The Economic and Social Foundations of European Civilization

By Alfons Dopsch | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIII RETROSPECT AND CONCLUSION

THE general picture drawn in this book of the social and economic development of the pre-Carolingian period, from the age of the folk migrations onwards, differs considerably from that which has usually been given. The conventional picture was one of backward and very primitive conditions. But this is completely at variance with the conditions which were known (even before the great achievements of modern epigraphical and papyrological research) to have prevailed in late Roman times, and in equally strong contrast with what the Germans actually achieved later, in the course of their settlement in the Roman provinces. If the people had been so backward at this time, how could the great task of land division have been carried out by Ostrogoths and Visigoths, Lombards, and Burgundians, as it is described? The Germans would have been utterly incapable of maintaining in the same state of cultivation the wide acreage which had already been methodically and intensively tilled by the Romans; and had they depended on the latter to do the work their position would soon have deteriorated, to a degree which would have brought them into economic subjection to their Roman consortes.

Similarly, there was no necessity to win new territory for cultivation by a slow and laborious process of reclamation, nor to seek ground in the forests for a purely primitive husbandry. Quite apart from the wide extent of unforested land, the existence of which is established by modern geographical research, and on which evidence of prehistoric settlements of husbandmen has been discovered, the division of land with the Romans must have provided a rich supply of arable. Even where no regular division took place, the Germans acquired land which had long been under cultivation. And yet another consideration: in those places in which the Germans took two-thirds of the Roman arable, they took only half of the forest clearings and newly reclaimed land. Does not this tell clearly both against the theory of the predominance of forest economy and against the idea that the cultivated sites changed from place to place, or even (truly a bold conception!) moved about the forests? Moreover, any such view would be in direct conflict with the motive usually assigned to the so-called folk migrations. Was not one of their chief causes supposed to be the land hunger of the Germans? And how could land and forests have been exploited in this "extensive" fashion, if land were so scarce that the Roman authorities had had to give the barbarians definite areas for settlement? In any case the adoption of such procedure would have been impossible, in view of the devastating results which would have accompanied it from the point of view of agricultural technique. It is only necessary to recall the case of Bavaria, where districts which to-day are moorland and useless for crops, must have been under cultivation in the Celtic and Roman period, as the surviving Hochäcker and Roman remains prove. The change may be traced to an irrational method of reclamation, which brought about a diminished rainfall and consequently

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