M. Viollet’s theory

From: Origin of Property in Land
by Fustel de Coulanges

II. M. Viollet’s theory as to community of land amongst the Greeks.

M. Viollet is a disciple of Maurer who copies and exaggerates his master. The system that Maurer was able with some show of probability to build up in relation to the Germanic peoples, M. Viollet supposes he can extend to all nations ancient or modern. What is quite fresh in his writings and exclusively his own, is, that he attributes to the ancient Greeks a system of community in land which the most profound students of Greek history had, up to this time, failed to discover. We must not suppose that in laying down such a proposition, he is speaking of some primitive age when the Greeks may be supposed to have been ignorant of agriculture, and consequently of landed property. He is speaking of the times when the Greeks were agriculturists, when they lived in organised societies; he is speaking of Greek cities; and he declares that the soil was for a long time cultivated by the city in common, without its occurring to the family or the individual to appropriate it. All the land, according to him, for a long time belonged not to the individual, not to the family, but to the city.[1]

He states that “his theory is supported by authorities of considerable weight” (p. 463); and he refers to eleven passages taken from Plato, Virgil, Justin, Tibullus, Diodorus on the Lipari Isles, Diogenes Laertius on Pythagoras, Aristotle on the town of Tarentum, Athenaeus on Spartan meals, Diodorus on the “klerouchia” and lastly, Theophrastus on the sale of real property. Let us look at the originals. Let us see at any rate whether M. Viollet’s references are altogether exact.

1. The first author quoted is Plato, “who still saw here and there the vestiges of primitive community” and M. Viollet tells us that he finds this in the Laws of Plato (Book III.). I turn to the passage mentioned, and this is what I find: “In very early times men lived in a pastoral state, supporting themselves by their herds of cattle and by hunting. At that time they had no laws. As to government, they knew no other than the (Greek letters: Swao-reia,/pma) the authority, that is, of the master over his family and slaves. Like the Cyclops of Homer, they had neither public assemblies nor justice; they lived in caverns; and each ruled over his wife and children without troubling himself about his neighbours.”

This is what Plato says, describing from imagination a primitive savage state. It must be some strange illusion which makes M. Viollet suppose that this passage describes men as cultivating the land in common. Plato says that they did not cultivate it at all. Where does he see that the land belonged to the people? Plato says that at this time there did not even exist a people. Where does he see that men were associated for purposes of cultivation? Plato says that each family lived apart, “without troubling itself about its neighbours.” M. Viollet then has taken this passage in precisely the opposite sense to the right one. Go through all the writings of the philosopher and you will find that he has nowhere said “that in his time he still saw the ruins of a primitive community.” Plato has, it is true, endowed his ideal city with a particular system of community in land; but he never says that it was practised in any actually existing city. Our first authority, then, is proved to have been misrepresented.

2. M. Viollet next refers to Virgil, who, in the Georgies (i. 125), describes a time “when the soil was neither divided nor marked out by boundaries, and when everything was common.” This at first sight seems convincing. The poet’s verse is correctly quoted.[2] But observe the context. The whole passage is an imaginary description of a time when men did not cultivate the soil: Ante Jovern nulli subigebant arva coloni … Ipsa tellus omnia liberius, nullo poscente, ferebat. So long as men did not cultivate the ground, there could be no question of dividing it among them as private property. Virgil goes on to say that afterwards man learnt to till the ground, ut sulcis frumenti qucereret herbam; but he no longer says that everything was in common. It appears, then, that if M. Viollet had given it a little more attention, he would have dispensed with the use this passage; for it describes savage life and has no connection at all with community of land in the agricultural state. What can the golden age, whether it existed or not, prove concerning the social life of Greek cities?

3. Next comes a quotation from Justin out of Trogus Pompeius. This Gaul, trying to describe the remotest ages of Italy, says that there was a time “when slavery and private property were unknown, and everything was undivided.” The quotation is correct; but what is the time referred to? The age before Jupiter, ante Jovem. This is as much as to say, the golden age, or, if you prefer it, the savage state.

