History of the Vigneron, Part 3.2 The impact of 19th century ideological and political battles upon the historical record.


The Thinker in The Gates of Hell at the Musée Rodin, source Wikipedia

By Dean Alexander

The chicken, the egg? A question of influence.

In a 1999 book review of Pierre Nora’s ‘Realms of Memory: The Construction of the French Past,” historian Sunil Khilnani wrote that the author’s focus was on “how historical “meanings are created, manipulated, circulated and disputed”. While charges of “meaning creation” and “manipulation” may have been a relatively new topic in 1999, since that time, the academic landscape regarding French Revolutionary history seems to have been dominated by this particular sideshow.  As we will see, this all would begin in the mid-1970’s, when François Furet attacked the traditional approach to French history, as containing the paradigms of Marxist theory. Furet’s attack was devastating for Alfred Soboul, who at the time was the world’s leading authority on the French Revolution, and set in motion a conflagration of what had been the traditional understanding of French history.

Although Furet’s concepts were successful as disruptors, it has become clear that the ideas which he proffered in replacement were not wholly accepted either. Arguments as to the true meaning of the French Revolution have persisted to this day, but having morphed, Khilnani notes in his review of ‘Realms of Memory’, into what may be little more than contrivances and manipulations.

Some historians have spent virtually their entire careers intellectually sparring over what amounts to little more than socio-political maneuvering. Conversely, it may be the case that once history has been written, any future historian will either be forced to successfully repackage that history, or be forced tear it down in to start anew, in order to justify theirtheir positionexistence as researchers rather than mere teachers.

As students of history, rather than researchers or re-constructors of history, the mere existence of these arguments means that we must have at least attain a basic understanding of this intellectual battlefield. Moreover, it was the history itself which has in many ways manipulated the historian, and for all of Furet’s charges of a Marxist history, are in many ways just a continuation of the same rancorous ideological battles that the leftists, liberal-republicans, and conservatives fought, and sometimes died over, throughout the 19th century. This is the purpose of this article, to sort out the history and consider the charges of ‘manipulation’ among the historians. What we take away from it, is up to us.

Reaffirming the long-term goals of the articles which make up Part 3

Eventually, I seek to come to a reasonable understanding of what may have happened to the peasant tenant farmers of the Cote d’Or – who most certainly existed at the time of the revolution. In the case of the Burgundian vigneron, did some of those peasant families make the transition from being tenured peasants, to successful landholders, or did families with money from other backgrounds and trades come in and supplant the peasants who had traditionally farm these famous vineyards? Does historian David R. Weir’s 1976 analysis that the peasantry who had been “squeezed out” of the Cote d’Or, reflect socialist or Marxist notions of a French rural exodus, or is this indeed what had happened in the Cote d’Or?

The answer of how this cultural and economic occurred, transition lies within the detailed histories of the peasantry, compiled by “socialist” and “Marxist” historians, and it is that record which we will largely depend. However, these historians were challenged, by many accounts successfully, in 1970’s and 1980’s first by revisionists, and later others. However, the labels of socialist and Marxist politicize and cloud the issues at hand, and it forces us to look for the root source of these mid-century historian’s analyses, the intellectual and cultural history of France.


A Reading in the Salon of Mme Geoffrin, 1755, Source: Wikipedia

A Reading in the Salon of Mme Geoffrin, 1755, Source: Wikipedia

The salons of France

The reverence that the educated elite of France had for philosophers and historians propelled both the thinkers as well as their ideas throughout the 17th, 18th, and the 19th centuries. This is not to say that a philosopher’s work was so celebrated that it did not put them in direct threat of the crown, for many were sought by authorities. However,  their work did have an audience: the salons of the upper class and was attended by nobles and wealthy bourgeoisie alike. The fashion of the time venerated raffinement: the display and embodiment of elegance and social taste, idealizing wit, intelligence, and intellectual thought.  Early on, Antoine Gombaud, Le Chevalier de Méré (1607-1684), a writer know for his treaties on the laws of probability and etiquette writing, advised the well-heeled to be wary of those in court’s circles, and that one should seek out like-minded individuals to join in debate and intellectual conversation (Davetian, undated). No doubt there was an air of danger to these Salons, which were essentially private, somewhat clandestine, haute-société gatherings, where the conversation was likely to swerve to the politically treasonous, as they discussed the most cutting edge ideas of the time. It was here in the salons of Paris that notions monarchical reform took root.

The distinction and gravitas heaped upon the political philosopher during the 18th century can be seen in Edmund Burke’s (1729-1797) suggestion that Kant, Rousseau, and other enlightenment writers were somewhat responsible for the French Revolution (Cranston 1989). John Locke (1634-1704), and early pioneer was first to write about the ‘natural rights of man’, as well as the need for representative government and the rule of law. His ideas were so radical for the time that Locke never dared put his name to his political pamphlets (Powell 1996). It was from Montesquieu’s L’Esprit des lois, (The Spirit of the Law) published in 1753, that led the members of the États généraux of 1789 to advocate a liberal constitutional monarchy (Cranston 1998).  Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who although a fugitive from French justice for many years, was friends with many powerful nobles, including the prince du Sang de Conti, and the comté de Mirabeau both of whom supported and protected him until his death in 1778.  As the National Constituent Assembly (Assemblée nationale constituante) meet on a tennis court in defiance of the King in 1789, it was Rousseau’s friend comté de Mirabeau, who famously proclaimed:

It is asked how long the deputies of the people have been a national convention? I answer, from the day when, finding the door of their session-house surrounded by soldiers, they went and assembled where they could, and swore to perish rather than betray or abandon the rights of the nation… Whatever powers we may have exercised, our efforts and labours have rendered them legitimate…


Historians as historical actors 

Historia painting by Nikolaos Gyzis (1892)

Historia painting by Nikolaos Gyzis (1892)

Throughout the ensuing century, both theorists and historians directly or indirectly would drive French policy. Historians were so revered among the elite society that two of its most famous, François Guizot, of the Sorbonne, and the journalist/historian Adolphe Thiers* were entrusted with great power at the head of government. Guizot worked first for Louis XVIII as the secretary-general of the ministry of the interior, until Napoleon returned from his exile in Elba in 1815. Fifteen years later Guizot would serve in various high-ranking capacities during the entirety of king Louis-Philippe’s reign; most notably for his role in the establishment of secular education, as minister of education. In 1840 he became minister of foreign affairs, and during the last year of Louis-Philippe’s reign, he served as prime minister.

Adolphe Thiers came to be a noted authority of the French Revolution, not as a scholar, but as a cultural and political journalist and historian/author. Through his writings, he was instrumental in building dissent against King Charles X, which lead to that king’s overthrow in 1830.  He would later serve the populist “king of the French”, Louis-Philippe, as prime minister in 1836 and again in 1840. Later, in a masterful resurrection of his political career, in 1871 he would the direction the French Army in crushing the communard uprising in Paris, and later that same year is elected as the president of the Third Republic from 1871 to 1873.

While Thiers and Guizot left a direct impact on “event history”,* the socialist and communist thinkers to their political left, would end up leaving a greater imprint upon the written history of France. The writings of Karl Marx and other communists of his day came out of an extension of classical German philosophy of Hegel and Kant, and as such, these ideas were not unfamiliar to intellectuals of the day.  Additionally, the extended concepts of a rural exodus, class consciousness, and the value of labor were not solely products philosophical imagination, but in many ways were a mirror of the growing pains of industrialization beginning in 1830. More, Marx’s labor theory of value, historical materialism, and his stages of history did find its advocates among historians who sought to give an intellectual structuralism to “event history” which was as William H. Sewell describes, “atheoretical” and “intellectually bankrupt” (Sewell 2005).

In an attempt to lend a scientific legitimacy to the study of history was made by historian Alphonse Aulard (1849–1928) with his adaptions of the philosophical school of positivism. Using Auguste Comte‘s intellectual reliance on theory and observation, the positivists applied a rigid methodology of relying on primary sources, the need to verify collected information, before allowing themselves to arrive at their conclusions. This, however, did not mean that carefully culled information can not be intentionally or unintentionally bent to fit the original hypothesis.

The goal to find order, meaning, and structure within a field of study which in the past century been referred to as the softest of sciences, has been a common thread among modern historians. Whether these attempts were to find greater meaning within history, or to strike for intellectual parity, to achieve a modicum of the prestige that the hard sciences enjoy, probably depends on the viewpoint of the individual.  But you can see this quest for legitimacy very early on, from Karl Marx, whose theories professed to be like the hard sciences, offering a structure that would explain the development man’s economies in a repeatable and predictive fashion, to the positivists, with their rigid methodology, and the Annales scholars who searched for understandable long-term social structures might give greater understanding to the action and events of man.

It has been quite a fall from grace from a time when historians were chosen to be statesmen, given the reigns of one of the world’s greatest powers, to where historians are now, that a newly minted doctorate in history can have trouble finding a $60,000 a year job in teaching, and liberal studies departments, even in the greatest of universities, are sadly anxious because the low enrolments within their disciplines. With employers increasingly wishing to deflect the cost of training new employees back upon the educational system, graduate and undergraduate programs that do not deliver the perceived needs of the hiring manager, increasingly find it difficult to fill their lecture halls. The rapid demise of classical education is an incredibly sad endemic and a poor commentary on the future of our country.

The historical and philosophical underpinnings of the liberal-républicain tradition.

Despite the many charges since 1970 of a Marxist dialogue, we can view this “socialist” historiography as easily having been a reflection of the events within France. If we are to consider the relationship between the historical and philosophical origins of the major theoretical and political movements of the 19th century, we will see enough commonalities to cause us to question the origin of any particular idea.

Just as mid-century liberal-républicains had grown out of the turbulent 1789 Revolution, and France’s eventual entry into industrialization, so too had the Marxists and Anarchists. In this case, it is useful to consider the mid 20th-century theory of mentalités, which is to attempt to reconstruct the cultural structures and mentalities of a people, so one might understand what drives a society to make the collective political and economic decisions that they make.

