy. Charlemagne, by destroying the Avar do mini on, had ' 

2 The Anglo-Saxons called all the Northmen Danes. ^ 


not only assured Frankish supremacy on the upper Danube, but 
also helped to extend Bulgarian influence in the Balkans. Origi- 
nally a section of the Hunnic people, the Bulgars had by this time 
lost many of their primitive traits. In particular, they had tended 
to forget their native language and to adopt that of the Slavs with 
whom they had mingled for many generations. Under their own 
independent khan, they now built up a formidable state at the 
expense of their neighbors. With the weakening of the Moslem 
attack, the Byzantine Empire bad again relapsed into a state of 
helplessness. In 814 the city of Constantinople was saved from 
Bulgarian capture rather by the death of the khan than by able 
defense, and in the ensuing peace the empire was forced to cede 
a large section of Thrace, including the upper valley of the 
Maritza and the city of Philippopolis. To the westward the Bul- 
gars had already launched an ambitious offensive against the Slavs 
of Macedonia and Illyricum. The Serbian princes, in particular, 
put up a stubborn resistance, but in the end they had to yield. 

The khan thus became the ruler of a powerful frontier state 
lying between the Frankish and Byzantine empires. It was natu- 
ral that, to comport with his added dignity, he should assume the 
title of tsar (Caesar) and in other ways seek recognition among 
civilized princes. In 870 Boris I signed a treaty with the Byzan- 
tine emperor, accepting Christianity for himself and his people 
under general ecclesiastical control from Constantinople. Slavic 
was recognized as the official language of Bulgaria and came to 
be written in the modified Greek alphabet devised by missionaries 
among the Bohemians.® Although the political force of the By- 
zantine Empire continued to wane, its cultural influence advanced 
to fresh conquests among the barbarians to the north. 

For the development of Slavic Europe the conversion of the 
Bulgars was an event of prime importance ; another was the ap- 
pearance on the Danube of the Hungarians. This name the in- 
vaders received because of their affinity to the ancient Huns, but 
they have always called themselves Magyars. From the language 
which they still speak, and from the accounts of early chroniclers, 
it is certain that by origin the Hungarians were Asiatic nomads. 
Like their predecessors, the Huns and the Avars, they were ap- 
parently forced to migrate by some sort of disturbance in the 
homeland, and they c^me by the same route, sweeping across the 


of the 

3 See bdow, p. 324- 

Arab raids 
in the 

The suc- 
cessors of 


grasslands of the southeast. Closely pressed by the Petchenegs, a 
similar people, they crossed the Dniester and finally, in the closing 
years of the ninth century, occupied the plain between the Car- 
pathians and the Danube. There the remnants of the Avar 
nation became amalgamated with the newcomers, so that ever 
since then the territory has been known as Hungary. The Mag- 
yars, according to all contemporary descriptions, were of the 
primitive nomad type — savage horsemen, repulsive in appearance, 
rapacious and pitiless. While the Frankish lands of the west were 
still suffering from the inroads of the vikings, those of the east 
were devastated by the Hungarians. Overrunning the Slavic 
frontier, they broke through the feeble Carolingian defenses and 
drove unchecked through Bavaria, Venetia, and Lombardy. In 
the following years they turned northward, desolating Thuringia, 
Saxony, and the Rhine Valley. By 925 they had even penetrated 
into Lorraine and Burgundy. 

In the meantime the Arabs had continued their offensives in the 
Mediterranean. Holding Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia, and the Bal- 
earic Islands, they could raid the coasts of Provence and Italy 
with impunity, and throughout the ninth and tenth centuries their 
attacks were virtually continuous. Ports were taken and held 
for years by Moslem pirates. In 846 the great church of St. 
Peter, outside the walls of Rome, was plundered and burned ; and 
not long afterwards the famous monastery of Monte Cassino 
suffered the same fate. On the sea the Franks had no defense ; 
on the land they seemed almost as helpless. Under repeated 
blows delivered from north, south, east, and west, the glorious 
empire of Charlemagne collapsed and disintegrated. But the bar- 
barian attack was responsible only for the final shock ; the fatal 
weakness of the state was inherent in its structure — z truth that 
clearly emerges from the unhappy story of the later Carolingians. 


Charlemagne continued Frankish custom by dividing his do- 
minions among his three sons; but as the two elder died pre- 
maturely, the entire inheritance fell to the survivor, Louis. The 
new emperor, having received an excellent education in the palace 
school, was sincerely devoted to the ideals of the church, and in 
personal morality he was a distinct improvement over his illus- 
trious father. So his nickname of ‘^the Pious” was not unde- 
served. It cannot be doubted that he conscientiously strove to 


maintain the efficiency of the government and the defense of the 
kingdom. Louis, however, was no Charlemagne, and before his 
death in 840 the political situation had got completely out of 
hand. There were preliminary raids by the vikings ; there were 
small frontier wars with Moors, Bretons, and Slavs; and there 
was an insurrection in Italy. These troubles proved to be of 
minor importance compared with the conflict that broke out 
among the emperor’s own children (see Table I). 

By his first wife Louis had three sons, to each of whom he early 
assigned a kingdom : to Lothair, as the eldest, Italy, together with 
the succession to the imperial crown and the general authority 
which it implied; to Pepin Aquitaine, with the rest of southern 
Gaul; and to Louis Bavaria, with, command over the eastern 
frontier. Then the emperor’s second wife presented him with a 
fourth son, Charles, for whose benefit he created a new princi- 
pality. The consequence was a revolt of the elder brothers, joined 
through selfish interest by many of the imperial magnates. Mu- 
tual jealousy soon broke up the coalition and Louis regained his 
authority. But the death of Pepin in 838 again occasioned a re- 
apportionment of territories, followed by further disturbances 
which continued until the emperor himself died in 840. That 
event brought Lothair to the imperial throne, and to check his as- 
sertion of supreme power, his younger brothers at once made 
common cause against him. The alliance led to the famous Stras- 
bourg oaths, preserved for us by the contemporary historian, 
Nithard. He tells us how Louis (the German) first swore un- 
failing loyalty to Charles (the Bald), using the lingua romana 
so that his brother’s retainers could understand him; and how 
Charles then followed, speaking in the lingua teudescaJ^ Through 
the written forms thus preserved, we know how Romance and 
German were spoken in the ninth century. 

More important from the political viewpoint was the final 
settlement forced upon Lothair in 843. This was the Peace of 
Verdun, which, though only an arbitrary allotment of lands, 
chanced to have permanent results. The territory of Charles 
the Bald, now installed as king in Gaul, was extended eastward 
to an irregular line running from the Scheldt to the upper Moselle 
and thence to the Sa^e and the Rhone. The eastern kingdom of 
Louis the German was -brought over to the Rhine, excluding Frisia 

* above, p. 1213. ^ - 
Homage niony of homage.® On inheriting or on being granted a fief, B 
presented himself before A, his prospective lord, who would be 
seated in state. B knelt, placing liis two hands between those of 
A, acknowledged himself A’s man, and promised him fealty. A 
then raised B to his feet and kissed his cheeks, formally accepting 
his homage and recognizing him as vassal. Thenceforth the pair 
were supposed to be bound to each other by a lifelong tie of mu- 
tual loyalty and support — a relationship which early feudal litera- 
ture portrays as in the highest degree sacred and honorable.'* The 
untrue vassal was a felon, an evil name that could be thrown at a 
gentleman only as a deadly insult. In actual life, however, condi- 
tions were not so ideal. Disputes over land and privileges con- 
stantly arose between lords and their vassals, and in the absence 
of any strong superior authority produced a state of chronic war- 
fare in many refigions. 

Wherever fief-holding had not degenerated into a mere fiction, 
Feudal it was held to imply a contract between tire two parties. From the 
service lord the vassal received a livelihood in the form of agrarian es- 
tates, as well as a guarantee of protection and justice; in return 
he owed to the lord various forms of service and assistance. 
Very commonly the fief bore a specific obligation for mounted 
soldiers, or knights, in which case the vassal was said to hold by 
knight service. Occasionally he was bound only to furnish arms 
or other objects of value, or to perform some ceremony at court, 
and such tenures are commonly classified as serjeanty. Churches 
were often given lands in free alms — owing no service except 
prayer for the donor’s soul or for those of his ancestors. But this 
tenure was quite exceptional; even on the part of ecclesiastics 

® From the Latin homo, a man. 

* See bdow, pp. 293 f. 


knight service was the rule, for it provided what the average lord 
was most anxious to obtain — ^an army. 

In addition the vassal owed suit to the lord’s court; that is to 
say, he had to attend the lord whenever summoned. At irregular 
intervals great assemblies would be held for ceremonial pur- 
poses, and on these occasions the lord would submit to his men 
for their approval projects of general interest to his territory. 
Such times would also be appropriate for celebrating a son’s knight- 
hood or a daughter’s marriage. Often, however, the court would 
be held for the sake of administering justice, in which connection 
the vassal might be called either as defendant or as a judgment- 
finder. The feudal court, though presided over by the lord, was 
supposed to render decisions according to valid custom as deter- 
mined by the suitors themselves. Thus the vassal always claimed 
the right to judgment by his peers, his social equals. And if he 
were sent to trial, he still kept his gentleman’s weapons, deciding 
the issue by judicial combat. After God had been solemnly in- 
voked to defend the right, the two parties fought it out and the 
victor was held to be justified in his contention. Here again 
practice was by no means as perfect as theory. Disputes often 
arose between nobles who had no common lord, when — ^in the 
absence of a higher sovereign to enforce his control — ^they were 
only too likely to take up arms without any formality at all. 

To his lord, furthermore, the vassal owed hospitality — a very 
expensive obligation when the former came with a large retinue 
and made a protracted stay. Since even the greatest princes spent 
a large part of their time visiting prominent ecclesiastics and other 
faithful supporters, the exaction of entertainment came to be 
limited by written grant or changed into a money payment. If 
the lord incurred some extraordinary expense, the vassal was 
usually liable for a contribution called aid. The occasions varied 
from region to region ; in northern France an aid was commonly 
due when the lord knighted a son, celebrated the wedding of a 
daughter, or was captured and held for ransom. In case the lord 
was a clergyman, the installation of a successor or the necessity 
of a trip to Rome provided a good excuse for seeking pecuniary 
assistance. Th^^^er^l rule always held good, however, that the 
vassal was notei»i|e€t to arbitrary taxation: if subsidies were 
wanted for pulses other than those definitely recognized by 
custom, they could be obtained only as free-will offerings. Nor 
was the vassal responsible for military service oftener than once a 





2s6 medieval history 

year, and then only for a fixed period — in northern France forty 

Especially profitable to the lord were the perquisites known as 
The feudal the feudal incidents. Although the fief was hereditary, vassalage 
incidents not. Before an heir could lawfully possess his inheritance, 

he had to go to the lord and perform homage. On this occasion 
he normally was expected to pay what was known as a relief, a 
sum often equivalent to the first year’s revenue of the fief. Should 
a vassal die leaving only children under age, the lord^en joyed 
the right of w^ardship, holding the fief in his own hands and 
appropriating its regular income during the period of the minority. 
In default of sons, a girl might inherit the fief. Then the lord 
controlled the lady’s choice of a husband — a privilege which 
commonly led to the selection of the highest bidder in a sort of 
private auction. Finally, if there were no heirs, the fief was said 
to escheat to the lord, who could then grant it out again or keep 
it, as he chose. Forfeiture was the technical penalty for felony. 
It was incurred by a vassal who refused to perform his owed serv- 
ice; but the matter of enforcement was often difficult, and a weak 
lord was helpless before a strong rebel. Fiefs held by ecclesias- 
tics, of course, produced no income from relief, wardship, mar- 
riage, or escheat ; so the lord, by way of compensation, very gen- 
erally took over the lands of a dead bishop or abbot and treated 
them as his own until a successor was elected and installed — ^the 
custom known in French as regale. 

From infeudated lands — ^that is to say, lands granted as fiefs to 
Subin- vassals — z lord received the services and incidental revenues just 

feudation enumerated. Whatever was left in his own possession was called 
his demesne,® and from it he received the manorial income that 
will be described in a following section. Each vassal in turn 
could subinfeudate whatever he chose to vassals of his own, or 
he could keep all of his estates in demesne. For example, sup- 
pose A granted to B a fief of fifty villages for the service of 
twelve knights. If B continued to hold all in demesne, he would 
have to hire eleven knights when a summons came from A, for 
he could serve as only one knight himself. If, on the other hand, 
he subinfeudated ten villages to C for five knights, eight to D for 
three knights, five to E for two knights, and two to F for one 
knight, his service could be performed without hiring anybody. 

® This spelling will be used in the following pages to mark the technical word, 
while “domain^* will be left with its ordinary meaning. 


And in the meantime he would have twenty-five villages left in 
demesne from which to support himself and his family. C, D, E, 
and F would have the same choice in managing their respective 
affairs. One village might therefore be part of many fiefs, but 
eventually some landlord would hold it in demesne. Below the 
feudal hierarchy and supporting it by their labor were always the 

The gulf between the two classes was hard to cross. Men of 
low birth, though not actually unfree, could rarely enter the aris- The 
tocracy of fief-holders. Through the service of a prince — by church and 
acting as steward or administrative agent of some sort — ev«i 
serfs occasionally gained wealth and power ; yet in the eyes of the 
gentry they never lost their base blood and it was long before thdr 
origin could be forgotten. Another avenue to advancement was 
the church. By entering the priesthood, a peasant had the pros- 
pect of securing a parish through nomination of some patron, usu- 
ally a landlord of the locality. Yet sudi priests had to spend their 
lives among the people, like them poor and, all too often, ignorant. 

The prizes of the profession, the great bishoprics and abbacies, 
went as a rule to younger sons of noble families through the 
favor of some territorial prince. To secure one of these great 
offices was a matter of political influence, perhaps of cash pur- 
chase; and the successful candidate became the vassal of the 
patron, as he would for any other fief. 

With the lapse of the Carolingian reform, and with the feudal- 
ization of the state, prelates generally came to be distinguished for 
qualities other than piety and learning. We hear of many bishops 
who, unmindful of ecclesiastical law, personally took part in 
warfare; and of mere laymen who became abbots solely for the 
sake of the attendant income. As a whole, the clergy formed no 
separate class in society, but tended by association and common 
interest to be identified with either the aristocracy or the 


Intimately connected with feudalism, though not identified with 
it, was the set of customs known as chivalry. The word is derived Chivalry 
from the Fraich ckevdier, cavalryman or knight; hence chivalry 
was the cqde of etiquette implied by knighthood. In the early 
feudal age ffie boy of noble birth, unless destined for an ecclesias- 
tical career, was not expected to have an education in letters. 






Since his profession was to be that of a mounted warrior, his 
training was centered in arms and horsemanship. When he was 
still a mere child, his lessons began in riding and in the use of 
weapons. His graduation from this rude school may be said to 
have been the attainment of knightly rank. But first he had to 
pass through two preliminary grades. Commonly he would serve 
in some feudal court as page (French valet), learning how to 
conduct himself in polite society and continuing his martial exer- 
cises. Later, in his early teens, the youth would rise to be a 
knight's assistant, known as a squire (French ecuyer, shield- 
bearer). Eventually he would be allowed to ride to battle with his 
elders, and, after proving his fitness for the honor, he would be 
knighted — an act which could be performed by any other knight, 
but which would naturally devolve upon the lord at whose court 
the boy had been brought up. 

The final ceremony was the adouhement,^ when the candidate 
was formally invested with the arms and armor that betokened 
his maturity — obviously a perpetuation of the ancient Germanic 
custom described by Tacitus. Originally, therefore, chivalry was 
non-Christian, and in the early period it had no feminine implica- 
tions. It was essentially the standard of conduct imposed on 
members of the warrior class to govern their relations with one 
another. The knight should be brave to the point of foolhardi- 
ness. He should fight according to certain accepted rules, scorn- 
ing tricks and strategy as savoring of cowardice. He should be 
loyal to his friends. He should keep his plighted word. He 
should treat a conquered foe with gallantry. Yet, although the 
gentleman was chivalrous toward social equals and their women- 
folk, he felt no such obligation toward the base-born. In this 
respect, as in all, his attitude was intensely aristocratic. The fact 
that in contemporary records miles (Latin for soldier) always 
means the mounted fighter summarizes a whole chapter in the 
history of warfare. And tlie virtual equivalence of knight, noble, 
and vassal well illustrates the social constitution of the early 
feudal age. 

On the subject of chivalry our best sources are the French 
epics, ^ which also give us precious information concerning feudal 
warfare. But the most vivid picture of the eleventh-century 
knight is to be found in the famous Bayeux Tapestry, an embroi- 

• Cf. the English “dubbing” to knighthood. See above, p. 52. 

’ See below, pp. 291 f. 



dery made to decorate the interior of the cathedral in that city 
and still preserved in the local museum (see Plate I). It is a 
strip of linen twenty inches wide and over 230 feet long, with 
scenes worked in colored worsted to describe the 'Norman Con- 
quest of England.^ Although the story thus told is interesting 
as a partisan tradition, the great historical value of the tapestry 
lies in its realistic presentation of contemporary life. This unique 
work, probably completed before 1100, allows us to be positive 
with regard to many odd details of military activity, of domestic 
habits, and; above all, of costume. (See Plate I.) 

On ordinary occasions men of all classes wore tunic and hose. 

The former was a loose-fitting jacket belted in at the waist; the Civil 
latter w^ere a sort of tights pulled on over the legs, which were costimie 
further protected by strips of cloth or leather wound like modern 
puttees from the knees to the shoe-tops. For warmth or cere- 
mony the man might also throw over his shoulders a mantle, 
fastened with a buckle or pin on the right side to leave the sword 
arm free. Women were dressed in robes of almost classic sim- 
plicity extending from the chin to the ground. For outdoor 
wear both sexes used cloaks fitted with hoods that could be 
brought over the head in bad weather. Even the very wealthy 
w’ore plain clothes, substituting for homespun the finer stuffs 
trimmed with fur. Einhard tells us that Charlemagne very sel- 
dom put on Roman dress ; that he normally preferred his native 
Frankish costume. And his attitude was maintained by the 
princes of the Middle Ages, who submitted to long robes only on 
extraordinary occasions. In the Bayeaux Tapestry the English 
king, when sitting on his throne, appears with a crown, orb, and 
scepter; the duke of Normandy, only with a mace. 

Defensive armor in this early period was not elaborate. The 
knight’s lower legs remained unprotected. Over the upper body Arms and 
he wore a hauberk, a shirt of link mail slashed at the bottom so 
that it could in some way be fastened about the thigh. His head 
was covered with a helmet, a conical steel cap with a narrow 
extension in front to serve as a nose-guard, and with mail at- 
tached at the rear to hang down over the nape of the neck. On 
his left arm the knight bore a kite-shaped shield some four feet 
long. It was presumably made of wood faced with metal and 
was customarily decorated with some fanciful design. For of- 

« See below, pp. 281 f. 

26 o 


fense his weapons were principally a cross-hilted sword slung 
on a belt at the left side, and a lance about eight feet long which 
was held couched by the right hand. In the Bayeux Tapestry 
the French knights are not shown using battle-axes, though from 
other sources it would appear that they sometimes did so. 

These facts help us to understand the character of feudal ten- 
Feudal ure. The obligation for knight service was heavy: one knight 
warfare would include not merely the warrior himself, but a supply of 
expensive arms and armor, a change of horses, perhaps a squire 
and his mount, a number of grooms and other servants, and, 
finally, enough food to maintain all these men and animals for the 
specified period. The entire feudal host would obviously be sev- 
eral times larger than the body of knights who led the attack. 
Among them discipline was slight, for each gentleman considered 
himsdff the ally rather than the subordinate of the commander. 
Fighting for the lord did not at all prevent his fighting for him- 
self; and except through personal acquisition of booty and cap- 
tives, he stood to make nothing from the .campaign. Pitched 
battles were infrequent; when one occurred, it resolved itself 
into a series of individual encounters — of charges and counter- 
charges with lances atilt, followed by hand-to-hand combat with 
sword and axe. There would be a magnificent display of knightly 
prowess, but little generalship. Although one side might gain 
much in honor and plunder and prisoners, the opposing force 
would largely escape, to fight again on some more fortunate day. 

Feudal warfare, as a matter of fact, was normally restricted to 
The feudal skirmishing between roving bands and the devastation of the 
castle enemy’s territory. During most of the time tire efforts of the 

combatants were concentrated in and about castles, which had 
come to serve as the principal defenses of every great fief. Origi- 
nating largely as a center of refuge from the invading Northmen, 
the castle had now become a specialized form of stronghold, 
adapted to the needs of a feudal chieftain and his garrison of 
professional warriors. This form, after its two essential parts, 
is known as the motte-and-bailey castle (see Figure 4). The 
bailey was a court surrounded by a moat, an earthen embankment, 
and a palisade of tree trunks — or a series of such fortifications. 
Friends gained admittance by means of a gate and a drawbridge 
which could be let down for their special benefit. This bailey, 
enclosing houses, stables, and other necessary buildings, consti- 
tuted the castle’s outer defense. The motte was its more inac- 


cessible portion — a rock, hill, or artificial mound, protected by 
a separate line of intrenchments. Here stood the donjon, a 
wooden tower with its own drawbridge giving access to what we 
should call its second story. Such a crude fortress, in an age 
that had forgotten Roman siegecraft, could offer stout resistance 
to attack, but — ^as illustrated on the Bayeux Tapestry — it was 
especially vulnerable to fire. To correct this fault by massive 
construction in stone was left to later and wealthier generations. 

Like the barbarian described by Tacitus, the feudal noble con- 
sidered himself primarily a warrior. This preference he carried Feudal 
into his amusements. The tournament familiarized by historical amuse- 
fiction was largdy a pageant — a contest with a maximum of dis- 
play and a minimum of bloodshed. In the primitive age, how- 
ever, the toumameait was an actual battle, differing from one in 
the field only because it was deliberately arranged in advance. 

One was as deadly as the other, and in both the victor claimed 
as spoil the horses and accouterments of the vanquished. Next 

< Taken bom £. S. Annitage, JEarly Norman CasOes 9/ fhe British Ides, Fig. 9 
(John Mtirtay; London, i;9i2). 



Food and 

to fighting, the noble loved hunting — ^riding down stags and other 
large game with dogs. So every prince maintained wide pre- 
serves in which he and his retainers enjoyed a monopoly of the 
chase. There too — ^and this was a recreation in which the ladies 
frequently joined — ^many days were spent in hawking. The tak- 
ing of herons, pigeons, waterfowl, rabbits, and other small game 
by means of trained hawks, while the attendant company galloped 
across the country, was a sport which had continued to enjoy 
great popularity since Roman times, and which still flourishes 
in the orient. In the Middle Ages Norwegian falcons or fine 
hunting dogs ranked along with battle chargers as gifts fit for a 

When condemned to remain indoors, the feudal gentleman 
seems to have spent his time largely in feasting, drinking, and 
gambling. Dice had been taken over from the Romans, and from 
them too had probably been learned a form of backgammon 
which the Middle Ages knew as tables. Chess was introduced 
in the west only after the crusade of 1095, playing cards 
were a much later invention. Throughout the grape-raising prov- 
inces of the Roman Empire wine remained the standard drink, 
but in the more purely Germanic regions of the northwest its 
place, except in wealthy homes, was taken by beer. The quanti- 
ties of each consumed by the average person were such as to 
stagger the imagination of the modern tippler. And temperance 
was equally unknown in eating. During the Middle Ages the 
appetite of the hunter and the fighter raged unchecked by an 
etiquette of delicacy. 

When it is remembered that Louis XIV in his gorgeous palace 
of Versailles still ate with his fingers, much in the way of table 
manners cannot be expected of the mediseval gentleman. He 
supplied his own knife and with it served himself, and perhaps 
his lady; after that it was catch as catch can. Bones and scraps 
he threw on the floor for the dogs to fight over. His food was 
primarily flesh — commonly game, such as a deer or a boar roasted 
whole — ^with smaller dishes of fowl, cured meats, pasties, vege- 
tables, and fruit. Bread and cheese were of course staples, but 
sweets were rare because the sole available sweetening was honey. 
Spices were luxuries found only on the tables of the great On 
fast days, to be sure, the meats were supposed to disappear; then 
the platters were well filled with fish and eggs. As far as cooking 


was concerned, we are led to believe that quantity was the prin- 
cipal consideration. 

Princes commonly had castles as their chief residences; yet 
all classes of nobles spent much time in manor houses on favorite 
estates. In any case, the center of domestic life was the great 
hall, which, according to modern standards, was picturesque 
rather than comfortable. Heat was supplied by open fires, the 
smoke from which found its way out past the grimy rafters 
overhead. As windows were generally unglazed, the weather had 
to be kept out by means of shutters. The walls were hung with 
arms, banners, and trophies of the chase. The floor often was 
merely hard-trodden earth covered with straw or rushes, where 
the ever-present dogs made themselves at home. Light was 
furnished by candles. Here the lord sat in state to receive hom- 
age or to confer with his vassals in formal court. Here was 
spread the festive board, with the company seated on benches 
in order of rank. Here of an evening took place whatever liter- 
ary entertainment the age afforded — ^the tales of heroic deeds 
chanted by wandering minstrels. And here, finally, after the 
lord and his family had retired to their chambers, would be laid 
the pallets of retainers and of guests who could not be accommo- 
dated elsewhere. 

The feudal gentleman did not have to be much of an adminis- 
trator, Customary arrangements made the superintendence of 
landed property largely a matter of routine. The care of the 
house and servants was chiefly left to feminine management. 
Occasionally we hear of some extraordinary lady who, on the 
death of her husband, continued his work in the world, playing a 
dominant role in politics and warfare. Normally, however, the 
feudal age followed the good old maxim that woman’s place is 
the home. Although we have every reason to believe that love 
was important in society even before it became a fashionable 
theme in literature, marriages among the aristocracy were as a 
rule dictated by dynastic and financial interest. The first requisite 
of the wife was to bring the inheritance of a fief, or at least a 
handsome dowry; the second was that she should bear at least 
one son. And if she were unfortunate in the latter respect, a 
complaisant bishop was usually at hand to declare the wedding 
invalid. In this regard, as in others, early feudal Europe was 
essentially a man’s world. 




The posi- 
tion of 




However’ the beginnings of the manor may be explained — ^and 
The manor endless controversy has raged on the subject — ^there can be little 
question of its nature in the feudal period The term is derived 
from a word meaning a house,® in this case referring to that of 
the man who dominated the community. Normally the manor 
was a village controlled and exploited by a lord, as distinguished 
from a free village where the inhabitants worked only for them- 
selves. But since the lord’s authority was political as well as 
economic, his rights as a landowner were inextricably confused 
with those which we should classify as public — ^as properly be- 
longing to the state. It was probably through the powers derived 
from the monarchy that the seignorial class had been able to 
extend its domination throughout the comitryside. There is con- 
siderable evidence that the lord often took over an agrarian system 
which he had not created. In any case, the foundation of all 
manorial arrangements was agriculture. 

In this connection it is impossible to make absolute generaliza- 
Mediasval tions ; customs varied according to climate, soil, and the aptitudes 
agriculture of people. What held true in a fertile plain would not hold 

true in a mountainous region or in a country of marsh and sand 
dime. No one method of tillage could be applied to vineyards, 
orchards, and cornfields. What may be described as the standard, 
however, was an agricultural practice tliat widely prevailed 
throughout the northwest of mediaeval Europe, where feudail 
institutions were earliest and most fully developed. There the 
staple crop was wheat or rye, for the raising of which plowing 
was fundamental. And in that operation certain common factors 
everywhere tended to produce uniform results. The soil, on 
account of shallow working, was very heavy; the plow, being 
only a small iron blade fastened on a wooden frame, was light. 
Draft animals, because of poor breeding and undernourishment, 
were small and scrawny. Merely to prepare a field for planting 
commonly required a team of eight oxen — ^all of which, together 
with a plow, the average peasant did not possess. 

The solution, obviously, was for a group of men to pool their 

The resources and gain a living from the soil through cooperative 

open-field agriculture. Economic necessity, apart from the need of pro- 

• Latin tmneriani, from manere, to dwdl; cf. the Bi^Iish “manse.” 


tection, thus forced the country population to dwell in villages. 

Within such a settlement each household was supposed to make 
a contribution toward a common fund, in either labor, materials, 
tools, or animals. It logically followed that each should have an 
equal portion of the harvest. If, however, the villager — or vil- 
lein, as he was technically described — had all his land in one 
place, the returns would vary according to the fertility of the 
allotment. So the usual plan was to equalize the holdings by 
forming them of strips scattered in all sections of the arable. 

Since the strips were not individually fenced, the whole arrange- 
ment is known as the open-field system. This most characteristic 
feature of mediaeval agriculture, though long superseded in mod- 
ern states, has left its mark not only on the countryside, but also 
on the languages of Europe. 

In England, for example, the open field was divided into par- 
cels called shots, and each of these was subdivided into acre strips. Measures 
Such a strip would be bounded on the sides by ribbons of un- ^>f 1^^ 
plowed turf called balks, and at the ends, similarly, by headlands, 
on which the team could be turned about. The length of the strip 
was described as a furrow-long or furlong; the width as four 
perches, rods, or yards — ^not the cloth yard of modern usage, but 
the long stick used as an ox-goad. So the acre strip was held to 
include four yardlands, each measuring one perch by one furlong. 

The normal holding of the villein household was held to be thirty 
acres. The acre of the Middle Ages, however, did not always 
contain the same number of square feet by actual measurement. 

It was a plot of rather uncertain area based on little more than 
ancient usage. The important fact for estimating manorial values 
is that the average yield per acre was only six to eight bushels of 
wheat — a, fourth of what might be expected on an ordinary Ohio 

The open-field system should not be confused with the three- 
field system, which originated in an entirely different way. Ex- The 
perience had long proved that land continuously devoted to the three-field 
raising of wheat, rye, barley, or oats would quickly become ex- 
hausted. We know that the cause is the depletion of nitrogen 
which must be replaced before another good harvest of grain can 
be secured. Today this is done by applying a fertilizer or by 

ID To the mediaeval peasant, this spelling will be preferred to ** villain,” 

which will be left to bear its modern implication. How the baseness of the villein 
came to make him a villain is an interesting problem for the philologist. 



planting a nitrogen-producing crop, such as peas, beans, clover, 
or alfalfa. In the Middle Ages no one understood the scientific 
rotation of crops. Vegetables were grown only in separate plots 
and hay was obtained only from natural meadows. There were 
no manufactured nitrates to buy. Manure was scarce because 
.domestic animals were few. So the only available method of 
preventing exhaustion was that of allowing the land to lie fallow 
once in a while. In the case of the two-field system the arable 
was divided into two portions, which would alternately be turned 
into pasture. The three-field system was more advantageous, ex- 
cept in comparatively barren regions. Under it one-third of the 
land rested every year; of the remainder one-half was planted 
with a spring crop and the other half with an autumn crop. The 
fallow was only scantily refertilized through the plowing under 
of weeds and through incidental manuring by animals put out 
to graze, yet the process was sufficient to maintain the agricultural 
routine for an indefinite period. 

The t3^ical villein, as we have seen, had about thirty acres of 
Rights of arable in scattered strips. In the cultivated fields all the work 
common of plowing, harrowing, sowing, reaping, and the like was done 
by the villeins in common; but at the end each got only what 
was raised on his own acres. After the harvest each strip-owner 
had the right of turning his beasts into the field ; and before that 
they could be pastured on the fallow and on the common waste — 
such as marsh and rocky hillside. Meadow was carefully set aside 
as the only source of hay. Woods provided not only fuel and 
lumber, but also feed for swine, which were allowed to run wild 
and live as best they might. The mediaeval village Avas thus based 
on cooperative labor and rights of common, not on communism. 
Individual property in land Avas fundamental, and we have no 
evidence of a time when it had not been so. 

Along with his arable, each peasant, of course, had his own 
The house — ^the meanest sort of hut, commonly made of wattle plas- 

peasant’s tered with mud, and provided with a roof of straw thatch. Ad- 
home joining it was a small plot where he could plant a vegetable garden 
and keep a few geese or chickens. Here he and his family lived 
in what to us would seem unbearable filth ; but in those days even 
members of the aristocracy were not particular in such matters. 
The peasant’s clothes were of the coarsest, his belongings of the 
simplest. His furniture would be little more than a rude table 
and a bench or two, his beds only bags of straw laid on the floor. 


His principal food was black bread, supplemented by dairy prod- 
uce, eggs, and a few coarse vegetables. Occasionally he might 
enjoy a fowl; normally he could not aiford meat. Game and fish 
he was forbidden to take. Sheep, cows, and oxen were too 
precious for slaughtering, except when the approach of winter 
and the lack of fodder made it imperative — and then the cost of 
salt led to very insufficient curing. The peasant, however, had a 
plenteous supply of home-brewed beer or, in favorable regions, 
of very ordinary wine. 

A traveler through the countryside in the feudal age would 
have no difficulty in perceiving the subjection of the agricultural The manor 
village to seignorial control, for the settlement would be domi- 
nated by the manor house. In this age it was normally built of kiland 
wood. Sometimes, especially when used by the lord as a dwell- 
ing, it was defended by a moat and a drawbridge. Often, how- 
ever, the manor house served merely as administrative headquar- 
ters under the charge of a resident steward. Surrounding it, in 
any case, was the lord’s close, containing gardens, fruit trees, 
beehives, barns, stables, and other outbuildings. Here was stored 
the produce from the estate, together with the usual wagons and 
agricultural implements. The lord generally had his own 
meadow ; but his arable, as a rule, consisted of acre strips scat- 
tered among those of his tenants. And like tliem, he would pas- 
ture his beasts on the common. All labor required to maintain 
the lord’s particular property — ^known as the manorial demesne or 
inland — ^was left to be done by the villeins. They cultivated the 
lord’s arable along with their own, harvested the crops, threshed 
out the grain, and disposed of it according to instructions. To 
see that all rightful obligations were performed, so that the estate 
would show the normal profit, was the responsibility of the 
steward. He it was also who held the manorial court for the 
settlement of disputes among the peasants, the trial of persons 
accused of petty offenses, and the general enforcement of the 
lord’s authority. In all such matters law was held to be not the 
will of the lord or his steward, but the custom of the manor as 
stated by the best men of the locality. 

