1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Commune, Medieval

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COMMUNE, MEDIEVAL. Under this head it is proposed to give a short account of the rise and development of towns in central and western continental Europe since the downfall of the Roman Empire. All these, including also the British towns (for which, however, see Borough), may be said to have formed one unity, inasmuch as all arose under similar conditions, economic, legal and political, irrespective of local peculiarities. Kindred economic conditions prevailed in all the former provinces of the Western empire, while new law concepts were everywhere introduced by the Germanic invaders. It is largely for the latter reason that it seems advisable to begin with an account of the German towns, the term German to correspond to the limits of the old kingdom of Germany, comprising the present empire, German Austria, German Switzerland, Holland and a large portion of Belgium. In their development the problem, as it were, worked out least tainted by foreign interference, showing at the same time a rich variety in detail; and it may also be said that their constitutional and economic history has been more thoroughly investigated than any other.

Like the others, the German towns should be considered from three points of view, viz. as jurisdictional units, as self-administrative units and as economic units. One of the chief distinguishing features of early as opposed to modern town-life is that each town formed a jurisdictional district distinct from the country around. Another trait, more in accordance with the conditions of to-day, is that local self-government was more fully developed and strongly marked in the towns than without. And, thirdly, each town in economic matters followed a policy as independent as possible of that of any other town or of the country in general. The problem is, how this state of things arose.

From this point of view the German towns may be divided into two main classes: those that gradually resuscitated on the ruins of former Roman cities in the Rhine and Danube countries, and those that were newly founded at a later date in the interior.[1] Foremost in importance among the former stand the episcopal cities. Most of these had never been entirely destroyed during the Germanic invasion. Roman civic institutions perished; but probably parts of the population survived, and small Christian congregations with their bishops in most cases seem to have weathered all storms. Much of the city walls presumably remained standing, and within them German communities soon settled.

In the 10th century it became the policy of the German emperors to hand over to the bishops full jurisdictional and administrative powers within their cities. The bishop henceforward directly or indirectly appointed all officers for the town’s government. The chief of these was usually the advocatus or Vogt, some neighbouring noble who served as the proctor of the church in all secular affairs. It was his business to preside three times a year over the chief law-court, the so-called echte or ungebotene Ding, under the cognizance of which fell all cases relating to real property, personal freedom, bloodshed and robbery. For the rest of the legal business and as president of the ordinary court he appointed a Schultheiss, centenarius or causidicus. Other officers were the Burggraf[2] or praefectus for military matters, including the preservation of the town’s defences, walls, moat, bridges and streets, to whom also appertained some jurisdiction over the craft-gilds in matters relating to their crafts; further the customs-officer or teleonarius and the mint-master or monetae magister. It was not, however, the fact of their being placed under the bishop that constituted these towns as separate jurisdictional units. The chief feature rather is the existence within their walls of a special law, distinct in important points from that of the country at large. The towns enjoyed a special peace, as it was called, i.e. breaches of the peace were more severely punished if committed in a town than elsewhere. Besides, the inhabitants might be sued before the town court only, and to fugitives from the country who had taken refuge in the town belonged a similar privilege. This special legal status probably arose from the towns being considered in the first place as the king’s fortresses[3] or burgs (see Borough), and, therefore, as participating in the special peace enjoyed by the king’s palace. Hence the terms “burgh,” “borough” in English, baurgs in Gothic, the earliest Germanic designations for a town; “burgher,” “burgess” for its inhabitants. What struck the townless early Germans most about the Roman towns was their mighty walls. Hence they applied to all fortified habitations the term in use for their own primitive fortifications; the walls remained with them the main feature distinguishing a town from a village; and the fact of the town being a fortified place, likewise necessitated the special provisions mentioned for maintaining the peace.

The new towns in the interior of Germany were founded on land belonging to the founder, some ecclesiastical or lay lord, and frequently adjoining the cathedral close of one of the new sees or the lord’s castle, and they were laid out according to a regular plan. The most important feature was the market-square, often surrounded by arcades with stalls for the sale of the principal commodities, and with a number of straight streets leading thence to the city gates.[4] As for the fortifications, some time naturally passed before they were completed. Furthermore, the governmental machinery would be less complex than in the older towns. The legal peculiarities distinguishing town and country, on the other hand, may be said to have been conferred on the new towns in a more clearly defined form from the beginning.

An important difference lay in the mode of settlement. There is evidence that in the quondam Roman towns the German newcomers settled much as in a village, i.e. each full member of the community had a certain portion of arable land allotted to him and a share in the common. Their pursuits would at first be mainly agricultural. The new towns, on the other hand, general economic conditions having meanwhile begun to undergo a marked change, were founded with the intention of establishing centres of trade. Periodical markets, weekly or annual, had preceded them, which already enjoyed the special protection of the king’s ban, acts of violence against traders visiting them or on their way towards them being subject to special punishment. The new towns may be regarded as markets made permanent. The settlers invited were merchants (mercatores personati) and handicraftsmen. The land now allotted to each member of the community was just large enough for a house and yard, stabling and perhaps a small garden (50 by 100 ft. at Freiburg, 60 by 100 ft. at Bern). These building plots were given as free property or, more frequently, at a merely nominal rent (Wurtzins) with the right of free disposal, the only obligation being that of building a house. All that might be required besides would be a common for the pasture of the burgesses’ cattle.

The example thus set was readily followed in the older towns. The necessary land was placed at the disposal of new settlers, either by the members of the older agricultural community, or by the various churches. The immigrants were of widely differing status, many being serfs who came either with or without their lords’ permission. The necessity of putting a stop to belated prosecutions on this account in the town court led to the acceptance of the rule that nobody who had lived in a town undisturbed for the term of a year and a day could any longer be claimed by a lord as his serf. But even those who had migrated into a town with their lords’ consent could not very well for long continue in serfdom. When, on the other hand, certain bishops attempted to treat all new-comers to their city as serfs, the emperor Henry V. in charters for Spires and Worms proclaimed that in these towns all serf-like conditions should cease. This ruling found expression in the famous saying: Stadtluft macht frei, “town-air renders free.” As may be imagined, this led to a rapid increase in population, mainly during the 11th to 13th centuries. There would be no difficulty for the immigrants to find a dwelling, or to make a living, since most of them would be versed in one or other of the crafts in practice among villagers.