In this case, life within in the 19th-century urban centers such as Paris or Lyon dictated the development of the political actors. The liberal-républicain developed and existed homogeneously, within the same cultural mentalités, as those groups which were considered to be farther to the political left. Consequently, these organization shared many of the same experiences and concerns, regardless their philosophical antagonisms. The first and most fundamental question of food security were followed closely by the notions of personal and political freedoms, and the pursuit of equality. These questions were difficult, if not virtually impossible solve, and as this block of people chipped away against the conservative structures which had defined French rule for centuries. The wide striations of opinions of how to proceed forced the creation of the varied French political terrain. The two basic, fundamental philosophical concepts which vied for dominance among the center-left of French citizenry of the 19th century, were republicanism and liberalism.


rousseauRepublicanism, as a philosophical family, with their Platonic and Rousseauian values of popular sovereignty, civic virtue and the common good, is not so unique that it does not also share these same core attributes with other philosophies, in this case, Marxism. At one time this was considered very advanced, even treasonous thinking to the autocrat or the monarch, as it advocates the civic participation in government, and not only the ability to be ruled but to rule in turn (Leydet 2014). These traits do lead automatically to some degree of equality, which was an essential element of republicanism philosophy. In today’s western society, republicanism is widely accepted, and its arguments and reasoning, which lack the most complex contradictions of liberalism, tends toward establishing authoritarian systems, especially if it is steeped in the democratic concept of majority rule.

For the person who is wired to either work within an obedient, majority rules, society, be they leaders who are ‘getting their way,’ or followers who are willing to accept the rule of others, republicanism works extraordinarily well. For the person who is truly wired as an individualist, that person will continually chaff at the binding restrictions of the republican system. For those intellectuals of the 19th century who were individualists, the philosophy of liberalism called. These individualists were ultimately joined by those, who although they would ultimately seek a republican society, band with individualists to fight the injustice which can be endemic within systems of authoritarian rule.

At its operational core, Marxism relies on many of republican values. The communist belief that men eventually could and would naturally, begin to work together (in factories and other modes of production) without the need for capitalist organization and oversight. Having gained class consciousness, workers would realize, claimed the Marxists and anarchists, that the proletariat could effectively manage themselves (autogestion) in this new communism. In many ways, this was a concept similar to republicanism’s ideal of civil participation within a rotational representative government, but in this case used as an instrument to self-manage labor. With this consciousness “the chains” of the “bourgeoisie” would be broken, either by evolution or by revolution, thus ending the stage of capitalism.

This hypothetical Marxist-socialist society would work and govern itself with communal, civic virtue, working for the greater common good, in a purely communist society. According to Marx this commune would have attained the highest developmental stage.

Marxist thought would point out, that while the Athenians had developed the notions of civic duty and republican ideals four centuries before the birth of Christ, they were a slave economy, and thus were far lower on the economic developmental scale, than even the dreaded “capitalist” stage.

Pure examples of communal-republican ideals are sparse but include the British utopian socialists of the Chartist movement 1840’s, and a group of mostly American political philosophers, the communitarians, who in the 1970’s and 1980’s, argued for shared values and consensus building (Etizioni 2015), against encroachments by contemporary liberalism. (Etzioni, Britannica.com). Daniel Guérin wrote that the anarchist political philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, observed workers associations “for production”* springing up in an “expression of social spontaneity”** during the 1848 revolution. To Proudhon, this was more revolutionary than the revolution itself (Guérin 1936). This organic communism inspired Proudhon to advocate autogestion, in which the workers are self-managed, and idea that Marx eagerly gravitated toward, and allowed the nascent idea of the self-governed political ideology of communism to form.  However, virtually every attempt to establish a communist organization, has from its inception, fundamentally betrayed Marxism’s core republican values of civic virtue and common good, as well as absolving any notion of worker’s self-government. What developed were no more than dictatorships often despotic, behind a thinly veiled communist disguise.

(*) Guérin’s words  (**) Proudhon’s words

Liberalism, and the more extreme Anarchism

Conversely, liberalism with its important individual freedoms has its inherent pitfalls, and however important its application, remains an old philosophical quagmire. However, rudimentary its assertion that man should enjoy personal freedom, it stumbles when simultaneously attempting to establish equality. An infinite loop of contradictions, liberalism as a political philosophy is symmetrical in its yin-yang twin pillars: individual freedom, and its contradictory desire for social and economic equality.  As any state leader charged with the responsibility of maintaining order would contend, unfettered personal freedom is detrimental to the common good, and must be mitigated with republican ideals of the rule of law and the common good too. Liberalism’s inherent decadence’s to some degree, must always be chaperoned by its companion, republicanism.

Portrait of Pierre Joseph Proudhon by Gustave Courbet, 1865, source wikipedia

Portrait of Pierre Joseph Proudhon by Gustave Courbet, 1865, source Wikipedia

The most extreme proponent of liberalist ideals have the various factions of the Anarchist philosophers and economists. Daniel Guérin writes that “the anarchist is above all a man in revolt. He rejects society as a whole along with its guardians.”

Perhaps it is, which suggests a revolt at a personal level, which fractured anarchists even as it was building its ideological foundations, during the mid 19th century.

That Pierre-Joseph Proudhon receives the most ink, is not so surprising, as he was one of the first to suggest new radical changes be made by the peaceful “use of the very institutions which we charge you to abolish” (Proudhon 1851). But this has often been a minority position within the wider anarchist spectrum. Working within the system is antithetical to man in revolt, and suggests a confinement that is likely uncomfortable.

Proudhon showed his innermost feelings of anarchist angst and anxiety when he wrote that he believed that those in power viewed the citizenry as being “a monster to be fought, muzzled, and chained down; which must be led by trickery, like the elephant or the rhinoceros; or cowed by famine; and which is bled by colonization and war.”



For a brief overview of some of Proudhon’s thoughts (which were removed from this paper so it wouldn’t be so long) CLICK HERE


Proudhon and Marx: friends or frenemies: divisions of thought.

Marx’s letter (slightly abridged) to Proudhon in 1846, inviting him to participate in an international socialist literary “committee.” Proudhon would refuse, citing that he had abandoned the concept of revolution and that it should not be put forth “as a means of social reform.” (Proudhon May 1846)

Proudhon was quite well-known by the time Marx arrived in Paris, having already published four books, while Marx, who as German exile that worked as a writer and editor of Rheinische Zeitung, a communist German language journal in Paris, was not.

Most histories state that during the two years Marx would spend in Paris before his expulsion, Marx and Proudhon were friends. This understanding is likely due to Marx’s 1846 letter (to the right), and Proudhon’s warm response that implies a personal friendship. But historian Paul Thomas suggests they may have met only a handful of times, writing that “it is probable that after their initial meetings that Marx and Proudhon saw very little of each other in Paris.” Thomas notes the lack of any further record of the two men meeting, following the handful of times which were documented as occurring 1843. Additionally, the Parisian police surveillance of Marx indicates no subsequent personal contact with Proudhon, who was at that time a well-known political figure (Thomas 2013).

Apparently, by the time that Marx had been expelled from Paris in 1846, Proudhon was not viewing communism in a positive light. It would seem that Marx had not been aware of this, as he had invited Proudhon (in a personal letter), to join them in a “correspondence committee.” Proudhon would graciously refuse Marx’s invitation. Within his response to Marx, he would write his opposition to economic change through a destructive revolution, saying “I would, therefore, prefer to burn property by a slow fire, rather than give it new strength by making a St. Bartholomew’s night of the proprietors” (Proudhon 1846). In this Proudhon is referencing the meaningless slaughter of thousands of Huguenots during the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572. Proudhon hoped, writes Robert Graham, that he could win “over the bourgeoisie to the revolutionary cause” and “to avoid further bloodshed” (Graham 2010), opining for a more transformative social change than Marx and other radical socialists advocated.

But it the full truth Proudhon’s feelings toward Marx’s beliefs became far more clear, soon afterward, with the release of Proudhon’s book, The Philosophy of Poverty. Within the pages Proudhon refers to communism as “the very denial of society in its foundation.” He goes on to write: “The communists, toward whom all socialism tends, do not believe in equality by nature and education; they supply it by sovereign decrees which they cannot carry out, whatever they may do.”

This rebuke by Proudhon had no doubt stung Marx, who in several key areas had been directly inspired by Proudhon. These pivotal concepts included the aforementioned autogestion, as well as the abolition of personal property. It is abundantly clear to me, up until this moment Marx, had viewed Proudhon as a potentially important ally, with his invitation to join the correspondence committee.

Marx quickly penned a sharply critical response, cleverly reordering the title of Proudhon’s work into to the instantly dismissive, “The Poverty of Philosophy.” Moreover, Marx wrote it in French as to strike directly at Proudhon and his followers. But Paul D. Thomas interprets these events differently, writing that Marx, in turn, had been becoming increasingly disenfranchised with Proudhon’s work (Thomas 2013).

Noam Chomsky, wrote the preface the 1970 re-printing of Guerin’s 1936 book, “Anarchism: From Theory to Practice,” that at some point Proudhon had written in a letter to Marx. In that, he suggests, “Let us not become the leaders of a new religion, even were it to be the religion of logic and reason.”  In any case, it appears that Marx had dismissed Proudhon by late 1846, following the Philosophy of Poverty/ Poverty of Philosophy exchange, and from that moment onward that Marx, with Engels in tow, transitioned from political philosophers to become political activists. Two years later Marx and Engels would write the communist manifesto.

Although Marx and Proudhon had at one time found comradeship in their mutual disapproval of the ruling monarchists and their cohort bourgeoisie, ultimately the antithetical philosophies that drove communism and anarchism would reveal the substantial divide between them. The fact that they vied for the political allegiance of the same working class people, has caused many over the last century and a half, to lump these two groups into a single leftist, so-called socialist camp, but this belies a lack of understanding of these organizations, an d the significant philosophical differences at their operational cores.


The liberal-republican struggle for political solvency throughout the first eighty years of the 19th century.

