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The Cambridge Economic History of Europe from the Decline of the Roman Empire
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  • Volume 1: Agrarian Life of the Middle Ages
  • Edited by M. M. Postan

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    • Volume 1: Agrarian Life of the Middle Ages
    • Edited by M. M. Postan
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This is a completely reset edition. The material in Chapters I, IV, V and VI and in sections 4, 5 and 8 of Chapter VII has been reproduced without any change. Chapters II, III and sections 1, 3 of Chapter VII have been brought up to date. All the other chapters and sections of Chapter VII have either been re-written or replaced by wholly new versions by different authors.

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  • Chapter I - The Settlement and Colonization of Europe
    pp 1-91
    • By Richard Koebner, Late Professor in the Hebrew University of Jersualem and formerly Professor in the University of Breslau
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    The evolution of settlement and colonization during the Middle Ages is of historical importance. Settlement on the land helped to bring about that mingling and stratification of the peoples from which the European nations sprang. Decisive incidents in the social evolution of medieval society were intimately associated with economic use of the land. Landownership, which took the form of landlordship and the disposal of the forces of a multitude of dependants, became the basis of personal political power. The princes and other great landowners of Slavonic Central Europe had remained uninfluenced by German rural economy so long as it was characterized by the manorial type of organization. The relation of the townsmen to the land was not quite uniform. Some townsmen were agriculturists, others drawers of agricultural rents. Both types are to be found in other regions in the same period.
  • Chapter II - Agriculture and Rural Life in the Later Roman Empire
    pp 92-124
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    This chapter deals with the agricultural and rural life in the later Roman empire. The relative scarcity of stock-raising land had more than one effect upon ancient life; it affected, for instance, the diet. The chapter discusses the social consequences of the dry farming and irrigatory methods of agriculture which are characteristic of large portions of the Roman Empire. In the Roman Empire rights existed (or at least jurists proclaimed that they existed) on provincial soil because their recipients were precarious grantees of the Roman government. The supremacy of the state and the suspicions of the central government kept company law backward in the Roman world, so that no facilities existed for joint-stock agricultural enterprises or agricultural banks. Explorations in the Decapolis show the ordinary population dwelling in well-built houses of squared stone, and in Asia Minor, the monumental evidences of the later Roman Empire argue a standard of life higher at least than that of the modern Turkish village.
  • Chapter III - The Evolution of Agricultural Technique
    pp 125-179
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    The evolution of agricultural technique in the Middle Ages can be divided into three main phases: from the fifth to the tenth centuries, eleventh century and early fourteenth century. The great agricultural novelty of the Middle Ages in Western Europe was the three-course rotation, which developed either from the Mediterranean two-course or from systems of temporary cropping. Probably textile plants were widespread in all Western Europe before the destruction of the Roman Empire. The cultivation of plants for dye wares, dyers' weed, woad, madder, saffron, and that of teazels, developed side by side with the textile industries. The Romans had introduced more method and continuity into their selections and crossings of breeds. During the long and confused centuries between the fall of the Western Empire and the dawn of modern times agriculture developed widely and powerfully in temperate Europe. It was based on processes and implements inherited from the ancient world.
  • Chapter IV - Agrarian Institutions of the Germanic Kingdoms from the fifth to the ninth century
    pp 180-204
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    This chapter deals with the agrarian setups during the period of Germanic kingdoms, from the fifth to the ninth century. In Spain and the South of France, just as in Italy, the Germans found Roman institutions intact and strongly rooted. The Visigothic settlement in Southern Gaul under King Walia took place early in the fifth century. In the oldest Frankish formularies of Angers and Tours it is significant to find still in the enumeration of the appurtenances of an estate the words junctis et subjundis, a clear indication of the great influence of late Roman on early Frankish agrarian institutions. The produce of rural districts was not all consumed in self-sufficing households; some portion was brought to market to be sold there. This meant new possibilities of agrarian development. The lawgiving of the Germanic kings enables us to understand why peasants should transfer themselves from Roman to German lords; there were better economic and social conditions in the Germanic kingdoms.