The most important further step in the history of the towns was the establishment of an organ of self-government, the town-council (Rat, consilium, its members, Ratmänner, consules, less frequently consiliarii), with one, two or more burgomasters (Bürgermeister, magistri civium, proconsules) at its head. (It was only after the Renaissance that the town-council came to be styled senate, and the burgomasters in Latin documents, consules.) As units of local government the towns must be considered as originally placed on the same legal basis as the villages, viz. as having the right of taking care of all common interests below the cognizance of the public courts or of those of their lord.[5] In the towns, however, this right was strengthened at an early date by the jus negotiale. At least as early as the beginning of the 11th century, but probably long before that date, mercantile communities claimed the right, confirmed by the emperors, of settling mercantile disputes according to a law of their own, to the horror of certain conservative-minded clerics.[6] Furthermore, in the rapidly developing towns, opportunities for the exercise of self-administrative functions constantly increased. The new self-governing body soon began to legislate in matters of local government, imposing fines for the breach of its by-laws. Thus it assumed a jurisdiction, partly concurrent with that of the lord, which it further extended to breaches of the peace. And, finally, it raised funds by means of an excise-duty, Ungeld (cf. the English malatolta) or Accise, Zeise. In the older and larger towns it soon went beyond what the bishops thought proper to tolerate; conflicts ensued; and in the 13th century several bishops obtained decrees in the imperial court, either to suppress the Rat altogether, or to make it subject to their nomination, and more particularly to abolish the Ungeld, as detrimental to episcopal finances. In the long run, however, these attempts proved of little avail.

Meanwhile the tendency towards self-government spread even to the lower ranks of town society, resulting in the establishment of craft-gilds. From a very early period there is reason to believe merchants among themselves formed gilds for social and religious purposes, and for the furtherance of their economic interests. These gilds would, where they existed, no doubt also influence the management of town affairs; but nowhere has the Rat, as used to be thought, developed out of a gild, nor has the latter anywhere in Germany played a part at all similar in importance to that of the English gild merchant, the only exception being for a time the Richerzeche, or Gild of the Rich of Cologne, from early times by far the largest, the richest, and the most important trading centre among German cities, and therefore provided with an administration more complex, and in some respects more primitive, than any other. On the other hand, the most important commodities offered for sale in the market had been subject to official examination already in Carolingian times. Bakers’, butchers’, shoemakers’ stalls were grouped together in the market-place to facilitate control, and with the same object in view a master was appointed for each craft as its responsible representative. By and by these crafts or “offices” claimed the right of electing their master and of assisting him in examining the goods, and even of framing by-laws regulating the quality of the wares and the process of their manufacture. The bishops at first resented these attempts at self-management, as they had done in the case of the town council, and imperial legislation in their interests was obtained. But each craft at the same time formed a society for social, beneficial and religious purposes, and, as these were entirely in accordance with the wishes of the clerical authorities, the other powers could not in the long run be withheld, including that of forcing all followers of any craft to join the gild (Zunftzwang). Thus the official inspection of markets, community of interests on the part of the craftsmen, and co-operation for social and religious ends, worked together in the formation of craft-gilds. It is not suggested that in each individual town the rise of the gilds was preceded by an organization of crafts on the part of the lord and his officers; but it is maintained that as a general thing voluntary organization could hardly have proceeded on such orderly lines as on the whole it did, unless the framework had in the first instance been laid down by the authorities: much as in modern times the working together in factories has practically been an indispensable preliminary to the formation of trade unions. Much less would the principle of forced entrance have found such ready acceptance both on the part of the authorities and on that of the men, unless it had previously been in full practice and recognition under the system of official market-control. The different names for the societies, viz. fraternitas, Brüderschaft, officium, Amt, condictum, Zunft, unio, Innung, do not signify different kinds of societies, but only different aspects of the same thing. The word Gilde alone forms an exception, inasmuch as, generally speaking, it was used by merchant gilds only.[7]

