The class of coloni appears to have been composed partly of tenants by contract who had incurred large arrears of rent and were detained on the estates as debtors (obaerati), partly of foreign captives or immigrants who were settled in this condition on the land, and partly of small proprietors and other poor men who voluntarily adopted the status as an improvement in their position.
The coloni were inscribed (adscripti) on the registers of the census as paying taxes to the state, for which the proprietor was responsible, reimbursing himself for the amount.
The master (dominus) could inflict on his coloni " moderate chastisement," and could chain them if they attempted to escape, but they had a legal remedy against him for unjust demands or injury to them or theirs.
And Salvian treats the proposition "coloni divitum fiunt " as equivalent to " vertuntur in servos."
Besides the coloni there were on a great estate - and those of the 4th century were on a specially large scale - a number of praedial slaves, who worked collectively under overseers on the part of the property which the owner himself cultivated.
But it was a common practice to settle certain of the slaves (and possibly also of the freedmen) on other portions of the estate, giving them small farms on conditions similar to those to which the coloni were subject.
The legal distinction between the coloni and the slave tenants continued to exist after the invasions; but the practical difference was greatly attenuated.
Each of the inspectorates is divided into districts, each district having, in addition to the chief settlement or coloni, several outlying posts and Eskimo hunting stations, each presided over by an udligger, who is responsible to the colonibestyrer, or superintendent of the district.
A Danish coloni in Greenland might seem to many not to be :a cheerful place at best; though in the long summer days they would certainly find some of those on the southern fjords comparatively pleasant.
There are generally in a coloni three or four Danish houses, built of wood and pitched over, in addition to storehouses and a blubber-boiling establishment.
The Danish residents may include, besides a coloni-bestyrer and his assistant, a missionair or clergyman, at a few places also a doctor, and perhaps a carpenter and a schoolmaster.
On the east coast there is but one coloni, Angmagssalik, in 65° 30 N., only established in 1894.
In the civil wars of Sulla the younger Marius was blockaded in the town by the Sullans (82 B.C.); and on its capture Marius slew himself, the male inhabitants were massacred in cold blood, and a military colony was settled on part of its territory, though, possibly owing to the extravagance of the new coloni, we find that in 63 B.C. this was already in the possession of large proprietors.
It is important for our purpose to notice that the condition of coloni was developed as a result of historic necessity by the working of economic and social agencies in the first centuries of the Roman empire and was made the subject of regular legislation in the 4th and 5th centuries.
Xi., 48, 23), two classes of coloni are distinguished - the adscripticii, representing a more complete state of serfdom, and the free coloni, with property of their own.
The emperors actually tried in their legislation to prevent the landowners from evicting their coloni and from raising their rents.
After the conquest of the provinces by the Germanic invaders the Roman stock of coloni naturally combined with German tributary peasants to form medieval serfdom.
Of these various groups that of the geburs corresponds more closely to the continental serfs (coloni, Härige, unfreie Hintersassen).
Thus, as in the case of many Roman coloni, thoroughly free settlers gradually lapsed into a state of perpetual subjection from which they could not emancipate themselves by legal means.
The first legislative measures of the Moscow rulers directed towards the establishment of a servile class similar to the Roman coloni fall into the first years of the r7th century (A.D.
" Coloni"; Fustel de Coulanges, Recherches sur quelques problemes d'histoire; Institutions politiques de la France (L'alleu et le domaine rural); F.