Skip to main content

Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

See other formats

336            Egypt and the Byzantine Empire
landlord, paying rent for the holding which had once been
his property, and tied to the land he tilled, but at least safe
from the exactions of the public tax-gatherers.
It was in vain that the government, all through the fourth
century, struggled against the extension of the colonate; the
steady pressure of economic forces, the great landowners eager
to increase the area of their estates and the number of their
clients, the peasants seeing in the new relationship their only
means of escape from intolerable conditions, was too strong to
be resisted by imperial constitutions. At last, in 415, the
government yielded, and a constitution of that year recognized,
in Egypt, the rights of patronage acquired before the year 397.
Later acquisitions were pronounced illegal and the name of
patron was to be abolished. Even this compromise solution was
ineffective; the name of patron did not die, and the process of
absorption by the larger estates continued. It involved more
than the private land. The practice by which landowners were
saddled with the duty of cultivating parcels of domain land for
which no tenant could be found had become so fully established
by the end of the third century that domain and private land
were fused, and the former seems to have passed with the latter
into the possession of the great landlords.
When, after the ill-documented fifth century, we reach the
age of Justinian the change is obvious. Even so late as the early
fourth century rural Egypt was still divided for the most part
between the domain land of various categories and private land
held mostly in small or medium-sized properties. In the sixth
we find that the royal and public land has practically dis-
appeared and the characteristic feature of the rural scene is
formed by the estates of the great nobles, powerful enough,
within certain limits, to defy the imperial authority. These
estates were administered by a bureaucracy modelled on that of
the empire and to some extent bearing the same titles. Their
owners had their own postal services, their fleets of Nile boats.