The same philosophical dilemma that had repeatedly played out throughout the 19th century, continually dividing and splintering the républicains of France. Although most républicains made no debate whether liberalism should be engaged, conflict arose surrounded degree to which it should be applied.

In America, where Thomas Jefferson and  James Madison (et al.) designed a republican organization of the United States, they cleverly inserted liberalist protections neatly within the Constitution through the Bill of Rights and provided that constitutional amendments could later be added. These grand, nation-building tasks were performed in what was effectively a political and intellectual vacuum.  There were no other competing groups within the colonies vying for the acceptance of their vastly differing ideological perspectives. Jefferson and the generally like-minded authors of the U.S. Constitution were both the political and cultural majority and the minority, like theTories, their king having lost the war were not invited to participate in the country’s formation. This was very unlike the situation which existed in France, where dissent within the greater républicain party itself was de rigor.

In a policy context, this contentious yin-yang of liberalism and republicanism existed in every law which grapples with a single fundamental question: does a nation exist to serve its citizens, or conversely do the citizenship exist to serve the nation? Although it had been liberal-republicanism which had been the at the heart of the First Republic, their internal divisions left them weak, and often outnumbered by the more cohesive cohorts of right-wing monarchists and Bonapartists, both of whom shared political alliance with social conservatives who desired the involvement of the Church in the public sphere.

As the pendulum of influence swung against the républicains, such as it did after 1830, during the monarchy of Louis Philippe I, républicain lawmakers found themselves excluded within the government. Républicain private clubs and political publications were shuttered, and even the using term ‘républicain’ was made illegal. In a dodge of that law, républicains took on the English political moniker, ‘radicals,’ so from this time on, the term radicals was used as interchangeable with républicains. This certainly can cause confusion.

Louis Napoleon by Jean Hyppolite Flandrin, 1863. source wikipedia

Louis Napoleon by Jean Hyppolite Flandrin, 1863. Source Wikipedia

The hopes of liberal-républicains made a brief comeback between 1848 and 1852 after the party took a majority of the seat in the national assembly.  But hope was as short-lived as the Second Republic, when its president, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte seized power, with support from Bonapartists and other conservatives, and proclaimed himself emperor in 1852. Once again the républicain party and hopes of personal and political freedoms were subdued, as the emperor’s security apparatus issued thousands of arrests and deportations.These arrests included the former Orleanist prime minister, Adolphe Thiers, who, after a brief internment, was expelled from the country for is vocal political activism. He would be allowed to return to France in 1853, and despite remaining a critic of the Emperor, accusing him of disallowing the French people of political liberty, as well as continually allowing France’s international status to be undermined and diminished (Cohn 1917).

As Louis-Napoléon’s hold on power lessened in the last years of his reign, and Thiers re-entered the chamber of deputies in 1869, at the age of seventy-three.

Although for much of Thiers’ was an Orleanist for much of his life, the political derailment of the Louis-Philippe monarchy, forced Thiers to find new political alliances. With the surrender of Louis-Napoléon to the Prussians in 1870, the political reality shifted dramatically as control of the Third Republic gradually moved into the hands of the républicains. Thiers was experienced and ambitious. He chose to carve out a niche within the ruling républicain party, that was on the upswing, becoming a conservative-républicain, unlike most moncharists who had eventually realized a monarchy was not coming back, formed a minority conservative party. It was a shrewd move on Thiers part, as he was able to grab power.

Almost thirty years earlier, during the brief existence of the Second Republic, Thiers had addressed the 1949 National Assembly. In this speech, Theirs would foreshadow his future, with an expression of his resolute belief that the laws of the nations were paramount, and should be preserved at the expense of individual freedom. Although the context of the speech has been lost, Thiers is presumably responding to liberal assertions individualism was necessary, Thiers declared, “No one person has it in his power to instantly achieve the happiness of nations.” (Castries 1983, as cited in Wikipedia). He stated a basic tenet of republicanism:

“Unlimited liberty leads to a barbaric society, where the strong oppress the others, and only the strongest have unlimited liberty…The liberty of one person stops at the liberty of other. Laws are born from this principle, and a civilized society.” Adophe Thiers 1849 (Castries 1983).


At the time of the newly constructed Third Republic, most of the power still resided with the conservative monarchists. The Bonapartists had little support following Louis-Napoleon’s encirclement and surrender the Prussians at Sedan, the previous year. Yet, despite the majority that monarchist had in numbers, they could not agree on which lineage should resume the throne, and each group would successfully thwart the other for the next two decades. By 1890’s, most monarchists had internally conceded that a king would not again sit on the throne, and accepted the political description of their traditional Catholic, authoritarian values, as “conservative.”

In contrast, liberal-républicains believed in a far greater degree of personal freedom and typically did not choose the hard lines set by Thiers and other conservatives. Historian Philip Nord recounts that even before 1870 the liberal-républicain statesmen, Léon Gambetta and Parisian Mayor Jules Ferry, both professed support for increased civil liberties, particularly concerning free speech, the freedom of the press, freedom of association. Ferry and Gambetta, along with other moderate to left-leaning républicains like Victor Hugo and Louis Blanc, pushed for the secularism within the government and sought to end the church’s involvement in public education. Additionally, they spoke of tearing down Louis-Napoleon’s imperial state, decentralizing governmental “institutions,” and disbanding standing armies (Nord 1995). But the républicains struggled internally with the never-ending quandary of republicanism versus liberalism.  Nord indicates this indecisiveness when he writes that “Gambetta dreamed of remaking a waffling républicain into what he called “a government of public opinion.”

Unlike those liberal-républicains who sought to work within the government for reform, a tactic that Proudhon likely would have supported had he still been alive, the Anarchist Congress of 1870 advocated that fellow anarchists not participate in elections. They opined “cannot have other results than the consolidation of the existing state of affairs, and thus would paralyze socialist revolutionary action of the Proletariat”(Droze 1966 via Przeworski 1985).

As the belligerents of Paris quickly escalated toward revolution in 1871, républicain lawmakers in Paris, including Ferry and Georges Clemenceau, the radical-républicain mayor of Montmartre district of Paris (and future prime minister), found that while there were vital political and philosophical issues at stake, they could not advocate or support the revolution. This was the same choice thousands of Parisians and even national guardsmen had to make as catastrophe drew ever nearer. Clemenceau commented, having failed to mediate between the Theirs government and leftist central committee of the Garde Nationale: “We are caught between two bands of crazy people, those sitting in Versailles and those in Paris” (Fenby 2015). Both Ferry and Clemenceau, as well as thousands of Garde nationale, including half of the trained artillerymen, quit Paris before the fighting would begin in earnest. Although these men were labeled radical-républicains, unlike the communists whom they left behind, they were not revolutionaries.

*Early in his career, Adolphe Thiers made his mark as one of the most read journalists in Paris, with his pieces focusing on politics, art, literature, and history.  He would use the popularity of his work at the journal, Le Constitutionnel, and later the launching the opposition newspaper, the Nationale, to launch a well-received 10 volume historical series on the 1789 Revolution. As a liberal, and critic of the Bourbon monarchy of Charles X, his Histoire de la Révolution française’, (published between 1823-1827) was instrumental in discrediting the Bourbon king and helped lead to his overthrow in 1930.  Thiers used the money from his writing for property ownership, a necessary requirement for entry into politics. He would be elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1829 (Wikipedia).

Traditional social or “orthodox” modern French history 1900-1930

The ascension of Jean Jaurès

Lawrence Harvard Davis, of the University of Connecticut, writes that the accepted traditional history had assumed their position. The proof, it was given, was that post-revolution they designed, allowed the bourgeoisie to both advanced and protected their position by “enshrining” the ownership of “private property and equality” with legal protections. It was this that allowed the “rise of a capitalist order” (words in quotes are those of Davis, 2001).

How the Marxist concepts entered into the historical record lies in part, perhaps a large part, with an eloquent and brilliant historian and statesman, Jean Jaurès (1859-1914). Although Jaurès was most noted as a historian, he would not write his most influential work Histoire Socialiste (1900–03) until after the political and cultural events of the late 1890’s made a socialist version of history appealing, and acceptable.

Jaurès, who was already well-known for his writing for the newspaper, L’Humanité, moved to the socialist paper La Petite République socialiste in the late  1890’s, as editor and featured writer. The period was marked by ongoing trials surrounding the accused spy Alfred Dreyfus, and Jaurès, a critical cultural opinion maker during that time, would write a series of widely read articles, under the title of The Evidence. Within this writing, he would chronicle the government’s subversion of justice, and the falsification of evidence, and the general betrayal by the conservative elements within the army and civil government, of any reasonable right to a fair trial. The politically and socially divisive trial was a capping off an extended period of discontent and distrust by those on the left, of the conservatives and their institutions to the right.

In addition to being a journalist, Jaurès, he was a lecturer and professor of philosophy at two universities, and since 1885 had been a member of the National Assembly. These public positions gave Jaurès tremendous exposure and influence.  During the 1880’s Jaurès was allied with the moderate republicans (républicain modérés) which in English is typically translated as the “Opportunist Republicans,” was aligned politically at the time with Jules Ferry, who had become the prime minister of the Third Republic. But after the events of the late 1890’s, Jaurès and many others would abandon many of the core values of republicanism, which now seemed corrupt. There was a general rejection of the greater good of the nation as being more consequential, and more vital than that of its people. Indeed there was a reordering of priorities, having observed a self-serving government knowingly and unjustly destroy the life an innocent Dreyfus for no more than its leader’s convenience.

The internal turmoil created by the Dreyfus Affair brought many on the far left into power, and reflects a major shift in French culture, and their rejection of the questionable values presented by traditional conservatives.

The internal turmoil created by the Dreyfus Affair brought many on the far left into power and reflects a significant shift in French culture, and their rejection of the questionable values presented by traditional conservatives.

Through the emotional events of the “Dreyfus Affair,” which spanned the years 1894-1902 (to be conservative), Jaurès had become one of the first social democrats, advocating government intervention, both socially and economically, with the goal of promoting greater economic and social equality. Whereas various types of communists and anarchists had been pursuing similar goals, the most fundamental aspect of Jaurès advocacy was that he proposed this be done within existing capitalist system (Przeworski 1985). Unlike other revolutionary thinkers, he did not outright advocate the outright dismantling of capitalism.

