Max Weber



from General Economic History, by Max Weber, trans. by Frank H Knight, Ph.D., Greenberg, Publisher, 1927



The small family may be the starting point of the development of a communistic household, but it may also evolve into the large-scale manorial household. Viewed in its economic relations, the latter is primarily the medium of development of agricultural proprietorship and hence of Grundherrschaft, the manor and feudalism.

The differentiation in wealth which lies at the base of this development has different sources. One is chieftainship, whether in the chieftain of a clan or of a military group. The division of the land among the members of the in clan was in the hands of the clan chieftan. This traditional right often developed into seigniorial power which became hereditary. The respect which a clan owed to such hereditary distinction was expressed in gifts and aids in connection with tillage and house building, request services to begin with, but developing into obligations. The leader in war might win the title to land through internal differentiation or through conquest outside the clan. Every where he has a privileged claim in the distribution of booty and in the division of conquered land. His followers also demanded privileged treatment in the allotment of land. This seigniorial land did not ordinarily share in the burdens of the normal field divisions - as, for example, in the ancient German economic system - but on the contrary was cultivated with the aid of the occupiers of the ordinary holdings. (51)

Internal differentiation developed through the appearance of a professional military class, which resulted from the progress of military technique and improvement in the quality of military equipment. Neither the training nor the equipment were available for men in a dependent economic position. Thus arose a distinction between those classes which by virtue of their possessions were in a position to render military service and to equip themselves for the same, and those who could not do this and consequently were not able to maintain the full status of free men. The development of agricultural technique worked in the same direction as military progress. The result was that the ordinary peasant was increasingly bound to his economic functions. Further differentiation came about through the fact that the upper classes, skilled in fighting, and providing their own equipment, accumulated booty in varying degrees through thei military activity, while non-military men who could not do this became more and more subject to various services and taxes. These were either imposed by direct force or resulted from the purchase of exemptions. (52)

The other course of internal differentiation is through the conquest and subjugation of some enemy people. Originally, conquered enemies are slaughtered, under some circumstances with cannibalistic orgies. Only as a secondary matter develops the practice of exploiting their labor power and transforming them into a servile class of burden bearers. Thus arises a class of overlords who by their possession of human beings are placed in a position to clear and till land, a thing impossible to the common free man. The slave or servile population might be exploited communally, remaining in the possession of the group as a whole, and used for collective tillage of the soil, as was partly the case with the helots of Sparta; or, they might be utilized individually, being alloted to individual overlords for the tillage of their personal land holdings. This latter development establishes a nobility of conquest. (52, 53)

In addition to conquest and to internal differentiation must be recognized voluntary submission of the defenseless man to the overlordship of a military leader. Because the former needed protection he recognized a lord as patronus (in Rome) or as senior, among the Merovingian Franks. Thus he established a claim to representation before the court, as in the Frankish empire, to a champion in the trial by battle, or to the testimony of the lord instead of the compurgation of the clansmen. In return he furnished services or payments, the significance of which is not, however, the exploitation of the dependent. He can be called upon only for service worhty of a free man, especially for military service. In the last days of the Roman Republic, for example, various senatorial families in this way called out hundreds of their clients and colons against Caesar.

The fourth mode of origin of seigniorial proprietorship is through land settlement under feudal terms. The chieftain with large possessions in human beings and work animals is in a position to reclaim land on a quite different scale from the ordinary peasant. But cleared land belonged in principle to him who brought it under tillage, as long as he was able to cultivate it. Thus the differential command over human labor power, where it appeared, worked indirectly as well as directly in the field of winning land for a seignioral class. An example of such exploitation of a superior economic position is the patricians’ exercise of the right of occupancy on the Roman ager publicus. (53)

The seignioral land, after it was broken up, was regularly utilitzed by the method of leasing. Leases were granted to foreigners, - for example to craftsmen, who then stood under the general protection of the king or chieftan - or to impoverished persons. Where the latter are concerned we find, especially among nomadic peoples, the leasing of cattle also; otherwise in general the placing of settlers upon baronial land under obligation to make payments and render services. This is the so-called colonate, met with all over the East, in Italy, in Gaul, and also among the Germans. Money fiefs and grain fiefs, essentially loans, are also frequently a means to the accumulation of serfs and of land. Alongside the colons and slaves, the peons or nexi play a large role, especially in the economic life of antiquity. (53, 54)

