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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Sidenote Royal power under the Visigoths


Social classes in the Visigothic era.]

The great number of social classes at the close of the Roman period was increased under the Visigoths, and the former inequalities were accentuated, for the insecurity of the times tended to increase the grades of servitude and personal dependence. The nobility was at first a closed body, but later became open to anybody important enough to enter it. The kings ennobled whomsoever they chose, and this was one of the causes of the conflict between them and the older nobility. Freemen generally sank back into a condition of dependence; in the country they became serfs, being bound by inheritance both to the land and to a certain type of labor. Freemen of the city, however, were no longer required to follow the trade of their fathers. Men of a higher grade often became the retainers of some noble, pledged to aid him, and he on his part protected them. Few were completely free. The Suevians took two-thirds of the lands and half of the buildings in the regions they conquered, and it is probable that the Visigoths made some such division after Euric's conquest, although they seem to have taken less in Spain than they did in France.

[Sidenote: Social customs.]

The Visigoths were not an urban people like the Romans. The tendency of this age, therefore, was for a scattering of the city populations to the country, where the fortified village or the

dwelling of a Visigothic noble with his retinue of armed followers and servants formed the principal centre. The cities therefore remained Hispano-Roman in character, and their manner of life was imitated more and more by the Visigoths. There was a laxity in customs which went so far that priests openly married and brought up families, despite the prohibitions of the law.[13] Superstition was prevalent in all classes.[14] One of the popular diversions of the period seems to have been a form of bull-fighting.

[Sidenote: Royal power under the Visigoths.]

Before the Visigoths reached Spain the monarchy was elective, but within a certain family. The king's authority had already increased from that of a general and chief justice to something approaching the absolutism of a Roman emperor. With the extinction of the royal family there was a long period of strife between rival aspirants for the throne. Leovgild was the first to take on all the attributes, even the ceremonial, of absolutism, and was one of many kings who tried to make the throne hereditary. Despite the support given to the kings by the clergy, who hoped for peace through enhancing the royal power, the nobles were able to procure laws for an elective monarch without limitation to a specified family; an assembly of nobles and churchmen was the electoral body. These conflicts did not modify the absolute character of the king's rule; the king had deliberative councils to assist him, but since he named the nobles who should attend, both appointed and deposed bishops, and in any event had an absolute veto, these bodies did no more than give sanction to his will. Heads of different branches of administration also assisted the king. The real limitation on absolutism was the military power of the nobles.

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