The Historical Origins of Freemasonry


It will be evident, from what has been said in the preceding chapter, that the plan upon which it is intended to write the history of Freemasonry in the present work will utterly preclude any search for the origin of the Institution among the purely religious associations of antiquity, whether they be of Jewish or of Gentile character.

Hence I reject as untenable either of the hypotheses which traces the rise of the Order to the Patriarchal religion, the ancient Mysteries, the workmen at the Temple of Solomon, the Druids, the Essenes, or the Pythagoreans.

If we contemplate the Speculative Freemasonry of the present day as the outgrowth of the Operative system which prevailed in the Middle Ages, we must look for the remote origin of the former in the same place in which we shall find that of the latter.

Now, the mediaeval Operative Masons, known as the Steinmetzen of Germany, the Tailleurs de pierre of France, and the Freemasons of England, were congregated and worked together under the form and regulations of a Guild.

But as all institutions in their gradual growth and development are apt to preserve some of the most important features of their original construction, notwithstanding all the changes and influences of surrounding circumstances to which they are subject in the course of time, we may very legitimately come to the conclusion that whatever was the original body or prototype from which the Masonry of the Middle Ages derived its existence, or of which it was a continuation, that prototype must have had some of the forms of a guild.

It is true that when the operative Masons organized themselves into an association, at some period between the 10th and the 17th centuries, which period is not at this time and in this place to be accurately determined, they may as an original body have assumed a form, independent of all previous influences.

But we know that such is not the fact, and the Masons of that period were the successors of other bodies that had preceded them, and that they only developed and improved the principles of art that had already been long in existence.

Then the body of men-the association, the sodality-of which they were the outgrowth must have some features in its form and character that were imitated by the body of Masons who succeeded them, who pursued the same objects, and only developed and improved the same principles.

Now, what were the features that must distinguish and identify the original, the exemplar, of which the more modern Freemasonry was an outgrowth? I answer to this question that those features, to which we must look for an identification of the original body, are at least two in number: First, the original body must have had the form and character of a sodality, a confraternity, or what in more modern times would be called a Guild.

And secondly, that this sodality, confraternity, or guild must have consisted of members who were engaged in the practice of the art of building. The absence of either of these two features will make a fatal break in the process of identification, by which alone we are enabled to trace a connection between the original and the copy.

We can easily find in the records of ancient history numerous instances of sodalities or confraternities, but as they had no reference to the art of building, it is clear that not one of them could have been the exemplar or source of mediaeval Masonry.

The members of those religious associations of antiquity, which were called the "Mysteries," and to which Speculative Masonry is thought, not altogether incorrectly, to bear a great similitude, were undoubtedly united in a sodality or confraternity- They had admitted into their association none but those who had been duly chosen, and reserved to themselves the power of rejecting those whom they did not deem worthy of a participation in their rites; they had ceremonies of initiation; they adopted secret methods of recognition; and in many other ways secured the isolation of an exclusive society.

They were in every respect a confraternity, and their organization bore a very striking resemblance to that of the modern Freemasons. And hence it is that some writers have professed to find in these religious Mysteries of the ancient pagans an origin to which they might trace the Masonic Institution. But the hypothesis is untenable, because these religious associations had no connection with architecture or the art of building.

Freemasonry, which always has been either an operative art or been closely connected with it, could not, by any possible contingency, have derived its origin from what was a wholly religious association. The Society of Dionyiac Artificers, who flourished in Asia Minor, did indeed unite with the observance of the Mysteries of Dionysus the practice of architecture.

Hence the compiler of Lawrie's History of Masonry has pretended to trace the origin of our modern system to the connection of the Pagan Dionysiacs with the Jewish builders at the construction of King Solomon's Temple. There would be a great deal of plausibility in this theory, if it could be proved that the Dionysiacs as architects were contemporaneous with Hiram of Tyre and Solomon of Israel.

But unfortunately the authentic annals of chronology prove that they were only known as builders of temples, palaces, and theaters about seven hundred years after the era of the building of the Temple at Jerusalem. So, too, of the Essenes, we may say that the doctrine can not be sustained which attributes to them the continuation and preservation of the Masonry of the Temple builders, and which assigns to them the origin of the modern Speculative system.

Leaving out of the question the fact that it is impossible to account for the lapse of time which occurred between the construction of the Temple and the first appearance of the Essenes, about the era of the Maccabees, we meet with the insurmountable objection that the Essenian sect was wholly unconnected with architecture.

