Lectures on the Early History of Institutions

Sir Henry James Sumner Maine
Lectures on the Early History of Institutions by Henry Sumner Maine
John Murray Ltd.
London, 1875.

In the Lectures printed in this Volume an attempt is made to carry
farther in some particulars the line of investigation pursued by the
Author in an earlier work on 'Ancient Law'. The fortunes of the legal
system which then supplied him with the greatest number of his
illustrations have been strikingly unlike those of another body of law
from which he has now endeavoured to obtain some new materials for
legal and social history. The Roman Law has never ceased to be spoken
of with deep respect, and it is in fact the source of the greatest part of
the rules by which civil life is still governed in the Western World. The
Ancient Irish Law, the so-called Brehon Law, has been for the most
part bitterly condemned by the few writers who have noticed it; and,
after gradually losing whatever influence it once possessed in the
country in which it grew up, in the end it was forcibly suppressed. Yet
the very cases which have denied a modern history to the Brehon Law
have given it a especial interest of its own in our day through the arrest
of its development; and this interest, the Author hopes, is sufficient to
serve as his excuse for making the conclusions it suggests the principal
subject of the Lectures now published, except the last three.
The obligations o£ the Author to various Gentlemen for instruction
derived from their published writings or private communications are
acknowledged in the body of the work, but he has to express his
especial thanks to the Bishop of Limerick, and to Professor Thaddeus
O'Mahony, for facilities of access to the still unpublished translations

of Brehon manuscripts, as well as for many valuable suggestions.
The Lectures (with the omission of portions) have all been delivered at
27 Cornwall Gardens, London, S.W.;
November 1874.

Lecture One.
New Materials for the Early History of Institutions
The sources of information concerning the early history of institutions
which have been opened to us are numerous and valuable. On one
subject in particular, which may be confidently said to have been
almost exclusively investigated till lately by writers who had followed
a false path, the additions to our knowledge are of special interest and
importance. We at length know something concerning the beginnings
of the great institution of Property in Land. The collective ownership of
the soil by groups of men either in fact united by blood-relationships,
or believing or assuming that they are so united, is now entitled to take
rank as an ascertained primitive phenomenon, once universally
characterising those communities of mankind between whose
civilisation and our own there is any distinct connection or analogy.
The evidence has been found on all sides of us, dimly seen and
verifiable with difficulty in countries which have undergone the
enormous pressure of the Roman Empire, or which have been strongly
affected by its indirect influence, but perfectly plain and unmistakeable
in the parts of the world, peopled by the Aryan race, where the Empire
has made itself felt very slightly or not at all. As regards the Sclavonic
communities, the enfranchisement of the peasantry of the Russian
dominions in Europe has given a stimulus to enquiries which formerly
had attractions for only a few curious observers, and the amount of
information collected has been very large. We now know much more
clearly than we did before that the soil of the older provinces of the

Russian Empire has been, from time immemorial, almost exclusively
distributed among groups of self-styled kinsmen, collected in
cultivating village-communities, self-organised and self-governing; and,
since the great measure of the present reign, the collective rights of
these communities, and the rights and duties of their members in
respect of one another, are no longer entangled with and limited by the
manorial privileges of an owner-in-chief. There is also fresh evidence
that the more backward of the outlying Sclavonic societies are
constituted upon essentially the same model; and it is one of the facts
with which the Western world will some day assuredly have to reckon,
that the political ideas of so large a portion of the human race, and its
ideas of property also, are inextricably bound up with the notions of
family interdependency, of collective ownership, and of natural
subjection to patriarchal power. The traces of the ancient social order in
the Germanic and Scandinavian countries are, I need scarcely say,
considerably fainter, and tend always to become more obscured; but the
re-examination of the written evidence respecting ancient Teutonic life
and custom proceeds without intermission, and incidentally much light
has been thrown on the early history of property by the remarkable
work of Sohm ('Frankische Reichs-und Gerichtsverfassung').
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