The Birth of Western Economy: Economic Aspects of the Dark Ages

By Robert Latouche | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
Farming and Agriculture in the Very Early Middle Ages: Old Theories and New Horizons

A GRICULTURE WAS THE ALL-IMPORTANT factor in he conomic activity of the Merovingian era. The flight from the towns, which set in at the end of the third century in the Western Empire, increased in pace during the fourth and fifth centuries. Moreover the Germanic peoples who penetrated into it, first by a process of slow infiltration, then in mass during the Great Invasions, were farmers, accustomed to a régime of individual ownership. The Merovingian civilization resulting from the fusion of the natives of Western Europe. and these barbarians was a peasant culture.

It is difficult to say with certainty how far the arrival of these foreigners modified the rural economy of Western Europe, the more so since their influence was not uniformly felt. The first barbarian nations to settle as federates on Gallic soil, the Visigoths who installed themselves in Aquitaine, and the Burgundians in Savoy (Sapaudia), made little impression. They were treated as 'settlers' (hospites),1 in other words they were given what amounted to 'billets de logement' on the lands in which those barbarians who offered their services to the Empire were required to live. The land was portioned out between them and the local landowners who gave them lodging; legal documents help to throw some light on the rules governing the allocation. Relatively few in number, these barbarians were quickly assimilated. There was no expropriation on a vast scale;

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1
On the 'régime de l'hospitalité' see the article by F. Lot already quoted.

-59-

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