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From The Mediaeval Mind, A History of the Development of Thought and Emotion in the Middle Ages, by Henry Osborn Taylor in Two Volumes, Volume I., MacMillan Co., New York, 1911; pp. 23-32.





THE intellectual and spiritual life of the partly Hellenized and, at last, Christianized Roman Empire furnished the contents of the intellectual and spiritual development of the Middle Ages.1 In Latin forms the Christian and antique elements passed to the mediaeval period. Their Latinization, their continuance, and their passing on, were due to the existence of the Empire as a political and social fact. Rome’s equal government facilitated the transmission of Greek thought through the Mediterranean west; Roman arms, Roman qualities conquered Spain and Gaul, subdued them to the Roman order, opened them to Graeco-Latin influences, also to Christianity. Indelibly Latinized in language and temper, Spain, Gaul, and Italy present first a homogeneity of culture and civic order, and then a common decadence and confusion. But decadence and confusion did not obliterate the ancient elements; which painfully endured, passing down disfigured and bedimmed, to form the basis of mediaeval culture.

The all-important Latinization of western Europe began with the unification of Italy under Rome. This took five centuries of war. In central Italy, Marsians, Samnites, Umbrians, Etruscans, were slowly conquered; and in the south Rome stood forth at last triumphant after the war against Tarentum and Pyrrhus of Epirus. With Rome’s political domination, the Latin language also won its way to supremacy throughout the peninsula, being drastically forced, 24 along with Roman civic institutions upon Tarentum and the other Greek communities of Magna Graecia.2 Yet in revenge, from this time on, Greek medicine and manners, mythology, art, poetry, philosophy — Greek thought in every guise — entered the Latin pale.

At the time of which we speak, the third century before Christ, the northern boundaries of Italy were still the rivers Arno and, to the east, the Aesis, which flows into the Adriatic, near Ancona. North-west of the Arno, Ligurian highlanders held the mountain lands as far as Nice. North of the Aesis lay the valley of the Po. That great plain may have been occupied at an early time by Etruscan communities scattered through a Celtic population, gradually settling to an agriculture life. Whatever may be the facts as to the existence of these earlier Celts, other and ruder Celtic tribes swarmed down from the Alps3 about 400 B.C., spread through the Po Valley, pushing the Etruscans back into Etruria, and following them there to carry on the war. After this comes the well-known story of Roman interference, leading to Roman overthrow at the river Allia in 390, and the capture of the city by these “Gauls.” The latter then retired northward, to occupy the Po Valley, though bands of them settled as far south as the Aesis.

Time and again, Rome was to be reminded of the Celtic peril. Between the first and second Punic wars, the Celts, reinforced from beyond the Alps, attacked Etruria and threatened Rome. Defeating them, the Consuls pushed north to subdue the Po Valley (222 B.C.). South of the river the Celts were expelled, and their place was filled by Roman colonists. The fortress cities of Placentia (Piacenza) and Cremona were founded on the right and left banks of the Po, and south-east of them Mutina (Modena). The 25 Flaminian road was extended across the Apennines to Fanum, and thence to Ariminum (Rimini), thus connecting the two Italian seas.

Hannibal’s invasion of Italy brought fresh disturbance, and when the war with him was over, Rome set herself to the final subjugation of the Celts north of the Po. Upon their submission the Latinization of the whole valley began, and advanced apace; but the evidence is scanty. Statius Caecilius, a comic Latin poet, was a manumitted Insubrian Celt who had been brought to Rome probably as a prisoner of war. He died in 168 B.C. Some generations after him, Cornelius Nepos was born in upper Italy, and Catullus at Verona; Celtic blood may have flowed in their veins. In the meanwhile the whole region had been organized as Gallia Cisalpina, with its southern boundary fixed at the Rubicon, which flows near Rimini.

