The Economic and Social Foundations of European Civilization

By Alfons Dopsch | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI INDUSTRY AND TRADE

(1) INDUSTRY

THEORIES as to the nature and extent of industry in pre-Carolingian times are closely related to those on the decline of the Roman town and primitive German civilization after the so-called age of the migrations. This is inevitable. The logical corollary of the theory that the conflicts of the migration period caused a breach in the continuity of civilization is the theory that the Germans were mainly occupied with agricultural pursuits, and had not time to develop industries. A very minor importance was therefore attached to most industries and, owing to the influence of the manorial theory, it was assumed that they were carried on only on the great estates, in order to supply their own demand. The theory of the medieval "closed household economy" advanced by political economists1 lent weight to these arguments. It was held that all the necessities of life were produced within the household, or within a larger but clearly defined agricultural unit, no surplus remaining for the market of which the household or estate was quite independent, save for a few articles which were not to be found in the country. Later, at the earliest in the tenth century, the growth of towns created a demand for an industry independent of the great estates, so that free manual labour was able to develop out of that which earlier was bound by the custom of the manor.2

The question now arises as to whether the economic and political conditions on which this theory is based really prevailed during the period in question. The views which have been widely held concerning the primitive character of German economy in pre-Carolingian times are no longer tenable, based as they are on pure theory and absolutely irreconcilable with contemporary sources. The study of pre-history has made it clear that German civilization is far older than has been supposed, and had reached an advanced stage long before the Christian era.3 Finds attributed to the Bronze Age have led Varges to the conclusion that at that time there were professional craftsmen among the Germans turning out products intended for sale and not for personal use.4 After the period of the migrations, however, when the Germans settled down permanently in the old Roman provinces, there is no doubt that a "pure household economy" no longer existed. The description of general social and economic conditions given earlier in this book must have made it sufficiently obvious that such a self-supporting domestic economy was not the general rule, either among the mass of common freemen, whose holdings, even at this time, were of widely different sizes, or among the great estates, the lands composing which often consisted of a number of lots scattered and intermingled with those of other landowners.5

____________________
1
See especially C. Bücher, die Entstehung der Volkswirtschaft, 5th edit. ( 1906), 92 ff., 11th edit. (1919), 1, 104 ff.
2
For detailed discussion see Germ. edit., ii2, 402 ff.
3
See above, 32 ff.
4
Der deutsche Handel von der Urzeit bis zur Entstehung des Frankenriches, Ruhrort ( 1903), 17.
5
See above, 234 f.

-327-

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