From an early date the towns, more particularly the older episcopal cities, took a part in imperial politics. Legally the bishops were in their cities mere representatives of the imperial government. This fact found formal expression mainly in two ways. The Vogt, although appointed by the bishop, received the “ban,” i.e. the power of having justice executed, which he passed on to the lesser officers, from the king or emperor direct. Secondly, whenever the emperor held a curia generalis (or general assembly, or diet) in one of the episcopal cities, and for a week before and after, all jurisdictional and administrative power reverted to him and his immediate officers. The citizens on their part clung to this connexion and made use of it whenever their independence was threatened by their bishops, who strongly inclined to consider themselves lords of their cathedral cities, much as if these had been built on church-lands. As early as 1073, therefore, we find the citizens of Worms successfully rising against their bishop in order to provide the emperor Henry IV. with a refuge against the rebellious princes. Those of Cologne made a similar attempt in 1074. But a second class of imperial cities (Reichsstädte), much more numerous than the former, consisted of those founded on demesne-land belonging either to the Empire or to one of the families who rose to imperial rank. This class was largely reinforced, when after the extinction of the royal house of Hohenstaufen in the 13th century, a great number of towns founded by them on their demesne successfully claimed immediate subjection to the crown. About this time, during the interregnum, a federation of more than a hundred towns was formed, beginning on the Rhine, but spreading as far as Bremen in the north, Zürich in the south, and Regensburg in the east, with the object of helping to preserve the peace. After the death of King William in 1256, they resolved to recognize no king unless unanimously elected. This league was joined by a powerful group of princes and nobles and found recognition by the prince-electors of the Empire; but for want of leadership it did not stand the test, when Richard of Cornwall and Alphonso of Castile were elected rival kings in 1257.[8] In the following centuries the imperial cities in south Germany, where most of them were situated, repeatedly formed leagues to protect their interests against the power of the princes and the nobles, and destructive wars were waged; but no great political issue found solution, the relative position of the parties after each war remaining much what it had been before. On the part of the towns this was mainly due to lack of leadership and of unity of purpose. At the time of the Reformation the imperial towns, like most of the others, stood forward as champions of the new cause and did valuable service in upholding and defending it. After that, however, their political part was played out, mainly because they proved unable to keep up with modern conditions of warfare. It should be stated that seven among the episcopal cities, viz. Cologne, Mainz, Worms, Spires, Strassburg, Basel and Regensburg, claimed a privileged position as “Free Cities,” but neither is the ground for this claim clearly established, nor its nature well defined. The general obligations of the imperial cities towards the Empire were the payment of an annual fixed tax and the furnishing of a number of armed men for imperial wars, and from these the above-named towns claimed some measure of exemption. Some of the imperial cities lost their independence at an early date, as unredeemed pledges to some prince who had advanced money to the emperor. Others seceded as members of the Swiss Confederation. But a considerable number survived until the reorganization of the Empire in 1803. At the peace in 1815, however, only four were spared, namely, Frankfort, Bremen, Hamburg and Lübeck, these being practically the only ones still in a sufficiently flourishing and economically independent position to warrant such preferential treatment. But finally Frankfort, having chosen the wrong side in the war of 1866, was annexed by Prussia, and only the three seaboard towns remain as full members of the new confederate Empire under the style of Freie und Hansestädte. But until modern times most of the larger Landstädte or mesne-towns for all intents and purposes were as independent under their lords as the imperial cities were under the emperor. They even followed a foreign policy of their own, concluded treaties with foreign powers or made war upon them. Nearly all the Hanseatic towns belonged to this category. With others like Bremen, Hamburg and Magdeburg, it was long in the balance which class they belonged to. All towns of any importance, however, were for a considerable time far ahead of the principalities in administration. It was largely this fact that gave them power. When, therefore, from about the 15th century the princely territories came to be better organized, much of the raison d’être for the exceptional position held by the towns disappeared. The towns from an early date made it their policy to suppress the exercise of all handicrafts in the open country. On the other hand, they sought an increase of power by extending rights of citizenship to numerous individual inhabitants of the neighbouring villages (Pfalbürger, a term not satisfactorily explained). By this and other means, e.g. the purchase of estates by citizens, many towns gradually acquired a considerable territory. These tendencies both princes and lesser nobles naturally tried to thwart, and the mediate towns or Landstädte were finally brought to stricter subjection, at least in the greater principalities such as Austria and Brandenburg. Besides, the less favourably situated towns suffered through the concentration of trade in the hands of their more fortunate sisters. But the economic decay and consequent loss of political influence among both imperial and territorial towns must be chiefly ascribed to inner causes.

Certain leading political economists, notably K. Bücher (Die Bevölkerung von Frankfurt a. M. im 14ten und 15ten Jahrhundert, i., Tübingen, 1886; Die Entstehung der Volkswirtschaft, 5th ed., Tübingen, 1906), and, in a modified form, W. Sombart (Der moderne Kapitalismus, 2 vols., Leipzig, 1902), have propounded the doctrine of one gradual progression from an agricultural state to modern capitalistic conditions. This theory, however, is nothing less than an outrage on history. As a matter of fact, as far as modern Europe is concerned, there has twice been a progression, separated by a period of retrogression, and it is to the latter that Bücher’s picture of the agricultural and strictly protectionist town (the geschlossene Stadtwirtschaft) of the 14th and 15th centuries belongs, while Sombart’s notion of an entire absence of a spirit of capitalistic enterprise before the middle of the 15th century in Europe north of the Alps, or the 14th century in Italy, is absolutely fantastic.[9] The period of the rise of cities till well on in the 13th century was naturally a period of expansion and of a considerable amount of freedom of trade. It was only afterwards that a protectionist spirit gained the upper hand, and each town made it its policy to restrict as far as possible the trade of strangers. In this revolution the rise of the lower strata of the population to power played an important part.

The craft-gilds had remained subordinate to the Rat, but by-and-by they claimed a share in the government of the towns. Originally any inhabitant holding a certain measure of land, freehold or subject to the mere nominal ground-rent above-mentioned, was a full citizen independently of his calling, the clergy and the lord’s retainers and servants of whatever rank, who claimed exemption from scot and lot, to use the English formula, alone excepted. The majority of the artisans, however, were not in this happy position. Moreover, the town council, instead of being freely elected, filled up vacancies in its ranks by co-optation, with the result that all power became vested in a limited number of rich families. Against this state of things the crafts rebelled, alleging mismanagement, malversation and the withholding of justice. During the 14th and 15th centuries revolutions and counter-revolutions, sometimes accompanied by considerable slaughter, were frequent, and a great variety of more democratic constitutions were tried. Zürich, however, is the only German place where a kind of tyrannis, so frequent in Italy, came to be for a while established. On the whole it must be said that in those towns where the democratic party gained the upper hand an unruly policy abroad and a narrow-minded protection at home resulted. An inclination to hasty measures of war and an unwillingness to observe treaties among the democratic towns of Swabia were largely responsible for the disasters of the war of the Swabian League in the 14th century. At home, whereas at first markets had been free and open to any comer, a more and more protective policy set in, traders from other towns being subjected more and more to vexatious restrictions. It was also made increasingly difficult to obtain membership in the craft-gilds, high admission fees and so-called masterpieces being made a condition. Finally, the number of members became fixed, and none but members’ sons and sons-in-law, or members’ widows’ husbands were received. The first result was the formation of a numerous proletariate of life-long assistants and of men and women forcibly excluded from following any honest trade; and the second consequence, the economic ruin of the town to the exclusive advantage of a limited number. From the end of the 15th century population in many towns decreased, and not only most of the smaller ones, but even some once important centres of trade, sank to the level almost of villages. Those cities, on the other hand, where the mercantile community remained in power, like Nuremberg and the seaboard towns, on the whole followed a more enlightened policy, although even they could not quite keep clear of the ever-growing protective tendencies of the time. Many even of the richer towns, notably Nuremberg, ran into debt irretrievably, owing partly to an exorbitant expenditure on magnificent public buildings and extensive fortifications, calculated to resist modern instruments of destruction, partly to a faulty administration of the public debt. From the 13th century the towns had issued (“sold,” as it was called) annuities, either for life or for perpetuity in ever-increasing number, until it was at last found impossible to raise the funds necessary to pay them.