It has already been shown that the entire feudal class was 
supported, directly or indirectly, by the peasants. This fact The lord 
should not be taken to imply that, in general, the latter were and his 
cruelly treated. In time of war, of course, the people of the 
countryside were the first to suffer from the enemy’s attack, and 


there were always barons who acted like brigands — especially to- 
ward the defenseless tenants of neighboring churches. Even the 
nobles who were appointed official “protectors’^ of ecclesiastical 
estates frequently gained an evil reputation as tyrants and de- 
spoilers. Of his own men, however, a lord would naturally be 
somewhat considerate; without them his lands would be worth- 
less. Although the average peasant’s life may seem inconceivably 
hard by comparison with modern conditions, it was all that he 
knew or hoped for; and it was, after all, reasonably secure. Even 
serfdom was infinitely preferable to starvation or to the constant 
fear of death by violence. Under the lord’s protection the peasant 
was assured only a bare living; yet it was, none the less, a 

Except in England after the Norman Conquest,^^ villein and 
Serfs and serf were not equivalent terms. The latter, like the Roman 
villeins servus, was the bodily property of a master; the former was 

not necessarily servile, although he was commonly attached to 
the soil and subjected to some lord’s arbitrary authority. He 
often resembled rather the Roman colomis, who remained legally 
a freeman. But the serf could not be sold apart from the soil 
which he possessed and cultivated like any other peasant, and 
a liberty such as that of the average free villein could not have 
been especially valuable. The really superior peasants were those 
described in the records as so free that they owed only fixed 
services, or so free that they could sell their holdings and depart. 
Compared with them, the majority of peasants were unfree. 
This unfreedom, however, was economic rather than legal, and it 
continued only until new social developments provided ways of 
escape. In the Dark Age the manorial system became practically 
universal because under it, and only under it, the mass of the 
people found the possibility of livelihood. The feudal noble who 
exploited the peasantry owed his position not so much to his 
own rapacious greed as to the defenseless condition of the coun- 
tryside and the actual needs of the inhabitants. The manor was 
a very simple administrative machine which, assuring food and 
protection to the mass of the people, ran on and on with amaz- 
ingly little supervision. 

If these considerations are kept in mind, it will be understood 
why the obligations of the peasant community cannot be sharply 

^ See bdow, p. 288. 


classified either according to the nature of what was owed or Peasant 
according to the status of the persons liable. In this latter con- obliga-- 
nection all that can be affirmed is that the services of the freest 
tenants were generally fixed, whereas those of the more servile 
tenants remained unrestricted. Even this generalization should 
not be pushed too far; all agrarian arrangements depended on 
local custom, which was hardly the same in any two places. The 
variety of rents, for example, was almost infinite. Although 
each peasant normally owed the lord certain payments, the times 
when they were due were distributed throughout the year, and 
the specified amounts might be an3rthing produced on the manor. 

It was only in the later age that sums of money were commonly 
substituted for rents in kind. 

Virtually every peasant was also responsible for labor service, 
or corvee^ for it was in this way that the lord's inland was taken CorvSes 
care of. Lowest of all were the men said to be corveable a 
merciy bound to do anything commanded them at any time. The 
average villein owed rather a certain number of days each week, 
together with extra days in spring and autumn for sowing and 
harvest. A fortunate few might be free of all except such boon 
works on special occasions. While ordinary corvees had to do 
with agriculture, others resembled what we think of as political 
services. The burden of repairing roads and bridges naturally 
fell on the peasants. It was they who actually built the castles, 
and it was they who were regularly called on to strengthen the 
fortifications. The military obligations of the rural population 
in France — commonly known as ost et chevaiicJiee — ^were an 
almost continuous plague. Villeins were of course not prized as 
combatants except in case of emergency ; normally they were de- 
manded rather to transport supplies and to work about the camp. 

In this respect as in others the man of the people, though un- 
honored, was extremely useful. 

How the average peasant spent his time is accordingly no mys- 
tery, for it must be remembered that, when he was not toiling 
for the lord, he had his own household to support. In this enter- 
prise he had the assistance of his family. His wife, sons, and 
daughters all labored in the fields, and since the service owed the 
lord consisted of certain units due from the peasant's land as a 
whole, it could be performed by any able-bodied man. We fre- 
quently hear of poor villeins who had no arable in the village, 
but only huts and gardens. Such cotters were available when 







extra help was needed, for it was only by doing odd jobs that 
they could pick up a living. Exceptional in another way were the 
skilled craftsmen who might be placed at specialized tasks in- 
stead of ordinary labor. One villager, for example, would main- 
tain a smithy for the repair of iron tools and another would have 
charge of the local mill. And along with the smiths and the 
millers — ^whose name is yet legion — ^there might also be peasants 
who in some degree served as masons, carpenters, leather-work- 
ers, and the like. Such an artisan still lived primarily by culti- 
vating his own lands, following his trade as a sort of specialized 
corvee and paying his rent in articles of manufacture. He was 
like the parish priest who, while holding a share of the arable, 
devoted most of his energy to the saving of souls. 

Whether legally free or unfree, the peasant and his family 
constituted a valuable asset within the estate. If a son entered 
the priesthood, he was lost to the manor; so it was everywhere 
the rule that such a step could not be taken until the lord’s per- 
mission had been obtained, and that might not be gratuitous. 
For the same reason a daughter could not be wedded outside the 
manor without the payment to the lord of a sum known in 
France as formariage}^ On the peasant’s death his holding 
passed as a matter of course to his children, but on one ground 
or another the lord frequently claimed all the chattels. The vil- 
lein, having no right of inheriting movables, was said to have a 
dead hand (mainmorte) — 3. term which was then applied to the 
lord’s right of seizing the best beast as a token. Occasionally 
we also find villeins contributing a yearly head tax (chevage) 
in recognition of their personal subordination. 

The local impost known as tallage or taille, on the other hand, 
seems by origin to have been connected with the lord’s militar}" 
and judicial authority. The name is derived from failler, to cut 
— a reference to the primitive method of keeping accounts by 
means of notched sticks, or tallies. A sum of money was repre- 
sented by a series of peculiar cuts across the grain, and the stick 
was then split down through the cuts, so that one half would 
serve as a receipt when matched with the other. The tallage 
itself was a more or less informal contribution taken from all 
peasants under the lord’s jurisdiction. Frequently it was levied 
annually, but sometimes only when there was special need. If 

From the Latin foris^ outside, and maritagium, marriage. 


the amount was restricted solely by the tenant’s ability to pay,* 
he was said to be taiUable a mercL And the fact that the sum 
taken was sometimes called a ‘‘gift” or an “aid” hardly made the 
burden lighter. In this way, if in no other, the villein was 
prevented from accumulating undue wealth. It should, however, 
be noted that he was always left with the means of subsistence, 
and that, when overtaken by calamity, he got food, clothing, 
shelter, and even new equipment at the lord’s expense. 

Within the rural community the lord also enjoyed certain cus- 
tomary monopolies. Game and fish could be taken only by his The lord^s 
permission, and poaching was severely punished. The villein was luonopolies 
allowed to gather fallen branches in the woods either for fuel or 
for minor building purposes, but the lord’s license was required 
for the cutting of standing timber. Sometimes the lord had his 
own mint, and he normally held control of local trade. This was 
exercised by issuing regulations known as bans, the proceeds from 
which were called bandites. He thus established official weights 
and measures and enforced their use in the market, levying cus- 
tomary tolls on all articles displayed for sale. Commonly he had 
the only lawful winepress, mill, and bake-oven. And for the 
service which the peasant was forced to accept he had to con- 
tribute a percentage of his wine, flour, or bread. In this same 
category may be included the lord’s income from the manorial 
court — fees collected from the parties to suits and fines assessed 
for violations of the local law. Justice in the Middle Ages was 
highly regarded as a source of profit, and all too often, especially 
when enforced over other people’s tenants, was made an excuse 
for sheer extortion. 

The items enumerated in this section, when combined, will be 
seen to constitute the manorial income that any nobleman received 
from his demesne. His feudal income was what he obtained 
from infeudated estates; but that, as may easily be realized, was 
ultimately derived from some vassal’s manorial income. Eventu- 
ally every obligation oi a superior was passed on down the scale 
to the peasant at the bottom. Once this truth is appreciated, the 
economic basis of feudal society will be clearly understood and an 
intelligent approach can be made to the economic history of the 
later Middle Ae^^es. 


The legend 
of the 
year looo 



Historians of an older generation tell a very pretty story with 
regard to the opening of the eleventh century. From the Apoca- 
l)^se In the New Testament men had learned to expect the end of 
the world in the year lOOO. Then, they believed, would be heard 
the dread sound of the last trump, summoning all to final judg- 
ment. Consequently, as the fateful hour approached, a wave of 
piety swept Europe. Men turned from the sordid routine of 
existence to prepare their souls for the blessed hereafter. The 
year arrived and the world did not come to an end, but the ideal- 
istic surge, having gained a momentum that could fiot be checked, 
rolled onward. The papacy advanced to an unprecedented height 
of power. At its bidding, great hosts marched eastward to re- 
deem the Holy Sepulcher, Cathedrals, typifying the new spirit 
and emblazoning a new art, rose in air. Trade grew, cities sprang 
up, learning revived, civilization flourished. The splendor of 
mediaeval culture can thus be traced back to a mistaken confi- 
dence in the word of Scripture. 

This is what historians once asked their readers to believe. 
And to whom would such an engaging narrative not appeal? 
Unhappily it is false. Research has proved that, if people feared 
the year lOOO more than another, they gave no evidence of the 
fact ; that the chronicles of the later tenth century reflect no un- 
usual perturbation of mind; tliat the references in contemporary 
documents to ‘‘the approaching end of the world’' were mere 
rhetorical flourishes used long before and long after that partic- 
ular time. There was, indeed, no reason why any one should 
have especially dreaded the year looo, for the millennium of 
which the Apocalypse speaks in veiled terms began with the death 
of Christ, not with His birth. This pretty story, like many an- 
other, must therefore be classified among the legends of history. 
Yet the century following the year lOOO actually witnessed a 
great improvement in conditions throughout western Europe — 
the beginnings of a cultural advance which has been virtually 



continuous down to the preset. The rejection of the legend 
merely forces us to substitute another and sounder explanation. 

To do so is by no means a simple task. The decline of ancient 
civilization, as we have seen, presents an extronely complex and The 
difficult problem, for which no definitive solution has as yet been recovery 
found. We are now confronted by a similar problem : how civ- ^ 
ilization once more arose in the west and why it developed those 
peculiar features which we know as mediaeval. At this point no 
generalization can be attempted. The evidence must first be ex- 
amined, and it is too extensive to put into one chapter. Among 
the topics that must be taken up are the conflict betweai the rein- 
vigorated papacy and the German, kingdom, the Norman conquests 
of England and southern Italy, the Christian offensive against 
the Moors in Spaiin, and the great crusade of 1095. These in 
turn introduce such broad subjects as the reform of religion, 
the stimulation of higher education, the advance of literature and 
the arts, the expansion of trade and industry, the increase of 
population, and the development on all sides of new urban 
centers. A mere list like the foregoing can, of course, have little 
meaning at present. It may, however, serve to indicate that by 
the close of the eleventh century Europe was well on the road to 
recovery. And since at that time the cultural leadership of Eu- 
rope was held by the French, it might be well to see something 
of their earlier character and achievements. 

In 987 the throne of the western Frankish kingdom was se- 
cured by Hugh Capet of the Parisian house.^ His ambitions had The 

been rewarded only after thirty years of costly endeavor. By Capetian 
,. r 1 ■ • 1 1 -1 1 r 1 domaiTi 

the time of ms coronation he was no longer a rich and powerful 

prince like his father, Hugh the Great. The duchy of Burgundy 

had been given to his brother Robert, and of the great Neustrian 

march there remained nothing more than a small fragment lying 

between the Seine and the Loire. This territory, called the He 

de France, was an irregular strip some hundred miles long and, 

on the average, about a third that in width. On the north it 

reached Laon, on the south Orleans. Its center was Paris, which 

thenceforth was to be the capital of France. Besides, the king 

had various isolated patches, of which the more important were 

about Corbie and Bourges. Such was the royal domain of the 

eleventh century— not an estate which the king held by virtue of 

1 See above, p. 248. 



his kingly office, but a duchy which he continued to possess as 
the heir of the Parisian counts. Narrow as it was, it gave the 
monarchy a definite position to fall back on. In an age when 
the royal authority had been reduced to a mere title, that was a 
matter of considerable importance. 

For a long time there was to be no question of reviving the 
king’s power tliroughout his kingdom as a whole. The problem 
was 'rather to save what was left of the Neustrian march. 
Throughout the He de France were many petty seigneuries over 
which the king had slight authority, if any. Equally troublesome 
were the numerous chdtelains who, though supposed to be mere 
keepers of the king’s castles, generally defied their lord and lived 
by rapine. From his own estates the king enjoyed the manorial 
income of the ordinary feudal noble. Agents styled prevots su- 
pervised the exploitation of his lands, collected his revenues, held 
his courts, and summoned the peasantry for military service and 
corvies. But they also proved hard to control; frequently, in- 
stead of their lawful share, they kept all the proceeds of admin- 
istration and claimed their offices as fiefs. 

What redeemed the situation for the early Capetians was the 
support which they received from the great ecclesiastics of the 
north. In or near tlie He de France were many wealthy abbeys 
and bishoprics subject to royal patronage and protection. The 
king not only named the holders of these ecclesiastical offices, but 
also enjoyed many powers of direct jurisdiction within their 
estates. Most of his time was spent in visiting first one loyal 
prelate and then another. In the case of rebellion against his 
authority, it was they who supplied a large part of the necessary 
troops and provisions. His resources, however, were at the best 
meager. Compared with many of his vassals, the eleventh- 
century king — except in the matter of theoretical eminence — was 
a rather insignificant person. 

Although sizable volumes have been written about the first 
The first four Capetians, our actual knowledge of them is surprisingly 
four slight. Hugh Capet is chiefly remarkable for the fact that a 
Capetiais dynasty was named after him. Yet all that he did was to have 
^9 7 no ) Robert crowned during his own lifetime, setting a prece- 

dent followed by his successors for the next two centuries. Dur- 
ing that time the ceremony remained essentially the same. On 
the day appointed by the king the coronation of his heir took 
place in the cathedral of Reims. After the ardibishop had cele- 


brated mass, he formally explained his right to cast the first vote 
and chose the prince as his candidate for the throne. This ‘‘elec- 
tion'^ was then repeated in order of precedence by the other prel- 
ates and nobles. The populace approved by shouting. Finally 
the new king was formally invested with the symbols of regal 
office, though perhaps not anointed with the consecrated oil till 
after the death of his father. Thanks to the continuation of this 
policy and to an unfailing supply of heirs, each of the early Ca- 
petians was peacefully succeeded by his son. So Hugh Capet 
was followed by Robert (996-1031), Henry I (1031-60), and 
Philip I (1060-1108). But these long reigns were singularly 

Because of a monkish education and an interest in theology, 

Robert was known as the Pious; yet, in spite of his ability to 
read Latin, he seems to have been a good soldier. His one no- 
table success was the acquisition of Burgundy on the death of his 
uncle, the duke. This action, however, brought no real increase 
of the royal domain, for the duchy was at once given to the 
king’s younger son; and the latter, by means of a successful war 
against his brother, Henry I, made good his claim to independent 
authority. Henry likewise became embroiled with various other 
rebellious vassals ; and although he was saved from complete hu- 
miliation by their dissensions, the conflict brought him no renown. 

Nor was the renown of the monarchy enhanced by Philip I. It 
is true that he added to his domain one or two petty districts, but 
this was slight achievement for a reign of nearly half a century, 
during which his barons made the name of France illustrious 
throughout the entire Mediterranean world. It was, in fact, the 
virtual accession of Louis VI toward the close of the century 
that first shed luster on the Capetian name. 

In spite of the dynastic change, the eleventh century thus wit- 
nessed no alteration in the relative strength of king and baron- Aquitaine 
age among the West Franks. Brittany to all intents and pur- and the 
poses remained a foreign state, and the territory south of the 
Loire was almost as far removed from royal influence. The 
counts of Barcelona and of Toulouse, like the dukes of Gascony 
and of Aquitaine, ruled their respective principalities without pay- 
ing any attention to their theoretical sovereign, except to date 
their acts in the year of his reign. By construction, their lands 
are commonly described as royal fiefs; yet they never appeared 
at the Capetian court for the rendering of homage or for any 

Blois and 





other service. Two more centuries were to elapse before the 
king’s authority was to extend into the fair region of the Midi, 
which spoke its own language, Proven9al, and remained true to 
its own cultural traditions. Politically it was dominated by the 
counts of Poitiers, who by the end of the tenth century had defi- 
nitely secured the duchy of Aquitaine. A series of able rulers, 
they not only kept their near-kingdom from disintegrating, but 
considerably enlarged it. Gascony was permanently incorporated 
under William VIII (1058-86) and Toulouse narrowly escaped 
the same fate at the hands of his son, William IX. As it was, 
Aquitaine by 1100 had become a broad realm extending from 
the Loire to the Pyrenees and from the Bay of Biscay to the 

What contemporaries called France (Francia) was merely the 
old march of Neustrla, which had now shrunk to the lie de 
France. As the Parisian counts had earlier become independent 
of the Carolingians, so various subvassals tended to become inde- 
pendent of the Parisians. Two viscounts, in particular, laid the 
foundations of important states — ^the counties of Blois and 
Anjou. In the early eleventh century these fiefs were inherited 
rppectively by Odo II and Fulk Nerra, great warriors and bitter 
rivals. To his own county Odo united that of Champagne, a 
miscellaneous g^oup of lands that had been acquired by the counts 

Troyes. This led to a war with King Henry I, who would 
have fared badly if it had not been for the aid of the Angevins. 
Odo, beaten in the west, took up a series of projects to the east- 
ward, in the course of which he lost his life. Under his successors 
Blois dropped back to second rank among the feudal states of 
the north. Anjou, on the other hand, continued to advance from 
one victory to another, until its rulers threatened to secure all 
France, as well as England. The terrible Fulk Nerra was the 
greatest warrior of his da)^, and his policies were continued by 
an equally fierce and capable son, Geoffrey Martel. Between them 
these princes took lands from both Blois and Aquitaine. They 
found their match only in the Norman duke, who resisted their 
attacks and eventually forced them to abandon the territory of 

Burgundy and Flanders, as already noted, originated as 
marches under Charles the Bald. The former, having come into 
the possession of Hugh the Great, passed to his second son, and 
then to the second son of Robert the Pious. Thenceforth it 


continued under the same family for some three hundred years. 
During this whole period Burgundy remained a comparatively 
poor and backward state, the rulers of which are scarcely heard 
of in connection with the great events of the age. Flanders, on 
the contrary, occupied a position of outstanding importance in 
mediaeval Europe — eminent alike in the fields of political, eco- 
nomic, and cultural achievement. The successors of Baldwin 
Iron- Arm were indeed a remarkable line. Using as a base the 
county lying between the Scheldt and the sea, they took skillful 
advantage of their frontier position to obtain various fiefs from 
the German king. Baldwin V (1036-67) married his daughter 
to William of Normandy and himself acted as regent in France 
during the minority of Philip I. His younger son, Robert the 
Frisian, was a great adventurer. Failing in a series of desperate 
excursions to Spain and Norway, he was fortunate enough to find 
a more practical enterprise nearer home. Marriage to the widow 
of the count of Holland made him regent of that territory, and 
eventually, after a series of wars, he secured Flanders as well. 
Having crushed all opposition, he spent two years in pilgrimage 
to Jerusalem, whence he returned to die at a ripe old age in 
1093. is no wonder that his son gained renown as a crusader. 

In the meantime, the commercial revival that was to revolu- 
tionize Europe was already being felt in Flanders.^ A wave of 
prosperity swept the country and made its ruler the richest prince 
in France. Lord of wide dominions on both sides of the fron- 
tier, supreme protector of wealthy churches, patron of many 
rising towns, and head of an efficient government, he carried on 
the best political traditions of the age. Although he himself 
owed his position to the disintegration of the Carolingian mon- 
archy, he saw to it that his own rights did not go by the same 
road. From his castles — ^such as Ghent, Bruges, Ypres, and Arras 
— ^radiated an orderly administration. The chdtelcdiiSy though 
holding their offices by feudal settlement, were kept in close control 
and continued to act primarily as the count's agents in military, 
financial, and judicial matters. Altogether, we here find an 
example of the feudal state at its best. In actual might the count 
of Flanders had no western rival except the duke of Normandy, 
and that only after the latter had conquered England. 

In 91 1 Charles the Simple had invested the viking Hrolf with 

« See below, pp- 343 f • 


and the 


a duchy at the mouth of the Seine. For another half-century 
migration continued from the old homeland, but eventually Nor- 
mandy took on its familiar aspect — ^a saddle of territory reaching 
from the peninsula of the Cotentin almost to the Somme. Con- 
cerning the internal history of the country during this early 
period we have only legendary accounts, and even after authentic 
records begin, the dukes remain little more than names until we 
reach the illustrious William whom contempo-raries called the 
Bastard. His father was Robert the Magnificent, fifth duke; 
his mother Arlette, daughter of a Falaise tanner. Though the 
union was unhallowed by the church, it was not contrary to 
Norman habit and seems to have been eugenically perfect. The 
boy William, called to the ducal throne when his father started 
on the holy pilgrimage from which he never returned, was 
brought up in the rude scliool of feudal warfare. He proved 
an apt pupil. By the time that he was thirty he had crushed 
the rebellious baronage, beaten off the savage Bretons, taken 
Maine from the Angevins in spite of the king’s opposition, se- 
cured a marriage alliance with Flanders, and begun the plans that 
led to his conquest of England. 

If at this time we look for a sharp distinction between the 
Normans and their neighbors, we fail to find it. By the eleventh 
century the culture and institutions of Normandy were thor- 
oughly French. Perhaps there was a peculiarly northern iciness 
in the temper of the Norman, but in general he merely shared 
the hardness of the feudal age. And although viking traits may 
also be detected in the Norman passion for combat under dis- 
tant skies, it should be remembered that the so-called Norman 
armies were drawn from all the adjacent regions. The Normans 
merely carried to the peak of perfection the characteristic ideals 
of contemporary France; they were only the greatest of many 
great French adventurers. In every warlike expedition of the 
feudal nobility we find the Normans well up toward the front; 
and wherever they went, they showed an uncanny faculty for 
seizing political opportunity and turning it, often by unscrupu- 
lous means, to their own advantage. These traits they pre- 
eminently displayed on the great crusade of 1095. Yet, long 
before tliat, the Normans had become famous — or infamous, 
according to the point of view — ^in Italy, Spain, and England. 

The chaotic conditions that prevailed in Italy by the opening 
of the tenth century have already been briefly noticed. A hun- 


dred years later the situation remained little changed, except that The 
the German kings now claimed the crown of the Lombards.® Normans 
But even the theoretical kingdom that had long been fought over ^ 
by northern princes did not extend throughout the lower penin- 
sula. There a series of petty nobles, some of than holding of 
the Byzantine emperor, engaged in a never-ending war of siege 
and skirmish, varied by attacks of Saracen raiders and outbursts 
of violent insurrection on the part of dissatisfied subjects. Op- 
portunities for mercenary service and loot were therefore abun- 
dant, and among the adventurers drawn by this congenial eiiviron- 
ment were the inevitable bands of Normans. From the first 
years of the eleventh century we hear of them eilisting under 
various local employers, and as early as 1030 a certain Norman 
knight was rewarded with the little fief of Aversa, lying to the 
north of Naples. His success naturally attracted a swarm of 
newcomers, among whom were a group of brothers destined 
to begin a new political epoch for the central Mediterranean. 

An obscure Norman gentleman named Tancred of Hauteville 
had been blessed — ^and this was not unusual in those days — 
with twelve sons, five by his first wife and seven by his second. 

Being devoid of prospects at home, the younger boys, like hun- 
dreds of their compatriots, took to the roads of adventure, and 
eventually most of them turned up in southern Italy. There, by 
the middle of the century, three of the brothers Hauteville — 

William Iron-Arm, Humphrey, and Drogo— had made great rep- 
utations, and under their leadership an army of Normans had 
found it even more profitable to fight for themselves than to 
fight for others. Seizing castles in the mountains of the interior, 
they rapidly developed haphazard brigandage into organized 
conquest. William was the first elected count of these feudal 
adventurers ; later his place was taken by his. half-brother Rob- 
ert Guiscard (the Sly), who by sheer native force and devemess 
rose from a free-lance robber to create and rule a splendid state. 

Robert Guiscard, with the hdp of his brother Roger, com- 
pleted the systematic reduction of the southern peninsula, and Robert 
from there turned covetous eyes upon the glorious island of 
Sicily, held since Ihe ninth century by the Saracens. Meanwhile 
the bitter conflict of the papacy and the empire had reached a Roger 
crisis; and this, for reasons that will be explained in the next (d. noi) 

® See below, pp. 300 f. 



Spain in 
the tenth 

in the 

chapter, brought Robert the legal recognition that he otherwise 
might have desired in vain. In 1059, after surviving many anath- 
emas, the ex-brigand was accepted by the pope as a vassal of 
the Apostolic See and formally proclaimed didce of Apulia and 
Calabria. To Count Roger, his brother, was immediately in- 
trusted the conquest of Sicily — z project blessed by the pope as a 
holy war against the infidel. Messina was taken in 1061, Palermo 
in. 1072; and although the Mohammedans still held out in other 
parts of the island, it was only a matter of time until they were 
forced to surrender. Thus were laid the foundations of the 
great Norman kingdom that in the following century was to 
become a marvel of the European world. 

Another theater of constant warfare was the Spanish penin- 
sula, where the Ommiad caliphate of Cordova, after reaching 
its height of splendor in the tenth century, rapidly declined in the 
eleventh. Moslem culture still kept its brilliance, but the coun- 
try lost all political cohesion, falling under the control of a dozen 
local emirs. This situation naturally provided the opportunity 
for a Christian offensive, which might have gained headway 
somewhat earlier if the Christians too had not suffered from 
disunion. At the eastern end of the Pyrenees the old march of 
Charlemagne had become the virtually independent county of 
Barcelona. To the westward the Basque mountaineers, fighting 
with equal zeal against all invaders, had successfully defended 
themselves against both Frank and Moslem, and so had eventually 
made possible the foundation of two little kingdoms, Aragon and 
Navarre. In the mountains of Asturias, meanwhile, other Chris- 
tians had similarly maintained their independence. And from 
this region a small Galician state, the origins of which are lost 
in a mist of legend, grew into the kingdom of Leon, extending 
south to the Douro River. The kingdom of Castile was orig- 
inally a frontier county of Leon, named after the castles that 
had been built to defend it. 

In the eleventh century Leon and Castile, which for a time 
were united under one king, both expanded rapidly: the former 
into Portugal as far as Coimbra and the latter over the interior 
as far as Toledo. Navarre, after reaching the Ebro, found the 
way barred by Aragon. That kingdom, indeed, was long unable 
to make any progress against the emirate of Saragossa to the 
south, but a great victory at Barbastro in 1065 opened the way 
to the annexation of the lower Ebro valley in the next century. 


These conquests could hardly have been made by the little Span- 
ish kingdoms, had they been dependent solely on their own re- 
sources. From the beginning of their offensive they had drawn 
an endless supply of eager recruits from the French principalities 
to the north. Since the ninth century the shrine of St. James at 
Santiago de Compostella had been a famous center of pilgrimages 
from all parts of western Christendom, and out of the streams 
of armed men who came thither many were found to serve in 
the holy war against the Moslem. In the eleventh century the 
great monastery of Cluny,^ and eventually the papacy, gave active 
support to the cause, issuing widespread appeals for enlistment 
under the banner of Christ and holding forth the promise of ex- 
traordinary spiritual benefits to any who should die on so sacred 
an undertaking. 

It is to be suspected, however, that most of the adventurers 
were attracted not so much by the prospect of a martyr^s paradise 
as by that of booty and conquest. As would be expected, a host 
of volunteers came from the nearby territories of Gascony, Tou- 
louse, and Aquitaine; yet men of the northern fiefs also crossed 
the Pyrenees in large numbers — especially Normans and Bur- 
gundians. One of the latter group, a son of the duke, secured 
the county of Portugal as dowry with a princess of Leon and 
so founded what was to become the Portuguese royal house. 
And many another French knight won for himself a Spanish fief 
at the expense of the infidel. To warriors of this ty^e the cru- 
sade of 109s came as merely another and greater adventure. 






Previously we have seen how the kingdom of England emerged 
in the early tenth century as the consequence of a successful war 
against the Danish invaders. Under the talented house of Alfred 
the monarchy remained strong and prosperous until the last quar- 
ter of the century. Then, in 978, there came to the throne the 
unfortunate man whom contemporaries called JEthelred the Rede- 
less, meaning that he never knew the right thing to do. In the 
absence of any permanent administrative machine, the efficiency 
of a state in this early age normally depended on the character 
of the king; so the accession of a ruler like JEthelred inevitably 
spelled trouble. Actually the kingdom, though nominally brought 

* See bdow, pp. ^6 L 

The Scan- 

pf England 




under one system o£ government, was far from unified. The 
Danish regions in particular, being largely populated by Scan- 
dinavian adventurers and colonists, had not as yet been assimi- 
lated to the rest of the country. The aldermen placed there were 
hardly more than viking jarls, likely at any favorable opportunity 
to break away from royal control — ^in which project they could 
find many helpers among the freebooters who still roamed the 
northern seas. 

By this time Denmark, Sweden, and Norway had all, in some 
fashion, been organized as kingdoms. Denmark, as would be ex- 
pected, was the most advanced, having been Christianized under 
Harold Blue-Tooth, who was succeeded in 986 by his son Sweyn 
(Svein) Fork-Beard. In Sweden Christianity was made official 
under a certain Olaf, who became king in 993 ; and a ruler by 
the same name (St. Olaf) carried out the same work in Norway 
after 1015. Henceforth these countries rapidly yielded to po- 
litical influences from the south, and the raids of individual vi- 
kings were superseded by organized expeditions under the com- 
mand of kings. To this invasion of foreign custom the Norse 
were the last to yield. Before 900 many of their bands had 
already settled in Iceland, and from that base adventurous spirits 
continued to make voyages of exploration all through the follow- 
ing century. So it was that they discovered Greenland and finally, 
about 1000, the shore of North America. 

Meanwhile, encouraged by the rapid weakening of the mon- 
archy, Danes and Norse again made themselves the scourge of 
the English coasts. The incompetent JEthelred, to buy them off, 
impoverished his kingdom by levying a tax on all landowners — 
the famous Danegeld. This expedient naturally led to increased 
exaction of blackmail by the raiders, until at last the Danish king, 
Sweyn, decided to annex the source of supply. As a bid for sup- 
port against the approaching danger, JEthelred married Emma, 
daughter of the Norman duke. Then in 1013, after a feeble 
defense, he abandoned his kingdom to the invader and fled to 
the continent with his wife and young son. Sweyn, however, 
did not live to enjoy his conquest. Dying in 1014, he left Eng- 
land to be recovered by his son, Canute (Knut), after the way 
had been made clear by tlie death of ^thelred in 1016. 

The reign of Canute proved that, instead of the pirate feared 
by the English, they had obtained a pious, sensible, and states- 
manlike king. In addition to the crowns of Denmark and Eng- 


land, conquest soon brought him that of Norway; other cam- 
paigns extended his dominion over southern Sweden, the Baltic 
islands, and the coast of what is now Esthonia. Yet Canute’s 
main interest was from the outset England. Anticipating the 
danger there of Norman intervention, he shrewdly offered mar- 
riage to ^thelred’s widow; so Emma left her son Edward in 
Normandy and returned as queen for the second time. To 
avoid trouble with the Scottish king, Canute ceded to him the 
territory of Lothian — ^all of Northumbria between the Tweed 
and the Firth of Forth. This treaty had two important results : it 
established the northern boundary of England where it has since 
ranained and it brought the Scottish court into an English- 
speaking country. In the meantime Canute had given his island 
kingdom an orderly government based on ancient custom. His 
only important innovations had to do with defense. It was at 
this time, apparently, that the Danegeld was turned into a regu- 
lar tax to maintain the Scandinavian guards known as house- 
carls — ^the nucleus of a combined army and navy. 

Remarkable as it was, Canute’s imperial structure proved to be 
short-lived. When he died prematurely in 1035, he left no com- Edward 
petent successor. Norway regained its independence, and after 
Canute’s two sons had died without heirs, the English magnates (JQ42-66) 
broke away from Denmark and gave the crown to Edward 
the Confessor, son of .^thelred. This king, as his nickname 
implies, was chiefly noted for his piety. Lacking a strong will 
of his own, he was constantly led by others. Since he was child- 
less, the great issue came to be which of various rival factions 
should control the kingdom when he had gained his heavenly 
reward. For a time the dominant influence was Norman. Hav- 
ing lived in his mother’s country until he was nearly forty, 

Edward came to England virtually a foreigner and brought with 
him a swarm of French-speaking favorites, who soon held many 
of the important offices in both church and state. Edward, how- 
ever, was prevailed on to marry Edith, daughter of Godwin, earl 
of Wessex and head of a powerful native group opposed to the 
Normans. Godwin for a time was forced into exile; then, in 
1052, he turned the tables on his adversaries and drove most 
of them out. In the next year the earldom of Wessex was in- 
herited by his son Harold, who thenceforth remained the most 
influential man at court. His dominance, naturally, was resented 



jBattle of 
;i4, 1066) 


by other nobles, some of whom, as usual, turned for aid to the 
kings of Denmark and Norway. 

Under such circumstances, William, duke of Normandy de- 
veloped a violent interest in English politics. Although he 
undoubtedly realized that he had no hereditary title to the Eng- 
lish crown, he nevertheless advanced one. And when Earl Har- 
old chanced to visit his shores — ^perhaps as the result of ship- 
wreck — ^William seems to have exacted from his guest some sort 
of engagement to support his claim. If Harold took such an 
oath, he assuredly failed to keep it, for when Edward died early 
in 1066, the earl himself accepted election and was formally 
crowned. Immediately he was threatened by two hostile expedi- 
tions: one led by Harold Hardrada, king of Norway, and the 
other by William, duke of Normandy. The former had the 
backing of various malcontents in England, including Harold’s 
own brother, Tostig; but William had a more powerful champion 
in the pope. Some time earlier, under the influence of Godwin, 
the Norman archbishop of Canterbury had been driven into exile 
and his successor, an Englishman named Stigand, had never 
obtained lawful confirmation of his appointment at Rome. He 
it was who consecrated Harold, and since the two were so closely 
allied, the pope inevitably gave his blessing to the Norman enter- 
prise, sending a holy banner to be carried by the invading host.® 

Harold, of course, had warning of William’s* preparations, 
and through the summer of 1066 he kept his fleet in the Channel 
and his army concentrated in the south. Then, early in the 
autumn, the landing of the Norwegian king forced a diversion to 
the northward. On September 25 Harold won a great battle 
at Stamford Bridge, in which Hardrada and Tostig were both 
slain. Only three days later William landed in Sussex ; a favor- 
able wind had brought him to the southern shore at the very 
moment when it was unguarded. Harold, with an exhausted 
army supplemented by rural levies, advanced to a hill near Has- 
tings. There the English — ^all, of course, on foot — ^stood on the 
defensive, the house-carls in the first line with overlapping shields. 
Charging them front and rear, the Norman knights eventually 
broke their array. Harold fell in the fight, and with him fell 
the Anglo-Saxon monarchy. The rest of the campaign was a 
triumphal procession, for there was no one to organize the de- 

5 See bdow, p. 314. 


fense. Finally the surviving magnates, assembled in London, 
offered the throne to the Conqueror, who celebrated Christmas 
by wearing the crown of England. 