So, too, of all the other schemes of tracing Masonry to the Druids, the Pythagoreans, or the Rosicrucians, we always have the invincible obstacle in our way, that all of these were associations not devoted to, nor pursuing the art of building.

It is impossible to trace the origin of a fraternity of working Masons, all of whose ideas, principles, pursuits, usages, and customs prominently and exclusively connected them with the cultivation of architecture and the art of building, not theoretically but practically to any other and older sodality which knew nothing of architecture and whose members never were engaged in the construction of edifices.

But if we should discover in long-past time a sodality, whose members were builders and who were congregated together for the purpose of pursuing their professional labors, in a society which partook of the main features of a modern guild, we should be encouraged to make the inquiry whether such a sodality may not have given birth, and suggested form, to the mediaeval associations of Operative Masons, from whom afterward sprang, in direct succession, the Speculative Masons of the 18th century.

Now just such a sodality will be found in the Roman Colleges of Artificers -the Collegia Fabrorum-which are said to have been instituted by Numa, the successor of Romulus, and, therefore, the second king of Rome. That the establishment of these colleges of workmen of various crafts was one of the numerous reforms instituted by Numa, among his subjects, is a fact that has not been denied by historians.

The evidence of the existence of these colleges in the later days of the empire and of their dispersion into various provinces, is attested by numerous inscriptions in votive tablets and other monuments that remain to the present day.

The important relation which it is supposed that the Roman colleges bore to mediaeval stonemasonry, makes it proper that something more than a mere glance should be given at the history of their origin and progress as well as at their character and deign.

Of Numa himself, a few words may be said.

He was undoubtedly one of those great reformers who, like Confucius, Moses, Buddha, and Zoroaster, have sprung up at different periods in the world's history and have changed the character and the religion of the people among whom they lived and placed them on the first steps of the march of civilization.

That such was the career of Numa, is testified by the fact that he so transformed the military disorder of the heterogeneous multitude that had been left by Romulus, into the orderly arrangements of a well-regulated municipality, that, as Livy says, that which the neighboring nations had hitherto called a camp, they now began to designate as a city.

Numa, who was a native of Cures, a considerable city of the Sabines, was, on account of his nationality, selected, through the influence of the Sabine population of Rome, to succeed Romulus, and was called to the throne, according to the generally received chronology, 686 years before the Christian era.

Having borne in his private life the character of a wise and just man, with no distinction as a warrior, he cultivated, when he assumed the reins of government, all the virtues of peace. He found the Romans a gross and almost barbarous people. He refined their manners, purified their religion, built temples, instituted festivals, and established a regular order of priesthood.

As Plutarch says, the most admirable of all his institutions was his distribution of the citizens according to their various arts and trades. Before his accession to the throne, the different craftsmen had beer, confusedly mixed up with the heterogeneous Roman and Sabine population and had no laws or regulations to maintain their rights or to secure their skill from the rivalry of inexperienced charlatans.

But Numa divided the several trades into distinct and independent companies, which were designated as Collegia or colleges. Plutarch names but eight of these colleges, namely: musicians, goldsmiths, masons, dyers, shoemakers, tanners, braziers, and potters, but he adds that the craftsmen were also divided into companies, so that the exact number of colleges that were instituted by Numa cannot be learned from the authority of Plutarch.

If we suppose that the other artificers alluded to by him comprehended all the remaining crafts, which were united in another college, which was afterward developed into new societies, the whole number which, according to Plutarch, were originally instituted by Numa would amount to nine.

But as, besides the Collegia, such as those of the augurs and priests which were specially established by legal authority, there were many others formed by the voluntary association of individuals, the number of the colleges of handicraftsmen became in the later days of the republic, and especially of the Empire, greatly increased.

There were, among the Greek sodalities or fraternities which they called etaireiai. They were established by Solon, and Gaius thinks that the Roman colleges borrowed some of their regulations from them.

But this could not have been the case in reference to any regulations established by Numa, since Solon lived about a century after him. The Greek etaireiai were, however, not confined to craftsmen but, according to the law of Solon, cited by Gaius, [i] they comprehended brethren assembled for sacrifices, or sailors, or people who lived together and used the same sepulcher for burial, or who were companions of the same society, or who, inhabiting the same place, were united in the pursuit of any business, which last division might be supposed to refer to workmen of the same craft.

