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

By Robert Latouche | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
The Structure of the Great Estate and the origin of the rural 'Seigneurie'

THE Capitulare de villis tells us nothing about the actual structure of the great estate. The information has to be gleaned from the abbots of several important monasteries who have left on record the extent of their possessions and the secrets of their administration. In fact, as we have seen, the early Carolingians were probably responsible for the preservation of these details. First Pepin the Short,1 then Charlemagne2 ordered their lay vassals and religious foundations to draw up inventories of their property, though the heads of wealthy abbeys most probably did not wait for a royal command before compiling polyptyques of their landed possessions. The word polyptyque, which during the Late Empire signified a register of land survey,3 was adopted in the early Middle Ages to describe inventories compiled by churches, whilst in Merovingian times official documents relating to land survey were known as descriptiones.4

The most famous and least incomplete of these documents is

____________________
1
"Res ecclesiarum descriptas atque divisas.,' Ann. Alam., a. 751, text quoted by Inama-Sternegg, op. cit., p. 459, n.I.
2
See above, p. 179.
3
Perrin, Rech. sur la seign, rut., p. 765. Cf. Inama-Sternegg, op. cit., pp. 466-467.
4
Perrin, ibid., p. 605. The Cartul. de Saint-Victor de Marseille (no. 31) contains a valuable text of the late eighth century in which the Latin word descriptio replaces polyptycum, the word traditionally used to describe a land survey document: 'Et sic dixerunt quod ipsi Ansemundo, vicedomino Massiliense, ibidem descriptionem ad. partes S. Victoris Massiliensis facere viderunt. Et ipsum poleticum ipse episcopus... ibidem ostendit ad relegendum.' The two words descriptionem and poleticum are here synonymous and probably refer to a survey document.

-190-

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