4. It is the same with the quotation from Tibullus; it applies “to the time of King Saturn” that is, to the præ-agricultural age, the golden age of the imagination. If M. Viollet wished to prove that in the golden age private property did not exist, he has succeeded pretty well. But what has this to do with the Greek cities? M. Viollet supposes that legends of this kind represent traditions of an earlier state. This is exceedingly doubtful; and in any case they would be traditions of a time when agriculture was unknown, and when there were neither organised nations nor cities. If there were long ages when mankind did not know how to till the ground, what does that prove in relation to the time when they did cultivate it? We must not lose sight of the proposition our author wishes to establish; it is that men, even after they had entered into city life, cultivated the soil in common instead of appropriating it individually. There is a certain want of caution in thinking that you can prove a system of common cultivation from legends which show the absence of all cultivation.

  1. 5. M. Viollet at last comes down to historical times and quotes a passage from Diodorus Siculus. Let us first give his translation as if it were scrupulously exact: “Certain Cnidians and Rhodians colonised the Lipari Isles. As they had much to endure at the hands of Tyrrhenian pirates, they armed some barks wherewith to defend themselves, and divided themselves into two separate classes; one was intrusted with the cultivation of the islands, which they declared common property; to the other was committed the care of the defence. Having thus thrown together all their possessions, and eating together at public meals, they lived in common during several years; but after a time they divided amongst themselves the land of Lipara on which was their town; as to the other islands they, continued for some time to be cultivated in common. At last they divided all the islands for a period of twenty years; and at the expiration of this term, they drew lots for them anew.”

Much might be said about this translation, but we wish to be brief.[3] M. Viollet ought, in the first place, to have mentioned the date of this event, since Diodorus gives it: it happened in the fiftieth Olympiad, that is about the year 575. Now, long before this, Cnidus and Rhodes had had a system of private property, and had no trace of common ownership. So these Cnidians and Rhodians may, very likely, have made an experiment of this kind; but it is impossible that their action should illustrate a survival of primitive community as M. Viollet maintains.[4]

The account of the Greek historian also plainly shows the motive which determined these men to leave the land for some time undivided: it was because the Tyrrhenian pirates ravaged the islands to such an extent that the Greeks were obliged to separate into two divisions, the one fighting, the other tilling the ground.[5] But Diodorus goes on to say that this manner of life only lasted a few years. So soon as they had freed themselves from the pirates, the Greeks made a regular settlement in the island of Lipara, that is in the largest and most important island of the little group. They built a town there; and at the same time “they made a partition of the soil.” Now, this partition was never made over again; it was a distribution of shares to be held in perpetuity, that is, as private property. M. Viollet passes over this too hastily; it is of the utmost importance, for it shows us that private property was established directly the Greeks were in anything like a settled condition. The fact that the other islets, more difficult to cultivate and less securely held, remained for some time longer undivided, does not imply that these people lived in a state of agrarian communism. Each of them was a landed proprietor in the main island, and enjoyed certain rights over one of the islets.[6] But even this arrangement did not last long, and the small islands were parcelled out in their turn. There was, it is true, a provisional partition at first, to last for twenty years; there are several very likely explanations for this precautionary measure. Whatever the reason may have been, at the end of twenty years the partition was made over again, and this time it was permanent; for Diodorus never says that a division took place periodically down to his own time.[7]

The whole account of the Greek historian points to the fact that the Greek emigrants established what was customary throughout Greece, a system of private ownership. In order to thoroughly understand it, we must compare this with similar passages in which the same historian shows us Greek colonists dividing the soil amongst themselves from the very first day of their settlement.[8] The settlement of these Cnidians and Rhodians differs from other instances only in this, that it was necessary, for reasons which Diodorus indicates, to postpone the partition for some years. This is what the historian wished to tell us; he never says that these people thought of establishing common ownership: they had no more disposition for it than other Greeks. Whatever communism they may have practised was not an institution, but a temporary condition of things, lasting for a brief period, with no past and no future. Private property was with them, as with all other Greeks, the normal state of things. The account of Diodorus is, we see, the reverse of M. Viollet’s statement; and it is startling to find M. Viollet writing, that “as late as the time of the Emperor Augustus, private property was not yet established amongst these Greeks, at the very gates of Rome” (p. 468).

