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LECTURE 22 - François Guizot, The History of the Origins of Representative Government in Europe 
The History of the Origins of Representative Government in Europe, trans. Andrew R. Scoble, Introduction and notes by Aurelian Craiutu (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2002).
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Political institutions of the Visigoths. ~ Peculiar character of Visigothic legislation. ~ Its authors and its influences. ~ Destruction and disappearance of the middle class in the Roman empire, at the time of the Barbarian invasion. ~ History of the Roman municipal system. ~ Three epochs in that history.
In conformity to the plan which I sketched out for our guidance at the commencement of these lectures, I have studied with you the political institutions of the Anglo-Saxons and Franks, from the fifth to the tenth century. I now come to those of the Visigoths, the third of the Barbarian peoples established in the Roman empire, about whom I propose to give you some information.
On opening the collection of the laws of the Visigoths, it is impossible not to be struck with the compactness which distinguishes them. The Franks and Burgundians have laws partially anterior to their establishment upon the Roman territory; customs handed down and gathered together from age to age. The Visigoths have a code which was systematically drawn up, and promulgated on an appointed day.
This fact alone indicates that the laws of the Visigoths were not the work of the Barbarians themselves. The influence of the clergy, indeed, was more potent among the Visigoths than among the other Barbarian conquerors; not only did the clergy take part in their government, but they acted as their civil and political legislators. The Visigothic code was their work. How did this happen?
Before the foundation of the Barbarian States, under the dominion even of the last Roman emperors, the power of the new religion gradually placed the Christian clergy at the head of the peoples; the bishop was the defender and chief of the towns. After the conquest, the Barbarians embraced the religion of the vanquished; and as the Christian clergy were powerful in the towns, by virtue of the municipal institutions, they used every effort to preserve to the municipal system its form and efficacy. In this they succeeded to a great extent. It is therefore of essential importance to have some precise knowledge of the Roman municipal system and its vicissitudes until the period of the great Barbarian invasions, in order properly to understand the condition of the urban populations at that epoch, and the part which their clergy played in their new position, especially in the kingdom of the Visigoths.
As I have already observed, the fall of the Roman empire in the West is a strange phenomenon. Not only did the population not support the government in its struggles against the Barbarians, but the population, when left to itself, did not attempt any resistance on its own behalf. More than this—nothing, during this protracted conflict, revealed the existence of a nation; scarce any allusion is made to what it suffered; it endured all the scourges of war, pillage, and famine, and suffered an entire change in its destiny and condition, without acting, speaking, or even appearing.
This phenomenon is not merely strange, it is unexampled. Despotism has reigned elsewhere than in the Roman empire; more than once, foreign invasion and conquest have devastated countries that had long groaned beneath a tyrannical government. Even where the nation has not resisted, its existence has been manifested in some manner in history. It suffers, it complains, and, notwithstanding its humiliation, it struggles against its evil fate; narratives and monuments attest what it experienced, what it became, and if not what it did, at least what was done with it.
In the fifth century, the remnants of the Roman legions disputed with hordes of Barbarians the possession of the immense territory of the empire, but it seemed as if this territory were a desert. When the soldiers of the empire had departed or been defeated, mention is made of no other person or thing. The Barbarian tribes seize upon the provinces in succession; beside them, facts exhibit to us only one other real and living existence, that of the bishops and the clergy. If the laws did not remain to inform us that a Roman population still covered the soil, history would give us good reason to doubt its existence.
It was especially in the provinces which had long been subject to Rome, and wherein civilization was more advanced, that the people thus disappeared. We look upon the letter of the Britons, tearfully imploring the assistance of Aetius and the despatch of a legion, as a singular monument of the cowardice of the subjects of the empire. This astonishment is unjust: the Britons, being less civilized and less Romanized than the other subjects of the empire, resisted the Saxons, and their resistance has a history. At the same period, under similar circumstances, the Italians, the Gauls, and the Spaniards have no history; the empire withdrew itself from their country, and the Barbarians took possession of it, without the mass of the inhabitants taking the least part in the transaction, or giving the slightest indication of the place they occupied in the events which gave them over to so many scourges.