In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle we have a very famous char- 
acter sketch of William. He was, says the anonymous author, The policy 
‘‘a very wise and a great man,” but '‘stern and wrathful” — of the 
"severe beyond measure to those who withstood his will.” Yet he Conqueror 
was "mild to those good men who loved God,” and he endowed 
many noble monasteries. Throughout England he established a 
firm peace, to the great benefit of all and, incidentally, to his 
own enrichment. For William was "sharp-sighted to his own 
interest” and "greedily loved gain.” He built many castles and 
set apart wide forests as hunting preserves, enacting cruel laws 
against those who took game without license. "He loved the 
tall stags as if he were their father.” "The rich complained and 
the poor murmured, but he was so sturdy that he redked naught 
of them; they must will all that the king willed if they would 
live or keep their lands.” Such, indeed, was the Conqueror, as 
we know not merely from his monkish biographers, but also from 
his own acts. To explain his policy in England requires no 
abstruse argument; by combining Norman and Anglo-Saxon 
customs he sought to make himself as powerful as possible. 

Since feudalism afforded the most advanced political structure 
with which William was familiar, it was made the basis of his The intro- 
new state. In England, before this time, the institution of per- duction of 
sonal lordship had long been widespread, and occasionally lands 
had been granted in return for military and other services. There 
had, however, been no uniform system of feudal tenure such, as 
was now introduced. William proclaimed the revolutionary 
principle that every bit of English soil was by ultimate title his ; 
all that he did not keep in his own hands formed part of some 
fief, to be held by its possessor directly or indirectly of the crown. 

Actually, of course, the establishment of the new principle did 
not imply that every piece of land changed hands. The mass of 
the people, the cultivators of the soil, were hardly affected. It 
was only the members of the aristocracy who were dispossessed 
in order to provide rewards for William’s chief followers. .And 
many ecclesiastical estates remained untouched because they could 
be given to Normans as soon as the existing holders died. In 
either case the fiefs consisted of manors, and the recipient, who 
was styled a tenant^-mndiief or baron, was left at his own conven- 


. The cen- 
^ tral gov- 
I eminent 


ience to provide for his retainers by subinfeudation. In fact, 
all the feudal arrangements described in the preceding chapter 
were now suddenly, as the result of the Conquest, imposed on 
England, to remain for centuries the basis of its political and 
social constitution. 

Since even in France many lands had continued to be allodial 
properties, held in full ownership by virtue of family inheritance 
or purchase, England became the most completely feudalized 
kingdom of the contemporary world. William, we may be sure, 
would never have inaugurated such a regime if feudalism, as 
stated in many books, had been incompatible with strong mon- 
archy. Many feudal principalities, though produced from a 
decadent state, were not themselves weak; one of them, Nor- 
mandy, served as the model for the feudalized kingdom of Eng- 
land. Under the system there established by William, the royal 
authority was enormously strengthened. The institutions of 
Norman England will be examined somewhat more carefully 
in a later chapter. Here a brief summary must serve to indicate 
the immediate effect of the Conqueror’s innovations. 

After 1066 the central administration of the kingdom was 
in general Norman — ^which means that it was essentially feudal. 
Earlier the king’s advisory council had been a loosely organized 
group of clergy and nobles known as the witan (wise men). This 
body was henceforth supplanted by the curia regis, the king’s 
feudal court, which included his barons, or those of them whom 
he chose to call in. Here justice was administered and other 
matters decided according to the feudal custom of Normandy. 
The king, of course, continued to levy the established land tax 
known as the Danegeld, but along with it he also collected aids 
and incidents. From his vassals he obtained a feudal army, the 
superiority of which had been amply demonstrated at Hastings. 
Each baron, when he received his fief from the Conqueror, was 
made liable for a certain number of knights, usually five or a 
multiple of that figure. The total force thus drawn from the 
land seems hardly to have exceeded 5000; if the king wanted 
more knights, he had to hire them. In time of necessity, however, 
he kept the power, justified by both Norman and English prece- 
dent, of calling on all able-bodied men without regard for feudal 

Under the Anglo-Saxon monarchy the only great royal strong- 
holds had been the boroughs — pld Roman cities and fortified 


camps, together with newer constructions made after Roman 
models. The Normans, on the other hand, immediately covered 
the land with castles, feudal fortresses of the motte-and-bailey 
t3^e already perfected in northern France® and as yet built of 
earth and wood. The castle, though it might be intrusted to 
the keeping of some official, was legally the king’s. No baron 
could lawfully raise a castle without royal license and any that 
he had were primarily for the defense of the kingdom, not for 
his private use. In England, as in Normandy, William enforced 
the rule that no warfare could be indulged in except by his au- 
thorization. The ordinary fief was not a compact principality, 
but a number of scattered manors, taken over as a collection from 
some Saxon predecessor. It was only on the Welsh and Scottish 
borders, where fighting was constant, that marches were set up 
under the control of palatine earls endowed with all regalian 

Throughout most of the kingdom the king’s authority was 
directly enforced by constables placed in charge of the royal Local gov- 
castles ; but this system, imported from Normandy, was super im- eminent 
posed on the Anglo-Saxon local government, much of which was 
preserved unchanged. Long before 1066 England had been di- 
vided for administrative purposes into shires, and these into hun- 
dreds. The shires were relatively large units, over each of which 
was a royal official called a shire-reeve, or sheriff. He acted as the 
king’s judicial, financial, and military agent and presided over the 
shire court, an infrequent assembly of local magnates for the con- 
sideration of exceptional cases. ' Ordinary trials and other matters 
of routine were taken care of in the hundred court, which met 
monthly under the presidency of a hundredman, or reeve. The 
latter was thus the subordinate of the sheriff, and he, in turn, 
was sometimes placed under an earl, who held a group of shires 
as a sort of principality. 

The shires and hundreds, with their respective courts, con- 
tinued after the Norman Conquest without change, except that 
the shires came to be called counties.**^ So too the earl was now 
styled a count; yet except on the frontier, he lost all share in the 
royal administration. The sheriff, on the other hand, was identi- 
fied with the Norman viscount and so made constable of the 

« See above, p. 260. 

7 “County” remains in Englidi the synonym of “shire,” but “count” and 
viscount” failed to secure acceptance in place of “earl” and “sheriff.” 



of the 

chief castle in the shire. Thence he carried out the king^s will 
in all matters, holding his office only during the royal pleasure, 
not as a fief. Much of the law which he helped to enforce was 
the ancient custom of Saxon England, but this from the outset 
was considerably modified through the influence of feudal in- 
stitutions and the establishment by the king of new measures 
for the maintenance of the peace. While, for example, the older 
methods of trial by ordeal and compurgation® still remained in 
vogue for the common people, members of the feudal class in- 
sisted on their own favorite trial by combat. 

The social results of the Norman Conquest were equally sig- 
nificant. After 1066 the aristocracy, consisting of the barons 
together with their vassals and subvassals, became thoroughly 
Norman — or rather French, for some two-thirds of William’s 
followers were not actually from his own duchy. French accord- 
ingly became the language not only of the court, but of the upper 
classes generally. And with the language were established all 
the other customs of northern France, including dress, arms, chiv- 
alry, styles of architecture, modes of life, and habits of thought. 
The civilization of mediaeval England thenceforth developed on 
a solidly French foundation. The church, too, was inevitably 
brought under the influence of great ecclesiastics trained on the 
continent — ^with momentous consequences for both clergy and 
monarchy- As far as the peasants were concerned, the coming 
of the Normans resulted primarily in a change of masters, for 
the manorial system had long dominated a goodly part of the 
countryside. Before the Conquest the rustic population of Eng- 
land had been divided and subdivided into innumerable groups 
with peculiar names and even more peculiar degrees of freedom 
and unfreedom. These distinctions the Normans largely ignored. 
To them the peasant was a villein and the villein was a serf. 
Under English law villeinage and serfdom thus became equivalent 
terms, and thereby the mass of the people came to suffer degrada- 
tion in legal status, if not in economic condition. As far as the 
towns were concerned, the French connection began a new epoch, 
enormously stimulating mercantile activity and with it the advance 
of burgess privilege.® 

The Danish Conquest of England, seen in historical perspective, 
was a mere episode — ^the brief reign of a foreign king that proved 

® See above, p. 78; below, p. 382. 

* See below, pp. 357 f. 


to have no lasting results. But the more thoroughly we come to 
understand the Norman Conquest, the greater appears its signifi- 
cance. There was not a phase o£ English culture and institu- 
tions which it left unaffected. That is why it must be ranked 
as one of the crucial events in the history of Europe. 


Of all the Germanic languages, Anglo-Saxon was the first to 
develop a variety of perfected literary forms. As early as the Anglo- 
sixth century we find portions of the customary law beginning Saxon 
to be written down in what are called dooms.^^ The great period 
of Anglo-Saxon literature, however, opened with the reign of 
Alfred. That king, appreciating the catastrophe that had be- 
fallen Northumbrian culture at the hands of the Danes, devoted 
much energy to the restoration of learning in Britain. There 
were of course many scholars under Alfred and his successors 
who wrote in Latin, but the more interesting works are those com- 
posed in the vernacular. Alongside a greatly expanded series of 
dooms now appears the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the first great 
original composition in Germanic prose. Briefly reviewing the 
traditional history of the earlier centuries, it tells with dramatic 
fullness the story of Alfred^s conflict with the Danes and, con- 
tinued by many hands, covers the whole succeeding period down 
into the twelfth century. 

Alfred also commissioned various translations from the Latin, 
of which the most famous is the Anglo-Saxon version of Greg- 
ory's Pastoral Care, Meanwhile, a good many remarkable poems 
had come to be composed in the vernacular : some, like those of 
.Elfric, dealing with religious subjects, some rather with war 
and adventure. Within this latter group may be mentioned the 
brilliant song of triumph to celebrate JEthelstan's victory at 
Brunanburh/^ which is inserted in the Chronicle, and the mag- 
nificent piece on the battle of Maldon where the alderman B3^ht- 
noth was slain by the viking Aniaf in 991. Of more direct interest 
to us in the present connection is the cdebrated po^, Beowulf, 
Although in its existing form the composition cannot be dated 
before the eighth century, it unquestionably contains elements that 
go back to a very primitive age. Many of the characters are 

10 See above, p. 74. 

« See above, p. 245. 


known to have been real persons who lived in the early sixth 
century, and their alleged exploits are combined with legendary 
material that must be even older. The great fight with the sea 
monster Grendel, in particular, would seem to be a bit of very 
ancient folklore which originally had no association with the 
deeds of one Beowulf. At any rate, the scene of the action is 
laid in Denmark, and the framework of the story, though over- 
laid with Christian adornment, is essentially heathen. 

Not only from internal evidence, but from extant writings 
The north- in other languages, we may be sure that the core of Beowulf 
em saga ^vvas some sort of saga — one of the many heroic tales that consti- 
tuted a common stock at one time shared by all the Germanic 
peoples of the Baltic region. In German itself almost nothing 
remains of what must have been a rich oral literature. We have 
one ninth-century fragment, the Hildebrandslied, composed in 
the continental Saxon dialect. The Wdtharilied exists only in 
a Latin version by a tenth-century monk named Ekkehard. The 
more famous Nihelungenliedy familiarized by Wagnerian opera, 
is a comparatively late adaptation made in Austria under the in- 
fluence of romantic chivalry somewhere toward the year 1200. 
Like Beowulf y it combines a legendary story of the supernatural 
— ^in this case, of a magic treasure guarded by a dragon — ^with 
the imaginary deeds of actual historical characters. Here we 
encounter, though hidden under fanciful disguises, Attila the 
Hun, Theodoric the Ostrogoth, and the members of the Burgun- 
dian court at Worms. 

Strangely enough, the older form of this saga, quite uncon- 
nected with events of the fifth century, is found in an Icelandic 
collection called the Edda, Here the tale appears as the VoU 
sungasagOy but this itself proves to be a prose version of a poetic 
original, known through an older collection of the twelfth cen- 
tury. The Norse, it would seem, took the ancient sagas of their 
homeland to Iceland, where, in a primitive environment, they 
were hardly affected by subsequent literary developments on the 
continent. Through them, consequently, we secure vivid glimpses 
of the beliefs and habits of the old heathen Scandinavia. These 
sagas, however, are not all based on mythological themes ; some 
tell of actual viking expeditions and so furnish us with valuable 
information to supplement the meager reports of Christian 


As may readily be appreciated, the scattered remains of ancient 
Germanic literature offer fascinating but enormously difficult The 
problems of criticism. The task of separating the truly primitive character 
from the accretions of all the later centuries is one that demands 
the attention of an expert — ^and experts often arrive at widely 
different conclusions. From the isolated pieces that survive, it 
appears that the original saga was a heroic poem to be chanted 
by a minstrel. It was composed in a simple and forceful meter 
which suited the accompaniment of chords struck on a harp, and 
which made it easy to remember. In such a poem the thoughts 
and feelings of the individual author are of no significance. In- 
terest is concentrated on the tale itself, which is dramatic and 
intensely serious, telling of famous adventures and expressing 
lofty ideals. Poetry of this sort is called epic and is recognized 
as characteristic of a peculiar stage in cultural development — 
such as that of Homeric Greece or of early mediaeval Europe. 

Some of the Icelandic sagas are magnificent epics, and Beo- 
witlf, though lacking unity in its present form, is made up of The 
true epic elements. These poems, great as they are, stood apart 
from the main current of European civilization. The epics that 
more faithfully reflect what we know as mediaeval culture were ‘ 
the chansons de geste — ^as the name literally implies, songs of 
great deeds. Presumably the early Franks had shared the com- 
mon stock of Germanic sagas,^^ but what influence they had on 
the subsequent literature is a matter of guesswork, for none of 
them have survived. The chansons de geste are very different 
from such poems as Beowulf or those of the Icelandic collec- 
tions. The epics of France are written in the lingua romana, that 
is to say, in French. Their heroes are usually Franks of the 
Carolingian court. The society which they take for granted is 
thoroughly feudal. Scholarly opinion is now inclined to consider 
them unified compositions of the eleventli and twelfth centuries, 
rather than ancient sagas which grew during a long period. Quite 
valueless for the earlier age, they give us a splendid picture of 
that in -which they were sung. 

In the present connection the chansons de geste are especially 
valuable because they vividly reflect the spirit of feudal adven- 
ture. Here, as in no other group of sources, are revealed the 
habits and aspirations of the French aristocracy that led all Eu- 

See above, p. 228. 



de Roland 





rope in knightly prowess. One example must suffice, and that 
will of course be the Song of Roland, the earliest and best of 
the chansons, and one of the finest things in all literature. Critics 
are still disputing whether it was composed before or after the 
crusade of 1095 ; that question is for our purpose of secondary 
importance. Nor need we worry as to whether the author’s name 
was Turold or something else. He seems to have been a Norman 
clerk who, about the year 1100, wrote under the combined in- 
spiration of Carolingian legend and contemporary events in Spain. 
The meter of the poem, like its language, is simple, having 
five stressed syllables to the line, with a pause usually falling 
after the second. There is no rhyme, but instead a rude asso- 
nance, by which the final syllables throughout a group of lines 
have the same vowel sound.^® 

The chanson starts by introducing Charlemagne who, we are 
told, has spent seven years in Spain and has subdued the entire 
peninsula except Saragossa. Marsile, king of that city, “who 
serves Mohammed and prays to Apollo,” holds a council of war. 
There it is decided to send an embassy to the emperor, offering 
rich presents and treacherous terms of peace. Charlemagne, on 
receiving this offer, takes a seat under a pine tree and summons 
his barons for advice. They are very distrustful of Marsile, and 
Coimt Roland, the emperor’s nephew, voices their sentiment in 
urging further war. Ganelon, however, persuades Charles to 
accept, and the question then arises as to who shall make the 
perilous journey with the answer. The emperor refuses to 
allow either Roland or his friend Oliver to go, but agrees to send 
Ganelon. The latter, furious with jealousy, swears revenge on 
Roland. Thus it comes about that Ganelon turns traitor and joins 
Marsile in an attack on the Frankish rear guard, left under com- 
mand of Roland. 

Charlemagne and his host have advanced out of Spain. Ro- 
land, with a picked force of twenty-thousand knights, remains 
behind in the pass of Roncevaux. Oliver, full of foreboding, 
climbs a hill and so perceives the Saracen army preparing for 
attack. It is a magnificent sight. 

The following quotations are from C. K. Scott-Moncrieff, The Song of Roland 
(Chapman & Hall, Ltd.: London, 1920), and are used by permission of the 
publishers. The translator very happily reproduces the meter and to some 
extent the assonance of the original. Wherever necessary, the English words 
must be given an archaic pronundation to suit the rhythm. 


Fair shines the sun, the day is bright and clear. 

Light burns again from all their polished gear. 

A thousand horns they sound, more proud to seem ; 

Great is the noise, the Franks its echo hear. 

Says Oliver: “Companion, I believe, 

Sarrazins now in battle must we meet/^ 

Answers Rollanz : “God grant us then the fee ! 

For our King’s sake well must we quit us here ; 

Man for his lord should suffer great disease. 

Most bitter cold endure, and burning heat. 

His hair and skin should offer up at need. 

Now must we each lay on most hardily. 

So evil song ne’er sung of us shall be.” 

“Roland is gallant; Oliver is wise.” Oliver urges Roland to 
sound his horn, by a miraculous blast to summon Charles to the 
rescue. But Roland refuses all entreaty and prepares for combat, 
thinking only of glorious battle and of the bright blood that 
shall soon paint his beloved sword, Durendal. If he is to die, he 
hopes only that the man who gets it may be able to say that 
it belonged to a “noble vassal.” 

Up rides the archbishop Turpin and preaches the Franks a 
sermon, brief and to the point : 

'*My lords barons, Charles left us here for this ; 

He is our King, well may we die for him : 

To Christendom good service offering. 

Battle you’ll have, you all are bound to it. 

For with your eyes you see the Sarrazins. 

Pray for God’s grace, confessing Him your sins ! 

For your sotils’ health. I’ll absolution give; 

So, though you die, blest martyrs shall you live. 

Thrones you shall win in the great Paradis.” 

The Franks arise, and stand upon their feet; 

They’re well absolved, and from their sins made dean. 

And the Archbishop has signed them with God’s seal. 

So Roland now leads his troops to battle, galloping on Veillantif, 
his. good horse. Proud and brave he goes, brandishing his sword 
and turning against the sky the point of his lance, from which 
streams a ’white j^ntion. Fringes beat his hands as he rides, 
noble of body, with faoe clear and smiling. And what does he 



say to his companions? “Lords, before night great and rich 
booty shall be ours !” 

The battle is joined — z series of combats, man to man, lance 
The battle against shield. After fifteen strokes, Roland’s lance breaks and 
he draws Durendal. Striking the first-comer, one Chernuble, 
he cuts through helmet, man, saddle, and horse, slicing the spine 
“without striking a joint.” 

The count Rollanz, he canters through the field, 

Holds Durendal, he well can trust and wield, 

Right great damage he’s done the Sarrazines, 

You’d seen them, one on other, dead in heaps. 

Through all that place their blood was flowing clear! 

In blood his arms were and his hauberk steeped. 

And bloodied o’er, shoulder and neck, his steed. 

The fight becomes fiercer. Both Frank and Saracen strike mar- 
velous blows, but the mightiest strikers are Roland, Oliver, and 

The Franks strike on ; their hearts are good and stout. 

Pagans are slain, a thousandfold, in crowds, 

Left of five score are not two thousands now. 

Says the Archbishop : “Our men are very proud. 

No man on earth has more nor better found. 

In Chronicles of Franks is written down, 

What vassalage he had, our Emperour. 

The archbishop has a splendid horse, taken from a Danish king 
whom he had slain. He has a magnificent sword, equaled ap- 
parently only by his right arm. He rides against Abisme and 
cuts right through his magic shield. 

So Turpin strikes, spares him not anyway; 

After that blow, he’s worth no penny wage ; 

The carcass he’s sliced, rib from rib away, 

So flings him down dead in an empty place. 

Then say the Franks ; “He has great vassalage. 

With the Archbishop, surely the cross is safe.” 

The Franks, however, are sorely outnumbered. Before long 
The end very few will be left. So Roland, still unscathed by the enemy, 
sounds his horn — ^a mighty blast that starts the blood from his 
lips and cracks his temple. Charlemagne, distant thirty leagues, 
hears, summons his troops, and turns back. Too late! By the 


time that the Saracens, hearing the approach of reinforcements, 
have fled, all the Franks are doomed. Oliver has died, breathing 
a last prayer for his emperor, France, and ‘‘above all men Roland, 
his companion.’* The archbishop is able only to pronounce a 
last blessing over the slain nobles laid before him by Roland. 
The latter, weakened by loss of blood, faints on finding the body 
of Oliver, and Turpin dies in the effort to bring him water. 

Roland, thus left with an army of corpses, feels death ap- 
proaching. Rather than have his sword Durendal, with all the 
sacred relics in the hilt, fall into pagan hands, he tries to break 
it, but cannot. As his strength fails, he throws himself under a 
pine, his face toward the enemy. 

His right-hand glove, to God he offers it ; 

Saint Gabriel from’s hand hath taken it. 

Over his arm his head bows down and slips. 

He joins his hands : and so is life finish’d. 

God sent him down His angel cherubin. 

And Saint Michael, we worship in peril ; 

And by their side Saint Gabriel alit ; 

So the count’s soul they bare to Paradis. 

More battles ensue — battles of revenge, in which the Franks 
decimate tlie Saracens and complete their conquest. Then comes 
the journey homeward. At the imperial palace in Aix-la-Cha- 
pelle Charlemagne is confronted by Aude the fair, betrothed of 
Roland. He tells her not to grieve; that she may have instead 
his own son Louis. Aude replies that without Roland life is not 
worth living, and she falls dead at the emperor’s feet. Ganelon, 
after his guilt has been determined through trial by combat, is 
executed. Charlemagne lies down to sleep, but St. Gabriel ap- 
pears to him in a vision and tells him of more Christians to be 
rescued from pagan oppression. 

‘^God !” said the king : ^‘My life is hard indeed !” 

Tears filled his eyes, he tore his snowy beard. 

This is the Song of Rolandy the fame of which was spread by 
French knights from Ireland to Jerusalem. Wherever feudal 
ideals came to triumph, there men thrilled at the bitter fight 
at Roncevaux. Reading the chanson today, we can under- 
stand, if we cannot share, their emotions; for through the song 
we plainly know the singer and his audience. In the background 
of the poem are Charlemagne, a majestic but shadowy figure; 




France, his empire, with a geography of the vaguest; and the 
weary, ceaseless war against the infidel. The real theme, how- 
ever, is vassalage, epitomized in the person of Count Roland. 
Charles is not merely king and champion of the faith; he is 
Roland’s lord. To Charles Roland is unswervingly loyal, yet 
his loyalty is not disinterested. Fighting for his lord, Roland 
also fights for himself — for conquest, loot, glory, and sheer de- 
light. It is on his reckless valor, not the wisdom of Oliver, that 
the story turns. Like a true knight, he is straightforward ; the 
schemers of the piece are rogues. Ruthless to his foes, Roland 
is tender to his friends. Nearest his heart stands his devoted 
companion-in-arms, Oliver; and next in his affections come his 
war horse and his sword. Of love for woman there is no word. 
His fiancee dies at the news of his death; that is all. Roland’s 
virtues are those of the battlefield. Even the religion of the 
chanort directly to the king. 

On all sides, meanwhile, victorious wars were fought against 
Territorial the enemies of Germany. To the west Otto, by supporting first 
expansioa the Carolingian and then the Parisian cause, maintained a firm 
hold on Lorraine. To the north the Danes were driven back and 
a new march, Schleswig, was set up against them. To the east 
the Saxons, under Hermann Billung and Gero, carried on a suc- 
cessful offensive against the Slavs, gradually occup3ring the lands 
between the Elbe and the Oder and organizing them about hurgen 
like those of Henry the Fowler. The more serious campaign 
against the Bohemians was undertaken by the king himself. That 
people. Christianized in the previous century, now appeared as a 
formidable power under their duke, Boleslav, who extended his 
dominions to include the modern Silesia, as well as the whole of 
Moravia. So it was not an inconsiderable triumph when Otto 
forced him, about 950, to recognize German overlordship and 
pay annual tribute. By this time the ambitious king had also 

1 That is to say, counts attached to fixe service of the palace. In the later 
centuries the title lost all particular signMcance. 


been induced to launch projects of far-reaching* importance to the 

In the later ninth century the territorial inheritance of Lothair, 
eldest son of Louis the Pious, had broken into four kingdoms. Burgundy 
Of these Lorraine was absorbed by Germany, but three others a^^d Italy 
persisted into the tenth century : Italy, Provence, and Burgundy. 

The crown of Italy, after being secured for a time by the German 
Arnulf, had passed to various Italians.^ In 900 it was held by 
Berengar of Friuli, and to counteract his authority, the local no- 
bility now appealed to the rulers of the little kingdoms beyond the 
Alps, especially Provence and Burgundy. The complicated events 
of the next fifty years need not detain us. A series of murders 
and petty wars served merely to enhance the prestige of the Ger- 
man king. In 937 the combined kingdoms of Burgundy and 
Provence, henceforth known as the kingdom of Arles, fell to a 
boy named Conrad. Otto, anticipating the aggression of other 
neighbors, took Conrad under his protection; kept him, in fact, 
a sort of captive guest and released him only after he had recog- 
nized German overlordship. In the meantime Conrad’s sister, 

Adelaide, had been married to one of two rivals for the throne 
of Italy. On the death of her husband, she was imprisoned by 
his enemy. The dukes of Suabia and Bavaria both showed an 
interest in her fate, but it was again Otto who took the decisive 
step. Crossing the Alps in 951, he forced the Italian king to 
acknowledge him as lord, rescued the fair Adelaide, and, being 
now a widower, married her. ^ 

Remembering the precedents established by Charles the Fat 
and Arnulf, we can hardly escape the conclusion that Otto’s Insurrec- 
aggressive policy was leading straight toward the assumption of 
the imperial title. Momentarily, however, any such ambition had 
to be dropped, for in 953 he was faced with a great insurrection 
that proved the utter inadequacy of family control for the duchies. 

The ringleaders were his son and his son-in-law, dukes, respec- 
tively, of Suabia and Lorraine. They were joined by the arch- 
bishop of Mainz and a host of malcontents throughout the coun- 
try. Otto’s other son, Henry of Bavaria, remained loyal, but a 
large section of his subjects, led by the local count palatine, raised 
the standard of revolt. To cap the climax, the Hungarians re- 
newed their raiding in 954, spreading terror across Franconia and 

2 See above, pp. 242. 


of the 





into the Rhinelands. Yet Otto, after many critical days, was 
able to reassert his mastery. The rebels were all compelled to 
submit, and in 955 the king won a crowning victory over the 
Hungarians on the Lech near Augsburg — a decisive battle, for it 
ended the last great Magyar invasion of Germany. Meanwhile 
the duchies of Bavaria and Lorraine had been given to more 
reliable holders, and the troublesome archbishop of Mainz had 
died. By 961 all was again quiet and Otto found himself free to 
resume the Italian project. 

After the brief German intervention of ten years before, the 
peninsula had reverted to its chronic anarchy. The pope was 
now the profligate John XII,^ concerned only with the mainte- 
nance of his Roman principality. Like his predecessor Formosus, 
he became involved in conflict with the Italian king and appealed 
to Germany for aid. Otto responded promptly. Advancing over 
the Alps with a formidable army in 961, he assumed the crown of 
Italy himself, and early in the next year received that of the em- 
pire from the hands of the pope. The latter, however, soon 
changed sides and fomented an insurrection at Rome. So in 963 
Otto took the city by assault; John was deposed by a synod of 
complaisant clergy, and the emperor’s own secretary was installed 
in his place. After two more campaigns to assure imperial con- 
trol of the papacy, Otto attempted the conquest of the southern 
peninsula, but abandoned the project in favor of a treaty with 
the Byzantine emperor. Thereby he secured the hand of the 
princess Theophano^ for his eldest son, Otto, together with the 
expectation of the southern Italian duchies as her dowry. 

Otto’s dominance at Rome enabled him to carry out another 
measure that lay next his heart — ^the ecclesiastical reorganization 
of the Slavic borderland. Hitherto the entire region from the 
Baltic to the Danube Valley had belonged to the province of 
Mainz. By this time, however, the Germanization of the Slavic 
marches had progressed far enough to warrant the creation of 
many new bishoprics, such as those of Brandenburg, Merseburg, 
Meissen, and Zeiz. They were now combined under a newly 
established metropolitan at Magdeburg. Like their brethren to 
the west, the bishops and abbots of this eastern country were 
loaded with immunities that made them peers of the lay princes. 
While placing men of his own over all the duchies, Otto very 

® See above, p. 243. 

^ See below, p. 322. 


naturally took every opportunity to install loyal prelates in the 
church, and in this work he enjoyed the zealous collaboration of 
his youngest brother, Bruno, archbishop of Cologne. The latter, 
in particular, devoted himself to a restoration of learning, which 
German scholars often refer to as the Ottoman Renaissance. 

In this respect, as in all others, Otto unquestionably deserved 
the title of Great which has been accorded him in history. His The sig- 
reign cannot be passed over by one who hopes to understand the nificanre 
subsequent development of central Europe. A man, obviously, 
of magnificent energy and personal force, Otto seemed able to 
accomplish any task to which he set his hand. He was the creator ^ 
of what later generations called the Holy Roman Empire; and 
to him, as it had been to Charlemagne, it was both holy and 
Roman. Indeed, all of Otto’s many achievements can be readily 
seen to have been inspired by the example of the illustrious Frank 
— ^his method of government, his conquests, his Christianization 
of the heathen, his seizure of Italy, his domination of the papacy, 
and his reform of education. It has been argued that Otto’s 
assumption of the imperial title was principally dictated by his 
desire to control the church, and so to strengthen the German 
monarchy. Although this motive should not be overlooked, 

Otto’s imperialism seems on tlie whole an inseparable part of the 
Carolingian tradition to which he devoted his life. He merely 
revived and extended the policy of Amulf. We can hardly doubt 
that he wordd also have taken the western kingdom if he had 
seen any way of getting it. 

As it was, his dominions were too vast to be efficiently admin- 
istered. Where the Carolingians had failed, the Saxons cotdd 
hardly be expected to succeed. Had he concentrated his attention 
on his original kingdom, and had his dynasty remained loyal to 
the same policy, it is possible that Germany might have been 
welded into a solid political structure. Saxony, at any rate, could 
have been made the nucleus of a powerful state with infinite pos- 
sibilities of expansion to the east, or perhaps to the north ; for as 
yet there were no Scandinavian kingdoms of any strength. But 
Otto chose to abandon Saxony and to attempt the government of 
Germany through personal control of the dukes, while he fol- 
lowed imperial ambitions into Burgundy and Italy. It is unfair, 
as some modem writers have done, to condemn him as unpa- 
triotic; in those days there was no sudr thing as national pa- 
triotism. Yet Otto’s policy was to prove the bane of his succes- 

Otto II 

Otto III 
and Sil' 
vester II 


sors for the next three centuries. Among them few were to 
realize that the pseudo-imperial connection of Germany and Italy 
could bring only grief to both countries. 

The reign of the first Saxon emperor has been examined in 
some detail because it was he who established the precedents that 
governed the fortunes of Germany for a long time to come. The 
same consideration will justify a very cursory survey of the four 
subsequent reigns. In 973 Otto I was succeeded by his eighteen- 
year-old son, Otto II, who had already been crowned king and 
emperor several years previously. The latter part of his father’s 
life had been largely spent in Italy; Otto II was diverted even 
further from German interests tlirough the influence of his By- 
zantine wife. Nevertheless, it was tlie northern kingdom that 
first demanded his attention. A revolt of Henry the Wrangler, 
duke of Bavaria (see Table IV), in alliance with Boleslav of 
Bohemia, was completely suppressed only after five years had 
elapsed. Then Otto had to deal with a similar affair in Lorraine, 
actively supported by Lothair, the Carolingian king of France. 
Finally, in 980, the emperor found himself free to launch his own 
pet project — ^the conquest of southern Italy, which he claimed as 
unpaid dowry from the Byzantine Empire. There he failed to 
take into accotmt the strength of the Saracais, who utterly de- 
troyed his army in 982 ; and before he could recoup his fortunes, 
he died of fever, leaving only an infant son. 

The accession of the three-year-old Otto HI, though confirming 
the hereditary claim of the Saxon house, naturally produced a 
revival of the old disorders in Germany. The regency of the 
Greek Theophano was immediately opposed by Henry the Wran- 
gler, who had earlier lost his dukedom, and by Lothair of France, 
who still fixed covetous eyes on Lorraine. But after Henry had 
been reinstated in Bavaria, the troubles in eastern Germany, ex- 
cept for border wars with the Slavs, generally subsided. On the 
west Otto’s cause was saved by a loyal party in Lorraine, which 
had the support of Hugh Capet, count of Paris. The decisive 
event in this connection was Hugh’s election to the French throne 
in 987,® which was largely engineered in the imperial interest by 
Adalbero, archbishop of Reims. Theophano died in 991, and 
after three more years of tutelage under a council of regency, 
Otto assumed personal control of the government. Alm ost his 

* See above, p. 248. 


first act was to cross the Alps in order to secure the imperial 
crown. He was then only sixteen, and since he died before he 
was twenty-three, much could not be expected of his reign. 

From infancy Otto III, under the teaching of his mother, had 
been greatly impressed with the sacrosanct character of his im- 
perial office. His earliest tutors had been Greeks and Italians; 
as an adolescent, his closest friend and adviser was a school- 
master, the remarkable Gerbert. The latter was by birth an Aqui- 
tanian, who began his studies in a monastery at Aurillac and 
later passed some little time in the county of Barcelona- Through 
this Spanish connection he seems to have gained a smattering of 
Arabic science; at any rate, he is found, in the last quarter of 
the tenth century, especially famous for proficiency in mathe- 
matics, astronomy, and music.^ For the moment it is only his 
public career that is of concern. Continuing work in dialectic at 
Reims, Gerbert was made head of the cathedral school by Arch- 
bishop Adalbero and became also his trusted assistant in political 
matters. Being a warm devotee of the imperial cause, as well as a 
renowned scholar, Gerbert was then appointed instructor to the 
young Otto III and, under his patronage, rose to be successively 
archbishop of Reims, archbishop of Ravenna, and finally Pope 
Silvester II. 

For the first time in many generations, the western church 
thus came to be led by a man of splendid character and ability, 
who furthermore enjoyed the unique advantage of largely domi- 
nating the emperor. Both Gerbert and Otto were charmed by the 
Carolingian tradition of intimate union between church and state. 
Together they strove to carry out a very idealistic program of 
reform, under which the empire would have been a sort of uni- 
versal lordship entirely independent of the German kingship. But 
this program was destined to remain a matter of theory. Otto’s 
passion for imperial grandeur far exceeded anything that his more 
sensible friend, the pope, could have advised- He built a palace 
on the Aventine at Rome, where, surrounded by logothetes and 
other officials with Gredk titles, he aped Byzantine ceremonial 
and issued fanciful documents in high-flown language. The sub- 
stitution of such play-acting for the old-fashioned work of royalty 
naturally disgusted his Gr^mian subjects and encouraged a host of 
rivals to defy his authority. Nor was Otto’s devotion to Italy 

• See below, 415!. 

Henry II 

Conrad II 


reciprocated by the Italians. When stricken by fatal illness, he 
was actually being besieged in his palace by an army of Roman 
rebels. The net result of his tragic reign was to discredit the 
proud monarchy of his grandfather. That it was not permanently 
ruined was due to the wisdom of his successor, Henry II. 

