Oliver J. (Oliver Joseph) Thatcher.

A short history of mediæval Europe online

. (page 2 of 25)
Online LibraryOliver J. (Oliver Joseph) ThatcherA short history of mediæval Europe → online text (page 2 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

each under the control of an officer who was made directly
responsible to the Emperor. A complete bureaucratic sys-
tem was developed, which has served as model for more
than one of the modern governments of Europe.
Tlie Army be-' Under the Emperors the character of the army changed
barian. ' rapidly. Although great inducements were offered the

. volunteer it was difficult to keep the ranks of the legions
full, and it soon became necessary to make drafts by force
and to accept for military service even slaves, which the
large land-owners were compelled to furnish in proportion
to the value of their lands. The difficulties encountered
by the state in such a method of procedure, and the poor
quality of the soldiers thus obtained, led to the enrolment
of Barbarians in ever-increasing numbers. Native troops
were replaced by mercenaries, who were without patriotism
and cared only for money. Intrigues, plunderings, revolts,
and rebellion on the part of the army became frequent, and
that which was supposed to be the protection of the Em-
pire became its bane.
'] he people di- The inhabitants of the Empire were divided into four
classes"'" classes — slaves, plebs, curiales, and senators. Within each
of these four divisions there were various grades and shades
of difference. The lot of the slaves was gradually growing
better. In the country it now became customary to enroll
Slaves. them, thus attaching them to the soil, from which they

could not be separated, and with which they were bought


Europe and the Christian CJmrch 13

and sold. Masters were forbidden to kill their slaves or to
separate a slave from his wife and children.

To the class of plebs belonged all the free common people, piebs.
whether small freeholders, tradesmen, laborers, or artisans.
The freeholders were diminishing in numbers. Their lands
were consumed by the taxes and they themselves either be-
came serfs or ran away to the towns. The majority of the
inhabitants of the cities and towns were free, but had no
political rights.

All who possessed twenty-five acres of land, or its equiv-
alent, were regarded as " curiales." On these fell the bur- Curiales.
dens of office-holding and the taxes, for the collection of
which they were made responsible.

The ranks of the senatorial class were constantly increasing
by the addition of all those who for any reason received the
title of senator or who were appointed by the Emperor to
one of the high offices. The honor was hereditary. The Senators,
senators were the richest people of the Empire, having in
their possession the most of the soil. As they enjoyed ex-
ceptional privileges and immunities, the lot of the curiales
was made more grievous.

For the support of his army, his court, and the great
number of clerks made necessary by the bureaucratic form
of government, the Emperor had to have immense sums of
money, for the purpose of raising which many kinds of taxes Taxes,
were introduced. Taxes were levied on both lands and per-
sons ; on all sorts of manufacturing industries ; on heirs,
when they came into possession of their estates ; on slaves
when set free ; and on the amount of the sales made by
merchants. Tolls were collected on the highways and at
bridges, and duties at the city gates and in the harbors.
Besides direct taxes, there were many kinds of special taxes,
burdens, and services, such as food, clothing, and quarters
for the army ; horses and wagons for the imperial use when-

14 A Short History of MedicEval Europe

Effects on the

ever demanded ; and repairing of the roads, bridges, and
temples. Most oppressive of all, perhaps, was the dis-
honesty of the officers, who often exacted far more than even
the very high sums which the Emperor required.

It was impossible that this should not bankrupt the Em-
pire. The cities suffered most quickly. As the senatorial
class, the army, professors of rhetoric, and the clergy were
largely freed from taxation, the whole burden fell on the
curiales, 'who became oppressors in order to collect the vast
sums required of them. Finally, when they were exhaust-
ed, they attempted in every way to escape from their class.
Some of them succeeded in rising into the senatorial ranks;
many of them deserted their lands and became slaves, or en-
tered the army or the Church. The Emperors tried to pre-
vent this, and often seized the curial who had run away and
compelled him to take up his old burden again. The curial
was forbidden by law to try to change his position, but in
spite of this many of them surrendered their lands to some
rich neighbor and received them back on condition of the
payment of certain taxes, and the rendering of certain ser-
vices. This was a form of land tenure and social relation
very similar to that common in feudalism of a later day.

