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indolent debauched nobility supported as drones, invited the frequent inroads of the more free and vigorous races of the north. The various Germanic tribes, the Goths, Vandals, Lombards, Huns and Franks in wave after wave swept down on Gaul, Spain, Africa and Italy, until the Roman system gave way, and a new composite of northern manners and Roman customs ushered in the so-called dark ages, when learning was for the priest alone, and war was the business of every freeman. With the growth of the feudal system, with its lord paramount at the top and its serf bound to the soil at the bottom, the slavery of the Romans disappeared. It may be interesting for scholars to trace the stages by which the slaves and coloni of the Romans and the humbler followers of the Frankish leaders were transformed into the lowest round of the feudal ladder, but the transformation was not the result of conscious law-making. The decay always incident to despotism, idleness and corruption in the palace, a multitude of officials, ever bent on extorting more and more from every producer of wealth, weakness and inefficiency in those who lived in idleness on the fruits of the labors of others, at last culminated in conditions but little removed from anarchy. The various leaders attracted followers according to their abilities, to whom they parcelled out the lands on a strictly military tenure, the lord pledged to protect the vassal in his possession and the vassal bound to fight in all the lord's wars. The slave, the colonus and the indigent became the serf, ceorl and villein of the feudal chief. The eastern empire lingered on as an uninteresting despotism till the fall of Constantinople in 1453. At Rome the spiritual power of the popes gained an ascendency over Europe, which made the eternal city once more the seat of power.

From the fragments of the western empire, through numberless vicissitudes have developed the modern European states. Until within modern times these, with exceptions hereafter noticed, were mostly governed by rulers claiming power as absolute as that exercised by the later Roman emperors. The rules of feudal tenure took the place of the land laws of the Romans and gave to title to lands a prominence in

the system of laws which it never had under the Romans. With the latter the slave was a more prominent object than the land he tilled. Under the feudal system land tenure was the basis of the relations of all orders of society, and the land and its produce, after the decay of the industrial arts, became almost the sole wealth of the people. The rank of the lord paramount depended on the extent of his holdings and the number of retainers who did him homage.

Though so large a part of the Roman law became obsolete by this change, it still contained the only compilation of rules for the determination of questions arising from the multifarious dealings of men, from their contracts, their acts and neglects, and with the revival of learning and of commerce, the great work of Justinian, having slept for hundreds of years, became the fountain of legal lore to which the students of the law throughout all Europe turned for light and authority on doubtful points. The reasoning of the ancient writers, preserved in the Digest, still throws as clear light on many questions as can be found anywhere, and carries with it the authority of jus naturale.

Five centuries of struggle between classes for ascendency, and of a public sentiment that demanded from the citizen a sacrifice of private interest and of life when needed for the republic, witnessed the rise of the Roman state, the extension of a system of self-government and of laws over western Europe and all the countries bordering on the Mediterranean Sea. It witnessed a high development of agriculture, the growth of manufacturing, mining, arts and commerce, whereever Rome's power was recognized, and marked advancement in learning. Though Rome waged almost incessant war in some quarters, the area of peace extended with her conquests, and an ever increasing proportion of the people were enabled to pursue peaceful avocations in security. Under these conditions population multiplied and wealth and comfort, though most unequally distributed, were general throughout the state. During these five centuries public office was sought and public duties were performed for honor, not for profit. The rank and distinction resulting from high offices of state were

deemed so great a reward that the brief terms of yearly power were eagerly sought by the most capable citizens.

The vast military organization and the struggle for its leadership developed the empire. Five centuries of rulership from a single head through an ever increasing multitude of highly paid officials, of gradual elimination of all self-government and of substitution there for of rigid laws, enforced often with extreme severity and cruelty, witnessed the decay of public virtue, the decline of population, wealth, learning and all those conditions which tend to make life enjoyable. Owners of vast estates with their multitudes of slaves afforded no material from which to build an efficient, spirited army. The free and vigorous Germanic tribes swept over Gaul, Spain, Africa and finally Italy and Rome itself. The magnificent structure of a firm and settled government with its code of well developed laws governing so vast a territory and such a multitude of people, capable as one might think of conferring immeasurable good on innumerable people, in fact resulted in desolation and anarchy. Why? Because it was immoral and unprogressive. It bred vice and cruelty in the palace and all who held authority under it, and stifled the political virtues of the multitude. It divided the people into masters and slaves. Though the eastern empire lingered on till Mahomet II took Constantinople, and killed the last of his line, the emperor Constantine Poleologus, it presents no other features of government or laws worthy of especial study. It was but another oriental despotism, with its record of ever recurring cruelty, treachery, wars, murders, and occasional exhibitions of virtue in the palace, soon followed by the same old story of debauchery, vice and imbecility; overthrown at last by a new dynasty to again follow the same dreary round.

Though the Western Empire passed away long before the Eastern, the influence of Rome as a law-making and law-enforcing power was perpetuated through the Church, and still continues. The Canon law was more than a collection of moral precepts advanced as binding on the conscience. It covered a field claimed by the Church as under its government, and came to be accepted in more or less of its rules by the

secular power of all the nations professing the Christian religion. It was given form by synods and councils of the clergy and the decretals of the Pope. These were put forward as carrying a religious sanction, binding on all mankind, and were enforced by the tribunals of the church in accordance with its practice. From the Canon law are taken many of the rules now observed not only on the continent of Europe, but in Great Britain, its colonies and the United States, in matters relating to the domestic relations. The Church took charge of the baptism of infants, the marriage of adults and the burial of the dead. In the performance of these rites there was no distinction of rank. Prince and pauper alike were children of the Church. With the acceptance of the Christian religion the heathen prince bowed to the spiritual power of the Pope, and received baptism at the hands of a priest. It was impossible to be a Catholic without acknowledging some part of the Canon Law, and thus the most powerful monarchs found it impossible to wholly ignore the temporal sway of the Pope within their dominions. The principal heads of the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts


1. Marriage and divorce.

2. Legitimacy of children.

3. Wills and the administration of estates of deceased persons.

4. Causes relating to church property and revenues. 5. Those affecting the persons of the clergy.

The first two were earliest asserted, most generally admitted and continued to be longest exercised. The fourth and fifth were most difficult to establish and maintain. Many of the principles followed by the ecclesiastical tribunals as substantive law are still retained in countries where the jurisdiction of church tribunals is confined to the discipline of its members in purely religious matters.


Momsen: History of Rome.

Gibbon: Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Merivale Romans under the Empire.





Plutarch's Lives.

Encylcopaedia Britannica.

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