The Celts of northern Italy were the first palpably non-Italian people to adopt the Latin language. Second in time and thoroughness to their Latinization was that of Spain. Military reasons led to its conquest. Hamilcar’s genius had created there a Carthaginian power, as a base for the invasion of Italy. This project, accomplished by Hamilcar’s son, brought home to the Roman Senate the need to control the Spanish peninsula. The expulsion of the Carthaginians, which followed, did not give mastery over the land; and two centuries of Roman persistence were required to subdue the indomitable Iberians.

So, in the end, Spain was conquered, and became a Latin country. Its tribal cantons were replaced with urban communities, and many Roman colonies were founded, to grow to prosperous cities. These were strongholds of Latin. Cordova became a very famous home of education and letters. Apparently the southern Spaniards had fully adopted the ways and speech of Rome before Strabo wrote his Geography, about A.D. 20. The change was slower in the mountains of Asturia, but quite rapid in the north-eastern region known as Nearer Spain, Hispania Citerior, as it was called. There, at the town of Osca (Huesca), Sertorius eighty years before Christ had established the first Latin school for the native Spanish youth.


The reign of Augustus, and especially his two years’ sojourn in Spain (26 and 25 B.C.) brought quiet to the peninsula, and thereafter no part of the Empire enjoyed such unbroken peace. Of all lands outside of Italy, with the possible exception of Provincia, Spain became most completely Roman in its institutions, and most unequivocally Latin in its culture. It was the most populous of the European provinces;4 and no other held so many Roman citizens, or so many cities early endowed with Roman civic rights.5 The great Augustan literature was the work of natives of Italy.6 But in the Silver Age that followed, many of the chief Latin authors — the elder and younger Seneca, Lucan, Quintilian — were Spaniards. They were unquestioned representatives of Latin literature, with no provincial twang in their writings. Then, of Rome’s emperors, Trajan was born in Spain, and Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius were of Spanish blood.

Perhaps even more completely Latinized was Narbonensis, commonly called Provincia. Its official name was drawn from the ancient town of Narbo (Narbonne), which in 118 B.C. was refounded as a Roman colony in partial accomplishment of the plans of Caius Gracchus. The boundaries of this colony touched those of the Greek city-state Massilia (Marseilles), whose rights were respected until it sided against Caesar in the Civil War. Save for the Massilian territory, which it later included, Provincia stretched from the eastern Pyrenees by the way of Nemausus (Nimes) and the Arelate (Arles) north-easterly through the Rhone Valley, taking in Vienne and Valence in the country of the Allobroges, and then onward to the edge of Lake Geneva; thence southerly along the Maritime Alps to the sea. Many of its towns owed their prosperity to Caesar. In his time the country west of the Rhone was already half Latin, and was filling 27 up with men from Italy.7 Two or three generations later, Pliny dubbed it Italia verius quam provincia. At all events, like northern Italy and Spain, Provincia, throughout its length and breadth, had appropriated the Latin civilization of Rome; that civilization city-born and city-reared, solvent of cantonal organization and tribal custom, destructive of former ways of living and standards of conduct; a civilization which was commercial as well as military in its means, and urban in its ends; which loved the life of the forum, the theatre, the circus, the public bath, and seemed to gain its finest essence from the instruction of the grammarian and rhetorician. The language and literature of this civilization were those of an imperial city, and were to be the language and literature of the Latin city universal, in whatever western land its walls might rise.

North of Provincia stretched the great territory reaching from the Atlantic to the Rhine, and with its edges following that river northerly, and again westerly to the sea. This was Caesar’s conquest, his omnis Gallia. The resistlessness of Rome, her civic and military superiority over the western peoples whom she conquered, may be grasped from the record of Gallic subjugation by one in whom great Roman qualities were united. Perhaps the deepest impression received by the reader of those Commentaries is of the man behind the book, Caesar himself. The Gallic War passes before us as a presentation, or medium of realization, of that all-compelling personality, with whom to consider was to plan, and to resolve was to accomplish, without hesitation or fear, by the force of mind. It is in the mirror of this man’s contempt for restless irresolution, for unsteadiness and impotence, that Gallic qualities are shown, the reflection undisturbed either by intolerance or sympathy. The Gauls were always anxious for change, mobiliter celeriterque inflamed to war or revolution, says Caesar in his memorable words; and, like all men, they were by nature zealous for liberty, hating the servile state — so it behoved Caesar to distribute his legions with foresight in a certain crisis.8 Thus, without 28 shrug or smile, writes the greatest of revolutionists, who for himself was also seeking liberty of action, freely and devisingly, not hurried by impatience or any such planless restlessness as, for example, drove Dumnorix the Aeduan to plot feebly, futilely, without plan or policy, against fate, to wit Caesar — so he met his death.9