Frequently there was an intermixing of those forms of dependency which grew out of clan relations with those deriving from seigniorial power. For landless men in the protection of an overlord, or for foreigners, membership in a clan was no longer in question and the distinctions between clan members, mark members, and members of the tribes disappear in the single category of feudal dependents. A further source in the development of seignorial claims is the profession of magic. In many cases the chieftain developed, not out of a military leader, but out of a rainmaker. The medicine man could lay a curse on certain objects, which then became protected by "taboo" against all molestation. The aristocracy of magic thus acquired priestly property, and where the prince allied himself with the priest he employed the taboo to secure his personal possessions; this is especially common in the South Sea Islands. (54)

A sixth possibility for the development of seigniorial property is afforded by trade. Regulation of trade with other communities originally lies entirely in the hands of the chieftain, who at first is required to use it in the interests of the tribe. He makes it a source of income for himself by levying duties which, to begin with, are only a payment for the protection he grants to foreign merchants, since he grants market concessions and protects market dealings - for a consideration always, as need not be said. Later the chieftain often goes on to trade on his own account, establishing a monopoly by excluding the membership of the community - village, tribe or clan. Thus he obtains the means of making loans, which are the means of reducing his own tribesmen to peonage, and of accumulating land. (54, 55)

Trade may be carried on by such chieftains according to two methods: either by regulation of trade, and hence its monopolization, remains in the hands of the inidividual chieftain, or a group of chieftains unite to form a trading settlement. This case gives rise to a town, with a patriciate of traders, that is, a privileged stratum whose position rests upon the accumulation of property through trading profits. The first is the rule among many negro tribes as on the coast of Kamerun. In Ancient Egypt, monopolization of trade was typically in the hands of the Pharaohs, resting in large part on their personal trade monopolies. We find similar conditions among the kings of Cyrenaica, and later, in part, in medieval feudalism. (55)

The second form of chieftain trade, the development of a town nobility, is typical for antiquity and the early middle ages. In Genoa, and in Venice on the Rialto, the noble families settled together are the only full citizens. They finance the merchants, without themselves taking part in trade, through various forms of credit. The result is indebtedness of the other population groups, especially the peasants, to the municipal patriciate. In this way arose the patrician landed proprietorship of antiquity, alongside that of military princes. Thus the ancient nations are characterized as an assemblage of coast-wise towns with a nobility of large land owners interested in trade. The culture of antiquity retained a coastal character down into the Greek period. No town of this older period lies farther than a day's journey inland. In the country, by contrast, were the seats of the baronial chieftains with their tenants.

Seigniorial property may also have fiscal roots, in the organization of taxation and the officialdom of the state, and under this caption there are two possibilities. Either their arose a centralized personal enterprise of the prince with separation of the administrative officials from the resources with which they worked, so that political power belonged to no one except to the prince, or else there was a class organization of the administration with the enterprises of vassals, tax farmers and officials, functioning in a subsidiary role alongside that of the prince. In the latter case, the prince granted the land to the subordinates who paid all the costs of administration out of their own pockets. According to the dominance of one or the other of these systems, the political and social constitution of the state would be entirely different. Economic considerations largely determine which form would win out. The east and the west show in this regard the usual contrast. For oriental economy - China, Asia Minor, Egypt - irrigation husbandry became dominant, while in the west where settlements resulted from the clearing of land, forestry sets the type. (56)

The irrigation culture of the Orient developed directly out of primitive hoe-culture, without the use of animals. Alongside it developed a garden culture with irrigation from the large rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia, and the Nile in Egypt. Irrigation and its regulation presupposed a systematic and organized husbandry out of which the large scale royal enterprise of the near east developed as is shown most characteristically in the New Empire of Thebes. The military campaigns of the Assyrian and Babylonian kings, which they undertook with their masses of retainers going back to the men's house system, were primarily man hunts for the purpose of securing the human material for building canals and bringing stretches of the desert under tillage. (56, 57)

The king retained control of water regulations, but required for its exercise an organized bureaucracy. The agricultural and irrigation bureaucracies of Egypt and Mesopotamia, the foundation of which is thus economic, are the oldest officialdom in the world; it remains throughout its history an adjunct of the king's personal economic enterprise. The individual officials were slaves, or dependents of the king, or even soldiers, and were often branded to prevent escape. The tax administration of the king was based on payments in kind, which in Egypt were stored up in warehouses from which the king supported his officials and laborers. Such a provision is the oldest form of official salary.

