The Northern Way

Commentary To the Germanic Laws and Medieval Documents

Chapter X


In Carolingian times fiscus was frequently employed as an abbreviation for villa fiscalis, (1) but this was not a new development of the word, for it had been employed in that sense in a document of the year 717 (2) and is, no doubt, genuine in the interpolated one of 566. (3) Fiscus had popularly a vacillating meaning, for it implied anything from which the state derived an income. In the fifth century fiscalia was the legal expression for the taxes from a praedium, (4) while in the beginning of the sixth century fiscus became the current term for "tribute, anything from which a revenue is derived," more especially "Gothic revenue." (5) It also meant "the fixed yearly rent," (6) and, because it was a specific sum paid by the emphyteute, it was understood as fixum (7) and popularised in Italy as fictum. This confusion is based on the technical expression "ad fixum canonem," which in the fourth century was used of the yearly dues to the fiscus. (8) What formerly was paid ad fiscum soon was rendered ad fictum, "according to a settled agreement." But there is still another word which has entered into this group and has aided in further changing fictum to fioto. What was annually paid to the fiscus is in itself a kind of emphyteusis, hence we hear in the seventh century of possession "enfeteuticario modo," (9) and in the ninth century the emphyteutic contract is known simply as emphitecarius, fiotecarius, (10) and the formula "enfiteuticario modo largiri," which was still in use in Ravenna in the tenth century, (11) shows that in it lay the germ of the feudal system. But that this ad fictum is identical with ad fiscum is shown by the use of fictus in the sense of "treasury," where the Carolingian formula uses the stereotyped "quod fiscus noster recipere aut sperare potuit." (12)

In France we get, from the ninth century on, feus, fevus for "fiscus, fiscal property, emphyteutic land," that is, for the current meanings of fictus in Italy. That these words are semantically the same as fiscus is proved, not only by the stipulatio duplae "componat......una cum feudo," (13) where generally stands "componat una cum fisco," (14) and the use of a feo (15) where the Italian documents have ad fictum, but also by the specific equation "fisco, id est fiodo," (16) and the arbitrary interchange of fevus and fiscus in the same region. (17) It can be easily shown that this feus has arisen directly from fiscus, but to do so we must first investigate a formula which was employed in payments to express the legal value of money.

In the first century before Christ we hear in Rome of ex obrussa as an expression for gold proved pure by assaying. (18) Ingots of gold and coins were stamped with OB or OBR for aurum obrussum, obryzum, obraetium, (19) as a guarantee of their purity, and not only the Merovingians thus stamped their coins, but the Arabs also used obriz for such purposes. The origin of the word seems shrouded in darkness, but can easily be explained. In Assyrian çarapu is "to purify," çarpu "silver, money," çurrupu "assayed, pure," but the origin of this group is in itself not clear. We find the group in all the Semitic languages, Heb. çaraf "to purify metals," Aram. çârâfa "melting pot," Syr. çrîfå "assayed, pure,"gråfå "melting oven," Arab. çarf "full valued," çirf "pure," and in Sanskrit we have a popularly transformed word from it, jatarupa "shining, gold," as though it were jata + rupa "born form." The Coptic crop, zlof "incense pot, oven," which seems to go back to a late Egyptian t'aroba "a kind of a vessel," is apparently not to be separated from the Assyrian words. It is to be assumed that the Assyrian çarpu "silver" has reached the West through the Syrian or Hebrew and has produced Slavic sirebro, Gothic silubr, Lithuanian sidabras "silver." Even as the Babylonian mina bore the Aramaic inscription mna melk "the King's mina" for the benefit of the Western trade, so the ingots must also have contained an Aramaic çurpu, çurrupu "pure," which, being written backwards by the Romans, because of their reading it from left to right produced obrus, obrussa. One is led to this assumption, because some coins bear the inscription BO for OB, showing that the writing was either from left to right, or from right to left, (20) and because the forms isibro, sebro, idibro at Nonantola in the eighth century, (21) although unquestionably developed from ex obrussa, ex sobrussa, as already recorded in Petronius, point to a possible contamination with the inverted form. The Germanic and Slavic words for silver, instead of being derived from Syrian or Hebrew, as assumed by me before, may not be older than the Nonantola forms, hence may have entered into those languages at a comparatively late date.

