William Denison McCrackan.

The rise of the Swiss republic: A history online

. (page 3 of 32)
Online LibraryWilliam Denison McCrackanThe rise of the Swiss republic: A history → online text (page 3 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

on the one hand, and from Italy into the Valais on the other,
creeping along the high roads of commerce and of military

No Roman inscriptions have been found in Switzerland
which date from a later period than the reign of Constant-
ine, and no coins after Valentinian I., for by that time the
limit of Rome's power of resistance in Helvetia had been

Digitized by



reached. Valentinian, indeed, still made a last attempt by
erecting a stronghold at the sharp bend of the Rhine, zaA
naming it Basileia, in Greek "The Royal/' now Basel, but the
hour had come when, demoralized by internal corruptions, the
Roman Empire could no longer hold in check the vigorous,
unspoiled barbarians upon the frontiers.

Digitized by




IN the beginning of the fifth century the final and successful
invasion of the German nations broke over the Roman
Empire and changed the face of Europe.

In 406, or 407, the nation of the Alamanni, crossing the
Rhine and the Jura, took possession of northern Helvetia. A
few years later, in 443, the nation of the Burgundians settled
on the shores of the lake of Geneva, in Sabaudia, or modem
Savoy, and in southern Helvetia. What is now the Canton of
Ticino remained with Italy, and shared the fate of that country
until far into the Middle Ages. The inhabitants of Raetia,
the modem Canton of Graublinden, in their mountain fast-
nesses alone escaped almost untouched from the tide of Teu-
tonic invasion.

This distribution of the invaders must be distinctly borne in
mind, for the above-mentioned races, with the addition of a
remnant of Celts, form the basis of population in the four divi-
sions of modem Switzerland — the German, French, Italian
and Romansch speaking districts. Although the political
aspect of these divisions has changed more than once since
then, the races have remained practically the same to this day.

The Alamanni are identical with the Semnones of Tacitus.
They were the main branch of the Suevi, and in fact always
called themselves Schwaben, for the name Alamanni was given
to them by Greek and Latin authors. Authorities are divided
as to the etymology of this latter name. Baumann explains it
as meaning "The men of Alah," i. e, of the sacred grove,
while Joh. Meyer as equivalent to "All men" (universi


Digitized by



When first mentioned by writers, the Alamanni were dwell-
ing in the region between the rivers Elbe and Oder. Thence
they moved southward and established themselves between the
Main and the Rhine, and it was from this territory as a basis
of operations that they made incursions into Helvetia, destroy-
ing Aventicum in 264, but sustaining repeated reverses at the
hands of succeeding emperors, until their final invasion at the
beginning of the fifth century.

The fact that the descendants of these Alamanni were des-
tined some eight centuries later to found the Swiss Confedera-
tion, lends a special value to everything which concerns the
economic, social and political organization of the Teutonic
invaders. It is much to be regretted that sufficient material
for a comprehensive study of their condition at this early time
has not come down to us. The body of law, known as Pactus
lex Alamannorum throws considerable light on their public life
two centuries later, but for the study of the fifth century we
are obliged to content ourselves with the examination of the
few remains which they have left, of the dialects and the
names of places in German - speaking Switzerland of to-day,
and with certain deductions which may be established by
analogy with other Teutonic nations.

It may be inferred from the presence of distinct dialects in
well-defined areas of modem German speaking Switzerland,
that the Alamanni took possession of the country in detached
gfroups, at various intervals of time, and not in one general
invasion. Nor can there be any doubt that they forcibly
reduced the Helveto-Roman population to slavery, and dis-
tributed their lands amongst themselves. The whole social
fabric of the Romans was torn to shreds, and in the general
catastrophe, Christianity, itself a newcomer, was almost entirely
supplanted by a primitive heathenism. Only here and there
little communities which had been overlooked, or had intrenched
themselves in the mountains, remained to testify to the former
presence of Latin civilization. It is significant of the sweep-
ing change which took place, that the great majority of the

Digitized by



modem names of plapes in the territory, which the Alamanni
took in possession at that time, are Teutonic in origin, while
the few Celto-Roman designations, which were retained, were
completely Teutonized, e. g,y Turicum was changed to Zurich
and Vindonissa to Windisch. It also seems probable that
the invaders found Helvetia in great part unreclaimed or
devastated, covered with forests and swamps, for a noticeably
large number of names are compounds of words signifying
forests, clearings and moors.