Nevertheless Gaul, Italy, and Spain were covered with towns, which had lately been wealthy and populous; civilization had there received a splendid development; roads, aqueducts, circuses, and schools, were abundant. Everything that can attest wealth, or procure for a nation an animated and brilliant existence, they possessed. The invasions of the Barbarians occurred to pillage them of all their wealth, to disperse all their friendly meetings, to destroy all their pleasures. Never had the existence of a nation been more completely overthrown; never had individuals had more evils to endure and more dangers to apprehend. Whence came it that the populations were dumb and dead? How is it that so many sacked towns, so many ruined positions, so many blasted careers, so many ejected proprietors, have left so few traces, I do not say of their active resistance, but only of their sufferings?
The despotism of the imperial government, the degraded condition of the people, the profound apathy which had seized upon both masters and subjects, have been alleged to account for this—and justly so: therein consisted the great cause of this strange phenomenon. But it is easy thus to enunciate in a general manner a cause which, though apparently in existence elsewhere, did not elsewhere produce the same results. We must penetrate more deeply into the state of Roman society, in the condition to which it had been reduced by despotism. We must inquire by what means it had been so utterly deprived of all consistency and life. Despotism can clothe itself in very different forms, and exhibit itself in proceedings which impart to its action a far higher energy, and give a far wider scope to its consequences.
The great fact which had resulted from the system of imperial despotism, and which alone can explain the phenomenon of which I speak, is the destruction and disappearance of the middle class from the Roman world: at the arrival of the Barbarians, this class no longer existed; and for this reason also, the nation had ceased to exist. This annihilation of the middle class in the Roman empire was especially the result of a municipal system, which had rendered it completely the instrument and the victim of the imperial despotism. All the batteries of that despotism were directed against this class; and it was imprisoned within the municipal system that it might be turned to account, and made to supply the necessities of the existence of the power that crushed it.
Such a fact renders it worth while to study, in all its parts, the machine by which it was produced. Those who are unacquainted with the organization of the municipal system at this period, and its effects upon Roman society, cannot properly understand the history of these times.
In the constitution and existence of cities, within the Roman world, we may discern three epochs, very distinct from each other, and clearly marked out by actual revolutions. It is well known that the Romans, adopting, in their conquests, a system widely different from that of most ancient nations, were careful not to exterminate or reduce to servitude the nations which they had conquered. This difference of procedure was, I think, occasioned by the condition of most of the neighbouring nations, against which Rome first waged war. They were collected together in towns, and not dispersed throughout the country; they formed civic bodies, cultivating and governing a territory of greater or less extent. These cities were numerous and independent. A nation scattered over the land which it cultivates, may easily be destroyed or enslaved; but the task is more difficult and less profitable when that nation dwells within walls and has already assumed the consistency of a petty State. Moreover, the nations which, in ancient times, were enslaved or exterminated, received this treatment almost invariably from conquerors who were in search of a home, and who had settled in the territory they had won. When the war was ended, the Romans returned to Rome. Enslavement and extermination cannot be effected either all at once or from a distance. The victors who intend to do this must be ever present among the vanquished, ceaselessly depriving them of their wealth, their liberty, and their lands. The primitive condition of the Romans, at the commencement of their conquests, exercised a decisive influence upon the fate of nations.
Originally, it does not appear that the Romans ventured to leave their former inhabitants in the conquered towns. It is said that violence supplied Rome with women; the same proceeding furnished her with new citizens. The vanquished, when transferred to Rome, became Romans like their victors. The conquered town was occupied, either by soldiers, or by inhabitants of Rome, belonging to the lowest class of the people, and sent thither to form a kind of colony. The town of Coere was the first which, on being united to Rome, was allowed to retain its own laws and magistrates after receiving, at least in part, the right of Roman citizenship. According to Livy, in the year of Rome 365, a decree of the Senate ordained ut cum Coeretibus publice hospitium fieret.1
This system prevailed and received continual development. The conquered towns were united to Rome by receiving the right of citizenship. Some of them, like Coere, only received the title of Roman citizens for their inhabitants, and still retained their own Senate and laws; others were admitted into the Roman city, but without obtaining the right of suffrage in the comitia2 of Rome. With regard to others, again, their political incorporation was complete; their inhabitants enjoyed the right of suffrage at Rome like the Romans themselves. These last alone had a tribe in Rome.