  • Chapter V - Agrarian conditions in the Byzantine Empire in the Middle Ages
    pp 205-234
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    The eastern half of the Roman Empire was economically stronger and more thickly populated than the western half. The predominating feature of rural economy in the early Byzantine period was the great private estate. This chapter lays special emphasis on the fact that in the Byzantine Empire, property and land were always hereditary and individual possessions. Emperor Heraclius turned the course of Byzantine agrarian development into fresh channels. In the middle Byzantine period, the free and freely moving peasantry is the chief factor in agrarian development. The Byzantine emperors imposed a legislation to protect the small landowner from being bought out by the 'powerful' and at the same time to prevent further subdivision. The agrarian history of the late Byzantine period is that of great landowners and their dependants. The course taken by Byzantine agrarian history provides the key to the understanding of the whole historical evolution of Byzantium.
  • Chapter VI - The Rise of Dependent Cultivation and Seignorial Institutions
    pp 235-290
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    This chapter explores the origins of the rural seigneurie in Western and Central Europe to form as clear an idea as possible of what it was like when fully developed. The seignorial system, or the manorial system, was not based on slavery. The Frankish immunity, seems to have been granted almost exclusively to churches. Relationships of commendation were able to give to an existing seignorial system immense expansive force. The existence of village chiefdoms is clearly attested in Gaul before Caesar and in Germany before the invasions. In the medieval seigneurie, a manse was the customary unit of tenure. The primitive occupation of the soil was carried out by patriarchal groups. The conditions of the late Roman era and early Middle Ages led to the coexistence, of manses cultivated by 'free' tenants with the new servile holdings, and linked the demesne, the cultivation of which had been mainly entrusted to slaves, to the holdings by heavy bonds of service.
  • §1 - France, The Low Countries, and Western Germany
    pp 291-339
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    This chapter focuses on France, the Low Countries, and Western Germany. Geographical and chronological frameworks are modifications which took place respectively in the extent of land under cultivation, in the management of the soil and in the character and distribution of landed property. The old collective economy was replaced by a system of agrarian individualism. This basic change in the system of cultivation was particularly noticeable in Flanders during the thirteenth century. The dominant fact in the history of estate institutions is the decomposition of the villa, or the classical estate. The break-up of the villa was but one aspect of the changes in manorial organization which began in the tenth century. In the first place, as a result of the dissolution of the classical villa and the progressive loss of force of the dominium direction over the rural tenancies, die tenants tended more and more to become in practice small or middling peasant proprietors.
  • §2. - Italy
    pp 340-431
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    Italy, in common with the rest of Europe, progressed through a cycle of economic change in the course of the Middle Ages, is now an established commonplace. Two agrarian systems are the customary and the individualistic, came to dispute the soil of medieval Italy; and to each corresponded different methods, extensive and intensive, of agricultural production. As Italian commerce expanded, so the market grew for the products of Italian farming generally, and agriculture everywhere began to respond to changes in international trade. Rural Italy in the Middle Ages experienced radical change has been recognized since the early days of the Agricultural Revolution. In the history of Europe generally it is traditional and convenient to describe rural society in terms of the villa or manorial system, of its rise in the early Middle Ages and its subsequent supersession by the system of putting estates to farm or working them with wage-labour.
  • §3 - Spain
    pp 432-448
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    A glance at the topographical and meteorological characteristics of the Iberian Peninsula is the first prerequisite of the study of Spanish economic history. The differentiation of social and economic phenomena of Spain arising from isolation and separatism, accentuated by the varied and shifting patterns of political control, present serious obstacles to a comprehensive survey of agrarian conditions. Information on the study of the character, efficiency, and well-being of agricultural workers topics appears as byproducts of work primarily concerned with medieval property rights, land tenure, and legal institutions. The various arrangements for appropriating land were in large part products of Spain's unique role in making Europe safe for Christianity. An important chapter in Spanish agrarian history is the relation between agriculture and grazing. The merino sheep, Spain's great contribution to international trade and to the pastoral industry of the world, were probably introduced from Africa in the twelfth century.