The gfreatest interest, however, centres in their system of
land tenure, for if it can be stated as a general truth that the
key to the history of all nations is to be found in the manner
in which they distribute and hold the land, it must be acknowl-
edged that this truth is especially patent in the case of the

Following the natural bent of the Teutonic race, they set-
tled principally in isolated farmsteads (Einzelhofe). This is
sufficiently proved by the prevalence of names of places with
patronymic forms, of which the name of Zollikon, now a vil-
lage on the lake of Zurich, may be taken as an illustration.
The original settler was a certain Zollo ; his descendants were
known as the Zollinger ; and the group of their farms {hofe)
was then called Zollinghofen, shortened in course of time into
Zollikon. The Alamanni undoubtedly also founded open vil-
lages and hamlets, surrounded by wide-reaching, unused land,
but avoided until much later the ruined towns which they
found studding the country. It is impossibe to follow out in
every detail the manner in which they parcelled out the land
amongst themselves, but there can be no question that there
grew up in their midst in very early times the peculiar system
of the Almend, a system which it will be necessary to notice
particularly on account of its transcending importance in the
life of the Swiss people. Briefly stated the Almend was the
undivided land which surrounded a settlement. It consisted,
according to the nature of the ground, of meadow, pasture and
forest, and also of swamp, lake, river or mountain. As long

Digitized by



as the country remained thinly populated, the supply of undi-
vided land between the settlements remained practically unlim-
ited, and there was of course no need of defining any one's
rights to that land, but when in course of time the popula-
tion increased and the settlements ' expanded, the want of
more land naturally made itself felt, and regulations were
adopted for the management of this undivided land.

Some doubt has recently been expressed as to whether these
regulations took a communistic form at first, whether the right
to the Almend was vested in the freemen of a settlement col-
lectively or distributively. There is in point of fact no subject
in history more hopelessly confusing than this of the primitive
Teutonic communities. Indeed it is a question whether histori-
ans, with the material now at their command, will ever be able
to establish a definite and completely satisfactory theory in
regard to the origin and growth of these communities. Never-
theless there seems to be a general agreement that, whatever
may have been the rights of individuals as such in the Almend
at first, these rights were gradually supplanted in the course of
the Middle Ages by those of the community as a whole. The
cattle of the whole settlement grazed upon the pastures and
every householder cut his share of wood in the forest. In so
far as the Almend served as a boundary between settlements it
was also called the Mark, and the community orgailized to
use it, an Association of the Mark (Markgenossenshafi),

Upon their entrance into Helvetia the Alamanni had as yet
remained almost uninfluenced by Roman civilization, with
which they had in reality hardly come into contact. They
were still Pagans and were not Christianized until the advent of
the Irish missionary Columban at the beginning of the seventh
century — more than two hundred years later. During this
period all the rudiments of the purely Teutonic institutions
which they had brought with them, such as the system of the
Almend, their organization into Hundreds and Counties with
open-air legislative and judiciary assemblies, had an opportu-
nity to grow and consolidate into definite forms. It was then

Digitized by



that the seed was sown on Swiss soil from which eventually
arose the free communities whose welding together has pro-
duced the Confederation of to-day.

There is a somewhat remarkable similarity between the
Alamannian invasion of Helvetia and that of Britain by the
Saxon and English tribes. It has so far, I believe, escaped the
notice of historians, and yet it explains to us as nothing else
can, why Switzerland and England (with her colonies and the
United States) have retained Teutonic institutions in greater
purity than all the other states founded by Teutonic races.
Both the Alamanni and the Saxons were practically untouched
by Roman civilization when they made their conquests, both
nations were still pagan, and undermined Christianity in Hel-
vetia and Britain so effectually that foreign missionaries were
obliged to revive that religion into both countries at a later
date. From the arrival of the Saxons to the landing of Augus-
tine was an interval of some hundred and forty years ; from
the invasion of the Alamanni to the advent of Columban about
two hundred years, so that primitive Teutonic institutions bad
every opportunity to establish themselves in Switzerland and
England with a tenacity which subsequent foreign influences
were never able to shake.

