Page:Western Europe in the Middle Ages.djvu/50

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
34
WESTERN EUROPE IN THE MIDDLE AGES

local governors and they could never be sure that their orders were either understood or enforced. In the end, the only way to overcome this difficulty was to use the one educated group, the clergy, as agents of government. This merely shifted the focus of the problems, since the clergy claimed independence of lay authority. The decline in the general level of education also affected the study of law; the highly developed and essentially equitable Roman legal system could not be preserved by illiterate statesmen. Roman law survived in Spain, southern Gaul, and Italy only as a set of customs little less crude than those of the Germans. In northern Gaul, the Rhineland, and Britain it was completely forgotten. Finally, the majority of the scientific and technical treatises of the ancient world were lost, either temporarily or permanently, during the period of the migrations. A few Roman works on agriculture, architecture, engineering, and the art of war were preserved, but were not studied with any care during the first centuries of the Middle Ages. Scientific works written in Greek had even less influence. The Romans, an over-practical people, had never been greatly interested in scientific theory and had never taken the trouble to translate the books which contained the great scientific discoveries of the Greeks. In the last century of the Empire few men educated in the West studied Greek, and the Greek scientific tradition had been almost forgotten before the final collapse of Roman rule in the West. Boethius, the last of the old Roman scholars, realized the danger, and in the early sixth century outlined an ambitious plan for Latin translations of the more important Greek works. But one man could do little, and Boethius' labors were first slowed down by his interest in politics, and then abruptly terminated by his execution on charges of treason to the Ostrogothic king of Italy. His work was not continued, and Western Europe possessed only fragments of the Greek scientific tradition until the great twelfth-century revival of learning.