Front Page Titles (by Subject) LECTURE II.: OF EUROPEAN CIVILIZATION IN PARTICULAR: ITS DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS—ITS SUPERIORITY—ITS ELEMENTS. - General History of Civilization in Europe
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
LECTURE II.: OF EUROPEAN CIVILIZATION IN PARTICULAR: ITS DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS—ITS SUPERIORITY—ITS ELEMENTS. - François Guizot, General History of Civilization in Europe 
General History of Civilization in Europe by François Pierre Guillaume Guizot, edited, with critical and supplementary notes, by George Wells Knight (New York: D Appleton and Co., 1896).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
OF EUROPEAN CIVILIZATION IN PARTICULAR: ITS DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS—ITS SUPERIORITY—ITS ELEMENTS.
In the preceding Lecture, I endeavored to give an explanation of civilization in general. Without referring to any civilization in particular, or to circumstances of time and place, I essayed to place it before you in a point of view purely philosophical. I purpose now to enter upon the History of the Civilization of Europe; but before doing so, before going into its proper history, I must make you acquainted with the peculiar character of this civilization—with its distinguishing features, so that you may be able to recognize and distinguish European civilization from every other.
When we look at the civilizations which have preceded that of modern Europe, whether in Asia or elsewhere, including even those of Greece and Rome, it is impossible not to be struck with the unity of character which reigns among them. Each appears as though it had emanated from a single fact, from a single idea. One might almost assert that society was under the influence of one single principle, which universally prevailed and determined the character of its institutions, its manners, its opinions—in a word, all its developments.
In Egypt, for example, it was the theocratic principle that took possession of society, and showed itself in its manners, in its monuments, and in all that has come down to us of Egyptian civilization. In India the same phenomenon occurs—it is still a repetition of the almost exclusively prevailing influence of theocracy.* In other regions a different organization may be observed—perhaps the domination of a conquering caste: and where such is the case, the principle of force takes entire possession of society, imposing upon it its laws and its character. In another place, perhaps, we discover society under the entire influence of the democratic principle; such was the case in the commercial republics which covered the coasts of Asia Minor and Syria—in Ionia and Phœnicia. In a word, whenever we contemplate the civilizations of the ancients, we find them all impressed with one ever-prevailing character of unity, visible in their institutions, their ideas, and manners—one sole, or at least one very preponderating influence, seems to govern and determine all things.
I do not mean to aver that this overpowering influence of one single principle, of one single form, prevailed without any exception in the civilization of those states. If we go back to their earliest history, we shall find that the various powers which dwelt in the bosom of these societies frequently struggled for mastery. Thus among the Egyptians, the Etruscans, even among the Greeks and others, we may observe the warrior caste struggling against that of the priests. In other places we find the spirit of clanship struggling against the spirit of free association, the spirit of aristocracy against popular rights. These struggles, however, mostly took place in periods beyond the reach of history, and no evidence of them is left beyond a vague tradition.
Sometimes, indeed, these early struggles broke out afresh at a later period in the history of the nations; but in almost every case they were quickly terminated by the victory of one of the powers which sought to prevail, and which then took sole possession of society. The war always ended by the domination of some special principle, which, if not exclusive, at least greatly preponderated. The co-existence and strife of various principles among these nations were no more than a passing, an accidental circumstance.
From this cause a remarkable unity characterizes most of the civilizations of antiquity, the results of which, however, were very different. In one nation, as in Greece, the unity of the social principle led to a development of wonderful rapidity; no other people ever ran so brilliant a career in so short a time. But Greece had hardly become glorious, before she appeared worn out: her decline, if not quite so rapid as her rise, was strangely sudden. It seems as if the principle which called Greek civilization into life was exhausted. No other came to invigorate it, or supply its place.*
In other states, say, for example, in India and Egypt, where again only one principle of civilization prevailed, the result was different. Society here became stationary; simplicity produced monotony; the country was not destroyed; society continued to exist; but there was no progression; it remained torpid and inactive.
To this same cause must be attributed that character of tyranny which prevailed, under various names, and the most opposite forms, in all the civilizations of antiquity. Society belonged to one exclusive power, which could bear with no other. Every principle of a different tendency was proscribed. The governing principle would nowhere suffer by its side the manifestation and influence of a rival principle.
This character of simplicity, of unity, in their civilization, is equally impressed upon their literature and intellectual productions. Who that has run over the monuments of Hindoo literature lately introduced into Europe, but has seen that they are all struck from the same die? They all seem the result of one same fact; the expression of one same idea. Religious and moral treatises, historical traditions, dramatic poetry, epics, all bear the same physiognomy. The same character of unity and monotony shines out in these works of mind and fancy, as we discover in their life and institutions. Even in Greece, notwithstanding the immense stores of knowledge and intellect which it poured forth, a wonderful unity still prevailed in all relating to literature and the arts.
How different from all this is the case as respects the civilization of modern Europe! Take ever so rapid a glance at this, and it strikes you at once as diversified, confused, and stormy. All the principles of social organization are found existing together within it; powers temporal, powers spiritual, the theocratic, monarchic, aristocratic, and democratic elements, all classes of society, all the social situations, are jumbled together, and visible within it; as well as infinite gradations of liberty, of wealth, and of influence. These various powers, too, are found here in a state of continual struggle among themselves, without any one having sufficient force to master the others, and take sole possession of society. Among the ancients, at every great epoch, all communities seem cast in the same mould: it was now pure monarchy, now theocracy or democracy, that became the reigning principle, each in its turn reigning absolutely. But modern Europe contains examples of all these systems, of all the attempts at social organization, pure and mixed monarchies, theocracies, republics more or less aristocratic, all live in common, side by side, at one and the same time; yet, notwithstanding their diversity, they all bear a certain resemblance to each other, a kind of family likeness which it is impossible to mistake, and which shows them to be essentially European.
In the moral character, in the notions and sentiments of Europe, we find the same variety, the same struggle. Theocratic opinions, monarchical opinions, aristocratic opinions, democratic opinions, cross and jostle, struggle, become interwoven, limit, and modify each other. Open the boldest treatises of the middle age: in none of them is an opinion carried to its final consequences. The advocates of absolute power flinch, almost unconsciously, from the results to which their doctrine would carry them. We see that the ideas and influences around them frighten them from pushing it to its uttermost point. Democracy felt the same control. That imperturbable boldness, so striking in ancient civilizations, nowhere found a place in the European system. In sentiments we discover the same contrasts, the same variety; an indomitable taste for independence dwelling by the side of the greatest aptness for submission; a singular fidelity between man and man, and at the same time an imperious desire in each to do his own will, to shake off all restraint, to live alone, without troubling himself with the rest of the world. Minds were as much diversified as society.
