Local manorial institutions developed with the decline of central Roman power. Like feudalism, the system received great stimulus from the collapse of Carolingian rule and from the invasions by Norsemen, Arabs, and Magyars. It reached its final form at different times in various countries, but in general it flourished from the 11th to the 15th cent.
The most perplexing problem concerning the manor is the question of the origin of manorial organization. The dispute between the so-called Romanists and Germanists as to the sources of the organization has never been settled; there is not sufficient evidence. Romanists point to the process that, in the later Roman Empire, produced independent estates. Germanists focus on the likenesses of the manor to what was supposedly the ancient German system of landholding (see mark). It is now generally accepted that both German and Roman influences contributed to the development of the manorial system.
Many economic and political factors contributed to the extinction of the manorial system. The spread of trade and a money economy promised greater profit to capitalist production than to the subsistence manor; the growth of new centralized monarchies competed with the local administration of the lord. Gradual decline took place with the wide development of towns and capitalistic commerce that tended to break down the small local economic unit, the manor, and to build up larger units.
Decline was early in Italy, where Roman city institutions persisted to some extent through the Middle Ages (see commune). In Spain it was soon modified, especially by Moorish conquest, but still existed in modified form in the 20th cent. In England the dissipation of the system had been long in process before it was hastened by the inclosure of estates. In France its disappearance was consummated by the French Revolution. In Austria and Prussia it was virtually ended by the reforms of Emperor Joseph II, Karl vom und zum Stein, and Hardenberg, but in Hungary it left traces until the 20th cent. In Russia it was profoundly altered by the abolition of serfdom (1861; see Emancipation, Edict of). Everywhere it left its mark upon succeeding institutions.
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