In the fourth century a.d. the Kelts occupied Gaul (mod-
ern France) and the islands of Great Britain. Four or five
hundred years before Christ, they had extended as far east
as the Weser in the north, and occupied much territory in
the centre of Europe. The Kelts were never all united in
one great state, but existed in separate tribes. Each tribe
Tribal govern- formed a state and was governed by an aristocracy. The
people had no part in the government, but were treated by
v, the ruling class as slaves. The nobility was divided into

two classes, the religious and the secular. The religious
nobility were the Druids, a caste of priests who controlled
all sacrifices, both public and private, and who were also


Europe and the CJiristian CJmrcli 15

judges and final authorities in all other matters. Their
word was law, and whoever refused them obedience was
put under their ban, which had almost exactly the same
meaning as the Papal ban a few centuries later. They had
many gods, to whom they offered human sacrifices.'

The Kelts had large, strong, and beautiful bodies, as may
be seen from the famous statue in Rome, "The Dying
Gaul " (formerly known as the " Dying Gladiator "). They
were brave, dashing warriors, fond of music, especially of
the shrill martial kind, with which they went into battle.
They were easily moved_ by fine speech and had a love for Keltic charac-
poetry. Their language was well developed and capable
of expressing a wide range of thought and emotion. They
loved bright and gay colors, and were noted for the liveli-
ness rather than for the persistency of their feelings and
emotions. They were restless, sprightly, full of activity, and
capable of the greatest enthusiasm for, and devotion to, a
popular leader, but they were fickle and unreliable if their
ardor was once quenched by disaster. At the beginning of
our period the Kelts who occupied Gaul and Britain (the
present England) were thoroughly Romanized. To a great
extent they had forgotten their language and spoke Latin.
Many cities had sprung up which were well supplied with
temples, baths, and theatres, and were in all respects thor-
oughly Roman. But the Kelts of Ireland, Wales, and Scot-
land were still barbarian, and hostile to Rome.

At the beginning of our period the Germans occupied c. the ger-
Scandinavia, and nearly all the land between the Rhine and
the Vistula, and the Baltic and the Danube. Since the
times of Caesar and Tacitus many changes had taken place
among them. Some of them had changed their location, Theirlocation.
new groups had been formed, and they were known by new

•Caesar, B. G., vi., 11-19, gives a good description of the Kelts.

1 6 A Short History of Mediceval Europe


Their govern-

names. The Goths had left the Vistula and were now spread
over a great stretch of territory to the north of the Black
Sea and the lower Danube. Other tribes were moving or
spreading out in the same direction. Great masses of Ger-
mans and other peoples were crowded together along the
whole northern frontier of the Empire, and the danger of a
barbarian invasion was rapidly growing greater.

Tacitus ("Germania," ii.) says that the Germans were
divided into three great branches: the Inggevones, who
lived nearest the ocean ; the Hermiones, who lived in the
" middle; " and the Istaevones, who included all the rest.
These three names had now been replaced by others, such
as Franks, Suevi, and Saxons. Neither these nations nor
those mentioned by Tacitus actually included all the Ger-
mans, forming rather the great division which may be called
the West Germans. Besides these there were those of the
north, afterward known as the Danes, Norwegians, and
Swedes, and those of the east, the Goths, Vandals, and

In their government they were democratic. They had
a well-defined system of local self-government. There
were three political divisions : the whole tribe, or nation ;
the Gau, or county (in England this was called the hun-
dred) ; and the village. All matters that concerned only
the village were discussed and settled by all the freemen of
the village in a public meeting. Likewise the affairs of the
Gau were administered by the freemen of the Gau, and
matters that concerned the whole nation were decided by
an assembly of all the freemen of the tribe. In social rank,
there were three classes — nobles, freemen, and slaves. The
nobles had certain advantages, but in the assemblies the
vote of a freeman equalled that of a nobleman.

It was customary among the Germans for the young men
to attach themselves to some man of tried courage and

Europe and the Christian Church 17

military ability (the comitatus or Gefolge), with whom Gefolge.
they lived and whom they accompanied on all his expedi-
tions. Such warrior chiefs were proud of having a large
number of young men about them, for it added to their
dignity and increased their power in many ways. The re-
lation between a leader and a follower was entirely volun-
tary, and consequently honorable to both. It might be
terminated whenever either party failed in his duties.

