luke asked a while back: “I’m a little hazy on the transition to manorialism. Was it imposed by military force? Did it begin amidst the political anarchy at the end of the Roman empire?”

good questions. i’m (more than) a little hazy on the transition, too. and you know what? we’re not alone! so are the historians. (^_^)

i found what seems like a good summary of what is known about the shift from slave or kinship-based agricultural systems to manorialism in the early medieval period in “A Millennium of Family Change: Feudalism to Capitalism in Northwestern Europe.” i’m just gonna cut and paste some relevant sections from the book because it’s complicated … and really interesting. here goes! [pgs. 44-46, 50-53, 58-62]:

“The transition from Antiquity to feudalism remains an obscure chapter in European history, despite considerable advances in historical knowledge secured in the past three decades, primarily by means of the rapid expansion and technical refinement of archaeological fieldwork….

“Developments in the Late Roman Empire

“In its prime, the Roman Empire had been based on a combination of agricultural modes of production, with a slave labour force at its heart working the great estates of central and southern Italy and Sicily. This force had been built up in the Republican era by means of the massive importation of bondmen, acquired by taking prisoners in the course of military conquest and selectively enslaving peoples on the Empire’s expanding periphery. The encouragement of childbearing among the salves of rural Italy was by no means rare, but the population in bondage failed to reproduce itself. High mortality rates were a major cause of this dearth, but Roman slaves also manifested extraordinarily low fertility. Marriage between slaves was illegal, and so long as replacements were plentiful, masters had no strong incentive to foster enduring conjugal relations among common field slaves.

greg cochran was just talking about this over @west hunter.

“Since many more males than females were enslaved, there was a persistent shortage of the latter. The sex ratio of urban slaves has been estimated in one study as three males to every two females, and in another, as two males to every female. While this is a staggering imbalance, it is probable that the rural ratio was more severely skewed. Family formation among agricultural slaves was not unknown, but the sex ratio in itself meant that a majority of bondmen would not have had the opportunity to form enduring unions and create families. Through the widespread manumission of older slaves as their labour-power declined, masters sought to keep the dependency ratio low, evading the costs of keeping the elderly alive. Continuous restocking from abroad was necessary to maintain the labour force at strength. Italian slavery in the Republican era was an import-replacement regime by default, if not as a matter of conscious Senatorial policy. This does not imply that slave-breeding was rare, merely that it was insufficient, given very high death rates, to replace the servile labour force indigenously over time.

“After the territorial expansion of the Empire ceased (with Trajan’s conquest of Dacia in AD 106), the Roman legions were thrown increasingly on to the defensive…. As the supply of enslaved youth from the hinterlands ebbed, slave prices rose. In the face of persistent shortages, with no prospects of obtaining alternative sources, the aristocracy made a belated attempt to convert to a self-sustaining regime of indigenous reproduction. Successive emperors decreed subsidies and tax breaks for the owners of slave progeny: ‘Slave owners and jurists began, in the second century if not earlier, to respect … family relationship[s] and to see slave families as entities which should be left undisturbed insofar as possible.’ Owners were inititially exhorted to avoid breaking up families through sale or inheritance; by the late fourth century, it became illegal to do so. The overall demographic effect of this effort is unclear, but it was probably modest….

“[T]he traditional mode of production on the latifunda — ganged labour under intensive supervision, subsisting on rations and domiciled in barracks — proved increasingly unprofitable. Gradually, it was abandoned and estates were sectored in two. While the home farm continued to be worked by domestic slaves, field slaves were granted small plots from which they were expected to subsist while surrendering a portion of the crop. Accompanying the elevation in status which occurred with the ceding of direct access to the means of subsistence was the dissolution of slave barracks — the notorious ergastula. Servi casati (literally, hutted slaves) were able to form families, put their children to work on their own land and transfer allotments to them upon decease…. Yet the familial autonomy of the servi casati was extremely limited:

“‘Slaves fortunate enough to be given plots of their own were obliged to spend one out of every two or three days inside the dominial court doing whatever they were ordered to do; on those days they took their meals in the refectory and were thus reincorporated into the master’s family. Their women were obliged to perform communal labor with the other women of the estate. The master took children from their huts as needed to replenish the ranks of his full-time servants.’

“While never being recognized in Roman law, the domicile and familial rights of slaves gradually began to be conceded de facto on large estates, under the burgeoning influence of the Christian Church. When this bundle of rights became customary, the servi casati had achieved the status of serfs.

“Outside Italy and Spain, peasant cultivators possessing hereditary land were the mainstays of agriculture throughout the Roman Empire, while slaves were primarily employed as domestics in aristocratic households. Peasant families were engaged in a broad range of class relations, from freehold ownership to servile dependency. Across the full breadth of this spectrum, their position gradually deteriorated from the second century AD on; an increasing proportion of them were enserfed. In the last two centuries of the Western Empire, ex-slaves and tenant farmers gradually converged. ‘What difference can be understood between slave and adscripticii’ (peasants bound to the land), Justinian asked rhetorically in the sixth century, ‘when both are placed in their master’s power and he can manumit a slave and alienate an adscripticius with the land?’ In this blending, ‘the major question was that of domiciling: once genuine independence of the hut had been acquired [by ex-slaves], fusion with free coloni or tenants followed….’