One of the principal achievements of the towns lay in the field of legislation. Their law was founded originally on the general national (or provincial) law, on custom, and on special privilege. New foundations were regularly provided by their lord with a charter embodying the most important points of the special law of the town in question. This miniature code would thenceforth be developed by means of statutes passed by the town council. The codification of the law of Augsburg in 1276 already fills a moderate volume in print (ed. by Christian Meyer, Augsburg, 1872). Later foundations were frequently referred by their founders to the nearest existing town of importance, though that might belong to a different lord. Afterwards, if a question in law arose which the court of a younger town found itself unable to answer, the court next senior in affiliation was referred to, which in turn would apply to the court above, until at last that of the original mother town was reached, whose decision was final. This system was chiefly developed in the colonial east, where most towns were affiliated directly or indirectly either to Lübeck or to Magdeburg; but it was by no means unknown in the home country. A number of collections of such judgments (Schöffensprüche) have been published. It is also worth mentioning that it was usual to read the police by-laws of a town at regular intervals to the assembled citizens in a morning-speech (Morgenspraehe).[10]

To turn to Italy, the country for so many centuries in close political connexion with Germany, the foremost thing to be noted is that here the towns grew to even greater independence, many of them in the end acknowledging no overlord whatever after the yoke of the German kings had been shaken off. On the other hand, nearly all of them in the long run fell under the sway of some local tyrant-dynasty.

From Roman times the country had remained thickly studded with towns, each being the seat of a bishop. From this arose their most important peculiarity. For it was largely due to an identification of dioceses and municipal territories that the nobles of the surrounding country took up their headquarters in the cities, either voluntarily or because forced to do so by the citizens, who made it their policy thus to turn possible opponents into partisans and defenders. In Germany, on the other hand, nobles and knights were carefully shut out so long as the town’s independence was at stake, the members of a princely garrison being required to take up their abode in the citadel, separated from the town proper by a wall. Only in the comparatively few cathedral cities this rule does not obtain. It will be seen that, in consequence of this, municipal life in Italy was from the first more complex, the main constituent parts of the population being the capitani, or greater nobles, the valvassori, or lesser nobles (knights) and the people (popolo). Furthermore, the bishops being in most cases the exponents of the imperial power, the struggle for freedom from the latter ended in a radical riddance from all temporal episcopal government as well. Foremost in this struggle stood the cities of Lombardy, most of which all through the barbarian invasions had kept their walls in repair and maintained some importance as economic centres, and whose popolo largely consisted of merchants of some standing. As early as the 8th century the laws of the Langobard King Aistulf distinguished three classes of merchants (negotiantes), among whom the majores et potentes were required to keep themselves provided with horse, lance, shield and a cuirass. The valley of the Po formed the main artery of trade between western Europe and the East, Milan being besides the point of convergence for all Alpine passes west of the Brenner (the St Gotthard, however, was not made accessible until early in the 13th century). Lombard merchants soon spread all over western Europe, a chief source of their ever-increasing wealth being their employment as bankers of the papal see.

The struggle against the bishops, in which a clamour for a reform of clerical life and a striving for local self-government were strangely interwoven, had raged for a couple of generations when King Henry V., great patron of municipal freedom as he was, legalized by a series of charters the status quo (Cremona, 1114, Mantua, 1116). But under his weak successors the independence of the cities reached such a pitch as to be manifestly intolerable to an energetic monarch like Frederick I. Besides, the more powerful among them would subdue or destroy their weaker neighbours, and two parties were formed, one headed by Milan, the other by Cremona. Como and Lodi complained of the violence used to them by the former city. Therefore in 1158 a commission was appointed embracing four Roman legists as representatives of the emperor, as well as those of fourteen towns, to examine into the imperial and municipal rights. The claims of the imperial government, jurisdictional and other, were acknowledged, only such rights of self-government being admitted as could be shown to be grounded on imperial charters. But when it came to carrying into effect these Roncaglian decrees, a general rising resulted. Milan was besieged by the emperor and destroyed in 1162 in accordance with the verdict of her rivals. Nevertheless, after a defeat at Legnano in 1176, Frederick was forced to renounce all pretensions to interference with the government of the cities, merely retaining an overlordship that was not much more than formal (peace of Constance in 1183). All through this war the towns had been supported by Pope Alexander III. Similarly under Frederick II. the renewal of the struggle between emperor and pope dovetailed with a fresh outbreak of the war with the cities, who feared lest an imperial triumph over the church would likewise threaten their independence. The emperor’s death finally decided the issue in their favour.

Constitutionally, municipal freedom was based on the formation of a commune headed by elected consuls, usually to the number of twelve, representing the three orders of capitani, valvassori and popolo. Frequently, however, the number actually wielding power was much more restricted, and their position altogether may rather be likened to that of their Roman predecessors than to that of their German contemporaries. In all important matters they asked the advice and support of “wise men,” sapientes, discretiores, prudentes, as a body called the credenza, while the popular assembly (parlamentum, concio, consilium generale) was the true sovereign. The consuls with the assistance of judices also presided in the law-courts; but besides the consuls of the commune there were consules de placitis specially appointed for jurisdictional purposes.

