The Gallic Aristocracy and the Roman Imperial government in the fifth century A.D.
By Charles Paul Minor
Master’s Thesis, Texas Tech University, 1976
Introduction: The fourth century proved to be almost as peaceful and prosperous for Gaul as the third century had been tumultuous and destructive. The civil wars, barbarian raids and the great plague of the third century were highly disruptive to the economy of Gaul. The depopulation of the countryside caused much arable land to fall into disuse. Many peasants fled from their lands or turned them over to landed magnates, either to obtain protection from the troops and barbarians or to escape the increasingly higher taxes imposed on land owners by the imperial government to finance the wars against the rebels and barbarians. With the exception of the rebellion of Magnentius, 350-53, and the civil war against the emperor Gratian by Maximus in 383, however, the fourth century was a time of general peace and recovery in Gaul. The barbarian raids, though they did not cease, did subside in number somewhat, and it was possible for peasants to return to their land and to put much of the land back into agricultural production. But while there was some relief for the peasants, the curiales, that class which was responsible for the municipal magistracies, were still overburdened by the financial drain of their positions They found ways, however, to evade these financially crippling offices—the richer curiales by legally or illegally creeping into the senatorial order, and the poorer ones by giving up their lands and becoming coloni. The Gallic nobles had been much better prepared to weather the disruptions and hardships of the third century and had in some ways profited from the period. In the third and fourth centuries they were able to evade the levies of their coloni for military service by fraud or force, and tax evasion is said to have been the most highly cultivated art in Gaul. With the retention of men and monies in Gaul and the regained stability of the fourth century, the region made great strides toward recovery by the turn of the fifth century.