All of these were permitted to make regulations for their own government, provided they were not forbidden by the laws of the state. Among the Romans a college generally signified any association which, being permitted by the state and recognized as an independent association, devoted itself to some determined object.

Its recognition by the state gave to the college the character of a legal personage, such as is now called a corporation. If we examine the laws which were made for the establishment and the government of the colleges, we shall be impressed with their similarity to those which have always existed among the Masonic Lodges, both Operative and Speculative. The identity of regulations are amply sufficient to warrant us in believing that the regulations of the one were derived from, or at least had been suggested by, the other.

The laws and usages by which the workmen at the Temple of King Solomon were distributed into classes and regulated, which have been given by Masonic historians, and by none more extensively than by Dr. Oliver, are all supposititious and apocryphal; but those that describe the government of the Roman colleges or guilds of craftsmen have been recorded by various historians, and especially in the different codes of the Roman law and have, therefore, all the character and value of authenticity.

Whatever conclusions we may think proper to deduce in connecting these colleges with the modern Masonic guilds, must of course be judged according to their logical weight, but the facts on which these conclusions are based are patent and have an authentic record.

It was required by the Roman law that a college should not consist of less than three members. It is hardly necessary to remind the reader that a Lodge can not be composed of less than three Masons. As in Freemasonry there are "regular Lodges " which have been established by competent authority, and "clandestine Lodges " which have been organized without such authority, and whose members are subject to the severest Masonic penalties, so there were legal colleges - Collegia licita - which were formed by authority of the government and illegal colleges - Collegia illicita - which assembled under no color of law and which were strictly prohibited.

Illicit colleges, says Ulpian [ii] are forbidden, under the same penalties as are adjudged to men violating public places or temples; and Marcian [iii] says that they must be disso;ved by virtue of the decrees of the Senate, but their members when they separate are permitted to divide the common property.

According to the Justinian code, no college of any kind was permitted to assemble unless by an act of the Senate, or a decree of the emperor. [iv]

Each college was permitted to make its own internal regulations, provided that they were not in contravention of the laws of the state.

The regulations were proposed by the officers, and after due deliberation adopted or rejected by a vote of the members, in which a majority ruled.

The members of a college (sodales), says Gaius, [v] were permitted to make their own regulations if they did not contravene the public law; and he shows that the same privilege was granted by Solon to the Greek eltaireiai or fraternities.

The colleges had also the right of electing their officers, and of receiving members by a vote of the body on their application.

The applicants for admission were required to be freemen; but the Justinian code permitted slaves to be received into a college if it was done with the consent of the Domini or Masters; but not otherwise, under a penalty of one hundred pieces of gold to be inflicted on the Curatores or Wardens. [vi]

As in the mediaeval Lodges of Freemasons we find that distinguished persons not belonging to the Craft were sometimes admitted, so a similar usage prevailed in the Roman colleges.

To them the law had granted the privilege of selecting from the most honorable of the Roman families, persons who were not connected with the Craft, as patrons and honorary members. That they exercised this privilege is evident from inscriptions and some remaining lists of members. [vii]

We have also the authority on this point of Pliny, who in his correspondence when he mas governor of Bithynia with the Emperor Trajan, shows by implication that it was the usage of the colleges of builders to admit non-professional persons into their guild.

A conflagration having destroyed a great part of the city of Nicomedia, Pliny applied to the Emperor for permission to establish a College of Workmen-COLLEGIUM FABRORUM, to consist of one hundred and fifty men; and knowing that it was the custom in these colleges to admit persons who were not of the Craft, he adds:

"I will take care that no one not a workman shall be received among them, and that they shag not abuse the privileges conceded to them by their establishment." [viii]

Each college had also its arca, or common chest, in which the funds of the guild were kept. These funds were collected from the monthly contributions of the members, and were, of course, devoted to defraying the expenses of the college. At a later period when these societies, or sodalities had become objects of suspicion to the government, in consequence of their sometimes engaging in political intrigues, they were forbidden to assemble.

But there is a decree of the Emperor Severus, cited by Marcianus, which, while it forbids the governors of provinces to permit COLLEGIA SODALITIA or confraternities, even of soldiers, in the camps, yet allows the poorer soldiers to make a monthly contribution in a common chest, provided they did not meet more than once a month, lest under this pretext they should form an illicit college.

