The Economic and Social Foundations of European Civilization

By Alfons Dopsch | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV THE OCCUPATION OF THE LAND BY THE GERMANS IN THE FIFTH AND SIXTH CENTURIES

THE events of 476 and especially the so-called "fall" of the western Roman Empire were the natural consequence of its penetration by the Germans, as described in the preceding chapter. In Italy, too, for centuries past, barbarians had been settled again and again, for example the Marcomanni by Marcus Aurelius, the Alemanni, and Taifali during the years 370-7, and many others. In the middle of the fifth century a Fiscus barbaricus is mentioned, a fund from which the foreign soldiers were given their pay and maintenance allowances.1 The mercenaries now demanded definite grants of land, as they had often done in other places, and, following a much practised custom, chose as king their leader, the Scirian Odoacer, who was serving in the Emperor's bodyguard. A third of the Roman soil, corresponding to the Roman billeting-system, was given by him to his people in perpetuity.2

We do not know many details of these divisions of the land. They certainly affected only a comparatively small part of Italy, for Odoacer's troops cannot have been very numerous. He allowed Romulus Augustulus, the last Roman Emperor, to live, and there was also a second Emperor, Julius Nepos, in Dalmatia. Similarly, Roman systems continued to exist little disturbed by this change in the external constitution of the state. No violent upheaval is even mentioned in contemporary sources. Odoacer would appear on the whole to have been generous and mild to the Romans,3 for a Roman writer who otherwise shows a strong dislike for the German barbarians4 ( Eugippius, author of the Vita Serverini) mentions him in very friendly terms.5 Moreover, Odoacer's attitude to the Romans in Noricum ( 488) shows the same mildness, for he caused them to be brought into safety across the Alps, when this province could no longer be held.

Let us now therefore consider the procedure of dividing up land. The single lots which were handed over by the Roman possessores to the guests (hospites), were certainly not of equal size. Tacitus himself has indicated that the division of land among the Germans took place in general according to rank (secundum dignationem). The Roman billeting-system, however, took the military rank of the hospes into consideration as well, a higher rank carrying with it a claim to a greater share of land.6

The Ostrogoths settled on Roman soil more densely than Odoacer's followers

____________________
1
Cf. Th. Mommsen, "Ostgot. Studien," N. Archiv., xiv, 501 ( 1889).
2
Cf. Cipolla, "Della supposta fusione degli Italiani coi Germani nei primi secoli del Medioevo," Rendiconti della R. Accad. dei Lincei Ser. v, 9, 358 ff. ( 1900); esp. Juris, Über das Reich des Odowakar ( 1883).
3
Gabotto, Storia della Italia occident, i, 313 f.
4
Cf. Büdinger, Sitz-Ber. der Wiener Akademie, xci, 796.
5
Perhaps Severinus's prophecy to Odoacer may be taken in this sense: "Vade, inquit, ad Italiam, vade vilisimis nunc pellibus coopertus, sed multis cito plurima largiturus" (MG. AA., 1, 11). Is this a vatlelnlum ex eventu ?
6
Cf. G. Pallmann, op. cit., ii, 324.

-93-

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