The same characteristic is observable in literature. It cannot be denied that in what relates to the form and beauty of art, modern Europe is very inferior to antiquity; but if we look at her literature as regards depth of feeling and ideas, it will be found more powerful and rich. The human mind has been employed upon a greater number of objects, its labors have been more diversified, it has gone to a greater depth. Its imperfection in form is owing to this very cause. The more plenteous and rich the materials, the greater is the difficulty of forcing them into a pure and simple form. That which gives beauty to a composition, that which in works of art we call form, is the clearness, the simplicity, the symbolical unity of the work. With the prodigious diversity of ideas and sentiments which belong to European civilization, the difficulty of attaining this grand and chaste simplicity has been increased.*
In every part, then, we find this character of variety to prevail in modern civilization. It has undoubtedly brought with it this inconvenience, that when we consider separately any particular development of the human mind in literature, in the arts, in any of the ways in which human intelligence may go forward, we shall generally find it inferior to the corresponding development in the civilization of antiquity; but, as a set-off to this, when we regard it as a whole, European civilization appears incomparably more rich and diversified: if each particular fruit has not attained the same perfection, it has ripened an infinitely greater variety. Again, European civilization has now endured fifteen centuries, and in all that time it has been in a state of progression.* It may be true that it has not advanced so rapidly as the Greek; but, catching new impulses at every stop, it is still advancing. An unbounded career is open before it; and from day to day it presses forward to the race with increasing rapidity, because increased freedom attends upon all its movements. While in other civilizations the exclusive domination, or at least the excessive preponderance of a single principle, of a single form, led to tyranny, in modern Europe the diversity of the elements of social order, the incapability of any one to exclude the rest, gave birth to the liberty which now prevails. The inability of the various principles to exterminate one another compelled each to endure the others, made it necessary for them to live in common, for them to enter into a sort of mutual understanding. Each consented to have only that part of civilization which fell to its share. Thus, while everywhere else the predominance of one principle has produced tyranny, the variety of elements of European civilization, and the constant warfare in which they have been engaged, have given birth in Europe to that liberty which we prize so dearly.
It is this which gives to European civilization its real, its immense superiority—it is this which forms its essential, its distinctive character. And if, carrying our views still further, we penetrate beyond the surface into the very nature of things, we shall find that this superiority is legitimate—that it is acknowledged by reason as well as proclaimed by facts. Quitting for a moment European civilization, and taking a glance at the world in general, at the common course of earthly things, what is the character we find it to bear? What do we here perceive? Why just that very same diversity, that very same variety of elements, that very same struggle which is so strikingly evinced in European civilization. It is plain enough that no single principle, no particular organization, no simple idea, no special power has ever been permitted to obtain possession of the world, to mould it into a durable form, and to drive from it every opposing tendency, so as to reign itself supreme. Various powers, principles, and systems here intermingle, modify one another, and struggle incessantly—now subduing, now subdued—never wholly conquered, never conquering. Such is apparently the general state of the world, while diversity of forms, of ideas, of principles, their struggles and their energies, all tend towards a certain unity, a certain ideal, which, though perhaps it may never be attained, mankind is constantly approaching by dint of liberty and labor. Hence European civilization is the reflected image of the world—like the course of earthly things, it is neither narrowly circumscribed, exclusive, nor stationary. For the first time, civilization appears to have divested itself of its special character: its development presents itself for the first time under as diversified, as abundant, as laborious an aspect as the great theatre of the universe itself.
European civilization has, if I may be allowed the expression, at last penetrated into the ways of eternal truth—into the scheme of Providence;—it moves in the ways which God has prescribed. This is the rational principle of its superiority.
Let it not, I beseech you, be forgotten—bear in mind, as we proceed with these lectures, that it is in this diversity of elements, and their constant struggle, that the essential character of our civilization consists. At present I can do no more than assert this; its proof will be found in the facts I shall bring before you. Still I think you will acknowledge it to be a confirmation of this assertion, if I can show you that the causes, and the elements of the character which I have just attributed to it, can be traced to the very cradle of our civilization. If, I say, at the very moment of her birth, at the very hour in which the Roman empire fell, I can show you, in the state of the world, the circumstances which, from the beginning, have concurred to give to European civilization that agitated and diversified, but at the same time prolific character which distinguishes it, I think I shall have a strong claim upon your assent to its truth. In order to accomplish this, I shall begin by investigating the condition of Europe at the fall of the Roman empire, so that we may discover in its institutions, in its opinions, its ideas, its sentiments, what were the elements which the ancient world bequeathed to the modern. And upon these elements you will see strongly impressed the character which I have just described.
It is necessary that we should first see what the Roman empire was, and how it was formed.
Rome in its origin was a mere municipality, a corporation. The Roman government was nothing more than an assemblage of institutions suitable to a population enclosed within the walls of a city; that is to say, they were municipal institutions;—this was their distinctive character.
This was not peculiar to Rome. If we look, in this period, at the part of Italy which surrounded Rome, we find nothing but cities. What were then called nations were nothing more than confederations of cities. The Latin nation was a confederation of Latin cities. The Etrurians, the Samnites, the Sabines, the nations of Magna Græcia, were all composed in the same way.
At this time there were no country places, no villages; at least the country was nothing like what it is in the present day. It was cultivated, no doubt, but it was not peopled. The proprietors of lands and of country estates dwelt in cities; they left these occasionally to visit their rural property, where they usually kept a certain number of slaves; but that which we now call the country, that scattered population, sometimes in lone houses, sometimes in hamlets and villages, and which everywhere dots our land with agricultural dwellings, was altogether unknown in ancient Italy.
And what was the case when Rome extended her boundaries? If we follow her history, we shall find that she conquered or founded a host of cities. It was with cities she fought, it was with cities she treated, it was into cities she sent colonies. In short, the history of the conquest of the world by Rome is the history of the conquest and foundation of a vast number of cities. It is true that in the East the extension of the Roman dominion bore somewhat of a different character: the population was not distributed there in the same way as in the western world; it was under a social system, partaking more of the patriarchal form, and was consequently much less concentrated in cities. But, as we have only to do with the population of Europe, I shall not dwell upon what relates to that of the East.
Confining ourselves, then, to the West, we shall find the fact to be such as I have described it. In the Gauls, in Spain, we meet with nothing but cities. At any distance from these, the country consisted of marshes and forests. Examine the character of the monuments left us of ancient Rome—the old Roman roads. We find great roads extending from city to city; but the thousands of little by-paths, which now intersect every part of the country, were then unknown. Neither do we find any traces of that immense number of lesser objects—of churches, castles, country-seats, and villages, which were spread all over the country during the middle ages. Rome has left no traces of this kind; her only bequest consists of vast monuments impressed with a municipal character, destined for a numerous population, crowded into a single spot. In whatever point of view you consider the Roman world, you meet with this almost exclusive preponderance of cities, and an absence of country populations and dwellings. This municipal character of the Roman world evidently rendered the unity, the social tie of a great state, extremely difficult to establish and maintain.
A municipal corporation like Rome might be able to conquer the world, but it was a much more difficut task to govern it, to mould it into one compact body. Thus, when the work seemed done, when all the West, and a great part of the East, had submitted to the Roman yoke, we find an immense host of cities, of little states formed for separate existence and independence, breaking their chains, escaping on every side. This was one of the causes which made the establishment of the empire necessary; which called for a more concentrated form of government, one better able to hold together elements which had so few points of cohesion. The empire endeavored to unite and to bind together this extensive and scattered society; and to a certain point it succeeded. Between the reigns of Augustus and Diocletian, during the very time that her admirable civil legislation was being carried to perfection, that vast and despotic administration was established, which, spreading over the empire a sort of chain-work of functionaries subordinately arranged, firmly knit together the people and the imperial court, serving at the same time to convey to society the will of the government, and to bring to the government the tribute and obedience of society.*
This system, besides rallying the forces, and holding together the elements, of the Roman world, introduced with wonderful celerity into society a taste for despotism, for central power. It is truly astonishing to see how rapidly this incoherent assemblage of little republics, this association of municipal corporations, sunk into an humble and obedient respect for the sacred name of emperor. The necessity for establishing some tie between all these parts of the Roman world must have been very apparent and powerful, otherwise we can hardly conceive how the spirit of despotism could so easily have made its way into the minds and almost into the affections of the people.