6. M. Viollet now passes on to Pythagoras. On the evidence of a biography of the philosopher written eight hundred years after his death, he relates that Pythagoras got together as many as two thousand disciples, and induced them to live in common. This may be true; but does the fact that a philosopher succeeded in founding a phalanstery, which did not outlast himself, prove that it was habitual at that time for people to live together in common? It seems to me that it proves exactly the opposite. If the disciples of Pythagoras were forced to leave their towns in order to found a communistic settlement, it was because the life in the towns was not communistic. It is certain that this institution of Pythagoras was something exceptional, which left no trace behind it. The story itself, when we look at it, has no connection with a primitive community in land. But notice M. Viollet’s method of proceeding. Just because he comes across these two thousand (others say six hundred) disciples of Pythagoras, he concludes that “we have here the origin of many of the towns in Greater Greece; this shows that these towns were founded and settled under a system of undivided property.” Nothing of the kind. They were all founded before Pythagoras, and outlived him; and neither before nor after his time did they recognise a system of undivided property.[9]

7. We now come to an instance which would appear to be more historical. “The citizens of Tarentum” says M. Viollet, “seem to have preserved something of their old community in land down to the time of Aristotle.” And he refers to the Politics vi. 3, 5. You turn to the passage quoted and you read as follows: “It is the duty of an intelligent aristocracy to watch over the poor and to furnish them with employment. We should do well to imitate the men of Tarentum; they have portions of land whereof they leave to the poor the common enjoyment (literally, which they make common to the poor for their enjoyment[10]), and in this way they secure the attachment of the lower people.” We see how far removed the original is from M. Viollet’s interpretation of it. Aristotle says nothing whatever of a communistic system. He places Tarentum amongst aristocratic States, and shows that there were poor people, (airopoi), in it; only he points out that the rich took care to set apart certain land for the use of these poor, in order to win their attachment.[11] M. Viollet has mistaken a charitable institution for a communistic one, though it is perfectly clear that what Aristotle describes was merely a concession made by the rich to the poor; that is to say, it was precisely the opposite of communism.

8. M. Viollet tells us that there are “other survivals which enable us to travel back in thought to primitive common-ownership: there are the common meals;” and he devotes fully three pages to the common meals of the Greeks. He begins with the meal which the Spartans called Copis; describes it in detail from Athenaeus, and concludes (p. 471): “All this is primitive, and we have here the common meal in all its early simplicity.” Now, it unluckily happens that the meal called copis was in no way a common meal. Ancient writers tell us that the Spartans had some private meals;[12] the copis was one of them. Lead the page from Athenmus which M. Viollet has translated; read it in the original;[13] and not only will you not find a word which suggests that the copis was a public meal, but you will find clear evidence to the contrary. “Whoever likes gives the copis, [kotti^i 6 SovXo/jLevos]” and he who gives it invites to it whomsoever he pleases, “whether Spartan or stranger.” Such are not the characteristics of public meals ordered and arranged by the State. Let us add that the Greek writer lays stress upon the religious character of this meal; it ought to be celebrated before the god [nrapa rov deov], i.e., in front of a temple and in presence of the image of the divinity. Ancient rites are observed; a tent must first be built with branches of trees, and the ground strewn with boughs for the company to recline upon; the only meat which may be used is goats’ flesh; and each guest must be presented with a particular kind of loaf, made according to a fixed rule both as to its ingredients and shape, These rites will not surprise anyone who is familiar with early Greek life. Every Spartan could give this repast when he pleased; but the usual custom in the town was to give it “at the festival called Tithenidia, celebrated to secure the health of children;” and the nurses used to bring the little boys to it. The description of Athenaeus is perfectly clear. M. Viollet has committed the error of mistaking a private and religious meal for a common meal, and of supposing that he sees in it a sign of community in land.

