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THE ROMAN COLLEGIA
AMERICANS who have not yet advanced far into the twilight of life are able to recall an epoch in the social history of the country that has now largely passed away. Children were born into homes in which their father had been born before them and his father, perhaps, before him. Grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins resided in the same neighborhood, not too far apart for frequent interchanges of visits. For an established family to remove from the neighborhood, or a new to enter it, was an incident sufficiently rare to flutter the dovecote of gossip. If one became ill or suffered from accident or failed in business or lost a job or encountered other misadventure, kinsfolk and neighbors were on hand to perform whatever ministrations of friendship the case seemed to demand. A cordon of benevolent protection was thrown about the conduct of each individual, for where his daily doings were so closely woven into the lives of others, the community necessarily exercised its influence for moral restraint or direction. The community might be parochial in outlook and narrow in limitations, but in return for individual support it accorded to each member a sense of security and stability that made for prosperity and peace. A man was strong with the strength of his neighborhood.
Slowly at first and afterwards at accelerated pace, changes came. Railways cut through quiet countrysides; life was stirred by the shrill outcry of the locomotive. Daily newspapers brought the clamor of the outside world into calm rounds of rural thought. The telegraph and the telephone were nerve fibers vibrating with strange sensations singularly disturbing to Village quiet. Highways with hard surfaces replaced the country roads. Swiftly moving motor cars annihilated distance. Factories replaced home industries, destroyed village occupations and lured young men and women into larger towns, which in turn grew into cities population began to pyramid in amazing fashion. Inashort time the center of gravity had shifted from the country to the city.
Social life underwent corresponding changes. Families were forced to move about, in response to shifting currents of employment. An influx of immigration tinctured the old rural American culture with new and sometimes disconcerting colors. The home began to disintegrate into a mere place to eat and sleep. Children were more often sent away from home to be educated the head of the house frequently found work miles away; the family washing was sent to laundries; homemade preserves, pickles, jellies, salted meats and even bread succumbed to the products of the cannery, the bakery and the delicatessen store; clothes were bought ready tailored; hired nurses were called in to attend the sick. Mounting rent and incidental inconveniences drove families from individual houses into apartments, flats and tenements, where neighbor was stranger to neighbor. In some cases the moral bond of family life became loosened or relaxed.
Isolated among strangers, the individual found himself bereft of the old-time supports. Few gave more than perfunctory notice if he became ill, disabled or bankrupt. Thus thrown largely upon his own private resources, he began to feel the tension of life as he had not felt it before. Loneliness beset him, worries increased, his temper became unsettled. If he had not already incurred the obligations of family life, he was inclined to shrink from incurring them, for fear the added strain might prove too great.
To escape from this feeling of helplessness men began organizing themselves into fraternities, benefit societies, insurance associations, clubs and innumerable other artificial groups, the grand purpose of them all being to supply one or many of the deficiencies left by the passing of the old home community. This development of fraternal life set a lamp at the heart of the modern world, revealing its misery and its unfulfilled social longings. Why this has received so little attention from professional sociologists remains a mystery, but such is the fact; the sociology of secret societies calls in vain for its Lester Ward and its Franklin Giddings.
The curve of the astounding growth of Freemasonry - cause of so much anxiety to thoughtful Masons - coincides so exactly with this transference of population from country to town that the relation of the two becomes apparent. The statistics are eloquent. In 1890 there were in all the United States only 641,410 Master Masons. By 1910, when the trend of population to the city had become marked, the number had grown to 1,369,760. In 1915 lodge rolls contained a total of 1,656,061, and by 1924 it had leaped to 2,971,662, a gain of 1,315,601 in nine years or an average yearly gain of 146,178. On January 1, 1927, the total had passed beyond 3,000,000. At the same time, and no doubt for the same reason, other fraternities, the Odd Fellows, Eastern Star, Knights of Columbus, Knights of Pythias, Woodmen and scores beside, recorded growths equally astonishing. Nowadays the man or woman who does not belong to some club, fraternity or other organized group, is so rare as almost to be considered a social deviate.