The permission thus given to make monthly contributions (what in modern Freemasonry we should call "monthly dues") was most probably derived from the custom long before practiced by the Colleges of Workmen. The members of the colleges were exempt by Constantine from the performance of public duties; but this exemption appears to have applied to all craftsmen as well as to those who were united in corporations.

And the reason assigned was that they might have better opportunities of acquiring skill in their professions or trades and of imparting it to their children. And therefore this immunity from public employments was confined in the colleges to those members who were really craftsmen, and in the code of Theodosius [ix] it was expressly declared that this immunity should not be granted promiscuously to all who had been received in the colleges, but only to the craftsmen.

Patrons and honorary members were not to be included in the exemption. The meetings of a college were held in a secluded hall called a Curia, which was the name originally given to the Senate-house, but afterward came to signify any building in which societies met for the transaction of business or for the performance of religious rites.

Each of these corporations, says Smith, had its common hall, called Curia, in which the citizens met for religious and other purposes. [x] In the old inscriptions we frequently meet with this word in connection with a college, as the Curia Saliorum, or the Hall of the College of the Priests of Mars, and Curia, Dendrophororum, or the Hall of the College of Woodcutters. [xi] Krause says that they sometimes met in private houses he does not give his authority for this statement, but it was probably in cases where the college was too poor to afford the expense of owning or hiring a common hall or Curia.

Officers were elected by the members to preside or to perform other duties in the college. There seems to have been some variety at different periods and under different circumstances in the titles of these officers. The officer who presided was called the Magister, or Master. It would seem that in some of the legionary colleges he was called the Prefectus or Prefect. In the Justinian code he is styled the Curator. [xii]

Corresponding in some sense to our Masonic Wardens were the Decuriones, whose number was not however confined to two.

In a list of the officers and members of a college, which has been preserved and which is given by Muratori, there are seven Decuriones. A Decurio denoted, as the word imports among the Romans, one who commanded or ruled over ten men. Hence Dr. Krause supposes that the members of a college were divided into sections of about ten, over each of which a Decurio presided.

It will be remembered that Sir Christopher Wren states in the Parentalia talia, while describing the regulations that prevailed among the Traveling Freemasons of the Middle Ages that " the members lived in a camp of huts reared beside the building on which they were employed that a surveyor or Master presided over and directed the whole and that every tenth man was called a Warden and overlooked those who were under his charge." This is at least a coincidence, and it may give some color to the hypothesis of Krause, that the Decuriones of the Roman colleges presided over sections of ten men.

Reference has been made to a list of the officers of a college, which has been preserved by the celebrated Italian antiquary, Muratori, in his work on inscriptions. Similar lists are to be found in the works of Gruter, who has made the best collection of ancient inscriptions. These lists, like those published at this day by the Masonic Lodges, were intended to preserve the names of the officers and members for the information of the government.

In the list published by Muratori we find the following names and titles of officers, which will give us a very good idea of the manner in which the internal government of a Roman College of Artificers was regulated. In this list first appears the names of fifteen Patrons, who, as has already been said, were not craftsmen. The last of these is called the Bisellarius of the college.

There is some difficulty in coming to an exact understanding of the meaning of this word. A bisellium was a double seat-a seat capable of holding two-as Hesychius calls it, " a distinguished and splendid seat," remarkable for its size and grandeur. It might be compared to the "Oriental chair" appropriated to the use of the Worshipful Master in our modern Lodges.

It was, in short, a chair of state, capable of holding, two persons; though it is evidenced from several specimens which were found at Pompeii and which were accompanied by a single footstool, that it was occupied only by one. These chairs were used in the theaters and other public places at Rome and in the provinces as seats of honor. The privilege of occupying a bisellium was granted as an honor by a decree of the Senate or an edict of the emperor, and the person to whom the privilege was granted was called a Bisellarius.

Its form was like that of a modern ottoman, but larger and higher, and there was also a stool or suppedaneum, on which the feet rested. Krause says that some of the colleges had several Bisellarii among their members, and he thinks the word is equivalent to honorary member But as the Patrons were generally persons of wealth and distinction, selected by the college to defend and promote its interests, it is not likely that of the fifteen named in Muratori's list only one should have been elected an honorary member.

But as the privilege of a Bisellarims was a dignity conferred as an honor on certain persons, it is more probable that of the fifteen the last one only had arrived at this honor, and that the record of it was made in the list, just as in the present day titles are appended to the names of persons in catalogues.

The next officers mentioned in this list are seven Decuriones.

