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CHAPTER V.

THE TOWN.

Cities and towns are the grand theatres of civilisation. Its elements, it is true, have their place and their influence amidst rural scenes, but they commonly appear there as the reflection of what obtains in city life. It is of great importance, then, to take a view of the social condition of the towns and cities of Europe at that period, in order to estimate aright the character of European civilisation.

The era of the general enfranchisement of boroughs, when the elements of modern civilisation came into vigorous play, is coincident with the close of the period over which the present survey extends—it marks the eleventh and twelfth centuries; and, therefore, the state of towns previous to that grand civic awakening, is what chiefly demands attention in the present chapter.

SECTION I.

ROMAN MUNICIPALITIES.

THE remains of the Roman municipalities obviously present themselves, as forming the first division. Rome herself stands at the head of these. “We find a considerable obscurity spread over the internal history of Rome, during the long period from the recovery of Italy by Belisarius, to the end of the eleventh century. The popes appear to have possessed some measure of temporal power, even while the city was professedly governed by the exarchs of Ravenna, in the name of the eastern empire. This power became more extensive after her separation from Constantinople. It was, however, subordinate to the undeniable sovereignty of the new imperial family, who were supposed to enter upon all the rights of their predecessors. There was always an imperial officer, or prefect, in that city, to render criminal justice ; an oath of allegiance to the emperor was taken by the people ; and upon an irregular election of a pope, a circumstance by no means unusual, the emperors held themselves entitled to interpose. But the spirit, and even the institutions of Rome were republican. Amidst the darkness of the tenth century, which no contemporary historian dissipates, we faintly distinguish the awful names of senate, consuls, and tribunes, the domestic magistracy of Rome. These shadows of past glory strike us at first with surprise ; but there is no improbability in the supposition that a city so renowned and populous, and so happily sheltered from the usurpation of the Lombards, might have preserved, or might afterwards establish a kind of municipal government which it would be natural to dignify with

those august titles of antiquity.”* There can be no doubt that through the whole period of the dark ages a lingering attachment was felt by the citizens of Rome to their ancient insti. tutions-an attachment which local traditions of bygone glory, historical associations connected with the very soil on which they trod, and the mutilated yet magnificent remains of the ancient structures which graced the forum, could not but keep alive.

Some considerable degree of architectural splendour must have distinguished the papal city, at least from the time of Charlemagne. It is described by Eginhard, in a letter to Alcuin, the emperor's friend, as surrounded by walis, defended by three hundred and eighty-seven towers, and as presenting a very imposing appearance from the lofty castles erected by the nobles upon the hills, and along the Tiber. He especially dwells upon the ecclesiastical structures which adorned the city, consisting of colleges, monasteries, and churches; the latter of which, according to his account, were enriched with a variety of most costly ornaments, which must have made a very glittering and attractive show to the citizens and the pilgrims who frequented the various -shrines. The architecture of the period was of the Roman kind, and the churches were formed upon the niodel of the ancient basilicæ, or courts of justice. They were generally in the shape of a parailelogram, with aisles formed by

* liallam, Middle Ages, chap. iii. p. 1.

rows of columns, and a choir enclosed by rails; the upper end of the building being in a circular form, in which was fixed the bishop's throne. Pillars and marbles, the spoils of the ancient city, contributed to increase the magnificence of these structures, which also contained sacred vessels and other articles of gold, silver, and precious stones. The palace of the Lateran, and other edifices, were of considerable magnificence, and reflected, though, perhaps, but dimly, some of the splendour and luxury of imperial times. The arts never perished in Italy. Architecture, sculpture, painting, and music always found some patronage in Rome, as the handmaids of her religious worship; though the taste and genius which they displayed were very low.

The habits of the upper classes in the city, and especially of the papal court, towards the latter part of the period we embrace, were doubtless as expensive and luxurious as prevailed in any part of Europe at that time, perhaps more so; but still we must not form our notions of them from the standard of luxury in the present day. At a time when the manufacture of linen had made but little progress, and articles of that material for clothing and for domestic use were little known; when monarchs were content to lie on beds of litter; when eating with forks was thought to be a species of most ridiculous refinement, and a comb of ivory, or bone, was deemed a rare and curious instrument—all of which was the case

in the twelfth century-habits then esteemed luxurious must have been rude in comparison with those which now prevail.

The lower orders of Rome were, throughout the dark ages, in a state of deep social degradation, and must have experienced a very great degree of misery; for a sad catalogue of oppressions, tumults, outrages, robberies, and diseases, mark the history of the city for many centuries. The morals of all classes were most depraved ; the nobles and highest ecclesiastics were generally corrupt and licentious; the character of many of the popes was vile in the extreme; and moral influences were shed over the population, by the men who called themselves the heads of the church, more pernicious than the deadly malaria that rose from the marshes round the city.

It has been already remarked, that in the Roman empire, at the time of its decline and fall, there were a number of cities formed upon the model of the parent municipality. When the Gothic nations passed the frontiers of the empire, and poured down upon these provinces, they swept over these cities, levelling their walls, plundering their treasures, and materially reducing their importance. They also diffused around them their own wild barbarian sentiments, infusing new elements of thought and feeling into the minds of men ; but still the municipalities remained, for the Inost part, Roman in their form and spirit. The ancient magistrates gave place to new kinds

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