In spite of these multifarious safeguards, however, family factions early destroyed the fabric of liberty, especially as, just as there was an imperial, or Ghibelline, and a papal, or Guelph party among the cities as a whole, thus also within each town each faction would allege adherence to and claim support by one or other of the great world-powers. To get out of the dilemma of party-government, resort was thereupon had to the appointment as chief magistrate of a podestà from among the nobles or knights of a different part of the country not mixed up with the local feuds. But the end was in most cases the establishment of the despotism of some leading family, such as the Visconti at Milan, the Gonzaga at Mantua, the della Scala in Verona and the Carrara in Padua.

In Tuscany, the historic rôle of the cities, with the exception of Pisa, begins at a later date, largely owing to the overlordship of the powerful margraves of the house of Canossa and their successors, who here represented the emperor. Pisa, however, together with Genoa, all through the 11th century distinguished itself by war waged in the western Mediterranean and its isles against the Saracens. Both cities, along with Venice, but especially the Genoese, also did excellent service in reducing the Syrian coast towns still in the hands of the Turks in the reigns of Kings Baldwin I. and Baldwin II. of Jerusalem, while more particularly Pisa with great constancy placed her fleet at the disposal of the Hohenstaufen emperors for warfare with Sicily.

Meanwhile communes with consuls at their head were formed in Tuscany much as elsewhere. On the other hand the Tuscan cities managed to prolong the reign of liberty to a much later epoch, no podestà ever quite succeeding here in his attempts to establish the rule of his dynasty. Even when in the second half of the 15th century the Medici in Florence attained to power, the form at least of a republic was still maintained, and not till 1531 did one of them, supported by Charles V., assume the ducal title.

Long before the last stage, the rule of signori, was reached, however, the commune as originally constituted had everywhere undergone radical changes. As early as the 13th century the lower orders among the inhabitants formed an organization under officers of their own, side by side with that of the commune, which was controlled by the great and the rich; e.g. at Florence the people in 1250 rose against the turbulent nobles and chose a capitano del popolo with twelve anziani, two from each of the six city-wards (sestieri), as his council. The popolo itself was divided into twenty armed companies, each under a gonfaloniere. But later the arti (craft-gilds), some of whom, however, can be shown to have existed under consuls of their own as early as 1203, attained supreme importance, and in 1282 the government was placed in the hands of their priori, under the name of the signoria. The Guelph nobles were at first admitted to a share in the government, on condition of their entering a gild, but in 1293 even this privilege was withdrawn. The ordinamenti della giustizia of that year robbed the nobility of all political power. The lesser or lower arti, on the other hand, were conceded a full share in it, and a gonfaloniere della giustizia was placed at the head of the militia. In the 14th century twelve buoni uomini representing the wards (sestieri) were superadded, all these dignitaries holding office for two months only. And besides all these, there existed three competing chief justices and commanders of the forces called in from abroad and holding office for six months, viz. the podestà, the capitano del popolo, and the esecutore della giustizia. In spite of all this complicated machinery of checks and balances, revolution followed upon revolution, nor could an occasional reign of terror be prevented like that of the Signore Gauthier de Brienne, duke of Athens (1342–1343). It was not till after a rising of the lowest order of all, the industrial labourers, had been suppressed in 1378 (tumulto dei Ciompi, the wool-combers), that quieter times ensued under the wise leadership, first of the Albizzi and finally of the Medici.

The history of the other Tuscan towns was equally tumultuous, all of them save Lucca, after many fitful changes finally passing under the sway of Florence, or the grand-duchy of Tuscany, as the state was now called. Pisa, one time the mightiest, had been crushed between its inland neighbour and its maritime rival Genoa (battle of Meloria, 1282).

Apart in its constitutional development from all other towns in Italy, and it might be added, in Europe, stands Venice. Almost alone among Italian cities its origin does not go back to Roman times. It was not till the invasions of Hun and Langobard that fugitives from the Venetian mainland took refuge among the poor fishermen on the small islands in the lagoons and on the lido—the narrow stretch of coast-line which separates the lagoons from the Adriatic—some at Grado, some at Malamocco, others on Rialto. A number of small communities was formed under elected tribunes, acknowledging as their sovereign the emperor at Constantinople. Treaties of commerce were concluded with the Langobard kings, thus assuring a market for the sale of imports from the East and for the purchase of agricultural produce. Just before or after A.D. 700 the young republic seems to have thrown off the rule of the Byzantine dux Histriae et Venetiae and elected a duke (doge) of its own, in whom was vested the executive power, the right to convoke the popular assembly (concio) and appoint tribunes and justices. Political unity was thus established, but it was not till after another century of civil war that Rialto was definitely chosen the seat of government and thus the foundation of the present city laid. After a number of attempts to establish a hereditary dukedom, Duke Domenico Flabianico in 1032 passed a law providing that no duke was to appoint his successor or procure him to be elected during his own lifetime. Besides this two councils were appointed without whose consent nothing of importance was to be done. After the murder by the people of Duke Vitale Michiel in 1172, who had suffered naval defeat, it was deemed necessary to introduce a stricter constitutional order. According to the orthodox account, some details of which have, however, recently been impugned,[11] the irregular popular meeting was replaced by a great council of from 450 to 480 members elected annually by special appointed electors in equal proportion from each of the six wards. One of the functions of this body was to appoint most of the state officials or their electors. There was also an executive council of six, one from each ward. Besides these, the duke, who was henceforward elected by a body of eleven electors from among the aristocracy, would invite persons of prominence (the pregadi) in order to secure their assent and co-operation, whenever a measure of importance was to be placed before the great council. Only under extraordinary circumstances the concio was still to be called. The tenure of the duke’s office was for life. The general tendency of constitutional development in Venice henceforward ran in an exactly opposite direction to that of all other Italian cities towards a growing restriction of popular rights, until in 1296 the great council was for all future time closed to all but the descendants of a limited number of noble families, whose names were in that year entered in the Golden Book. It still remained to appoint a board to superintend the executive power. These were the avvogadori di commune, and, since Tiepolo’s conspiracy in 1310, the Consiglio dei Dieci, the Council of Ten, which controlled the whole of the state, and out of which there developed in the 16th century the state inquisition.