The right of suffrage was granted successively to several towns which had not received it at first. Finally, all Italy after the war of the allies, and ere long a portion of Southern Gaul received the right of Roman citizenship in all its plenitude.
The towns thus admitted to all the rights of Roman citizenship were called municipia. When the whole of Italy was invested with these rights, those towns which had not at first fully possessed them retained for a considerable period the names of coloniae, praefecturae, and so forth, which they had originally borne; but, in fact, their condition was completely assimilated to that of the ancient municipia.
Out of Italy, the condition of the conquered towns and districts was still very various. History tells us of coloniae, some of which were Roman, and others Latin, of populi liberi, civitates faederatae, reges amici, provinciae.3 These different denominations indicated different modes of existence under the domination of Rome, and different degrees of dependence—but these differences successively disappeared. I am referring merely to the municipia.
Before conferring on a town the full rights of Roman citizenship, inquiry was made whether it would accept them or not. On consent being given, and, to use the legal phrase, ubi fundus ei legi factus erat,4 the concession took place. Its principal consequences were these: municipal rights, interests and offices, in that town, were then separated from political rights, interest and offices. The former remained in possession of the town, and were exercised on the spot by the inhabitants, with entire independence: the latter were transferred to Rome, and could be exercised only within its walls. Thus, the right of making peace or war, of passing laws, levying taxes, and administering justice, ceased to belong to the municipium individually; but the citizens shared these rights, and exercised them at Rome in common with the citizens who inhabited Rome; they repaired thither to vote at the comitia, both upon the laws and upon appointments to magisterial functions: they sought and might obtain all the offices of the State. The city of Rome possessed the privilege that these political rights could be exercised only within its walls. Its inhabitants possessed no privilege above those of the municipia.
The rights, interests, and offices, which we now call municipal, and the entire disposal of which was secured to each locality, are nowhere regularly distinguished and enumerated. At this degree of civilization, neither the rulers nor the ruled feel the necessity of foreseeing, defining, and regulating everything; they trust to the good sense of mankind, and to the nature of things. History, however, indicates the principal prerogatives which continued local. 1. Worship, religious festivals, and ceremonies. Not only did each town retain its ancient usages and independent authority in this respect, but the Roman laws watched over the preservation of these rights, and even made it a duty. Each municipium, therefore, had its own priests and flamens, as well as the right of choosing them, and of regulating all matters in relation thereto. 2. Every municipium also possessed the administration of its own private property and revenues. In ceasing to be a political personage, it became a civil personage. Public edifices, whether devoted to purposes of utility or of pleasure, festivals, local and general amusements, all expenses of this kind, and all the revenues by which they were defrayed, continued to be absolutely local matters. The inhabitants appointed the magistrates who were charged with these functions. 3. The police also remained, to a certain extent at least, in the hands of the local magistrates; they had to watch over the internal security of their town, and provisionally to arrest those who disturbed its peace. 4. Although the judicial power had been withdrawn from the localities, we nevertheless meet with some traces of a jurisdiction somewhat similar to that which we call municipal police, giving judgment upon offences against the laws, with regard to public health, weights and measures, markets, and so forth.
All these local affairs were managed either by magistrates appointed by the inhabitants, or by the curia of the town or college of decurions, that is, of all the inhabitants who possessed a fixed landed income. In general, the curia appointed the magistrates; we meet with some instances, however, of their being appointed by the general body of the inhabitants. But at this period, and by a necessary consequence of the existence of slavery, there were few free men who did not belong to the curia.
The origin of the word decurio is uncertain. Some writers are of opinion that he was an officer placed at the head of ten families, like the tything-man, ortunginus of the German peoples. Others think that decurio simply means member of a curia. The last interpretation seems to me the more probable of the two. At a later period, the decurions were called curiales.