Then follow the names of the following officers: An Haruspex, a Soothsayer and Diviner, who may be considered as equivalent to our modern chaplain, and whose duty it was to attend to the sacrifices and conduct the religious services of the college; a Medicus, or Physician; a Scriba Perpetuus, or Permanent Secretary, and a Scriba, or Secretary. Against the names of two of the members is written the word immunes, or exempt, to show that for some reason, not explained, these members were relieved from the payment of the monthly contribution.

In this list no title of Magister or Master appears. The same occurs in an inscription on a marble plinth, which has been preserved by Gruter. It is dedicated on the front side by the College of Carpenters (Collegium Fabrorum Tignariorum) to the Emperor M. Aurelius Antoninus. On the other side are forty names, many of which have the title affixed of Honoratus, or Honorary.

The last six names have the title of Scriba, or Secretary, attached to each; hence Krause thinks it probable that each Decuria, or section of ten men, had its Master, who was a Decurio, its Secretary and its Patron, and, besides, its own property, obtained from bequests or donations.

If this be true, a college would not appear to have been a single lodge, but rather an aggregation of lodges. The mediaeval division, described by Wren, where in a building the workmen were divided into tens, each having its own warden, would precisely meet this ancient condition of the Decuriae. In the time of the Empire, when the government began to be suspicious of the revolutionary tendencies of the craftsmen, care was taken to place officers over the colleges who might have a control of their arts.

These officers differed at different times and in different places. Sometimes he was called a Precurator, or Superintendent; sometimes a Prapositus, or Overseer, and sometimes a Prefectus, or Prefect. In fact, the legionary colleges, which accompanied the legions and which were principally concerned in the fabrication of weapons, as armorers and smiths, had an officer over them who was called the Prefectus Fabrum, or Prefect of the Workmen.

But originally the title of Magister, or Master, was applied to him who wasover the Decuriones, and who controlled all the acts, the labors, and the hours of rest of the members of the college, as well as their sacrifices and other religious ceremonies.

There is abundant evidence of this in the inscriptions, and from them also we learn that the Master was chosen annually, and afterward with all the other officers quinquennially. But sometimes he was elected for life, a custom that was observed at a long subsequent period by the French Lodges, whose Venerables were chosen ad vitam.

Thus we meet with such inscriptions as Magister quinquennatis Collegium Fabrorum Tignariorum and Magister quinquennatis Collegium Aurificum, that is, Quinquennial Master of the College of Carpenters and Quinquennial Master of the College of Goldsmiths. Sertorius also refers to certain peculiar powers of the Magister Collegium, or Master of the College.

There can be no doubt that this was a well-recognized title of the presiding, officer of those sodalities. But the Patrons, who were selected from the most wealthy and influential families of Rome, and who were not craftsmen, seemed to have exercised very important powers. Chosen that they might protect the interests of the society, no regulation was enacted, no contracts were made, and no work undertaken without their sanction.

The kings, prelates, and nobles so often recorded as Grand Masters by Dr. Anderson in his history of early English Masonry, may very well be supposed to correspond in position and duties to these Patrons of the Roman Colleges. Dr. Krause thus describes the internal organization of these colleges:

"It was only the Masters who could undertake any work.

The members of the Decuria, (or sections) who corresponded to the Fellow Crafts of the present day, worked under them; and under these and under the Master, were the Alumni or Apprentices, who were still being instructed in the schools (attached to the college) and whose names, as they were not yet members of the college, are not mentioned in any of the Inscriptions." [xiii]

That there was a distinction of ranks among the members of a college is very evident from several of the inscriptions, and from passages in the code. It, besides, in the nature of things that in every trade or craft there should be some well skilled and experienced in the Mystery, who will take the highest place; others with less knowledge who must be subordinate to these; and finally scholars or apprentices who are only beginning to learn the principles of their art.

As in the Lodges of Operative Masons, in the Middle Ages, there were Masters, journeymen, and Apprentices, so must there have been in the colleges of Rome, a similar division of ranks. The passage in the Justinian code, already referred to, provides that slaves could be received in the colleges only with the consent of their masters; if received without this consent the Curator or Master of the College was liable to a penalty of one hundred pieces of gold.

This would indicate that in the Roman colleges, the distinction of bond and free so much insisted on in the modern Masonic system, was not recognized among the craftsmen of Rome. But it must be remembered that among the Romans, a condition of servitude did not always imply the debasement of ignorance.