This modern development of fraternalism parallels to a remarkable degree the rise and growth of a similar movement in the Graeco-Roman world of twenty centuries ago. The redemptive rites of the Mysteries, as has already appeared in the course of this narrative, made an irresistible appeal to men in a state of moral or religious bankruptcy. Something needs now to be said about another system which flourished alongside the Mysteries, partly in response to the same need and to an extent duplicating their methods. It produced certain associations of workers employed in skilled crafts, which are commonly known as the Roman collegia.
In the period of the Roman republic, life was stable and secure, for most classes at least, and family ties were close - closer, perhaps than were our own a generation or so ago. The imperial regime brought changes which altered the whole structure of Roman society. The country man was uprooted from his native soil; an independent working class was altered into a proletariat or still further demoted into slavery. The native toiler was exposed to competition from aliens who arrived in great throngs. Farmsteads were merged into great estates. Villages were overshadowed by rapidly growing cities with slums and tenement districts.
This alteration penetrated to the marrow of individual life. A man came to live among strangers; nervous tension increased and there was an inevitable search for relief in gaudy shows or in exciting pastimes. The individual burdened by family responsibilities was thrown back upon his own unaided resources, with the consequences that
"In the blank wilderness created by universal despotism," wrote Sir Samuel Dill, "the craving for sympathy and mutual succor inspired a great social movement, which legislation was powerless to check Probably no age, not even our own, ever felt a greater craving for some form of social life, wider than the family and narrower than the State."
That craving was satisfied to a large extent by the collegia, social organizations combining a little of the functions of a modern trade union with a little of the modern club, but with an element of religion and charity not found in either. Such clubs had previously grown up among the Greeks - the Hetaireiai. Usually they revolved about some local deity, although many of them were doubtless of political character resembling in this respect later societies which sprang up in eighteenth-century Europe. Egypt also had its peculiar type of club, records of which were found among the papyri in the Fayum, and there were collegia in North Africa and Asia Minor.
The collegia - collegia fabrorum - actually existed long before the imperial period of Roman history. Numa Pompilius, who ruled some 650 years before the Christian era, is said in certain legends not only to have founded them but also to have divided the various trades into distinct districts, each with its own independent society. Associations of masons, musicians, goldsmiths, potters, tanners, shoemakers, braziers and dyers, are mentioned by Plutarch, but there is an intimation of still others even at that early day. They were formally recognized by the state, had their own laws and were ruled by their own officials. From time to time new associations came into being, but as the centuries passed, official recognition became more difficult to obtain. Ultimately all associations of the kind were frowned upon by tyrants of the imperial period and membership in many of them rendered an individual liable to severe penalties.
That the collegia derived from still older societies there can be little doubt. Several learned attempts have been made to connect them with the Dionysiac Artificers of Asia Minor, but beyond showing general resemblances these efforts have been far from successful. It is probable, however, that in their earlier stages a majority were little more than burial clubs. His pagan theology taught the ancient Roman that if his memory was neglected after death his spirit would wander, lonely and homeless. Accordingly it was natural for men to band together in little groups - each with its own meeting place, its treasury and its officers - the principal function of which was to preserve the memory of the departed and to see that each member received sepulture according to his desire.
Afterwards almost every clique of persons having common interests organized its own college. Servants in some great house would have one; garbage collectors had one, and so it was with pig raisers, merchants, wine growers. Every legion carried with it collegia of masons, carpenters, road makers, bridge builders and what not. Subsequently the system crystallized into a regime of tyranny, with the emperor at its head, so that a man was compelled to carry on the trade his father had followed before him; in some cases men were forbidden to leave one community to go into another in search of work. Among craft organizations were collegia of men engaged in various branches of the building trade, but there is little evidence to show that these in any way occupied a peculiar place or received special attention. Indeed all collegia were taken so much for granted that literary men of the time did not give them special notice. Modern knowledge of them is obtained mainly through archaeology, although the silence of historians regarding these things now appears as strange as it would be for American historians to pass over in silence such important social factors as trade unionism, fraternalism and the public school system.
