D. S. (David Samuel) Margoliouth.

The Popular science monthly (Volume 19) online

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trated forms of political rule have arisen, yield an illustration. Origi-
nally inheriting in common the mental traits generated during their
life in the Hindoo-Koosh and its neighborhood, the different divisions
of the race have developed different institutions and accompanying
characters. Those of them who spread into the plains of India, where
great fertility made possible a large population, to the control of which
there were small physical impediments, lost their independence of
nature, and did not evolve political systems like those which grew up
among their Western kindred, under conditions favorable for main-
taining the original character.

The implication is, then, that where groups of the patriarchal type


fall into regions permitting considerable growth of population, but
having physical structures which impede the centralization of power,
compound political headships will arise, and for a time sustain them-
selves, through cooperation of the two factors — independence of local
groups and need for union in war. Let us consider some examples.

The island of Crete has numerous high mountain-valleys containing
good pasturage, and provides many seats for strongholds — seats whiclj
ruins prove that the ancient inhabitants utilized. Similarly with the
mainland of Greece. A complicated mountain system cuts off its parts
from one another and renders each difficult of access. Especially is
this so in the Peloponnesus ; and, above all, in the part occupied by
the Spartans. It has been remarked that the state which possesses
both sides of Taygetus has it in its power to be master of the penin-
sula : " It is the Acropolis of the Peloponnese, as that country is of
the rest of Greece."

When, over the earlier inhabitants, there came the successive waves
of Hellenic conquerors, these brought with them the type of nature
and organization common to the Aryans, displaying the united traits
above described. Such a people, taking possession of such a land,
inevitably fell in course of time " into as many independent clans as
the country itself was divided by its mountain-chains into valleys and
districts." From separation there resulted alienation ; so that those
remote from one another, becoming strangers, became enemies. In
early Greek times the clans, occupying mountain villages, were so
liable to incursions from one another that the planting of fruit-trees
was a waste of labor. There existed a state like that seen at present
among such Indian hill tribes as the Nagas.

Though preserving the tradition of a common descent, and owning
allegiance to the oldest male representative of the patriarch, a people
spreading over a region which thus cut off from one another even
adjacent small groups, and still more those remoter clusters of groups
arising in course of generations, would inevitably become disunited in
government : subjection to a general head would be more and more
difficult to maintain, and subjection to local heads would alone con-
tinue practicable. Moreover, there must arise, under such conditions,
increasing causes of insubordination, as well as great difficulties in
maintaining subordination. When the various branches of a common
family spread into localities so shut off from one another as to prevent
intercourse, their respective histories, and the lines of descent of their
respective heads, must become unknown, or but partially known, to
one another ; and claims to supremacy made now by this local head
and now by that are certain to be disputed. When we remember
how, even in settled societies having records, there have been perpetual
conflicts about rights of succession, and how, down to our own day,
there are frequent lawsuits to decide on heirships to titles and proper-


tics, we can not but infer that, in a state like that of the early Greeks,
the difficulty of establishing the legitimacy of general headships, con-
spiring with the desire to assert independence and the ability to main-
tain it, inevitably entailed lapse into numerous local headships. Of
course, under conditions varying in each locality, splittings-up of
wider governments into narrower went to different extents ; and,
naturally, too, reestablishments of wider governments or extensions
of narrower ones in some cases took place. But, generally, the ten-
dency under such conditions must have been to form small indepen-
dent groups, severally having the patriarchal type of organization.
Hence, then, the decay of such kingships as are implied in the " Iliad."
As Grote writes, " "When we approach historical Greece, we find that
(with the exception of Sparta) the primitive, hereditary, unresponsible
monarch, uniting in himself all the functions of government, has
ceased to reign." *

But now what will happen when a cluster of clans of common de-
scent, which have become independent and hostile, are simultaneously
endangered by enemies to whom they are not at all akin, or but re-
motely akin ? Habitually, they will sink their differences and cooper-
ate for defense. But on what terms will they cooperate? Even
among friendly groups joint action would be hindered if some claimed
supremacy ; and, among groups having outstanding feuds, there could
be no joint action save on a footing of equality. The common defense
would, therefore, be directed by a body formed of the heads of the
cooperating small societies ; and, if the cooperation for defense were
prolonged, or became changed by success into cooperation for offense,
this temporary controlling body would tend to become a permanent
one holding the small societies together. The special characters of
this compound head would, of course, vary with the circumstances.
Where the traditions of the united clans agreed in identifying some
one chief as the lineal representative of the original patriarch or hero,
from whom all descended, precedence and some extra authority would