There still remain the true common meals, which took place daily or almost daily at Sparta, and which were called [owo-tTia]. M. Viollet says at once that they are evidence of community. It seems reasonable to argue: “If men eat the fruits of the earth in common, it is because in primitive times the earth itself was common;” but we think that M. Viollet ought to have distrusted this apparently logical process of reasoning. If he had studied this institution of common meals at Sparta in the original writers, he could not have failed to notice four circumstances: 1. It does not date from the earliest period of the city; and far from being connected with a time when land may have been common, it is later than the institution at Sparta of private property.[14] 2. These common meals did not constitute a common life; for in the first place the men alone partook of them, not the women nor the children;[15] and in the second place, the men did not take all the meals of the day together, but only one, that of the evening. 3. The expenses of the meal were not defrayed by the community, by the State, but each man had to bring his contribution, which was fixed at a medimnus of flour a month, eight congii of wine, some fruit, and a sum of money for the purchase of meat.[16] This is something very different from citizens being fed in common by the State; they had to eat in common, but each ate at his own expense, because each was the owner of property. 4. The common meals were so far from representing community in goods, that poor Spartans were not admitted to them; a fact which is distinctly mentioned by Aristotle, who goes on to say that these meals were the least democratic things in the world. [17]

It is the greatest mistake to imagine all the Spartans eating of the same dishes at the same table. The so-called common meals were taken in small groups of fifteen members each, in separate houses. Every one was free to choose the group which he wished to join; but he was not admitted except by the unanimous vote of the members composing it.[18] We also know that the meals were somewhat luxurious, and that the famous black broth, [/xcAd? (wpos], was merely the prelude to them.[19] It is, then, very evident that these common repasts, whose meaning or object we need not here try to discover, have not the slightest connection with a common life and certainly not with community in land.[20]

9. Viollet also refers to the feasts which the fifty Athenian pryfanes used to celebrate near the sacred hearth; reminds us that when the young Athenian was received into the phratria, the phratria performed a sacrifice which was followed by a feast; and refers to the feasts which the Roman curiae celebrated before an altar on certain festivals. But one must indeed be dominated by a fixed idea to suppose that these three different kinds of feasts are a proof of community in land. It is exceedingly ingenious to say that “these meals are the lingering evidence of a primitive nomad life and of community in the soil;”[21] but the fact is that they were simply religious ceremonies. They were celebrated around an altar, according to prescribed rites. The custom of a common meal in the presence of the divinity is found in many religions.

10. For his ninth proof, M. Viollet sets before us “a wide-spread tradition which represents the inhabitants of a country as dividing its soil amongst themselves;” and in support of this he gives a few references to Diodorus. He might have given many more, and to other writers also.[22] What he takes for a vague tradition is an historical fact perfectly well known and authenticated. We know that every Greek city preserved the memory of its foundation, which was the occasion of a yearly festival. This tradition was handed down either by means of religious songs repeated from year to year without any change, or on bronze inscriptions kept in a temple. It is from these sacred records that we obtain such exact evidence as to the founding and founder of each city. Now these records lay stress on two circumstances; the founding of the town on a given day by the performance of a religious ceremony; and the division of the land amongst the citizens,—a division which was effected by a drawing of lots, called [kA rjpovxla or KXrjpoSoa-ia]. These two operations took place at the same time; we might almost say on the same day. Where M. Viollet makes the mistake is in saying that “this division presupposes primitive community, and puts an end to an era of non-division” (p. 473). It is precisely the contrary; for whenever we see Greek emigrants making settlements on territory either previously unoccupied or else conquered by them, we find them immediately founding a town and immediately dividing the soil.[23] The soil may have been conquered in common, but not for one single year is it cultivated in common. They do not divide it “in order to get out of a system of non-division”; but they make haste to divide the country that they have just found unoccupied or have just conquered, so that it shall not remain for one moment undivided.