The man proclaimed king in 1002 owed his election primarily 
to his descent, being the son of Henry the Wrangler and so the 
great-grandson of Henry the Fowler. His reign of twenty-two 
3'ears was not spectacular, but it was a distinct success compared 
with that of his predecessor. Reviving the policy of Otto the 
Great, Henry II gave his diief attention to Germany, where by 
moderation and unflagging industry he largely coimteracted the 
disaffection that had been widely prevalent. Although chronic 
difficulties with the dukes and the great ecclesiastics still con- 
tinued, there were no very serious outbreaks, and eventually the 
king found opportunity to pursue a number of projects beyond 
the German frontiers. To the east the Poles had suddenly 
emerged as a powerful nation under a CJiristian king named 
Boleslav. Having conquered Bohemia, he launched a great coun- 
ter-offensive against the Germans. Before the new Slavic attack 
the Saxon defense collapsed, and virtually the whole region be- 
tween the Elbe and the Oder was laid waste. After a long war, 
Henry II was able to restore the independence of Bohemia and 
to compel Boleslav to become his vassal. This relationship, how- 
ever, gave the Germans no real authority in Poland, and the 
marches were not recolonized for another century. In Burgundy, 
too, Henry enjoyed only a theoretical overlordship. He made 
three expeditions across the Alps and secured the imperial crown ;, 
yet, on his death in 1024, Italy was as far from being a true state 
as ever, and the papacy had suffered another relapse into helpless 

With Henry II the house of Saxony, by descent on the male 
side, died out ; but the German magnates, remaining loyal to the 
dynastic principle, chose a Franconian noble named Conrad, great- 
grandson of (jonrad the Red, son-in-law of Otto I (see Table 
IV). So the new line of kings, known as the Salian or Fran- 
conian house, was merely the continuation of the old. There was 
no innovation either in theory or in practice. In fact, Conrad’s 
reign was little more than a continuation of Henry’s. The new 
king put down revolts in Suabia and Lorraine, spent a year in 
Italy, secured the imperial crown, fought the Slavs, and reasserted 


German overlordship in Poland and Bohemia. The outstanding 
event of his reign came in 1032, when the last king of Arles died 
without heirs. Conrad immediately acted to enforce the sover- 
eignty established over that country by Otto I. A rival claimant, 
Odo of Blois,’^ was driven out and Conrad added a fourth crown 
to his collection. Henceforth the Holy Roman Empire was held 
to contain three kingdoms : Germany, Italy, and Burgundy. It 
was indeed a glittering inheritance that passed to Henry III in 
1039. How insubstantial it was to prove will be seen when we 
come to examine the later fortunes of the Franconian dynasty. 


As the establishment of the Carolingian Empire had carried 
with it a great ecclesiastical reform, so the decay of that empire 
had naturally produced a relapse into conditions that had prevailed 
during the Merovingian age. There were, of course, exceptions. 
Wherever an especially able prince succeeded in creating an or- 
derly state, monasteries might continue to flourish and bishops 
might still provide examples of true piety— for instance, in Eng- 
land under the descendants of Alfred and in Germany under the 
Saxon dynasty. But in all such cases the improvement was due 
rather to the wisdom of the ruler than to the inherent strength of 
the ecclesiastical system. Throughout the wide regions subjected 
to foreign invasion and' torn by civil warfare the local churches 
were poweidess to reform themselves. In most religious houses, 
particularly in those given to lay abbots, the ancient discipline had 
utterly collapsed and the brethren lived as they pleased from the 
proceeds of the monastic endowments. Most bishops were en- 
tirely submerged in secular activities and were frequently as 
vicious as their non-derical associates. And in this respect, as 
we have seen, the popes were often no better than the rest. 

Naturally all zealous Christians realized that conditions had 
become intolerably bad throughout the church at large; some few 
of them were intelligent enough to see that one chief cause of 
the disorder lay in the contemporary organization of society. 
Along with the state, the church had tended to become feudalized. 
Ecclesiastical properties and offices had in general been turned 
into fiefs, to be secured by the methods that were everywhere in 
vogue among laymen. On all sides bishoprics, abbacies, parishes. 

in the 

See above, p. 276. 


The con- 
of Cluny 


and other preferments were solicited from patrons by means of 
suitable presents. The successful candidate, as a matter of 
course, recouped himself from his subordinates. Bishops charged 
priests for ordination, and the priests took fees from the people 
for the administration of other sacraments. The rule of celibacy 
long asserted by the Roman church above the grade of subdeacon 
was everywhere relaxed. Priests and even bishops were com- 
^nonly married, and so came to endow their children with estates 
that were supposed to be used for the maintenance of religious 
service. The church, like the CaroUngian Empire, was threatened 
with dispersion among a host of feudal dynasties. 

At the opening of the tenth century most persons took these 
' practices quite for granted., Only occasional purists denounced 
the marriage of priests as concubinage on the ground that they 
could not be lawfully wedded, and the buying of ecclesiastical 
preferment as simony — ^i.e., the sin of Simon Magus, who had 
offered money for the gift of the Holy Spirit.® Such agitation, 
as we should expect, first gained significant headway in the clois- 
ter. Benedictine monasticism had earlier supplied the impetus 
of the Carolingian reform; now it was to lead a great move- 
ment to renew that reform and to amplify it. Long before the 
alleged mystic year 1000, various religious establishments had 
become famous as centers of zeal for a Christian revival, but 
only one of them was destined to achieve European prominence. 
This was the illustrious abbey of Cluny, established in 910 by 
William I, duke of Aquitaine. By the terms of his foundation 
charter, soon confirmed by the pope, the little village of Cluny, 
situated near Macon in Burgundy, was to be the exclusive prop- 
erty of the monastery there erected. The monks should live 
according to the rule of St. Benedict, and they were specifically 
authorized to choose as abbot whom they pleased, without the 
intervention of the duke or of any other authority. They were to 
be subject only to the Roman pontiff. 

From the outset, therefore, Cluny stood for ecclesiastical inde- 
pendence of lay control and for the exaltation of the papal power. 
Under a series of remarkable abbots, Cluny became the center of 
a powerful organization pledged to extend these principles among 
all the monasteries of the west. The original Benedictine system, 
by which each house was autonomous under its own elected head, 

See AdSf viii, 18. 


had all too often resulted in subjection to some local chieftain and 
the decadence of religious life. Now, as the new community 
became widely renowned for purity and zeal, many ancient monas- 
teries asked to become affiliated with it, submitting to the rule of 
priors named by the abbot of Cluny. Thus arose the Cluniac 
Congregation, which eventually came to include over three hun- 
dred separate houses reaching from Poland to the British Isles. 
The man chiefly responsible for this development was Odilo, abbot 
from 994 to 1049. Outliving three emperors and a dozen popes, 
he remained a commanding figure in Europe throughout the reli- 
gious revival of the early eleventh century. And to a large de- 
gree it was he who supplied the moral leadership that men had 
ceased to find at Rome. 

Cluny may therefore be considered the most potent factor in 
the movement for reform that later came to be championed by 
the papacy. This is not to interpret the whole movement as a 
Cluniac enterprise. The Congregation of Cluny by no means in- 
cluded all the purified houses of tlie eleventh century; although 
many reforming organizations of the age owed their domi- 
nant inspiration to the Burgundian abbey, there were others that 
had a quite independent origin. The Cluniac order was always 
fundamentally French; outside France it extended chiefly into 
those regions where French influence was dominant — ^Norman 
England, Spain, western Germany, and the Burgundian kingdom. 
The only real interest of the Cluniacs was monastic; they sought 
to restore religion in the Benedictine houses, not to remodel church 
and state in all Europe. Following the modified discipline that 
had become customary^ under the Carolingians, they allowed 
manual labor to be supplanted by increased ‘‘offices,” so that the 
brothers' time was almost wholly taken up with divine service. 
Nor did they emphasize learning beyond the minimum necessary 
for practical purposes. Cluny produced a host of great preachers, 
statesmen, and reformers, but few scholars. 

Without temporal support, even the Cluniacs could accomplish 
little, and the first half of the eleventh century was singularly 
lacking in great political figures. After Silvester II there were 
no more outstanding popes ; and aside from Canute of England 
and Denmark, the western monarchies had no very important 
kings. The German sovereigns consequently towered over their 
contemporaries in truly imperial grandeur; as the successors of 
Charlemagne, they w#uld naturally be expected to assume the 

and state 
in the 



initiative in any work of ecclesiastical reform. Following the 
example of Otto I, they had, indeed, appointed many worthy 
prelates; but in general their interest was political rather than 
religious. They wanted loyal bishops and abbots to serve as a 
counterpoise to the lay nobles, whose hereditary status made them 
perpetually unruly. For this reason the Saxon kings had loaded 
the ecclesiastical princes with land and privileges. The typical 
German bishop of the eleventh century was more of a count than 
a shepherd of souls, and the typical abbot was less concerned with 
the rule of St. Benedict than with the defense and administration 
of his fortified estate. The emperors had discountenanced the 
graver scandals that troubled the church; yet they had taken no 
vigorous stand against the marriage of the clergy and had con- 
tinued to accept the usual offerings of candidates for all sorts 
of offices. 

The first emperor to take to heart the teachings of the re- 
Henry III formers on these points was Henry III, who succeeded his father 
(1039-56) Conrad in 1039. He proceeded immediately to purify his court 
from all taint of simony and to enforce the rule that no son of 
a clergyman could hold any honor under the crown. But Henry 
III never dreamed of relinquishing in any degree his control of 
ecclesiastical affairs. Like Charlemagne, he regarded the church 
as one department of the royal government, and by his official acts 
he soon demonstrated that in this respect no distinction was to be 
made between Germany and Italy. After establishing or reestab- 
lishing overlordship in Poland, Bohemia, and Hungary, and 
after enforcing a new political settlement in Lorraine, he pro- 
ceeded to Italy in 1046. By that time the Romans were enjoying 
the unusual spectacle of three rivals, all claiming to be pope at 
once. This scandal Henry summarily ended by having all three 
deposed in assemblies of the clergy. Then he procured the elec- 
tion of a German bishop as Pope Clement II, who on the very day 
of his consecration crowned Henry emperor. Clement lived only 
a short time and was succeeded by three other royal nominees, all 
Germans. Of them the second was Leo IX, whose pontificate — 
to be discussed below — ^marks the resumption by the papacy of 
spiritual leadership in Europe. Meanwhile Henry had returned to 
Germany, where after nine rather uneventful years he died in 
1056, leaving a boy of six to inherit the crown as Henry IV. 

The reign of Henry III, characterized by easy successes on all 
fronts and by comparative freedom from major disturbances, has 


generally befo called the height of the mediaeval empire. Actu- Germany 
ally it was the calm before the storm— one that had been long 
brewing. In this connection, it might be well to review the 
political situation in the empire toward the middle of the eleventh 
century. At that time Germany was still essentially what it had 
been under Otto I — ^a rather loose union of great duchies. The 
kings, it is true, had continuously enforced their right to make 
and unmake dukes at pleasure, and frequently they had installed 
members of the royal house. Experience had proved that ties of 
blood were wholly inadequate to overcome the separatist tenden- 
cies within the ancient territorial divisions. Nor was the Fran- 
conian policy of keeping the duchies under royal administration 
permanently successful. Henry III, after dispensing with half 
of the dukedoms, was eventually forced, through lack of an ade- 
quate civil service, to go back to the old system. The dukes of the 
eleventh century, however, generally found themselves with re- 
duced territories and restricted powers. 

Of the ancient principalities which thus persisted, Saxony was 
the only one that largely retained its original character. There a 
son of Hermann Billung was recognized as duke under Otto II, 
and he was succeeded by four lineal descendants, the last of whom 
was to be the cause of much trouble for Henry IV. Meanwhile 
the powerful duchy of Bavaria had hardly survived the rebellion 
of Henry the Wrangler. From its borderlands Otto II created 
the independent duchy of Carinthia, as well as two frontier dis- 
tricts called the North Mark and the East Mark.® Under this 
same king occurred the permanent division of the old western 
duchy into Upper Lorraine and Lower Lorraine.^® Suabia, after 
remaining for a while in the possession of the crown, was again 
granted out by Henry III. Franconia, on the other hand, con- 
tinued to be administered by the emperor, and so, as a political 
entity, disappeared before the advance of many local princes — 
the archbishop of Mainz, the bishops of Worms and Speier, the 
count palatine of the Rhine, and others. Even within the terri- 
tories of the dukes, the kings tended, as a check on the princely 

*The North Mark lay between Franconia and Bohemia; the East Mark 
extended down the Danube to the Hungarian frontier and was soon to become 
famous as the duchy of Austria. 

10 Lower Lorraine included the territory between the Rhine and the Scheldt; 

Upper Lorraine consisted primarily of the Moselle Valley. As the former virtually 
disappeared, its ruler came to style himself duke of Brabant. Upper Lorraine 
then became known simpty as Lorraine. 


The ad- 
vance of 
the feudal 




Henry IV 


authority, to defend the independent powers of the counts and 

In the west of the empire various factors combined to produce 
a rapid dispersion of all regalian rights. For example, the duke 
of Lower Lorraine lost all effective control over the bishop of 
Liege and over the counts of Hainaut, Namur, Limburg, Luxem- 
burg, Holland, and Friesland. For the same reason the kingdom 
of Arles, which was inherited by Henry III along with that of 
(Germany, brought him little beyond an empty title. The accession 
of a distant king, in fact, definitely assured the autonomy of the 
local baronage, headed by the marquis of Provence and the count 
of Burgundy (Franche-Comte). In Italy, too, the royal policy 
had been deliberately turned to the aggrandizement of the smaller 
nobles at the expense of the greater. It was in pursuance of this 
same design that Conrad II issued his decree of 1037, guarantee- 
ing heredity of tenure for those who held of his Italian vassals. 
Henry III was able to maintain at least a semblance of the old 
Carolingian government throughout his empire. But how long 
would the structure hold together under a weaker or less fortunate 
ruler? Within this whole aggregation of kingdoms, was there 
one little portion that the emperor could really call his own? In 
striving for a continent, he might fail to keep even a duchy. 


The death of Henry III gave the regency to his widow, Agnes 
of Poitou, who governed Germany in the name of her infant son 
for six years. Agnes, being a woman of mediocre ability and 
suffering from the added handicap of having a foreign upbring- 
ing, utterly failed to control the situation. On all sides ambitious 
princes sought to profit by the king’s minority and before long the 
kingdom was in turmoil. In 1062 the regency of Agnes came 
to a sudden and dramatic end. Encouraged by a group of dis- 
contented nobles, the archbishop of Cologne secured control of 
the royal administration by the simple expedient of kidnaping the 
young king. Next it was the archbishop of Bremen who made 
himself all-powerful at court. Finally, in 1066, Henry decided 
to take charge of the government himself. A youth of seventeen, 
he was thus called on to restore order in three kingdoms, where 
for the past ten years his vassals had become accustomed to act 
very much as they pleased. In Italy and Burgundy he could as yet 
hope to accomplish little; but in (jermany the prestige of the 


monarchy, though impaired, was still great. And for a time 
circumstance continued to aid the king in developing an inde- 
pendent policy. 

Henry IV, though somewhat spoiled as a child, quickly grew 
into a man of very remarkable ability. Easily intoxicated by 
success, he was constantly liable to overreach himself by foolish 
violence; and yet, when met by disaster, he displayed intelligence 
and resolution deserving a kindlier fate than was his. It was 
indeed a tragic destiny that compelled him to fight a losing battle 
against insuperable odds. Although the cause that he defended 
was not altogether noble, it was one which he inherited with his 
crown and which he felt that he could not abandon without utter 
loss of self-respect. If he had been left free to concentrate his 
energy in a struggle with the German baronage, he might well 
have triumphed and still, like William the Conqueror in England, 
have remained on good terms with the reformed papacy. It was 
the imperial heritage that led' to his ruin and the ruin of the king- 
ship that he bequeathed to his unfortunate successors. 

For a while, however, Henry was concerned principally with 
local problems. Apparently realizing that the monarchy still The Saxon 
lacked a solid foundation on which to erect any permanent gov- 
emmental structure, Henry began an intensive campaign to reor- 
ganize and consolidate his domain lands. Since these lay pri- 
marily in Saxony, the contemplated reform would have the added 
advantage of strengthening the royal control over that almost in- 
dependent duchy. So the king proceeded with a high hand to re- 
assert his title to broad estates which he said had been unlawfully 
alienated, to substitute low-born South Germans for unruly Saxon 
officials, and on all sides to raise castles as centers of defense and 
administration. Such procedure was tantamount to the creation 
of a new royal principality, and the Saxon aristocracy, with con- 
siderable justification, felt that the step boded ill for their cher- 
ished autonomy. One of the magnates to be displeased by the 
king’s action was Otto of Nordheim, a Saxon noble whom Agnes 
had made duke of Bavaria. In 1070 Otto was suddenly accused 
of traitorous conduct and deprived of his dukedom. Fleeing to 
the north, he found ready support from Magnus, son of the 
Saxon duke, and the result was the first insurrection against 
Henry IV. 

The king, however, acted promptly and in 1071 captured both 


Leo IX 
and the 
rise of 


rebels — a success that encouraged him to extend his ambitious 
projects. When the duke died in the following year, Henry kept 
IMagnus in prison and threatened, by the further erection of cas- 
tles, to establish personal dominion throughout the entire duchy. 
The vanity of such an ambition was proved by the great explosion 
of 1073. Almost every Saxon noble, lay and clerical, seized arms 
to oppose the royal aggression. Henry, engaged in preparation 
for a Polish war, 'was taken completely by surpfise and for a year 
remained powerless to resist the demands either of the Saxons 
or of the southern dukes, who were quick to take advantage of 
the situation. Yet within another year, by adroitly playing off 
one party against another, Henry had regained his mastery. Not 
a prince outside the rebellious duchy dared refuse his summons 
in the spring of 1075. With an imposing army of knights, Henry 
then fell on the Saxon host, still largely made up of old-fashioned 
foot-soldiers, and in June won a decisive victory. By the end of 
the year, with the revolt crushed and’ its leaders in prison, Saxony 
again lay at his feet. Once more Henry overestimated the quality 
of his triumph. At a moment when every German prince was 
alarmed over the king’s ruthless treatment of his opponents, he 
saw fit to invite a bitter conflict with one of the great popes of all 

This man, until his election to the see of St. Peter, bore the 
name of Hildebrand. From that fact it has been supposed that 
he was of Germanic extraction; but little is known of his early - 
life except that he was brought up in Rome and took minor ordefs 
under Gregory VI, one of the popes put out of office by Henry III 
in 1046. Following Gregory into exile, Hildebrand spent several 
years as a^monk in the Rhinelands, where he became identified 
with the reform sponsored by Cluny and other religious, centers. 
There, too, he attracted the notice of Bruno, bishop of Toul, who, 
on being nominated to the papacy in 1049, him back to 
Rome, Leo IX, as the new pope styled himself, immediately 
assumed the leadership of the reform movement in EuroJ>e and 
through his energetic personality made his pontificate of six 
years one of the most significant in history. With him the long 
degradation of the Roman church suddenly ended. Traveling 
through France and Germany, as well as Italy, Leo everywhere 
held councils devoted to the punishment of simony and .clerical 
marriage, and at the same time he revived the papal influence 


over the great prelates and temporal princes of the west. In all 
this work Hildebrand was from the outset intimately associated. 

After the death of Leo’s successor, the line of German popes 
came to an end. In 1058 an Italian bishop was elected as Nicho- Nicholas 
las II, and with his pontificate the* growing independence of the 
Roman church became clearly apparent. Hildebrand, whose re- 
forming activity had been unceasing, was now made principal 
assistant to Nicholas, with the title of archdeacon. So it was 
hardly mere coincidence that in this same year, 1039, the papacy 
should adopt two measures df the utmost significance. One was 
the alliance with the Normans in southern Italy, by which — ^as 
noted above — Robert Guiscard’s conquests were made into a 
papal fief and the Sicilian expedition of Count Roger received the 
formal blessing of the church.^^ This treaty was a notable victory 
for the diplomacy of Hildebrand, who had conducted the pre- 
liminary negotiations, and its meaning was plain to all observers : 
the papacy, backed by the lances of the Normans, was no longer to 
be subservient to the German king. 

The complement to the new departure in external policy was the 
famous electoral decree of 1059. The provision of the canon 
law,^^ that a bishop should be elected by the clergy and people of 
the diocese, had long since come to mean that the effective decision 
rested with the former only. And very generally the right 
had devolved in particular on those clergy who were attached to 
the service of the cathedral and were organized in a chapter under 
a monastic or semi-monastic rule^ These groups, however, had 
almost without exception come under the domination of some 
king or prince, whose nomination to the vacant see was the equiva- 
lent of appointriient. Such power had regularly been enjoyed by 
Charlemagne and his successors, including the Saxon and Fran- 
conian kings. The control of the papacy by the latter rested on 
the extension of the same system into Italy through the revival 
of the imperial title. Even the pious and virtuous Henry III 
had named popes quite as a matter of course, and his impetuous 
son Had not the slightest intention of renouncing his inherited 
rights.^ To the imperial claim the decree of 1059 issued a sharp 
challenge, for it vested the control of papal elections in the 

See above, p. 280. 

The law forced in ecclesiastical courts is technically known as the canon 


as pope 



cardinal clergy of Rome.^^ All initiative in the matter was given 
to the cardinal bishops ; the emperor was left no function beyond 
that of confirming an accomplished act. 

On the death of Nicholas in 1061, the imperial court made 
an effort to dictate the election of his successor ; but the abduction 
of the king resulted in the triumph of the Roman candidate, 
Alexander II, who thereupon held uncontested sway throughout 
the remainder of his life. During his entire pontificate it was 
Hildebrand who generally dominated the papal counsels. 
Through the vigorous policy of the latter, Alexander gave his 
support to the Norman expedition against Harold of England, 
the success of which assured papal control of the church in 
Britain. Even, in Germany the cause of reform made distinct 
headway. Henry IV, in the early years of his personal govern- 
ment, showed himself very conciliatory, readily agreeing to dis- 
miss from his court various bishops found guilty of simony. And 
since the Saxon war broke out just as Alexander died in 1073, 
the king was given no opportunity to protest the election of Hilde- 
brand. That event, as far as Roman sentiment was concerned, 
was a foregone conclusion, for the passing from the scene of all 
other prominent figures left the great archdeacon as the sole out- 
standing candidate. The populace, indeed, refused to wait for 
the action of the cardinals ; they acclaimed Hildebrand pope even 
before the funeral services for Alexander had been completed. 
The election was at best a tumultuous affair; but there was no 
one to challenge its validity, and the new pope, assuming the 
name of Gregory VII, was promptly recognized by Henry IV. 

Gregory is described by contemporaries as a small and rather 
unattractive man; as in the case of Napoleon, his physique was no 
measure of his greatness. Though not called on to lead armies or 
to remake the map of Europe, he possessed the genius for com- 
mand and the statesmanlike intelligence that are commonly known 
as Napoleonic. And the fact that his entire life was unswervingly 
devoted to a lofty ideal gave him a moral grandeur that has been 
commonly wanting in generals and world-rulers. There can be as 
little question of his sincerity as of his experience. Gregory’s 
every word and act prove that his own personality was submerged 
in the office which he fervently believed to be the supreme au- 

The name comes from the Latin cardo^ a hinge. The cardinal clergy are 
by definition those who serve at the axis of Christendom — ^at Rome. 


tharity on earth. Nor was this concept of the papacy the product 
of scholarly study. He was a comparatively unlearned man, 
holding, like the first Gregory, to the “wise foolishness of God/' 
To him, as to St. Augustine, the problem of church and state re- 
solved itself into a matter of right and wrong. The power that 
could absolve from sin must be above all others. And to him the 
Petrine supremacy was no merely convenient theory. When 
Gregory said that through him one might hear the voice of St. 
Peter, Chief of the Apostles, he expressed his profoundest convic- 
tion. Furthermore, we may be sure that Gregory sought no 
violent altercation with Henry IV. His attitude toward William 
of England shows that he was quite willing to arrange a sensible 
agreement with a powerful king who was loyal to the papacy. 
His controversy over the imperial authority was provoked not by 
his regard for abstract principle, but by a very practical issue that 
could not be avoided. When such an issue arose, Gregory thought 
clearly and acted decisively. 

During the early years of his pontificate Gregory's chief atten- 
tion continued to be given to the campaign against simony and 
clerical marriage. In this connection he encountered much oppo- 
sition from prelates in Germany and Lombardy who had been 
appointed through the influence of the king. Even those bishops 
who favored reform bitterly resented the efforts of the pope to 
enforce his direct authority. Henry, plunged in political troubles 
and anxious to secure coronation as emperor, still maintained 
a submissive attitude. So Gregory proceeded without hesitation 
to suspend a number of bishops for disobedience, and finally, in 
the spring of 1075, struck at what he considered another root 
of evil by prohibiting lay investiture. Kings and princes might 
still be allowed to exert some influence in elections, but the sym- 
bols of ecclesiastical office could be conferred upon the successful 
candidate only by an ecclesiastic. 

To the announcement of this decree Henry made no reply and 
by the end of the year showed only too clearly that his earlier 
humility had been assumed merely to gain time. In December, 
therefore, Gregory sent him a warning letter, threatening excom- 
munication unless he at once proved his good faith and whole- 
heartedly joined the Apostolic See in supporting the program of 
reform. Henry, dazzled by his recent triumph in Saxony, then 
threw aside all cation and announced to the world that he pro- 

The in- 



tion of 



posed to reassert his power in Italy and reduce the papacy to its 
old subservience. Summoning his bishops to a council at Worms 
in January, 1076, he easily inspired them to denounce the pope as 
a usurper and declare him deposed from office. Adopting their 
sentence and decorating it with insulting language of his own, 
Henry wrote the pope to the same effect, calling him a “false 
monk” and bidding him to come down from the apostolic seat 
which he had secured through violence and “be accursed through 
all the ages.” 

Gregory’s answer to this challenge could not be a matter of 
doubt. Every king, being human, was subject to the discipline of 
the church for his sins. Nearly seven hundred years earlier Am- 
brose of Milan had enforced that lesson against the magnificent 
emperor Theodosius. Henry had been warned to repent and to 
correct his ways. He had not only refused, but had attacked the 
divine authority of the Roman bishop. So Gregory, in solemn 
language of admirable simplicity, declared Henry excommunicate 
and deprived of his regal authority; his subjects, released from 
their oaths of fealty, were to be free to elect another in his place. 
The very boldness of this pronouncement caused a tremendous 
sensation. Yet, if it had not been based on shrewd political cal- 
culation, it would have remained only a heroic gesture. As it was, 
Gregory proved that he had analyzed the situation in Germany 
more accurately than had Henry. The princes, already aroused 
by the threatening attitude of the monarchy, welcomed the pope’s 
authorization of revolt. Meeting at Tribur in October, 1076, 
they declared Henry deposed unless he could secure absolution 
within a year and, being unable to agree on a rival candidate, post- 
poned further action until, in the following February, they could 
reassemble at Augsburg under the presidency of the pope. 

By the end of 1076 Henry found his victories of the previous 
year entirely undone. All the Saxon rebels had beai released and 
were again intrenched in their old positions. Virtually the whole 
lay nobility of the kingdom had turned against him; even the 
bishops, frightened at the consequences of their action, had 
hastened to make submission. There was only one escape for 
the king: to prevent the union of his enemies at Augsburg, he 
must swallow his pride and come to terms with the pope. Ac- 
cordingly, in the last days of December. Henry set out on his 
arduous and humiliating journey. Gregory, in the meantime, 
had started for Germany; but hearing that Henry had already 


crossed the Alps, he fell back to Canossa, a castle of his staunch 
supporter, the countess of Tuscany. Here in January, 1077, ap- 
peared Henry — ^barefooted, garbed in coarse wool, and stripped 
of all regalia. Gregory, as he tells us in his own letter, kept 
Henry waiting for three days ; perhaps he was reluctant to aban- 
don the dictatorship of German affairs. As a priest of the church, 
however, Gregory had to receive the penitent and grant him 

This famous episode was hailed then, and has since been re- 
garded, as a great moral victory for the church. It proclaimed 
to the world that the papacy, within the lifetime of one man, 
had been rescued from its long-continued decadence and raised 
to a new height of renown. Captivating the imagination of feu- 
dal Europe, the incident seemed to usher in a new and glorious 
age — ^the age of the crusades. For the moment the chief gainer 
was Henry, who had circumvented his enemies and given himself 
another chance to rebuild his fortunes. The princes, to be sure, 
went ahead with their plans. Rudolf, duke of Suabia, was finally 
set up as anti-king, and civil war continued to blaze. Yet the 
king’s cause made progress, and in 1080 he succeeded in disposing 
of Rudolf. Having once more broken with Gregory and incurred 
a second excommunication, he now took an array to Italy and en- 
gaged in a three-year war with the papal forces. At last, when 
Gregory had refused aU compromise, Henry took Rome, installed 
an anti-pope, and from him received the imperial crown (1084). 
Gregory, holding out in one of his castles, appealed for aid to 
Robert Guiscard, just returned from an expedition to Greece.^* 
The Normans, as usual, proved to be unscrupulous allies. They 
not only drove Henry from Rome, but subjected the city to 
pillage. When they left, Gregory, irf fejir of reprisals, went with 
them — ^to die at Salerno in May, 1085. His last days were spent 
in bitter despondency. At the end he is reported to have ex- 
claimed; “I have loved righteousness and hated iniquity; there- 
fore I die in exile.” 

Nevertheless, the cause for which Gregory lived and died had 
suffered no lasting defeat. Henry’s attempt to dominate Italy 
resulted merely in the weakening of his hold on Germany. The 
civil war could not be quenched. Although he pacified Saxony 
by abandoning his original project, he was faced by a series of 

The death 
of Greg- 
ory VII 


death of 
Henry IV 

See bdow, {>. 331. 


of church 
and state 


Other rebellions, in which his own sons came to play a prominent 
part. Long before his death in the midst of this miserable 
struggle, Henry had abandoned Italy, and the Roman church 
had regained complete independence. The first great conflict be- 
tween the empire and the papacy thus ended in a triumph for the 
latter. This advantage it was to maintain for well over a hundred 
years — a, period of glorious achievement for western Europe. 

During that time many other German kings were to revive the 
ill-fated ambitions of Henry IV and to be thwarted by other 
statesmanlike popes. While the circumstances changed, the fun- 
damental issues remained the same. A mountain of controversial 
literature was to accumulate, yet its essential arguments can be 
very briefly stated. The imperialists continued to be fascinated 
by the tradition of Charlemagne, which was the tradition of the 
Roman Empire. The ecclesiastical theory of Otto I and his suc- 
cessors was substantially that of Justinian, Theodosius, and Con- 
stantine : the church, though permitted to decide matters of doc- 
trine and to establish its own discipline, was a department of 
state. Like other departments, it was under the supreme control 
of the emperor, who held himself directly responsible to God. 
The ministers of the church, no less than lay officials, were im- 
perial subjects; for men should “render unto Csesar the things 
which are Caesar’s.” As a matter of history, this was an excellent 
thesis. The question was : Could it be applied to the Europe of 
the eleventh century? The imperialist doctrine ignored the fact 
that the Christian world was no longer an empire except in 
imagination. It was to become increasingly doubtful whether 
the emperor could enforce any real authority even in those regions 
where his nominal sovereignty was recognized. As a matter of 
academic discussion, it was all very well to appeal to memories of 
Roman majesty. In actuality, how could such an appeal bring 
security or inspiration to western Christendom? 

To the advocates of ecclesiastical reform the conclusion seemed 
inescapable. The church, as an international organization, could 
not be subject to any state, whether or not the latter styled itself 
an empire. The papacy owed its existence as a world power to its 
independence of any western Csesar. It was the dominance of the 
Byzantine government that had constantly brought the Greek 
church into conflict with the papacy. Furthermore, the great 
fathers, headed by St. Augustine, had doquently demonstrated 
that all political institutions were the consequence of Adam’s 


sin. If man had remained in his pristine innocence, there would 
be no evil in the world. And without evil, there would be no 
need of governors, armies, police, courts, and penal laws. The 
state, therefore, was an ephemeral thing, necessary, but not di- 
vine like the church. The latter was the immediate representa- 
tive of God on earth. It held the sole power among men of dis- 
tinguishing good from evil. All persons, including kings and 
emperors, were subject to its jurisdiction. Its supreme head, 
the Roman bishop, held the keys of heaven and hell. He had to 
be recognized as the final arbiter of all human affairs. Under him 
all Christians formed one commonwealth. Separate kingdoms 
and principalities might each have its rightful and necessary func- 
tions, but in case of conflict all should obey the church and its 
sovereign spokesman, the pope. 

Stated by a John XII, such a pronouncement would have had 
few listeners. Stated by Gregory VII, it swept Europe. The 
consequence of the enthusiasm which he awakened may be seen 
in the crusade of 1095. 



under the 



The Turks, against whom the crusade was suddenly launched 
in logs, ^ose to prominence in Asia through the decay of two 
powers : the caliphate at Bagdad and the Byzantine Empire. The 
latter, after heroic defense against the Moslem attack in the 
eighth century, sadly declined in the ninth. It was during this 
period of weakness that the Bulgarians extended their conquests 
across the Balkan peninsula, and Pope Nicholas I denounced the 
imperial government for unlawfully deposing a patriarch of Con- 
stantinople.^ The wearer of the purple at the most critical mo- 
ment was the unworthy Michael III who, from one of his minor 
vices, came to be called the Drunkard. Being passionately fond 
of chariot-racing, he singled out from among his low-born com- 
panions a Macedonian horse trainer named Basil and loaded him 
with honors. From the office of chief equerry, Basil eventually 
rose to be co-emperor, rivaled in power only by MichaeFs uncle. 
In 866 the latter was disposed of by assassination, and when 
Michael gave signs of transferring his affections, Basil secured 
undisputed title to the throne by having him murdered also. Thus 
was founded the illustrious Macedonian dynasty which, in one 
fashion or another, maintained its authority at Constantinople for 
nearly two hundred years. 

Basil's reign (867-86) was not unsuccessful. He actively 
pushed a much needed reform of the finances, issued some ad- 
mirable law books to supplement Justinian's compilation of three 
centuries earlier, and called a general council to reestablish peace 
in the church. Basil's son and grandson were men of scholarly 
tastes, who not only encouraged learning on the part of others, 
but themselves produced many noteworthy books, mainly dealing 
with phases of the imperial administration. In private morals, 
however, the Macedonian emperors were far from paragons and, 
as time passed, the record became unbelievably fantastic. In the 
later tenth century the court came to be dominated by the empress 

1 See above, pp. 233, 241. 


Theophano. She, it was said, made her husband emperor by 
helping to murder his father, and then made herself a widow 
by poisoning her husband. In 963, at any rate, she married the 
victorious general, Nicephorus Phocas. 