It was with this spirit, with this administrative organization, and with the military system connected with it, that the Roman empire struggled against the dissolution which was working within it, and against the barbarians who attacked it from without. But, though it struggled long, the day at length arrived when all the skill and power of despotism, when all the pliancy of servitude, was insufficient to prolong its fate. In the fourth century, all the ties which had held this immense body together seem to have been loosened or snapped; the barbarians broke in on every side; the provinces no longer resisted, no longer troubled themselves with the general destiny. At this crisis an extraordinary idea entered the minds of one or two of the emperors: they wished to try whether the hope of general liberty, whether a confederation, a system something like what we now call the representative system, would not better defend the Roman empire than the despotic administration which already existed. There is a mandate of Honorius and the younger Theodosius, addressed, in the year 418, to the prefect of Gaul, the object of which was to establish a sort of representative government in the south of Gaul, and by its aid still to preserve the unity of empire.
Rescript of the Emperors Honorius and Theodosius the Younger, addressed, in the year 418, to the Prefect of the Gauls, residing at Arles.
“Honorius and Theodosius, Augusti, to Agricoli, Prefect of the Gauls.
“In consequence of the very salutary representation which your Magnificence has made to us, as well as upon other information obviously advantageous to the republic, we decree, in order that they may have the force of a perpetual law, that the following regulations should be made, and that obedience should be paid to them by the inhabitants of our seven provinces,* and which are such as they themselves should wish for and require. Seeing that from motives, both of public and private utility, responsible persons of special deputies should be sent, not only by each province, but by each city, to your Magnificence, not only to render up accounts, but also to treat of such matters as concern the interest of landed proprietors, we have judged that it would be both convenient and highly advantageous to have annually, at a fixed period, and to date from the present year, an assembly for the inhabitants of the seven provinces held in the Metropolis, that is to say, in the city of Arles. By this institution our desire is to provide both for public and private interests. First, by the union of the most influential inhabitants in the presence of their illustrious Prefect (unless he should be absent from causes affecting public order), and by their deliberations, upon every subject brought before them, the best possible advice will be obtained. Nothing which shall have been treated of and determined upon, after a mature discussion, shall be kept from the knowledge of the rest of the provinces; and such as have not assisted at the assembly shall be bound to follow the same rules of justice and equity. Furthermore, by ordaining that an assembly should be held every year in the city of Constantine,† we believe that we are doing not only what will be advantageous to the public welfare, but what will also multiply its social relations. Indeed, this city is so favorably situated, foreigners resort to it in such large numbers, and it possesses so extensive a commerce, that all the varied productions and manufactures of the rest of the world are to be seen within it. All that the opulent East, the perfumed Arabia, the delicate Assyria, the fertile Africa, the beautiful Spain, and the courageous Gaul, produce worthy of note, abound here in such profusion, that all things admired as magnificent in the different parts of the world seem the productions of its own climate. Further, the union of the Rhone and the Tuscan sea so facilitate intercourse, that the countries which the former traverses, and the latter waters in its winding course, are made almost neighbors. Thus, as the whole earth yields up its most esteemed productions for the service of this city, as the particular commodities of each country are transported to it by land, by sea, by rivers, by ships, by rafts, by wagons, how can our Gaul fail of seeing the great benefit we confer upon it by convoking a public assembly to be held in this city, upon which, by a special gift, as it were, of Divine Providence, has been showered all the enjoyments of life, and all the facilities for commerce?
“The illustrious Prefect Petronius* did, some time ago, with a praiseworthy and enlightened view, ordain that this custom should be observed; but as its practice was interrupted by the troubles of the times and the reign of usurpers, we have resolved to put it again in force, by the prudent exercise of our authority. Thus, then, dear and well-beloved cousin Agricoli, your Magnificence, conforming to our present ordinance and the custom established by your predecessors, will cause the following regulations to be observed in the provinces:—
“It will be necessary to make known unto all persons honored with public functions or proprietors of domains, and to all the judges of provinces, that they must attend in council every year in the city of Arles, between the Ides of August and September, the days of convocation and of session to be fixed at pleasure.
“Novempopulana and the second Aquitaine, being the most distant provinces, shall have the power, according to custom, to send, if their judges should be detained by indispensable duties, deputies in their stead.
“Such persons as neglect to attend at the place appointed, and within the prescribed period, shall pay a fine: viz., judges, five pounds of gold; members of the curiæ and other dignitaries, three pounds.†
“By this measure we conceive we are granting great advantages and favor to the inhabitants of our provinces. We have also the certainty of adding to the welfare of the city of Arles, to the fidelity of which, according to our father and countryman, we owe so much.‡
“Given the 15th of the calends of May; received at Arles the 10th of the calends of June.”
Notwithstanding this call, the provinces and cities refused the proffered boon; nobody would name deputies, none would go to Arles. This centralization, this unity, was opposed to the primitive nature of this society. The spirit of locality, and of municipality, everywhere reappeared; the impossibility of reconstructing a general society, of building up the whole into one general state, became evident. The cities, confining themselves to the affairs of their own corporations, shut themselves up within their own walls, and the empire fell, because none would belong to the empire; because citizens wished but to belong to their city. Thus the Roman empire, at its fall, was resolved into the elements of which it had been composed, and the preponderance of municipal rule and government was again everywhere visible. The Roman world had been formed of cities, and to cities again it returned.*
This municipal system was the bequest of the ancient Roman civilization to modern Europe. It had no doubt become feeble, irregular, and very inferior to what it had been at an earlier period; but it was the only living principle, the only one that retained any form, the only one that survived the general destruction of the Roman world.
When I say the only one, I mistake. There was another phenomenon, another idea, which likewise outlived it. I mean the remembrance of the empire, and the title of the emperor,—the idea of imperial majesty, and of absolute power attached to the name of emperor. It must be observed, then, that the two elements which passed from the Roman civilization into ours were, first, the system of municipal corporations, its habits, its regulations, its principle of liberty—a general civil legislation, common to all; secondly, the idea of absolute power;—the principle of order and the principle of servitude.*
Meanwhile, within the very heart of Roman society, there had grown up another society of a very different nature, founded upon different principles, animated by different sentiments, and which has brought into European civilization elements of a widely different character: I speak of the Christian church. I say the Christian church, and not Christianity, between which a broad distinction is to be made. At the end of the fourth century, and the beginning of the fifth, Christianity was no longer a simple belief, it was an institution—it had formed itself into a corporate body. It had its government, a body of priests; a settled ecclesiastical polity for the regulation of their different functions; revenues; independent means of influence. It had the rallying points suitable to a great society, in its provincial, national, and general councils, in which were wont to be debated in common the affairs of society. In a word, the Christian religion, at this epoch, was no longer merely a religion, it was a church.