In those cities, indeed, which date from very early times, there was no occasion for a division. We do not find it in Athens. Why? Because we know that Attica was at first occupied by some hundreds of independent families, [ytvy]; and that these families afterwards were grouped into phratries, and finally into a city. There is no partition here, for each family keeps the land which has belonged to it for centuries.

But when it is a case of a colony, a body of people who emigrate and take possession of fresh territory, a division is quite needful. Only this division does not, as M. Viollet would suppose, come at the end of a period of non-division; it is the first< step in the establishment of the colony. The practice is one of the most remarkable, and one of the best authenticated of those early times. It proves that the Greek city never cultivated its land in common; that it had no wish for a common ownership of the soil; that the very idea of such a system was unknown to it. If M. Viollet had studied the [Khqpovyla] in all the authorities which refer to it, he would not have supposed for a moment that it could be a proof of community in land, and he would have taken care not to bring it forward in support of a theory of which it is in reality the refutation.

10. I shall not dwell long upon another argument of M. Viollet’s (p. 481). I have elsewhere pointed out that in the most ancient Greek law, as well as in early Hindoo law and with many other peoples, the land originally attached to a family was so closely bound up with it that it could neither be sold, nor transferred to another family, either by bequest or as dower.[24] This rule is clearly explained in many Greek writings; it is the result of the conception of property not as an individual right, but as a family right. A father was compelled to leave it to his sons. Even if there were no son, he could not bequeath or sell it; it must pass to the nearest relation. M. Viollet imagines that there is another explanation. The prohibition of sale and bequest results, according to him, from the circumstance that land was originally common to all. I do not follow the argument. If the soil was originally the common property of the people, and the people maintained a kind of eminent domain over it (which is M. Viollet ‘s theory), one cannot see why the law should have forbidden the sale of land to another member of the same people; one cannot see why the law should have prohibited any family from parting with it, even in favour of the people itself. The old rule, or rather the ancient custom which forbids a family to separate itself from its land, cannot be a proof of community in land. It only proves the ownership of property by the family. As Plato says, in a passage where he expresses not his own private utopias but the ideas of the men of his time: “You cannot leave your property to whomsoever you please, because your property belongs to your family, that is, to your ancestors and your descendants.”[25] The hypothesis that M. Viollet sets against this is purely fanciful. He appears to believe that the restriction as to sale and bequest weakened the rights of property; he does not observe that it renders inheritance more absolute, and secures the rights of the family. One may search through the whole of Greek law and the whole of Greek literature without finding either the “eminent domain” of the State, or a restoration of the land to a supposed ownership common.

11. M.  Viollet’s last argument is taken from a passage of Theophrastus. When Greek law at last authorised the sale of land—property being from that time onwards looked upon as an individual right,—it required that the sale should take place under certain conditions of publicity. “Many legislators” says Theophrastus, “require that sales should be made by a public crier, and that they should be announced several days beforehand; others prefer that they should take place in the presence of a magistrate; while some lay down that notice of sale must be posted up for sixty days. There are two motives for all this: in the first place that claims may be presented against the seller, and secondly, that all may know who is the new owner.” This sentence is perfectly clear; it tells us that a sale ought to be made publicly, so that it may be surrounded by all possible guarantees; but M. Viollet sees in it something different from this “If the public are present” he says, “it is because the land belongs to the people” (pp. 484-485). This is drawing a conclusion of which Theophrastus never dreamt. When he described the various kinds of publicity which were enjoined in the matter of sale, and when he explained in such a natural manner the reasons for this publicity, he did not suppose that his meaning would be so far distorted as to lead to the conclusion that the land had once been common. But M. Viollet has a fixed idea and follows it. If he reads that neighbours act as witnesses to a sale, he adds that their consent had doubtless to be asked, since the land properly belonged to all. If he reads in another passage that it was the custom in a certain town for the purchaser to present three of the neighbours with a small piece of money, so that they might afterwards remember the act and be able to vouch for it, he at once adds that “this piece of money is the price which the purchaser pays to the three neighbours for their original rights over the land.” All this is pure imagination. The Greeks certainly did not connect any idea of community in land with these simple customs.