A noble of Cappadocia descended from a long line of distin- 
guished soldiers, Nicephorus had recently gained renown by tak- 
ing Crete and fighting successful campaigns in Asia. As emperor 
by marriage, he now continued his triumphant oflFensive, complet- 
ing the conquest of Cilicia, Cyprus, and a portion of northern 
Syria, including Antioch and Aleppo. Momentarily it seemed as 
if the Roman state, surviving the short-lived empire of the caliphs, 
might yet revive the glories of Heraclius. The empress, mean- 
while, had tired of her soldier-husband’s severity. So, in 969, 
she connived at his assassination by his nephew, an Armenian 
cavalry officer named John Tzimisces (originally Chemshkik). 
Having already stooped to very foul means, John did not hesi- 
tate at perjury to assure his coronation. All blame was cast on 
Theophano and she was locked up in a convent for the rest of 
her life. To legitimate his usurpation, the new sovereign then 
married a princess of the Macedonian house. Normally we 
should hardly expect noble achievements from a reign thus in- 
augurated ; but such circumstances were not unusual at Constan- 
tinople, and John made a good emperor. While maintaining reli- 
gious peace and political stability, he won a military success on 
the northern frontier that was destined to have important con- 

Bulgaria, Christianized in the later eighth century under Boris 
I, reached its height of power under his son Simeon, the first of 
the line to assume the title of tsar, or emperor. On Simeon’s 
death in 927 the monarchy weakened; by the time of Nicephorus 
the western half of Bulgaria had broken off as a separate state, 
the Serbs had reasserted their independence, and from the north 
had appeared a new host of invaders led by the Russians. The 
latter, as we have already seen, were by origin Swedish vikings 
who had gained control of the trade routes between the Baltic 
and the Blade Sea.^ By the tenth century their scattered bands 
had come to be more or less united under the rule of a prince at 
Kiev, who also enjoyed a wide dominion over the nomads of the 
steppe and the Slavic tribes of the interior. From the Dnieper 

and John 

The rise 
of the 

See above, p. 232. 


Basil II 

The end 
of the 


the Russians, at the head of mixed armies, extended their plun- 
dering, on the one hand to the shores of the Caspian and, on the 
other, to the Balkan kingdoms. Down to the middle of tlie tenth 
century the princes of Kiev bore Scandinavian names, after that 
Slavic. For example, it Tvas Igor who led an attack on Constan- 
tinople between 941 and 945. His wife and successor was Olga, 
but their son was called Svyatoslav and his son was the famous 
Vladimir. At the accession of John Tzimisces, the Russians had 
overrun Bulgaria and from there were preparing to advance on 
Adrianople. In 971 the emperor intervened. The Russians were 
driven beyond the Danube and forced to make peace. Eastern 
Bulgaria was turned into a Byzantine province. 

John’s northern war was continued by Basil II, brother of the 
princess Theophano who had been married to Otto II.® After 
putting down an insurrection in Eastern Bulgaria, Basil turned 
upon the western kingdom and reduced it also. By an amazing 
recovery, the imperial border was thus brought back to the Dan- 
ube. Meanwhile Basil had established friendly relations with 
the Russian prince, Vladimir, whose dominions extended from 
the frontiers of Poland to the coast of the Black Sea. By the 
peace now sworn, both states secured valuable commercial rights. 
The emperor, furthermore, obtained an army for his personal pro- 
tection — ^the famous Varangian guard, which continued to serve 
at Constantinople for well over a century. On his side, Vladimir 
agreed to accept Christianity for himself and his people. This 
promise he faithfully carried out, and thereby the Russians were 
brought within the pale of civilized nations. 

Basil II died in 1025, and an ignoble brother survived him 
only three years, leaving two daughters, Zoe and Theodora, to end 
the dynasty. The former selected in turn three emperor-hus- 
bands, and yet had as heir only her sister, who died unmarried 
in 1056. There were to be no further revivals of imperial strength. 
The Macedonian family, in spite of the slimy intrigue that per- 
petually entangled it, had produced a number of talented em- 
perors. In the eleventh century the old depravity continued, un- 
relieved by even sporadic outbursts of constructive energy — a 
weary recital of civil war, palace revolution, and vicious incom- 
petence. The outstanding events which thenceforth affected the 
fate of the empire cast no credit on its rulers — ^the permanent 

3 See above, p. 300. 


schism with the Roman church, the loss of Italy to the Normans, 
and the triumph of the Turks in Asia Minor. One of these 
events has already been noted ; the other two must now briefly oc- 
cupy our attention. 

Relations between the eastern and western churches had fre- 
quently been broken before the eleventh century; even when the 
two sections of Christendom had been nominally at peace, they 
had never been in complete agreement. The fundamental cause 
of this chronic disharmony was of course the ancient contrast 
between the Greek and Latin cultures, which led to different ideals 
in religion and in ecclesiastical organization. Such differences, 
however, were in themselves hardly adequate to produce a major 
schism. Congregations might well use a variety of languages, 
follow separate rituals, and even disagree on points of discipline, 
without denying to one another communion in the one true faith. 
The sole issue of grave importance was the papal headship, to 
which the eastern bishops had never given enthusiastic support. 
Nor, so long as they were dominated by the imperial court, would 
they ever do so, for Rome had become identified with the principle 
of ecclesiastical independence. Yet the emperors were in the 
main easy-gojng politicians, anxious to avoid religious contro- 
versy; and even the more aggressive popes were too sensible to 
insist on a program of perfection. Normally, therefore, both 
parties were willing to compromise on a working agreement; it 
was only some untoward event that precipitated a crisis. 

In the eighth century a violent breach had been occasioned by 
the Iconoclastic Controversy,^ in the course of which the pope 
met the hostility of the emperor by recognizing the sovereign 
authority of the Frankish king. The final restoration of images 
throughout the east in 843 ended that schism, but almost at once 
Pope Nicholas I brought on another by championing the cause of 
a deposed patriarch at Constantinople. On this occasion Photius> 
the imperial nominee to the patriarchate, had formally condemned 
the Latins for various irregularities — ^such as eating eggs in Lent, 
using unleavened bread in the mass, shaving the faces of priests, 
and saying that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and 
the Son (Filiogue). Just at the crucial moment, however, the 
accession of Basil I relieved the situation, and after much re- 
crimination peace was restored in 898. Then ensued the degrada- 






^ See above,, pp. J79 f-, 241* 


among the 


tion of the Roman church, and the Byzantine emperors of the 
tenth century came to disregard the possibility of interference 
from the west. It was logical, therefore, that no serious trouble 
should arise until the epoch-making pontificate of Leo IX. 

Meanwhile another cause of ill-feeling between Rome and 
Constantinople had arisen — ^the bitter rivalry of the two churches 
for the domination of eastern Europe. This contest began in the 
ninth century, after the extension of Charlemagne’s empire had 
first brought Christian missionaries into direct contact with the 
Slavic peoples along the frontier. There the Roman cause was 
f fom the first identified with that of the German conquerors, who 
were led by political as well as by religious motives to oppose all 
Greek influence from the east. So it happened that the work of 
two brothers from Salonica, later known as Saints Cyril and 
Methodius, at once became the subject of controversy. Fired 
with the ambition of spreading the Gospel into Moravia, Cyril 
devised an alphabet of modified Greek characters in which to 
write the Slavic language, and by means of it translated books of 
divine service and portions of the Bible for use among the 
heathen. The two brothers then went to Moravia, but there, in 
the face of opposition from the west, failed to obtain permanent 
success. Although the Czechs rapidly adopted Christianity, their 
ecclesiastical system was destined to be Latin — a result assured by 
the Magyar invasion and the subsequent establishment of the 
Holy Roman Empire. By the end of the tenth century, not only 
Bohemia, but also Poland and Hungary had been organized as 
Christian states under German influence and with a clergy depend- 
ent on Rome. 

To the south and east, however, the work of Cyril and Metho- 
dius won a triumph such as they could never have foreseen. 
Cyril’s liturgy, originally composed in the vernacular of Mace- 
donia, was readily accepted by the Serbs and Croatians, and when 
Boris I adopted Christianity, it was that same system which 
became official throughout Bulgaria. The popes, to be sure, 
tried to enforce their authority over the newly organized churches, 
but in this respect their cause was ruined by the schism that lasted 
from 867 to 898. Afterwards the advancing power of the Mace- 
donian emperors, together with the collapse of Roman prestige, 
assured Byzantine dominance in the BaBcans. Under Basil II, 
Constantinople gained an even more significant victory through 
the conversion of the Russians, for Vladimir’s acceptance of the 



Greek ecclesiastical system resulted in its extension from the 
Black Sea to the Baltic. With the Greek church went Greek in- 
fluence in the fields of politics, commerce, art, and all intellectual 
life. Even today the prevalence of a semi-Greek alphabet — 
modification of Cyril’s original invention — ^marks off one great 
section of the Slavic world from the other, which has continued 
to use the Latin alphabet ever since the tenth century. 

Another long-standing cause of friction between the papacy and 
the Byzantine Empire was the ecclesiastical status of southern The final 
Italy. At the height of the Iconoclastic Controversy the emperor schism 
Leo III formally removed his Italian provinces from the juris- 
diction of the Roman church, and in spite of the later reconcilia- 
tion, his decree remained in effect. Whether it could be enforced (1054) 
by the feeble successors of Basil II remained problematical until 
the whole situation was changed by the conquest of Robert Guis- 
card.® That event immediately raised another question: What 
should be the attitude of the papacy toward the Normans? The 
pope at the time was the able Leo IX. At first he thought, by 
joining forces with the emperor, to advance the Roman cause at 
Constantinople. Unfortunately for this plan, the Normans had 
no difficulty in defeating both the imperial and the papal armies. 

Then, while the pope's attitude was still in doubt, the headstrong 
Michael Cerularius, patriarch of Constantinople, precipitated a 
religious crisis. Reviving the policy of Photius, he denounced 
all the peculiar usages of the Latins and closed all churches in 
his capital where they were in force. The pope, accordingly, was 
given no choice. Just before his death, Leo IX signed peace with 
the Normans and excommunicated the patriarch. The latter, tak- 
ing advantage of the vacancy at Rome, drove the incompetent 
emperor into a reversal of policy, called a synod in the summer of 
1054, and there secured formal condemnation of the Roman 
church and all who accepted its authority. 

Thus was written the final act in the intermittent conflict be- 
tween the eastern and the western churches, for the breach made 
in 1054 has remained unhealed down to the present. Careful 
analysis of the events leading up to it tends to place the responsi- 
bility with the patriarch Michael Cerularius. Some, of course, 
may argue that morally his action was wholly laudable; but it is 
hard to see why the schism was inevitable. The papacy at that 

* See above, pp. 279 f., 513. 



The rise 
of the 


Battle of 



time was no other than it had claimed to be for many centuries, 
and* Leo’s conduct throughout the affair was irreproachable. 
Michael, an able but politically ambitious prelate, deliberately 
broke with Rome by condemning practices which Rome would 
never abandon. In any case, as far as the Byzantine Empire was 
concerned, the step was suicidal. At the very moment when the 
papacy was assuming the leadership of a reinvigorated Europe, 
Constantinople chose to assert its uncompromising independence 
— and this on the eve of another great Mohammedan offensive in 

The disintegration of the Arab state under the Abbasids has 
been briefly described in a previous chapter. By the end of the 
tenth century the caliphate had become a mere name; actually 
the Moslem territories were held by a large number of inde- 
pendent princes, some of whom were avowed supporters of hereti- 
cal doctrines. Since 945, in fact, one of these unorthodox- 
chieftains had controlled Bagdad itself, making and unmaking 
caliphs at discretion. Among the adventurers who profited by 
this state of affairs were many Turks.® Adopting Islam and 
migrating westward in large numbers, they had become especially 
prominent as mercenary troops — a profession that has always 
tended to produce streams of conquerors. By such a transition 
one band in particular was now to achieve spectacular fortune. 
The tribe of a Turk named Seljuk is first heard of in the service 
of a local emir to the east of the Oxus. Early in the eleventh 
century the sons of Seljuk, with the permission of the authorities, 
led their forces into Khorassan, where they quickly became so 
powerful that they could defy all their neighbors. When the 
governor of the province tried to put them out, they put him out, 
and thenceforth recognized no superior except the caliph. By 
1038 Togrul Beg, grandson of Seljuk, had established himself at 
Nishapur with the title of sultan.*^ In 1055 he entered Bagdad, 
freed the caliph from the despotism of the Persian heretic, and 
substituted his own control. So a Turkish adventurer, now styl- 
ing himself Right Hand of the Commander of the Faithful, came 
to rule the Arab empire, or as much of it as he could conquer. 

In 1063 the power of Togrul Beg was inherited by his son Alp 
Arslan (Brave Lion), who proceeded with amazing energy to ex- 
tend his dominion on every side. Having subdued all Persia, 

® See above, p. 114. 

^ A vague Arabic word meamug ruler. 


together with the territory eastward to the Oxus, he turned in the 
opposite direction to complete the reduction of Armenia. That 
unfortunate Christian kingdom, after regaining its independence 
from the weakening caliphate, had recently been annexed by the 
Byzantine Empire. It was now left to a cruel fate, being virtually 
destroyed by Alp Arslan in 1065. Then, while bands of Ar- 
menian fugitives were finding new homes in Cilicia, the Turks 
pressed on into Cappadocia. At Constantinople, meanwhile, the 
throne had passed to Romanus IV, a brave soldier but a poor 
general. Taking the field against the Turkish raiders, he rashly 
drove them far back into the mountains of Armenia, where in 
1071 Alp Arslan annihilated his army at Manzikert. Like the 
Moslem victory on the Yarmuk four centuries before, this battle 
radically changed the course of history. The Byzantine military 
power, so carefully preserved by the Macedonian emperors, was 
permanently destroyed, and the whole of Asia Minor, together 
with the conquests of Nicephorus Phocas, was engulfed by a 
new tide of Mohammedan invasion. Anatolia, which for hun- 
dreds of years had supplied the empire with the best of its com- 
manders and civil servants, was now recolonized by savage immi- 
grants, whom the prospect of easily won riches brought in swarms 
from their distant homelands. Greek civilization persisted in the 
towns of the coast, but from that day to this the interior of Asia 
Minor has been solidly Turkish. 

Alp Arslan did not live to see the momentous consequences of 
his victory at Manzikert. Dying in the year, he was suc- 
ceeded by his son Malik Shah (1072-92), with, whom the Seljuk 
power reached its height. Theoretically, he remained merely the 
dq)uty of the caliph ; actually he bore what had been the caliph’s 
own title. Commander of the Faithful, and his word was law over 
a vast expanse of territory. In Asia Minor Byzantine resistance 
completely broke down, and there Suleiman, a cousin of Malik 
Shah, established himself as sultan of Roum (Rome) with his 
capital at Nicsea, just across the strait from Constantinople. In 
Syria, meanwhile, the local d3masty put up a stubborn fight against 
the Seljuks, but by 1080 it too had yielded. So Turkish emirs 
came to rule at Jerusalem, Damascus, Aleppo, and Antioch. His- 
tory then repeated itself. The death of Malik Shah was followed 
by civil war over the succession, and the reconstituted Moslem 
empire broke apart into warring fragments. That was the situa- 
tion when, for ti»e first time since the decay of ancient Rome, an 

The Turks 
in Asia 
Minor and 


in the 



army from western Europe assumed the offensive on the eastern 
shore of the Mediterranean. 


In the last decade of the eleventh century widely separated 
currents of influence converged to produce the great movement 
known as the Crusade. In the east the collapse of the Byzantine 
Empire before the Turkish onslaught provided a favorable oc- 
casion for western intervention, but the power that made possible 
a magnificent counter-attack was the feudal aristocracy of the 
west marshaled under the banner of the reformed papacy. This 
dramatic climax cannot be explained by drawing up a simple list 
of alleged causes. Obviously, before we can see why the war- 
like hosts of western Christendom launched an ambitious offen- 
sive in far-off Asia, we must understand how they had come to 
assume any offensive at all. In the eighth century the original 
drive of the Arabs against Europe had been checked by two 
powers: the Byzantine Empire in the east and the Franks in 
the west. Both had then been compelled to stand on the defensive 
for a long time. As late as the tenth century, while the Mace- 
donian emperors were reconquering Crete, Cyprus, and north- 
ern S3a'ia, the African Moslems were still extending their domin- 
ion in the western Mediterranean, occupying Sicily and ravaging 
the coasts of Gaul and Italy. It was not until the eleventh cen- 
tury that they were gradually compelled, through the increasing 
strength of their foes, to withdraw from their advanced positions. 

How the Christian princes of Spain, aided by thousands of 
French recruits, began a successful advance against the paralyzed 
caliphate of Cordova has been seen in an earlier chapter. By 
1085 they had gained such headway that the local emirs, as a last 
desperate resort, decided to call in the Almoravids (al-murabitun, 
religious ascetics). The latter had begun as a group of fanatical 
Berbers pledged to revive the original purity of the Mohammedan 
faith. Emerging from the region of the Sahara, they had quickly 
built up a formidable army llirough an effective combination of 
preaching and raiding, and so had won absolute control of north- 
ern Africa as far east as Algiers. On hearing the appeal of 
the Spanish Moors, their chiefs naturally answered with enthusi- 
asm and in 1086 dispatched a force across the strait. The result 
was the battle of Zallaca, in which the Christians suffered a terrific 
defeat. They were, in fact, able to hold their recent conquests 


largely because the reforming zeal of the Almoravids immediately 
embroiled them with the easy-going princes whom they had come 
to rescue. Thanks to this respite, the Christians were able to 
secure necessary reinforcements, and eventually their hosts again 
swept forward. 

The fate of Spain was of course decided by land warfare, but 
to the eastward a contest of even greater significance was taking 
place on the sea. By means of their naval supremacy, the Mos- 
lems had secured possession of the western Mediterranean islands 
and from these bases had established for themselves a virtual 
monopoly of trade between Europe and Africa. Until the Sara- 
cen fleets were swept from the neighboring waters, Provencal and 
Italian merchants could expect no relief from the piratical attacks 
to which they had long been exposed. And in the absence of any 
competent royal or princely authority, it was the cities of Italy 
which had to assume the leadership. How the eleventh century 
brought a striking revival of commerce and urban life to the 
more progressive regions of the west will be seen in the next 
chapter. For the moment it need only be stated that the opening 
of that century found three great seaports able and willing to 
undertake a war against the infidel: Venice, Genoa, and Pisa. 
Venetian ships were already engaged in cleaning out the nests of 
freebooters along the Adriatic shore; from there it was a simple 
matter to turn against the corsairs of Sicily. In 1022 a joint 
expedition from Pisa and Genoa captured the island of Sardinia 
and during the ensuing years these cities, together or separately, 
carried out successful offensives all through the western Mediter- 
ranean. Finally, in 1087, their occupation of Mahdiyah in Tunis 
forced the emir of that region to submit to their terms, and this 
victory may be said to have ended, the Moslem sea power in the 

The Italian cities, in return for commercial advantages, also 
gave valuable aid to the Norman advance. Within six years after 
Leo IX had broken with Constantinople, his successor, Nicholas 
II, recognized Robert Guiscard as duke of Apulia. In 1071 the 
capture of Bari completed the conquest of the Byzantine prov- 
inces, and the fall of Palermo in the next year assured the ulti- 
mate reduction of Sicily. Turning to the north, Guiscard then 
took Salerno and pushed his troops into the old duchy of Bene- 
vento— aggressions which for a time won him the hostility of 
Gregory VII. Bnt the latter, on becoming once more embroiled 

The war 
on the sea 


power in 



with Henry IV, saw fit to renew the Norman alliance in 1080, 
and so gave at least moral support to Guiscard’s plan for the con- 
quest of Constantinople, This move — influenced, of course, by 
the Greek schism — ^boded ill for the Byzantine Empire, and it set 
a precedent for momentous actions in the future. 

From the very outset the popes had been vitally interested in 
The papal the campaigns being waged against the Moslem power in the 
policy west. In the first place, as temporal princes, they had cooperated 
in many attempts to check the plague of Saracen raids in Italy. 
Secondly, through their claim to spiritual headship, they could not 
fail to support any attack on the arch-enemies of the church. So 
the papacy had formally blessed the Christian war in Spain, the 
Norman conquest of Sicily, and the various enterprises under- 
taken by Genoa and Pisa. Some of these expeditions had also 
been encouraged by a guarantee of extensive indulgence — ^the as- 
surance to any one who participated that his previous obligations 
for penance would be largely remitted. Besides, under Hilde- 
brand’s energetic guidance, the papacy had definitely formulated 
a policy of active intervention in European politics to enforce the 
Petrine supremacy and to advance the cause of ecclesiastical lead- 
ership throughout the world. 

The predecessors of Gregory VII had backed William the Con- 
queror against a schismatic king of England, and Robert Guis- 
card against schismatic Greeks in Italy. Now Gregory himself 
was willing to take a much more ambitious step — one which might 
even lead to the revival of western domination in the east. Ro- 
manus IV survived his fearful defeat at Manzikert, but not the 
palace revolution that ensued. His successor, confronted on all 
sides by mounting disaster, appealed for aid to the pope, whose 
imagination was at once fired by the magnificent prospect thus 
unfolded. Then, in 1078, another insurrection at Constantinople 
brought to the throne another incompetent, and in three years he 
was supplanted by a military intriguer named Alexius Comnenus. 
Meanwhile the new master of southern Italy had inevitably been 
attracted by the provinces just across the narrow Adriatic. In- 
deed, some of his own rebellious vassals had already taken refuge 
in that country, and their success was clearly demonstrating the 
weakness of the Byzantine government. For a variety of reasons, 
Gregory VII decided in 1080 to support the Norman enterprise, 
and in the following year Guiscard, with the able assistance of his 
son Bohemund, launched a drive which he hoped would carry 



him to the imperial throne. After taking Corfu and Durazzo, 
however, Guiscard was compelled to lead an army against Henry 
IV,® and the continuation of his eastern campaign was brought 
to a sudden end by his death in 1085, two months after that of 
Gregory VII. 

With the passing of the great Norman adventurer, his domin- 
ions were threatened with disruption. In Sicily, to be sure. Count Urban 11 
Roger triumphantly completed the Christian conquest ; but on the (1088-99) 
mainland Guiscard’s son, also named Roger, proved totally unable 
to control his restless vassals, chief among whom was his re- 
markable brother, Bohemund. To the north, meanwhile, the 
warfare between the imperial and the papal forces still raged. 

An aged friend of Gregory, dected to succeed him, died after a 
year of failure and the cardinals then chose a younger and an abler 
man, the famous Urban II. The new pope was a noble of C3iam- 
pagne who had left the world to become a monk at Quny. There, 
however, his talents had quickly marked him out for distinction 
and about 1078 he had been delegated, at the pope’s request, for 
service at Rome. For years the trusted assistant of Gregory VII, 
he now accepted the papacy as a solemn obligation to carry out the 
ideals of his departed master. He won an amazing success. ' In 
part it was due to the prestige which had been given to the office 
by Gregory. Yet Urban himself contributed to it in no small de- 
gree, for he very happily combined what in his day was pro- 
found learning with what in any day has constituted good sense 
and tactful leadership. 

By 1095 the aging Henry IV had given up all ambitions beyond 
the Alps, and the papacy was once more in control of Rome. The 
Urban thus found the occasion auspicious for launching a great project 
project that had long occupied his thoughts; In the east the em- ^ 
peror Alexius had succeeded, with the help of the Venetians, in 
driving out the Normans and in reestablishing his sovereignty 
throughout the Balkans; but, except for a portion of the coast, 

Asia Minor remained in Turkish possession. Knowing that by 
himself he was powerless to regain his lost provinces, Alexius ap- 
pealed for aid to various western princes, including Pope Urban 
and Robert, count of Flanders, who had recoitly return^ by way 
of Constantinople from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.® All, of 
course, that the emperor expected or wished was a force of mer- 

* See above, p, 317. 

® See above, p, 


Council of 




cenaries who might, like the French knights in Spain, accept a 
share of lands in return for their services. The war should con- 
tinue to be his war, waged for the recovery of his territory. 

Urban, on the other hand, conceived a magnificent Latin enter- 
prise, organized and controlled not by any secular prince, but by 
the papacy — a great Christian offensive which should absorb and 
surpass the lesser offensives that had already begun. If success- 
ful, such an undertaking might restore to Alexius some of his 
provinces; that was a minor consideration. The main objec- 
tive was to unite all Christendom in a super-campaign to recover 
the Holy Land, substituting for the civil war that had long dis- 
tracted Europe a general pacification under the dictatorship of the 
church. Accordingly, although Urban’s plan had novel features, 
it was solidly based on religious idealism that was by no means 
revolutionary. For over a century the local clergy, especially in 
France, had been engaged in a rather fruitless effort to check the 
excesses of feudal warfare. Persons who refused to respect 
sacred places and to spare the non-combatant population were 
solemnly anathematized; and to enforce such decrees, sworn as- 
sociations of nobles were formed in many dioceses.* More re- 
cently this so-called Peace of God had been supplemented by the 
Truce of God — a similar organization to assure peaceful week- 
ends by prohibiting all fighting between Thursday evening and 
Monday morning. Now, under papal leadership, such movements 
were taken up and combined with a dozen other momentous proj- 
ects to constitute what became known as the Crusade. 

It was apparently in the summer of 1095 that Urban and his 
counselors decided on the action which was dramatically taken 
before the end of the year. Being himself a Frenchman, the pope 
well knew the audience to which he should first address himself* 
After a sort of triumphal progress throughout northern Italy, he 
crossed the Alps into France, where he spent many weeks investi- 
gating local conditions. Finally, in November, he held a council 
at Clermont, the chief city of Auvergne, to which the French 
clergy and nobility — knowing that untoward events impended — 
streamed from all directions. Urban naturally dominated the 
assembly. The papacy had now entered upon a great ascendancy 
in Europe; Urban, a man of culture, of handsome presence, and 
of great personal charm, was in the heart of his native land* The 
council attended to its routine business, including a renewal of the 
Truce of God and another excommunication of the king, Philip I, 


for his evil life and his indifference to the cause of reform. Then 
the pope, addressing the multitude in its own vernacular, deliv- 
ered his epoch-making appeal. The exact text has not come down 
to us, but the substance of his speech is known from the reports 
of several chroniclers. 

The Turks, he eloquently reminded his hearers, after almost 
destroying the Byzantine Empire had but recently seized the holy 
places in the east. What a noble work it would be to rescue 
the Lord's Sepulcher from their foul hands and to restore Chris- 
tian dominion throughout the lands to which they had brought 
impiety and desolation! Who should assume this most sacred 
obligation if not the Franks, a people long distinguished for 
purity of faith, and a people famed beyond all others for glory 
in arms? Here, said Urban, they lived in a narrow country, 
crowded in by sea and mountain — ^a country which failed even to 
produce enough food for its teeming population. Syria, on the 
contrary, had been given by the Almighty to the children of Israel 
as a land ‘‘flowing with milk and honey." Jerusalem, the very 
center of the earth, called upon the western Christians for aid 
in her distress- Let them cease from their endless wars and dis- 
sensions. Let them no longer murder one another ’for petty gain. 
Let them rather join in one blessed enterprise, to wrest from the 
infidel the lands defiled by his presence, knowing that God would 
grant them not merely a rich earthly reward, but imperishable 
glory in the kingdom of heaven. And as the pope concluded, Qer- 
mont resounded with what was to become the war-cry of the 
crusaders : ^^Dieu le veut — God wills it !" 


How shrewdly Urban had calculated his chances of success was 
proved by the event. Thanks not only to the pope's eloquent 
pronouncement at Clermont, but also to his untiring efforts dur- 
ing the following months, thousands soon vowed their adherence 
to the sacred cause. Each of them, as prescribed by the pope, 
marked his peculiar status by sewing on his garments a cross cut 
from cloth. Thus he became a crudatus (French, croise) and 
his expedition a crusade. Every man who took the cross, together 
with his family and all his belongings, at once came under the 
direct protection of the pope and, no matter how sinful, was as- 

of the 

See below, p. 369. 


of the 


sured immediate entrance to paradise if he died repentant. On 
the other hand, any one who injured a crusader’s person or family 
or property incurred the direst penalties that the church could 
enforce. To heighten the general enthusiasm now appeared many 
volunteer preachers, of whom the most famous was Peter the 
Hermit. Under their fervent exhortations, indeed, the crusading 
movement tended to get out of control. Crowds of ill-armed 
persons, devoid of adequate funds and without competent leaders, 
started on a mad pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Their march 
across the Balkan peninsula was attended by many disorders, and 
of those who reached Constantinople, the majority, on rashly ad- 
vancing into Asia, w'ere killed by the Turks. The few survivors 
who reached Palestine did so by awaiting the principal host. 

These scattering efforts took place in the spring and summer of 
1096. Meanwhile the princes who were to carry out the real 
crusade were slowly gathering forces in their respective countries. 
From the first, Urban had realized that the success of his project 
would depend on the support of the French, who in the last half- 
century had repeatedly proved their aptitude for great military 
undertakings. From the emperor Henry IV nothing could of 
course be expected, and most of his German subjects continued to 
be absorbed in local politics. Nor was Philip I of France, having 
just had his excommunication renewed at Clermont, the sort of 
person to lead a crusade. The king of England was William 
Rufus, second son of the Conqueror, intent on taking the duchy 
of Normandy from his elder brother Robert, and not at all eager 
for distant adventures. So it is plain why the chief actors in the 
great drama were not the wearers of royal crowns. 

In the absence of Philip I, the Capet ian house was represented 
by his brother Hugh, count of Vermandois — a man who proved 
to be otherwise undistinguished. Robert of Normandy also took 
the cross ; and although he personally lacked statesmanlike quali- 
ties, he brought with him the prestige of an illustrious family 
and a group of important friends, including his brother-in-law, 
Stephen, count of Blois. A much more prominent crusader was 
Robert, count of Flanders, son of the great adventurer Robert 
the Frisian, who had himself made a famous pilgrimage to 
Jerusalem. And the neighboring house of Boulogne contributed 
no less than three important chiefs, the sons of Count Eustace II, 
who had fought with William the Conqueror at Hastings. Of the 
three brothers — Eustace, Godfrey, and Baldwin — ^the second was 



destined to become an exalted hero of romance as the first Chris- 
tian prince of Jerusalem. Yet in 1096 he was poor and relativdy 
unknown. Being, through his mother, the grandson of a previous 
duke of Lower Lorraine, he had secured that duchy by con- 
firmation from Henry IV ; but the title gave him little real au- 
thority outside his own territory of Bouillon and in ail his sym- 
pathies he remained essentially a French baron. 

Raymond, count of Toulouse, headed an imposing contingent 
from the south of France. Being pious and wealthy, and having 
served against the Moors in Spain, he had a grand rq)utation, and 
his influence was further enhanced by the fact that the papal 
director of the crusade was his vassal, Ademar, bishop of Puy. 

But in spite of Raymond’s pretensions, the best general within the 
Christian ranks was unquestionably Bohemund, son of Robert 
Guiscard. From such a father what military lessons could not 
be learned by a talented youth? Bohemund had seen action in 
Italy, Sicily, and Greece. He was familiar with the peoples and 
institutions of those countries and, to some extent at least, with 
their languages. He was awed neither by popes nor by emperors 
nor by sultans. And among his associates were many experienced 
soldiers of the same type, notably his nephew Tancred. Being left 
in Italy with nothing better than a narrow fief, Bohemund now 
eagerly grasped the opportunity of resuming Guiscard’s oriental 
adventure. If not at Constantinople, he might yet reign at 

From this review of the foremost crusaders, the character of 
their followers may readily be imagined. On the whole, the The 
Christian host that surged eastward in 1096 was much like those njotives 
which had earlier fought in Spain, England, and southern Italy. 

It differed only in the fact that, instead of being enlisted for the 
service of a secukur prince, it was mustered under the supreme 
command of the papacy. The church had previously blessed 
many enterprises launched by other authorities; now it had ini- 
tiated and was proceeding to direct a vast campaign of its own. 

This in itsdf was eloquent testimony to the might of the organiza- 
tion headed by Urban II. Yet the men who were to put his 
plan into execution remained distinct individuals. Among them 
there might be a few idealists truly inspired by mystic rdigion. 

And the great multitude of knights, being quite sincere in their 
childlike faith, could easily be induced under mconentary enthusi- 
asm to forget all worldly motives. It is more than coincidence. 



however, that the chief gainers from the crusade were to be 
hard-headed adventurers like the Norman Bohemund and shrewd 
merchants like the shipowners of Pisa and Genoa. Such men 
the papacy might for a time be able to use. Could it ever really 
dominate them ? 

That question had not as yet arisen when the various sections 
The march of the crusading host started east in the autumn of 1096. Ar- 
on Con- rangements had already been made that all groups should con- 
sto^ople ygj-gg Qj]^ Constantinople, where tlie emperor Alexius agreed to 
furnish money, provisions, and troops to facilitate a rapid advance 
against tlie common foe. Godfrey of Lorraine, together with 
various French contingents, took the route down the Danube that 
had already been used by the earlier bands of irregulars. Ray- 
mond of Toulouse crossed the Alps into Lombardy and thence 
proceeded along the Dalmatian coast until he struck the main 
highway from Durazzo through Macedonia.- This, latter road 
was also chosen by the other leaders, but to reach it they took ship 
across the Adriatic from the Norman ports in southern Italy. 
There were many delays and various open conflicts between 
Greeks and Latins before all had assembled at the rendezvous. 
Friction had also developed between Alexius and the chiefs whom 
he sought to enroll for his service. Before he would provide 
for their further progress, he insisted that all should do homage 
to him for whatever lands they might conquer, and to this de- 
mand a few offered stubborn resistance. Nevertheless, in the 
face of necessity, all finally agreed to some sort of oath, and in 
the spring of 1097 the crusaders crossed into' Asia for their first 
attack on the Moslem power. 

In this connection it should be remarked that no trust can 


into Asia 

normally be placed in the figures of mediseval chroniclers, who 
describe the size of armies and other multitudes with no regard 
for numerical accuracy. It is quite incredible that, as we are 
soberly told by many books, hundreds of thousands of crusaders 

started out from Constantinople in 1097. Such numbers, if our 
estimate is restricted to knights, must be divided by ten. Althor^h 
to our eyes an army of twenty to thirty thousand is not im- 
pressive, it was tremendous for the deventh century. And 
against it the local Turkish princes could bring no equal force, 
for all Moslem unity in Asia had again vanished since the death 
of Malik Shah. The Christians, therefore, had every prospect 
of success if only they held together. With the hdp of a Byzan- 


tine army, Nic^ea was taken after a siege of well over a month 
and was immediately given up to the emperor. Then, while the 
latter diverted his force to reconquer the ^gean coast, the cru- 
saders struck bravely across the interior of Anatolia. Despite 
the unaccustomed heat and a grave shortage of food, they main- 
tained their triumphant advance, routing the Turks at Dory- 
laeum in July, and by September crossing the passes of the Taurus 
Mountains into Cilicia. 

Here, on the very border of the Promised Land, the Latin 
host began to disintegrate. Encouraged by the Armenian Chris- 
tians who had recolonized the country, several of the princes 
now left the main army for the sake of individual conquest. 