Although enthusiastic writers have tried to prove that the collegia employed a form of organization almost identical with that of the Masonic lodge, no strong case has been made out for that contention. Their members, or sodales, had the right of electing their officers and of balloting for new members. Admission was at first reserved to freemen, but the Code of Justinian permitted the admission of slaves with the consent of the masters of such slaves. Honorary memberships were occasionally created for patrons, as afterwards was done by operative Freemasons.
The typical college met in a building or hall, seldom owned by itself, called the schola, sometimes the curia. Presiding officers were known as proesides or magistri. Next to them in importance were the decuriones, the designation being held by some authorities to indicate there may have been one such supervisor or warden for every ten members. Different collegia appear to have had different subordinate officers - or at least different names for them - as factores and quoestores for the management of business affairs, haruspices or soothsayers, and secretaries of one kind and another. There was also a general division of the membership, apparently according to the mechanical proficiency of each craftsman. There were dues and fees and there was a constitution or set of by-laws. Being poor, collegia were usually glad to accept fees and legacies or to obtain the patronage of some person of high rank who might be depended on to use his influence to throw work in the way of the membership.
It will be seen at once that the college was little like a modern Masonic lodge, either in its purposes or in its organization. There is no closer analogy between its officers and the official staff of a lodge than there is between the lodge's staff and that of almost any other organized group. Every society which meets at stated periods needs a presiding officer, and he will require assistants. If records are to be kept there will be need for a secretary; if funds are to be handled there will be need for a treasurer. A good deal more has been made of such resemblances than the facts appear to justify.
Affording, as they did, unusual opportunities for secret assemblage, the collegia gradually fell under official suspicion in the troubled days of the empire. Julius Caesar and Augustus both issued edicts ordering the suppression of all of them, "except those which had been anciently instituted." The Justinian Code upheld this distinction. That even the most ancient and honored societies did not escape mistrust is apparent from a letter in which Trajan refused Pliny's request for permission to establish a collegium of builders at Nicomedia. "Whatever name we may give to them," the Emperor wrote, "bodies of men, however small in number, who are drawn together by the same design will become political societies."
Nevertheless, and in spite of the ever-present danger to tyrants which is inherent in such associations, collegia of the more intelligent classes of artisans were too useful to be destroyed. This was particularly true of those whose members practiced building trades. Roman legions on the march in hostile regions needed masons and carpenters in whose loyalty they could trust and bridge builders in whose work they could repose confidence. Workmen of this kind were to be found in the collegia; indeed, if they were found at all and thrown together they could be depended upon to organize their own collegia. This was especially the case among stone masons, since the nature of their work required them to journey from place to place and they were forced to make of a collegium a substitute for the homes from which they were so frequently compelled to wander.
For Freemasons this naturally raises the important question of what relationship, if any, existed between Roman collegia of this kind and the trade guilds of the Middle Ages. If a definite connection can be established, it also connects Freemasonry with the collegia, since beyond question Freemasonry emerged from operative mason guilds of medieval times. On this point there has been heated and, unfortunately, inconclusive debate. H.C. Coote in The Romans of Britain - extensively quoted first chapter of Gould's History - observes that Roman collegia spread throughout Britain in the Roman occupation; that they continued without molestation by the later Anglo-Saxon invaders, and survived as medieval guilds.