Instability appears as peculiarly characteristic of the Gauls. They were not barbarians, but an ingenious folk, quick-witted and loquacious.10 Their domestic customs were reasonable; they had taxes and judicial tribunals; their religion held belief in immortality, and in other respects was not below the paganism of Italy. It was directed by the priestly caste of Druids, who possessed considerable knowledge, and used the Greek alphabet in writing. They also presided at trials, and excommunicated suitors who would not obey their judicial decrees.11

The country was divided into about ninety states (civitates). Monarchies appear among them, but the greater number were aristocracies torn with jealousy, and always in alarm lest some noble’s overweening influence upset the government. The common people and poor debtors seem scarcely to have counted. Factions existed in every state, village, and even household, says Caesar,12 headed by the rival states of the Aedui and Sequani. Espousing, as he professed to, the Aeduan cause, Caesar could always appear as an ally of one faction. At the last a general confederacy took up arms against him under the noble Auvernian, Vercingetorix.13 But the instability of his authority forced the hand of this brilliant leader.

In fine, it would seem that the Gallic peoples had progressed in civilization as far as their limited political 29 capacity and self-control would allow. These were the limitations set by the Gallic character. It is a Gallic custom, says Caesar, to stop travellers, and insist upon their telling what they know or have heard. In the towns the crowd will throng around a merchant and make him tell where he has come from and give them the news. Upon such hearsay the Gauls enter upon measures of the gravest importance. The states which are deemed the best governed, he adds, have a law that whenever any one has heard a report or rumour of public moment, he shall communicate it to a magistrate and to none else. The magistrates conceal or divulge such news in their discretion. It is not permitted to discuss public affairs save in an assembly.14

Apparently Caesar is not joking in these passages, which speak of a statecraft based on gossip gathered in the streets, carried straight to a magistrate, and neither discussed nor divulged on the way! Quite otherwise were Roman officials to govern, when Caesar’s great campaigns had subdued these mercurial Gauls. It was after his death that Augustus established the Roman order through the land. In those famous portes tres of the Commentaries he settled it: Iberian and Celtic Aquitania, Celtic Lugdunensis, and Celtic-Teuton Belgica, making together the three Gauls. It is significant that the emperor kept them as imperial provinces, still needing military administration, while he handed over Provincia to the Senate.

Provincia had been Romanized in law and government as the “Three Gauls” never were to be. Augustus followed Caesar in respecting the tribal and cantonal divisions of the latter, making only such changes as were necessary. Gallic cities under the Empire show no great uniformity. Each appears as the continuance of the local tribe, whose life and politics were focused in the town. The city (civitas) did not end with the town walls, but included the surrounding country and perhaps many villages. A number of these cities preserved their ancient constitutions; others conformed to the type of Roman colonies, whose constitutions were modelled on those of Italian cities. Colonia Claudia Agrippina (Cologne) is an example. But all the cities of 30 the “Three Gauls” as well as those of Provincia, whatever their form of government, conducted their affairs with senate, magistrates and police of their choosing, had their municipal property, and controlled their internal finances. A diet was established for the “Three Gauls” at Lyons, to which the cities sent delegates. Whatever were its powers, its existence tended to foster a sense of common Gallic nationality. The Roman franchise, however, was but sparingly bestowed on individuals, and was not granted to any Gallic city (except Lyons) until the time of Claudius, himself born at Lyons. He refounded Cologne as a colony, granted the franchise to Trèves, and abolished the provisions forbidding Gauls to hold the imperial magistracies. With the reorganization of the Empire under Diocletian, Trèves became the capital not only of Gaul, but of Spain and Britain also.