Had it not been a church, it is hard to say what would have been its fate in the general convulsion which attended the overthrow of the Roman empire. Looking only to worldly means, putting out of the question the aids and superintending power of Divine Providence, and considering only the natural effects of natural causes, it would be difficult to say how Christianity, if it had continued what it was at first, a mere belief, an individual conviction, could have withstood the shock occasioned by the dissolution of the Roman empire and the invasion of the barbarians. At a later period, when it had even become an institution, an established Church, it fell in Asia and the north of Africa, upon an invasion of a like kind—that of the Mohammedans; and circumstances seem to point out that it was still more likely such would have been its fate at the fall of the Roman empire. At this time there existed none of those means by which in the present day moral influences become established or rejected without the aid of institutions; none of those means by which an abstract truth now makes way, gains an authority over mankind, governs their actions, and directs their movements. Nothing of this kind existed in the fourth century; nothing which could give to simple ideas, to personal opinions, so much weight and power. Hence I think it may be assumed, that only a society firmly established, under a powerful government and rules of discipline, could hope to bear up amid such disasters—could hope to weather so violent a storm. I think, then, humanly speaking, that it is not too much to aver, that in the fourth and fifth centuries it was the Christian church that saved Christianity; that it was the Christian church, with its institutions, its magistrates, its authority—the Christian church, which struggled so vigorously to prevent the interior dissolution of the empire, which struggled against the barbarian, and which, in fact, overcame the barbarian,—it was this Church, I say, that became the great connecting link—the principle of civilization between the Roman and the barbarian world. It is the state of the Church, then, rather than religion strictly understood,—rather than that pure and simple faith of the Gospel which all true believers must regard as its highest triumph,—that we must look at in the fifth century, in order to discover what influence Christianity had from this time upon modern civilization, and what are the elements it has introduced into it.
Let us see what at this epoch the Christian church really was.
If we look, still in an entirely worldly point of view—if we look at the changes which Christianity underwent from its first rise to the fifth century—if we examine it (still, I repeat, not in a religious, but solely in a political sense), we shall find that it passed through three essentially different states.
In its infancy, in its very babyhood, Christian society presents itself before us as a simple association of men possessing the same faith and opinions, the same sentiments and feelings. The first Christians met to enjoy together their common emotions, their common religious convictions. At this time we find no settled form of doctrine, no settled rules of discipline, no body of magistrates.
Still, it is perfectly obvious, that no society, however young, however feebly held together, or whatever its nature, can exist without some moral power which animates and guides it; and thus, in the various Christian congregations, there were men who preached, who taught, who morally governed the congregation. Still there was no settled magistrate, no discipline; a simple association of believers in a common faith, with common sentiments and feelings, was the first condition of Christian society.
But the moment this society began to advance, and almost at its birth, for we find traces of them in its earliest documents, there gradually became moulded a form of doctrine, rules of discipline, a body of magistrates: of magistrates called πρεσβύτεροι, or elders who afterwards became priests; of ἐπίσκοποι, inspectors or overseers, who became bishops;* and of διάκονοι, or deacons, whose office was the care of the poor and the distribution of alms.
It is almost impossible to determine the precise functions of these magistrates; the line of demarcation was probably very vague and wavering; yet here was the embryo of institutions. Still, however, there was one prevailing character in this second epoch: it was that the power, the authority, the preponderating influence, still remained in the hands of the general body of believers. It was they who decided in the election of magistrates, as well as in the adoption of rules of discipline and doctrine. No separation had as yet taken place between the Christian government and the Christian people; neither as yet existed apart from, or independently of, the other, and it was still the great body of Christian believers who exercised the principal influence in the society.
In the third period all this was entirely changed. The clergy were separated from the people, and now formed a distinct body, with its own wealth, its own jurisdiction, its own constitution; in a word, it had its own government, and formed a complete society of itself,—a society, too, provided with all the means of existence, independently of the society to which it applied itself, and over which it extended its influence. This was the third state of the Christian church, and in this state it existed at the opening of the fifth century. The government was not yet completely separated from the people; for no such government as yet existed, and less so in religious matters than in any other; but, as respects the relation between the clergy and Christians in general it was the clergy who governed, and governed almost without control.†
But, besides the influence which the clergy derived from their spiritual functions, they possessed considerable power over society, from their having become chief magistrates in the city corporations. We have already seen, that, strictly speaking, nothing had descended from the Roman empire, except its municipal system. Now it had fallen out that by the vexations of despotism, and the ruin of the cities, the curiales, or officers of the corporations, had sunk into insignificance and inanity; while the bishops and the great body of the clergy, full of vigor and zeal, were naturally prepared to guide and watch over them. It is not fair to accuse the clergy of usurpation in this matter, for it fell out according to the common course of events: the clergy alone possessed moral strength and activity, and the clergy everywhere succeeded to power—such is the common law of the universe.
The change which had taken place in this respect shows itself in every part of the legislation of the Roman emperors at this period. In opening the Theodosian and Justinian codes,* we find innumerable enactments, which place the management of the municipal affairs in the hands of the clergy and bishops. I shall cite a few.
Cod. Just., lib. i, tit. iv, De Episcopali audientia, § 26.—With regard to the yearly affairs of the cities (whether as respects the ordinary city revenues, the funds arising from the city estates, from legacies or particular gifts, or from any other source; whether as respects the management of the public works, of the magazines of provisions, of the aqueducts; of the maintenance of the public baths, the city gates, of the building of walls or towers, the repairing of bridges and roads, or of any lawsuit in which the city may be engaged on account of public or private interests), we ordain as follows:—The right reverend bishop, and three men of good report, from among the chiefs of the city, shall assemble together; every year they shall examine the works done; they shall take care that those who conduct, or have conducted them, measure them correctly, give a true account of them, and cause it to be seen that they have fulfilled their contracts whether in the care of the public monuments, in the moneys expended in provisions and the public baths, of all that is expended for the repairs of the roads, aqueducts, and all other matters.
Ibid., § 30.—With respect to the guardianship of youth, of the first and second age, and of all those to whom the law gives curators, if their fortune is not more than 5,000 aurei, we ordain that the nomination of the president of the province should not be waited for, on account of the great expense it would occasion, especially if the president should not reside in the city in which it becomes necessary to provide for the guardianship. The nomination of the curators or tutors shall, in this case, be made by the magistrate of the city . . . in concert with the right reverend bishop and other persons invested with public authority, if more than one should reside in the city.
Ibid., lib. i, tit. v, De Defensoribus, § 8.—We desire the defenders of cities, well instructed in the holy mysteries of the orthodox faith, should be chosen and instituted into their office by the reverend bishops, the clerks, notables, proprietors, and the curiales. With regard to their installation, it must be committed to the glorious power of the prefects of the prætorium, in order that their authority should have all the stability and weight which the letters of admission granted by his Magnificence are likely to give.
I could cite numerous other laws to the same effect, and in all of them you would see this one fact very strikingly prevail: namely, that between the Roman municipal system, and that of the free cities of the middle ages, there intervened an ecclesiastical municipal system; the preponderance of the clergy in the management of the affairs of the city corporations succeeded to that of the ancient Roman municipal magistrates, and paved the way for the organization of our modern free communities.
It will at once be seen what an amazing accession of power the Christian church gained by these means, not only in its own peculiar circle, by its increased influence on the body of Christians, but also by the part which it took in temporal matters. And it is from this period we should date its powerful co-operation in the advance of modern civilization, and the extensive influence it has had upon its character. Let us briefly run over the advantages which it introduced into it.