However this may be, only the fate of obrussa is of importance for our present purpose. Matthew XXVII, 9, is based on Zechariah XI, 12, 13, where there is reference to thirty pieces of silver thrown into the melting pot to test their purity, (22) but the text has been changed to "kai elabon ta triakonta arguria, thn timhn tou tetimhmenou," in Latin to "et acceperunt triginta argenteos pretium appretiati." The commentators have wasted much paper on this pretium appretiati, without even distantly comprehending its meaning. The passage in Zechariah was written, say, in the third century B.C., when the purity was still assayed, while the author who quoted it in the Gospel wrote about the year 100 A.D., when the stamp guaranteed such purity. At that time the Roman formulae of sale and fine not only mentioned the price (pretium, timh), but specifically referred to the legal purity of the coin (probi, dominici, augusti, crusiou kaqarou, arguriou epishmou) tendered in payment. (23) But the use of obryzum at Rome, just like the formula of sale of the sixth century "pretium placitum et definitum....auri solidos dominicos obriziatos," (24) shows that an abbreviated form pretium appretiati must have existed from the start, even as we find "ad pretium placitum et deffinitum auri solidos appretiatos" in a document at Farfa in 716. In this latter document appretiati has the general meaning of "full value" and refers also to olive trees. (25) In timhn tetimhmenou of the New Testament we have merely a translation of the popular Latin pretium appretiati, and the clause "reticulum aureum ex obrussa" used by Petronius shows that obryziatum, hence also appretiatum, must have been popular at an early time, and the popular etymology which changed obryziatum to appretiatum produced the verb appretiare "to appraise."

In the ninth and tenth century documents at Cluny we find sensible stipulationes venditionis which do not materially differ from those of the second century, (26) but when we get, in place of the usual valuation "ad argentum valens," the other "in re preciata valens," (27) we learn that other objects besides gold and silver could be given in a sale, as we, indeed, learn specifically from a document of the year 680. (28) This pretiatium has arisen from the pretium appretiati of the earliest times and means "full value, legal tender," even as appretiatum has that meaning in the Visigothic and Bavarian laws. (29) By the side of this res pretiata we find in the Cluny documents a formula feus cumpreciatus, (30) where obviously feus means "property, object of value," while cumpreciatus does not occur anywhere else but here. Feos cumpreciatus can have arisen only from fescum or fiscum preciatum "property of full value," even as in the Farfa document of the year 716 we found "tallias appretiatos." We have already seen that fiscus, through fictus and emphyteusis, had the tendency to become feodus, feus. This is further proved by the use of fisce for fisci in Merovingian documents, (31) which was pronounced fise, even as it is recorded in a genuine document of the year 716, (32) while fesco for fisco is constantly met with. (33) Obviously, then, a form fis or fius, or, more likely, feus, leading to a popular feu "property," was common in the eigth century in the neighborhood of Cluny, that is, in the region where the Gothic was spoken, and this feu is quite correctly rendered in Gothic by faihu.