Tancred, nephew of Bohemund, and Baldwin, brother of God- 
frey, led bands of followers into Tarsus, where they were en- 
thusiastically welcomed by the inhabitants, but where they nearly 
came to blows over the possession of the city. At last Baldwin 
yielded to the Norman strength and shifted operations to the 
eastward, securing control over various positions on the upper 
Euphrates. The rest of the crusaders, in the meantime, had ad- 
vanced to the walls of Antioch. Having no siege engines and 
being short of necessary supplies, they remained encamped 
throughout the entire winter of 1097-98. It was not until an 
Italian fleet arrived in the spring that the city could be closely in- 
vested. On June 3 it surrendered, five days before a large relief 
army was brought up by the emir of Mosul. 

The man responsible for the narrow escape of the host was 
Bohemund, whose negotiations had led to the opening of a gate The con- 
by a traitor inside the walls. Being a shrewd politician as well quest of 
as a resourceful general, he had already secured a pledge from 
the other princes that the one who should make possible the cap-. ^ ^ 

ture of Antioch should be its lord. Bohemund, to be sure, was 
bound by an engagement to the emperor, but the latter had con- 
tributed nothing to the taking of the city and the Norman had 
no intention of relinquishing his hold. Now the Turkish siege 
brought another crisis. A party of the faint-hearted, led by 
Stephen of Blois, actually deserted the host and started for Con- 
stantinople. Meeti;^ Alexius, who was advancing with an army 
from the north, tJ% told him that all was lost. Foolishly he 
turned back and so threw away his valid claim to Syria, for 
Bohemund, acting as commander-in-chief, drove off the besiegers 
by a successful coimter-attadc on June 28. 



The affair 
of the 

This battle had momentous consequences for the future of the 
crusading movement. In the first place, it opened the roads to 
the south for an easy advance on Jerusalem. Secondly, it pro- 
duced an open breach between the Latins and the Greeks. Bohe- 
mund’s title to Antioch was confirmed by the failure of Alexius 
to bring aid during the critical month of June, and the crusaders’ 
defiance of his sovereignty soon led to the outbreak of active 
hostilities in Cilicia. Because of the Greek schism, the pope 
found no occasion to intervene on behalf of the discredited By- 
zantine government And since Italian fleets had now established 
direct contact with Syria, Constantinople no longer dominated 
communications with the west. The crusade thus became an in- 
dependent Latin venture, the course of which was to be deter- 
mined by the generals in the field. 

The passing of acute danger at once precipitated a bitter con- 
troversy between Bohemund and Raymond of Toulouse. The 
latter had himself been eager to rule at Antioch and he now, in 
the face of the whole northern French party, espoused the cause 
of the emperor Alexius. Furthermore, all the southern French 
attributed the recent victory not to the generalship of Bohemund, 
but to the mystic power of the Holy Lance — alleged to be that 
which had pierced the side of the crucified Christ. As a matter 
of fact, one Peter Bartholomew, a follower of Raymond, had 
found a lance in a place said to have been revealed to him by a 
vision. The discovery had at first produced great enthusiasm 
among the beleaguered Christians. Subsequently, as the lance 
became the standard of Ra3miond’s faction, the Normans scoffed 
at the whole affair, intimating that the southerners had merely 
uncovered what they had already buried. 

This quarrel, together with the outbreak of plague, delayed 
any further advance for six months. At last Raymond yielded 
to the general clamor and the march on Jerusalem was resumed 
in January, 1099. Proceeding down the coast, the crusaders 
again stopped to lay siege to Archas, a fortress near Tripolis. 
During the halt, as dissension still raged in the host, Peter Bar- 
tholomew agreed to undergo ordeal by fire to prove the truth 
of his statements. Clad only in a shirt aij^ bearing the Holy 
Lance, he actually walked through a heap of Hercely blazing olive 
branches and emerged on the other side. Twelve days later he 
died — ^as the consequence, said his friends, of excited handling 
by the crowd. The Normans, on the contrary, declared that he 


had been burned to death. So the dispute continued as before — 
a remarkable illustration of the strange mixture of religion and 
politics that characterized the whole crusade. 

In spite of all distractions, the Christian host eventually found 
itself encamped before Jerusalem. Now all was again harmony. 
And now, thanks to the cooperation of the Italian cities, there 
was a plentful supply of materials and trained men for conduct- 
ing a siege. On July 15, less than six weeks after their first 
sight of the Holy City, the crusaders stormed its walls, and the 
principal goal of Urban’s magnificent project was attained. One 
week later Godfrey of Lorraine, whose forces had led tlie final 
assault and who had maintained a sort of neutrality throughout 
the earlier quarrels, was elected and proclaimed Defender of the 
Holy Sepulcher. Thus, although he never assumed the crown, 
he actually became the first Latin king of Jerusalem, and on 
August 12 the success of his rule was assured by his victory 
at Ascalon over a formidable Egyptian army. Strangely enough, 
the man chiefly responsible for this dramatic series of exploits 
, survived, but did not live to celebrate, its triumphant conclusion. 
Pope Urban II died at Rome on July 29, just before the glad 
news arrived that Jerusalem had fallen. 

The fame of the crusade had, of course, enormous repercussion 
throughout Europe. All Christendom rang with the deeds of 
the great heroes who had participated, and for many generations 
the force of their example was a potent influence upon the chiv- 
alry of the west. In particular, the success of the crusade logi- 
cally tended to glorify the papacy which had sponsored it, and 
so contributed greatly to the dominance of the church in the en- 
suing period. Deepening knowledge of mediaeval civilization has, 
indeed, made it impossible to attribute to the crusade all the 
major political, economic, and intellectual developments of the 
twelfth century; in these respects its influence is now seen to 
have been restricted. Nevertheless, even if the crusade be con- 
sidered a mere episode in the cultural history of Europe, such an 
episode richly illustrates the thought and habits of the early 
feudal age. In itself it wais a very great and very wonderful 
event. Leaving the ultimate significance of the crusade for treat- 
ment in subsequent chapters, we may at present attempt merdy 
to summarize the changes which it immediately produced in Asia. 

The first of the crusading states to be created was the county 
of Edessa. Ag already noted, Godfrey’s brother Baldwin left 

The cap- 
ture of 

The im- 
effect of 


The Latin 
states in 


the main host in the autumn of 1097, and, after quarreling with 
Tancred over control of Cilicia, proceeded, through the friendship 
of the Armenians, to build for himself a principality on the upper 
Euphrates. In the spring of 1098, having secured aid from 
other crusaders, he took the city of Edessa, which thenceforth 

remained his capital. Meanwhile the Normans under Tancred 
had established themselves in Tarsus and the adjoining cities, 
and after Bohemund had secured possession of Antioch he 
treated Cilicia as his northern province. This territory, how- 
ever, was taken by the Byzantines while he was occupied in fight- 
ing the Turks; and the war thus begun was continued under his 
nephew and successor, Tancred. The next conquest of the cru- 



saders was Jerusalem itself, which was given to Godfrey of Lor- 
raine as temporal ruler. Eventually a fourth principality center- 
ing in Tripolis was set up for Ra)miond of Toulouse; but since 
he died before that city was actually taken, it was only his heirs 
who enjoyed more than a theoretical lordship. 

Godfrey, too, was allowed but a brief time in which to hold 
dominion in Palestine, for he died just a year after his installa- The Idng- 
tion as Defender of the Holy Sepulcher. Thereupon his brother dom of 
Baldwin gave Edessa to a relative and on Christmas, 1100, was 
crowned king of Jerusalem. At that time his kingdom contained 
little more than the one city, but under Baldwin’s energetic com- 
mand it was rapidly made into a reality. To the southeast his 
sovereignty was extended beyond the Dead Sea; to the north the 
strip of coast between the Jordan and the Mediterranean was 
occupied as far as Beirut. In the course of this advance vassals 
were placed in charge of important positions, with rights and 
obligations determined according to contemporary feudal prac- 
tice in France. Thus appeared barons with such picturesque 
titles as Lord of Sidon, Count of Jaffa, and Prince of Galilee. 
Meanwhile the states of Antioch, Edessa, and Tripolis had been 
organized in much the same way— each to suit the interests of 
its own hereditary dynasty. In theory the rulers of these terri- 
tories were sometimes described as royal vassals ; actually, owing 
to the circumstances of their accession to power, they remained 
independent princes. 

Too many writers have described the feudalism established in 
the Latin states of Syria as an idealistic abstraction. It is true 
that in the thirteenth century, after the Turkish reconquest of 
the Holy City, a symmetrical set of customs was drawn up by 
a group of lawyers and labeled the Assises of Jerusalem, 

Whether they had ever been enforced in Syria is somewhat doubt- 
ful, and in any case they did not reflect the original institutions of 
the crusaders. Men like Bohemund, Tancred, Godfrey, and Bald- 
win created principalities for thraiselves by wholly practical means 
and applied feudal tenures in political organization because they 
were familiar with no other workable system. Their procedure 
was no different from that of their contemporaries in England, 

Spain, Italy, and Sicily. Indeed, when we take into account the 
handicaps faced from the outset by the western invaders, it is 
amazing that some of their states lasted for the better part of 
two centuries. As a military problem, the holding of an extended 


coast without control of the plateau on which it bordered was 
nothing short of desperate. No modern conqueror would con- 
sider such a mad enterprise. The odds against these isolated 
princes were terrific; and yet, as long as reinforcements streamed 
from the west, they kept what they had taken. On ultimate analy- 
sis, it will be found that the success of the crusade was due less 
to religious enthusiasm than to a very practical alliance between 
the leaders of the army and the Italian merchants. Logically, 
therefore, we are brought to the subject of commercial revival 
in the eleventh century. 




Of the many centuries that had elapsed since the disruption 
of the Roman Empire, the eleventh was the first to witness posi- 
tive signs of economic recovery in western Europe. One such 
sign was the increase of population. It was armies of younger 
sons that made possible the Norman conquests in Britain and 
Italy, the Christian offensives in Spain, and finally the crusades. 
During these same years we begin to hear of many projects that 
indicated a mounting demand for agricultural labor. Wide 
reaches of waste land were now reclaimed for production by the 
draining of swamps and the clearing of forests, and this, of 
course, necessitated extensive colonization. Landlords became 
willing te issue charters guaranteeing to any settler on particular 
estates complete exemption from all but fixed rents and stated 
services. And as such opportunities for an improved livelihood 
arose, a host of men appeared from somewhere to take them. 
The inhabitants of the countryside were also multiplying rapidly. 

In the later Roman period a vicious cycle of impoverishment 
and depopulation brought ruin to whole provinces of the empire. 
Now the reverse process brought renewed prosperity. More jobs 
made it possible for more people to live, and the demands of these 
people led in turn to the creation of still more jobs. The cause 
of this improvement was assuredly no sudden increase in human 
fecundity. It was not that the men of the eleventh century had 
more offspring, but that more of their offspring were permitted 
to survive and have offspring of their own. In part, this happy 
result was due to better political conditions : the stabilization of 
society on a feudal basis, the development of more efficient gov- 
ernments, and the cessation of barbarian inroads. Another im- 
portant factor was undoubtedly the new wealth created by reviv- 
ing trade and industry. Yet, as usual, when economic phenomena 
are encountered, it is impossible to say precisely what was cause 
and whkt was effect. Perhaps the great future scholar who will 
positively account for the decay of Rome will also explain the 
recovery of Europe in the Middle Ages! 


of eco- 


At any rate, we have no difficulty in perceiving evidence of in- 
creasing commercial activity throughout the eleventh century, 
and within another hundred years this activity had tended to 
produce revolutionary changes in virtually every phase of Euro- 
pean life. During the Carolingian period, while Byzantine sea 
power was maintained in the ^gean and the Adriatic, the Sara- 
cens gained control of the southern and western Mediterranean. 
Within the Moslem dominions trade continued to flourish ; within 
western Christendom, in spite of Charlemagne’s temporary gran- 
deur, it suffered almost total collapse. The one noteworthy ex- 
ception was the regular intercourse kept up between Constanti- 
nople and the ports of Italy — a. connection which was not only 
maintained in the subsequent period, but greatly strengthened 
through the rise to power of Venice. Meanwhile a holy war 
against the Moslem on the sea had been launched by the Genoese 
and Pisans, who thereby were able to gain rich commercial ad- 
vantages in Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, and Africa. Then, with 
the crusade, the Italian merchants found themselves in a position 
to reopen direct trade with Syria, carrying eastward the armies 
of pilgrims with their horses and necessary supplies, and bring- 
ing westward cargoes of oriental products. 

This revival of the old water routes linking Europe and Asia 
inevitably brought new life to the land routes running north 
from Italy. The great Roman highways which had been built 
to join the capital with the provinces included two coast roads: 
one from Genoa to Marseilles and Spain, the other from Aquileia 
to Trieste and Dalmatia. Between them extended fanwise two 
sets of roads across the Alps : those crossing by the western passes 
to the valley of the Rhone and those crossing by the eastern 
passes to the upper valleys of the Rhine and Danube. Thence 
other paved highways paralleled the military frontiers and led 
through Gaul to the ports of the Atlantic and the North Sea. 
But the mediseval merchant preferred to travel by water when- 
ever possible. The Garonne, Loire, Seine, Somme, Scheldt, 
Meuse, and Rhine provided important routes to the west and the 
northwest. The British Isles were easily reached by ship from 
across the Channel ; two centuries were to pass before direct sea 
trade was established between them and the Mediterranean. 

Since anc;ient times, however, enormous changes had been made 
in the political map of Europe. What had been a wilderness 
inhabited by savage tribes had now been brought within the pale 

The Medi- 





The com- 
tance of 

Towns and 


of Christendom and, at least to some degree, that of civilization. 
Germany, in particular, had come to play a prominent part in 
European affairs, and along the Baltic now extended the do- 
minions of Polish, Russian, Swedish, and Danish princes. In 
the ninth century the vikings had appeared on the continent as 
pillagers and destroyers ; by the eleventh they had been absorbed 
into older states or had founded new and vigorous states of their 
own. With the enrollment of the Scandinavians among the civ- 
ilized peoples of Europe, their fleets had been diverted from 
piracy to peaceful trade. Thus the waterways of the viking free- 
booters now served as commercial links connecting the lands bor- 
dering on the Baltic and the North Sea. Furthermore, through 
the mediation of the Russians, who held the valleys of the Dnieper 
and other rivers, this region was brought into economic contact 
with the Black Sea and the Caspian, and so with the Moslem 
and Byzantine empires. 

In the history of the world the commercial prominence of 
Italy was no new phenomenon. The unprecedented development 
was rather that which now took place in the northwest. A glance 
at the map will show how Flanders served as the focal point for 
all the great routes of the eleventh century. Goods brought by 
land and water through central France, down the Rhine, west- 
ward from the Baltic, or eastward from the British isles, all easily 
converged on the little county, of Baldwin Iron- Arm and his de- 
scendants.^ In Roman times that district had been largely unin- 
habited — ^held merely as a military frontier. Now, on the con- 
trary, it rapidly became a great center of population and wealth, 
a source of enormous power for its fortunate rulers, and for 
that reason the object of wars and political intrigues that have 
continued down to our own day. Of secondary economic im- 
portance in this region were Picardy, Normandy, the middle 
Rhine Valley, the lie de France, and England. Central France 
remained backward, but the Mediterranean littoral, advanta- 
geously situated between Spain and Italy, tended to share the 
prosperity of those two countries. 

The connection between these developments and the revival 
of urban life in western Europe is obvious. On all sides towns 
and trade grew together: no important trade route could exist 
apart from towns, and every great town arose on a trade route. 

^ See above, p. 246. 


The regions characterized by flourishing commerce were also 
those to become distinguished for the prosperity of their cities. 
This connection serves to explain many important facts. The 
outstanding features of town life, which were to have enormous 
influence on the cultural development of Latin Christendom, were 
very new in the age of the crusades. By the close of the twelfth 
century scores of urban communities in western Europe are found 
enjoying extensive legal privileges, sometimes including rights 
of self-government. Two hundred years earlier such privileged 
communities had been non-existent. What amounted to a social 
revolution had been produced by economic advance during the 
intervening period. Some writers, it is true, have traced the 
municipal institutions of the Middle Ages back to Roman tradi- 
tion or to the primitive customs of the Germans. Careful analysis 
of the problem tends to show that they have been misled by 
treacherous words. 

We have already seen that the “cities’^ {civitatcs') of the Dark 
Age could have been little more than fortified centers of defense 
and administration.^ In fact, any position surrounded by an 
ancient Roman wall— even a deserted legionary fortress — ^might 
in those days be called a city. And since the church had regu- 
larly installed’ a bishop in each dvitas, that term was frequently 
applied to a place merely because it served as episcopal head- 
quarters. That a given locality continuously bore a Latin name 
does not prove that it enjoyed any real continuity of urban life. 
Nor were the burgen constructed by kings and princes of the 
ninth and tenth centuries necessarily what we should call towns. 
Even under the Roman emperprs the German word burg^ Latin- 
ized as bitrguSy had come to be used’ as a sjmonym of castellum^ 
a small fortress; and in the subsequent period these terms were 
often used interchangeably witli cir/itas. In general, however, 
burg was the name given to a more recent structure — such as 
those erected by the counts of Flanders against the Northmen 
or by the German kings against the Hungarians^ In England 
the same word appears as burh (borough). A fort of this kind, 
whether called burg or chateau (castle), had few if any urban 

On the whole, it appears that the cities and burgen of western 
Europe in the ninth and tenth centuries were important chiefly 

2 See above, p. 199. 

» See above, pp. 244, 247* 250. 


The trans- 
of old 
cities and 



as military positions and centers of government. Even when 
they included official markets, the latter were insufficient by them- 
selves to support a mercantile population of any considerable size. 
Some trade, of course, persisted all through the Dark Age, but 
the professional merchant and the free artisan remained very 
exceptional. By the twelfth century the situation had been radi- 
cally changed. Thenceforth, through the influence of revived 
commerce, a city tended to become what our vocabulary makes it 
out to be — ^an especially large and prosperous town. About the 
same time “borough” {burff or bourg) acquired the meaning of 
a privileged urban community, the member of which was known 
as a burgess, burgher, or bourgeois. That these words all came 
to denote a townsman, rather than the defender of a fort, was due 
to the transformation of the place where he lived. Much of the 
pertinent evidence is contained in charters and other documents 
which will be referred to in a later section ; of recent years much 
valuable information in this connection has also been obtained 
through ^he study of local topography. By examining the traces 
of early fortifications and other archaeological remains, it is pos- 
sible to prove by a map just when and how a particular tovra 
grew up. 

The Roman city of Cologne, for example, was a walled rectan- 
gle of approximately 239 acres, with one side paralleling the 
Rhine (see Figfure 5). In the period following the barbarian 
invasions the city population dwindled, so that only a small por- 
tion of the area within the walls remained inhabited. By the 
beginning of the eleventh century, however, a settlement of mer- 
chants had appeared between the wall and the river. Within an- 
other hundred years it had become necessary to fortify three addi- 
tional suburbs. Thai in 1180, a new wall was built to enclose 
all of the earlier settlements and much besides. Already, there- 
fore, the mediaeval town of Cologne had grown to be over twice 
the size of Roman Cologne — ^a physical expansion reflecting the 
contemporary expansion of commerce in that favored locality. 
Very much the same development can be proved to have taken 
place in dozens of other ancient cities. It was only rarely that, 
as in the case of London, the Roman walls contained sufficient 
ground to accommodate the immigrants that streamed thither 
during the twelfth century. 




* KOmAN WAki. 

VMLLOr 1106 
— WAUL. or iieo 

|6 mkMWtcR (Sf«u9 

Figube S- — The Expansion of Medleval Cologne." 

In those days, it will be noted, the mercantile population was 
attracted to a place that combined two prime advantag^es: first, Ghent 
a convenient situation with regard to trade and, secondly, the 
protection afforded by some kind of fortification. Along routes 
that had earlier been used by the Romans it was natural tliat set- 
tlements should be formed in or about Roman cities or fortresses. 

In more recently organized countries, where no such positions 
existed, towns sprang up about other centers — ^usually the castles 
or bitrgen of princes. Particularly fine examples of such devel- 
opment are to be found in the great towns of Flanders, such as 
Ghent, Bruges, Arras, Ypres, and Saint-Omer. What is stiU 
called the Vieux-Bourg (Old Burg) at Ghent was the original 
fortress of the count, a triangle of about twenty-five acres at the 
intersection of the Lys and the Lieve. But across the former 
river had appeared by the eleventh century a trading quarter 
known as the Port or 'the New Burg, which eventually became 
what we know as the town of Ghent. When surrounded by for- 
tifications in 1191, it had come to include over two hundred 
acres, and this was only the beginning of a rapid expansion that 
continued throughout the mediaeval period (see Figure 6). 

* From C. Stephenson, Borough and Town; by courtesy of the Mediseval Acad- 
emy of America. 



Beyond the Rhine most great towns of Germany developed, 
The town like Ghent, in conjunction with an earlier hurg — ^as is often tes- 
, tified by their names (Magdeburg, Merseburg, Quedlinburg, 
England the early history of boroughs like Bristol, 
Nottingham, Northampton, Oxford, and Norwich seems to have 
been very similar. Occasionally, in those countries, as well as 
in France, a fortified cathedral or abbey served as the nucleus 
for an extended urban settlement — e.g., Durham, Bury St. Ed- 
munds, Saint-Riquier, Vezelai, and St. Gall. But without the 
vital advantage of a good commercial location, neither church nor 
castle nor Roman fortress could ever become more than it had 
been in the earlier age. Towms grew up in mediaeval Europe as 
naturally as they have in modern America,^ through the operation 
of economic forces which no one could entirely foresee or control. 
The princes of the Carolingian age, though celebrated as hurg- 
builders, were not true founders of towns. It was the result 
of historical circumstance that some of their constructions even- 
tually attracted urban populations. Subse?quently, after the spon- 

® From C. Stephenson, Borough and Town; by courtesy of the Mediaeval Acad- 
emy of America. 

^ Compare, for example, Venice and Chicago, Novgorod and Detroit, Bergen 
and San Francisco, Nuremberg and Indianapolis. Differences in means of trans- 
portation must, of course, be taken into account. There were no railroads in the 
Middle Ages to affect the growth of inland towns, but the greatest ships then in 
use could sail up very small rivers. The location of Ghent was relativ^y as 
advantageous as that of St. Louis today. 


taneous growth of many communities had shown what might 
happen under favorable conditions, lords often tried to create 
towns by deliberate planning, and some of these experiments 
were very successful. 

By whatever process the result was attained, the typical town 
of the later Middle Ages thus appears to have been essentially 
a mercantile settlement — colony of persons engaged in com- 
merce and allied activities. Only a restricted number of the 
inhabitants would be merchants in our sense of the word. The 
mass of the townsmen would be rather artisans and laborers. 
Many, in fact, would still be employed in agriculture, for the 
increase of the urban population inevitably stimulated the pro- 
duction of food and raw materials in the immediate neighbor- 
hood. And since transportation by land depended largely on 
domestic animals, wide pastures remained a vital necessity. In 
spite of its rural features, however, the town was economically 
very distinct from the simple village. The town had a continu- 
ous market, where an increasing number of persons made a living 
through buying and selling at a profit. There a craftsman could 
earn enough for himself and his family by industry alone, and so 
become entirely independent of any manorial organization. In 
the smaller towns, which served chiefly as distribution centers 
for agricultural produce, a limited number of manufacturers could 
exist merely by supplying the local residents with articles of daily 
use — such as clothing, leather goods, tools, and food. Occa- 
sionally some community, becoming famous for the excellence 
of its work, would export goods to far-distant lands, and so 
develop industry on a much larger scale. 

Preeminent among such communities came to be the cities of 
Italy and Flanders, but originally their prosperity depended rather Ships 
on their location with regard to the great trade routes by sea 
and land. Business always flourished where cargoes had to be 
unloaded for trans-shipment, and in this respect seaports or places 
toward the mouths of rivers tended to have the advantage. For 
example, we find among the outstanding towns of the Middle 
Ages Venice, Pisa, Marseilles, Bordeaux, Rouen, Ghent, Liege, 
Cologne, Bremen, Hamburg, London, York, and Bristol. And 
it should be noted that important towns like Arras, Bruges, and 
Liibeck, which the modern map shows apart from navigable 
water, were actually situated on strearps readily ascended by 
mediaeval ships. Much trading continued to be carried on in 





long fast boats propelled by oar, using sails only when the wind 
was favorable. Such were the galleys of the Mediterranean, 
as well as the viking ships of the north, and they were all of very 
shallow draft. For bulky cargo, such as grain and lumber, 
slow, round-built sailing ships were preferable, but even these 
remained comparatively small in the northern waters. The larg- 
est of the period were those constructed by the Genoese and 
Venetians in connection with the crusades. They were built with 
two or even three decks, with raised “castles” at bow and stern 
for the accommodation of noble passengers; and by the thir- 
teenth century they were sometimes a hundred feet in length, 
with a breadth of nearly half that amount. 

During the earlier period we have very little information con- 
cerning the life and habits of merchants on land. The roads, 
we know, were unspeakably bad in all directions, so that wagons 
were of no use and goods had to be carried on pack animals. 
Many regions were infested by robbers, and every feudal boun- 
dary was made the excuse for the collection of tolls. Under 
such conditions, merchants became accustomed to travel in con- 
siderable bands accompanied, like oriental caravans, by escorts 
of armed men. Since journeys of this sort entailed careful plan- 
ning and a considerable outlay of money, they could not be left 
to the chance meeting of adventurers. The greater undertakings 
were due to the enterprise of organized groups called gilds, 
hanses, fraternities, and the like. These merchant associations 
are first definitely heard of toward the close of the eleventh cen- 
tury, when princes came to guarantee their liberties in formal 
charters. By that time, however, gildsmen might possess valu- 
able privileges in widely separated countries. At London, for 
instance, the Flemings, the men of Cologne, and the men of 
Rouen were enjoying special rights long before the Norman 

The gild thus appears as a prominent feature of reviving com- 
merce in twelfth-century Europe. Another such feature was the 
fair. The rural market, normally held once a week for the ex- 
change of local produce, played no part in the distribution of 
articles imported from abroad. The men who engaged in that 
business needed larger gatherings attended by merchants from 
all the neighboring towns. Religious festivals might provide 
occasions that could be turned to profitable advantage by mer- 
chants; but commonly the fair was established by a territorial 


prince, who guaranteed special protection to all persons coming 
to a certain place at a certain time every year. Annual fairs, 
each lasting for a number of days, were eventually organized 
in series, so that the great traders arranged their trips in order 
to attend as many as possible.® There they disposed of merchan- 
dise in large quantities, and there the small dealer obtained stocks 
for resale or for use in manufacture. The lord of the fair got a 
handsome revenue by collecting stallage — fees charged for dis- 
playing goods in the stalls. 

With regard to the articles which were thus distributed, noth- Articles 
ing more than a few brief indications can be attempted here. trade 
A large proportion of the finer manufactures still came from the 
Saracen countries of Spain, Africa, and Asia — especially silks, 
rugs, and other luxurious fabrics ; damascened arms and armor f 
and artistic products in the precious metals, ivory, earthenware, 
and other materials. The demand for oriental spices, drugs, dyes, 
perfumes, and gems was enormous, especially after the crusades 
began. In fact, the derivation of many common words from the 
Arabic or Persian shows that originally they denoted imports 
from the east. Thus any word in the following list can be seen 
to illustrate an interesting chapter in economic and cultural his- 
tory: sugar, syrup, cotton, gauze, satin, damask (from Damas- 
cus), muslin (from Mosul), scarlet (from the cloth of that 
color), azure (i.e, lapis lazuli), lilac, spinach, artichoke, orange, 
lemon, apricot, camphor, saffron, alkali, alcohol, lute, and guitar. 

By the twelfth century, however, the Moslem cities were coming 
to be rivaled by those of Italy. Venice, in particular, soon be- 
came famous for glass-making, metal-working, and other skilled 
crafts. By that time, too, the woolen cloth of Flanders was find- 
ing a ready market throughout Europe. 

Other regions of the north and west exported principally food 
and raw materials. There was everywhere a flourishing trade in 
salt, which was obtained either from mines or from marshes on 
the seacoast. Iron was in great demand. Stone and wood were 
scarce in some regions. French merchants carried wine to Eng- 
land and returned with wool and hides. The Germans from 
the Baltic brought not only oriental goods that had been trans- 
ported through Russia, but also furs, lumber, naval stores, and 
amber. It was in connection with this sort of trade that most 

« See bdow, p. 504. 

« See above, p. 205 n. 

The new 
towns of 


towns developed in the twelfth century. Even the greatest of 
them were still commercial rather than industrial — ^and they 
would not seem very great to us. In those days a city of 25,000 
was relatively huge. Yet even the smallest trading settlement 
was sharply distinguished from the villages of the surrounding 


Many European writers, especially those devoted to legal study, 
have attempted to show that the towns of their own respective 
countries were based upon some sort of national trait or custom. 
Such a notion is unquestionably wrong. The differences that 
existed among mediaeval towns were due not to national or racial 
peculiarities, but to historical circumstance and environment. De- 
spite political and linguistic variations, the urban institutions of 
the Middle Ages were fundamentally the same throughout wide 
regions. It is quite possible, for example, to consider the liberties 
of townsmen in northwestern Europe as a single subject. On 
the other hand, it would be hazardous to extend such generaliza- 
tion into the Mediterranean region. The Greek and Moslem 
cities belonged to worlds that were altogether foreign to the 
Carolingian lands. Some parts of Italy had never lost contact 
with the Byzantine Empire. In spite of other differences, north- 
ern and southern Spain remained economically akin. And the 
southernmost provinces of France were in many ways more 
closely related to Italy and Spain than to the Capetian domain. 

In subsequent pages a more comprehensive picture of urban 
development may be obtained by examining each of these coun- 
tries separately; as a preliminary, it will be simpler to restrict 
attention to the northwest. And within that region it will be 
convenient to begin not with the big towns, but with the little 
ones. The former, having developed rapidly in the eleventh 
century, needed no written guarantees of elementary privileges 
in the twelfth, when such grants became usual. Their charters 
were commonly restricted to the definition of exceptional or newly 
acquired rights. For a detailed account of fundamental bour- 
geois liberties we must rather turn to a ville neuve. Such a town 
was a deliberately planned foundation. Inspired by the example 
of old and prosperous communities, some prince would seek to 
establish a similar source of revenue within his own territory. 
With the advice and financial support of interested business men. 


he would select a good site, lay out a market place with streets 
leading into it, put up a church and other structures, and then 
offer inducements to prospective settlers by means of a solemn 

•A document of this sort would naturally emphasize the advan- 
tages that townsmen everywhere insisted on. Indeed, if we com- Freiburg- 
pare the hundreds of foundation charters that have been pre- hn- 
served, they are found to bear a strong family resemblance. By 
analyzing several of the earlier grants, we may gain an introduc- 
tion to all. The first successful experiment in urban colonization 
to be carried out by a German prince was that of Conrad, duke 
of Zahringen, for as the result of his efforts, the town of Frei- 
burg-im-Breisgau recently celebrated the eight-hundredth anni- 
versary of its foundation. On waste land adjoining his castle, 

Conrad in 1120 created a market town, liaving called together and 
organized under oath, says his charter, distinguished traders from 
the neighboring regions. Each settler was provided with a plot 
measuring fifty by a hundred feet, for which he was to pay a 
fixed annual rent of one solidus,'^ This land he should hold by 
hereditary right, with the privilege of freely selling it or be- 
queathing it by will. The community was to be governed only 
by the custom of trading towns, especially that of Cologne. The 
inhabitants were to be exempt from all forced entertainment, 
from all arbitrary exactions, and from all tolls throughout the 
duke’s possessions. 

Chiefly because of its location — on the main road running 
through the Black Forest from the Rhine to the Danube — Frei- 
burg prospered from the first, and its liberties, originally taken 
from Cologne, were in turn given to many other new towns in 
southern Germany, notably Colmar and Bern. In the north also, 
a number of similar foundations were made in the course of the 
twelfth century, of which the most influaitial was Liibeck.® In- 
deed, a prominent feature of the German advance into the Slavic 
country was the continuous establishment of trading settlements 
modeled after those that had already appeared to the westward. 

This development, however, hardly reached significant propor- 
tions before the thirteenth century, and in the meantime urban 
colonization had rapidly progressed in France. The first of the 

^ The soUdus (shilling or tsou) was a weight of silver pennies (denarii or demerit. 

Often, as in England, it waa a twentieth of a pound. 

* See below, p. 405. 



Capetians to take an active part in such matters was Louis VI 
(1108-37),^ who not only intervened on behalf of the bour- 
geoisie in many of the episcopal cities, but himself founded the 
very famous liberties of Lorris. 

This little town, situated in the vineyard country of the upper 
Lorris Loire Valley, was evidently designed by the king to serve as a 
center for the wine trade in that portion of his domain. Every 
man who came there to live was assured by the king’s charter of 
a house and lot at only six deniers rent a year. If he resided 
without challenge for a year and a day, he was thenceforth free 
and could not be claimed by a previous master. He was to be 
quit of tallage and forced exactions ; of all military service, save 
for one day within the immediate vicinity; and of all corvee, with 
the exception of certain occasional duties.^® Whenever he pleased, 
he could sell his possessions and go elsewhere. He could not be 
brought to trial outside the town, and there only according to 
certain specified rules of procedure. Fines and punishments were 
strictly limited. No one should be molested while coming to or 
going from the market of Lorris unless he had committed an 
offense on that same day. Tolls and other stated customs were 
restricted as to amount and as to mode of collection. The king 
forbade that any one should take food or materials from the 
townsmen without just remunerations. Nor should any one be 
entitled to credit unless it was freely extended. Even the king 
and queen were to pay their bills inside two weeks. 

The liberties of Lorris proved enormously popular. Extended 
Mon- by various kings to many other small towns in the royal domain, 

tauban these liberties were also taken by numerous barons as a model 

for their foundations. So, within the next two centuries, the 
one set of customs came to be enjoyed by scores of communities 
in Champagne and Burgundy, as well as in the He de France. 
And Lorris was but one of the many towns whose charters were 
widely copied throughout northern France. In the south too, 
new settlements of the same sort were common under the name 
of bastides. Perhaps the most successful of them was that estab- 
lished in 1144 by Alfonse, count of Toulouse. As the conse- 
quence of a feud between the abbot of Saint-Theodard and the 
residents of a bourg adjoining his monastery, Alfonse offered 

® See bdow, pp. 370 f. 

^®On these and other manorial obligations mentioned in this chapter, see 
above, pp. 269 f. 



the townsmen a new site on territory of his own. To guarantee 
their future security, he issued a formal charter, containing the 
promise of building lots at fixed rents, restriction of tolls, prohi- 
bition of various exactions, exemption from farced hospitality, 
and other familiar provisions. The tenor of the whole charter 
shows that it was a business arrangement, and it assuredly worked 
to the benefit of both parties, for the count’s little colony became 
illustrious under the name of Montauban. 

