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

By Robert Latouche | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
The Germanic World: its Primitive Economy

T HE MARK MADE BY the Germans on the economy of the West was deep and lasting. It was left to ethnologists to define the concept of a Germanic race and to determine the specific characteristics of those tall, fair-haired, dolichocephalics deficient in pigment cells.1 Whether or not these traits have been fixed accurately enough to prove beyond doubt the essential unity of the race, we would not venture to assert. The fact which chiefly concerns the historian is that a human mass, the elements of which were already differentiated at the time of the Great Invasions, cannot be treated as one single block. The Roman Empire recognized two great Germanic families: the Western Germans who for long centuries had been settled in Continental Europe, and the Northern and Eastern Germans who had emerged in more recent times from Scandinavia. Each of these groups followed its own destiny and exerted a definite and distinctive influence on the economic life of Europe.

Living in the heart of Europe, the Western Germans were not nomadic, and from early times had been farmers; but the Germanic peasant bore no resemblance to the 'Romanic' peasant; he inhabited a cold country and cultivated a soil that was often hard and unrewarding. He had to wrest from virgin forest, from moorland and sometimes from bog, the land on which he settled, and the task of bringing Central Europe into cultivation was a slow and unremitting process of land clearance which went on until late into the Middle Ages. The German, though tenacious, is by nature restless and unsatisfied and his

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1
On the origins of the Germanic race, see H. Hubert, Les Germains, Paris, 1952 ( L'Evolution de l'Humanité, 23).

-29-

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