Such was the constitution of the municipia at the end of the Roman republic. It presents, as results, the following general facts:—1. All political rights and interests, all political life, in short, was centralized at Rome, not merely morally and by law, but materially and in fact. Within the walls of Rome alone could be consummated all the acts of a Roman citizen. 2. No centralization of this kind had taken place in reference to what we now call administrative interests. Each town had remained isolated and distinct in this respect, regulating its own affairs, just as a private individual would do. 3. The appointment and surveillance of the magistrates who administered the local affairs of the town took place on the spot, without any intervention of the central power, and by the assembly of the principal inhabitants. 4. Into this assembly were admitted all the inhabitants who possessed a certain income. There is reason to believe that a few free men only were excluded therefrom.
Here begins a second epoch in the history of the Roman municipal system.
The absolute separation of political from local existence, and the impossibility of exercising political rights elsewhere than in Rome, could not fail to deprive the towns of their principal citizens, and also of a great part of their importance. Thus, during the epoch which we have just surveyed, purely local interests occupied only a small place. Rome absorbed everything. The independence left to other towns, as regarded matters that were not treated of at Rome, or did not emanate from Rome, arose from the slight importance of those matters.
When liberty began to totter at Rome, the decadence of the political activity of the citizens necessarily diminished its concentration. The chief men of the municipia repaired to Rome to take their part in the government of the world, either by voting in the comitia, or discharging great public functions. When the comitia and the high magistracies ceased to have any perceptible influence in the government, when political life became extinct in Rome, together with the movement of liberty, this affuence of all the important men towards Rome decreased. Such a decrease was advantageous to the rising despotism, and met with no opposition. Here, as in every instance, the necessary consequences of general facts are revealed in particular and positive facts. Up to that time, no political act could be performed, and no suffrage be exercised, elsewhere than within the walls of Rome. Suetonius informs us that Augustus conferred upon the citizens of a large number of Italian municipia the right of giving their votes without leaving their town, and sending them to Rome in a sealed packet, that they might be properly scrutinized in the comitia. Thus was exhibited, at once, the progress of public in difference, and the growth of absolute power.
This progress continued rapidly. Ere long, the comitia met with the fate of all shams, and were abolished; all free intervention of the citizens in the government disappeared, and no political acts remained to be performed, either at Rome, or at a distance therefrom; and as it is always a trick of nascent despotism to offer to all men the deceptive advantages of a shameful equality, the right of Roman citizenship was, almost at the same period, bestowed indiscriminately upon the whole Roman world. This right no longer possessed any political significance, nor did it confer any real importance upon those who received it; and yet this concession deprived those whom it levelled to the condition of the multitude, of any importance they might still have retained. There is reason to believe that this measure was rather the consequence of a financial speculation than of a clever despotic combination. But despotism, even when its conduct is least guided by scientific principles, is never deceived by its instincts. Such was, moreover, the natural course of things; and degraded peoples must inevitably suffer their fate. All the blame must not be laid on the master of the flock; and the hatred which tyranny merits cannot save from our contempt nations that are incapable of liberty.
However, as the degradation and ruin of an empire cannot be effected in a moment, or by a single blow; as there still existed in the Roman world some habits of liberty which despotism had not had time or need to destroy, it was necessary to make some sort of compensation for this complete disappearance of political rights and life; and this compensation naturally resulted from the change which had occurred. A portion of the importance which Rome had lost, had returned to the municipia. A large number of wealthy citizens no longer left their homes. Having been excluded from the government of the State, their attention spontaneously turned to the affairs of their own city. Nothing had yet stimulated the central power to interfere in their administration. The treasures of Rome, and the ordinary contributions of the provinces, were sufficient for the imperial wants, and even for its follies. Tyranny then felt but slightly the necessity of penetrating into every quarter, and of possessing a detailed organization; and did not even know how to set about it. The municipal system, therefore, retained considerable importance; it even constituted itself with greater regularity, and according to more positive, perhaps more extensive rights, than those which it had previously possessed.