And, first, it was of immense advantage to European civilization that a moral influence, a moral power—a power resting entirely upon moral convictions, upon moral opinions and sentiments—should have established itself in society, just at this period, when it seemed upon the point of being crushed by the overwhelming physical force which had taken possession of it. Had not the Christian church at this time existed, the whole world must have fallen a prey to mere brute force. The Christian church alone possessed a moral power; it maintained and promulgated the idea of a precept, of a law superior to all human authority; it proclaimed that great truth which forms the only foundation of our hope for humanity: namely, that there exists a law above all human law, which, by whatever name it may be called, whether reason, the law of God, or what not, is, in all times and in all places, the same law under different names.*
Finally, the Church commenced an undertaking of great importance to society—I mean the separation of temporal and spiritual authority. This separation is the only true source of liberty of conscience; it was based upon no other principle than that which serves as the groundwork for the strictest and most extensive liberty of conscience. The separation of temporal and spiritual power rests solely upon the idea that physical, that brute force, has no right or authority over the mind, over convictions, over truth. It flows from the distinction established between the world of thought and the world of action, between our inward and intellectual nature and the outward world around us. So that, however paradoxical it may seem, that very principle of liberty of conscience for which Europe has so long struggled, so much suffered, which has only so lately prevailed, and that, in many instances, against the will of the clergy,—that very principle was acted upon under the name of a separation of the temporal and spiritual power, in the infancy of European civilization. It was, moreover, the Christian church itself, driven to assert it by the circumstances in which it was placed, as a means of defence against barbarism, that introduced and maintained it.
The establishment, then, of a moral influence, the maintenance of this divine law, and the separation of temporal and spiritual power, may be enumerated as the great benefits which the Christian church extended to European society in the fifth century.
Unfortunately, all its influences, even at this period, were not equally beneficial. Already, even before the close of the fifth century, we discover some of those vicious principles which have had so baneful an effect on the advancement of our civilization. There already prevailed in the bosom of the Church a desire to separate the governing and the governed. The attempt was thus early made to render the government entirely independent of the people under its authority—to take possession of their mind and life, without the conviction of their reason or the consent of their will. The Church, moreover, endeavored with all her might to establish the principle of theocracy, to usurp temporal authority, to obtain universal dominion. And when she failed in this, when she found she could not obtain absolute power for herself, she did what was almost as bad: to obtain a share of it, she leagued herself with temporal rulers, and enforced, with all her might, their claim to absolute power at the expense of the liberty of the subject.*
Such, then, I think, were the principal elements of civilization which Europe derived, in the fifth century, from the Church and from the Roman empire. Such was the state of the Roman world when the barbarians came to make it their prey; and we have now only to study the barbarians themselves, in order to be acquainted with the elements which were united and mixed together in the cradle of our civilization.
It must be here understood that we have nothing to do with the history of the barbarians. It is enough for our purpose to know, that with the exception of a few Slavonian tribes, such as the Alans, they were all of the same German origin; and that they were all in pretty nearly the same state of civilization. It is true that some little difference might exist in this respect, accordingly as these nations had more or less intercourse with the Roman world; and there is no doubt but the Goths had made a greater progress, and had become more refined than the Franks; but in a general point of view, and with regard to the matter before us, these little differences are of no consequence whatever.
A general notion of the state of society among the barbarians, such, at least, as will enable us to judge of what they have contributed towards modern civilization, is all that we require. This information, small as it may appear, it is now almost impossible to obtain. Respecting the municipal system of the Romans and the state of the Church we may form a tolerably accurate idea. Their influence has lasted to the present times; we have vestiges of them in many of our institutions, and possess a thousand means of becoming acquainted with them; but the manners and social state of the barbarians have completely perished, and we are driven to conjecture what they were, either from a very few ancient historical remains, or by an effort of the imagination.*
There is one sentiment, one in particular, which it is necessary to understand before we can form a true picture of a barbarian; it is the pleasure of personal independence—the pleasure of enjoying, in full force and liberty, all his powers in the various ups and downs of fortune; the foundness for activity without labor; for a life of enterprise and adventure. Such was the prevailing character and disposition of the barbarians; such were the moral wants which put these immense masses of men into motion. It is extremely difficult for us, in the regulated society in which we move, to form anything like a correct idea of this feeling, and of the influence which it exercised upon the rude barbarians of the fourth and fifth centuries. There is, however, a history of the Norman conquest of England, written by M. Thierry, in which the character and disposition of the barbarian are depicted with much life and vigor. In this admirable work, the motives, the inclinations and impulses that stir men into action in a state of life bordering on the savage, have been felt and described in a truly masterly manner. There is nowhere else to be found so correct a likeness of what a barbarian was, or of his course of life. Something of the same kind, but, in my opinion, much inferior, is found in the novels of Mr. Cooper, in which he depicts the manners of the savages of America. In these scenes, in the sentiments and social relations which these savages hold in the midst of their forests, there is unquestionably something which, to a certain point, calls up before us the manners of the ancient Germans. No doubt these pictures are a little imaginative, a little poetical; the worst features in the life and manners of the barbarians are not given in all their naked coarseness. I allude not merely to the evils which these manners forced into the social condition, but to the inward individual condition of the barbarian himself. There is in this passionate desire for personal independence something of a grosser, more material character than we should suppose from the work of M. Thierry—a degree of brutality, of headstrong passion, of apathy, which we do not discover in his details. Still, notwithstanding this alloy of brutal and stupid selfishness, there is, if we look more profoundly into the matter, something of a noble and moral character, in this taste for independence, which seems to derive its power from our moral nature. It is the pleasure of feeling one’s self a man; the sentiment of personality; of human spontaneity in its unrestricted development.
It was the rude barbarians of Germany who introduced this sentiment of personal independence, this love of individual liberty, into European civilization; it was unknown among the Romans, it was unknown in the Christian church, it was unknown in nearly all the civilizations of antiquity. The liberty which we meet with in ancient civilizations is political liberty; it is the liberty of the citizen. It was not about his personal liberty that man troubled himself, it was about his liberty as a citizen. He formed part of an association, and to this alone he was devoted. The case was the same in the Christian church. Among its members a devoted attachment to the Christian body, a devotedness to its laws, and an earnest zeal for the extension of its empire, were everywhere conspicuous; the spirit of Christianity wrought a change in the moral character of man, opposed to this principle of independence; for under its influence his mind struggled to extinguish its own liberty, and to deliver itself up entirely to the dictates of his faith. But the feeling of personal independence, a fondness for genuine liberty displaying itself without regard to consequences, and with scarcely any other aim than its own satisfaction—this feeling, I repeat, was unknown to the Romans and to the Christians. We are indebted for it to the barbarians, who introduced it into European civilization, in which, from its first rise, it has played so considerable a part, and has produced such lasting and beneficial results, that it must be regarded as one of its fundamental principles, and could not be passed without notice.*
There is another, a second element of civilization, which we likewise inherit from the barbarians alone: I mean military patronage, the tie which became formed between individuals, between warriors, and which, without destroying the liberty of any, without even destroying in the commencement the equality up to a certain point which existed between them, laid the foundation of a graduated subordination, and was the origin of that aristocratical organization which, at a later period, grew into the feudal system. The germ of this connection was the attachment of man to man; the fidelity which united individuals, without apparent necessity, without any obligation arising from the general principles of society. In none of the ancient republics do you see any example of individuals particularly and freely attached to other individuals. They were all attached to the city. Among the barbarians this tie was formed between man and man; first by the relationship of companion and chief, when they came in bands to overrun Europe; and at a later period, by the relationship of sovereign and vassal. This second principle, which has had so vast an influence in the civilization of modern Europe—this devotedness of man to man—came to us entirely from our German ancestors; it formed part of their social system, and was adopted into ours.*
Let me now ask if I was not fully justified in stating, as I did at the outset, that modern civilization, even in its infancy, was diversified, agitated, and confused? Is it not true that we find at the fall of the Roman empire nearly all the elements which are met within in the progressive career of our civilization? We have found at this epoch three societies all different; first, municipal society, the last remains of the Roman empire; secondly, Christian society; and lastly, barbarian society. We find these societies very differently organized; founded upon principles totally opposite; inspiring men with sentiments altogether different. We find the love of the most absolute independence by the side of the most devoted submission; military patronage by the side of ecclesiastical domination; spiritual power and temporal power everywhere together; the canons of the Church, the learned legislation of the Romans, the almost unwritten customs of the barbarians; everywhere a mixture or rather coexistence of nations, of languages, of social situations, of manners, of ideas, of impressions, the most diversified. These, I think, afford a sufficient proof of the truth of the general character which I have endeavored to picture of our civilization.