It is generally assumed that Gothic faihu is derived from Lat. pecu, but this is contrary to every probability. Whenever a word means "property" and "cattle," the latter is derived from the first and never vise versa. Slovak statek "property" produces Bohemian statek "cattle," which Bohemian dobytek has successively produced the meanings "property, money, cattle, animal"; similarly Bulgarian blago "property" precedes Croatian blago "treasure, cattle." (34) English cattle follows LLat. catallum "property" and French avoir "sheep" has developed from LLat. avere "property." Similarly Gothic skatts, OHG. skatt "treasure, money" precedes OSlav. skotu "cattle." This Gothic skatts has arisen from LLat. excoctum, used by Ennodius in the fifth century as an equivalent for obryzum. (35) and frequently recorded later in the same sense. (36) That this Germanic skatt originally meant excoctum is proved conclusively by the scazwurf, or the freeing of the widow by a coin, because the formula of the Germanic law "solidi aeque pensantes et scat" (37) can only mean "solidi of full weight and purity." So, too, Lat. peculium "property" precedes pecunia "money" and pecu "cattle," for the stem pek, pak means "to tie" in all the Eurasiatic languages, and the cattle were called pecu, not, as somebody has foolishly stated, because the cattle were tied in the stalls, but because, like German pack, the root means "to tie up a bundle," and the original meaning was "bundle, fahrendes Gut." Hence a derivation of Gothic faihu from Lat. pecu is an absurdity, especially since Gothic faihu does not mean "cattle." So, too, in Anglo-Saxon feo, feoh means "money, property" and only incidentally "cattle," for which generally nieta was used. Only in Germany, where money was scarce, did cattle take the place of money, but the Germanic laws invariably reduced the value of such cattle to solidi, because the fine was originally computed in solidi and not in cattle. (38)

The forms feo, feoh, faihu are identical with the French feu, and it is obvious from my investigation that French feu goes back uninterruptedly to fiscus, through a contamination with fixum, fictum, feoticarius, from emphyteucarius, and that to the same contaminations are due the LLat. feudum, fedum, fevum, etc.


