Although the families themselves could rarely withstand the proscriptions, assassinations, and confiscation of certain notable decades, nonetheless the system made a hasty readjustment and carried on. This, of course, was more obvious in Rome than in Greece, which rapidly collapsed under foreign rule. The notion that the liquidation of many patrician families in Rome opened the way to a percolation of large numbers of lower class persons upward is a mistaken one.Next Page
Rome turned no sharp corners with regard to her classes from the building of the first wall on the Tiber to the last battle with the Turks. In the Eastern Empire the 46
Byzantine aristocracy counted among its members some very great lords, proud, ambitious, unruly, some highly educated men, some good administrators . . . . They were an elite, superior by far to the aristocracy of the Western Empire in culture, in intelligence, in political acumen.
And in the West during the centuries of imperial disintegration it was the provincial senatorial class which had a practical monopoly on lucrative functions. "They were often the descendants of men who had held such office from time immemorial . . . . Their sons were trained to follow them . . . . " 47
Early Gaul. Of the Celtic primitives encountered by the Romans beyond the Alps it is said: "Cette société était fort aristocratique et les rangs y étaient très inégaux." 48 Fustel de Coulanges goes on to say that at the time of Caesar the classes were strictly hereditary. "One sees clearly . . . the prestige of birth, of property in land, and of practice of arms." 49
Conquest, thought by some sociologists to be always a great disturber of the class structure, came almost painlessly to the Gauls. Instead of following the Gumplowicz-Oppenheimer-Ward formula, the Romans respected the class pyramid of the Gallic tribes. The Romans did, naturally, put some of their leading citizens into important posts, but they also used their common soldiery to bear the brunt of protecting the territory. Each class, Roman and Celtic, found its place in that area much closer to that of their former status than the conquest theory would have envisioned. Not from Gaul but from Greece were persons of higher class standing taken into bondage at that time. Educated Greeks could be pressed into household and professional service -- the upper class Gauls were left at home to stabilize the social order there. Van Dyke states: 50
With the form of local government in Gaul, the Romans interfered as little as possible . . . . Gaul became finally a country of cities, but the Romans took no abrupt steps and the transformation seemed to come about like some change wrought slowly by the forces of nature.
The famous historian Gibbon 51 shows that during the occupation of Gaul by the Romans there was no progressive amelioration of the lot of the masses, nor any breaking down of the barriers between the classes. Gibbon traces the institutions of feudalism back to the Celtic barbarians, when the masses sought protection on the great estates of Gallic nobles and were fettered to the land.
During this era Fahlbeck 52 says there were many kinds of bondage, real slaves, serfs of different categories, and half-free freedmen; each group recruited itself by heredity.
The early Teutonic tribes. The primitives from which most modern Europeans sprang were not the egalitarian democrats of which the legends about free men in forest councils tell. There were nobles, commoners, freedmen, and slaves. And the nobles boasted of ancient lineage. 53 Cooley says that a "servile caste, strictly hereditary, existed even among the primitive German tribes . . . . " 54
46. P. Boissonnade, Le travail dans l'Europe chrétienne au moyen-age (V - XVe siècles) (Paris, 1921) pp. 48 - 49; translation ours.
47. Samuel Dill, Roman Society in the Last Century of the Western Empire (London, 1925) p. 254.
48. N. D. Fustel de Coulagnes, Histoire des institutions politiques de l'ancienne France, vol. I (Paris, 1891) p. 22.
49. Ibid., p. 24; translation ours.
50. Paul Van Dyke, The Story of France (New York, 1928) p. 24.
51. Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. I (New York, 1932, Modern Libriary edition) pp. 307 - 308.
52. Fahlbeck, op. cit., pp. 147 - 148.
53. Frank W. Blackmar, History of Human Society (New York, 1926) p. 285.
54. Charles Horton Cooley, Social Organization (New York, 1909) p. 221.