The result of the system as a whole was to place the population in a servile relation to the prince. This relation found expression in the obligatory services of all the dependents and the joint liability of the village for the burdens imposed, and finally in the principle designated under the Ptolemies as (greek). Under it the individual peasant was not only bound to the soil but to his village as well, and was in fact an outlaw if he could not prove his (more greek). The system obtains not only in Egypt but in Mesopotamia as well and also in Japan, where from the seventh to the tenth centuries we find the ku-bun-den system. In the one case as in the other, the position of the peasant corresponds throughout to that of the member of the Russian mir. (57)

Out of the obligatory services of the subject population arose gradually the money economy centering in the prince. This development also might take various courses. One was through an individual economy with production and trade carried on by the prince; or, the prince made use of the labor power politically subject to him to produce goods not only for his own use but also for the market, as was the case in Egypt and Babylonia. Trade and production for the market would be carried on auxiliary to a large household, with no separation between household and industrial establishment. This is the type of economic organization which Rodbertus has designated as "oikos-economy."

This oikos-economy would again be the initial stage in various lines of development. One of these is the Egyptian system of grain banks. The Pharaoh possessed grain warehouses scattered over the land, to which the peasant delivered up not only his obligatory payments in kind but his whole production; against these the king could draw checks which he could put into use as money. Another possibility was the development of royal taxation in money, which however, presupposes a considerable permeation of the use of money into private economic relations, as well as a considerable development of production and a general market within the country; all these conditions were fulfilled in Ptolemaic Egypt. The system encountered difficulties, in view of the then state of development of administrative technique, in the preparation of a budget. Consequently, the ruler generally shifted the risk of the computation on to other shoulders, by one of three methods. Either he farmed out the collection of taxes to adventurers or officials, or he delegated it directly to soldiers, who paid themselves out of the receipts, or finally, he gave over the task to landed proprietors. The placing of the tax collection in private hands was a consequence of the lack of a dependable administrative machine, which again goes back to moral unreliability in the official personnel. (58, 59)

The practise of farming out taxes to adventurers also developed on the largest scale in India. Every such zamindar has a tendency to develop into a landed proprietor. The recruiting of soldiers is also given over to contractors called jagirdar, who have to provide a certain quota irrespective of the elements of which it is composed; these also strive to become large landholders. Such proprietors are akin to the feudal baron living in full independence upward and downward, in a position analogous to that of Wallenstein, who also had to furnish recruits. When the ruler turns taxation over to officials, he fixes by agreement a definite sum; any surplus belongs to the official, who also has to pay the administrative staff. This is the system of the earlier mandarin administration in China, as well as of the satrap organization of the ancient east. With the transition to modern taxation policies, the Chinese statistics showed a sudden surprising increase in the population, which the mandarins had purposely understated. The third possibility under the head of a money economy centered in the prince, is the delegation of taxation to soldiers. This is a recourse of state bankruptcy and is done when the prince is unable to pay the soldiers. Resort to this device accounts for the transformation in the affairs of the Caliphate under the dominance of Turkish soldiers from the tenth century on. The soldiers develop into a military nobility because the central government no longer has, in fact, control over taxation, and extricates itself by turning the function over to the army. (59)

These three forms of individualization of the originally political functions of securing money and recruits - centering them in private contractors, officials, or soldiers - became the basis of the oriental feudalism which developed upon the disintegration of the money economy in consequence of the technical incompetence of the state to administer taxation through its own officials. The result is a secondary, rationalized agrarian communism, with joint responsibility of the peasant communities to the tax farmer, official, or army, and with common tillage and attachment to the soil. The contrast with the western system comes out clearly in the fact that in the east no demesne economy (Fronhofwirtschaft) arose, the exaction of forced payments dominating. A further feature is the liability of collapse into a barter economy on the appearance of the least difficulty in transforming the payments in kind of the peasants into money. In such an event an oriental political system falls back with extraordinary facility from the condition of an apparently highly developed culture into one of primitive barter economy. (59, 60)

As a fourth and last method of realizing a royal income, we find the delegation of functions to chieftains or landed proprietors. Thus the prince avoids the problem of an administrative organization. He shifts the raising of the taxes, and on occasion also that of recruits, upon already existent agencies of a private character. This is what happened in Rome when in the imperial period the civilization extended inland from the sea-coast and the country became transformed from a union of primarily maritime towns into a territorial empire. The inland knew only manorial economy without the use of money. The functions of raising taxes and recruits were now imposed upon it, whereupon the large landed proprietors, the possessores, become the dominant class down to the time of Justinian. The dependent population over which they rule enables them to furnish the taxes, while the imperial administrative system has not expanded in keeping with the growth of the empire itself. On the side of administrative technique, this situation is distinguish at the municipia appear the territoria, at the head of which stand the landed barons, responsible to the state for taxes and recuits. Out of this condition developed the colonate in the west, while in the east the latter is as old as the (greek). Under Diocletian this fundamental principle was extended to the empire as a whole. Every person was included in a territorial taxation unit which he was not permitted to leave. The head of such a district is generally a territorial lord, as the center of gravity of the economic and political life has shifted from the sea-coast to the land.

