[v. kuh-myoon; n. kom-yoon]
commune, in agriculture: see collective farm.
commune, in medieval history, collective institution that developed in continental Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. Because of the importance of the commune in municipal government, the term is also used to denote a town itself to which a charter of liberties was granted by the sovereign or feudal overlord. Although in most cases the development of communes was inextricably connected with that of the cities, there were rural communes, notably in France and England, that were formed to protect the common interests of villagers.


To build defenses, regulate and improve trade, raise taxes, and maintain order, organization of an urban area was necessary. The earliest attempts at united action of the burghers involved the forming of associations in which the burghers swore an oath binding themselves together in a personal bond of mutual support and defense. The communes grew in power and, as autonomous corporate entities, became extremely influential in organizing city government. By the late 12th cent., when cities were well established, all who chose to live in them had to take an oath acknowledging the authority of the communes.

Because the town was located on land belonging to a king or emperor (see feudalism), the town owed allegiance to its lord and paid him tribute and, in wartime, service or money payment. Suzerains often favored the communes as sources of wealth and confirmed their rights in liberal charters. Disputes, nevertheless, frequently arose between communes and their overlords. In the struggle between kings and nobles, the kings usually strengthened the communes and sought alliances with them. However, in the 16th and 17th cent., when European states (notably France and Spain) became centralized, the privileges of the communes were gradually withdrawn.

The extent of their liberties and the details of their organization varied widely. A common feature was the elected council. The magistrates were usually called consoli, podestàs, and capitouls in Italy and S France, échevins and jurés in N France and the Low Countries, Senatoren and Ratsherren in Germany. Corporations and guilds gained a prominent share in the government. Militia insured the defense.

Important Communes

The earliest communes arose in N and central Italy. In the struggle between emperors and popes, the communes forming the Lombard League gained a great deal of independence and became almost synonymous with the cities themselves. In the 14th cent., however, the communes were usurped by local tyrants. The commune of Rome was established by Arnold of Brescia in 1144. In the Low Countries, e.g., in Flanders, communes arose very early and enjoyed very wide privileges. In S France, Avignon, Arles, and Toulouse were outstanding examples of self-governed communes, as Barcelona was in Spain. In Germany, cities such as Frankfurt, Cologne, Nuremberg, Augsburg, and Lübeck became republics immediately subject to the emperor (imperial and free imperial cities). Others, such as Magdeburg, held charters that became models for numerous towns in N Germany, Bohemia, and Moravia.


See W. F. T. Butler, The Lombard Communes (1906, repr. 1969); H. Pirenne, Medieval Cities (tr. 1925, repr. 1969); M. V. Clarke, The Medieval City State (1926, repr. 1966); J. H. Mundy and P. Riesenberg, The Medieval Town (1959).

In medieval European history, a town that acquired self-governing municipal institutions. Most such towns were defined by an oath binding the citizens or burghers of the town to mutual protection and assistance. The group became an association able to own property, make agreements, exercise jurisdiction over members, and exercise governmental powers. Communes were particularly strong in northern and central Italy, where the lack of a powerful central government allowed them to develop into independent city-states. Those of France and Germany were more often limited to local government.

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or Commune of Paris

(March 18–May 28, 1871) Insurrection of Paris against the French government. After France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and the collapse of the Second Empire, the republican Parisians feared that the conservative majority in the National Assembly would restore the monarchy. On March 18 the National Guard in Paris resisted orders to disarm, and after municipal elections were won by the revolutionaries, they formed the Commune government. Factions included the so-called Jacobins, who wanted the Paris Commune to control the revolution (as its namesake had in the French Revolution); the Proudhonists, socialist followers of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon who supported a federation of communes; and the Blanquistes, socialist followers of Auguste Blanqui who demanded violent action. Government forces quickly suppressed communes elsewhere in France, then entered Paris on May 21. In a week of fierce fighting, they crushed the Communards, who had set up barricades in the streets and burned public buildings, including the Tuileries Palace. About 20,000 insurrectionists and 750 government troops were killed. In the aftermath, the government took harsh repressive action; 38,000 suspects were arrested and more than 7,000 were deported.

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