“The Germanic Peoples in Transition

“By Caesar’s time, the Germanic federations had left their nomadic, pastoral roots far behind. Since their social formations were extremely varied, generalization is difficult, but archaeological evidence indicates that most had become lightly settled agriculturalists by the pre-Roman Iron Age (1200-700 BC). They lived in widely scattered farmsteads, hamlet clusters and small villages, ‘islands of light soils … in a green sea of woods and waste’ where they combined the raising of cattle, sheep and goats with the cultivation of barley, oats, corn and wheat. In pre-Roman times, theirs was an extensive agriculture organized around stock-raising; a form of semi-sedentary pastoralism wherein cereal crops appear to have played a secondary but indispensable role. They practised slash-and-burn agriculture using scratch ploughs on impermanent fields, lacking regular layouts, crop rotation and systematic soil restoration. But in the first four centuries AD, there was a major expansion of settlements beyond loess soils, field layouts became more regular, wood ploughs more substantial and sophisticated, capable of cutting deeper furrows on light clays and intermediate loams, and there are even indications at one site of primitive forms of soil restoration…. Soil restoration could not have been widespread, since archaeological evidence indicates shifting cultivation, long fallow, two-course cropping, and repeated rearrangement of huts and field boundaries, the mark of semi-permanent villages….

“What, then, of the kinship forms of the Germanic peoples? By the time the Sippe (the Germanic kindred network) appears in historical texts, it is already a structure in decline. In the barbarian successor states, the political functions of the kindred — providing for territorial defense, domestic security and dispute settlement — were beginning to be replaced by the dependency of peasants upon local landlords and the extension of the latter’s authority….

“In those barbarian successor states where manorialization succeeded in establishing the permanence of land in cultivation, family groups held land, not the Sippe….

“Before widespread manorialization and the emergence of a standardized family holding in the ninth and tenth centuries, partible traditions prevailed across most of Northwestern Europe: all sons were entitled to marry in, raise families and subsist from the land of their fathers. In Anglo-Saxon England, where the primogeniture privilege was already emerging, the first son acquired the parental home; continental traditions appear more even-handed. The fissiparous potential of partible customs was held in check by the larger kin group, whose elder leaders enforced a strong tradition of joint management of farmsteads between brothers. Co-parceny inheritance may well have involved the establishment of separate residences (as Thomas Charles-Edwards argues was the norm in Anglo-Saxon England), but it was unlikely to have entailed the division of the parental holding.

“The kindred group, whose membership was in a constant state of flux, probably did not exceed fifty households. Yet whenever they were densely settled in a district, the group had a definite presence there. This took the form of a domain (a villa or fundus), an extensive ensemble of ‘arable, vine and orchard, undivided pasture, forest and waste, of demense and dependent tenancies.’ With the intensifications of plough agriculture, the domain was internally subdivided and conjugal families became more sharply distinguished from the larger kindred; but the group none the less maintained its external boundaries and genealogical identity. Alienation of the kindred’s land to outsiders was generally prohibited, strangers migrating to new lands were expected to declare their kindred, and settlements bore the name of their reputed ancestral owners….

The structure of landholding in the Roman West was deeply shaken by the barbarian takeovers, yet great estates persisted in England, Gaul and Germania. While many were comprised of dispersed small-scale holdings, most were at least partly concentrated and centrally administered….

“As the kindred ceased to be a sufficient basis of collective settlement, agricultural co-ordination and land management [because of, according to the author, ‘the transition from scratch plough agriculture and impermanent settlement to heavier iron plough cultivation and fixed site development’ – hbd chick], the resulting vacuum encouraged the mass commendation of communities of free cultivators into the thrall of the emergent seigneurial class. Within the landholding elite, a parallel shift from a ramified, ancestrally based kin ensemble to a more streamlined estate lineage may also have paved the way for the rise of the military retinue, cutting across ancient kin ties.

“Conventional wisdom tends to foster an exaggerated image of the kindred in terminal decline, of a dying institution overwhelmed by the inexorable and deeply antagonistic forces of lordship. In reality, ‘kinship remained immensely strong in daily life.’ Certainly, kin extension was truncated and realigned within the field of seigneurial jurisdiction; in the event of conflict between the two systems of loyalty, kinship was subordinated. But we should not overestimate their antagonism. Kin solidarity persisted throughout the feudal epoch as a profound and necessary complement to the class of bonds of loyalty and service…. If we envision a complete atrophy of kin bonds extending between domestic groups, ‘the conjugal family’ emerges from the early medieval mists standing on its own. Alan Macfarlane has painted such a picture for medieval England, but his argument has been widely criticized by historians. If the solitary nuclear family thesis is somewhat misleading for England, it is sharply at odds with evidence from the continent, where extended kin bonds were common in long-standing village communities.

“With the expansion and consolidation of manorial authority, a more intensive common-field agriculture was established in larger village settlements, with short strip furlongs in open fields, communally regulated crop rotation, seasonal grazing on the stubble, and deeper plough cultivation extending on to heavier soils. By the tenth century these general features had appeared along the Rhine, in Franconia, Hesse, Dijonnais, Artois and the Paris basin: ‘Seignorial lordship prevailed in all the common-field regions of Europe.’ Ancient settlements were reorganized and newly established ones were laid out in regular forms from their inception….”

previously: medieval manorialism and selection … again and medieval manoralism and the hajnal line and behind the hajnal line and english individualism ii

(note: comments do not require an email. ightham mote manor house.)

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