Thanks to the matchless records of William I, we can trace 
back to about 1066 the establishment in England of specially Newcastle- 
privileged trading communities. From an obscure little Norman on-Tyne 
bourg called Breteuil Some of the invading barons borrowed a 
set of ‘‘laws” which they applied to new settlements along the 
Welsh frontier. And from there the Laws of Breteuil were 
eventually carried into Ireland. Meanwhile Henry I (iic>o-35)^^ 
was instrumental in founding a number of towns — ^among them 
Verneuil in Normandy and Newcastle in England. The latter 
borough, named from the new Norman castle overlooking the 
river Tyne, received from Henry a grant of liberties destined to 
have wide influence. If a peasant came to Newcastle and com- 
pleted the lawful residence of a year and a day, no lord had any 
further claim on him. The burgesses were entirely exempt from 
manorial or servile obligations. They could sell or bequeath 
their lands and were free to come and go as they pleased. Within 
the borough, together with a certain district outside it, they 
enjoyed a monopoly of all trading. These liberties of Newcastle 
were extended to many other towns in the north of England 
and also, through the favor of the Scottish king, became the stand- 
ard of urban privilege in his kingdom. 

Such charters as we have briefly examined present only the 
miniinum demands of the townsman in the twelfth century. But The 
these demands at once show how great was his superiority over 
the peasant. First of all, the bourgeois enjoyed free status. No 
matter what his origin, the man who lived in a town unchallenged 
for a year and a day secured complete liberty. The town air, it 
was said, made him free. To be more exact, it was residence 
on privileged soil that broke any ties of personal or manorial sub- 
jection that had bound hijn to an outside lord. The town was a 
sort of territorial immunity, created by virtue of some prince’s 

“ See bdow, pp. 373 ^ 





political authority. It is, therefore, a mistake to explain the 
mediaeval town as a servile community which gradually or sud- 
denly became emancipated. From its very inception the town 
was a free community. And this legal principle was merely the 
expression of a social fact, that the mercantile pursuits of the 
inhabitants were incompatible with serfdom. Settlers would not 
come to a place as traders or laborers unless they were guaran- 
teed unhampered control of their own bodies and of whatever 
they might acquire. 

The personal freedom of the bourgeois tended to carry with 
it exemption from all the typically servile or manorial obliga- 
tions — such as mainmorte, formariage, arbitrary tallage, corvee, 
unrestricted military service, and subjection to seignorial monopo- 
lies. Whatever services were owed by the townsmen were owed 
as a community to the common lord, and these services were 
very generally defined in advance. Under such conditions, a 
member of the community necessarily held his land by very ad- 
vantageous terms. Since the holder was not attached to it, he 
could freely sell it or any part of it ; and since it was not burdened 
with manorial or feudal obligations, he could dispose of it by 
will. Unlike the acres of the villein or the fief of the noble, 
bourgeois land was not bound by inflexible rules of inheritance; 
it could be alienated like an ox or a bale of cloth. This free 
tenure, peculiar to the bourgeois class, is known by various 
names in various countries, but in English law is familiar as 
burgage. That it, rather than any other mediaeval tenure, antici- 
pated what we call ownership of real property is obvious. 

In general, burgage land was held by a fixed rent in lieu of 
all service, and this rent was commonly very small. When a 
new town was founded, the patron was likely to establish it on 
land which he owned himself; and to attract settlers, he would 
offer building lots at a nominal rent. So in a great many urban 
centers the rule prevailed that the townsman’s holding was charged 
with the annual payment of a shilling {solidus) ^ or perhaps of 
only a penny {denarius). In the case of a great and rapidly 
growing city, however, the fortunate owners of surrounding 
lands could make a handsome profit by selling them to bourgeois 
for houses and shops, even if the rents placed on tlie soil were in- 
significant. At Paris, for example, as a commercial suburb 
developed on the right bank of the Seine, the belt of marsh that 
extended to the heights of Montmartre for the first time became 


valuable as more than pasture. This fact was soon realized by 
the clergy who held title to it, with the result that they were up- 
braided by the pope for giving more attention to the real estate 
business than to the cure of souls. 

Another almost universal feature of early municipal charters 
was the guarantee to the men of the town that they should not Jtistice 
be tried outside it. The reason was that the bourgeois community 
enjoyed a peculiar law, and to secure its benefits the member had 
to be exempted from courts which administered justice accord- 
ing to feudal or manorial custom. Townsmen naturally objected 
to procedure devised for knights or peasants; they demanded 
forms of action by which debts could be collected, contracts could 
be enforced, and property rights in land and chattels could be 
safeguarded. These advantages were obtained in the town court 
because there the judgment-finders were bourgeois. According 
to the general practice of the age, the presiding magistrate was 
appointed by the ruler, but the court itself was made up of leading 
men from the locality. The actual system of proof and process 
which thus came to be used in the mediaeval towns is too technical 
a subject to be explained here. Each of the older communities 
normally had its own usages. When, however, a new town was 
established, the patron very commonly proclaimed some existing 
custom as the one which he would uphold. Thus Freiburg-im- 
Breisgau was given the law of Cologne, and a dozen other places 
later secured that of Freiburg. 

Select men of the town also took charge, under the superior 
authority of the lord, of all matters touching commerce and in- Mercantile 
dustry. The chief mercantile privilege of the bourgeois was his privilege 
right to sell freely in the town market. Any one from the out- 
side, even the citizen of a nearby town, was a foreigner, against 
whom the local tolls served as a protective tariff. Frequently it 
was provided that certain articles could be manufactured or sold 
there only by members of that particular community, that they 
had the first right to purchase certain kinds of imports, or that 
all merchants coming within a certain region had to display their 
goods in the town. All these and many other regulations would 
have to be administered by men familiar with the details of busi- 
ness — ^in other words, by the same sort of group as that which 
enforced the law in the court. Often the townsmen were organ- 
ized in a gild which had charge of all mercantile affairs; in that 
case the men who ccmtrolled local affairs would be its governors. 

36 o medieval history 

But with or without a gild, the community had to have some sort 
of informal organization, and from this to a grant of formal self- 
government transition might be easy. 

In the twelfth century only exceptional towns had any political 
The lord’s powers of their own. Under the liberties of Lorris, for instance, 
interests in rights of government remained with the king, who merely 
the town guaranteed equal justice and protection to the inhabitants. What 
the bourgeois chiefly wanted was economic and legal freedom — 
the opportunity to make a living where and as he pleased, with- 
out being subject to the arbitrary control of a manorial lord. 
On his side, the prince who founded the town was swayed by 
equally practical motives. He had learned from experience that 
trading communities could not be managed like agrarian estates. 
He was willing to renounce all the rights objected to by bour- 
geois populations. He was willing even to provide lands at 
nominal rents, abandoning to the men who took them the chance 
of profit on future sales. Yet his action was by no means altru- 
istic. He hoped to make a fortune out of the revenue that would 
later accrue to him if the settlement flourished. The greater and^ 
more prosperous the town, the more he could expect by way of 
tolls, profits of justice, and other incidentals. Wealthy communi- 
ties were always glad to pay well for new privileges or for the 
confirmation of old ones. And by politic negotiation handsome 
subsidies might be secured from townsmen who appreciated the 
value of a benevolent patron. 


The word comnuuna in the Middle Ages came to bear various 
The mean- interpretations. Fundamentally it was used, like commimitas or 
ingofthe universitas, to distinguish a group of people marked by some 
common characteristic — ^such as all residents within a certain 


place, or all persons engaged in a particular occupation. More 
specifically, it often had the meaning of a sworn association. 
Such a society might be formed for a good end, as in connection 
with the Peace of God,^^ or for an evil purpose, when it would 
be more in the nature of a conspiracy. Accordingly, when the 
inhabitants of a town, by taking a solemn oath, formed a league 
in defense of their rights, they were said to have set up a “com- 
mune,” to be praised or denounced according to the writer’s per- 

^ See above, p. 332. ^ 


sonal attitude. If, finally, the insurrectionaries triumphed and 
secured legal recognition, their association would be turned into 
a permanent municipality. So it came about that the word com- 
mune eventually acquired the meaning of a self-governing town. 

Some great mediaeval towns, it is true, were never called com- 
munes, and some of those which did bear the name were relatively 
insignificant. But in general we may quite properly employ the 
term to distinguish those towns which enjoyed some measure of 

In this respect the region first to attain prominence was Italy, 
and, strangely enough, the city which there assumed the leader- The rise 
ship was unknown to antiquity. While the older urban centers Venice 
of the west were threatened with depopulation, Venice took form 
and prospered. The causes for this exceptional development were 
chiefly economic. In the sixth century, after Justinian’s recon- 
quest of the peninsula, the low-lying district between Istria and 
the Po was organized as a separate duchy.^® Earlier its popula- 
tion had been very scanty. Now it became a refuge for thousands 
of immigrants, for the marshes that fringed the eastward-flowing 
rivers afforded safer protection against barbarian or brigand than 
the stone walls of the inland cities. To gain a living in such an 
environment, the newcomers naturally turned to the established 
industry of salt-making and to coastwise trade. Then, as the 
Lombards took Ravenna, the settlements along the Venetian coast 
found their unbroken connection with Constantinople of tremen- 
dous commercial advantage. And this preeminence was definitely 
assured when Charlemagne abandoned the region to the Byzan- 
tine emperor.^^ 

Within the next hundred years an increasing population gath- 
ered at Rialto, the lagoon which experience proved to be the most 
favorably situated — ^and the illustrious city of Venice was bom, 
as poets have sung, of the sea. Being built on islands and a shore 
cut by numerous streams, Venice from the outset used waterways 
for streets. On the west the city was isolated from the mainland 
by a great expanse of swamp which made it virtually immune 
from military attack; to seaward lines of sand bars constituted 
a naval barrier of even greater strength.. To some degree Venice 
thus shared the natural advantages of Constantinople and by 
the opening of the eleventh century had become undisputed queen 

^ See above, p. 162. 
See above, p. 189. 


The ttrbaii 
of Italy 

Genoa and 


of the Adriatic. Although in theory part of the Byzantine Em- 
pire, the city was actually a republic, holding dominion over a 
considerable portion of the coast. The duke of Venetia had now 
become the doge of Venice — ^110 longer an appointed official, but 
an elected magistrate who ruled by the advice and consent of 
the local aristocracy. In every respect Venice acted as a sov- 
ereign state; it coined money, signed treaties, and waged war. 
Venetian fleets assumed an active offensive against the Dalmatian 
pirates, the Saracens of Sicily, and various rival communities 
that threatened to invade Adriatic commerce. When the Vene- 
tians joined the emperor Alexius Comnenus against the Nor- 
mans/® it was as allies rather than as subjects; and in return 
they gained the enormous advantage of free trade throughout 
all the Byzantine possessions, including the city of Constantinople 

In northwestern Europe at this time the feudal nobility was 
essentially an agrarian class, living in the country and despising 
town dwellers as social inferiors — a chivalrous prejudice that 
still clings to the word bourgeois. Venice, on the contrary, re- 
mained loyal to the traditions of antiquity. The aristocratic 
families of Venetia identified themselves with the rising city. 
They lived in it, ruled it, and prospered with it, ii:ivesting their 
wealth in ships and mercantile enterprise. As at Constantinople, 
legal and economic institutions could be traced back by direct 
continuity to imperial Rome. Though hardly emerging until the 
ninth century, Venice was a true city-state of the t3q)e made 
famous by the Greeks. To a lesser degree the same consideration 
holds true for the other cities of Italy. In all of them the local 
nobles, despite their feudal titles, played a prominent part through- 
out the Middle Ages. Even those who originally held aloof 
from the communal movement were eventually drawn or forced 
into it. This fact alone gives to the social history of Italy a 
character that sharply distinguishes it from that of Germany or 
France or England. 

Nevertheless, it was not the landed aristocracy that really cre- 
ated the splendor of the Italian cities in the later Middle Ages, 
but the humbler citizens engaged in trade and industry. The 
great political changes that revolutionized Italy between the tenth 
and the twelfth centuries can be understood only by taking into 

^ See above, p. 330. 


account the contemporary revival of commerce. Although eco- 
nomic ties with Constantinople stimulated the early development 
of Venice, it was rather the opening of new markets to the north 
and west that led to its amazing expansion in the age of the 
crusades. So, at the same time, Genoa and Pisa rose to great 
prosperity without the advantage of a Byzantine connection. 

While the sea belonged to the Saracens these cities remained 
obscure. Then, as the Moslem power weakened, they assumed 
the leadership of a Christian offensive in the western Mediter- 
ranean. By 1095 their fleets had gained control of the European 
coast from Sicily to Barcelona; they held the islands of Corsica 
and Sardinia, and they enjoyed special rights in northern Africa. 

From the very beginning the Genoese and Pisans gave active 
support to the crusade. As we have seen, their ships saved the 
Christian host before Antioch and later made possible the cap- 
ture of Jerusalem. Their reward was the allotment of trading 
quarters in the towns of the Syrian coast and a series of valuable 
concessions from the princes of the newly organized Latin states. 

This success ended tlie earlier hesitation of the Venetians, who 
now joined their western rivals in the profitable business of 
transporting pilgrims and exploiting the Christian conquests. 

. Meanwhile Genoa and Pisa had tended, like Venice, to become 
autonomous republics. Before the end of the eleventh century The Lom- 
both cities appear as communes, governed by groups of elected bard and 
magistrates styled consuls. By that time, or within the next few 
years, the same result had been attained in a host of other north 
Italian towns — ^such as^ Siena, Florence, Lucca, Milan, Pavia, 

Brescia, and Bologna. Each of these municipalities had, of 
course, its own history, influenced by peculiarities of local cus- 
tom and the varying attitude of persons in authority. In gen- 
eral, however, the commune arose as a sworn association of citi- 
zens — ^both noble and plebeian — for the maintenance and extension 
of their liberties. Though occasionally it might be formed with 
the consent and support of the existing government, it was more 
frequently a revolutionary organization which achieved its ends 
by means of insurrection. When, as was generally the case in 
Lombardy, the city had been legally subordinated to the bishop, 
the outbreak was primarily directed against his power. But the 
commune might also be employed as an effective weapon against 
a lay prince. Whatever the preliminaries, the ultimate result was 
the establishment ol.z^de facto republic based on a league of citi- 



zens sworn to advance their common interests by persuasion, 
boycott, or force of arms. 

In the absence of an efficient monarchy, northern Italy thus 
became a mosaic of city-states. Each of the Lombard and Tus- 
can communes, like Venice and Genoa, held control not merely 
of the walled area, but of a considerable district outside, which 
the commune sought to expand by annexing the castles, country 
estates, and lesser towns of the neighborhood. Such an aggres- 
sive policy was dictated largely by commercial considerations — 
the necessity of controlling highways, streams, passes, and other 
essentials of economic independence. The situation was further 
complicated by the antagonistic ambitions of noble families, who 
maintained bitter feuds with rivals in the country, in other com- 
munes, and even in their own commune. This warlike character 
of the influential citizens was reflected in the most prominent 
buildings of the typical Italian city — ^the fortress-like palaces, each 
constructed to house a whole clan and provided with a huge 
tower from which to spy out the movements of the enemy. 

The complete sovereignty of the cities, together with the 
The chronic strife which it entailed, remained characteristic of Italy 

northern for many centuries. In other countries the development of the 
communes towns was more closely dependent on the powers and S3mipathies 
of the greater princes. The restricted authority of the French 
king allowed him to exercise direct control only over the towns 
in his own domain. Similar rights were enjoyed within their 
respective territories by all his great barons, among whom the 
more important as founders of towns were the rulers of Flanders, 
Normandy, Aquitaine, and Toulouse. These princes, while care- 
fully preserving their political supremacy, showed themselves gen- 
erally favorable to the ambitions of the bourgeoisie. The same 
was true of the Norman duke’s policy in England. In Germany, 
on the other hand, the emperors habitually gave their support to 
the bishops, and the latter tended, like their brethren in France 
and Italy, to oppose the extension of urban liberties. 

By the early twelfth century, as already remarked, flourishing 
Flanders towns had grown up about various bur gen in Flandfers, especially 
at Ghent, Bruges, Arras, Ypres, and Saint-Omer. These com- 
munities — or communes, as they are sometimes called — ^had then 
come to enjoy considerable powers of self-government, as well as 
the elementary bourgeois liberties enumerated above. By entirely 
peaceful arrangement, each had now secured permission to elect 


its own echevins ^^ — ^magistrates who, under the superior author- 
ity of the count, had charge of the local administration. Each 
town, furthermore, seems to have had a gild merchant,^"^ which 
included all persons who were there engaged In trade. The gild, 
under its own officers, thus held a virtual monopoly of business 
in the locality, regulating all such matters as tolls, rights of sale 
or purchase, and standards of manufacture. For such purposes 
the members had regular meetings in their gildhall. Frequently, 
too, this building served as headquarters for the municipal gov- 
ernment — 3. natural arrangement, since the same men would be 
in control of both organizations. The gildsmen, however, did 
not always spend the evening in serious debate — as we learn from 
a remarkable Saint-Omer document of about iioo. Every so 
often the gild held a wine-drinking, from which no brother could 
absent himself without good excuse. When he came into the 
hall, he had to leave at the door not merely his arms, but likewise 
his wooden shoes — ^lest they be used as weapons. And a tariff 
of penalties was applied to offences that disturbed the drinking — 
including blows with the fist, with a stone, or with a loaf of bread ! 

In contradistinction to the Flemish communes, those of Picardy 
very generally rose to power through violence. That region was Picardy 
sprinkled with many old Roman cities, which earlier had been 
little more than fortified centers of administration under the 
resident bishops. By the opening of the twelfth century, how- 
ever, most of these cities had attracted a considerable population 
of merchants and artisans, who commonly occupied separate quar- 
ters beyond the ancient walls. And as the bishops, or other lords, 
refused to meet the demands of their bourgeois, the latter rose in 
revolt, forming sworn associations much like those of Lom- 
bardy. The first such revolutionary commune in the north was 
that of Cambrai in 1077. Although this rising was put down, 
a later insurrection was more successful. The townsmen then 
forced the bishop to grant them a communal charter, which was 
quashed only when, in 1107, the emperor intervened on the side 
of the church. Many more years passed and much more trouble 
ensued before the city obtained definite recognition of its liber- 
ties. Meanwhile the example set by Cambrai was widely fol- 
lowed throughout the region to the south. One after another. 

In Latin, scaUni, The name had earlier been applied to the judgment- 
finders in a territorial court; see above, p. 193. 

Merchant** is an adjecrive. The expr^rion means a gild of merchants. 





rebellions broke out in Saint-Quentin, Amiens, Laon, and Beau- 
vais. Some failed and some succeeded, but sooner or later these 
towns and many others throughout the neighboring region se- 
cured recognition as communes under elected magistrates. 

In many cases the troubles of the northern cities were ended 
through the intervention of Louis VI, who restored order by 
arranging some sort of compromise. On the whole, his policy 
clearly favored the bourgeoisie, for his settlements tended to 
break the effective government of the cities by the bishops and to 
substitute that of the citizens under his own superior control. 
Eventually, after the revolutionary phase had passed, the Picard 
communes came to be organized quite like those of Flanders — 
normally under a board of elected officials called jiires}^ Every 
resident was bound by oath to obey his magistrates and, to lend 
aid to the enforcement of their judgments. Any townsman who 
refused to do so was declared a public enemy and subjected to the 
penalty of having his house torn down. Or should a noble of 
the countryside deny justice to a member of the commune and 
defy its authority, the citizens would be assembled in the market 
place by the ringing of a great bell and all would march* forth 
to take vengeance on the common foe. Such provisions as these 
are usual in the communal charters, and they show how, in 
the feudal society of the early twelfth century, the individual 
bourgeois was helpless without an armed union to support him. 

In Normandy we have clear evidence that the merchants of 
Rouen were organized as a powerful gild even before the duke’s 
conquest of England. From Henry I the city apparently received 
at least some political rights, but it is only at a later time that we 
definitely learn of a communal administration headed by a group 
of elected jures. In his island kingdom Henry also gave a re- 
markable charter to London — ^the first known grant of formal 
self-government to an English town. In this respect, as in all 
others, the rest of the boroughs lagged far behind the metropolis. 
Until the closing years of the twelfth century, most of them en- 
joyed only the elementary liberties of free status, burgage tenure, 
and the like. Almost every English borough had its gild mer- 
chant, through which, in some degree, the burgesses might actu- 
ally control their local affairs. In this connection, too, should 
be mentioned the league of the Cinque Ports. As the name im- 

That is to say, sworn” to act as r^resentatives of the community. 


plies, there were originally five (Hastings, Sandwich, Dover, 

Romney, and Hythe), but later the number was increased. Ac- 
cording to a custom dating from the reign of Edward the Con- 
fessor, each of them was bound to furnish the king a certain 
number of ships for fifteen days’ service annually, and in return 
enjoyed freedom from toll throughout England, together with 
other privileges. Under the Normans the Cinque Ports gained 
even more extensive liberties, and eventually all became self- 
governing. From this unique organization directed by the con- 
stable of Dover Castle, the king secured a regular navy all through 
the Middle Ages. 

In twelfth^entury Germany the most advanced town, both 
economically and politically, was Cologne, where, by way of Germany 
exception, mimicipal development seems to have continued with- 
out serious opposition from the local bishop. Before 1100 the 
city had a flourishing gild merchant, and within the next fifty 
years a communal organization under elected magistrates took 
form. The other cities of the Rhine Vall^ — such as Mainz, 

Trier, Worms, Strasbourg, Frankfort, Constance, and Basel — 
became self-governing only in the following century. The' same 
statement will apply to the leading tovras of the Danube, headed 
by Ratisbon, and of eastern Germany, where the foremost urban 
center was Magdeburg. As yet the only great town of Holland 
was Utrecht, and on the Meuse Liege was hardly rivaled by 
Namur and Verdun. Most of Lorraine, in fact, remained com- 
paratively backward — ^as did the central region of the Burgundies, 
Champagne, and Auvergne. The towns on the upper Seine and 
Loire — even Paris and Orl&ns — ^were of second rank as late as 
1200. Brittany had no towns of any considerable size. Along 
the Bay of Biscay, however. La Rochefle, Bordeaux, and Bayonne 
were becoming important for sea trade, especially in wine. 

Throughout Toulouse and Provence, meanwhile, the revival of 
commerce in the western Mediterranean naturally brought new Southern 
life to such Roman cities as Marseilles, Arles, Nimes, B&iers, 
Montpellier, Narbonne, and Carcassonne. By the middle of the 
twelfth caitury at least a dozen of these towns had peaceably 
obtained extensive liberties from their respective lords, usually 
lay nobles. Following the example of the Italian cities, they 
installed magistrates with the title of consuls, and in other re- 
spects many of them resembled the southern rather than the north- 
ern communes. In Spain, too, municipal organization tended to 



be of the Italian type. It is true that many small trading settle- 
ments grew up under the protecting walls of castles, and some of 
them became prosperous enough to receive formal charters like 
those given to northern towns. But the Spanish nobles, like 
those of Italy, continued by preference to live in the great cities 
which, through the influence of the constant warfare against 
the Moors, remained especially important as military centers. Of 
those in Qiristian hands before 1200, the only one to attain 
prominence in European commerce was Barcelona. 

The preceding pages have, of course, merely introduced a very 
large and complex subject. In the history of the mediaeval town 
the twelfth century was the formative period. Further details 
concerning urban life and institutions must be left for a subse- 
quent chapter. Meanwhile it should be noted that in all the 
great states of Europe the bourgeoisie came to exert a powerful 
influence on constitutional development and on political affairs 
generailly. This influoice will be apparent as we review the his- 
tory of the French, English, German, and Italian kingdoms. 




In an earlier chapter the story of the French monarchy was 
dropped at the time of Philip I.^ While witnessing great exploits 
on the part of his barons in England, Spain, Italy, Sicily, and the 
Holy Land, he lived to a dishonored old age, to die finally in 1 1 08- 
Like his contemporary, Henry IV of Germany, Philip spent many 
years under papal excommunication; but unlike the headstrong 
emperor, he gained the distinction through sheer apathy. It may, 
indeed, be said that Philip’s only great accomplishment was the 
begetting of his son Louis. That prince, by admirably combining 
valor and industry, high ideals and common sense, opened a new 
age in the history of France. With Louis VI the Capetian 
dynasty began a splendid career, which was to culminate six hun- 
dred years later in the gorgeous reign of Louis XIV. 

At the opening of the twelfth century, however, the prospects 
of the royal house seemed by no means brilliant. The king 
still possessed the theoretical rights of the Carolingians : he was 
supposed to be the protector of the church, the fountain of justice, 
and the commander of the nation in arms. Actually, the royal 
authority had long since been divided among a dozen great dukes 
and marquises. For two centuries the king had ceased to have 
any direct contact with the French people as a whole, either lay 
or clerical. His effective government was restricted to the lie de 
France, Even there his resources were meager. A long, narrow 
territory, devoid of seaports and natural frontiers, the royal do- 
main was hemmed in on all sides by the states of powerful and 
unscrupulous barons. To make the situation worse, the king 
had little control over his immediate subordinates — ^the prevots 
who collected his revenues and the chatelains who held his castles. 
In every direction lawless vassals made the roads unsafe for 
travel and terrorized the churdies of which the king acted as 
patron. Obviously, before the Capetian could hope to extend 

1 See above, p. 275. 


about HOC 

Louis VI 
and the 
tion of the 


his influence throughout the kingdom, he would have to make 
himself master of his own principality. It was to this task that 
Louis VI devoted his life. 

Louis is described by contemporaries as tall and handsome — 
an athlete, passionately fond of riding and hunting, and a brave 
soldier. He was also a huge eater. In his later years he put on 
so much flesh that he gained the nickname oi le Gro$) but even 
as Louis the Fat, he remained extremely active. His reign actu- 
ally began before the death of his father: at eighteen he had 
already been knighted, associated in the royal office, and placed in 
charge of military operations on the Norman frontier. As soon 
as his defenses on that side had been put in better condition, he 
turned to the unspectacular but highly essential work of pacifying 
his domain. Year after year the indefatigable Louis assembled 
a small force and launched a campaign against some obstreperous 
official or robber baron. Gradually the royal cause triumphed. 
By 1120 the king could again move about in the lie de France 
without an army to cut a passage. His castles were placed in 
charge of loyal vassals. Revenue once more flowed steadily into 
his treasury. Peasants and traders joined the clergy in fervent 
thanks to God for a virtuous and able king. 

In connection with this work, Louis developed an active policy 
of stimulating new economic projects. Like other progressive 
lords of the day, he issued special charters to attract cultivators to 
his waste lands. The colonist, or hdte, who would settle in some 
particular region was promised a status very superior to that of 
the ordinary villein : he should be exempt from all arbitrary exac- 
tions, held only for a small rent and strictly defined services. 
Much wider liberties, as we have seen, were established by the 
king at Lorris,^ whence they were extended into many other small 
towns. To Paris and Orleans, as to most places under his imme- 
diate authority, he made no formal grants of self-government; 
but on ecclesiastical territory he helped to found communes at 
Laon, Amiens, Beauvais, Noyon, Soissons, Corbie, and Saint- 
Riquier. The alliance between monarchy and bourgeoisie, which 
was to be of tremendous importance throughout the later history 
of France, was essentially the product of Louis VPs reign. 

Except for his intervention on behalf of the communes, which 
was a matter of recognizing the inevitable, Louis remained a 

® See above, p. 356. 


staunch friend of the church. Throughout the better part of his 
reign, in fact, he had the support of the greatest clergyman in 
France, Suger. The latter began life as a peasant, but as a youth 
entered a monastery. Having acquired a considerable reputation 
for learning, he was appointed instructor to Prince Louis. 
Through this friendship, and through his own extraordinary tal- 
ents, Suger came to be adviser to the king and, in 1122, abbot of 
Saint-Denis, one of the great religious houses near Paris. So, 
with regard to his own career, he quoted Psalm 113 : 

He raiseth the poor out of the dust and lifteth the needy out of the 
dunghill, that He may set him with princes. 

Suger, as will be seen in the following section, actually governed 
France for many years under Louis VII and continued to play a 
prominent part in all affairs of state until his death in 1151. 
From his letters and other writings he gives us a vivid picture 
of contemporary politics, as well as of his daily cares in the great 
royal abbey of Saint-Denis. It was not the least of his distinc- 
tions that he directed the building of the first great church to be 
planned throughout in the new Gothic style.^ 

While consolidating his position within the royal domain, Louis 
VI by no means neglected opportunities to interfere in affairs 
touching the gteat fiefs. In this respect, however, his resources 
were inadequate to win him any lasting success. No new terri- 
tories were brought under the king^s direct control and his 
princely vassals continued to act very much as they pleased. 
When left to their own devices, they treated the king with re- 
spect, occasionally appearing before him to perform homage or 
to take part in a solemn convocation of his feudal court. Yet 
there is no evidence that they ever paid him reliefs or aids, and 
the military service which they gave him was quite nominal. 
Earlier we have had occasion to review the political subdivisions 
of France under the early Capetians. Throughout the first half 
of the twelfth century conditions remained fundamentally un- 

On the extreme south Catalonia was united in 1137 to the 
kingdom of Aragon and so, though nominally remaining part of 
France, actually broke away from it. Between the Pyrenees and 
the Loire extended the great duchy of Aquitaine, which now in- 
cluded that of Gascony. Until 1 127 its ruler was the remarkable 

(d. iisi) 

Louis and 
the great 



* See below, p. 4S1. 


37 ^ 

William IX. Being widely criticized for his lack of crusading 
ardor, he finally led an expedition to the east, but was badly 
beaten by the Turks in Asia Minor and returned home to pursue 
his more congenial career as a troubadour.* On his death he was 
succeeded by his son, William X. And when the latter was 
stricken by mortal illness in 1137, he expressed the desire that 
his daughter and heiress should be married to the son of Louis VI 
— a. great tribute to the enhanced prestige of the monarchy and, 
as will be seen below, a momentous decision in more ways than 
one. Along with his magnificent principality, William passed to 
his successors the unfinished project of conquering Toulouse. 
That county, in fact, had barely escaped absorption into Aquitaine 
on several occasions. Raymond IV, the famous crusader, never 
returned from the Holy Land, and after him two sons and a 
grandson sought to make good their claim to Tripolis. In theory 
their pious undertakings were supposed to bring immunity to their 
possessions at home; actually their protracted absences served 
only to encourage their rivals. 

In the north of France, meanwhile, four great states were en- 
Northem gaged in a bitter struggle for supremacy: Flanders, Normandy, 
France Anjou, and Blois. Burgundy still remained comparatively ob- 
scure under a branch of the Capetian house, and Brittany con- 
tinued to be little more than a scene of barbarous warfare. Cham- 
pagne and Blois had for a time been separated, but in 1125 both 
fiefs were again united under Thibaut IV, the implacable enemy 
of Louis VI. Thibaut’s father was the Stephen of Blois who had 
taken the cross in 1095; his mother was a daughter of William 
the Conqueror. And it was through this connection that his 
younger brother, also named Stephen, secured the crovra of Eng- 
land in 1 135. On the one hand Blois had a bitter enemy in the 
Capetian monarchy, on the other in Anjou. The count of that 
territory in the early twelfth century ended the civil wars that had 
recently paralyzed the country and so prepared the way for the 
brilliant success of his son and successor, Geoffrey Plantagenet® 
( 1 129-5 1 ) • To understand his fortunes, we must turn to the his- 
tory of Normandy. 

William the Conqueror died in 1087, leaving Normandy to his 
eldest son, Robert, and England to his second son, William. His 

* See bdow, p. 453. 

' So called from the broom flower that he was accustomed to wear. It was 
his personal nickname and was not home by his descendants. 


third son, Henry, as yet had nothing beyond a sum of cash. Wil- 
liam II, or William Rufus, as he is commonly known, proved 
himself an able though unscrupulous king. Crushing an insurrec- 
tion of discontented barons, he stoutly maintained the authority 
left him by his father. Indeed, by pushing his rights to unprece- 
dented extremes, he soon gained an evil reputation for tyrannical 
and extortionate government. The church in particular com- 
plained that, when prelates died, William deliberately prolonged 
the vacancies for the sake of incidental revenue.® After the death 
of Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury under William I, we are 
told that the king was induced by what he thought a mortal illness 
to appoint the learned Anselm, and that, when he recovered, he 
sorely repented his piety. William fought with success against 
the Welsh and the Scots, reestablishing the lordship which his 
father had asserted over those countries. Of greater importance 
was his occupation of Cumberland and Westmoreland, which thus 
extended the northwest boundary of England to the point where 
it has since remained. Meanwhile there had been intermittent war 
between William and his brother Robert, which was interrupted 
only by the latter’s assumption of the cross in 1095. And before 
he had returned from the crusade, William was accidentally killed 
while hunting in iioo. 

. The chief gainer by this misadventure was Henry, who for 
years had been living quietly in England, hoping for a favor- 
able turn of events. Quickly he seized the opportunity that 
was now afforded. Taking possession of the royal treasury, 
he secured the support of the chief barons by pledging a re- 
formed administration, and inside two days was solemnly 
crowned king of England. As part of the bargain just ef- 
fected, he then issued his famous Coronation Charter, promising 
to abolish all the abuses that had characterized his brother’s gov- 
ernment. Some of the articles were too vague to be of any prac- 
tical value-7-such as the one stating that only "‘just reliefs” should 
henceforth be taken from heirs. Others included very specific 
engagements, but we have positive evidence from later records 
that the king generally broke his word. For example, Henry’s 
promise never to take anything from the demesnes of the church 
during a vacancy in abbacy or bishopric seems to have been utterly 
disregarded. His Coronation Charter, accordingly, did not open 

The Nor- 
man suc- 

Henry I, 
king of 

• See above, p. 256. 



Diike of 



I Rdations 
! Louis VI 

a new epoch in English constitutional history; it served merely 
as a useful reminder that the king had once recognized limits to 
his authority. 

Henry, as a matter of fact, never dreamed of himself as a ca- 
pricious despot. He held loyally to the fundamental customs es- 
tablished by his father, strengthening his monarchy not by usurpa^ 
tion, but by statesmanlike development of existing institutions. 
One of his first acts after securing power was to marry Edith, 
daughter of the Scottish king and on her mother’s side a 
descendant of Alfred. This alliance was shrewdly calculated to 
make him popular with the native English; and to please the 
Normans, the lady’s name was changed to Matilda (Maud). In 
the meantime Robert, duke of Normandy, had returned from the 
crusade and he at once provoked an insurrection of the more 
turbulent barons in England. Robert, however, was notoriously 
incompetent, and the intrigue merely gave Henry a good pretext 
for extending his ambitions to the continent. After a long series 
of minor quarrels in which the French king vainly supported the 
elder brother, Henry won a decisive victory at Tinchebrai in iio6. 
Robert spent the rest of his life in prison, while Henry thence- 
forth held undisputed sway throughout all his father’s dominions. 

Louis VI, making the best of a situation which he could not 
control, received Henry I as his vassal for Normandy. But rela- 
tions between the two continued strained, and before long they 
were embroiled in a war that lasted for the better part of twenty 
years. Throughout this struggle Henry maintained his position 
with complete success, securing recognition of his overlordship in 
Brittany and extending his authority over certain disputed terri- 
tory on the Seine. Hitherto the French king had regularly de- 
pended on the count of Anjou for aid against the Normans, and 
Henry had countered by allying with Louis’s bitter enemy, the 
count of Blois. In 1128, however, there was a surprising diplo- 
matic reversal. Some years ^rlier Henry’s two sons had both 
been drowned by the tragic sinking of the White Ship in the 
British Channel; so the king was left with, only a daughter, Ma- 
tilda, already married to the emperor, Henry V. In 1125 the 
latter died and Matilda was brought home, to be solemnly recog- 
nized by the barons as heiress of both Normandy and England. 
Then, to assure the lady powerful support, Henry gave her in 
marriage to Geoffrey Plantagenet of Anjou, who in the next year 


(1129) inherited his father’s county. Finally, in 1133, the aging 
king was delighted by the news that he had a grandson, who was 
to be named for him and who, it might be expected, w'ould in time 
rule the combined states of England, Normandy, and Anjou. 

