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Ridpath's History of the World

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BOOK SIXTEENTH.

THE PEOPLE AND THE KINGS.

CHAPTER XCIV-THE FREE CITIES.

Before the close of the crusading epoch a new fact appeared in the political society of Europe-the Free Corporate City. True it is that the Roman Empire had been composed of cities. That great power had its myriad feet planted within the walls of towns rather than in rural regions and fields. In ancient times the country was an almost unknown quantity in the political affairs of states and kingdoms. Rome was built of cities, and when in the fifth century all her bonds were loosened, to cities she returned. But it should be carefully observed that under the Roman system the corporate town had no independent existence. It was a part of the general structure, subject in all things and all respects to the decrees of the Senate and the edicts of the Emperor. In this regard the city which constituted an integral part of the fabric of Rome presented a marked contrast to the free city of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In the course of time the corporate towns into which the Roman Empire was resolved fell under the dominion of Feudalism. Not only the peasant populations but the towns also were conquered by the barbarians, and when after the age of Charlemagne society became disintegrated and the Feudal System arose on the ruins, the mediaeval cities passed naturally under the common despotism established by the baronial lords. The towns were either included within the limits of the fiefs in which they were geographically situated, or were themselves erected into fiefs under their respective suzerains. It thus happened that in the transformation of Ancient into Modern Europe the urban populations passed through nearly the same vicissitudes as did the countrymen and peasants.

It came to pass, however, that the maintenance of feudal authority over the cities was more difficult than over the country fiefs. The country was the native seat of Feudalism. In the case of the cities there seemed to be something unnatural in the suzerainty of baronial lords who lived in castles on their estates, and whose only care within the city gates was to gather the annual taxes. It is

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