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Medieval Sourcebook:
Pope Gregory the Great:
The Papal Estates, c. 600

We have also learned that in some of the holdings of the Church a most unjust exaction is made, so that three half measures out of seventy---it is shameful to say it---are solicited from the tenants; and furthermore, even this does not suffice, but they are said to be asked for something more, over and above this, by reason of a long-standing custom. This practice we absolutely detest, and we wish it to be absolutely eradicated from our patrimony. But let your experience guide you, whether it be a case of receiving a pound more, or whether it be a case of taking more than rightful measure from the serfs; and let everything count towards the sum total of the rent; and insofar as the serfs can bear it, let them pay full rent reckoned at two parts out of seventy by weight. Nor should the market tax be collected at more than a just pound weight, neither an excessive pound weight, nor other burdens greater than a pound; but by your calculation, so far as you are able to do it, let it be reckoned against the sum total of the rent, and so let filthy exaction never occur. But in order that these very burdens, imposed unjustly, which we have caused to be reckoned as part of the rent, may not in some way be increased after our death, and the rent be thus increased, and the serfs again be compelled to pay the burdens of superadding, we desire you to make out schedules of security about the rents, inscribing therein the amount of rent which each ought to pay, including the market tax, the grain tax, and other payments.. But as for what has been taken for the use of the overseer from these little excrescences, we desire this to be taken from the sum total of the rent and applied to your own use.

Above all we wish you to attend to this carefully, that unjust weights be not used in collecting the rents. If you should find such, destroy them, and introduce new and just ones. For my son, the servant of God, the Deacon, has already found such as displeased him, but he did not have the authority to change them. Except in the case of inferior and cheap provisions, we want nothing over and above just weights to be demanded of the coloni of the Church.... We have further learned that if any one of the serfs has done wrong, punishment is not inflicted upon the man himself, but payment is levied on his property. Concerning this we ordain that whoever commits wrong shall, as is fitting, be punished; but let there be no acceptance of any payment whatever from him, except, perchance, a small sum which may defray the expenses of the bailiff sent to him. We have further learned that as often as a tenant has taken anything from a colonus it has not been returned, though repayment was demanded of the tenant; therefore we order that whatever has been taken with violence from any of the serfs be restored to him from whom it was taken and not put to our use, lest we ourselves seem to be the authors of violence. Further, we wish, that when you send outside the patrimony, those who are engaged in your service, small payments be received from them. yet so that it turn out to their advantage, because we do not desire that the purse of the Church be disgraced by filthy lucre. We also order you carefully to prevent the placing of tenants on the holdings of the Church for payments, lest, through payments being sought, tenants be frequently changed, from which changing what else takes place but that the estates of the Church are never cultivated? Even the payments from charter lands should be reduced. according to the sum total of the rent. On the score of filling the barns and collecting their contents we desire you to receive from the holdings of the Church only what is customary; what we have ordered you to buy should be bought from strangers.

Have that part of my letter which relates to the serfs read throughout all our holdings, that they may know wherein they might protect themselves from violence with our authority, and let there be given to them either an authentic document or a copy of the same.


From: J. P. Migne, Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Vol. LXXVII p. 498 (Paris, 1849), reprinted in Roy C. Cave & Hebert H. Coulson, eds., A Source Book for Medieval Economic History, (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1936; reprint ed., New York: Biblo & Tannen, 1965), pp. 41-43.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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© Paul Halsall, September 1998