* While I am writinjr, the just-issued third volume of Mr. Skene's " Celtic Scotland "
supplies me with an instructive illustration of the process above indicated. From his
account it appears that the original Celtic tribes which formed the earldoms of Moray,
Buchan, Athol, Angus, Menteith, became broken up into clans ; and how influential was
the physical character of the country in producing this result, we are shown by the fact
that this change took place in the parts of them which fell within the Ilighland country.
Describing the smaller groups which resulted, Mr. Skene says : " While the clan, viewed
as a single community, thus consisted of the chief, with his kinsmen to a certain limited
degree of relationship ; the commonalty who were of the same blood, who all bore the
same name, and his dependents, consisting of subordinate septs of native men, who did
not claim to be of the blood of the chief, but were either probably descended from the
more ancient occupiers of the soil, or were broken men from other clans, who had taken
protection with him. . . . Those kinsmen of the chief who acquired the property of their
land founded families. . . . The most influential of these was that of the oldest cadet in
the family which had been longest separated from the main stem, and usually presented
the appearance of a rival house little less powerful than that of the chief."


be permitted to him. Where claims derived from descent were dis2)uted,
personal superiority or election would detex-mine which member of the
compound head should take the lead. If within each of the compo-
nent groups the power of its chief was unqualified, there would result
from union of such chiefs a close oligarchy ; while the closeness of
the oligarchy would become less in proportion as recognition of the
authority of each chief, given by nearness in blood to the divine or
semi-divine ancestor, diminished. And in cases where there came to
be incorporated numerous aliens, owing allegiance to the heads of
none of the component groups, there would come into play influences
tending still more to widen the oligarchy.

Such, we may conclude, were the origins of those compound head-
ships of the Greek states which existed at the beginning of the his-
toric period. In Crete, where there survived the tradition of primitive
kingship, but where dispersion and subdivision of clans had brought
about a condition in which "different towns carried on open feuds,"
there were " patrician houses, deriving their rights from the early ages
of roval government," who continued "to retain possession of the
administration." In Corinth, the line of Ilerakleid kings " subsides
gradually, through a series of empty names, into the oligarchy de-
nominated Bacchiadaj. . . . The persons so named were all accounted
descendants of Herakles, and formed the governing caste in the city."
So was it wuth Megara. According to tradition, this arose by com-
bination of several villages inhabited by kindred tribes, which, origi-
nally in antagonism with Corinth, had probably, in the course of this
antagonism, become consolidated into an independent state. And at
the opening of the historic period the like had happened in Sikyon
and other places. Though in Sparta kingship had survived under an
anomalous form, yet the joint representatives of the primitive king,
still reverenced because the tradition of their divine descent was pre-
served, had become little more than members of the governing oligar-
chy, retaining certain prerogatives. And, though it is true that in
its earliest historically-known stage, the Spartan oligarchy did not
present the form which would spontaneously arise from the union of
the heads of clans for cooperation in war — though it had become
elective within a limited class of persons — yet the fact that an age of
not less than sixty was a qualification, harmonizes with the belief
that it at first consisted of the heads of the respective groups, who
were always the eldest sons of the eldest ; and that these groups with
their heads, described as having been in in pre-Lykurgean times " the
most lawless of all the Greeks," became united by that continuous
militant life which distinguished them.*

* As bearing on historical interpretations at large, and especially on interpretations
to be made in this work, let me point out further reasons than those given by Grote and
others for rejecting the tradition that the Spartan constitution was the work of Lykurgus.
The universal tendency to ascribe an effect to the most conspicuous proximate cause is


The Romans exemplify the rise of a compound headship under con-
ditions which, though partially different from those the Greeks were
subject to, were allied fundamentally. In its earliest-known state,
Latium was occupied by village-communities, which were united into
cantons ; while these cantons formed a league headed by Alba — a can-
ton regarded as the oldest and most eminent. This combination was
for joint defense ; as is shown by the fact that each group of clan-vil-
lages composing a canton had an elevated stronghold in common, and
also by the fact that the league of cantons had for its center and place
of refuge Alba, the most strongly placed as well as the oldest. The
component cantons of the league were so far independent that there
were wars between them ; whence we may infer that when they co-
operated for joint defense it was on substantially equal terms. Thus,
before Rome existed, the people who formed it had been habituated to
a kind of life such that, with great subordination in each family and
clan, and partial subordination within each canton (which was gov-
erned by a prince, council of elders, and assembly of warriors), there
went a union of heads of cantons, who were in no degree subordinate
one to another. AVhen the inhabitants of three of these cantons, the
Ramnians, Tities, and Luceres, began to occupy the tract on which
Rome stands, they brought with them their political organization.
The oldest Roman patricians bore the names of rural clans belonging
to these cantons. Whether, when seating themselves on the Palatine
Hills and on the Quirinal, they preserved their cantonal divisions, is
not clear, though it seems probable a 2>riori. But, however this may
be, there is proof that they fortified themselves against one another, as