Although there was thus no violent Romanization of Gaul, Roman civilization rapidly progressed under imperial fostering, and by virtue of its own energy. Roman roads traversed the country; bridges spanned the rivers; aqueducts were constructed; cities grew, trade increased, agriculture improved, and the vine was introduced. At the time of Caesar’s conquest, the quick-minded Gauls were prepared to profit from a superior civilization; and under the mighty peace of Rome, men settled down to the blessings of safe living and law regularly enforced.

The spread of the Latin tongue and the finer elements of Latin culture followed the establishment of the Roman order. One Gallic city and then another adopted the new language according to its circumstances and situation. Of course the cities of Provincia took the lead, largely Italian as they were in population. On the other hand, Latin made slow progress among the hills of Auvergne. But farther north, the Roman city of Lyons was Latin-tongued from its foundation. Thence to the remoter north and west and east, Latin spread by cities, the foci of affairs and provincial administration. The imperial government did not demand of its subjects that they should abandon their native speech, but required in Gaul, as elsewhere, the use of Latin in the transaction of official business. This compelled all to study Latin who had affairs in law courts or with officials, or hoped to become magistrates. 31 Undoubtedly the rich and noble, especially in the towns, learned Latin quickly, and it soon became the vehicle of polite, as well as official, intercourse. It was also the language of schools attended by the noble Gallic youth. But among the rural population, the native tongues continued indefinitely. Obviously one cannot assign any specific time for the popular and general change from Celtic; but it appears to have very generally taken place before the Frankish conquest.15

By that time, too, those who would naturally constitute the educated classes, possessed a Latin education. First in the cities of Provincia, Nimes, Arles, Vienne, Fréjus, Aix in Provence, then of course at Lyons and in Aquitaine, and later through the cities of the north-east, Trèves, Mainz, Cologne, and most laggingly through the north-west Belgic lands lying over against the channel and the North Sea, Latin education spread. Grammar and rhetoric were taught, and the great Classics were explained and read, till the Gauls doubtless felt themselves Roman in spirit as in tongue.

Of course they were mistaken. To be sure the Gaul was a citizen of the Empire, which not only represented safety and civilization, but in fact was the entire civilized world. He had no thought of revolting from that, any more than from his daily habits or his daily food. Often he felt himself sentimentally affected toward this universal symbol of his welfare. He had Latin speech; he had Roman fashions; he took his warm baths and his cold, enjoyed the sports of the amphitheatre, studied Roman literature, and talked of the Respublica and Aurea Roma. Yet he was, after all, merely a Romanized inhabitant of Gaul. Roman law and government, Latin education, and the colour of the Roman spirit had been imparted; but the inworking, creative genius of Rome was not within her gift or his capacity. The 32 Gauls, however, are the chief example of a mediating people. Romanized and not made Roman, their epoch, their geographical situation, and their modified faculties, all made them intermediaries between the Roman and the Teuton.

If the Romanization of the “Three Gauls” was least thorough in Belgica, there was even less of it across the channel. Britain, as far north as the Clyde and Firth of Forth, was a Roman province for three or four hundred years. Latin was the language of the towns; but probably never supplanted the Celtic in the country. The Romanization of the Britons however, whether thorough or superficial, affected a people who were to be apparently submerged. They seem to have transmitted none of their Latin civilization to their Anglo-Saxon conquerors. Yet even the latter when they came to Britain were not quite untouched by Rome. They were familiar with Roman wares, if not with Roman ways; and certain Latin words which are found in all Teutonic languages had doubtless entered Anglo-Saxon.16 But this early Roman influence was slight, compared with that which afterwards came with Christianity. Nor did the Roman culture, before the introduction of Christianity, exert a deep effect on Germany, at least beyond the neighbourhood of the large Roman or Romanized towns like Cologne and Mainz. In many ways, indeed, the Germans were touched by Rome. Roman diplomacy, exciting tribe against tribe, was decimating them. Roman influence, and sojourn at Rome, had taught much to many German princes. Roman weapons, Roman utensils and wares of all kinds were used from the Danube to the Baltic. But all this did not Romanize the Germans, any more than a number of Latin words, which had crept in, Latinized their language.17



1  The term “spiritual” is here intended to signify the activities of the mind which are emotionalized with yearning or aversion, and therefore may be said to belong to the entire nature of man.