1. "Actionarius ad fiscum nostrum, qui vocatur Romaricus mons," MGH., Formulae, p. 293; "ex quibusdam fiscis nostris, id est Duria, Clodoua," ibid., p. 317; "ad ius fisci regalis qui dicitur Andernacus," ibid., p. 324. Back
2. "Una cum illo forestario nomene Lobicino, qui commanit in fisco nostro Vetus Clippiaco," Sauer and Samaran, op. cit., p. 27. Back
3. "In fiscis, villis, agris," Cartulaire général de Paris, p. 6. Back
4. "Parati sumus pro singulis annis pro eadem praedia fiscalia conpetentia solvere" (489), Marini, I pap. dipl., p. 130. Back
5. "Quicumque Gotorum fiscum detrectat implere, eum ad aequitatem redibitionis artetis, ne tenuis de proprio cogatur exsolvere" (507-511), Cassiodorus Variae, I, 19, in MGH., p. 24; "ut stagnis Decemnovii paludibusque secretis sine fisco possideas" (507-511), ibid., p. 65; "species quae ad fiscum pertinet" (511), ibid., p. 94; "antiqui barbari.......fiscum possessi cespitis persolvere ac superindicticiis oneribus parare cogantur" (520), ibid., p. 151; "quapropter ille casarum suarum fiscum.....desiderans sine aliqua imminutione publicae utilitatis inferre" (537), ibid., p. 366. It is regularly used in this sense in the Lex romana curialis (MGH., Leg., vol. V); "Quicumque homo de res puplicas, unde fiscus exit, aut villam aut qualecumque terra comparare voluerit, non potest ipsam facultatem emere sine tributum aut sine censum, quod de ipsa terra exit," III, 1; "si quis homo qualecumque rem fescalem per annos V inter presentes sine omne censu reddito sine omne inquietudine possederit, liceat ei si ipsas res sine fisco possidere," IV, 12; "illi, qui fiscum regis exigunt, tales esse debent, ut per sua negligencia de ipso fisco minus non exigant, nisi quod iustum est, nec plus exigere non presumant, nisi quod iustum est," X, 61; "si quis homo de facultatem suam, quam habet, si forsitan exinde aut fiscum aut alium publicum aut laboratum a parente reddere debet," XI, 1; "curiales, qui fiscum aut publicum actum exigent, non occulto eos eligantur, sed ad eleccionem multorum bonorum hominum," XII, 2, 1; "si aliquis homo in causa publica occupatus fuerit et non fuerit ad presente, quando fiscus exigitur," XII, 2, 2; "nec fiscus, nec tributus exinde non exeat," XVII, 10; "si quis homo ad alterum hominem aut de fisco aut alico alium debitum debet," X, 8; "quicumque homo terra habuerit, unde fiscum solvere debeat, si ipsum censum dare non potuerit, ille exactor, qui ipsum fiscum tollere debet, ipsa terra unde ipse census exire debet, vindat," XI, 3, 1. Back
6. "Et de vico Varonaces exigitur fiscum in mense septembrio, sol. iii et denar. iiii" (650), Troya, op. cit., vol. II, p. 493; "fisco vel censo" (814), HPM., Cod. Langob., col. 170. Back
7. "Affixam pensionem reputantes prestande" (844), Fantuzzi op. cit., vol. I, p. 86. Back
8. "Ut habeat ipse Johannes ad fictum sub censu reddendo libellario nomine usque ad annos viginti," MGH., Leges, vol. IV, p. 596; "persolvat exinde singulis annis censum.....adfictuo per tempus quadragesime" (848), Cod. Langob., col. 284; "reddunt ad fictum in argento" (905), ibid., col. 706. Back
9. "Enfeteuticario modo postulastis largiri si minime cuiquam a vobis per enfetus sunt largita vobis," Marini, I pap. dipl., p. 199. Back
10. "Ad scribendos libellos et fidecarios" (891), L. Schiaparelli, I diplomi di Guido e di Lamberto, p. 30; "ad scribendos libellos et fiothecarios" (898), ibid., p. 98; "libellorum et quarumcumque legalium cartarum conscriptionibus seu fiothecariis vel emphiteosi" (900), L. Schiaparelli, I diplomi italiani di Lodovico III e di Rodolfo II, Roma 1910, p. 13: "per libellum aut emphiteosin vel fiothecaria," ibid., p. 14; "conscriptiones et emphitecarios" (898), L. Schiaparelli, I diplomi di Berengario I, p. 73; libellos et fiotecarios" ibid., p. 74; "libellorum et quarumcumque legalium cartarum conscriptionibus et phiotecariis vel emphiteosi" (894), ibid., p. 43; "per emphiteoticariam," ibid., p. 44. Back