Jean Jaurès, the historian

Following his widely read writings of  Dreyfus in “La Petite République socialiste,” Jean Jaurès, the academic, was well positioned to become the foremost authority on the history of the French Revolution. The general shift of intellectuals, and indeed much of the French to the socialist point of view, following the de facto incitement of the government by “the Affair,” had created fertile ground for a socialist interpretation of the history of the French Revolution.  So when Jaurès released his book, Histoire Socialiste de la Révolution Française, it instantly set what was to become a seemingly unquestioned version and meaning of those events. Just as people for centuries had understood that world was or flat, the historians would henceforth believe that the revolution was an event of social class conflict. This interpretation would not be questioned for decades.

Jaurès claimed the revolution was the consequence of “the political advent of the bourgeois class” (Jaurès 1901), meaning the political desires of the bourgeoisie had brought revolution as it strove for a political input. As such, the socialist mantra that the revolution was, in fact, a bourgeois revolution, ushering capitalism, of which the bourgeoisie would be the sole benefactor. The rural exodus, which was more easily identifiable as having occurred in Germany and England, was in France claimed to be the result of an “uneasiness of the farmers crushed by competition”(Jaurès 1901).  ‘Class consciousness,’ sprang from “the advent of the proletariat” wrote Jaurès in Histoire Socialiste.

All of these events, claimed the Marxist-socialist, was all part of a predestined historical industrial-capitalist stage, which was itself an incubator for “social crisis.” It would spawn “a new and more profound revolution, one through which the proletariat would seize power in order to transform property and morality” (Jaurès 1901).  While Jean Jaurès was only one of many who had subscribed to Marx’s political-philosophical memes, Jaurès was more responsible than most the normalization and acceptance of socialism into mainstream French culture, politics, and the reconstruction of French historiography.

That democracy was burgeoning, made no difference to the self-proclaimed social democrat. He claimed that these were the “essential conditions for socialism” (Jaurès 1901), and Jaurès, who had become a political leader during the early years of the 20th century, would push his followers to work within the democratic French Republic, to build a social democratic state.

Revolution, not evolution had been a tenant of socialists, particularly the idealistically pure Anarchists, who were unwilling to work within the political, democratic process of “bourgeoisie governments.” Jaurès’ eloquence and influence within the socialist community, allowed him along with former rival, Jules Guesde‘s, to bring together in 1905, many divergent, socialist groups into a single, unified French Section of the Workers’ International (SFIO). This was an important step, which today allows us to understand how Marxist and socialist ideas had become so mainstream in greater French society, politics, and would ultimately dictate the telling of French history.

As a historian, the title of Jean Jaurès 1903 book, Histoire Socialiste de la Révolution Française, announces its socialist predisposition with a frankness that would be considered unprofessional by today’s academic standards. In the opening sentence, Jaurès writes “We want to recount to the people, to the workers, to the farmers, the events that occurred between 1789 and the end of the nineteenth century from the socialist point of view.” (Jaurès 1901)

The ever more complicated name changes within the républicain party were all used to establish a differentiation between groups which were splintering as political disputes erupted from within the party. This happened so often over the 19th century that it seemed they might run out of plausible names. In 1901 the main faction of the former républicain modérés began to use the amalgamated name of Parti républicain, radical et radical-socialiste. Although many républicains were socialists, the defection of the more radical socialists such as Jaurès, forced the more centrist “radical républicain, radical-socialiste, as well as the more conservative républicain modérés” who remained in the party, to take more conservative positions, in reaction to those on their left.

Sources for Parts 1 and 2

The Creation of Identity and the Invention of Tradition, Sunil Khilnan, The Los Angeles Times, 1999

John Locke: Natural Rights to Life, Liberty, and Property, John Powell, Foundation for Economic Education, 1996

The History and Meaning of Salons, Benet Davetian, bdavetian.com/salonhistory.html, undated

Capitalism and Social Democracy: Studies in Marxism and Social Theory, Adam Przeworski, Cambridge University Press, 1985

The Republican Moment: Struggles for Democracy in Nineteenth-century France, Philip G. Nord, Harvard University Press, 1995

Communitarianism, Amitai Etzioni, The Encyclopedia of Political Thought, First Edition. Edited by Michael T. Gibbons, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 2015

Anarchism: From Theory to Practice, Daniel Guérin, 1936, Translated by Mary Klopper, NYU press, 1970

The General Idea of Proudhon’s Revolution, Robert Graham, Black Rose Books, 2005

Karl Marx and the Anarchists Library Editions: Political Science, Volume 60, Paul Thomas, Routledge, 2013

The General Idea of Proudhon’s Revolution, Robert Graham, Black Rose Books, 2005

For Anarchism (RLE Anarchy) David Goodway, Routledge, Jun 26, 2013

Crypo-Anarchy, Issak Crofton, Lulu.com 2015
Anarcho-Communism, Alain Pengam 1987, Non-Market Socialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth CenturiesMaximilien Rubel, John Crump, Springer, 1987
Manifesto of a 21st Century AnarchistNickk ÐropKick, Lulu.com, 2014

Voluntary Socialism A Sketch, Francis Dashwood Tandy, 1896

We Do Not Fear Anarchy—We Invoke It: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement, Robert Graham, AK Press, 2015

The Bastiat-Proudhon Debate on Interest (1849-1850), Benjamin Long, Molinari Institute, 2008

Citizenship, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy , Leydet, Dominique, Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Spring 2014 Edition

Social History and Archival Practice, Fredric M Miller, The American Archivist / Vol. 44, No. 2 / Spring 1981

What’s after Political Culture? Recent French Revolutionary Historiography, Suzanne Desan, French Historical Studies 23.1 (2000)

The French Revolution: Recent Debates and New Controversies, Gary Kates, Routledge – Taylor & Francis Group, 2006

French Intellectuals Against the Left: The Antitotalitarian Moment of the 1970’s, Michael Scott Christofferson, Berghahn Books, 2004

The Columbia History of Twentieth-century French Thought, Lawrence D. Kritzman, Brian J. Reilly, M. B. DeBevoise, Columbia University Press, 2007

The History of Modern France: From the Revolution to the War on Terror, Jonathan Fenby, Simon and Schuster, 2015

Reviewed Work: Penser la Révolution Française. by Francois Furet, Hunt, Lynn. History and Theory 20.3 (1981): 313-23. Web.

The French Revolution: Ideas and Ideologies, Maurice Cranston,  History TodaVolume 39 Issue 5, 1989

Burgundy: History of the Vignerons: part 2, roads less traveled

Via Agrippa

Via Agrippa, the Roman system of roads that were built throughout Gaul early in the first century.


Roads less traveled

By Dean Alexander

Villa Agrippa along the Lyon-Saintes roadway in west-central France. http://www.st-martin-de-jussac.fr/

The ancient Roman Via Agrippa along the Lyon-Saintes in west-central France. http://www.st-martin-de-jussac.fr/

Throughout history, the four departments of Burgundy have existed in various states geographical isolation; partitioned from western France, by the mountain ranges of the Central Massif and the Morvan. For twelve centuries, only three woefully inadequate roads linked Burgundy to western France, and those, having been built by the Romans in around the year 20 BC, were in a state of disintegration. Whether lost to flooding or landslide, or its materials having been scavenged for new construction, in places, these roads ceased to exist altogether. Travel to and from Burgundy became increasingly slow, difficult, and dangerous.

This road system was never intended to support an independent France, and as such, their route selection, and the intellectual philosophy behind their design were ill-suited for reliance that the Gauls would place upon them.  Each aspect of their design would leave a lasting impact on the of future development of trade, communication, and ultimately the economy of France. This underdeveloped and crumbling infrastructure would leave Burgundy in a state of quasi-isolation, forcing it to develop independently for centuries, and delay the unification for France for a millennium.

To some readers, this ancient topic will seem unimportant, and seemingly unrelated to winemakers of today, but the geopolitical separation of Burgundy from central France was quite significant on both a regional and national level, and significantly shaped the identity of the winemakers of the 18th and 19th century. For the wine scholar, these are roads less traveled.

(*) This is true of the areas of the Rhone Valley and Provence as well.

Haut-Folin is tallest of the Morvan's three highet peaks, at 902 meters. Against this backdrop, only a few poor roads penetrated the densely wooded Morvan Massif. Lying directly between Paris and Beaune, the Morvan is a northern extension of the Central Massif. Although not terrible tall at its peak 900 meters, the 70 kilometers long Morvan has a 35 kilometers girth, which provided more than enough deterrent to easy trade and travel to or from western France. photo: wikipedia

Haut-Folin is tallest of the Morvan’s three highest peaks, at 902 meters. Against this backdrop, only a few poor roads penetrated the densely wooded Morvan Massif. Lying directly between Paris and Beaune, the Morvan is a northern extension of the Central Massif. Although not terribly tall at its peak 900 meters, the 70 kilometers long Morvan has a 35 kilometers girth, which provided more than enough deterrent to easy trade and travel to or from western France. photo: Wikipedia

Natural trade barriers: massifs, and valleys

While good roads and bridges cut with seeming ease through these regions today, the Central Massif and the Morvan, divided eastern and western France for centuries. Moving northward along the backside of the 1020 kilometer long Central Massif, sits Lyon; and just beyond the city, as the northern tip of the Central Massif falls away, a gap between the mountains develops before Morvan rises up again in the north. Because this area is hilly, defined its boundaries is not straight forward but is the gap is a fairly wide area of at least 50 to 75 square kilometers, .

Militarily, these are the kinds of gaps that armies seek to strike their enemy, but in the past two thousand years, no major advances seemed to have launched by any army through this gap. Why was this? A possible explanation is that this gap is covered by irregular hills and multi-directional valleys, through which the headwaters of the Loire and other rivers form.  Many of these headwaters are rivers in their own right, including the Allier, Arroux, Dore, Loire, Nievre, and Sioule Rivers, and each would have created their own fording challenges. Secondly, the valleys may have been swampy until they were drained in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This would have made the movement of equipment substantially difficult.