There is no denying that we owe to this confusion, this diversity, this tossing and jostling of elements, the slow progress of Europe, the storms by which she has been buffeted, the miseries to which ofttimes she has been a prey. But however dear these have cost us, we must not regard them with unmingled regret. In nations, as well as in individuals, the good fortune to have all the faculties called into action, so as to ensure a full and free development of the various powers both of mind and body, is an advantage not too dearly paid for by the labor and pain with which it is attended. What we might call the hard fortune of European civilization—the trouble, the toil it has undergone—the violence it has suffered in its course—have been of infinitely more service to the progress of humanity than that tranquil, smooth simplicity, in which other civilizations have run their course. I shall now halt. In the rude sketch which I have drawn, I trust you will recognize the general features of the world such as it appeared upon the fall of the Roman empire, as well as the various elements which conspired and mingled together to give birth to European civilization. Henceforward these will move and act under our notice. We shall next put these in motion, and see how they work together. In the next lecture I shall endeavor to show what they became and what they performed in the epoch which is called the Barbarous Period; that is to say, the period during which the chaos of invasion continued.*
[* ] The theocratic form of government was common in the early days of the human race. Its characteristic principle is the superhuman or divine nature of the ruler or ruling class in the state. Usually a priestly caste held the highest rank and exercised the supreme authority, political as well as religious, though often there was a king, who was at the same time chief priest, ruling in the name of the gods, or by virtue of his descent from the gods. In Egypt, for example, the kings were held to be of divine descent, and all power was in their hands and those of a priestly caste. In Ethiopia, Persia, and India other types of theocracy existed in ancient times. The Mosaic law established a pure theocratic government over the Jews. In some of the Asiatic states theocracy still exists. The complete subordination of all other classes to the priest-king, or priestly caste, has nowhere produced marked intellectual or political advancement. For a good description of theocracy, see Bluntschli’s Theory of the State.
[* ] The essence, the strength of Greek civilization lay in the domain of the intellect. The Greek mind was speculative, as is shown by her philosophy, and æsthetic, as is abundantly proved by her literature and her art. On the practical side the Greeks were deficient. The Greek power and the Greek state disappeared under the rising power of material, practical Rome, while the Greek civilization was taken over into and made a part of the Roman. In a word, the Greek state fell, but Greek civilization lived on.
[* ] Modern civilization is the product of what has gone before it. Each age, each institution, each civilization preceding, has contributed some idea, force, or fact which finds place in our civilization. Greece, Rome, Christianity, the barbarian, even the Orient, has had a share in this. The varied sources explain in part the diversity so strongly emphasized by the author. The widened intellectual range of to-day also permits, in fact demands, a greatly diversified activity.
This diversity must not be mistaken for discord. The unity of modern civilization, so far as its purpose and ideal are concerned, is not less perfect than that of the ancient. Allowance must also be made for the fact that we are so far removed in point of time from the ancient world that only the larger, the dominant ideas of that age, impress us; while of the later civilization we see and hear all of the varied movements and thoughts, and in contemplating these separate and partial phases of the life of to-day we do not always correctly note their relations to the whole movement—the civilization of the age.
[* ] This statement may easily be misunderstood. During the middle ages, and especially during the so-called dark ages, from the sixth to the tenth century, civilization was “in a state of progression” only in the general sense that it was not absolutely stagnant. There were many changes, but little actual progress. During these centuries the chaos in which Europe was seemingly left by the barbarian inroads was becoming less chaotic, the darkness less black. Professor G. B. Adams says: “It is a transition age. Lying as it does between two ages, in each of which there is an especially rapid advance of civilization, it is not itself primarily an age of progress. As compared with either ancient or modern history, the additions which were made during the middle ages to the common stock of civilization are few and unimportant. . . . Progress, however much there may have been, is not its distinctive characteristic.”—Civilization during the Middle Ages, p. 4.
[* ]Diocletian,a. c. 284, must be regarded as the first who attempted to substitute a regularly organized system of Oriental monarchy, with its imposing ceremonial, and its long gradation of dignities, proceeding from the throne as the center of all authority and the source of all dignity, in place of the former military despotism, supported only upon, and therefore always at the mercy of, the pretorian guards.
This system was still further perfected by Constantine the Great,ad 306—337, who introduced several important changes into the constitution of the empire.
He divided the empire into four great prefectures; the East; Illyricum; Italy; and Gaul.
The four pretorian prefects created by Diocletian were retained by Constantine; but with a very material change in their powers. He deprived them of all military command, and made them merely civil governors in the four prefectures.
He consolidated still more his monarchical system by an organization of ecclesiastical dignities corresponding with the gradations of the civil administration. This system continued substantially unchanged at the division of the empire, ad 395, and was perpetuated after that period.
Each of the empires was divided into two prefectures, and the prefectures into dioceses, in the following manner:
Rome and Constantinople constituted each a diocese by itself.
Each of these dioceses was divided into provinces, of which in both empires there were one hundred and twenty; and the provinces into cities.
Household.—The court officers were: the Grand Chamberlain; two Captains of the Guard; Master of the Offices; Quæstor or Chancellor; Keeper of the Privy Purse (comes rerum privatarum), whose functions are to be distinguished from those of the Minister of the public treasury.
Provincial Administration.—In each prefecture a Prefectus pretorio, at the head of the civil administration. In each diocese a Vicar of the prefect. In each province a President. The cities were governed by Duumvirs and a Defensor.
Military Organization.—After the Guards and Household troops, ranked the legions and the auxiliaries. These were commanded in each prefecture by a Major General of the Militia; a commander of the cavalry, a commander of the infantry; military dukes and counts, legionary prefects, etc.
Judiciary.—Cases of special importance reserved for the emperor were decided by the quæstor; ordinary matters by various magistrates, according to their relative magnitude. An appeal lay from the defensor to the duumvirs, from the duumvirs to the president, from the president to the vicar, from the vicar to the prefectus pretorio.
Finances.—The revenues were passed, by the collectors of cities, into the hands of the provincial receivers, and thence, through a higher grade of treasurers, to the minister of the public treasury. H.
For fuller accounts of Constantine’s innovations, consult Bury’s History of the Later Roman Empire; Gibbon’s Roman Empire, chapters xiii and xvii. Duruy’s History of the Middle Ages has also a brief account.
[* ] Vienne, the two Aquitaines, Novempopulana, the two Narbonnes, and the province of the Maritime Alps.
[† ] Constantine the Great was singularly partial to Arles; it was he who made it the seat of the prefecture of the Gauls; he desired also that it should bear his name; but custom was more powerful than his will.
[* ] Petronius was Prefect of the Gauls between 402 and 408.
[† ] The municipal corps of the Roman cities were called curiae, and the members of these bodies, who were very numerous, curiales.
[‡ ] Constantine the Second, husband of Placidia, whom Honorius had taken for his colleague in 421.
