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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Sidenote Society in Roman Spain


The Roman gift to Spain.]

The gift of Rome to Spain and the world was twofold. In the first place she gave what she herself had originated or brought to a point which was farther advanced than that to which other peoples had attained, and secondly she transmitted the civilization of other peoples with whom her vast conquests had brought her into contact. Rome's own contribution may be summed up in two words,--_law_ and _administration_. Through these factors, which had numerous ramifications, Rome gave the conquered peoples peace, so that an advance in wealth and culture also became possible. The details need not be mentioned here, especially since Roman institutions will be discussed later in dealing with the evolution toward national unity between 1252 and 1479. The process of Romanization, however, was a slow one, not only as a result of the native opposition to innovation, but also because Roman ideas themselves were evolving through the centuries, not reaching their highest state, perhaps, until the second century A.D. Spain was especially favored in the legislation of the emperors, several of whom (Trajan, Hadrian, and possibly Theodosius, who were also among the very greatest) were born in the town of It?lica (near Seville), while a fourth, the philosopher Marcus Aurelius, was of Spanish descent.

[Sidenote: Last years of the Roman rule.]

In the third and fourth centuries

Spain suffered, like the rest of the empire, from the factors which were bringing about the gradual dissolution of imperial rule. Population declined, in part due to plagues, and taxes increased; luxury and long peace had also softened the people, so that the barbarians from the north of Europe, who had never ceased to press against the Roman borders, found resistance to be less and less effective. Indeed, the invaders were often more welcome than not, so heavy had the weight of the laws become. The dying attempt of Rome to bolster up her outworn administrative system is not a fact, however, to which much space need be given in a history of Spain.

[Sidenote: Society in Roman Spain.]

In Spain as elsewhere there were a great many varying grades of society during the period of Roman dominion. There were the aristocratic patricians, the common people, or plebeians, and those held in servitude. Each class had various sub-divisions, differing from one another. Then, too, there were "colleges," or guilds, of men engaged in the same trade, or fraternities of a religious or funerary nature. The difference in classes was accentuated in the closing days of the empire, and hardened into something like a caste system, based on lack of equal opportunity. Artisans, for example, were made subject to their trade in perpetuity; the son of a carpenter had no choice in life but to become a carpenter. Great as was the lack of both liberty and equality it did not nearly approximate what it had been in more primitive times, and it was even less burdensome than it was to be for centuries after the passing of Rome. Indeed, Rome introduced many social principles which tended to make mankind more and more free, and it is these ideas which are at the base of modern social liberty. Most important among them, perhaps, was that of the individualistic tendency of the Roman law. This operated to destroy the bonds which subordinated the individual to the will of a communal group; in particular, it substituted the individual for the family, giving each man the liberty of following his own will, instead of subjecting him forever to the family. The same concept manifested itself in the Roman laws with reference to property. For example, freedom of testament was introduced, releasing property from the fetters by which it formerly had been bound.

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