Such, then, are the eleven authorities by whose help M. Viollet tries to prove that the early Greek cities held their land in common during a period more or less protracted. M. Viollet does not give a single other reference. Now the first taken from Plato, the fifth from Diodorus, and the seventh about Tarentum are absolutely incorrect; the second, third and fourth from Virgil, Trogus Pompeius and Tibullus are beside the subject, since they apply to the tradition of a savage state which does not here concern us; the sixth, the one about Pythagoras, points to an exceptional episode, only lasting for a brief period, and clearly not m harmony with Greek habits, the eighth, about public meals, has been misunderstood; the ninth about the [kXtjpovx tou], and the tenth concerning the primitive inalienability of land belonging to the family, are absolutely opposed to M. Viollet’s theory; the eleventh points to publicity of sale, not community in land. And so out of eleven quotations or arguments there is not a single one which on examination stands firm.

And this is not all. Supposing that there could be found in the whole of Greek literature two or three, or even eleven, quotations, which seemed to imply community in land, it would still be the duty of every serious historian to look at the evidence on the other side; to search, that is, for other passages or other facts which point to an opposite conclusion. It did not occur to M. Viollet to do this. If he should ever think of undertaking the task, I venture to point out to him four classes of authorities or of facts: 1st, Those to be found in Homer, Hesiod and the most ancient documents, which show us the land held as private property, with no mention or trace of community. 2nd, Those vestiges of the oldest Greek law which have come down to us, which do not contain the slightest trace of a state of things in which the land belonged to the people and which do contain, on the contrary, precise rules as to family property. 3rd, The rites of ancient religions, which show the worship of land and of consecrated bounds; and this side by side with the worship of the dead. 4th, and finally, the records of all the [KXrjpovxi]; that is, the division of the soil into hereditary portions, a division which was made on the very day of the founding of each city, and almost implies an actual inaptitude for common ownership. Here will be found, not eleven imaginary pieces of evidence, but a whole body of evidence and of facts; and this mass of evidence proves precisely the opposite of a system of community. History would be too easy a science if it were enough to pick out here and there isolated lines and interpret them as one liked. Every authority ought to be consulted, the whole of Greek literature ought to be studied, in treating of such a problem as H. Viollet’s. One cannot judge of the whole Greek world from a chance occurrence in the Lipari isles. Eleven quotations, which, even if they were exact, would be insignificant in comparison with the rest of Greek literature, are not enough to build a system upon. What is especially surprising is that the author of such a theory should not have thought of studying either the law, or the beliefs, or the permanent institutions of the Greeks. He has solved the question without so much as setting himself to investigate it.

May I add that I am sorry to find myself taken to task by M. Viollet? “M. Fustel” he says (p. 464), “was unable to recognise this great historical fact (i.e., the supposed community in land), because he saw that every family had its own hearth, its own worship, its own ancestors.” This is true. I willingly grant that the facts which I saw, and which I have completely proved, prevented me from seeing the imaginary facts that M Viollet thought he descried in his eleven quotations. He further adds (p. 465), that since I admitted the existence of property common to the family, it was an easy thing to go a little further and recognise, as he did, the common-ownership of the people. Here M. Viollet throws a little too much light upon his own method of proceeding. According to him, an historian who recognises one fact or institution ought to guess at another fact or institution, merely because there is an apparent analogy between them; in this way logic takes the place of evidence, and the imagination can construct all the systems it chooses. I am not bold enough for this; I do not find in history what I wish to find, but only what is there. I am careful not to insert anything I do not find. I saw in ancient law and ancient religion the co-proprietorship of the family, and I said so. I did not see the common ownership of the whole people, and I did not say I did. History is not a science of speculation; it is a science of observation.

