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COLONA´TUS, COLO´NI. Colonus originally denoted the free lessee of land under a contract of locatio conductio, whence it acquired the derivative signification of an agricultural class under the empire, analogous to villeins in England, of which we first definitely hear about the time of Constantine, A.D. 321. These coloni (also called rustici, inquilini, agricolae) were settled on the estates of the larger landowners, a portion of which each of them cultivated as tenant at a fixed rent (annua functio), paid usually in kind (Cod. 11, 47, 5; ib. 20, 2), the amount of which was settled by custom and tradition: this the landlord could not raise, and the only case, apart from crime, in which the colonus could bring an action against him was where he attempted to do so. Occasionally, however, the rent was fixed by agreement. They were inseparably attached to the soil (glebae adscripti) which they tilled (Cod. 11, 47, 11, 7; 11, 51, 1); they could not leave it of their own accord (Cod. 11, 47, 21), nor could the lord or patronus eject them or sell them away from it; but he could alienate them with the land (Cod. 11, 47, 2), and transfer superabundant coloni from one to another of his own estates. Thus in many respects they were like slaves, and it is said in the Code (11, 51), “licet conditione videantur ingenui, servi tamen terrae ipsius, cui nati sunt, existimentur.” The analogy, indeed, may be carried further. The colonus is said (Cod. 11, 47, 21) to be in the potestas of his dominus; the latter had the right of inflicting corporal chastisement on him (Cod. ib. 24): if he ran away, he could pursue him in the same way as a servus fuqitivus (Cod. Theod. 5, 9, 1, 2); and if he sold him away from the estate, he could recover him by a vindicatio or real action (Cod. 11, 47, 7). That the colonus could as a rule bring no action against the patronus (Cod. 11, 49, 2) has been observed already. In the eye of the law, however, the coloni were free (Cod. 11, 51); they could contract a marriage which the law recognised (Cod. 11, 47, 24), and could acquire property, which was called their peculium (Cod. Theod. 5, 10, 1); but if this were land, they could not alienate it (Cod. Theod. 5, 11, 1); and it is probable that they could not alienate even personal property without the consent of the patronus. It seems, too, not unlikely that they could make a will, in default of which their property went to their next of kin: for if a bishop, presbyter, deacon, [p. 1.472]&c., died intestate and without kin, his property went to the church or religious house to which he belonged, except such as he had as a colonus, which went to his patronus, who with respect to his ownership of the land is called dominus possessionis (Cod. Theod. 5, 3).

Upon every colonus a poll-tax was levied (whence they are sometimes called censiti, tributarii): this was paid immediately by the dominus, who was left to recover the amount from the colonus himself (Cod. Theod. 11, 1; Cod. 14, 26). The burden of recruiting the army was also thrown on the great landowners, who regularly enrolled their coloni for this purpose (Vegetius, 1.7), the rule against their being separated from the soil being to this extent suspended; a colonus by becoming a soldier was released absolutely from the quasi-servile condition (Nov. Valent. 6).

The status of colonatus originated most frequently in birth. When both the parents were coloni, the children were coloni as well (and here they were specifically called originarii). If the parents had different domini, it was finally settled that they should divide the children between them; and if there was an odd one, it should go to the dominus of the mother.

If the mother were a slave or a colona, the rule partus sequitur ventrem was followed [CIVITAS]; but if the father was a colonus and the mother free, the children (except for a brief suspension of the rule by Justinian) became coloni as well. By Nov. 22, 17, Justinian declared the marriage of a colonus and a free woman void. The status could also originate in Prescription, a free man who lived for thirty years under a dominus as colonus becoming colonus in fact, though he retained his property free from the ordinary restrictions (Cod. 18, 23; 11, 47, 1); and similarly a dominus who possessed for thirty years a man who belonged to another, could defend himself against the claim of the latter by Praescriptio longi temporis. Again, a free man could voluntarily become a colonus by agreement, provided it were judicially ratified, or his name were registered in the poll-tax inventory of the estate (Cod. 11, 47, 22, pr.), and he married a colona (Nov. Valentin. III. 100.30). Sometimes, again, persons were reduced to this condition as a punishment: e. g. able-bodied beggars would be adjudged coloni to any dominus who informed against them (Cod. 11, 25, 1); and finally a dominus could convert a slave into a colonus at pleasure by enrolling him in the poll-tax inventory of the estate (Cod. 11, 47, 7).

As to the modes in which a man could cease to be a colonus, it has been already observed that he could not cast off this condition at pleasure, the reason being that the institution was founded in the interests of agriculture and as a convenient resource for taxation. Before Justinian a colonus could become absolutely free by living thirty years, a colona by living twenty years in another condition--in other words, complete freedom could be acquired by prescription; but this rule was repealed by Justinian (Cod. 11, 47, 23), who enabled the dominus to assert his right after any lapse of time. Nor could the dominus release his coloni, as he could his slaves, at his own discretion: in fact, in the time of Justinian the only modes in which escape from colonatus was possible seem to have been enrolment in the army under the lord's sanction (see above), a direct act of the state, and attainment of a bishopric (Cod. 1, 3, 1.1, 16, 37).

As to the historical origin of colonatus, it has been observed above that our first definite information on the subject commences with Constantine. There are, however, two passages in the Digest (30, 112, p., Marcianus; and 50, 15, 4, Ulpian) which, notwithstanding Savigny's attempt to understand them of ordinary lessees or farmers, seem clearly to indicate that colonatus existed for some time before that emperor. The most generally accepted view of the mode in which it originated is that which ascribes it to the settlement of Germans and other barbarians by the Roman emperors on waste lands within the limits of the empire. The condition of these foreign settlers being once established, it is supposed that poor Roman citizens were allowed to assume it, partly being induced to do so by the advantage of getting land, and partly under compulsion, though how this compulsion could be exercised is not clear. A constitution of Theodosius II. (Cod. Theod. 5, 4, 3, ed. Wenck) contains some valuable information on the settlement or colonisation of the barbarians, and declares them to belong to the condition denoted by the term colonatus. It is possible to reconcile this view of the origin of colonatus with the passages of Ulpian and Marcianus referred to, by supposing that there was a tendency in the third century for free lessees to become attached by law to the soil, and that their condition was the model of that of the barbarians who were settled in the Roman empire; the latter, however, acquiring a more dependent status than the former, and being treated more like slaves: till eventually the condition of the barbarian coloni became that of all. (A. W. Zumpt, Ueber die Entstehung des Colonats, 1843; Huschke, Ueber den Census der Kaiserzeit, 1847; Savigny, Vermischte Schriften, ii. p. 54 sq., translated in the Philological Museum, vol. ii.)

Puchta, however (Institutionen, vol. ii. p. 98.214) is of opinion that colonatus originated in the common distinction between slaves used for domestic service in the house (familia urbana) and those employed in agricultural labour (familia rustica). The latter, according to him, enjoyed a larger degree of actual freedom, and in many ways were better off than the former; they and their children came more and more to be regarded by sensible landowners as accessions of the soil, inseparable from it except under the pressure of necessity. Their actual condition very closely resembled that which the coloni possessed in law; and Puchta supposes that the transition from personal to praedial servitude, with the payment of rent and the other incidents of the status described above, was effected by and in the interests of the domini themselves, who procured an enactment enabling them to manumit their slaves on the condition of their being inseparably attached to the land which they cultivated.


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