Ten Great Events in History by James Johonnot

Ten Great Events in History by James Johonnot

Author:James Johonnot
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781620115275
Publisher: Duke Classics

Chapter VI - Defence of Freedom on Dutch Dikes


After the destruction of the Roman Empire all Europe was in a state of anarchy. The long domination of Rome, and the general acceptance of the Roman idea that "the state is everything and the individual man nothing," had unfitted the people for self-government. While Rome fell, the system of Rome, leading to absolute monarchy, persisted, and out of it grew the present governments of Europe. The conquering Goths brought in a modifying condition which changed the whole relations of monarch to people. In their social and political relations chieftains of tribes or clans divided power with the monarch, and for many centuries there was continuous warfare between these antagonistic ideas. This period is known as the "dark ages," for while it lasted there was little visible progress, and an apparent almost entire forgetfulness of the ancient civilizations.

During the dark ages roving bands of freebooters wandered about from place to place, engaged in robbery, rapine, and murder. To resist this systematic plunder the people placed themselves under the guardianship of some powerful chieftain in the vicinity, and paid a certain amount of their earnings for the privilege of enjoying the remainder. Hence there grew up, in the Gothic communities of Europe, that peculiar state of society known as "the feudal system." A great chieftain or lord lived in a strong castle built for defense against neighboring lords. A retinue of soldiers was in immediate attendance, who, when not engaged in war, passed their time in hunting and debauchery. All the expenses and waste of the castle and its occupants were defrayed by the peasants who cultivated the lands, and who were all obliged to take up arms whenever their lord's dominions were invaded.

In process of time the taxes upon the people became so burdensome that they were reduced to the condition of serfs, when all their earnings, except enough to supply the barest necessaries of life, were taken from them in the shape of taxes and rents. A constantly increasing number were yearly taken from the ranks of the industrious to swell the numbers of the soldiery, until Europe seemed one vast camp.

The feudal system demanded little in the way of industry except agriculture and rude home manufactures to furnish food and clothing. Arms were purchased from other lands, the best being obtained from the higher civilization of the Moslems; but, as population increased, people began to congregate in centers and towns, and cities sprung up. These called for more varied industries, and a class of people soon became numerous who had little or no dependence upon the feudal lord. To protect themselves, craftsmen engaged in the same kind of work united and formed guilds, and the various guilds, though often warring with each other, united for the common defense. The leaders of the guilds gradually became the heads of notable burgher families who became influential and wealthy. As the cities became powerful the feudal system declined, and in many regions the


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