No one, moreover, but M. Viollet, considers that the co-proprietorship of the family and the common ownership of the whole people “are two things which resemble one another.” It is clear to every careful observer that they are essentially different, both in character and in results The co-proprietorship of the family is an ownership which is complete, absolute, hereditary, independent even of the State. If it is undivided, it is because the family at this time is itself still undivided. It is, besides, legally in the hands of the head of the family, the real owner, who is absolute master of it, and does what he likes with it; but who can neither transfer it or bequeath it because he owes it to his descendants such as he has received it from his ancestors.” What resemblance is there between such a system and one under which the land would be common to all, and belong to a whole nation?

I shall not dwell at length on the second portion of M. Viollet’s work, in which he gives a hasty and superficial glance at the Middle Ages. Here I have not been more fortunate than before in verifying his evidence. For example: he dwells at length upon the prior right of purchase which belonged to neighbours. Everyone knows of this custom, the meaning and reason of which are obvious enough. But in M. Viollet’s eyes this right of the neighbours is a vestige of community in land. He does not notice that the preference given in case of sale to a neighbouring proprietor over a distant one has nothing to do with community. Under a system of common ownership this prior claim of the neighbour would not be found. The two things are incompatible. The right of the neighbour is a custom belonging essentially to private property; it is a grave error to convert it into a communistic practice.

Further on, M. Viollet speaks of the Franks; he represents them as “dwelling in small groups called villæ or genealogiæ.” One must never have seen in the charters what a villa is, to imagine it a group of men; and it is something more than rashness to identify the villa with the genealogia. M. Viollet says again that amongst the Franks “the tie of neighbourhood was so strong as to hold in check the rights of blood in matters of succession;” and he does not notice that this is absolutely opposed to the explicit statement of the Salic law. He maintains that the Frank villa was a village community, and quotes section xlv. of the Salic law, which not only does not say one single word about a community, but, on the contrary, one is surprised to find, has nothing whatever to do with one. He maintains that the ftipu- arian law requires “the consent of the community” to a sale of land, and quotes a section of the law which merely says that the sale ought to take place in the presence of witnesses and in a public place. It is his own addition that these witnesses are “a community” and that they have to give their “consent.” Elsewhere he maintains that the Thurincdans were unacquainted with the sale of land, and his only- proof is the section of the law which authorises such a sale. He says again that according to the Ripuarian law real property could only be sold by virtue of a royal writ; and he supports this statement by a reference to the section of the law which enacts that the purchaser of an estate shall demand a written document from the seller.

M. Viollet’s quotations are always exact in this respect, that the line he quotes is to be found at the place mentioned; their inexactness merely consists in this, that the same line taken with its context means precisely the opposite of what M. Viollet says. In the same way he once quoted a passage from a document of 890 in which he found the word communes; surely this meant community in land, collective ownership. Unluckily it turned out that the document did not contain any reference to community, or even to a village, or to cultivators of the soil; it concerned a dispute between two landowners, an abbot and a count. The adjective communes related not to lands, but to certain “customary rights in a royal forest.” The abbot declared that “these common rights were his” free of charge, while the count maintained that the abbot had always paid a rent, sub conductions. All this is evidently the very opposite of community; but M. Viollet had seen the word communes, and that was enough.[26] I have gone through his whole work in a similar manner and tried to find a reference that was to the point; and I have not found one.


[1] P. Viollet, Du caractère collectif des premières propriétés immobilières, in the Bibliothèque de l’Ecole des Chartes, 1872, pages 455-504

[2] “Nec signare quidem aut partiri limite campum Fas erat; in medium quserebant.” M. Viollet makes a mistake, however, as to in medium, which he translates as if it was in commune.

[3] We have italicised the words that are inexact. Diodorus does not say that these men were divided into two “classes;” he does not say that they “declared” the land “common property.” Kotvas Troir/cravres means that the islands were made common for a moment, it is the statement of a fact, not the announcement of a perpetual institution. In place of “they threw together all their possessions” the Greek tells us that they clubbed together their resources. However, the chief mistakes are in the last words of the translation.

[4] Viollet, pp. 467-468.

[5] The passage is in Diodorus v. 9, bipontine edit., iii. p. 267.