Northward from this gap, one will encounter the heavily wooded hills of Morvan Massif. This too stood as yet another obstacle to travel. Although the total elevation of the Morvan is not overly high, with its highest peaks being roughly 1000 meters, it can be rugged, densely wooded, and has an imposing breadth of 35 kilometers. Along the eastern foothills of the Morvan, is where the vineyards of the Côte d’Or are located.


For a more than twelve hundred years, since the times of Roman Gaul, the road system of France decayed more than it improved. The major routes remained those of Roman origin. It wasn’t until the early 1700’s, that road construction was given any priority, and that the natural barriers of trade to the west were finally lifted.


Via Agrippa: the first well-established roads in Eastern France

The first Roman routes, out of simplicity, skirted the Central Massif.  To the Massif’s south, the road hugged the Mediterranean coastline as it moves westward. At Arelate (Arles), which became an important Roman port and trading city, the Via Domita ran toward the Iberian Penisula, where it met with the Via Aquitania, which drove northwest toward Burdigala (Bordeaux) on the Atlantic coast. To move northward from Arelate, the road system of the Via Agrippa began.  Constructed for movement of legions to conqueror and control the unsettled regions east of the Central Massif, Roman leaders decided to establish Lugdunum (Lyon) as the hub of the expansive Via Agrippa road network. Archaeologists Ulrich Erdmann writes that the “geography of Burgundy was advantageous to the development of a strong infrastructure with busy roads from Lyon, the capital of the province, to Paris and the Channel ports, and to the Rhine.” (Ulrich Erdmann 2004) Because of this well-constructed road system, this was certainly the case during Roman times. And much later, the better sections of the road would continue to serve the basic economic needs of the region, right up until the revolution.

The Rise of Lugdunum

That the Roman engineers decided that Via Agrippa should radiate from Lugdunum (Lyon), made the city a very important trading hub. Lyon would link Rome to nearly all of its European provinces, including those in Switzerland, Germany, Northern France, as well as being the most direct route to its most far-flung northern European possessions, including the Netherlands, Belgium, and Britain. It is important to note, that the decision to choose Lyon as the hub of this road system, would impact Burgundy for centuries after the fall of Rome. This road was economic thoroughfare Burgundy would require to maintain its independence over such a long period of time.

In the best of conditions, trade in ancient times was slow, moving at the pace of a draft horse under a heavy load. Couriers and unburdened travelers and may have moved more swiftly, but these long distances required patience. To ease these troubles, Romans built small, well-appointed towns along the route to act as rest stations along the way, catering to the needs of the well-heeled traveler, and others.

Roman Gaul was generally peaceful and stable for centuries, and in fact, legions were generally not stationed there after 15 BC. (Woolf 2000)  Around 300 years after Gaul’s submission to Rome, every freeman of Gaul was offered citizenship (212 AD). This was not a special dispensation since it was granted to all lands within the empire, but Gaul was widely considered to be the most acquiescent and accepting of Roman rule.(Erdmann 2004)

The most important route, at least in regards to Burgundy’s connectivity to the rest of Europe, was the main, north-south artery of the Via Agrippa. This road headed north to Dijon, through Langres, and ultimately to the port city of Cologne on the Belgian coast. This was the road which would become instrumental in Burgundy’s wine trade, forever onward.

Peutinger map: the only map of the Roman roads in Gaul

Peutinger map: the only map of the Roman roads in Gaul

The conclusion that Lyon-Cologne was the most vital route is based partially on the fact that this road is one we know the most about. It appears far more frequently in literature than any of the other Burgundian roads, and that is true of writings from antiquity, until well after the French revolution. This repeated appearance in writings may have to do with its being the road to Langres, which even today remains an important religious center.  Langres had the distinction of being the seat of the Bishop of Roman Catholic church, as well as home to several Catholic religious orders. But this road also appears often this road as a major trading artery. That this can not be said about any other regional road, leads one to draw the conclusion that it was the primary route in and out of Burgundy. We might also assume it was the best-maintained road within Burgundy.

Two other, presumably important roads headed directly westward from Lyon. The first was a route that zigzagged over barren sections the Massif. This spur of the Via Agrippa eventually made its way to Clermont-Ferrand on the reverse side of the Central Massif, then ultimately on to Saintes in southwestern France. This route has been somewhat chronicled over the past two thousand years, but principally as part of the pilgrimage of le Chemin Saint-Jacques. Little of this Roman roadway remains, and its exact route is uncertain. A second spur of the Via Agrippa departed westward from Chalon. This route is referred to as the Lyon-Boulogne, although once it arrives in the Loire Valley it bifurcated, with one branch heading to Saintes, and the other to Boulogne. Unfortunately, we know very little about its route, as much of its roadway has been lost. Over the centuries, the stone, and other road building materials were removed for other uses, and dirt has covered much of the rest. Additionally, little is written about the Lyon-Boulogne, and most our knowledge regarding its existence comes from an ancient Roman map which was discovered in a library in Wormes, Germany in the late 1400’s.

Roman route selection

Agger Road

Since this road traveled through a forest, the high, raised roadway was likely built as a defensive platform to help legionnaires defend against ambush. This raised roadway would give a stretched out column of soldiers a chance to survive against a more concentrated force attacking from their flank.

Roman roads were as part of a larger military conquest strategy. As such, upland routes were chosen for the defensive advantage hills provided, and whenever possible track was selected which were devoid of forestation. Roman columns traveling along these routes were more able to repulse attacks where sight lines were longer. Along these highland routes, way stations were situated on hilltops, as they were far easier to defend.

Conversely, Roman roads avoided valleys, and dense forests, (Planhol, Claval 1994) as both of these terrains presented a tactical disadvantage of not being able to bring the “cohorts to bear.” (Heather 2010) While these overland routes provided security for columns of soldiers and their baggage trains, these overland Roman military roads may have proved difficult enough to deter less disciplined travelers.

But avoiding forested routes may have been more challenging than one might imagine. While today one fifth of France is timber land, consisting of roughly 25% oak trees, when Caesar arrived with his legions in Gaul in 58 BC, it is estimated that two-thirds of France were covered in forests, primarily of oak trees interspersed with thickets. (Thirgood 1971) Wide belts of sacred forests created the natural “frontier zones” which separated the various Gaulish tribes, which only the Druids were allowed to enter. According to  J. V. Thirgood, a professor of forestry at the University of British Columbia, the forests held a “psychological dread” for the legionnaires, involving forest warfare and mysticism.

Building roads in Britain, artist unknown, 1956

Building roads in Britain, artist unknown, 1956

Additionally, the need to find solid ground upon which to build roads was of equal importance. Before the construction of drainage systems, provided by the construction of France’s innumerable canals (ie. Canal du Centre opened in 1792), many of France’s valleys and plains were riddled with marshes. (Grabmayer 2009) This may have made these valley areas between the larger Loire and Saône Valleys unsuited for road construction, not to mention it was likely to have been covered in dense forests. Further, the many rivers that traverse the region would have required the construction several of large and costly bridges.

As much as road construction’s primary purpose was to allow Rome to project its power, its ability to facilitate trade was an expected byproduct of great importance. The roads were an artery of wealth, raw materials, and other valuables, which would economically feed Rome. Both legions and merchants traversed the roads from Gaul to the Italian peninsula, carrying with them all manner of treasure and goods. Caravans were loaded with from gold and silver to less glamorous ores such as lead and tin. They were loaded prized wines from Burgundy which were said to rival the best of the legendary Falernian wines, as well as casks (a Gallic invention) of wine the Rhone, as well as material goods, such prized Samian pottery. There was also a significant movement of grain, which included wheat, barley, and rye, all being transported from France to the Apennine peninsula.

Confusingly, the generic word for ‘grain’ in Latin the is the word “corn”. However, because in English “corn” only refers the vegetable which is indigenous the Americas, some writers have mistakenly understood that corn was grown in Gaul, and traded to the Romans. It obviously was not, since it was not ‘discovered’ by Europeans until sometime after 1492.

Roads dictated by geometrical theorem 

Ordered, but inefficient for trade? 

Examples of calculatiing distances by trianglation and Tales Theorem as used by the Romans. Drawings: Giovanni Pomodoro 1603

Examples of calculating distances by triangulation and Thales Theorem as used by the Romans. Drawings: Giovanni Pomodoro 1603

Historian Greg Woolf, argues that efficiency and connectivity of these roads were undermined by the Roman’s limited geographical knowledge of France, and that centering its hub on the city of Ludunum (Lyon) was somewhat arbitrary. (Woolf 2000)

This may have been true, but there was at least one other factor at play: the Roman ideology that the intellect must triumph over the random vagaries of nature. As such, the incorporation of Euclidean and Pythagorean theories was widely employed in many aspects of Roman construction, including roads.

Pythagorean theories were widely employed in many aspects of Roman construction.

Pythagorean theories were widely employed in many aspects of Roman construction.

The Roman designers conceptualized their roads as a Euclidean geometric equation: thus a road was “a surface is that which has length and breadth only”. The design of any “solid“, is matrix of point, line, and surface, and differs significantly the “solid” object it represents. (de Laguna 1922) Whatever difficulties of these theoretical ideals posed in applying to the actual, physical geography, was left for the on-site surveyors and builders to resolve. Surmounting the peaks, rivers, gorges, as well as marshy valleys, forced those who managed the construction to adjust as necessary. (Legion VIII Augusta)  Doubtlessly, there was pressure to complete the job as it was designed, and this may have led to the Roman reputation for overcoming obstacles, rather than building around them.

