CONQUEST AND SOCIAL STRATIFICATION IN
GAUL AND EARLY FRANCE
The class structure of the Gallo-Romans either was or was not greatly affected by the Germanic invasions -- on this matter there is much diversity of opinion. The purpose of this chapter is to trace the destinies of the different classes as they stood, fought, fled, and ruled their way through the dark centuries from ca. 400 to ca. 900 AD., to determine whether or not there was a displacement of the upper ruling classes by barbarians. (That is the conquest theory of social classes expounded by Gumplowicz, Sorokin, Ward, Oppenheimer, etc.) The second purpose is to see whether this was an age of great social mobility, as asserted by Sorokin. Here again it will be shown, in so far as the present researcher has been able to determine within the limits of his time: (1) the nature and degree of social class rigidity and (2) the manner in which the prominent sociologists have erroneously interpreted the happenings of this period in regard to social class. The documented record of historians is brought to the attention of the reader.Next Page
The problem is immediately posed by the following assertions of Sorokin: 1
The beginning of the Middle Ages in Europe may be regarded generally as a period of the most intensive vertical mobility. Among the Teutons, Franks, and Celtic peoples at the moment, the stratum of the chiefs and leaders was still open to almost anybody who displayed the necessary talent and ability. Systematic invasion by the Goths, Nuns, Lombards, Vandals, and so on, disintegrated social stratification; kept it in a disorderly state; ruined one aristocracy after another; and raised new and newer upstarts and adventurers. In this way the old Roman aristocracy and senatorial families were ruined and disappeared. The bold new adventurers became, and continued to be, the founders of the new dynasties and the new nobility.
If it is found that the era referred to in the foregoing was not one of intensive mobility, that the chieftainships of the Germanic tribes (the Celtic peoples on the continent were Romanized and had no chiefs) were "not open" before the invasions and were still "not open" after it, that the social stratification did not disintegrate and was not in a disorderly state, that the Gallo-Roman and Germanic aristocracies were not ruined one after another, that upstarts were rare, and that the old Roman aristocracy was not ruined but was merged into the new nobility -- if these things are shown, and similar mistakes by other sociologists are corrected, one of the purposes of this chapter will have been fulfilled. Sociological interpretations of history can help to maintain the self-respect of social science only in so far as they are true to the facts of history. Nothing is gained for sociology if it is burdened by false interpretations of data. It is the purpose of this chapter to do some housecleaning.
The Roman aristocracy in Gaul. The aristocratic class of Gaul at the time of the great migrations was very ancient in lineage. In Gaul, under Roman rule, 2
The structure of society in general remained what it had always been; in each city there was an aristocracy of great landlords surrounded by a multitude of clients and small tenants. It was no great change for the rich noble of independent Gaul to become the Gallo-Roman senator, when under Claudius the Senate was thrown open to the provincial citizens of Gallia Comata; and such a senator, living on the income from his estates, and controlling directly or indirectly a mass of peasants and workpeople, was a powerful conservative element of the social system, and later, when the Empire began to break up, was destined to be the most stable element in a crumbling world. He dominated, but he protected.
The social class hierarchy, then, remained firm; it was the political system which underwent great changes during this period. The Roman aristocracy withstood the pressure of disintegration -- it even waxed in power and splendor, as Van Dyke shows in his summary of the late Empire period: 3
The landed aristocracy, which grew wealthy partly through these conditions, came to exercise the functions of magistrates upon their estates which tended to become, as the Empire decayed, small independent semi-political units, economically self-sufficing. In their huge villas the Gallo-Roman nobles lived a luxurious and splendid life.
1. Pitirim Sorokin, Social Mobility (New York, 1927) p. 149.
2. S. A. Cook, et al., editors, The Imperial Peace, AD. 70 - 192, vol. XI of The Cambridge Ancient History (New York, 1936) pp. 506 - 507.
3. Paul Van Dyke, The Story of France (New York, 1928) p. 36.