Coote makes note of the fact that Germanic conquerors of Gaul and Italy ruthlessly suppressed collegia in those lands, looking upon them as seminaries of free Roman thought, but he concludes that the Anglo-Saxons were lenient in Britain "either out of ignorance of their tendency or contempt of their effect." But Freeman in The History of the Norman Conquest and Haverfield in The Roman Occupation of Great Britain agree that Roman civilization was utterly destroyed in Britain by its Anglo-Saxon conquerors. They observe that the followers of Horsa and Hengist, unlike other Germanic tribes which overran other parts of the Roman empire, had no desire to acquire the culture of conquered peoples. Even town life was hateful to them. Whatever vestiges of Roman social life are to be found in England, these authors appear to think, are not remains of the civilization stamped out by the Anglo-Saxons but are survivals taken back to England in the Norman conquest. Haverfield even goes so far as to declare that no case is known where Saxons dwelt in a Roman villa.
It is difficult to believe that where all else was so completely destroyed the collegia alone survived. They depended almost entirely upon the existence of towns and upon craft activities. Even if they had escaped the natural suspicions of Anglo-Saxon overlords, their usefulness must have been destroyed through force of hostile economic pressure. It is clear that if there was a bridge between the collegia and the medieval guilds it must be sought elsewhere.
Gould turned aside for a moment to examine the possibility that such a bridge could be found at Byzantium, or, as it is now known, Constantinople. He referred to George F. Fort's The Early History and Antiquities of Freemasonry, a work published in the period midway between the older school of thought represented by Preston and Oliver and the modern school of which Gould himself was one of the founders. Fort argued that the collegia of builders did not pass out of existence under the impact of barbarian invasions but found asylum at Byzantium and remained intact behind the defenses of that city; that a new culture arose there, in which Oriental, Roman and Greek elements blended, with the Greek predominating; that in the building up of Gothic civilization trained artists and artisans emerged from their Byzantine refuge to perpetuate the traditions of classical culture.
In support of this theory Fort constructed an elaborate and brilliant thesis which occupies the most considerable portion of his ingenious and readable book. He described in some detail the general history of the collegia, told how Augustus began to look upon them with distrust, how Trajan crushed them under the grinding force of governmental power, how Alexander Severus endeavored to resuscitate them, how Constantine, by imperial rescript, transplanted the collegia of builders to Byzantium and there established them on a sound and enduring foundation. Theodosius in 438 confirmed the grants of Constantine.
Unfortunately for this contention, however, it appears that Fort confused the arts possessed by the collegia with the collegia themselves. He assumes that because the trades continued to flourish in Byzantium the old Roman trades organizations continued with them and became in time the guilds of the Middle Ages. On the contrary, there is stronger and better evidence that Byzantium developed a new culture of its own, preserving, of course, much that was borrowed from earlier Greece and Rome. If the collegia did survive in the Eastern city adequate proof thereof is wanting.
"When Constantine moved his capital to the shores of the Bosphorus," Arthur Kingsley Porter wrote in Medieval Architecture: Its Origins and Development, "he exerted every energy to make the new Rome as splendid in architecture as the old. The number and size of the buildings which, according to contemporary authors, he caused to be erected is well-nigh incredible. Executed with more than the usual Roman haste, these buildings were probably inferior to the really remarkable structures erected at this epoch elsewhere in the Empire. At least, the fact that of all the vast city of Constantine hardly a single monument has survived to our day, argues ill for the character of the workmanship. As to the general style of these edifices, we are left in no doubt, although no examples are extant - they could have been only Roman. Similarly the earliest churches of Constantinople must unquestionably have been basilicas of the usual Latin type.
"The Roman period in Byzantine architecture was doubtless succeeded by one of transition, during which the individual character of the Eastern style gradually took form. The monuments furnish us with actual knowledge of the progress of this development only after the middle of the V century, a time when the change had already been almost completed. However, by a study of the historical conditions of the time, and by comparison of the later monuments, it is possible to construct in broad outline the story of this growth."