While in all prominent Italian cities the leading classes of the community were largely made up of merchants, in Venice the nobility was entirely commercial. The marked steadiness in the evolution of the Venetian constitution is no doubt largely due to this fact. Elsewhere the presence of large numbers of turbulent country nobles furnished the first germ for the unending dissensions which ruined such promising beginnings. In Venice, on the contrary, its businesslike habits of mind led the ruling class to make what concessions might seem needful, while both the masses and the head of the state were kept in due subjection to the laws. Too much stability, however, finally changed into stagnation, and decay followed. The foreign policy of Venice was likewise mainly dictated by commercial motives, the chief objectives being commercial privilege in the Byzantine empire and in the Frankish states in the East, domination of the Adriatic, occupation of a sufficient hinterland on the terra firma, non-sufferance of the rivalry of Genoa, and, finally, maintenance of trade-supremacy in the eastern Mediterranean through a series of alternating wars and treaties with Turkey, the lasting monument of which was the destruction of the Parthenon in 1685 by a Venetian bomb. At last the proud republic surrendered to Napoleon without a stroke.

The cities of southern Italy do not here call for special attention. Several of them developed a certain amount of independence and free institutions, and took an important part in trade with the East, notably so Amalfi. But after incorporation in the Norman kingdom all individual history for them came to an end.

Rome, finally, derived its importance from being the capital of the popes and from its proud past. From time to time spasmodic attempts were made to revive the forms of the ancient republic, as under Arnold of Brescia in the 12th and by Niccolò di Rienzo in the 14th century; but there was no body of stalwart, self-reliant citizens to support such measures: nothing but turbulent nobles on the one hand and a rabble on the other.

In no country is there such a clear grouping of the towns on geographical lines as in France, these geographical lines, of course, having in the first instance been drawn by historical causes. Another feature is the extent to which, in the unruly times preceding the civic movement, serfdom had spread among the inhabitants even of the towns throughout the greater part of the country, and the application of feudal ideas to town government. In some other respects the constitution of the cities in the south of France, as will be seen, has more in common with that of the Italian communes, and that of the northern French towns with those of Germany, than the constitutions of the various groups of French towns have among each other.

In the group of the villes consulaires, comprising all important towns in the south, the executive was, as in Italy, in the hands of a body of consules, whose number in most cases rose to twelve. They were elected for the term of one year and re-eligible only after an interval, and they were supported by a municipal council (commune consilium, consilium magnum or secretum or generale, or colloquium) and a general assembly (parlamentum, concio, commune consilium, commune, universitas civium), which, however, as a rule was far from comprising the whole body of citizens. Another feature which these southern towns had in common with their Italian neighbours was the prominent part played by the native nobility. The relations with the clergy were generally of a more friendly character than in the north, and in some cases the bishop or archbishop even retained a considerable influence in the management of the town’s affairs. Dissensions among the citizens, or between the nobles and the bourgeois, frequently ended in the adoption of a podestat. And in several cities of the Languedoc, each of the two classes composing the population retained its separate laws and customs. It is matter of dispute whether vestiges of Roman institutions had survived in these parts down to the time when the new constitutions sprang into being; but all investigators are pretty well agreed that in no case did such remnants prove of any practical importance. Roman law, however, was never quite superseded by Germanic law, as appears from the statuts municipaux. In the improvement and expansion of these statutes a remarkable activity was displayed by means of an annual correctio statutorum carried out by specially appointed statutores. In the north, on the other hand, the carta communiae, forming as it were the basis of the commune’s existence, seems to have been considered almost as something sacred and unchangeable.

The constitutional history of the communes in northern France in a number of points widely differed from that of these villes consulaires. First of all the movement for their establishment in most cases was to a far greater degree of a revolutionary character. These revolutions were in the first place directed against the bishops; but the position both of the higher clergy and of the nobility was here of a nature distinctly more hostile to the aspirations of the citizens than it was in the south. As a result the clergy and the nobles were excluded from all membership of the commune, except inasmuch as that those residing in the town might be required to swear not to conspire against it. The commune (communia, communa, communio, communitas, conjuratio, confoederatio) was formed by an oath of mutual help (sacramentum, juramentum communiae). The members were described as jurati (also burgenses, vicini, amici), although in some communes that term was reserved for the members of the governing body. None but men of free and legitimate birth, and free from debt and contagious or incurable disease were received. The members of the governing body were styled jurés (jurati), pairs (pares) or échevins (scabini). The last was, however, as in Germany, more properly the title of the jurors in the court of justice, which in many cases remained in the hands of the lord. In some cases the town council developed out of this body; but in the larger cities, like Rouen, several councils worked and all these names were employed side by side. The number of the members of the governing body proper varies from twelve to a hundred, and its functions were both judicial and administrative. There was also known an arrangement corresponding to the German alte und sitzende Rat, viz. of retired members who could be called in to lend assistance on important occasions. The most striking distinction, however, as against the villes consulaires was the elevation of the president of the body to the position of maire or mayeur (sometimes also called prévôt, praepositus). As elsewhere, at first none but the civic aristocracy were admitted to take part in the management of the town’s affairs; but from the end of the 13th century a share had to be conceded to representatives of the crafts. Dissatisfaction, however, was not easily allayed; the lower orders applied for the intervention of the king; and that effectively put an end to political freedom. This tendency of calling in state help marks a most striking difference as against the policy followed by the German towns, where all classes appear to have been always far too jealous of local independence. The result for the nation was in the one case despotism, equality and order, in the other individual liberty and an inability to move as a whole. At an earlier stage the king had frequently come to the assistance of the communes in their struggle with their lords. By-and-by the king’s confirmation came to be considered necessary for their lawful existence. This proved a powerful lever for the extension of the king’s authority. It may seem strange that in France the towns never had recourse to those interurban leagues which played so important a part in Italian and in German history.