2  The history of the spread of Latin through Italy and the provinces is from the nature of the subject obscure. Budinsky’s Die Ausbreitung der lateinischer Sprache (Berlin, 1881) is somewhat unsatisfactory. See also Meyer-Lübke, Die lateinische Sprache in den romanischen Ländern (Gröber’s Gundriss, I2, 451 sqq.; F. G. Mohl, Introduction à la chronologie du latin vulgaire (1899). The statements in the text are very general, and ignore intentionally the many difficult questions as to what sort of Latin — dialectal, popular, or literary — was spread through the peninsula. See Mohl, o.c. § 33 sqq.

3  Tradition says from Gaul, but the sifted evidence points to the Danube north of the later province of Noricum. See Bertrand and Reinach, Les Celtes dans les vallées du Pô et du Danube (Paris, 1894).

4  See Beloch, Bevölkerung der griechisch-römischen Welt, p. 507 (Leipzig, 1886).

5  Mommsen says that in Augustus’s time fifty Spanish cities had the full privileges of Roman citizenship and fifty others the rights of Italian towns (Roman Provinces, i. 75, Eng. trans.). But this seems a mistake; as the enumeration of Beloch, Bevölkerung, etc., p. 330, gives fifty in all, following the account of Pliny.

6  Cicero, Pro Archia, 10, speaks slightingly of poets born at Cordova, but, later, Latro of Cordova was Ovid’s teacher.

7  The Roman law was used throughout Provincia. In this respect a line is to be drawn between Provincia and the North. See post, Chapter XXXIII.

8  Bellum Gallicum, iii. 10.

9  Bellum Gallicum, v. 6.

10  Porcius Cato, in his Origines, written a hundred years before Caesar crossed the mountains, says that Gallia was devoted to the art of war and to eloquence (argute loqui). Presumably the Gallia that Cato thus characterized as clever or acute of speech, was Cisalpine Gaul, to wit, the north of Italy; yet Caesar’s transalpine Gauls were both clever of speech and often the fools of their own arguments. Lucian, in his Hercules (No. 55, Dindorf’s edition) has his “Celt” argue that Hercules accomplished his deeds by the power of words.

11  See, generally, Fustel de Coulanges, Institutions politiques de l’ancienne France, vol. i. (La Gaule romaine).

12  Bellum Gallicum, vi. 11, 12.

13  Cf. Julian, Vercingetorix (2nd ed., Paris, 1902).

14  Bellum Gallicum, iv. 5; vi.20.

15  There are a number of texts from the second to the fifth century which bear on the matter. Taken altogether they are unsatisfying, if not blind. They have frequently been discussed. See Gröber, Grundriss der romanischen Philologie, i. 451 sqq. (2nd edition, 1904); Brunot, Origines de la langue française, which is the Introduction to Petit de Julleville’s Histoire de la langue et de la littérature française (Paris, 1896); Bonnet, Le Latin de Grégoire de Tours, pp. 22-30 (Paris, 1890); Mommsen’s Provinces of the Roman Empire, p. 108 sqq. of English translation; Fustel de Coulanges, Institutions politiques, vol. i. (La Gaule romaine), pp. 125-135 (Paris, 1891); Roger, L’Enseignement des lettres classiques d’Ausone à Alcuin, p. 24 sqq. (Paris, 1905).

16  Such words are, e.g., wine, street, wall. See Toller, History of the English language (Macmillan & Co., 1900), pp. 41, 42.

17  See Paul, Grundriss der germanischen Philologie, Band i. pp. 305-315, (Strassburg, 1891).


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