The author then sketches in colorful phrase the story of how, when Rome was being pillaged by barbarian hordes, Byzantium was gradually freeing itself from Latin influence. The Latin tongue gave way to Greek, and Plato, Aristotle and Homer came once more into their own. Byzantines looked toward the Parthenon and discovered that Greek decoration was superior to Roman. From India, Persia and China came rugs, silks, fabrics and hangings in colors that were luminous and not harsh like the reds and yellows and blacks of Rome. Thus Byzantine architecture built upon Roman foundations, but looked to the old Hellenic monuments for its models of beauty and to the Orient for its richness of color.
Interesting as this undoubtedly is, it is rather conclusively against the theory that the Roman collegium passed into the guild of the later Gothic period by way of Byzantium. In the first place, the immunity granted by Constantine excusing certain workmen from obligations of public service extended to persons in other crafts than those of building and architecture. In the second place there is no evidence that the collegia could and did survive the general Hellenization of the Eastern city. In the third place, there is strong reason for believing that the medieval guild system was an autochthonous development out of general medieval culture, owing fully as much to Teutonic influences as to those of Byzantium and Rome. Indeed, almost any process of reasoning by analogy which would show essential relationship between the guilds and the collegia, could be used also to show essential relationship between the guilds and various ancient Scandinavian and Teutonic brotherhoods. Herbert Spencer traced the guild system to customs of paternal inheritance; and Maine, as A. E. Crawley observed in his treatise contributed to the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, traced it to primitive customs of adoption.
In other words, the specialists have not been able to agree among themselves as to the origin of the guild, and about the best hypothesis of the matter is that of Crawley that they were a growth from the crossing of Teutonic and Greco-Roman ideas and institutions. Fort's attempt to find the bridge at Byzantium must therefore be set down as having failed of approval in the courts of critical opinion.
Other bridges have been sought elsewhere, and notably in southern France and on Lake Como. The possibility that it is to be found among the Comacine Masters is a subject so large in itself that it must be discussed in a separate chapter. Moreover, differences between the collegia and the guilds are quite as marked as are their similarities.
The collegia were essentially social clubs, affected by religion, with little or no control over hours, laws, wages or conditions of labor; the medieval guilds, as will be shown hereafter, were trade organizations, one of their principal purposes being to direct their members in the proper conduct of their work. From this it is not to be understood that the guilds had many things in common with the modern trades union. On the contrary, as J. S. Reid has sagaciously observed, there is hardly a single true point of comparison. Medieval workers as organized into a society might obtain certain advantages which, scattered as individuals, they could not hope to get, but these societies did not attempt to control wages or prescribe the conditions under which alone their members would consent to work. They were maintained for the technical betterment of the craftsmen themselves, for social relaxation, for relief of the distressed, for preserving the operative secrets of their trade and, no doubt, for the moral improvement of the membership.
This does not mean, however, that even if the collegia did pass utterly away without leaving direct heirs they handed nothing down to the guilds and, by consequence, to Freemasonry. Their influence was felt in more than one part of Europe long after their history had been forgotten. It could scarcely be otherwise. The rude inhabitants of many a barbaric village in Africa, in Gaul, in Spain and in the far-away regions beyond the Danube must have marveled at the works and the working methods of these societies of Roman artisans, must have culled out and preserved whatever they could understand or use. Roman social organization could be extirpated root and branch while Roman intrenchments, Roman walls and Roman viaducts, roads and bridges defied "the unsparing ravages of barbarous force." Ideas are more indestructible than viaducts.
When the Dark Ages were at their darkest the germs of the great revival were lying dormant far under ground, needing but sunnier skies to spring up again into new and abundant life. There were numerous towns that had maintained unbroken connections with the past. In these, if nowhere else, memories and traditions lingered, handed down from fathers to sons, altered no doubt in the telling but still basically the same. Nowhere is there positive and incontrovertible evidence connecting Freemasonry, in a direct line through the guilds, with the Roman collegia. Neither is there positive and incontrovertible evidence denying such connection may actually have existed.
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