The Gentiles
Origins How Europe conquered the world Europe in slavery Jerusalem underfoot

A history of the Gentiles (part 3):

Europe in slavery, 570-1830

See also: what happened in AD 570


What about the ordinary people?

It is well known how the European nations conquered most of the planet. No doubt this had some good effects, but the fact remains it was conquest by force, not love. Most of the world was effectively made servants to Europe.

But what about the people of Europe itself? Did they benefit from this success? No. Or at least, not until the modern era when Europe is no longer "top dog". The period 570 to 1830 was a period of effective slavery for most of the people of Europe.


Europeans in slavery, 570 to 1830


Feudalism and manorialism

Many people are vaguely aware of the system of "feudalism", whereby allegiance is exchanged for land. But feudalism was in many respects a system among equals, mainly affecting the wealthier classes of people. The real evils came from the related system of Manorialism.

Manorialism is the system under which the local landowner is "lord of the manor" and the poor people, (i.e. nearly everyone else) works on his land. Technically these workers, called serfs, were not slaves, but in practice they were just a different kind of slave.

The serf worked on the lord's land, in return for a house, land, and protection. They were treated as just part of the land - sometimes worse than the animals. Animals had value to the local lord because they could be sold for a profit. The serfs could not be sold, and were just there as additions to the land. When the land was sold, the serfs went with it.

In theory, the serfs owned property. But since the property was on the lord's land, and the lord could demand whatever taxes he wanted to, in practice the property was almost worthless. Manorialism may have looked fair to the lord of the manor, but it was an evil system that treated human beings as the lowest form of property.

The origins of manorialism: circa AD 570

Manorialism was not a single centralized thing. It developed gradually and disappeared gradually. So we cannot say it all started or all finished at the same time. But we can recognise key dates.

According to Encarta (and other encyclopedias), manorialism originated when two existing systems mixed:

  1. The Roman system of legal obligations to one's seniors.
  2. The German system of private armies. The Germanic tribes had no professional army, but soldiers were loyal to their chieftain in return for protection and a share of booty. The Germans had replaced Romans in guarding the empire's borders in the fifth century. Gradually the German influence was felt throughout the empire.

I have elsewhere argued that Europe began when the Roman system merged with the Germanic system, and that the key date was AD 570. Thus we can say that the key date in the origins of manorialism is also 570.

The end of manorialism: circa AD 1830

The last outpost of manorialism was the vast country of Russia. Russia finally outlawed it in 1861. However, it had been effectively dead for some time. Manorialism just does not make sense in anything like a modern economy. It had been an anachronism in Russia (and elsewhere) since the discussions in the late 1820s and early 1830s, when the rulers and intellectuals realized that it just could not go on. Its fate was sealed in 1833, when the major political reforms were made that allowed Russia to become a modern economy.

The only reason manorialism wasn't banned back in 1833 or before was because Nicholas I was afraid of causing too many upheavals all at once. His successor, Nicholas II, wasted little time in declaring it officially dead (only pausing to get the Crimean war over first)..

And of course, William Wilberforce helped slavery to be abolished in the British empire in 1833


Feudalism and other sins, 570 to 1830


Koch’s "Revolutions of Europe" (London: Whittacker & Co., 1839) discusses the German system of "fiefs", whereby each person owes total allegiance to his social "superior". Koch notes that, although the system is very old in Germany, it was essentially new when adopted throughout Europe. When it was a German system, it fitted very well with the German culture, and was not sees as a great evil. But when it was imposed on the rest of Europe, it was unnatural and a great evil.

Fiefs were adopted throughout Europe as a result of the successful Germanic invasions of the Roman Empire. Koch records the significant invasions beginning with the sack of Rome in 410, and ending with the Lombard invasion. The Lombard invasion marks the completion of the process. So it is fair to say that fiefs were adopted throughout Europe as a result of the process that was completed in 570.

Forgiving sins for money

Perhaps the best known of all the sins of the medieval church was the "sale of indulgences". This was the system whereby in effect, you could pay money to have your sins forgiven. This is another example of a practice introduced from the Germanic tribes. Thus , once again, AD 570 is the key date. To quote "Sketches of Church History" by J. C Robertson (London, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1904) p.153, in the chapter entitled "End of the Sixth Century" :

"Religion became a protection to crime; murderers were allowed to take refuge in churches, and might not be dragged out until after an oath had been made that their lives should be safe. It had been the ancient custom of the Germans to let all crimes be atoned for by the payment of money: if, for example, a person had killed another, he had no more to do than to pay a certain sum to the dead man's relations. And this way of making up for misdeeds was now brought into the Church: it was thought that men might make satisfaction for their sins by paying money, and that the effect would be the same if others paid for them after their death."

the bottom line

The Dark Ages were darkest for the poor. It was ever thus.


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