The religion of the Germans was a kind of nature wor- Religion and
ship, connected with various objects, such as groves, trees, °'^*^^P^ '°"^'
and caves, and with natural phenomena. They had no priest
caste. They lived by cattle-raising, agriculture, and hunt-
ing. The labor was performed principally by slaves and
women. It was characteristic of them that they were un-
willing to live in compactly built towns. Their houses
were generally some distance apart, forming a straggling
village. The Romans were impressed with the great size
and power of their bodies, the ruddiness of their faces, and
the light color of their hair.

They had some very prominent faults, such as a too great Their quali-
love of war, of the cup, and of the dice. They became so ^^^^'
infatuated with gambling that, after losing all their property,
they staked their wives and children, and if these were lost,
they risked even their own liberty. The Germans boasted
of their faithfulness to every obligation. So true were they
to their word that if they lost their freedom in gambling
they willingly yielded to their new master, and permitted
themselves to be reduced to the position of slaves.

The Slavs occupied a large belt of territory east of the d- the slavs.
Germans, and extended far into Russia. As the Germans
withdrew to the west and south, the Slavs followed them
and took possession of the land thus vacated. In this way
they finally came as far west as the Elbe, and may, be said Theirlocation.
to have held nearly all of the territory from the Elbe to the

1 8 A Short History of MedicBval Europe





Dnieper. A large part of what is now Prussia, Saxony, and
Bohemia became wholly Slavic.

The Slavs, as well as the Kelts and Germans, were broken
up into many tribes having no political connection with each
other. They seem to have had a patriarchal form of gov-
ernment. At any rate, great reverence was shown the old
men of the tribe, who, by virtue of their age, had a con-
trolling voice in the management of affairs. At first the
Slavs probably had no nobility. They elected their leaders
in war, and so strong was the democratic spirit among them
that they were never able to produce a royal line.

Their religion was a low form of idolatry. They had
priests, who were consulted on all matters, both political
and religious. Though they had powerful frames and im-
pressed the Romans with their size, they were tame and
unwarlike, and have never been conquerors. Their loca-
tion was favorable to the occupations of cattle-raising and
agriculture. They did not possess a strong national feeling,
but were easily assimilated by other peoples. Large num-
bers of them were Germanized from the ninth century on.

In the ninth century still another Indo-European people
came into history, the Letts, closely related to the Slavs,
and whom we meet on the shore of the Baltic, from the Vis-
tula to some distance beyond the Nieman. They were di-
vided into Lithuanians and Prussians. It is curious to note
that the name of this non-German people (the Prussians)
has, in the proce.ss of time, come to be applied to the lead-
ing German state of to-day.

Besides these Indo-European peoples Avhich we have just
discussed there were others, who are usually called Ural-
Altaic or Finnic Turkish tribes. " Turanian " is also ap-
plied to them. They were to be found in northern Scan-
dinavia and in the northern, northwestern, and eastern
parts of Russia. They were the Finns, the Lapps, the Es-


Europe and the Christian Church 19

thonians, the Livonians, the Ugrians, the Tchuds, the Per-
mians, the Magyars, the Huns, and many others. They
were related to the Turkish Mongols. During the Middle
Age, at least, they in no way advanced the interests of .
civilization, but rather played the part of a scourge — de-
stroyers rather than builders.

The division followed above is linguistic. Philologists
first discovered the similarity between the languages of the
Greeks, the Romans, the Kelts, the Germans, the Slavs,
the Letts, the Persians, and the ancient inhabitants of India,
and on the basis of these resemblances, classed these peo-
ples together as one great race. It was inferred that because
their languages were akin the people themselves must have
been of the same original stock. The modern science of
Anthropology or Ethnology does not recognize the validity Basis of above
of such an argument, but declares that these peoples do not phi^ioiogicai?
belong to the same race, although their languages are re- not recognized
lated. Ethnologists now use other tests, prominent among gists.
which are skull measurements, to discover the racial rela-
tions of peoples.