11. "Emfiteuticario modo postulamus largiri" (943), Fantuzzi, op. cit., vol. IV, p. 174. Back
12. "Quod fictus eorum reciperet aut sperare potuerit tam de carris quam de sagmatibus siue de nauali remigio" (845), HPM., Chartae, vol. I, col. 42.
13. H. Doniol, Cartulaire de Brioude, Clermont Fd., Paris 1863, p. 32 (944?).
14. "Inferat vobis una cum fisco," ibid., p. 107. Back
15. "Cujus erat fuez" (956), Devic and Vaissete, op. cit., vol. V, col. 225; "illo alode de Limanico, quod Grimaldus habet a feo" (961), ibid., col. 241 f.; "ipsas vineas, quod Pontius de Tezano tenet a feo" (990), ibid., col. 317; "non possint vindere, nec alienare, nec bescamiare, nec ad fevum dare" (1025), ibid., col. 380. Back
16. "Locis illis tantum exceptis quae in fisco, id est in fiodo noscuntur haberi" (1097), H. Goffinet, Cartulaire de l'abbaye d'Orval, Bruxelles 1879, p. 4. Back
17. Thus, e.g., in Vendôme (Ch. Métais, Cartulaire de l'abbaye cardinale de la Trinité de Vendôme, Paris 1893, vol. 1): "Est quidem fiscus iste, sicut supradictus miles tenebat eo tempore" (1037), p. 29; "de cujus tenebat fisco" (1040), p. 49; "juxta legem fisci comitis Gausfredi" (1049), p. 146; "ea ratione in fiscum dedit" (1049), p. 150; "qui illas in fiscum tenebant" (1062), p. 367; "donatum in fevum" (1040), p. 97; "Salomon fevum suum...ab illo accepit sibi" (1046), p. 117; "tulit ei Salomon suum fevum, quod ab eo tenebat" (1046), p. 119; "alodium quod tenebat ab eo in fevum" (1057), p. 206; "de fevo Archembaldi prepositi" (1062), p. 265; "tenedam in fevum" (1070), p. 358; "qui de ipso fevum tenebant" (1080), p. 446. Back
18. Ch. Daremberg and E. Saglio Dictionnaire des antiquités grecques et romaines, sub obryzum. Back
19. Sylloge epigraphica orbis romani, vol. II, N° 1574. Back
20. "BO ist sicherlich nur die Umkehrung von CONOB," Luschin von Ebengreuth, Der Denar der Lex Salica, in Sitzungsberichte der k. Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien 1911, p. 35 ff. Back
21. "Auri optimi de sebro" (752), G. Tiraboschi, Storia dell' augusta badia di S. Silvestro di Nonantola, Modena, 1785, vol. II, p. 17; "auri optimi isibro" (752), ibid., p. 19; "auri idibre" (800), ibid., p. 33. Back
22. I follow the Septuagint for Zechariah, because, in spite of the New Testament and its commentators, the Hebrew text is hopelessly corrupt. The very questionable rjvy has been rendered by "ager figuli, potter's field" (or "aerarium," if it is read rja) in the New Testament. But the Septuagint has a sensible text, which shows that its Hebrew original did not have rjvy but [rjm. In the Aramaic script it is very easy to mistake m for vy, and apparently the final p has disappeared. The "ager figuli," then, rests on a blunder. Back
23. "Pretium ejus denarios DC accepisse et habere se dixit" (142), P. F. Girard, Textes de droit romain, 4(e) éd., Paris 1913, pp. 844, 847; "eosque denarios ducentos, probos, recte numeratos accepisse" (166), ibid., p. 848; "accepit pro libertate ejus.....drachmas augustas (dracmaj sebastaj) dua millia ducentas" (221), ibid., p. 849; "timhj thj sumpefwnhmenhj .........dracmwn..........hnper timhn apescen o peprakwj para tou priamenou" (298), J. Bry, Essai sur la vente dans les papyrus gréco-egyptiens, Paris, 1909, p. 196 ff. "Le mot sumpefwnemenhj (convenu) accompagne presque toujour le mot timhj (prix), mais il est rarement seul et le participe estamenhj (fixe) ou sunarosashj (agréé de aprt et d'autre, employé surtout dans les actes de basse époque) lui sont ordinairement joints," p. 202. One also finds the expressions sebasmiou arguroiu (144), vomismatia despotika, p. 207, arguriou Sebastwn nomismatoj, etc., p. 208. See also A. Berger, Die Strafklauseln in den Papyrusurkunden, Leipzig and Berlin 1911, p. 31 ff. and P. Jouguet, Papyrus de Théadelphie, Paris 1911, p. 174 (crusiou kaqarou, 312 A.D.), p. 175 (ashmou kaqarou, 312 A.D.). Back