[* ] The researches of later scholars have brought to light some facts and views slightly at variance with those of the author. By the middle of the third century before our era (bc 266) Rome had extended her conquests over the entire Italian peninsula. The cities of Italy were not, however, made mere subject municipalities, paying tribute to a city in whose privileges they had no share. Most of them were left in control of their own local affairs, while their residents were given full or partial rights of citizens of Rome. Whenever they were present in Rome they participated as fully in the affairs of the government of Rome as did the resident. This was strictly in harmony with the prevalent idea that Rome was the mistress of Italy, and not merely the capital of a state embracing all Italy. The social war (bc 90) was a revolt of the Italian cities against Roman domination, and resulted in the granting of complete Roman citizenship to all the Italian citizens. A little later this was extended to the citizens of southern Gaul. From this time forth, while the municipalities retained their separate life and laws as hitherto, the political union of Italy was in large degree a fact, and there was at least a partial identity of interest between Rome and all the cities of Italy.
It was manifestly more difficult to extend a system of this sort over the provinces outside of Italy with any certainty that the bond would be a strong one. The establishment of a central representative government at Rome, to which each of the provinces and cities should send representatives, was never tried—probably never thought of—by the Romans. During the period of the republic the provinces were governed for Rome by proconsuls and proprætors, over whom she herself had no real control while they were in the provinces, and whom, on the other hand, the provincial municipalities could not control. The irregularities of these governments raised the necessity for some sort of government over the cities which should stop the disintegration which was setting in. When the empire was established came a real head for the state, and a growing centralization of the provincial municipalities in the hands of officers responsible to the emperor alone. Gradually the provincial cities and towns lost more and more of their local rights, including that of choosing their own magistrates. They were all united to Rome through the prefects and other representatives of the emperor. When the empire fell the bond was broken that held them together, but the local governments were revived or continued in the municipalities. For further discussions of this subject the student may with profit consult Arnold, Roman Provincial Administration; Guizot, History of Representative Government in Europe, Lectures XXII and XXIII; Adams, Civilization in the Middle Ages, chap. ii; Woodrow Wilson, The State.
[* ] It was something more than the mere “remembrance of the empire” that survived its downfall. The idea, the possibility of a world-empire was created by the attempts of Rome at such an empire; the influence of this idea was felt throughout the early middle ages, and there is a constant recurrence to it. It gave the motive for Charlemagne’s policy; it found expression in the later Holy Roman Empire. It sunk only when the establishment of national states instead of one world-empire became the creative idea of European statecraft. During the chaotic centuries of the early middle ages there seems little doubt that the memory of the Roman empire, and of the political unity which it at one time implied, was a conservative force in preventing the complete disintegration of political society.
[* ] It is impossible to state with positiveness what were the differences, if any, between the functions of the πρεσβύτεροι and the ἐπίσκοποι, in this period.
[† ] Upon almost no point connected with the history of the Christian church is there a wider difference of opinion, and a greater mass of controversial literature, than upon the form of the early Church organization. The whole subject is wrapped in mists which are rather increased than dissipated by the statements and counterstatements of various partisans who too often, upon a slender basis of known fact, build a vast superstructure of doubtful theory. The statements of the author contain one theory as to the organization of the Church. The theory most radically opposed to this—and the student will always remember that there is but one set of facts underlying all of these theories—maintains that from the very beginning there has been a definite organization of the Church, authoritatively, almost divinely, established, and consequently there has been no period of the Church without its established constitution and government. The early Christians attached themselves to this organization, which was created and ordained as to its forms as well as its beliefs by an outside, superior authority.
The other view—that presented in the text—represents the Church organization as an evolution, growing in distinctness and completeness and definiteness of official stations and powers, as the adherents increased in numbers, and necessity demanded. All the members of the early groups of Christians had a voice in determining the forms and discipline of the Church.
The origin of these differences of view, which no amount of argument at this day can probably reconcile, is easily explicable. Of the three periods or states of the early Church, as indicated by the author, the boundaries are shadowy. The first certainly did not extend beyond the middle of the first century, while the third had been entered upon by the close of the second century or early in the following. As to the general constitution and organization of the Church in the third period there is substantial agreement, because the facts are known. Of the status of affairs during the first two periods far less is known, hence there is room for dispute as to whether what was true in the third period was also true in the preceding, or whether the third was merely the orderly evolution from the more primitive organization of the first two. Absolutely to prove either theory is impossible unless new facts are disclosed. Many of the wide differences in the organization and polity of various branches of the modern Christian church are due to the controversy above indicated.
Whatever may have been the organization of the primitive Church, by the time of Constantine there was a distinctly marked separation of the clergy from the laity, and a gradation of the former into various ranks and classes, while the laity possessed little, and thereafter continually less, voice in the administration of the Church or the selection of its officials. The Church had, in fact, become a vast organized system—an institution.
It must be remembered that at the outset Christianity was the religious belief of but a few uneducated persons; that it spread quietly but rapidly throughout the empire, but hardly touched the upper and official classes; that by the second century the adherents of this faith had become so numerous as to provoke persecution at the hands of the pagan emperors. The last of these systematic persecutions was that ordered by Diocletian at the close of the third century. In 311 the Emperor Constantine became an adherent, or supporter, of Christianity, and in 312 it was given complete toleration throughout the empire, while under Theodosius (379-395) it became the only religion allowed in the state. Between the middle of the third century and the fall of the Western empire the Church was the recipient of much wealth and many favors from the empire, and the ecclesiastical officials came into many positions of power and influence in municipal affairs.
[* ] The laws of the Roman Government, embodied in treatises and decrees running back over several centuries, were first codified in the fourth century in the Gregorian and Hermogenian codes, which were made by private individuals and were very imperfect. In 438 was published the Theodosian code, compiled under authority of the emperor by a commission of lawyers. This contained most of the statute law, or imperial decrees, down to that time.
The last and most important of the codifications of the Roman law was the Justinian Code, made in 528-529. This was a collection, in condensed form, of all the decrees and edicts then in force. This constituted the statute law of the empire. In 533 appeared the Digest, or Pandects, which was a collection of legal opinions, not unlike in nature the decisions of modern courts and the treatises of legal writers. In the same year appeared the Institutes of Justinian, a text-book for law schools, containing a summary of the principles of Roman jurisprudence. Lastly came the Novellæ, or decrees of Justinian issued after the code had been published.
The Justinian Code, Pandects, and Institutes, with the Novellæ, constitute the Corpus Juris Civilis, or Roman Civil Law—“the last will and testament of Roman jurisprudence.” This highly developed system of law was thus preserved during the dark ages, and forms the basis of the system of jurisprudence in most of the continental European states of to-day. It is one of the most important contributions of Rome to modern civilization. See Encyclopædia Britannica, articles on Justinian and Roman Law, and the authorities there cited.
[* ] The student will note that the author is here discussing the influence of the ecclesiastical system, the governmental machinery of the Church as an organization.
Christianity as a religious belief, permeating society in the closing centuries of the ancient world, gave to mediæval, and hence to modern, civilization certain ideas that have had a tremendous influence both on man and on society. A new conception of the nature of God and of man’s direct and personal relation to him; a new ideal of life as typified in Christ, the attainment to which was the supreme law of conduct; the future life as dependent upon character and conduct in this world; the equality of all men from the Divine standpoint—all these ideas, fundamental to Christianity, have been forces the power of which has not been relaxed in the subsequent ages. All took their beginning in these early centuries.
The author’s opinion that the preservation of the Christian religion in these troublous times was due to the power of the Church as an organization in the fifth century merits a word. That the Church defended, protected, and promoted the Christian religion is of course true; that was its purpose; but that the religious belief, already in the fifth century so widespread, would have disappeared had the ecclesiastical organization been less powerful, it would be difficult to maintain.