Having dedicated themselves to build roads to a Euclidean planar, rectilinear model, there are many examples of this in their road construction across the Roman Empire. Stretches of the road will persist for dozens of kilometers, in an unflinchingly straight line. These roads hold straight and true, over a variety of terrains, even when no direct line-of-sight was possible. The most extreme example of this is the Roman road from Bavay to Tongeren (in Belgium), which continues uninterrupted in its straight path for 70 kilometers or 43.5 miles (Gallo, Bishop 2006).  This, reasoned the Romans, would allow columns of legionnaires to arrive at a far-flung location in the most expedient, and least exhausted fashion.

To accomplish this feat of building long, dead straight stretches of road, Roman surveyors made visual sightings (of up to six miles) at night, by using fires. Where line-of-sight was not possible, surveyors attained sighting from hilltop to hilltop and utilizing theorems of similar triangles, enabling them to maintain their road’s undeviating course, with remarkable precision (Gallo, Bishop 2006).

No doubt, the Romans over thought their roads, in that  It is easy to see how this might prove problematic, in bypassing cities, or not connecting cities with did not fit into their intellectual sense of organization, and might delay a Roman legion’s arrival to a strategic location.

The consequence of Roman road design on a post-Roman France

Just as Gaulish tribes did not coalesce as a single body until the Romans artificially did so by force, once the Romans were gone, France once again splintered into its regional tribes once the Rome fell. No doubt, regional rulers, such as the Frankish King Clovis I, who triumphed over the last Roman military commander in Gaul, would have found the organizational structure of these roads frustrating. It is clear they inhibited movement of goods and communication in almost any direction that wasn’t en route to Rome. For this reason, Roman roads greatly dictated the regional trading partners. For example, travel from Reims, north of Paris to points southwest of Paris, such as Chartes, was extremely circuitous and would have discouraged trading and communication between these two areas within central France. One has to wonder if this de facto subdivision of France, was actually by Roman design, with the intent of keeping populations divergent, and unable to unify, thus making possible rebellions less viable.

By the Middle Ages, the roads of the Via Agrippa were in poor condition despite their immaculate construction. The efficient infrastructure necessary to maintain them had been lost well before the fall of the Roman Empire, which had been in a long period of decline.**

*King Clovis I, who would triumph over Syagrius, the last Roman military command in Gaul, who had held out a decade after Rome itself had fallen. (**) This would finally happen when Rome’s own mercenary armies, consisting largely soldiers of the Germanic Visigoth tribes, breached the walls of Rome in 476 A.D.

I have overlaid the Morvan and Central Massif on a map of the Via Agrippa derived from The Tabula Peutingeriana, also known as the Peutinger map. Peutinger is a medieval copy of a Roman road map from about the year 300 CE. The mapping was done mainly utilizing the research of Richard Talbert. To see the original map http://www.omnesviae.org/

I have overlaid the Morvan and Central Massif on a map of the Via Agrippa derived from The Tabula Peutingeriana, also known as the Peutinger map. Peutinger is a medieval copy of a Roman road map from about the year 300 CE. The mapping was done mainly utilizing the research of Richard Talbert. To see the original map http://www.omnesviae.org/

Roads and travel in the Middles Ages

carriage in mudTo write so extensively of the design and construction of the Via Agrippa is not to imply that roads were not built during the Middle Ages. But many of these roads were poorly constructed and degraded quickly. This meant that travel upon them became difficult not long after they were built, due to the marginal effort and low-grade materials generally committed to European road construction during the Middle Ages. Too often, little more technique was employed than clearing enough of the brush and trees so that carts could pass. Dust was a problem in the summer, and with periods of heavy rainfall, these rutted roads become deeply muddied, and often becoming impassable.

carriage crashMore important roads, perhaps as those which linked important holdings of the crown, cities with Duchés, or within Comtés, were built to higher standards. For these roads, workers used lime-infused dirts, like marl or fullers’ earth. (Friedman, Figg 2013) Lime (calcium) can have the capacity to stabilize wet earth by disrupting the alignment of the platelets in clay. This change in soil structure allows the soil to drain better.

These calcium-rich materials were apparently valuable, however, and were sometimes pilfered right from the center of the roadway. The result was that thieves created very large potholes, which, depending on their size and location, could seriously impede travel. Worse, after heavy rains, these pits would fill with water. With murky water obscuring their depth, these potholes became traps for the unaware traveler. Drownings did occur. (Friedman, Figg 2013)

Road fatalities were fairly common over the centuries, occurring when wagons or carts crashed or overturned. (Grabmayer 2009)  The Encyclopedia of “Trade, Travel, and Exploration in the Middle Ages”, almost humorously refers to these as “traffic accidents”, and both Friedman & Figg’s text, and Grabmayer’s paper note that numerous such deaths appear in “coroner” records.

Accidents were caused by the carts being flipped, spooked draft animals as the Friedman & Figg cite. Without a  doubt, poor cart construction, wear, and fatigue of the cart or wagon, in conjunction with overloading and poor weight distribution, also played a part in these accidents. But they would have been compounded exponentially by travel on these poor roads.

Roads of cultures

How roads were built, and how they were used, both represented a vast difference in culture between the Romans and the Gallic people. Paved Roman roads* were slippery for animals when it rained, and in general were hard on the hoofs of unshod animals. The Roman response was to find a solution. Their answer was fit horses and oxen with what was referred to as a hipposandal: special sandals were constructed from iron plates, and these plates were tied to the animals hooves by leather straps (Bakels 2009),  Of course, the medieval Frenchman had no such sandals, and may not have even been interested in obtaining them. As a habit, Gallic travelers tended to avoid these sections of road, particularly when utilizing hoofed animals. So instead of using the roads as intended, the Gauls drove their carts on the footpaths which ran parallel to the center roadway. (Grabmayer 2000) This caused other traffic, particularly those on foot, to create new impromptu paths, which also ran parallel to the Roman road. The practice of using multiple parallel paths to the old Roman roads expanded considerably as the Via Agrippa continued to deteriorate. and becoming increasingly difficult to navigate even for those on foot.

Christian Pilgrimage began well before the fall of Rome, and continues even today. Many of these routes are still used. More about pilgrimage and to see the original map, goto dappledthings.org/

Christian Pilgrimage began well before the fall of Rome and continues even today. Many of these routes are still used. More about pilgrimage and to see the original map, goto dappledthings.org/

Johann Grabmeyer writes that across a plain on which a Roman road traversed, as many as one hundred, more or less parallel paths might exist. Grabmayer does not cite this source, but the awareness that ancient historians and authors were prone to exaggeration, might be appropriate to keep in mind here. In any case, the point is clear, where the citizens of Ancient Rome had been ordered, purposeful, and methodical, the Frenchmen of the middle ages often sought their own road.

In another point of distinction, the Roman approach to road construction was to tackle obstacles head-on. By utilizing their superior engineering skills, and probably with the heavy use of slave labor, Roman road builders, built over, or removed impediments, whereas their Gallic counterparts of medieval France typically chose to avoid obstacles altogether. For instance, as Roman bridges eventually washed away due to a combination of neglect and flooding, the medieval nobleman rarely concluded that the bridge should be rebuilt, which would incur a major expense. Instead, it was typically decided that the road would perform a detour to an easier crossing point. (Grabmayer 2000) Unlike the Roman roads which had been built a prescribed width, and constructed in a specific manner to withstand both heavy traffic and inclement weather,

Also pointing to these cultural differences, as medieval roads were forced to cross overland routes, where obstacles are many and options to deviate are few, the many paths created ad hoc by travelers often become one path which became narrow, deeply rutted and increasingly risky. This was very different from the Roman roads which moved over similar terrain, as all Roman roads were built a prescribed width and constructed a specific manner to withstand both heavy traffic and inclement weather over a long period of time, with minimal maintenance being required.

*only some Roman roads were paved.

Travelers attacked by Brigands 1670, Nicolaes Pieterszoon Berchem

Travelers attacked by Brigands 1670, Nicolaes Pieterszoon Berchem

The rise of brigands

The dangers of travel in the 14th and 15th centuries were elevated substantially due to the marked increase in banditry.  Dmitry Shlapentokh writes that earlier in the Middle Ages, weapons, warfare, and violence had been the exclusive domain of the nobles. This was by design, the entire existence of the noblesse de l’épée (nobles of the sword) was predicated on the protection of his lands, and thus his people.  But it was precisely this long association of violence with social superiority and a higher social standing, which would prove to have very negative consequences.

As the Middle Ages came to a close, major socio-economic changes were occurring, not the least of which was that The Hundred Years War had democratized warfare. Violence was no longer the strict domaine of the nobles.  Weapons, which not only had the common man been prohibited from owning, but were far too expensive to procure, widely now available and inexpensive after generations of war. The sword, the weapon most equated to that of the noble, accordingly became the preferred weapon the bandit. Not only was the sword effective, but it symbolized both power and social prestige, as did, unfortunately, the weapon’s use. (Shlapentokh 2008)

Chronic war, the weak ineffective authority of the nobility, unreliable law enforcement, all led to a lack of security and a period of extreme uncertainty. For over three centuries, bandits robbed and murdered in a widespread fashion, making both travel and trade very dangerous. Still, merchants and travelers persisted. Banding together in caravans, they either armed themselves, or would hire armed escorts, to attempts to discourage attacks and make safe passage.

Aviary Photo_130982962587254885

Corduroy Roads have been constructed for thousands of years, to make wet marshy valleys passable. The period of time that they are serviceable depends on the environmental conditions the rows logs (which lay horizontally across the roadway) encounter, and the weight and frequency of traffic that the road experiences. Archaeologists have unearthed corduroy roads that are 1000 years old.

Deterrents to road construction

While one might assume that centuries of living under Roman rule might have instilled the idea that good roads were a key factor in the projection of power, Gallic rulers never appeared to grasp this concept. The was little effort to improve the connectivity of their cities and points of trade and create the ability to travel in all but the worst weather conditions. According to Hugh Chisholm’s surprisingly in-depth 1910 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, that, although various Gallic monarchs in post Roman-Gaul attempted to maintain the “administrative machinery of the Romans”, that it proved to be “too delicate to be handled by the barbarians”.  This statement, however, rings somewhat hollow in its dismissive nature, as many of the administrative and municipal positions had been held by upper-class Gaulish people, for at least a century or more. As such, it is assumed by many historians that Roman thought, and Roman tradition had been interwoven into at least the upper class of Roman-Gallo society. These were not barbarians.