It is during the period from the reign of Nerva to that of Diocletian, that the state of the municipia appears under this new aspect. A great many laws were passed to increase and secure the property and revenues of towns. Trajan permitted them to receive inheritances by way of fidei commissus;5 and, ere long, they were authorized to receive them directly. Hadrian granted them the right of receiving legacies, and ordained that any administrator who should misappropriate the property of a town should be considered guilty, not of simple theft, but of embezzlement. The ordinary income usually sufficed to meet the expenditure, and it was not necessary to lay fresh taxes upon the citizens. The State did not cast upon the cities any burdens which did not directly concern them; and there were but very few citizens exempt from that which was onerous in municipal duties. The common people bore their part, by hard labour, in the public works which interested each town; the dignity of the decurions was recognised and sanctioned. Hadrian freed them from the punishment of death, except in cases of parricide. The decurionate was still sought after as an honour; and lastly, the best proof of the importance and extension of the municipal system, during this period, will be found in the number of laws passed in relation to it, and the particular attention paid to it by jurisconsults. Evidently, in the absence of political rights and guarantees, the municipal system was the depository in which all the rights and securities of citizens were contained.
But the attempt to preserve this system could not long succeed. We must, indeed, date revolutions from the day on which they break out; this is the only precise epoch which we can assign to them, but it is not that in which they originate. The convulsions which we call revolutions, are far less symptomatic of what is commencing than declaratory of what has passed away. The crisis of the municipal system under Constantine is one of many proofs of this truth.
Ever since the reign of Septimius Severus, the central power in the Roman empire had been falling into ruin; its strength decreased in proportion as its burdens and dangers augmented. It became indispensable to cast upon others the burdens which it could no longer bear, and to seek new strength in order to confront new dangers. At the same time, there arose, in the midst of the old Roman society, a society both young and ardent, united in afirm and fruitful faith, gifted from within with principles admirably adapted to fortify its internal constitution, and also with an immense power of external expansion; I refer to Christian society. It was by the action of these two causes, at first divided and afterwards united, that the municipal system of the Roman empire was dissolved, and ended by deteriorating into a principle of ruin, and an instrument of oppression.
It is one of the thousand vices of despotism that its exigencies increase in proportion as its means diminish; the weaker it becomes, the greater is its need of exaggeration; the more it is impoverished, the more it desires to spend. In point of strength, as of wealth, sterility and prodigality are equally imposed upon it; society, both men and things, in its hands, is but a lifeless and limited material which it expends for its own support, and into which it is compelled to penetrate more deeply as it becomes more exhausted, and as it is itself more nearly losing all.
The despotism of the Roman emperors existed in presence of three dangers: the Barbarians, who were continually advancing, and whom it was necessary to conquer or to bribe; the populace, which was continually increasing, and which it was necessary to feed, amuse, and restrain; the soldiers, the force to be opposed to this twofold peril,—a force all the more dangerous in itself, as it was necessary to increase it, and grant it daily fresh concessions. This position imposed immense burdens on despotism. In order to obtain resources, it was compelled to create an administrative machine capable of carrying its action into every quarter, and which became itself a new burden. This system of government, which commenced under Diocletian and ended under Honorius, had no other object but to extend over society a network of functionaries, who were incessantly occupied in extracting from it wealth and strength, which they afterwards deposited in the hands of the emperors.
The revenues of the towns, like those of private individuals, were laid under contribution by the exigencies of power, and were speedily invaded in a still more direct manner. On various occasions, amongst others under Constantine, the emperor took possession of a large number of municipal properties; but the local charges which these properties were intended to meet were, nevertheless, left undiminished. Nay, more, they were increased; as the populace everywhere became more numerous and more disposed to sedition, it became more expensive to feed and amuse them, and greater force was required to keep them in check. The central power, itself overburdened, cast a portion of its load upon the towns. Now, whenever the regular revenues of a town did not suffice to meet its expenditure, the curia, that is, the body of wealthy citizens, the decurions, were bound to supply the deficiency from their own private purse. They were, moreover, in almost every place, the collectors of the public taxes, and were responsible for this collection; their private property had to make up for the insolvency of the tax-payers, as well as to supply the deficiency of the communal revenues. The dignity of decurion thus became a cause of ruin; this condition was the most onerous of all social conditions; it was, nevertheless, that of all the well-to-do inhabitants of all the municipia in the empire.