especially strong where the effect is one of which the causation is involved. Our own
time has furnished an illustration in the ascription of Corn-law Repeal to Sir Robert
Peel, and after him to Messrs. Cobden and Bright, leaving Colonel Thompson unnamed.
In the next generation the man who for a time carried on the fight single-handed, and
forged sundry of the weapons used by the victors, will be unheard of in connection with
it. It is not enough, however, to suspect that Lykurgus was simply the finisher of other
men's work. We may reasonably suspect that the work was that of no man, but simply
that of the needs and conditions. This may be seen in the institution of the public mess.
If we ask what will happen with a small people who, for generations spreading as conquer-
ors, have a contempt for all industry, and who, when not at war, pass their time in exer-
cises fitting them for war, it becomes manifest that at first the daily assembling to carry
on these exercises will entail the daily bringing of provisions by each. As happens in
those picnics in which all who join contribute to the common repast, a certain obligation
respecting qualities and quantities will naturally arise — an obligation which, repeated
daily, will pass from custom into law ; ending in a specification of the kinds and amounts
of food. Further, it is to be expected that as the law thus arises in an age when food is
coarse and unvaried, the simplicity of the diet, originally unavoidable, will eventually be
considered as intended — as an ascetic regimen deliberately devised. (When writing this
I was not aware that, as pointed out by Professor Paley in "Fraser's Magazine," for Feb-
ruary, 1881, that among the Greeks of later times it was common to have dinners to
which each guest brought his .share of provisions, and that those who contributed little
and consumed much were objects of satire. This fact greatly increases the probability
that the Spartan mess originated as suggested.)


well as against outer enemies. The " mount-men " of the Palatine
and the " hill-men " of the Quirinal were habitually at feud ; and, even
among the minor, divisions of those who occupied the Palatine, there
were dissensions. As Mommsen says, primitive Rome was "rather
an aggregate of urban settlements than a single city." And that the
clans who formed these settlements brought with them their enmities
is to be inferred from the fact that not only did they fortify the hills
on which they fixed themselves, but even " the houses of the old and
powerful families were constructed somewhat after the manner of for-

So that again, in the case of Rome, we a see a cluster of small in-
dependent communities allied in blood but partially antagonistic, which
had to cooperate against enemies on such terms as all would agree to.
In early Greece the means of defense were, as Grote remarks, greater
than the means of attack ; and it was the same in early Rome. Hence,
while coercive rule within each family and small group was easy, there
was difficulty in extending coercion over many groups — fortified as
they were against one another. Moreover, the stringency of govern-
ment within each settlement constituting the primitive city was
diminished by facility of escape from one and admission into another.
As we have seen among simple tribes, desertions take place when the
rule is unduly harsh ; and we may infer that, within each of these clus-
tered settlements, there was a check on exercise of force by the heads
of the more powerful families over those of the less powerful, caused
by the fear that migration might weaken the settlement and strength-
en an adjacent one. Thus the circumstances were such that when, for
defense of the primitive city, cooperation became needful, the heads
of the clans included in the several settlements came to have substan-
tially equal powers. The original senate was the collective body of
clan-elders ; and " this assembly of elders was the ultimate holder of
the ruling power ": it was " an assembly of kings." At the same time,
the heads of families in each clan, forming the body of burgesses,
stood, for like reasons, on equal footing. Primarily for command in
war, there was an elected head, who was also chief magistrate. Though
not having the authority given by alleged divine descent, he had the
authority given by supposed divine approval ; and, himself bearing
the insignia of a god, he retained till death the absoluteness appropri-
ate to one. But, besides the fact that the choice, originally made by
the senate, had to be again practically made by it in case of sudden
vacancy, and besides the fact that each king, nominated by his
predecessor, had to be approved by the assembled burgesses, there
is the fact that his power was exclusively executive. The assembly
of burgesses " was in law superior to, rather than coordinate with,
the king." Further, in the last resort was exercised the still supe-
rior power of the senate, which was the guardian of the law, and
could veto the joint decision of king and burgesses. Thus the con-


stitution was in essence an oligarcliy of heads of clans, included in
an oligarchy of heads of houses — a compound oligarchy which became
unqualitied when kingship was sujjpressed. And here should be em-
phasized the truth, sufficiently obvious and yet continually ignored,
that the Roman Republic, which remained when the regal power ended,
was quite alien in nature to those popular governments with which it
has been commonly classed. The heads of clans, of . which the nar-
rower governing body was formed, as well as the heads of families
v/hich formed the wider governing body, were, indeed, jealous of one
another's powers ; and in so far simulated the citizens of a free state
who individually maintain their equal rights. But these heads sever-
ally exercised unlimited powers over the members of their households
and over their clusters of dependents. A community of which the com-
ponent groups severally retained their internal autonomies, with the
result that the rule within each remained absolute, was nothing but an
aggregate of small despotisms. Institutions under which the head of
each group, besides owning slaves, had such supremacy that his wife
and children, including even married sons, had no more legal rights
than cattle, and were at his mercy in life and limb, or could be sold
into slavery, can be called free institutions only by those who confound
similarity of external outline with similarity of internal structure.*