Louis-François-Armand de Vignerot du Plessis was famed for his debauchery. He controlled multiple Duchies, Marquis, and other land holdings making him very powerful during the 1700s. Each of the following titles represents a land that he "owned". Duke of Fronsac then Duc de Richelieu (1715), Prince of Mortagne, Pont-Courlay marquis, earl of Cosnac, Baron Barbezieux, Baron Cozes and baron of Saujon, marshal and peer of France

Louis-François-Armand de Vignerot du Plessis (1696-1788) was famed for his debauchery. Each of the following titles represents lands and people which were “his”. Duke of Fronsac then Duc de Richelieu (1715), Prince of Mortagne, Pont-Courlay marquis, earl of Cosnac, Baron Barbezieux, Baron Cozes and baron of Saujon, marshal, and peer of France. A powerful man such as this factionalized the power base and had to be controlled by the crown.

It is likely that the greatest obstacle to systematic road construction was the divisive nature of the noblesse de l’épée (Nobles of the Sword). From the time Viking invasions in the 9th and 10th centuries, power in France would be decentralized, with the king and kingdom playing a weak economic and political role. The ducs and comtés would preside quite independently, as sovereigns over their own lands. The farther from Paris the locale, the more the nobles were apt to chaff at the authority of the king. Rivalries between nobles could be fierce, and open warfare occasionally occurred between what were essentially small countries.*

Antagonism between neighboring nobles could create impassible trade barriers for merchants. Even the borders between etats (estates) were open, the nobility presented substantial financial deterrents to trade. High tolls were imposed upon merchants by each Comté (County) or Duché along their route. Other deterrents included the right of preemption, meaning a noble had the first right to buy the trader’s wares at a “beneficial” price, (Middleton 2005), as well as taxes which may have been imposed by nobles upon the final sale.

For those who understood the economic and political benefits of an effective road system, the decentralized power base within France created a complex, three-part chicken or the egg scenario. In order to build a national road system, the king needed enough economic and political clout to strengthen and centralize the government.  To fill the treasury, and gain that political and economic power, robust trade would be required. Yet the lack of lack of cooperation between provincial nobles derailed both trade any hope of constructing a national road system.

(*) National borders were not as they are today. While technically the King of France presided over all of the various lands within France, the actual extent of this unity can be seen in the fact that some powerful nobles controlled Duchés and Comtés within the King’s area of control, and as well as one or more Duché and Comté outside of France. Marriages were arranged for the consolidation of regional power, forging alliances, or even truces, with neighboring Duchés or Comtés. This was done en lieu of having any ability to accomplish any substantive diplomacy.

Did France’s agricultural underpinnings lead to nobles to derail trade?

France’s struggle with encouraging trade may have had its roots in the country’s agricultural underpinnings. For the entirety of Gallic history, up until the 1700’s, farming had been the engine of the economy. Seigneurial agricultural lands had provided the food for the cities and employed its rural population, which may have numbered as many 20 million peasants by the end of the 18th century.* While this may not have been a success story, the nobles, even those who had only nominal wealth, were both economically and socially tied to this system. For them, this system was very successful.

The noble classes were completely centrist in their focus. Their own activities of generating income from their estates, and achieving military glory on the battlefield.  Whereas they looked upon Bourgeoisie activity of trade with “disdain”. (Stilwell 2005) As such, Nobles would heavily toll the trade which crossed their lands and tax those who traded there. Whether the activities of social-climbing Bourgeoisie and their economic activities were regarded as a threat to the nobles way of life is not clear, but nobles did not allow overland trade to be easy.

French kings, who were essentially the penultimate noble, seemed to share the attitude that trade was definitively not noble. If one were to extend that premise, undoubtedly it would have been viewed as being beneath the needs of France.


Jean-Baptiste Colbert: one hundred years too soon

Jean-Baptiste Colbert presents his plans to le roi, Louis XIV

Jean-Baptiste Colbert presents his plans to le roi, Louis XIV

As the first true theories of economics would be developed until the le Siècle des Lumières (the Enlightenment), few at the time realized the positive impact trade would have on both economic, and political power for those that held it. But Jean-Baptiste Colbert, king Louis XIV’s powerful minister of finances, harnessing trade for the power and glory of France was a nearly singular focus. While some have written that Colbert was was not an innovator, borrowing his ideas from other men, but he was one of the first to employ what amounted to an economic plan, and to do it on a vast scale. Colbert worked in concert with the king in the attempt to wrestle power from the nobility and to centralize the government into an absolutist monarchy. One aspect this was to subjugate the nobles by forcing them to rescind tolls on road travel from industrial regions to the ports. He reduced taxes upon the Third Estate (most notably the bourgeoisie) who owned much of France’s industry as well as this merchant shipping. Far from aiming to slashing and nearly eliminating taxes like modern fiscal conservatives, he aimed at ultimately maximizing them. He is famed for his quote about determining the perfect level of taxation. He said:

“The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing”. 

In order to actually get goods from the industrial centers to the ports, Colbert recognized that the roads within central France were in desperate need improvement. Being a fiscally conservative, however, this was to done with the least possible expense to the treasury; so Colbert revived the feudal compulsory requirement of the corvée. The corvée had traditionally required the peasantry to give their time for civic construction projects as part of their seigneurial dues, but Colbert now instituted this on a national level.  The journée de travail, or “days of work” were deeply resented by the peasantry for obvious reasons, but in addition the corvée took them out of their fields at critical harvest times. Trade did increase, however, as goods flowed to the ships and harbors.**

Although Colbert presided over his trade policies for over 27 years, and he did truly make a meaningful improvement to France’s road system, as well as accelerate Frances development as a colonial power, economist  writes that his trade reforms were only partially successful.  Before his death, Colbert would advocate that France make a ‘quick’, military strike against Holland, in order to break that countries dominance on international trade. As this Rumsfeldian debacle dragged into full on war, Colbert would lose the ear of the King. The war was quickly draining the treasury, pressuring, once again, for the king to raise taxes.  Although the sequence & timing regarding the repeal of Colbert’s signature trade reforms is not clear, tolls and regional trade tariffs were being re-instituted in the years surrounding his death in 1683.

Further, criticisms of Colbert were that his infrastructure improvements were limited in their scope, linking only the port cities to industrial centers. None of these new roads, nor relief of the tolls on trade extended outside the center of France. Whether this was an issue of Colbert only attempting what he felt could be accomplished, considering all of the provincial nobility had not yet been subjugated by the king, or if his sole interest in the export of French goods in the international area, is not entirely clear. But the limited programs France did not in any way encourage internal communication or trade. Moreover, he failed to establish any lasting culture trade within France. At the end of Louis XIV’s reign, 30 years after Colbert’s death, not only had all tolls re-established, but they had doubled.

(*) The earliest census at the end of the 17th century were more estimates than counts, but the entire country was judged to be 19 million to 19.5 million people. Some estimates of rural population are given at 80%, but I have not found supporting documentation for this. By the time of the revolution, population had grown substantially to around 27 million.  (D. B. Grigg 1980)  (**) Colbert, was so successful and so driven, King Louis gave him many state positions, including the Secretary of Naval Affairs. From this pulpit, he ordered harbors and shipyards, and a massive program to build a powerful navy to project France’s power, half a world away.

Breaking the 1,200-year cycle

A Seaport, detail from port of Marseille, 1754, Claude-Joseph Vernet

A Seaport, detail from port of Marseille, 1754, Claude-Joseph Vernet

Unlike overland trade routes which were constricted by heavy tolls and taxes, sea trade had no restrictions beyond the number of merchant ships that could be built. The merchant elites* the need for lumber was extraordinary.  So much so, that for many years the proceeds from the royal forests amounted to a full a quarter of the income gained by the royal treasury.(Thirgood 1971) The bourgeoisie, with their seaborne trade, allowed France to flourished as a colonial power, and because France was able to grow as a colonial power, sea trade could continue to expand. Colonial cotton and sugar trade, along with the trader’s French involvement in the triangular African slave trade, was extremely lucrative, and “grew at twice the rate of other external commerce”. (Boulle 1972)

The growth of seaborne merchant trade achieved a successful formula in resolving the “chicken or the egg” dilemma that plagued overland trade. Its success came because at no point did it directly involve the nobility.

Ironically the economic power gained by the expanding sea trade would ultimately release the shackles that had bound trade within the French interior. This happened because it accelerated the French economy enough that it would finally give the French kings the economic and political power necessary to achieve an absolutist state. This, in turn, would loosen the bonds which had restricted overland trade for more than a thousand years. Tolls would be lifted, and road building would finally commence in the early years of the 1700’s.

(*) The term bourgeoisie (the french term for the business class) is handled gently by historians, given usurpation of the term by Karl Marx in the 19th century. Historians who write about the revolution do use the word bourgeoisie, but those writing about bourgeoisie in the sea trade are called merchant elite, in order to not give their writings the appearance of having a political bent.