A few years after the Alamanni had thus taken forcible
possession of northern Helvetia, another Teutonic nation, the
Burgundians, acquired Savoy and southern Helvetia by peace-
ful means.

As late as 443 these Burgundians still had their habitation
in the region surrounding Worms, where in fact, the events
narrated in the Nibelungenlied took place in their midst. But
in that year they pressed southward into the Roman province
of Sabaudia, and were quartered upon the inhabitants of that
district by the Roman general Aetius. They did not reduce
the Celto-Roman population to slavery, as the Alamanni had
done in northern Helvetia, but were content to accept from
them a certain share of their possessions : two thirds of their
fields and one half of the rest of their goods. In this manner

Digitized by



the two nationalities were thrown intimately together, and
before long were inextricably interwoven the country oven
From this peculiar relation between the two nationalities arose
the fact that, wherever the Burgundians penetrated, Roman
customs, law and language were retained, whereas these were
utterly rooted out, wherever the Alamanni gained permanent
possession. Moreover the Burgundians, upon their entry into
Sabaudia, had already been Christianized in the Arian faith,,
and were apparently by nature also more receptive of civiliz-
ation than the Alamanni, so that they soon discarded their
Teutonic traditions and adopted the principal features of
Roman culture. Under a certain King Gundobad (473-516)^
the Burgundian state reached the height of its prosperity.
This ruler issued a collection of laws, remembered in French
Switzerland as the "Loi Gombette," which if anything had still
been needed, completed the Romanization of the Burgundians.

There are indications that the two nations of the Alamanni
and Burgundians, these Teutonic ancestors of the modern
Swiss, did not live in peace with one another. The frontier
line between them wavered for a long time to and fro, as a
result of their mutual encroachments, before definitely following
about the same course which may be traced to-day, dividing
French from German-speaking Switzerland. The Alamanni,
for example, at one time pushed over the Jura mountains, but
were later forced back by the Burgundians ; while, on the other
hand, the chronicle, known to scholars as that of Fredegar,.
makes mention of an invasion of the Alamanni into the region
of Avenches, which they devastated with fire and sword.

Confusion, therefore, reigned supreme in the territory now
comprised by the name of Switzerland. With two rival
nations struggling for supremacy and holding each other in
check, it was evident that the country was practically defence-
less, and at the mercy of any determined third power.

Indeed, hardly had the Alamanni and the Burgundians
acquired fixed domains when they were themselves incorpo-
rated into the rising kingdom of the Franks, just then enter-

Digitized by



ing upon that great career of conquest which was to make of it
the veritable successor to the ruined Roman Empire of the

It appears that while extending their depredations into Gaul,
under the leadership of their Duke, the Alamanni came into col-
lision with the Franks, and in 469 were completely routed in a
severely contested battle by Chlodwig, the Merowingian, ruler
of the Salic Franks. The scene of this battle was probably
somewhere on the Upper Rhine, but not at Zulpich, as has
been erroneously believed. A part of the conquered Alamanni
took refuge in the Raetian mountains, at that time belonging
to the kingdom of the East Goths under Theodoric, the Great,
but in 536 returned under the dominion of the Franks, when
Raetia was ceded to these conquerors by the East Goths.
Nor was it long before the Burgundians also began to feel the
heavy hand of their Frankish neighbors. After Gundobad's
death and the accession to the throne of his weak and priest-
ridden son Sigismund, the Burgundian Kingdom began to
decline. Chlodwig's sons, Childebert I. and Chlotar I., deposed
Sigismund, and in 534 defeated his brother Godomar at Autun,
therewith incorporating Burgundy into the Kingdom of the

Thus was the whole of what is modern Switzerland, with the
exception of Ticino, once more united in subjection to a single
power, as in the days of the Roman occupation, to share for
centuries in the varying vicissitudes of the Merowingian and
Carolingian rulers of the Franks.