These two varieties, the communes and the villes consulaires together form the group of villes libres. As opposed to these stand the villes franches, also called villes prévotales after the chief officer, villes de bourgeoisie or villes soumises. They make up by far the majority of French towns, comprising all those situated in the centre of the kingdom, and also a large number in the north and the south. They are called villes franches on account of their possessing a franchise, a charter limiting the services due by the citizens to their lord, but political status they had little or none. According to the varying extent of the liberties conceded them, there may be distinguished towns governed by an elective body and more or less fully authorized to exercise jurisdiction; towns possessing some sort of municipal organization, but no rights of jurisdiction, except that of simple police; and, thirdly, those governed entirely by seignorial officers. To this last class belong some of the most important cities in France, wherever the king had power enough to withhold liberties deemed dangerous and unnecessary. On the other hand, towns of the first category often come close to the villes libres. A strict line of demarcation, however, remains in the mutual oath which forms the basis of the civic community in both varieties of the latter, and in the fact that the ville libre stands to its lord in the relation of vassal and not in that of an immediate possession. But however complètement assujettie Paris might be, its organization, naturally, was immensely more complex than that of hundreds of smaller places which, formally, might stand in an identical relationship to their lords. Like other villes franches under the king, Paris was governed by a prévôt (provost), but certain functions of self-government for the city were delegated to the company of the marchands de l’eau, mercatores aquae, also called mercatores ansati, that is, the gild of merchants whose business lay down the river Seine, in other words, a body naturally exclusive, not, however, to the citizens as such. At their head stood a prévôt des marchands and four eschevins de la marchandise. Other prud’hommes were occasionally called in, and from 1296 prévôt and échevins, appointed twenty-four councillors to form with themselves a parloir aux bourgeois. The crafts of Paris were organized in métiers, whose masters were appointed, some by the prévôt de Paris, and some by certain great officers of the court. In the tax rolls of A.D. 1292 to 1300 no fewer than 448 names of crafts occur, while the Livre des métiers written in 1268 by Étienne de Boileau, then prévôt de Paris, enumerates 101 organized bodies of tradesmen or women and artisans. Among the duties of these bodies, as elsewhere, was the guet or night-watch, which necessitated a military organization under quartiniers, cinquantainiers and dixainiers. This gave them a certain power. But both their revolutions, under the prévôt des marchands, Étienne Marcel, after the battle of Maupertuis, and again in 1382, were extremely short-lived, and the only tangible result was a stricter subjection to the king and his officers.

An exceptional position among the cities of France is taken up by those of Flanders, more particularly the three “Great Towns,” Bruges, Ghent and Ypres, whose population was Flemish, i.e. German. They sprang up at the foot of the count’s castles and rose in close conjunction with his power. On the accession of a new house they made their power felt as early as 1128. Afterwards the counts of the house of Dampierre fell into financial dependence on the burghers, and therefore allied themselves with the rising artisans, led by the weavers. These, however, proved far more unruly, bloody conflicts ensued, and for a considerable period the three great cities ruled the whole of Flanders with a high hand. Their influence in the foreign relations of the country was likewise great, it being in their interest to keep up friendly relations with England, on whose wool the flourishing state of the staple industry of Flanders depended. It is a remarkable fact that the historical position taken up by these cities, which politically belonged to France, is much more akin to the part played by the German towns, whereas Cambrai, whose population was French, is the only city politically situated in Germany, where a commune came to be established.

In the Spanish peninsula, the chief importance of the numerous small towns lay in the part they played as fortresses during the unceasing wars with the Moors. The kings therefore extended special privileges (fueros) to the inhabitants, and they were even at an early date admitted to representation in the Cortes (parliament). Of greater individual importance than all the rest was Barcelona. Already in 1068 Count Berengarius gave the city a special law (usatici) based on its ancient usages, and from the 14th century its commercial code (libro del consolat del mar) became influential all over southern Europe.

The constitutions of the Scandinavian towns were largely modelled on those of Germany, but the towns never attained anything like the same independence. Their dependence on the royal government most strongly comes out in the fact of their being uniformly regulated by royal law in each of the three kingdoms. In Sweden particularly, German merchants by law took an equal share in the government of the towns. In Denmark their influence was also great, and only in Norway did they remain in the position of foreigners in spite of their famous settlement at Bergen. The details, as well as those of the German settlement at Wisby and on the east coast of the Baltic, belong rather to the history of the Hanseatic League (q.v.). Denmark appears to be the only one of the three kingdoms where gilds at an early date played a part of importance.