Up Next: Isolation part 2.1 The Birth of Modern Burgundy: Road Construction after 1715


Reference Sources for Burgundy: History of the Vignerons: The Villages parts I – IV

New sources for Part 2

The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History, Peter Heather, Pan Macmillan2010

Encyclopedia Britannica Eleventh Edition Vol XXVI ed. Hugh Chisholm, Encyclopedia Britannica Company, 1910

Burgundy  as part of the Roman empire, Ulrich Erdmann, http://artbourgogne.free.fr/romanburgundy/ 2004

A Historical Geography of France, Xavier de Planhol, Paul Claval, Cambridge University Press, 1994

Roman Surveying, originally published as Elementos de Ingenieria Romana, Isaac Moreno Gallo, Terragona 2004, translated by Brian R. Bishop, Traianvs 2006

The Historical Significance of Oak, J. V. Thirgood, paper, Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia

The Western European Loess Belt: Agrarian History, 5300 BC – AD 1000, Corrie C. Bakels, Springer Science & Business Media, 2009

Societal Breakdown and the Rise of the Early Modern State in Europe,  Dmitry Shlapentokh, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008

Pilgrimage, Streets, and Traffic from a Cultural Historical Point of View,  Johannes Grabmayer (University of Klagenfurt) June 2009

Becoming Roman: The Origins of Provincial Civilization in Gaul, Greg Woolf Cambridge University Press, 2000

Trade, Travel, and Exploration in the Middle Ages: An EncyclopediaJohn Block Friedman, Kristen Mossler Figg,  Routledge,  2013

Point, Line, and Surface, as Sets of Solids, Theodore de Laguna The Journal of Philosophy, 1922

Histoire du vin de Bourgogne, Jean-François Bazin, Editions Jean-paul Gisserot 2002

Economic and Social Conditions in France During the Eighteenth Century, Henri Sée Professor, University of Rennes 1927

Early medieval port customs, tolls and controls on foreign trade, Neil Middleton, Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2005

Population Growth and Agrarian Change: A Historical Perspective D.B. Grigg, CUP Archive, 1980

Jean Baptiste Colbert, 1619-1683, Gonçalo L. Fonseca, New School for Social ResearchThe Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis

Slave Trade, Commercial Organization and Industrial Growth in Eighteenth-Century Nantes, Revue française d’histoire d’outre-mer  PH Boulle – ‎1972


    *    *    *   *   *

La Côte-d’Or à vol d’oiseau: lettres écrites à M.L. Havin, après la récolte, Auguste Luchet 1858

Gevrey-Chambertin: notice historique, topographique et statistique, suivie de promenade à Fixin, by Henri Vienne 1850

Journal of a Tour through some of the vineyards of Spain and France, James Busby, Sydney 1833

Peasant Proprietors and other selected essays,  Lady Frances Parthenope Verney Longmans, Green, 1885 –

L’état de la recherche sur la vigne, le vin et les vignerons en Bourgogne au XVIIIe siècle, Benoit Garnot,  2008

The Peasants and the King in Burgundy, Hilton Root, University of California Press, 1992

Evolution du Métayage en France, L. Durousseau-Dugontie, Impr. Crauffon, 1905

Centre d’Histoire de la Vigne et du Vin, Charlotte Glain-Fromont,  Bulletin de liaison Bulletin 30 janv-fev 2012.pdf

 LES Climats du vignoble de Bourgogne Dossier de candidature à L’INSCRIPTION SUR LA LISTE DU PATRIMOINE MONDIAL DE L’UNESCO Janvier 2012

Communities of Grain: Rural Rebellion in Comparative Perspective Victor V. Magagna Cornell University Press 1991

Infant and Child Mortality in Eighteenth Century France: A Function of Income? Hajime Hadeishi,  Bureau of Economics Federal Trade Commission, cliometrics.org 2010

Harvest Failures, Jennifer Llewellyn and Steve Thompson, 2015 Alphahistory.com

Cattle and Dairy Farming Part 1 United States. Bureau of Foreign Commerce  U.S. Government Printing Office, 1888 –

The Peasantry in the French Revolution P. M. Jones, Cambridge University Press, 1988

The Vile and the Noble: On the Relation between Natural and Social Classifications in the French Wine World, Marion Fourcade,  Sociological Quarterly 2012

Aristocracy, Antiquity, and History: An Essay on Classicism in Political ThoughtA. A. M. Kinneging Transaction Publishers, 1997

Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment By Michel Delon, Routledge 2013

Provincial Power and Absolute Monarchy: The Estates General of Burgundy 1661–1790 Julian Swann, Cambridge University Press  2003

History and Climate: Memories of the Future? Phil D. Jones, A.E.J. Ogilvie, T.D. Davies, K.R. Briffa Springer Science & Business Media, Apr 17, 2013

The Decline of Childhood Mortality Kenneth Hill. Department of Population Dynamics School of Hygiene and Public Health Johns Hopkins University 1990

The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography Graham Robb W. W. Norton & Company2008

The Story of French Jean-Benoît Nadeau, ‎Julie Barlow, Macmillan 2008



Burgundy: the History of the Vignerons, Preface

by Dean Alexander

The research for the series Understanding the Terroir of Burgundy led me to some very unexpected places, and that path was far longer and much more circuitous than I ever could have imagined when I first began. My trek of discovery led me to write in a “knee bone is connected to the leg bone” kind of way, and I found that the subject matter began directing me onto a decidedly historically driven path. I realized that I had a completely new series of articles before me: to piece together how the families lived and farmed the Côte d’Or lived before the dawn of the twentieth century.

Vineyard workers with oxenI immediately realized that this history of Côte d’Or would prove to be difficult extract. There is little that is written directly about life in the Burgundian villages. Clive Coates’ work detailing various famous properties ownership, is well established, but beyond that, little seems to be written. If this history has been written, and it is out there, it may not have been digitized, it probably is only in French,(1) but in any case, it has been exceptionally difficult to locate.

There are a number of reasons for this lack of information.

The first is Burgundy (as we are interested in the region as it pertains to the wine), comes a small ribbon of hillside in rural France. And despite Burgundies production of one of the world’s great luxury products, it was something of a rural backwater. National politics did not originate from Burgundy; it was not a financial center, nor did great historical events take place there.

While we generically referred to the wine of the Côte d’Or as Burgundy, in reality, Burgundy a much larger area covering four departments of rural France. In fact, the Côte d’Or was fairly isolated, with most of its trade moving upon the most improved roads, which were to the north. The wines were traded to the Netherlands, and then across the Channel to England, or to a lesser extent northwest to Paris. Even then, these roads were extremely poor by today’s standards. This trade in a single direction indicates that the Cote d’Or was pretty much the end of the line in terms of travel. Yes, there were roads to Jura and of course the Maconnaise, but those roads were poor, and those trade routes meant the wines of Burgundy would need to compete with the inexpensive wines of Beaujolais and Macon that Paris consumed in large quantities. This meant that along with a direction of trade, came an equally limited flow of information out of Burgundy, something that recorded history requires. This would continue until wider networks of roads and rail lines were developed in the mid to late 1800’s increased travel and trade elsewhere in France and elsewhere in Europe. All of these factors makes finding and compiling information about this narrow strip of land in the countryside of France all the more difficult.

The history of the vignerons of Burgundy may not be important in the context of the larger issues of the times, but to those of us Burgundy lovers with the rare ‘historian’ gene within our makeup, are curious about this place where the great wine has been made for centuries. There may only be one or two of us out there who doesn’t say “who cares?” Yet I continue undaunted.

This new, yet to be written, series of articles really began as I wrote about erosion in Vosne-Romanee Les Damaudesin Understanding the Terroir of Burgundy.  I was struck by so many questions regarding this place and the people who farmed it.  Who were these small landholders, and what happened to them? What was their life like? Was their life in the Côte d’Or different from other peasants in the rest of France?  Was there economic security? How did the Revolution affect the Côte d’Or these people? How was life different for the people who farmed these vineyards before and after the revolution? What happened to the local nobility? What was their relationship to the peasants that worked for them? What were the real effects of phylloxera in Burgundy? How did phylloxera and the economy effect vineyard ownership and the peasants of Burgundy?

What we do know is that the families that farm Burgundy today, are, for the most part, the same families that farmed Burgundy in the 1700’s. Their history forms the basis of the wines that they produce today, and that makes their history important. Most of the people who farmed these famous vineyards were virtually invisible even as they lived and others would only gain even a footnote in history after they bought a parcel of a world-renown vineyard. All told, this is a scant bit of information.

But this is a period of time (I will cover 150 years between 1750 and 1900) that should be revealed, and not forgotten to history. As it is, it virtually only exists today as footnotes in scholarly texts, in support of some other broader historical exploration. I set out on with a goal to collect these widely spread granules of information and assemble them into something meaningful. I want to illuminate the story of these people, who as individuals, that from the moment they died, there was no trace of their existence.

Searching for Burgundy-related history via the internet is itself problematic.  The word Burgundy, in a web search, is first most closely associated with the color, especially in terms fashion, and then it is most closely associated with the Duchy (kingdom) of Burgundy which ruled much of the French interior before the middle ages until 1525. This was at least 200 years before the period that I considered would be relevant to the vignerons of Burgundy today. Gradually I learned how to tease out pieces of information using the internet, and one tidbit of information would lead to a keyword, with which I could find more.

HistorianWithout the internet, google search, and control+F, this research would not be possible, particularly in the short amount of time as I have compiled it. I must also credit amazon, which puts substantive previews of thousands of scholarly books, each which might only have one or two mentions of Burgundy within their pages. This feature this allowed me to search for information with a simple find command.  Without this resource, to write something like this would require access to a major university library, and possibly years of free time. But even if I had access to the physical books, without a search function, it may have been very difficult to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Even with the internet’s incredible search power at my fingertips, I never did find a history of the people of the of the Côte d’Or. At this point, I have 10,000 words of notes compiled (roughly 22 pages in 12 point font), and I think I have a well-rounded enough set of information to begin writing about Burgundy. My hope is that I can paint a picture of what it was like for the families that have lived there since at least the beginning of the 18th century, if not long before.

The story of the vignerons of the  Cote d’Or develops against the backdrop of France as an emerging superpower. This is a national history that is remarkably character rich, full of intrigue, drama, betrayal, and of course war, revolution, and for a couple of years, the heavy use of the guillotine. Comparably, the history of the rural Côte d’Or is somewhat sleepy, but it is these series of stormy, almost operatic, political events of the national stage, looms as an important Burgundian back story. The happenings in Paris, like a giant roulette wheel, changed the cast of moneyed, powerful characters who owned the great vineyards, and to various extents, dictated the quality lives of those who lived there. The one constant was that the peasants and most of the lower-cased Bourgeoisie continued on like they had for centuries.


(1) I have done many searches for untapped information in French, but it has not yielded much more information than English scholarly writings have since presumably those sources have already been mined.



Burgundy: l’Histoire des Vignerons, Part 1