A special case of this development is the appearance of colonial proprietorship. Originally the interest in the winning of colonies is purely fiscal in character, - colonial capitalism. The objective, pecuniary exploitation, was achieved through the conquerer making the subject natives responsible for taxes in the form of money or the delivery of products, especially food stuffs and spices. The state generally transferred the exploitation of the colonies to a commercial company,- for example, the British and Dutch East India companies. Since the native chieftains are made the intermediaries of the joint liability they are transformed into territorial lords, and the originally free peasantry into their serfs or dependents bound to the land. Attachment to the soil with feudal obligations and communal tillage, with the right and duty of redistributing the land, all appear. Another form of the development of colonial proprietorship is the individual allotment of land by an overlord. The type of this is the encomienda in Spanish South America. The encomienda was a feudal grant with the right of imposing on the Indians compulsory services, payments, or labor dues, and in this form it persisted to the beginning of the 19th century. (61)

In contrast with the oriental system of individualizing political prerogatives on fiscal grounds and in relation to a money economy, stands the product economy of the western feudal system and that of Japan, with the development of feudal proprietorship through enfeoffment. The ordinary purpose of the feudal system is the provision of a mounted soldiery through the granting of land and seigniorial rights to persons who are in a position to take over the services of vassals. It is met with in two f orms, according as the proprietory power is granted as a fief or as a benefice.

For enfeoffment with benefice the organization of Turkish feudalism is characteristic. There was no recognition of a permanent individual proprietorship but only grants for life and in consideration of service in war. The grant was evaluated according to its yield, and proportioned to the rank of the family and to the military service of the recipient. As it was not hereditary, the son of the grantee succeeded only in case he could show specific military services. The Sublime Porte regulated all details as a sort of supreme feudal bureau, after the manner of the Frankish major domo.

This system is akin to that which originally obtained in Japan. After the 10th century Japan went over from the ku-bun-den system to one based on the benefice principle. The Shogun, a vassal and commander-in-chief of the emperor, with the aid of his bureau (ba-ku-fu) evaluated the land according to its yield in rice and granted it in benefices to his vassals the daimios, who in turn re-granted it to their ministerials, the samurai. Later, the inheritance of fiefs became established. However, the original dependence upon the Shogun persisted in the form of the latter's control over the administration of the daimios, who in turn supervised the operations of their vassals.


The Russian feudal system is nearer to the European. In Russia, f:iefs (pomjestje) were granted on consideration of certain obligatory services to the czar and the assumption of tax obligations. The recipients of grants had to assume the position of military officers and civil officials, a specification which was first set aside by Catherine II. The transformation of the tax administration from the land to the poll basis under Peter the Great led to the result that the land holder became answerable for taxes in proportion to the number of souls on his holding, determined through periodical surveys. The results of this system for the agricultural organization as a whole have already been described (pp. 17 ff.).

Next to Japan, the medieval occident is the region which developed feudalism in the highest purity. Conditions in the later Roman empire operated as a preparation, especially as to land tenure, which already had, a half feudal character. The land rights of the Germanic chieftains fused into the Roman situation. The extent and significance of land holding was extraordinarily increased through the clearing and conquest of land - the victorious armies had to be fitted out with land - and finally through commendation on a large scale. The peasant who found himself without property, or who was no longer in a position to equip himself for military service, was compelled by the advance of military technique to place himself in the obsequium of an economically more powerful person. A further influence was the extensive transfers of land to the church. The decisive condition, however, was the invasion of the Arabs and the necessity of opposing an army of Frankish horsemen to that of Islam. Charles Martel undertook an extensive secularization of church property with a view to establishing, with the benefices created out of the seized tracts, a tremendous army of vassal knights, the members of which had to equip themselves as heavily armed horsemen. Finally, besides the land, it became the custom to grant as fiefs political offices and privileges. (63, 64)