For an excellent statement of the additions made to civilization by Christianity, see Adams’s Civilization in the Middle Ages, chap. iii.
[* ] In the earlier centuries of her history the Christian church labored for the separation of the spiritual and temporal authority, in order to protect herself from the control of the state. The older religions were a part of the state, and the Church now protested against the idea that the temporal rulers should control the religious and ecclesiastical affairs of Christianity. In this protest she was successful. Later, when the Church itself had become powerful and the state weaker, she attempted to assume control over the temporal affairs of Europe, and to establish her position as supreme temporal as well as ecclesiastical and spiritual ruler. These two seemingly inconsistent attitudes of the Church on the relation of the spiritual and temporal authority were separated by a considerable interval of time.
[* ] Since these lectures were delivered, a flood of light has been poured upon early Teutonic society by the researches of scholars, especially of the Germans. Waitz, Maurer, Sohm, Arnold, and others in Germany, Stubbs and others in England, have made valuable contributions to our knowledge on this subject.
Brief accounts, based on these researches, are given in Lewis’s History of Germany, Church’s Beginning of the Middle Ages, Emerton’s Introduction to the Middle Ages, Duruy’s History of the Middle Ages. Andrews’s Institutes of General History contains suggestive bibliographies. One of the best and most trustworthy accounts in English of both political and social institutions is in Stubbs’s Constitutional History of England, chaps. ii and iii.
[* ] The influence of at least two of the political ideas or institutions of the Germans has been especially marked in our later civilization. These two are the elective monarchy, based on the right exercised by the freemen of the German tribes of electing their leader or king, and the public or popular assembly, in which the freemen met for legislative and judicial purposes. See Stubbs’s Constitutional History, as cited in the last note.
[* ] The custom or institution referred to here is the comitatus. This was a band of warriors united by voluntary bonds of fidelity to a military chieftain, whom they were bound to follow to war whenever called upon. They lived with their leader and were equipped and maintained by him. The bond was purely a personal one, and might be dissolved at pleasure. The great body of the military forces of the Germans was composed of these bands. This was a forerunner of the feudal system, but is not generally regarded by the best modern authorities on feudal history as in any important sense the source or origin of feudalism.
[* ] The fall of the Roman empire is dated in 476, when the last emperor was deposed. For five centuries the Romans and the Germans had been in conflict. At first the Romans had striven to conquer the Germans, later they struggled to defend their own borders from the inroads of the barbarians, and finally they were overcome on Roman soil by the conquering hordes.
In the last century before our era Julius Cæsar extended the Roman boundaries to the Rhine, and expelled the Germans from Gallic territory. During the reign of Augustus expeditions were made into the territory of the Germans, until in 9 ad the German leader Hermann (Arminius) defeated the Romans and practically freed the German soil from Roman hold. In the middle of the second century the Marcomanni attempted to cross the upper Danube into Roman territory. The Roman empire was now on the defensive. The invaders were defeated, but during the next hundred years German irruptions were frequently made. The Roman troops were kept busy guarding the long stretches of the imperial frontier from the incursions of a people whom overpopulation and the lack of room for the primitive agricultural methods of the time were impelling to seek larger areas for habitation.
At that time all of Europe north and east of the Danube and the Rhine was occupied by the German tribes, save in the northeast, where the Slavs dwelt. The Germans included the Saxons in the northwest, the Franks along the Rhine, the Alemanni in the valley of the upper Rhine, east of them the Burgundians and Marcomanni, and still farther east the Goths divided into the Visigoths and Ostrogoths, the latter on the lower Danube and along the Black Sea. The Goths had set up a kingdom about the middle of the fourth century, and were the most advanced and dangerous foes of the empire.
Towards the end of the fourth century the Teutonic peoples were forced upon the empire by the pressure of a race until then unknown in Europe—the Huns, a Mongolian or Tartar race from the north of Asia. In 376, the Huns, invading Europe, fell upon and subdued the Ostrogoths, established a kingdom of their own, and attacked the Visigoths, who begged and received admission into the Roman empire south of the Danube, where they were assigned a definite territory. Trouble soon arose, and in 378 the Visigoths revolted, and at Adrianople defeated the Roman army and killed the Emperor Valens. This German victory over Roman forces was the beginning of the end. The next emperor, Theodosius, checked the Visigoths by leaving them in possession of the Danube valley and treating them as allies. At his death, in 395, the Visigoths under Alaric again attacked the empire, ravaged Thrace, and took possession of Greece, from which they were induced by the Roman general Stilicho to withdraw to Illyria. In 400, Alaric invaded Italy, but was defeated by Stilicho in 402. The movement of the barbarians along the border was now general. In 406 the Vandals and Suevi burst into Gaul and pushed on into Spain, while the Burgundians settled in eastern Gaul. In 408 Alaric again invaded Italy, and sacked Rome (410), but died shortly after. His successor allied himself with the Romans, went north into Gaul and Spain, subdued the other German invaders except the Vandals, and founded in Spain the kingdom of the Visigoths. This ended the Roman dominion in Spain.
In 429 the Vandals crossed from Spain into Africa, overran the northern coast, plundered the Mediterranean, and in 455, under Gaiseric, crossed into Italy, and took and sacked Rome, whence they retired again to Africa.
The Huns north of the Danube, in 449, under the leadership of Attila, advanced into northern Gaul. There they came into contact with the combined Roman forces and German tribes, were defeated in 451 at the battle of Chalons, which freed western Europe from fear of Hunnish conquest. In 452 Alaric invaded Italy, but was turned back, and on his death, in 454, the Hunnish power, which had precipitated all the movements of the barbarians for nearly a century, disappeared.
In 410 the Romans abandoned Britain, and in 449 the Anglo-Saxons began to take possession of the island.
Thus by the middle of the fifth century all the provinces were lost to the empire, while Italy itself was in the hands of German mercenary troops, who were her only protectors. After the death of the Emperor Valentinian III, in 455, a series of puppets were set up and deposed by the leaders of the army. The last one, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed in 476 by Odoacer, leader of the German mercenaries (Heruli). Odoacer decided to appoint no new emperor, but to rule himself as representative of Zeno, the Eastern emperor, though the latter declined to recognize him as such representative. In 493 Odoacer was slain by Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, who established the Ostrogothic kingdom of Italy.
Thus at the downfall of the Roman empire the territory was in the actual occupancy of several fairly well-defined kingdoms or groups of Germans, some of which had been in possession for many years. The Vandals were masters of Africa; the Suevi, of a part of Spain; the Visigoths of the rest, together with a large part of Gaul; the Burgundians, of that part of Gaul lying on the Rhone and Saône; the Ostrogoths of nearly all Italy; while the Franks under Clovis had begun (481-496) the career of conquest, which in the next and following centuries resulted in the overthrow of those kingdoms, the establishment of the Frankish dominion, and the formation for a time of a new center of gravity for Europe under Charlemagne.
The dominant people everywhere were Germans. The problem of the middle ages was to settle whether all former civilization should be overturned by the German, or the German people should be Romanized and Christianized. Modern civilization is the result of the interplay of these forces.
The best account in English of the conquest of the Roman empire by the Germans is Hodgkin’s Italy and Her Invaders. Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is, of course, of great importance. Emerton’s Introduction to the Study of the Middle Ages, and Adams’s Civilization in the Middle Ages, contain excellent brief accounts of the conquest.