Nor was this all; as soon as the position of the decurions became burdensome, there was a tendency to leave it, as well as an advantage in doing so. Exemption from curial functions became a privilege; and this privilege received an ever-increasing extension. The emperors, who disposed of all public dignities and employments, conferred them upon the men and the classes whom they felt it necessary to gain. Thus arose within the State, as a necessary result of despotism, an immense class of privileged persons. In proportion as the revenues of the towns diminished, their burdens augmented, and fell upon the decurions, now fewer in number in consequence of the concession of privilege. It was, however, needful to leave enough to bear the burdens imposed on the curiae. Hence the origin of that long series of laws which make of each curia a prison-house in which the decurions were hereditarily con fined; which deprived them, in a multitude of cases, of the free disposal of their property, or even disposed of it without their consent for the benefit of the curia; which pursued them into the country, into the army, wherever they attempted to take refuge, in order to restore them to the curiae, from whence they desired to escape: laws, in fine, which bound an immense class of citizens, in property as well as in person, to the most onerous and ungrateful of public services, just as you would compel animals to perform this or that species of domestic labour.
Such was the place which despotism finally assigned to the municipal system; such was the condition to which municipal proprietors were reduced by the laws. And whilst despotism was straining every nerve to tighten the bonds of the municipal system, and to compel the inhabitants to perform, as charges, functions which had formerly been considered as rights, the second cause to which I have alluded, Christianity, was labouring to dissolve or dismantle municipal society, in order to substitute another in its place.6
During nearly three centuries, Christian society had been silently forming in the midst, and, so to speak, beneath the surface of the civil society of the Romans. It was at a very early period a regularly-constituted society, with its chiefs, its laws, its expenditure, and its income. Its organization, originally entirely free and founded upon purely moral ties, was by no means deficient in strength. It was at that time the only association which could procure for its members the joys of the inner life—which possessed, in the ideas and sentiments that formed its basis, matter to occupy lofty minds, to exercise active imaginations, and to satisfy the requirements of that moral and intellectual existence which neither oppression nor misfortune can completely extinguish throughout a nation. The inhabitant of a municipium, when he became a Christian, ceased to belong to his town, and entered into the Christian society, of which the bishop was chief. There alone, henceforward, was the centre of his thoughts and affections, and the abode of his masters and brethren. To the necessities of this new association were devoted, if needful, his fortune and his activity; thither, in fine, his entire moral existence was in some measure transported.
When such a displacement has occurred in the moral order of things, it speedily becomes consummated in the material order also. The conversion of Constantine, in fact, declared the triumph of Christian society, and accelerated its progress. Thenceforward, power, jurisdiction, and wealth poured in upon the churches and bishops, as upon the only centres around which men were spontaneously disposed to group themselves, and which could exercise the virtue of attraction upon all the forces of society. It was no longer to his town, but to his church that the citizen desired to bequeath his property. It was no longer by the construction of circuses and aqueducts, but by the erection of Christian temples, that the rich man endeavoured to rest his claim to public affection. The parish took the place of the municipium; the central power itself, hurried on by the course of the events with which it had become associated, used all its efforts to swell the stream. The emperors deprived the communes of a portion of their property, and gave it to the churches; they deprived the municipal magistrates of a portion of their authority, and gave it to the bishops. When the victory had been thus avowed, interest combined with faith to increase the society of the conquerors. The clergy were exempted from the burden of municipal functions; and it became necessary to pass laws to prevent all the decurions from making themselves clerks. Without these laws, municipal society would have been entirely dissolved; its existence was protracted that it might continue to bear the burden to which it was condemned; and, strange to say, the emperors most favourable to the ecclesiastical order, and most liberal in augmenting its advantages, were compelled at the same time to struggle against the tendency which induced men to leave every other association, in order to enter into the only one in which they could find honour and protection.
