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

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

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

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

Excerpt

IT WAS IN THE ordering of rural life that the Late Empire introduced its most successful innovations; it was in this particular sphere that its achievements, for reasons which will have to be explained later, had the most far-reaching effects. The ancient Romans and the Gauls were familiar with the small estate, but it continued to exist, and we shall see that at the beginning of the Middle Ages there was still a large number of small landowners, many more than has often been supposed. It is nevertheless a fact that in Italy and in Gaul where very many colonies had been created and where town life exerted a strong attraction, many inhabitants of the Empire had deserted the countryside and ceased to work on the land. From the close of the Republican era there grew up a system of land-ownership on the grand scale, characterized by the creation of vast estates cultivated by gangs of slaves (familia rustica). This system, though easy to work, was a lamentable one, since the slave, treated as a mere thing (res) and totally devoid of interest in production, did little work and that badly. Moreover, as we have seen, he represented a source of labour which was becoming scarcer, since it was supplied chiefly from conquest, whilst by an opposite process the fairly general practice of freeing slaves was exhausting the available supply. For this reason the Emperors, who owned immense hereditary estates, soon adopted a different system for their management. For the administration of their saltus and their villae, they resorted to a different method of cultivation: the colonate. The colonus was a free man, but a small farmer tied to the land on which he worked. This particular method of cultivation was apparently first tried out . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.