Nevertheless, when Henry died in 1135, most of his barons 
refused to carry out the settlement to which they had earlier Stephen, 
pledged support. Recognition of the infant Henry was out of king of 
the question. As good Normans, they hated to submit to their 
ancient enemy, the Angevin, and they did not like the idea of ^ 

being ruled by the ex-empress. This was the situation when a 
claim to the succession was raised by Stephen of Blois, brother 
of Count Thibaut and grandson of the Conqueror. Being well 
known to the magnates and personally popular, he received their 
support and was crowned. War with Anjou thus became inevi- 
table, while Stephen’s weakness soon encouraged the outbreak of 
widespread civil disorders in both England and Normandy. Once 
more fortune favored the French king, but Louis VI did not live 
to profit by the opportunity. Dying in 1137, he left the throne to 
the son who had already been associated in the royal dignity and 
who, by a lucky marriage, had just acquired the magnificent in- 
heritance of Aquitaine. With such prospects, how could Louis 
VII avoid winning for his house a dominant position in western 

The new king, it soon appeared, utterly ladced the statesman- 
ship of his father. Virtuous and lovable in personal character, he 
seemed never able to adopt a sensible policy, flying from one im- 
practical scheme to another and constantly ruining fine prospects 
by stupid blunders. At the beginning of his reign much, of 
course, might be pardoned him on the score of youth; but unhap- 
pily for his country, Louis never devdoped a keen intelligence. 
Although the experienced Suger might save the royal cause in 
some respects, he could not do everything. During the crucial 
years between 1137 and 1 145 the king seemed blind to the menace 
that threatened him from Anjou. Having wasted his energies in 
futile quarrels with the pope and with the count of Blois, he then 
chose to desert his kingdom for a poorly managed crusade.'’^ After 
the total failure of his expedition to Syria, he finally returned 
home and was fortunate enough, thanks to Suger, to find his do- 
main intact. 

^ See below, p. 522* 

The rise 
of the 



The question of the Norman inheritance had, of course, to be 
settled on the battlefield, for Stephen’s succession was immediately 
challenged by the Angevins. While Geoffrey undertook the re- 
duction of Normandy, the dauntless Matilda led an army across 
the Channel. There she fought the English king with varying 
success until, in 1148, she abandoned the campaign as hopeless. 
By that time her husband had achieved his objective. As Ste- 
phen’s party on the continent had never been strong, and as Louis 
VII made no effort to intervene, Geoffrey steadily pushed his 
occupation of Normandy, finally taking Rouen in 1144. This 
conquest he carried out in the name of his son Henry, and in 
1150 the seventeen-year-old boy was actually invested with his 
grandfather’s duchy. Then, in the next year, Geoffrey died and 
Henry came into possession of Anjou. Louis VII, having per- 
mitted Geoffrey to complete his project without the slightest inter- 
ference, could not refuse to accept the homage of his heir for the 
two great fiefs. 

As it turned out, Henry’s good fortune had only begun. The 
year 1151 saw the death of Suger; and the king, as if to celebrate 
his independence, proceeded to his crowning folly — the divorce of 
his wife. Eleanor, the granddaughter of a famous troubadour, 
had been brought up in an atmosphere of romantic gallantry. 
Perhaps she chafed under the restraints of the somewhat bar- 
barous court at Paris and the growing indifference of her spouse. 
At any rate, during the course of the crusade, Louis was shocked 
by her flirtatious conduct and now, in 1152, he prevailed upon the 
ecclesiastical authorities to declare the marriage void because of 
an alleged blood-relationship between the pair. Possibly the fact 
that the queen had as yet failed to bear a son also had weight with 
the king. Whatever his motive, Louis deliberately repudiated not 
only Eleanor, but Aquitaine as well. To make the situation in- 
finitely worse, the affronted lady found revenge by marrying, 
just two months later, the young Henry of Anjou. On the side 
of the groom, assuredly, it was no love match, for he was some 
ten years her junior. It was, however, a masterpiece of political 
strategy, and since his queen gave him no less than five sons and 
three daughters, it assured the future of the d3masty. 

Strangely enough, although war had already broken out be- 
tween the two, Louis in 1152 granted Henry a truce, which he 


used for an attack upon Stephen in England. The latter, hav- Hemy 11 
ing no stomach for fighting, at once agreed to recognize Henry as of England 
heir to his crown — ^an arrangement that was peacefully carried 
out when Stephen died in the very next year. By 1 154 Henry II, 
as he may henceforth be called, thus combined under his personal 
dominion an impressive territory, extending on the continent from 
tlie Atlantic to the imperial border along the Rhone and from the 
Pyrenees to Flanders. As duke of Aquitaine he held a claim to 
the county of Toulouse, which from time to time he later tried 
to make good. As duke of Normandy, he enjoyed the overlord- 
ship of Brittany. This title, in itself, meant little, but the subse- 
quent marriage of his third son, Geoffrey, to the heiress of the 
county offered at least the possibility of important consequences. 

As king of England, finally, he asserted a theoretical superiority 
over the Welsh princes to the west and the Scottish king to the 

In Scotland the twelfth century marked a great advance of civi- 
lization. David I (1124-53), been brought up in Eng- Scotland 

land, largely reorganized th6 kingdom on a feudal basis. The and Wales 
English-speaking lowlands® had already come to include many 
Norman-French adventurers; under David a host of others car- 
ried their influence even into the Celtic highlands. At this same 
time the customs of Norman-French trading settlements were 
extended to the Scottish boroughs by granting than the liberties 
of Newcastle-on-T3me.® Meanwhile the Welsh had likewise been 
pushed fartha and farther back into their rocky peninsula. Espe- 
cially along the northern shore of Bristol Channel, the Norman 
barons of the frontier, the famous Lords Marchers, built up a 
series of little feudal states from Cardiff to Pembroke. And as 
the invaders raised their castles, they founded many new towns, 
commonly endowed with the laws of Breteuil.^® Under Henry 
II Norman aggression was not only continued on these two fronts, 
but also extended into Ireland. 

That island, in the course of the ninth century, had been rav- 
aged from end to end by the vikings, some of whom had founded Irdand 
permanent settlements along the east coast Afterwards the Scan- 
dinavians, adopting Christianity and mixing with the native popu- 

» See above, p. 283. 

• See above, p. 357. 

w See above, p. 357. 


lation, had tended to become indistinguishable from the rest of the 
inhabitants. Divided into numerous warring clans, the Irish in 
the twelfth century were as far from political unity as ever. In 
1 1 66 Henry II's aid was solicited by an exiled chieftain named 
Dermot who received permission to seek aid from the barons. 
Accordingly, in 1169, a Norman force was sent into Ireland by 
Richard, earl of Pembroke, popularly known as Strongbow. The 
sequel may readily be guessed : Dermot’s assistants took not only 
his territories, but many others, carving out fiefs for themselves 
exactly as they had in Wales. Finally, in 1171, Henry decided 
to intervene. Placing a justiciar at Dublin, he organized the 
Norman conquests on the east coast under direct royal authority 
and exacted homage from many Irish chiefs. The customs of 
Bristol were established in the principal towns. English dominion 
was thus extended over a portion of Ireland; many centuries 
were to pass before the whole island was subjected. 

Through the almost imperial extent of his territories, Henry II 
was vastly more powerful than Louis VII of France; indeed, he 
far surpassed the Holy Roman Emperor in everything save dig- 
nity. Most of his time was naturally spent on the continent, 
where lay his principal interests. Not only French politics, but 
affairs of Italy, Germany, Spain, Constantinople, and Jerusalem 
received his attention. His daughters were married to the king 
of Castile, the king of Sicily, and Henry the Lion, the great duke 
of Saxony and Bavaria.^^ From a prince of such eminence mat- 
ters of English administration could demand only an occasional 
glance. Nevertheless, among all the kings of England, none has 
left a greater impress on the history of the country than Henry 
II. Being a man of forceful personality who inspired extremes 
of hatred and devotion, Henry was vividly described by many 
writers. Like his Angevin father and grandfather, he had red 
hair ; and with that went a freckled complexion, a thickset frame, 
and a fiery temper. Although passionate and ambitious, Henry 
remained preeminent for his practical sense, always preferring the 
realities of power to any sort of visionary project. 

To maintain efficient authority throughout his widely separated 
dominions was almost a superhuman task for the twelfth cen- 
tury. That he did so is sufficient evidence of his greatness as an 
administrator. All contemporary writers agree on Henryks amaz- 

^ See bdow, pp. 398 f. 


ing energy. His courtiers complained that they hardly had a 
chance to sleep ; the king was forever getting up early in order to 
go somewhere. When he was not fighting or hunting, he was 
always fiercely engaged in some matter of business. Even dur- 
ing mass he had to be supplied with writing materials to keep him 
from fidgeting. These characteristics appear very prominently 
in connection with Henry’s reforms in England. His entire 
reign was marked by a continuous process of experimentation, 
much of which proved of permanent value to the kingdom. For 
almost twenty years under Stephen the country had been plunged 
in chronic disorder — ^the period known to English historians as 
the Anarchy. Henry’s first task was to restore the system of his 
grandfather, Henry I. All his enactments were fitted into the 
Norman tradition ; none of them was published as an innovation. 

Yet, taking advantage of the public demand for strong monarchy, 

Henry was able by subtle changes to effect an enormous increase 
in the royal power. To make this point clear, it will be necessary 
to review the development of English institutions in the period 
following the Norman Conquest. 

That event, as explained above, made England into a thor- 
oughly feudal state. Under H^ry I the situation remained fun- 'ITie curia 
damentally unchanged, but in the course of his reign certain «gijand 
constitutional elements of great significance may first be plainly ^chequer 
distinguished. By this time, for instance, there had emerged a 
group of professional administrators and judges — ^the core of a 
permanent central government. Although the king might occa- 
sionally summon a general assembly of all his barons, both great 
and small, his ordinary administration was superintended by a 
select body of trusted advisers and high officials. Such were par- 
ticularly the treasurer, the chancellor, the constable, and the chief 
justiciar, the man who headed the government while the king 
was abroad. These persons, together with other ministers, con- 
stituted the usual council of the king,'or citm regis. And as yet 
there was only one such group, attending to all sorts of business. 

On one day it might discuss relations with the French king, on the 
next sit as a court of law, and on a third take up matters of 

In this last capacity, the curia under Henry I became known as 
the exdiequer because the table about which the members gathered 
had a top like a chessboard. The exchequer was a form of 

ind the 


abacus/^ designed to facilitate the work of addition and subtrac- 
tion without recourse to the clumsy Roman numerals. By ancient 
custom the king's ordinary revenue in a shire was farmed to the 
sheriff — ^that is to say, was leased to him in return for a fixed 
annual payment. When, accordingly, the sheriff appeared before 
the court, the clerks arranged counters in columns to represent 
the pounds, shillings, and pence that he owed. Then they sub- 
tracted, item by item, whatever cash he had paid into the treasury 
and all expenditures which he had made on the king's order and 
for which he presented receipts or tallies.^® Finally, after the 
account was completed, the sum remaining on the table indicated 
what he still owed. Meanwhile, other clerks had kept a written 
record of the transaction on sheets (or pipes) of parchment. 
These, when sewn together and rolled up, were known as a pipe 
roll. The oldest one extant is that of the year 1130, the sole sur- 
vivor from the reign of Henry I. But from the time of Henry II, 
who reestablished the financial system of his grandfather, the 
annual accounts have been preserved complete. 

Just before the Conqueror’s death he ordered a great survey 
by which the actual value of every manor in England was to be 
determined. In every hundred a number of men, both French 
and English, were placed on oath to answer questions put to them 
by royal ministers — a procedure introduced by the Normans and 
technically known as an inquest. The testimony thus given was 
written down by clerks and eventually condensed to form the huge 
compilation known as Domesday Book, which is our most precious 
source for English institutions in the eleventh century. Although 
the chief motive of the Domesday inquest was apparently the re- 
assessment of the ancient land tax, that project was never carried 
out. Henry I's pipe roll shows him collecting annual Danegelds 
on the basis of the old ratings. The only change was that the 
boroughs were now charged round sums more in accord with 
their ability to pay. To supplement the Danegeld, the king also' 
exacted '‘aids” or "gifts” from the county courts and from indi- 
vidual military tenants. This practice was systematized and 
greatly extended by Henry II, so that he could soon afford to drop 
the old Danegeld altogether and rely on his newly perfected 
taxes, principally the scutage and the tallage. The former was 
a sort of aid taken from the barons in place of military service. 

“ See bdow, p. 418. 

See above, p. 270. 


The latter consisted primarily of arbitrary sums collected from 
the boroughs ; but similar payments were also taken from manors 
of the royal demesne, from the communities of Jews under the 
king’s protection, and from other non-nobles. 

Although the barons were normally quite willing to substitute 
the payment of money for knight service, the ultimate advantage 
lay with the king. By taking the cash and hiring troops, he 
could procure a force entirely subject to his command and so 
become less dependent on the baronage. The scutage, marking 
a departure from the agrarian arrangements characteristic of feu- 
dalism, was significant of a new age in economic and political 
history. The same transition was even more clearly indicated by 
the tallage, for that tax showed an amazing development in the 
course of only a half-century. Rapid increase was made not 
merely in the number of boroughs which paid, but also in the 
amounts collected, so that the tallage soon became the largest item 
in the king’s revenue. From the towns, too, came larger rents, 
together with handsome sums for the receipt of special privileges. 

Thanks to the pipe rolls, we may see precisely how Henry II 
profited by his patronage of the bourgeois class. His grandfather, 
as already noted, had granted self-government to London and es- 
tablished more elementary liberties in many other towns, Henry 
II issued municipal charters by the score. It is true that the 
Londoners, because of their hostility to his mother, now lost their 
right to elect magistrates, but Henry confirmed communes in 
Rouen and other continental cities, and on the English boroughs 
generally he conferred lesser rights with a lavish hand* 

Financial interest may also be said to have dominated Henry 
II’s judicial reforms. During earlier reigns members of the Judicial 
king’s central court had occasionally been sent out into the coun- reforms 
ties on special missions — ^to hold trials, make investigations, or 
enforce decrees. Under Henry II these itinerant justices became 
a regular part of the government, and with the passing of the 
years their powers were constantly increased. Every so often 
they held full meetings of the county courts, where they were met 
by representatives of the hundreds and boroughs for the sake of 
taxation, police, and other administrative matters. One of the 
king’s chief concerns w^s the restoration of law and order 
throughout the countryside, and, as the result of the anarchy 
under Stephen, he encountered great trouble in bringing suspected 
criminals to justice. Furthermore, he realized that current meth- 



ods of trial, such as combat and compurgation, were far from 
satisfactory. If in some way he could devise a means of provid- 
ing juster decisions, he might improve the efficiency of the gov- 
ernment and also add enormously to his income. These needs he 
finally met by adaptations of the jury. 

This famous English institution developed not from the pro- 
cedure of the Anglo-Saxon courts, but from the Norman inquest, 
which was derived, somewhat obscurely, from Carolingian and 
late Roman practice. The essence of the inquest was that a ques- 
tion was asked a group of men selected because of their special 
knowledge and put on oath to tell the truth. The group was 
called a jury (from jurati, sworn men) and thdr return a verdict 
(veredictum, a true statement). As already noted, William I 
employed juries to gain the information for his Domesday sur- 
vey ; the same procedure was commonly followed in order to as- 
certain the liberties to whidi a person or a community was en- 
titled, to assess a man’s property for taxation, to investigate the 
conduct of an official, and for other administrative purposes. 
Henry II now adopted it as a means of starting criminal prosecu- 
tions. Within each shire, he commanded, twelve men from every 
hundred and four men from every vill should meet the itinerant 
justices and on oath present to them the names of all persons 
suspected of being robbers, murderers, and the like. This was 
the origin of the grand jury — ^i.e., the big jury, which brings accu- 
sations (presentments or indictments) preliminary to criminal 
trials. During the twelfth century the accused was still tried by 
the ordeal of hot water,^* but the king showed his mistrust of that 
method by sending a man of very bad reputation into exile even if 
he passed the test. 

Under Henry II jury trial was restricted to civil suits. In cer- 
Jtiry trial tain specified cases of a disputed title to land, the king provided 
that the question at issue should be put to a jury of lawful men 
chosen from the neighborhood by the sheriff. For instance, if A 
was in possession of a property X, and B claimed it by right of 
inheritance from his father, the jury would be asked: Did B’s 

The two customary ordeals tinder the old Anglo-Saxon law were those of 
hot water and hot iron. In the former the accused plunged his arm into hot 
water; in the latter he carried a heated bar of iron for a certain distance. In 
either case the wound was wrapped up and left for three days. If at the end of 
that time it was pronounced **,clean,” the man was innocent. It would seem, 
therefore, that guilt was determined by signs of infection, rather than of scalding 
or burning. 


father possess X on the day when he was alive and dead ? And 
according to their verdict the land would or would not be given 
to B. As yet, it will be noted, even this trial jury (the petit, 
or little, jury) was a group of expert witnesses who rendered 
a decision on their own knowledge, not from evidence produced 
in court. Many centuries were to pass before our familiar jury 
procedure was developed. As it was, however, Henry’s trial jury 
was a great improvement over combat, and since the king had a 
monopoly of its use, his courts gained a great advantage over 
those of the barons. JBy a variety of legal technicalities, every 
freeholder, whether or not the king’s tenant, was allowed to buy a 
writ bringing his case before the curia regis. So the feudal law 
of the seignorial courts, as well as the ancient custom of the 
Anglo-Saxon courts, was rapidly superseded by a growing body 
of royal law, known as the common law because it was common 
to the entire kingdom. 

In his fiscal and judicial reforms Henry II thus extended and 
systematized practices which had already been employed by his Relations 
predecessors. Likewise with regard to the church he in general 
followed the established custom of the Norman monarchy. The 
conquest of 1066, having been blessed by the pope, naturally 
brought to an end all local peculiarities of ecclesiastical govern- 
ment disapproved by Rome. Episcopal sees were removed from 
country villages to more important urban, centers the primacy of 
the archbishop of Canterbury was definitely recognized; monas- 
teries were thoroughly reformed in harmony with the Cluniac 
ideals; a series of church courts entirely separate from those of 
the state was established. In all these matters the Norman king 
acted in hearty cooperation with Archbishop Lanfranc and the 
papal legates. When, however, Gregory VII suggested that Wil- 
liam perform homage to him for England, he was met with blunt 
refusal. The Conqueror also continued to appoint and invest 
prelates at his own pleasure. Gregory never brought this matter 
to an issue in England, but it was revived by Anselm after he had 
quarreled with William II, and it remained to trouble the ad- 
ministration of Henry I. Finally, in 1106, both parties agreed 
to a compromise. Although bishops and abbots were to be elected 
respectively by the cathedral and monastic chapters, the election 
had to be held in the king’s presence, ^nd the chosen prelate had 
to perform homage before receiving his lands from the king. 





Formal installation with the ring and staff, the symbols of spir- 
itual office, was to be subsequently carried out by a clergyman. 

Thenceforth the matter of investiture was a closed issue, but 
various other questions were to force themselves on Henry II’s 
attention. During the troubled reign of Stephen, the church, 
like the baronage, had naturally tended to encroach on the royal 
authority. The age was one of new enthusiasm for the study 
of canon law.^® Church courts were generally claiming jurisdic- 
tion not only over purely ecclesiastical questions, but over all cases 
which involved persons in holy orders. ^ Henry II was quite 
willing that the church should continue to decide such questions as 
perjury, the enforcement of wills, and the validity of marriages. 
But he felt that courts of canon law, since they were forbidden 
to take life or to shed blood, were hardly in position to deal with 
thieves and murderers. He insisted that, according to the custom 
of Henry I’s reign., clerg3rmen convicted of serious crime in the 
church court should be stripped of their holy orders and turned 
over to the state for punishment. This position was one sup- 
ported by many authorities on canon law ; yet it came to be bitterly 
opposed by the new archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket. 

The latter was the son of a London merchant who earlier 
had zealously served the king as royal chancellor. Then, on being 
appointed to the see of Canterbury in 1162, he turned completely 
about and became a fanatical champion of ecclesiastical inde- 
pendence. In 1164 Henry secured the agreement of a great coun- 
cil to the famous Constitutions of Clarendon, which prescribed 
the king’s plan for the treatment of criminous clerks, prohibited 
appeals to Rome without royal license, regulated procedure in 
disputes between laity and clergy, and in general defined the rela- 
tions of church and state. Becket, after signing the Constitu- 
tions, repudiated his promise and proceeded by word and deed 
to infuriate the hot-blooded king, who replied with every form of 
legal persecution. Six years of violent controversy ended in a 
hollow reconciliation. Finally, after a fresh quarrel, certain cour- 
tiers took the king’s angry words too literally and slew the arch- 
bishop before his altar at Canterbury. The result was the canon- 
ization of Becket as a martyr and the partial failure of the king’s 
reform program. For many centuries thereafter a criminal could 
get off virtually scot-free on the first offense by pleading ‘‘benefit 

See below, p. 431. 


of clergy” and proving that he was a clerk by reading one passage 
in the Bible. In major respects, however, the king’s authority 
over the English clergy remained tmdiminished and was •not 
seriously challenged for another generation. 

All in all, Henry II’s reign established constitutional and legal 
precedents which have affected England from that day to the Books on 
present. And it is worth noting that these momentous results lawmd 
were accomplished not by formal legislation, but by adminis- 
trative experimentation — ^through sets of instructions to his itin- 
erant justices somewhat like the capitularies of Charlemagne. 

These assizes, as they are called, constitute our most important 
source for the king’s reforms, but they are supplemented by two 
private works very characteristic of the new age. One is the 
Dialogue on the Exchequer, written by the treasurer, Richard 
Fitz-Nigel — a. highly technical essay on the working of Henry’s 
financial system. The other is the Treatise on the Laws and 
Customs of the Kingdom of England, by Henry’s justiciar, 

Ranulf de Glanvill — ^the first of many famous writings on the 
English common law. These books, together with the multiplica- 
tion of pipe rolls and other administrative records, show how the 
king’s service' was becoming a profession worthy of the best 
talent that the kingdom could offer. 


After peacefully observing Henry II’s spectacular rise to power, 

Louis VII continued to reign uneventfully for another quarter Accession 
of a century. By his first wife, Eleanor, he had no sons ; by his 
second, a daughter of the count of Blois, he was finally blessed 
with an heir. And this son, Philip, to whom later historians were 
to gi-ve the surname Augustus, was soon called to undertake the 
government of the kingdom. Knighted and crowned at the age of 
fourteen, he actually began his reign in 1179. In the next year 
his father died, and Philip celebrated his independence by marry- 
ing the niece of the Flemish count. By this alliance the youth- 
ful king accomplished two aids: he counteracted the threatening 
influence of his mother’s family, the great house of Blois, and he 
secured as dowry the promise of Artois, the region about the 
wealthy to-wns of Arras and Saint-Omer. The count of Flanders, 
however, was disappointed in his hope of controlling France; for 
Philip next arranged a treaty with Henry II, who, being old and 
in poor health, was quite willing to spend his last days in peace. 


The ac- 
of Artois 
and Ver- 


Philip as a mere boy thus displayed the wisdom that was to 
characterize him throughout life and was to make his reign one 
of the most significant in history. As to his physique, we hear of 
no very striking traits, except that in later years he became bald 
and that he was said to have one bad eye. He was not at all 
ascetic, being fond of good cheer; and although he was somewhat 
less licentious than his Angevin rivals, his private life was by no 
means spotless. Being forced at an early age to begin the career 
of a soldier and statesman, he never progressed far in education — 
never, in fact, learned to read Latin. He was pious enough in 
outward conduct, but piety can hardly be said ever to have dictated 
any of his important actions. Fundamentally he was what the 
French call a politique, a man whose career was dominated by 
political considerations. Not in the least chivalrous, Philip fought 
when he had to as a matter of business, and fought well. In 
traditional goodness he was greatly inferior to Louis VII, and 
yet there can be no question as to which was the better king. 
Philip’s crafty self-control and hard intelligence, while they won 
for him few warm friends, enabled him to redeem his father’s 
mistakes and triumphantly resume the policy of his grandfather. 

Philip’s alliance with Henry in 1180 brought him six years of 
immunity from Angevin aggression — 3, period which he used 
to full advantage. By a shrewd combination of fighting and 
diplomacy, he not only broke up a feudal coalition headed by his 
uncles, but emerged from the contest with a noteworthy accession 
of territory. The count of Flanders was forced to recognize his 
title, first, to Artois and, secondly, to Vermandois, the succession 
to which had been disputed. As a consequence, the king eventu- 
ally added to his domain a large section of Picardy, including the 
famous Somme towns of Amiens, Peronne, and Saint-Quentin. 
No sooner had Philip brought the northern war to a successful 
close, than he proceeded to attack the Angevin power — ^not so 
much through direct military operations as through intrigue with 
Henry II’s jealous sons. Of the latter, four had survived to 
come into contact with Philip: Henry, already crowned as his 
father’s successor; Richard, invested with his mother’s duchy 
of Aquitaine; Geoffrey, by marriage count of Brittany; and 
John, for obvious reasons nicknamed Lackland (Sans-Terre), 
They were a cruel and ungrateful lot ; and as the result of their 
treacheries, encouraged by the foolish indulgence of the old king, 


the scheming Philip found a means of humbling his formidable 

Henry was the first to rebel against his father and engage in 
war with Richard over Aquitaine; but as the young king died 
in 1183, Richard became heir to the throne, and this event pro- 
voked a contest between him and Geoffrey. Next, Geoffrey died, 
leaving an infant son, the ill-fated Arthur of Brittany. The 
fall of Jerusalem and the agitation for a new crusade^^ caused 
a momentary diversion. Then, in 1189, the revolt of both Rich- 
ard and John brought needless shame and grief to the dying 
Henry II. In all these disturbances Philip from the outset was 
an interested participant, always acting with great show of legality 
and always by his support fomenting further discord among the 
Angevins. Earlier he had supported Geoffrey against Richard; 
subsequently he and Richard had become boon companions. Now 
that Henry was dead, what would be Philip's attitude? During 
the previous year both princes had taken the cross : Richard act- 
ing in whole-hearted enthusiasm, Philip only through pressure of 
public opinion. Until the crusade was accomplished, other mat- 
ters would have to wait. So Philip temporarily overlooked the 
insolence of his rival and in 1191 sailed with him to the Holy 

The new king of England was a fine figure of manhood and, 
as a soldier, richly deserved the name given him, Richard Lion- 
Heart (Cosur de Lion), He possessed not only the bravery and 
gallantry of the typical knight, but also the generalship of the 
natural-born commander. And in military engineering he proved 
himself the ablest prince in the west. Richard was likewise, ac- 
cording to the standard of the age, a cultured man, speaking Latin 
fluently and composing verses after the fashion of a troubadour. 
Yet he lacked the conscientious statesmanship of his father. Pas- 
sionately devoted to warfare, he regarded government merely as a 
source of income. What little interest he displayed in matters of 
administration was r^tricted to his original principality of Aqui- 
taine, where alone he was thoroughly at home. To England he 
was almost as foreign as his mother Eleanor. Crossing the Chan- 
nel in 1189 for the sake of his coronation, he left after the pas- 
sage of a few months and during the rest of his life paid the 
kingdom only one other fleeting visit. It was by virtue of the 









» See below, p* 5^5. 


of John 



efficient machine created by Henry II and through the skill of 
Hubert Walter, archbishop of Canterbury and justiciar, that the 
royal government continued to run smoothly whether the king 
was present or absent. 

On the crusade Richard was of course in his true element. 
There, by the storming of Acre, he gained high renown, which 
his later romantic adventures served to enhance. Richard’s glory 
was gall to Philip, who could not shine as a crusader and who felt 
an imperious urge to resume political manipulations in France. 
So, even before the year was out, he excused himself on the 
ground of sickness and, leaving part of his army with Richard, 
took ship for Italy. On arriving at home, he proceeded to take 
possession of various territories claimed under earlier treaties 
and now left vacant by the death of the Flemish count. Then he 
turned to the congenial task of encouraging John to plot against 
his absent brother. To the delight of the conspirators, Richard, 
while returning through Germany in 1192, was taken prisoner 
by the duke of Austria, turned over to the emperor Henry VI, and 
-by him held for ransom.^’^ Philip and John offered large sums to 
have the imprisonment continued indefinitely, but Richard met the 
emperor’s terms and, after the ransom had been raised by heavy 
taxation, he was released in 1194. 

This event brought to a sudden end John’s dream of an inde- 
pendent principality. Richard, after spending a few weeks in 
England to put down what little resistance still showed itself, 
returned to the continent for the sake of organizing a great war 
of revenge against the deceitful French king. Nor were his 
hopes disappointed. During five years of conflict he succeeded 
on every front. Philip was driven headlong out of Touraine and 
Richard’s authority was reestablished throughout the Angevin 
dominions. Meanwhile, to assure the defense of Normandy, he 
had blocked the Seine Valley with the magnificent Chateau Gail- 
lard, the strongest castle of the age. But in 1199 Richard died 
of wounds received in a minor engagement, and his passing 
proved a boon to the Capetian cause. The magnates now had to 
choose between Prince John and Arthur, the son of his elder 
brother. John being a mature man, gained immediate recogni- 
tion in England, Normandy, and Aquitaine. Philip, who had 
shifted his affections to Arthur, eventually failed to secure even 

" See below, p. 402. 


Anjou for his protege. So, in 1200, he signed peace, recognizing 
John as successor to Richard in all the great Angevin fiefs and 
guaranteeing to Arthur only Brittany, to be held directly of the 
French crown. 

At the time, of course, John was comparatively unknown, or 
he would never have received the acclaim of clergy and baronage. 

To the bitter disillusionment of his supporters, he soon showed 
himself a thoroughly mean person, without a spark of nobility or 
a single generous impulse. The age was one which readily for- 
gave a certain amount of cruelty, sensuality, or avarice on the 
part of a prince. Neither the Angevins nor the Capetians had 
been notably free from such vices, but even the worst of them had 
possessed redeeming traits of sincerity, courage, determination, 
or loyalty. Although Philip Augustus might not be loved, he 
could be admired and respected. John seemed destined to evoke 
only a universal hatred. It was not that he lacked ability. The 
fact that he had imdoubted talents, which were either wasted or 
turned to ignoble ends, only made him appear the more despicable. 

The verdict was unanimous : he was a bad man and a bad king, - 
without even the poor excuse of stupidity. 

When Philip signed peace with John in 1200, he had no in- 
tention of allowing it to stand. Being for the moment embar- Philip’s 
rassed by a controversy with the pope,“ he preferred to play a conquests 
waiting game, hoping for what is popularly known as a break. 

Such a favorable opportunity soon arose. By carrying off a lady 
betrothed to one of his own vassals and through other high- 
handed actions, John inspired appeals to the court of his lord, the 
king of France. Under the earlier Angevins an incident of this 
sort would have been little more than a political gesture When 
had a Capetian been able to hale into court one of his powerful 
barons for failure to give a vassal justice? But times had 
changed and Philip had made careful preparations for decisive 
action. Having already determined on war, he needed only a use- 
ful pretext. So, in 1202, when John, after being summoned three 
times, quite naturally refused to appear before Philip’s court, 
the latter formally adjudged him guilty of felony and declared 
his fiefs forfeit.^ 

The amazing part of the story was that which followed. A 

See below, p. 409. 

1® See above, p. 256. 



decree of forfeiture was one matter; to enforce it quite another. 
Even when Philip invaded Normandy and invested Arthur with 
the remaining Angevin fiefs, John’s position was the same as 
that which had so effectively been held by Richard. John, in fact, 
began the war with a notable victory. Leaving Philip’s advance 
to be checked by the great Norman castles, he concentrated his 

forces against the Breton army and captured his young nephew, 
Arthur. For a year or so the unfortunate count was kept prisoner 
in Normandy; then he disappeared — ^murdered, as the world has 
since believed, at the instigation of his uncle. Although the 
details of the crime were never revealed, no one doubted that it 
had occurred ; and the immediate consequence was a general revuL 
sion of feeling. Maine, Anjou, and Touraine declared for Philip 

Duke William Knights Earl Harold 

-Mosque of Cordova, Doorway p. 

Great Mosque (Damascus) {See p. m) 

Sant* Ambroglo (Milan). Interior (Sve p, 474) 

Notre-Dame (Paris) 
{See p, 482) 

Amiens Cathedral 
{See p, 484) 

Nofre-Dame (Paris), Chevet (6V^ />, 4fyj) 

Reims Cathedral, North Side (See p, 483) 

PW» tonce ffwi Salisbury Cathedral, Interior ’ {Hie pp. M ^ 
Amiens Cathedral, Interior (S«« pp, ^”) 

Medici Palace ence Cloth Ha ge 7J6] 


and so cut off all communications between Aquitaine and Nor- 
mandy. At this critical moment John chose to lose interest in 
the war, allowing his enemies to overrun his patrimony almost as 
they would. After a siege of eight months, Philip actually took 
the Chateau Gaillard in February, 1204; in the following summer 
Rouen surrendered, and the proud duchy of Normandy was added 
to the royal domain. The last of John’s castles on the Loire 
fell in 1205. Within another year Philip had also taken most of 
Poitou and was dictating a new political settlement for Brittany. 
Only then did John bestir himself sufficiently to hold what re- 
mained of Aquitaine; it was too late to save the ancestral fiefs 
to the north. 

Like the Norman Conquest of England, this series of events 
marked a significant turning-point in the history of the western 
monarchies. As far as France was concerned, Philip Augustus 
revolutionized the political situation. Henceforth the king, in- 
stead of being one of the less powerful princes of the kingdom, 
suddenly emerged as its master, many times stronger than any 
one of his remaining barons. Consequently, royal rights that for 
centuries had been only theoretical now tended to become actuali- 
ties. As Picardy, Normandy, Anjou, and Poitou were joined to 
the He de France, Philip devised for the combined territories a 
new administrative system under royal officials called baillis. And 
as the king’s service became a profession for trained lawyers and 
financial experts, what we recognize as the mediaeval French con- 
stitution began to take form. 

For England John’s loss of Normandy, though long considered 
a shame and a disgrace, eventually proved an enormous benefit. 
The island kingdom, instead of being merely the outlying posses- 
sion of a continental prince, became a state regarded for its own 
sake. Norman barons, who hitherto had held lands on both 
sides of the Channel, iiow had to choose which they should be, 
English vassals or French vassals. The Angevin house still, of 
course, held southern Aquitaine, but that land had always been 
foreign to its northern fiefs. The first step in the direction of an 
English nationality had perforce been taken. John lived on to 
engage in. two other famous contests : one, with Innocent III, 
made England into a paj^l fief for over a hundred years; the 
other, with the baronage, resulted in the granting of Magna Carta. 
These matters, togetter with the latter part of Philip’s reign, can 
b& more conveni^tly treated in