Perhaps, however, one element in the situation should be given more weight than any of the facts just mentioned. Many of the barbarians had been allowed to settle in a more or less peaceful fashion in Roman territory, so that a large part of the western world came into their possession by way of gradual occupation rather than by conquest. They became peasant proprietors, manual laborers, and soldiers in the Roman army. Perhaps, therefore, their occupation of central and southern Europe bears some resemblance to the peaceful invasion of this country by immigrants from Europe, and they may have adopted Latin just as the German or Scandinavian adopts English.
This brings us to the last important point in our inquiry. What is the date before which we shall call the language of the Western Empire Latin, and after which it is better to speak of French, Spanish, and Italian? Such a line of division cannot be sharply drawn, and will in a measure be artificial, because, as we shall attempt to show in the chapter which follows on the “Latin of the Common People,” Latin survives in the Romance languages, and has had a continuous life up to the present day. But on practical grounds it is convenient to have such a line of demarcation in mind, and two attempts have been made to fix it. One attempt has been based on linguistic grounds, the other follows political changes more closely. Up to 700 A.D. certain common sound-changes take place in all parts of the western world. After that date, roughly speaking, this is not the case. Consequently at that time we may say that unity ceased. The other method of approaching the subject leads to essentially the same conclusion, and shows us why unity ceased to exist. In the sixth century the Eastern Emperor Justinian conceived the idea of reuniting the Roman world, and actually recovered and held for a short time Italy, southern Spain, and Africa. This attempt on his part aroused