In the fourth century Christianity was well scattered over 3. THE
-^ . , , ^, . . , CHRISTIAN

the Empire, and there were Christians even among the church.

Barbarians. The Church beginning in Palestine as a
brotherhood, had slowly developed an organization which •
at this time was fairly complete. It was modelling its gov-
ernment after that of the Roman Empire. Its clergy had
much of what we might call "esprit de corps." The
Christian Church, as a whole, was friendly to the Roman The Church
state, and desired that it might be preserved and perpetu- state. ^ ° ^
ated. This was due in part to certain commands in their
sacred writings that they should honor the king and obey
the powers that be, and in part, also, to the belief that so
long as the Roman government should remain intact the
** Antichrist " would not come.

20 A Short History of Mcdiceval Europe

The State hos-
tile to Chris-

and the

This friendly feeling of the Church was not reciprocated
by the state. To the heathen the congregations of the
Christians seemed to be secret societies, most of which
were forbidden by the state because of their supposed polit-
ical character, and Eastern religions were forbidden in the
western part of the Empire. Christianity also was eastern
in its origin. To be a Christian, therefore, was to be a
criminal in the eyes of the law. It was impossible for the
Christians to perform their duties as citizens, for all such
duties were connected with idolatrous rites and practices ;
neither could they sacrifice to the gods or take any part in
the great religious festivals and celebrations. In an age
when nearly everything was attributed to the direct agency
of the gods, it was unavoidable that the Christians, who
despised the gods, should be blamed for all calamities.
The result was that the Christians were persecuted and an-
noyed, more or less, for three hundred years. These per-
secutions were local, however, until 249 a.d., when Decius
ordered the first general persecution. Even then the per-
secution did not extend over the whole Empire. In 303
A.D. the last great persecution was begun under Diocletian,
though the responsibility for it is to be laid on his Caesar,
Galerius. After about eight years of struggle the first edict
of toleration was published, in April, 311, making Chris-
tianity a legal religion.

It was the policy of Constantine to further Christianity.
In 313 he released the Catholic clergy from many political
duties which were ordinarily regarded as burdensome. In
315 he freed the Church from the payment of certain taxes.
Probably in 316 he made legal the manumission of slaves
which took place in churches. In 321 churches were
granted the privilege of receiving legacies. In 323 he for-
bade the compulsory attendance of Christians at heathen
worship and celebrations. Up to 323 the coins which he

Europe and the Christian Church 21

struck bore the images and inscriptions of various gods ; after
that time his coins had only allegorical emblems. But, on
the other hand, Constantine never in any wz.y limited or
prohibited heathenism. He retained the office and per-
formed the duties of Pontifex Maximus. In 321 he issued
an edict commanding that officials should consult the
Haruspices (soothsayers). After the year 326 he permit-
ted a temple to be erected to himself, and allowed himself
to be worshipped. After his death he was enrolled among
the gods and received the title of Divus. It is evident
from this that the famed conversion of Constantine was
political rather than religious. His principal interest was
centred in the unity of the Church, which he wished to use
as a tool in the work of governing the Empire. He did
not make Christianity the state religion ; he merely made
it a legal religion.

The Emperors Gratian (375-383) and Theodosius (379- Gratian and

, , ,,, . . . 'Iheodosiiis

395) went one step farther and made orthodox Christianity „,,^ae Chris-
the only legal religion. They withdrew state support from J,'|^jy'fega'l .-e
heatlienism and restricted the heathen worship. They also ligion.
persecuted all heresies, attempting to make citizenship de-
pend upon orthodoxy. It is evident, therefore, that the
Christian Church will be one of the most important factors
in the history of the Middle Age. It might be said that
the future belonged to the Church and to the Germans.



The Provin-
cials without

Causes of the

The Goths on
the Black Sea.

Although more numerous than the invaders, the Ro-
man Provincials were, for various reasons, unable to pre-
vent these invasions. The frontier of the Empire was so
extended that the army was no longer able to guard the
whole of it, even if it had earnestly desired to do so. Hav-
ing been deprived of a share in the government, the Pro-
vincials had lost their patriotism and warlike spirit, and no
longer took an intelligent and enthusiastic interest in the
affairs of state. They were cringing and spiritless, and in
personal prowess no match for the Germans.