Bibliography.—The only book dealing with the subject in general, viz. K. D. Hüllmann, Städtewesen des Mittelalters (4 vols., Bonn, 1826–1828), is quite antiquated. For Germany it is best to consult Richard Schröder, Lehrbruch der deutschen Rechtsgeschichte (5th ed., Leipzig, 1907), §§ 51 and 56, where a bibliography as complete as need be is given, both of monographs dealing with various aspects of the question, and of works on the history of individual towns. The latter alone covers two large octavo pages of small print. As a sort of complement to Schröder’s chapters may be considered, F. Keutgen, Urkunden zur städtischen Verfassungsgeschichte (Berlin, 1901 = Ausgewählte Urkunden zur deutschen Verfassungsgeschichte, by G. von Below and F. Keutgen, vol. i.), a collection of 437 select charters and other documents, with a very full index. The great work of G. L. von Maurer, Geschichte der Städteverfassung von Deutschland (4 thick vols., Erlangen, 1869–1871), contains an enormous mass of information not always treated quite so critically as the present age requires. There is an excellent succinct account for general readers by Georg von Below, “Das ältere deutsche Städtewesen und Bürgertum,” Monographien zur Weltgeschichte, vol. vi. (Bielefeld and Leipzig, 1898, illustrated). A number of the most important recent monographs have been mentioned above. As for Italy, the most valuable general work for the early times is still Carl Hegel, Geschichte der Städteverfassung von Italien seit der Zeit der römischen Herrschaft bis zum Ausgang des zwölften Jahrhunderts (2 small vols., Leipzig, 1847, price second-hand, M. 40), in which it was for the first time fully proved that there is no connexion between Roman and modern municipal constitutions. For the period from the 13th century it will perhaps be best to consult W. Assmann, Geschichte des Mittelalters, 3rd ed., by L. Viereck, dritte Abteilung, Die letzten beiden Jahrhunderts des Mittelalters: Deutschland, die Schweiz, und Italien, by R. Fischer, R. Scheppig and L. Viereck (Brunswick, 1906). In this volume, pp. 679-943 contain an excellent account of the various Italian states and cities during that period, with a full bibliography for each. Among recent critical contributions to the history of individual towns, the following works deserve to be specially mentioned: Robert Davidsohn, Geschichte von Florenz (Berlin, 1896–1908); down to the beginning of the 14th century; the same, Forschungen zur Geschichte von Florenz (vols. i.-iv., Berlin, 1896–1908); Heinrich Kretschmayr, Geschichte von Venedig (vol. i., Gotha, 1905, to 1205). For France, there are the works by Achille Luchaire, Les Communes françaises à l’époque des Capétiens directs (Paris, 1890), and Paul Viollet, “Les Communes françaises au moyen âge,” Mémoires de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-lettres, tome xxxvi. (Paris, 1900). There are, of course, also accounts in the great works on French institutions by Flach, Glasson, Viollet, Luchaire, but perhaps the one in Luchaire’s Manuel des institutions françaises, période des Capétiens directs (Paris, 1892) deserves special recommendation. Another valuable account for France north of the Loire is that contained in the great work by Karl Hegel, Städte und Gilden der germanischen Völker im Mittelaller (2 vols., Leipzig, 1891; see English Historical Review, viii. 120-127). Of course, there are also numerous monographs, among which the following may be mentioned: Édouard Bonvalot, Le Tiers État d’après la charte de Beaumont et ses filiales (Paris, 1884); and A. Giry, Les Êtablissements de Rouen (2 vols., Paris, 1883–1885); also a collection of documents by Gustave Fagniez, Documents relatifs à l’histoire de l’industrie et du commerce en France (2 vols., Paris, 1898, 1900). Some valuable works on the commercial history of southern Europe should still be mentioned, such as W. Heyd, Geschichte des Levantehandels im Mittelalter (2 vols., Stuttgart, 1879; French edition by Furcy Raynaud, 2 vols., Paris, 1885 seq., improved by the author), recognized as a standard work; Adolf Schaube, Handelsgeschichte der romanischen Völker des Mittelmeergebietes bis zum Ende der Kreuzzüge (Munich and Berlin, 1906); Aloys Schulte, Geschichte des mittelalterlichen Handels und Verkehrs zwischen Westdeutschland und Italien mit Ausschluss Venedigs (2 vols., Leipzig, 1900); L. Goldschmidt, Universalgesdiichte des Handelsrechts (vol. i., Stuttgart, 1891). As for the Scandinavian towns, the best guide is perhaps the book by K. Hegel, Städte und Gilden der germanischen Völker, already mentioned; but see also Dietrich Schäfer, “Der Stand der Geschichtswissenschaft im skandinavischen Norden,” Internationale Wochenschrift, November 16, 1907.  (F. K.) 

  1. As to the former, see S. Rietschel, Die Civitas auf deutschem Boden bis zum Ausgange der Karolingerzeit (Leipzig, 1894); and, for the newly founded towns, the same author, Markt und Stadt in ihrem rechtlichen Verhältnis (Leipzig, 1897).
  2. About the Burggraf, see S. Rietschel, Das Burggrafenamt und die hohe Gerichtsbarkeit in den deutschen Bischofsstädten während des früheren Mittelalters (Leipzig, 1905).
  3. As to the towns as fortresses, see also F. Keutgen, Untersuchungen über den Ursprung der deutschen Stadtverfassung (Leipzig, 1895); and “Der Ursprung der deutschen Stadtverfassung” (Neue Jahrbücher für das klassische Altertum, &c, N.F. vol. v.).
  4. See S. Rietschel, Markt und Stadt, and J. Fritz, Deutsche Stadtanlagen (Strassburg, 1894).
  5. G. von Below, Die Entstehung der deutschen Stadtgemeinde (Düsseldorf, 1889); and Der Ursprung der deutschen Stadtverfassung (Düsseldorf, 1892).
  6. F. Keutgen, Urkunden zur städtischen Verfassungsgeschichte, No. 74 and No. 75 (Berlin, 1901).
  7. F. Keutgen, Ämter und Zünfte (Jena, 1903).
  8. J. Weizsäcker, Der rheinische Bund (Tübingen, 1879).
  9. G. v. Below, Der Untergang der mittelalterlichen Stadtwirtschaft; Über Theorien der wirtschaftlichen Entwicklung der Völker; F. Keutgen, “Hansische Handelsgesellschaften, vornehmlich des 14ten Jahrhunderts,” in Vierteljahrsschrift für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte, vol. iv. (1906).
  10. On this whole subject see Richard Schröder, Lehrbuch der deutschen Rechtsgeschichte (5th ed., Leipzig, 1907), § 56, “Die Stadtrechte.” Also Charles Gross, The Gild Merchant (Oxford, 1890), vol. i. Appendix E, “Affiliation of Medieval Boroughs.”
  11. H. Kretschmayr, Geschichte von Venedig, vol. i. (Gotha, 1905).