Digitized by




A CERTAIN amount of credit is due to the Franks for the
manner in which they governed their new possessions.
Instead of attempting to break down ruthlessly whatever was
characteristic of the two nations, in a mistaken effort to absorb
them more readily, they recognized the wisdom of allowing
each what was distinctive in its laws, whenever this was con-
sistent with their own supreme rule. Thus it was that the
Loi Gombette was permitted to remain in force in Burgundy,
and in Alamannia a body of native law, the Pactus lex

This latter collection, which has come down to us only in
fragments, gives us the first documentary insight into the life
of the Alamanni. It appears to have been begun about the
middle of the sixth century, and does not differ materially from
the other Teutonic folk laws, dating from that period.

There was apparently no pretence of democracy amongst the
Alamanni, using the term in its modem sense, for the pactus
clearly distinguishes two great classes of men — the freemen
and the slaves. The freemen were subdivided into nobles
{J>rimi)i freemen land-owners {jnedit)^ and freemen without
land of their own {jninojlidi) \ the slaves into two classes:
freedmen (////), with certain rights from their masters, and
bondmen {servi)^ who enjoyed no rights whatever, and were
sold from hand to hand like cattle. German scholars generally
use the names of Knechte or Leibeigene for the bondmen and
Horige for the freedmen, a distinction which must be borne in
mind, as it will receive important application in dealing with
the early Swiss. It is well to notice that it was the land


Digitized by



which formed the basis of classification amongst the Alamanni,
as indeed it must amongst all nations, for in the last analysis
all history is but the record of land-holding amongst the
nations. The relative importance of the above classes was
expressed by the Wergeld^ the fine which a murderer was
obliged to pay to the kindred of his victim, from 240 shillings
(representing approximately in modern value 4500 dollars) for
a noble, to 15 shillings (280 dollars) for a bondman. King
Chlotar II. (613-628), or possibly Chlotar III. (656-660),
revised the pactus in order to bring Alamannia more com-
pletely under the royal control, and to favor the spread of
Christianity in that still pagan country. For these purposes he
made the Duke of the Alamanni, who was the political and mili-
tary head of the nation, subject to the authority of the Prank-
ish King, as a sort of viceroy, and introduced the so-called
County {Gau) system. He used the existing division of the
country into Counties (subdivided into Hundreds), a division
which had probably existed for a long time, but of which the
beginnings cannot be clearly traced. Over each county the
Crown appointed a Count who administered the law and levied
troops. He went about and held court in each Hundred within
his county in the presence of the freemen of the Hundred
united under their Centenarius (later also Schultheiss),

In fact it was the county system, upon which the Prankish
Kings relied, in order to hold together so heterogeneous a
mass as their possessions grew to be. The counties of Bur-
gfundy were united into groups, each group under a superior
called Patricius^ and the two counties of Raetia under a

Amongst the few events, which we can cite with certainty
during the rule of the Merowingian Pranks, is the revival of
Christianity in Alamannia. It was more truly a revival than a
reintroduction, as one might at first be tempted to call it, for
Christianity had never entirely disappeared from the land ; as
in Britain, so in Helvetia there were still Christian commimi-
ties in existence, which had weathered the Teutonic invasion.

Digitized by



Augst (later Basel) and Vindonissa (replaced by Constance)
seem to have been the seat of bishoprics throughout that
period of confusion, so that when the Irish missionaries pen-
etrated into the forests of Alamannia two hundred years later,
they still found evidences of primitive Christianity. It would
be more correct, therefore, to say that the machinery of the
Church, however incomplete it might have been, in reality
never ceased entirely to work, and that the task set before
Columban was very much like that of Augustine, to revive and
reorganize, rather than reintroduce. It will, of course, always
appear strange that this revival should have been set on foot
by foreigners from distant Ireland, rather than by the clergy
of the Frankish conquerors or of neighboring Burgundy and
Raetia, where Christianity was already firmly established.

