Montesquieu
 

XXI.13 On commerce after the destruction of the Romans in the West

Commerce was even more degra­ded after the inva­sion of the Roman empire. The bar­ba­rians at first regar­ded it only as an object of their plun­der, and when they were esta­bli­shed they did not honor it more than agri­culture and the other pro­fes­sions of the conque­red peo­ple.

Soon almost all com­merce in Europe was at an end ; the nobi­lity who rei­gned eve­ryw­here were not concer­ned about it.

The law of the Visigoths allo­wed pri­vate citi­zens to occupy half the bed of the great rivers, pro­vi­ded the other half remai­ned free for nets and boats1 ; there must have been very lit­tle com­merce in the coun­tries conque­red by these bar­ba­rians.

In those times were ins­ti­tu­ted the insane rights of eschea­tage2 and ship­wrecks3 : peo­ple thought that, forei­gners being bound to them through no com­mu­ni­ca­tion of civil law, they owed them on the one hand no sort of jus­tice, and on the other no sort of pity.

In the nar­row boun­da­ries where the peo­ples of the north found them­sel­ves, eve­ry­thing was foreign to them ; in their poverty, eve­ry­thing was for them an object of wealth. Settled before the conquests on the sho­res of a nar­row sea full of reefs, they had taken advan­tage of those very reefs.

But the Romans who were making laws for the whole world had made some very humane ones4 on ship­wrecks : they sup­pres­sed in this res­pect the ban­di­try of those who lived along the coasts, and what was even more, the vora­cious­ness of their trea­su­rers.5

Book VIII, tit. 4, §9.

[Aubaine : “Succession to the property of a foreigner who dies in a country where he is not naturalized” (Académie, 1762).]

[Naufrage : “Items retrieved from the sea when a vessel have sunk are to be divided, one-third to the king, one-third to the admiral, and one-third to the people who have hauled them from the sea.” (Furetière.)]

The entirety of De incendio ruina naufragio, and Code De naufragiis, and law 3 following, De legem Corneliam de sicariis.

Law 1, Code De naufragiis.