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

By Robert Latouche | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
Farming in the Very Early Middle Ages (cont.): Mansus, Villa and Husbandry

WE MUST NOW TURN to a study of the mansus, although the word itself did not appear before the seventh century;1 but the small country farm it denotes goes back much earlier than Merovingian times, for, to quote a shrewd observation made by a historian whose premature death robbed us of a fine scholar, the 'meix' (mansus) and its successors represent 'the many varied aspects and uses of a thousand-year-old institution closely bound up with the family group and the economy of the plough'.2 The special contribution made by the Merovingian and Carolingian eras was the planting on the soil of Western Europe of innumerable peasant families who settled there permanently. The symbol of this settlement pattern is the mansus. The word came into common use in the ninth century. The polyptyques of religious houses adopted it to denote sub-divisions of the villa; but originally the word mansus, from the Latin maneo, meant the house, the dwelling-place, the home, and not the farm. The primitive meaning has moreover been preserved in French and Provençal in the words 'meix' and 'mas',3 but naturally, in the

____________________
1
M. Bloch, Les caractères originaux ..., p. 155.
2
Déléage, La vie rurale en Bourgogne au moyen âge, I, p. 357. See also G. Roupnel's observations on the mansus, Histoire de la campagne française, p. 263.
3
Most modern historians have kept the word in its Latinized form, fully aware, as Marc Bloch points out (ibid., p. 155, note 1), that this is a neologism. Except for a few scholars like Déléage, they have not used the dialectal variants mas or meix, since in the south and in Burgundy these bore meanings different from that attached to the word mansus during the Early Middle Ages, and their use might possibly have led to a certain tiresome confusion. Cf. Perrin, 'Observations sur le manse dans la région parisienne au début du IXe siècle', Ann. d'hist, soc., VII, 1945, p. 39, note 1, and Dubled, 'Encore la question du manse', Revue du moyen âge latin, 1949, pp. 203-210.

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