Columbanus, who must be carefully distinguished from St.
Columba, the more famous founder of the monastery of lona,
was a native of Leinster in Ireland. In 590 he left the mon-
astery of Bangor, accompanied by twelve companions, in order
to carry the Gospel to those parts of the continent which had
not yet received the faith. Without entering into the ecclesi-
astical controversy which has existed for many years in regard
to the doctrines of the ancient Irish Church, we may safely say
that it did not acknowledge the supremacy claimed by the
Bishop of Rome, and certainly exercised a great deal of inde-
pendence in the management of its own affairs. The labors of
that part of the band which reached Alamannia are described
in one of the most valuable of early chronicles, the Vita Sancti
Galli, written in Latin by an unknown monk of the monastery
of St. Gallen about the year 771.

Columban and his companions first visited the court of
Theodebert, King of Austrasia, one of the divisions into
which the Frankish Kingdom had fallen at the end of the 6th
century. But they resisted his entreaties to remain in his
country, and in 610 pushed on, endeavoring to find a region,
where their missionary labors might be more necessary. " In
this search," says the Vita, "they came to the river Lindima-

Digitized by



cus (Limmat), followed its course and came unto a fortress by
name Turegum (Zurich). Thence they reached the hamlet
which men call Tucconia (Tuggen), and which lies at the
upper end of the lake from Turegum. This place pleased
them, but not the evil ways of the dwellers. Cruelty and mis-
chief ruled in their midst, and they were gfiven over unto hea-
then superstitions. Therefore, when the servants of God had
made their dwelling amongst them, they taught them to wor-
ship God, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. For Gallus, whose
miracles, with the Grace of Christ we shall be at pains to tell,
and who followed the man of God, Columban, as has already
been said, from the beginning of his monastic life, and who
shared his labors, this one began to throw the images of their
Gods into the lake." Driven thence by the enraged Ala-
manni, the missionaries went to Arbona (Arbon), where they
met a native priest by name Willimar. "After these days
they learned from the same priest that in the neighborhood
there was a ruined town, by name Pregentia (Bregenz) , . .
Now in that place the superstitious people worshipped three
brazen and gilded images, to which they were more attached,
and to which they brought greater gifts than to the Creator of
the world. After an eloquent exhortation and before the eyes
of all, Gallus dashed to pieces against the rocks the images
which he had taken away, and cast them into the depths of the
lake [of Constance]. Then did a part of the people confess
their sins and believed, but the others went away in anger and
filled with wrath." Being appealed to by these unbelievers,
Kunzo, Duke of Alamannia, bade the missionaries leave the
country, and so Columban crossed the Alps into Italy to make
new converts amongst the Lombards, and to die amongst them
not long after. But Gallus, afflicted with fever, remained
behind, withdrew into the forests of North-eastern Alamannia,
and in 614 founded a hermitage near the brook Steinach, which
was destined to become after his death one of the most influ-
ential centres of Christian civilization in Central Europe.
However great may be the want of historical accuracy in

Digitized by



the account of this monkish chronicler, who was evidently
bent as much upon sermonizing as upon recording the origin
of his monastery, he gives us some valuable bits of information
in his references to the fortress Turegum, and to Arbona and
Pregentia with their surviving evidences of Christian and
Roman civilization, as well as to Kunzo the Duke of Alaman-
nia and Gallus, the iconoclast.

The hermitage appears to have enjoyed a local reputation
from the first. In the course of the next hundred years a
community had gathered in the vicinity, forming the hamlet of
St. Gallen, while over the spot where the hermit's cell had
stood, a monastery was built, in which the strict rules of the
Irish Church were enforced until 720, when they were
abolished, and those of St. Benedict substituted by an abbot
Othmar. From this time on St. Gallen began to play an
important part in the social and political growth of Alamannia,
for it was the peculiar vocation of the church to distribute
a civilization which should take the place of the lost one
of ancient Rome. All traces of paganism were slowly and
discreetly removed, or else invested with a Christian meaning.

From the eighth to the tenth century St. Gallen was one of

Online LibraryWilliam Denison McCrackanThe rise of the Swiss republic: A history → online text (page 3 of 32)