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Colonate

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The Colonate was a system of land exploitation that developed in the 1st century CE in the Roman Empire. Initially, it developed mainly in Italy, but with time it spread to other, mainly western provinces of the Empire. The name comes from the word colonatus meaning “state of the villagers”.

In the colonies, free peasants (colonies) personally leased plots of land from great landowners, paying rent in kind or in money. Problems with paying rents made the colonies increasingly dependent on latifundists, which over time took the form of real serfdom.

From the 3rd century CE, the colonization also included free peasants whose plots bordered on latifundia. During the decompression of the state, they sought protection (patrocinium) from great lords. In exchange for it, they gave their land to latifundists, which they then leased as a colonial. The emergence of this system was somehow forced in the 2nd century CE. the decrease in the number of slaves.

The development of Roman latifundia went hand in hand with their independence from state power. From the third century on, the owners of property complexes were more and more often excluded from the municipal administration, the common judiciary and the tax system. As a result, the dependence of colonies (colonus) on latifundists was deepening, and state structures lost contact with the basic layer of the population. The rulers of the late empire did not fight these tendencies effectively. The transfer of the obligation to collect taxes and appoint recruits to latifundists encouraged even the emperors to increase the dependence on the colonies. According to the constitution of Constantine the Great of 332 CE they were tied to the ground – they were forbidden to leave their farms without the consent of the property owners.

The rapid development of the colonies and hence great land ownership, in the last centuries of the Empire’s existence is considered one of the reasons for its collapse. In the longer term, the colonials also had a clear influence on the development of a new social system – feudalism.

Sources
  • Benedykt Zientara, Historia powszechna średniowiecza, Warszawa 2006

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