TOWNS AND GILDS
The remote origin of towns has been found in many causes. Some have contended that there was continuous life in the towns from Roman times, a theory which has been abandoned for a variety of seeming other origins. Municipal acquisition of authority by grants from bishops, development of liberty among a servile group on a manor, development of free villages by royal grants, the gild theory, and other views have been put forward and abandoned. The true explanation seems to lie in the theory that they grew up around centers which best served the economic needs of the population, and they received their impetus from trade and commercial development. Thus any original settlement showing agrarian, military, or official characteristics was swamped by the new commercial character of the embryo town. Economic and legal privileges might be bestowed on those who dwelt therein, the payment of only relatively small amounts to the king, the right to buy and sell, and freedom from some of the more onerous obligations of feudalism. Progress, however, was bound to be slow as long as true economic activity continued to be centered in the great domains.
Those who earned a livelihood by trade naturally tended to associate together out of common interest, and for mutual protection in turbulent times. In the Carolingian era traders and merchants were grouped into gilds for defensive purposes, and, occasionally, were granted special privileges, but these people were chiefly wandering Jews and Byzantines, not those who dwelt within the town. From the ninth century, therefore, similar associations tended to be created among the urban merchants, and their origin, too, was varied. Perhaps association of unfree people on the villa or manor, perhaps the frith gilds, account for their origin. In unfree towns,