24. "Venditores ad eundem emptorem Peregrino vestrñ juxta placitum suum praetii nomine id est auri solid. dominicos probitos obriziacos optimos pensantes" (539), Marini, I pap. dipl., p. 173; "omnes pretium inter eos placitum et definitum aureos solidos dominicos probitos obriziatos integri ponderis" (572), ibid., p. 184; "pretium inter eos placitum et definitum pro sstas sex uncias idest auri solidos dominicos obriziacos optimos pensantes" (591), ibid., p. 187. Back
25. "Uendidimus eibi uiro in monasterio sanctae Mariae genitricis Dei et domini nostri ihesu christi, oliuetum nouellum quod est iuxta fines scappligiami ad pretium placitum et deffinitum auri solidos appretiatos numero VIII. Similiter et ego barbatus uendidi uobis et suprascripto monasterio de alio oliueto oliuas tallias numero XIJ appretiatos, et accepistis auri solidos XIJ. Similiter et ego ualerianus cum fratre meo baronicone uendidi ad iam dictum monasterium oliuas tallias IIII appretiatos et acceptis solidis IIIJ(or)," Regesto di Farfa, vol. II, p. 25. Back
26. "Tibi a die presente vendimus, et accepimus de vos precium sicut inter nos complacuit adque convenit ad arbitrium et voluntate nostra solidos v et medio" (845), A. Bruel, Recueil des chartes de l'abbaye de Cluny, vol. 1, p. 10 f.; "vendimus, tradimus adque transfundimus, et accipimus de vobis precium in presente sicut inter nos convenit, valentes solidos II et denarios VI" (870), p. 15 f.; "accepimus nos de te precium forte sicut inter nos placuit atque convenit, et est et argente valente solidos VI" (874), p. 24; "accepimus de te precium valentes solidus C" (874), p. 25. Back
27. "In re preciata valente dinarios VI" (839), p. 45; "in rem preciato valente solidos II" (909), p. 114. Back
28. "Et accepimus a vobis precio in quo nobis bene conplacuit, hoc est solidos auri purissimi septingentos, et pallios quatuor valentes solidos CC," Devic and Vaissete, op. cit., vol. II, Preuves, col. 44. Back
29. "Quamquod adpreciatum rationabiliter mille solidorum valere summam constiterit," Lex Visig. III. 1. 5; "et cum celeriter et cum 12 solidos conponat auro adpreciato," Leg. Baiuw. I. 4, 6, 9. Back
30. "In argento, vel in feos compreciatus" (881), p. 29; "in argento vel in feos compreciatos" (881), p. 30; "in rem cumpreciatus" (885), p. 33; "in argento et feos valentes" (889), p. 46; "in feus conpreciato valentes" (893), p. 58; "in feos conpreatus" (895), p. 64; "feus conpreciatus valente" (900), p. 77; "in feo conpreciato" (904), p. 94; "in feos cumpreciatus, valentum" (909), p. 115; "oc est in argento vel in res conperciatas" (919), p. 204; "in rem compreciatu" (920), p. 211; "in feos preciatos" (923), p. 227, etc. Back
31. "Inter parte fisce nostri" (710), Tardif, op. cit., p. 37; "de parte fisce" (766), ibid., p. 40; "in fisce dicionibus (716), ibid., p. 41; "partibus fische" (745), H. Wartmann, Urkundenbuch der Abtei Sanct Gallen, vol. I, pp. 15, 31, 41, 46, etc. Back
32. "De parte fise nostri," Lauer and Samaran, op. cit., p. 25. Back
33. Urkundenbuch der Abtei Sanct Gallen, p. 6, and frequently in Lex romana raetia. Back
34. N. Jokl, Studien zur albanesischen Etymologie und Wortbildung, in Sitzb. d. k. Akad. d. Wiss. in Wien 1911, p. 6. Back
35. "Caminis excocta fabrilibus verba," F. Vogel, Magni Felicis Ennodii Opera, in MGH., Auct. antiq. vol. VII, p. 47; "homines omni artis lima conpositos et caminibus fabrilibus excoctos," ibid., p. 50; "excocta fornacibus urbanitas," ibid., p. 152; "mundior excocti fulgescat luce metalli," ibid., p. 157. Back
36. "Aurum coctum" (749), Regesto di Farfa, vol. II, p. 36; "solidos auri ad purum excocti" (887), Gallia christiana, vol. II, p. 5; "sexcentorum solidorum auri ad purum excocti" (816), MGH., Formulae, p. 308. Back
37. "Ille qui viduam accipere debet, tres solidos aeque pensantes et scat habere debet," Zeitschrift für Savigny Stiftung, vol. XXIX, p. 59. Back
38. Lex ribuaria XXXVI, 11, and Lex saxonum LXVI. [Back]

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