  • §4 - The lands east of the Elbe and German colonization eastwards
    pp 449-486
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    This chapter talks about the lands to the east of the Elbe and the German colonization eastwards. During the later Middle Ages, from the twelfth century onwards, rural economy of Central and North-eastern Europe was transformed, mainly as a result of German immigration. Existing developments were caught up and absorbed into the transformation. But the East German rural colonizing process, which gave direction, form and power to it, was only part of the wider so-called German East Movement. The internal colonization of Germany had furnished varying, but well-tested, types of field, of village and of law. Urban life had gradually developed to a point at which the main lines of town layout and town law were established. Surveying the course of events in the agrarian history of the lands east of the Elbe from the twelfth to the fourteenth century, what first strikes one is the extraordinary extension of the cultivated area, which was accompanied by a growth of population.
  • §5 - Poland, Lithuania and Hungary
    pp 487-506
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    This chapter presents the agrarian history of Poland, Lithuania and Hungary in the Middle Ages by focusing on the landownership, economic organization of the great estates, the burdens of the rural population, and the colonization under the German law. Post-1386, Lithuania was constantly under Polish influence. Poland and Hungary have many features in common both in their political and in their economic structure. In Lithuania, the economic organization of the great estates is found to be in the main similar to that which prevailed in Poland, only that in the former country the characteristic forms appeared a few centuries later. In Poland, the burdening of the rural population with imposts and duties was the most important change in the social structure brought about by the rise of large estates. Again, in Poland, the system of villages under Polish law gave way in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries to colonization under German law.
  • §6 - Russia
    pp 507-547
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    This chapter discusses the medieval agrarian history of Russia. Most rural settlements were hamlets. The archaeological evidence from rural settlements seems to indicate medium- or large-sized open settlements, or, towards the steppe frontier, more densely settled fortified settlements which acted as places of refuge. The main farming tillage implements were the ard (ralo), sokha, and the plough. Ard and sokha may be used in the slash and burn system of farming; the same implements, but especially the soled ards and sokhi with low-angle share beams capable of turning a slice, may be used in the shifting system, the fallowing system, where a bare fallow regularly entered the scheme of rotation. Regional variations, as well as the more important economic developments led to certain modifications in social relations; nevertheless, the social situation throughout the area had many common elements.
  • §7 - England
    pp 548-632
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    This chapter discusses the medieval agrarian society in England. It focuses on the agricultural land, colonization of the population, manorial estates, the landlords, and the peasants and the villagers. The course of English agriculture in the medieval period was dominated by the history of the land itself, its productivity, its relative abundance or scarcity, its use and distribution. In the Middle Ages of England, internal colonization went in step with the contemporary population trends: as population increased or declined, so settlement expanded and contracted. Some manors did not dominate the countryside as much as others, had fewer functions or a more rudimentary organization and exercised a more remote control over the lives and the lands of the tenants. For a time in the thirteenth century, the economic conditions provided the landlord with both the incentive and the means for maintaining his claims where the claims were still worth maintaining.
  • §8 - Scandinavia
    pp 633-659
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    Shortly after the middle of the eleventh century the political map of Scandinavia took the form it retained in the main during the whole of the medieval period. Conditions for agriculture were far more favourable in the third Scandinavian kingdom, Denmark, than in Sweden or Norway. A fundamental problem in the agrarian history of Scandinavia is the type of the original settlements and the age of the medieval type. There are two settlements: village settlement and farm settlement. In the central Middle Ages, the villages developing in various ways. knowledge of stock-raising during these centuries in the Swedish and Danish agricultural areas is rather scanty. An important development of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was that the old aristocracy of peasants either disappeared or changed, fused with other groups and was linked up with the royal power as a nobility of military service with the privilege of immunity from taxation.
  • Chapter VIII - Crisis: From the Middle Ages to Modern Times
    pp 660-742
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    The end of the Middle Ages was a time of decadence and also one of preparation, of search for new solutions to enduring problems. This chapter describes and explains the years of 1300 or 1350 until about 1450 or 1500 our village past first by analysing the changes and then by establishing their effects. It first examines demographic evolution: its speed, motive power and results. The chapter then turns to capital, and as here the most potent influences came from political troubles of every kind, it recalls the convulsions of the expiring Middle Ages and unravel their complex economic effects. After quickly touching on political, intellectual and religious life and its principal tendencies, the chapter considers the repercussions of these different phenomena on the life of the countryside and, since all history is the men who make it, on its inhabitants, be they exploiting proprietors and lords or peasants.

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