The causes of the migrations were often complex. Hun-
ger, whether caused by the failure of crops, the rapid in-
crease of population, or the devastations of war, sometimes
compelled a tribe to seek a better location. The Germans
knew something of the more favorable conditions of life in
the south, and coveted the lands and property of the Ro-
mans. Occasionally a tribe was driven fron^its home by a
more powerful invader. \

During the second century of our era the Gfeths left their
home on the Vistula, moved slowly to the south, and settled
in two groups on the Danube and the Black Sea. These
groups, from their relative positions, came to be known as
the East Goths and West Goths. During the next hundred
years they made frequent invasions into the territory of the
Empire, sacking many towns in Asia Minor and in the Bal-
kan Peninsula, and carrying off much booty. In 262 a.d.

Tlic Migrations of the Nations 23

they burnt the temple of Artemis (Diana) at Ephesus.
Several Emperors were compelled to fight them ; Constan-
tine finally put an end to their incursions, and succeeded
in establishing peaceful relations with them. Under the
influence of the Empire they took the first steps in civiliza-
tion. They had commerce with the Romans, from whom
they learned a system of weights and measures, and coin-
age. They became familiar with the Roman modes of life,
dress, and customs. From Christian prisoners, merchants,
exiles, and missionaries, they learned something of Chris-
tianity. A Gothic bishop from the Crimea was present at
the Council of Nicaea (325). Ulfilas (311-81) was their uifilas.
most noted missionary. Of Gothic parentage, he spent
several years at Constantinople, where he became a Chris-
tian of the Arian type. About 340, having reached the
canonical age, he was ordained as a missionary bishop to
the Goths. In order that the Goths might understand the
Bible when read in the church services, he translated it into
Gothic, having invented an alphabet for that purpose.
After laboring with considerable success for a few years
among the West Goths, he and his followers were perse-
cuted, and, with the consent of the Emperor, they with-
drew across the Danube and settled in Moesia. The Chris-
tianization of the Goths, however, went steadily forward,
till at the coming of the Huns both the East and the West
Goths were nominally Christian.

The Gothic nation had been made up of a large number
of separate and practically independent tribes (Gaue), each
of which had its own leader, called Herzog or duke. Grad-
ually some of these Gau leaders succeeded in uniting under
themselves several Gaue and so took the title of king. Such
kings made their appearance in the fourth century among Tlie rise of
both the East and West Goths, and during the period of
migrations that followed, the kingship was developed among

24 A Short History of Mcdicaval Europe

all the German tribes which moved and settled on Roman
The coming of The Huns entered Europe about 372, and, after conquer-
the Huns. .^^^ ^j^^ Slavs and other peoples whom they encountered,

attacked the East Goths. Under rival kings the East Goths
were broken into two great parties, one of which submitted
to the Huns, while the other retreated toward the lower
Danube. The West Goths were also divided. One body
of them, under Athanarich, retreated into Transylvania,
while the other, numbering about 100,000 persons, under
Fritigern, obtained permission from the Emperor to cro.ss
the Danube and settle on Roman soil. They became foe-
derati of the Empire, retaining their arms, giving hostages,
and agreeing to furnish a contingent of troops for the army.
In return, they were to receive land and grain. The Ro-
man officials so oppressed them that they were reduced to
poverty, and in order to obtain sufficient food they were
compelled to part with what was dearest to them, their
arms, their wives, and their children. Stung to madness
The West by such treatment the West Goths rose in revolt and rav-
Empire? ^^ ^ged the country. One division of the East Goths also
crossed the Danube and assisted in the work of devastation.
The Emperor Valens met them near Adrianople (378), but
his army was routed and he was slain. Finally the Emperors
Gratian and Theodosius, by wise concessions, pacified
them, and the East Goths quietly withdrew into Pannonia,
while the West Goths returned to the territory at first as-
signed them. At the same time Athanarich was persuaded
to bring his West Goths from Transylvania and settle in
the Empire, thus reuniting the West Goths again.

Till the death of Theodosius the West Goths kept the
peace. They became discontented, however, because they

Online LibraryOliver J. (Oliver Joseph) ThatcherA short history of mediæval Europe → online text (page 2 of 25)