[6] Thucydides explains this very well: “They lived on the island of Lipara, and went from thence to cultivate the other islands” iii. 88.

[7] (Greek letters/pma: Tas vtjctovs els e”œ<o<xi triy ^LeXipevoi, jraXiv KXrjpoe^oicrtv orav s Xpovos ovros di eXOrj.) The word nd\iv means a second time and not periodically. There is no expression such as (vvv on) which the historian would have used if he had meant to imply that it was still practised in his own time. The conjunction (orav) indicates a single action; the historian has not written (Sadiccs). It is true he uses (KXrjpovxovai) in the present tense; whether copying an old document, or employing the “narrative present” so usual with historians. It is necessary, moreover, to notice the intrinsic meaning of the word (K\r/povxei.v); the term is usual enough in Greek for its meaning to be perfectly well ascertained. It is always used of a definitive division, a partition made for all time. We cannot suppose that Diodorus would have used (tcXrjpovx elv) for a temporary and periodical division.

[8] Diodorus, v. 53; v. 59; v. 81; v. 83 and 84; xii. 11; xv. 23.

[9] See Strabo vi. 1.

[10] [KoLva TTOioiivret ra KTrjpara role anopois fVi rr/v XP*)<TL v- ]

[11] [Euvoov 7rapacn<.ev^£ou(Ti to nXqdos.)]

[12] Xenophon Commentarii, i. 2, 61, tells us that the Lacedaemonian Lichas was celebrated for the generosity with which he entertained his guests at dinner; Herodotus, vi. 57, represents individuals as inviting a king to dinner in their own houses; Plutarch, Lycurgus, 12, says that every Spartan who made a sacrifice was excused from the public meals, i.e., he could eat at his own home the animal he had sacrificed. It is, therefore, a great mistake to say that the Spartans always ate in common.

[13] Athenmus, iv. 16.

[14] Herodotus, who knew Sparta very well, says that the public meals were not established till two centuries after the foundation of the city; i. 65. The same will be found in Xenophon, Repnbl. Laced., v. and in Plutarch, Lycurgus, 10, who says distinctly that before this period the Spartans ate their meals at home. Private property, on the other hand, was established from the very beginning of the city.

[15] Plato, Laws, vi. p. 781; Aristotle, Politics, ii. 7; Aleman, in Strabo, x. 4, 18. ”

[16] Aristotle, Politics, ii. 7; Plutarch, Lycurgus, 12.

[17] Aristotle, Politics, ii. 6. 21

[18] Plutarch, Lycurgus, 12.

[19] Cicero, Tusculan. Disput. v. 34; Plutarch, Lycurgus, 21; Xenophon, Republ. Laced., v; and, above all, the authors cited by Athenaeus, iv, 20.

[20] We have elsewhere pointed to the evidence for private property in Sparta, and the rules concerning it. (Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des sciences morales, 1879-1880.) See, 011 the same subject, the excellent work of M. Claudio Jannet.

[21] Viollet, p. 472.

[22] Diodorus, v. 53; v. 59; v. 81; v. 83; v. 84; xii. 11; xv. 23; Odyssy, vi. 11; Herodotus, v. 77; Plato, Laws, iii. pp. 684- 685; Pausanias, passim.

[23] We do not doubt that there were some exceptions. What Diodorus tells us of the Lipari Islands is one of them. It might occasionally sometimes happen, for some reason or other, that the partition was put off for a few years.

[24] Heraclides of Pontus, edit. Didot, vol. ii. p. 211; Aristotle, Politics, ii. 4, 4; vii. 2, 5; Plutarch, Instituta laconica, 22; Life of Agis, 5; Life of Solon, 21. Cf. Laws of Mauon, ix. 105- 107, 126.

[25] Plato, Laws* xi.

[26] The statement of M. Viollet is in the Revue critique, 1886, vol. ii., p. 109. The document of 890 ought not to be interpreted from the extract he gives from it; it is necessary to read the whole of it, as it is to be found in the Urkundenbuch der Abtei S. Gallen , n° 662, vol. ii., p. 265.