Such then, was, in truth, the state of things. Despotism, urged by its own necessities, incessantly aggravated the condition of the curia. That of the church flourished and improved as incessantly, either by the aid of the peoples, or by the action of despotism itself, which had need of the support of the clergy. It was therefore necessary continually to relegate to the curia the decurions who were ever anxious to leave it. In proportion as their number decreased, and as those who remained became ruined and unable to bear the burden, their condition became less and less endurable. Thus, evil sprang from evil; oppression rendered ruin certain by its efforts to delay it; and the municipal system which, as I have said, had become an actual gaol to one class of citizens, daily hastened onwards to its own destruction, and to that of the class which was chained to its destiny.
Such was, with regard to the municipia, the course of events and laws from the reign of Constantine until the fall of the Western Empire. In vain did some emperors strive to raise the communes; in vain did Julian restore to them a portion of the property which they had previously lost. These changes in legislation were ineffectual; a fatal necessity weighed upon the municipia; and whenever the municipal system bordered closely upon dissolution, and it was felt necessary to support it, no other aid was given than by redoubling the energy of the causes which urged it to destruction. Thus violent is the course of decaying despotism. The municipalities were daily sacrificed in greater measure to the empire, and the decurions to the municipalities; the external forms of liberty still existed within the curiae, as regarded the election of magistrates and the administration of the affairs of the city; but these forms were vain, for the citizens who were called upon to give them life by their actions, were stricken to death in their personal independence and in their fortune. It was in this state of material ruin and moral annihilation that the Barbarians, when they established themselves in the Roman territory, found the towns, their magistrates, and their inhabitants.
In the East, the agony of the municipia was prolonged with the duration of the empire. Here also some emperors made unsuccessful attempts to restore them to prosperity. At length, the progress of the central despotism became so great, and the forms of municipal liberty so evidently a dead letter, that, towards the end of the ninth century, the Emperor Leo, called the Philosopher, abolished the whole municipal system at once, by the following decree:—
As, in things which serve for use in common life, we esteem those which are convenient and useful, and despise those which are of no utility, so we ought to act in reference to laws; those which are of some advantage, and which confer some benefit on the commonwealth, should be maintained and honoured; but as for those whose maintenance is troublesome and unimportant, not only should we pay no attention to them, but we should reject them from the body of the laws. Now, we say, that among the ancient laws passed in reference to curiae and decuriones, there are some which impose intolerable burdens on the decurions, and confer on the curiae the right of appointing certain magistrates, and of governing cities by their own authority. Now that civil affairs have assumed another form, and that all things depend solely upon the care and administration of the imperial majesty, these laws wander, in some sort, vainly and without object around the legal territory; we therefore abolish them by the present decree.*
Such were, during the period of twelve centuries which elapsed between the treaty of Rome with Coere and the reign of Leo the Philosopher, the great revolutions of the municipal system in the Roman world. We may characterize them by saying that, during the first period, the municipal system was a liberty granted, in fact, to the inhabitants of the towns; during the second, it was a right legally constituted, as an indemnity for the loss of political privileges; and, during the third, it was a burden imposed upon a certain class of citizens.
I now terminate its history. In our next lecture, we shall investigate the real state of the municipal system during the third period, and its influence upon the condition of the citizens.
[1. ]That there be public hospitality with the inhabitants of Coere.
[3. ]Free peoples, allied cities, allied kings, provinces.
[4. ]When property had been established by the law.
[5. ]Given over on assurance.
[6. ]For a comprehensive discussion of the role of Christianity in the progress of the European civilization, see HCE, Lectures V and VI (pp. 82–118). Guizot concludes: “Upon the whole, the influence [of the Church] has been salutary; not only has it sustained and fertilized the intellectual movement in Europe, but the system of doctrines and precepts . . . was far superior to anything with which the ancient world was acquainted. There was at the same time movement and progress” (HCE, p. 109). Guizot’s reevaluation of the role of the attitude of the Church toward the modern world was a response to the anti-clericalism of many eighteenth-century writers. To this effect, he argued that some of the principles upon which the doctrines of the Church were founded, such as the equality of all creatures in the face of God, played a key role in the political development of Western Europe. In other words, Guizot claimed that, far from being a rejection of the ideals of Christianity as ultra-conservative writers (Joseph de Maistre, Louis de Bonald) argued, the movement to democracy as social condition (equality of conditions) reflected and followed Christian ideas and principles.
[* ] Novell. Leo. 46.