The formation of compound political heads in later times repeats
this process in essentials, if not in details. In one way or other the
result' arises when a common need for defense compels cooperation,
while there exists no means of securing cooperation save voluntary

Beginning with the example of Venice, we notice first that the
region occupied by the ancient Veneti included the extensive marshy
tract formed of the deposits brought down by several rivers to the
Adriatic — a tract which, in Strabo's day, was " intersected in every
quarter by rivers, streams, and morasses" ; so that "Aquileia and
Ravenna were then cities in the marshes." Having for their strong-
hold this region full of spots accessible only to inhabitants who knew
the intricate ways to them, the Veneti maintained their indepen-
dence, spite of the efforts of the Romans to subdue them, until the
days of Caesar. In later days kindred results were more markedly dis-
played in that part of this region specially characterized by inaccessi-
bility. From the earliest times the islets, or rather mud-banks, on
which Venice stands, were inhabited by a maritime people. Each
islet, secure in the midst of its tortuous lagunes, had a popular gov-

* I should have thought it needless to insist on so obvious a truth, had it not been
that even still there continues this identification of things so utterly different. Within
these few jears has been published a magazine-article by an historian, describing the
corruptions of the Roman Republic during its latter days, with the appended moral that
such were, and are, likely to be the results of democratic government.


eminent of annually elected tribunes. And these original govern-
ments, existing at the time when there came several thousands of
fugitives, driven from the mainland by the invading Huns, survived
under the form of a rude confederation. As we have seen happen in
other cases, the union into which these independent little communities
were forced for purposes of joint defense was disturbed by feuds ;
and it was only under the stress of opposition to aggressing Lombards
on the one side and Slavonic pirates on the other that a general as-
sembly of nobles, clergy, and citizens appointed a duke or doge to
direct the combined forces, and to restrain internal factions ; being
superior to the tribunes of the united islets and subject only to this
body which appointed him. What changes subsequently took place
— how, beyond the restraints imposed by the general assembly, the
doge was presently put under the check of two elected councilors,
and on important occasions had to summon the principal citizens ;
how there came afterward a representative council, which underwent
from time to time changes — does not now concern us. Here we have
simply to note that, as in preceding cases, the component groups be-
ing favorably circumstanced for severally maintaining their indepen-
dence of one another, the imperative need for union against enemies
initiated a rude compound headship, which, notwithstanding the cen-
tralizing effects of war, tended to maintain itself in one or other

On finding allied results among men of a different race but occu-
pying a similar region, doubts respecting the process of causation
must be dissipated. On the area — half land, half sea — formed of the
sediment brought down by the Rhine and adjacent rivers, there early
existed scattered families. Living on isolated sand-hills, or in huts
raised on piles, they were so secure amid their creeks and mud-banks
and marshes, that they remained unsubdued by the Romans. Sub-
sisting at first by fishing, with here and there such small agriculture
as was possible, and eventually becoming maritime and commercial,
these people, in course of time, rendered their land more habitable by
damming out the sea ; and they long enjoyed a partial if not complete
independence. In the third century " the Low Countries contained the
only free people of the German race." Especially the Fi-isians, more
remote than the rest from invaders, *' associated themselves with the
tribes settled on the limits of the German Ocean, and formed with
them a connection celebrated under the title of the ' Saxon League.' "
Though, at a later time, the inhabitants of the Low Countries fell under
the power of France, yet the nature of their habitat continued to give
them such advantages in resisting foreign control that they organized
themselves after their own fashion, notwithstanding interdicts. " From
the time of Charlemagne the people of the ancient Menapia, now be-
come a prosperous commonwealth, formed political associations to
raise a barrier against the despotic violence of the Franks." Mean-


while tlie Frisians, who, after centuries of resistance to the Franks,
were ohliged to yield and render small tributary services, retained
their internal autonomy. They formed " a confederation of rude but
self-governed maritime provinces," each of these seven provinces be-
ing divided into districts severally governed by elective heads with
their councils, and the whole being under a general elective head and
a general council.

Of illustrations which modern times have furnished, must be named
those which again show us the effects of a mountainous region. The
most notable is, of course, that of Switzerland. Surrounded by for-
ests, "among marshes and rocks and glaciers, tribes of scattered shep-
herds had, from the early times of the Roman conquest, found a land
of refuge from the successive invaders of the rest of Helvetia." In

Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthThe Popular science monthly (Volume 19) → online text (page 26 of 110)