Slaves were sometimes instructed in literature and the liberal arts, and many of them were employed in trade and in various handicrafts. It was these last who were to be conditionally admitted into the Colleges of Artificers. It is evident that with the prosecution of their craft, the members of the colleges connected the observance of certain religious rites. In the list from Muratori, heretofore cited, it is seen that among the officers designated was a Haruspex or Sacrificer.

This semi-religious character, first introduced in their establishment by the pious Numa, continued to prevail to the latest days of the Empire. It was in the spirit of paganism, which connected the transaction of all private as well as public business with sacrificial rites. Hence every college had its patron deity, which was called its Genius, under whose divine protection it was placed.

The Curia, or hall of the college, was often built in the near vicinity of the temple of this god, and meetings of the guild were sometimes held in the body of the temple. Sacrifices were offered to him; festival days were kept in his honor, and were often celebrated by public processions. Among the paintings discovered at Pompeii is one that represents a procession of the College of Carpenters.

Krause gives ample proof that the Colleges of Artificers made use of symbols derived from the implements and the usages of their craft. We need not be surprised at this, for the symbolic idea was, as we know, largely cultivated by the ancients.

Their mythology, which was their religion was made up out of ii great system of symbols. Sabaism, their first worship, was altogether symbolic, and out of their primitive adoration of the simple forces of nature, by degrees and with the advancement of civilization was developed a multiplicity of deities, every one of which could be traced for his origin to the impersonation of a symbol.

It would, indeed, be strange if, with such an education, the various craftsmen had failed to have imbued their trades with that same symbolic spirit which was infused into all their religious rites and their public and private acts.

But it is interesting to trace, as I think we may, the architectural symbolism of the mediaeval builders to influences which were exerted upon them by the old builders of Rome, and which they in turn communicated to their successors, the Speculative Masons of the 18th, and perhaps the 17th century.

This is, I think, one of the most important links in the chain that connects the Roman colleges with modern Freemasonry. Nothing of the kind can be adduced by those who would trace the latter institution to a Jewish or Patriarchal source. The Jews were not an aesthetic people. They rejected as vainly superstitious the use of painting and sculpture in their worship.

Though we find among them a few symbols of the simplest kind, symbolism was not cultivated by them as an intellectual science. Christian iconography, which succeeded the Jewish and the Pagan, has been more indebted for its eminently symbolic character to the latter than to the former influences. It is the same with the symbolism that has always been cultivated in Masonry, both in its Operative and in its Speculative form.

It has been indebted for its warmth and beauty rather to the Roman colleges than to the Jewish Temple. The most important of these colleges in the present inquiry were the Collegian Fabrorum, which has generally been translated the Colleges of Artificers. The word Faber, in the Latin language, means generally one who works in any material, but the signification is limited by some adjoining word.

Thus faber tignarius meant a carpenter, faber ferrarius a blacksmith, faber aurarius a goldsmith, and so on. But it was very generally used to designate one who was employed in building-a stone-cutter or mason. We meet in Gruter, and elsewhere, with many inscriptions in which the word can only bear this meaning.

In the passage above cited from Pliny, we see that when he asks the imperial consent to establish a society of artisans to reconstruct the burned edifices of Nicomedia, for which purpose builders only could be of use, he calls the desired society a Collegium Fabrorum, which may be fairly interpreted a College or Guild of Masons.

There were, of course, colleges of other trades, such as the Collegium Pistorum, or College of Bakers, the Collegium Sutorum or College of Shoemakers, of whom a votive tablet was found at Osma in Castile, [xiv] and many others.

But, as Dalloway says, the Fabri were "workmen who were employed in any kind of construction and were subject to the laws of Numa Pompilius." [xv]

It is to these Collegia Fabrorum, or Roman guilds of Masons or Builders, that Dr. Krause, whose opinion on this subject I adopt with some modifications, has sought to trace the origin of the Mediaeval corporations of stonemasons and the more recent Lodges of Freemasons.

In concluding this survey of the character and internal organization of these Roman colleges, the prototypes of the modern Masonic guilds, it will not be inappropriate to cite the language on this subject of the latest and most classical writers on the antiquities of Greece and Rome. The following brief description is taken from Guhl and Komer's able work on The Life of the Greeks and Romans. [xvi]

Mechanics guilds (Collegia 0pipium) existed at an early period, their origin being traced back to King Numa. They were nine in number, viz., pipers, carpenters, goldsmiths, dyers, leather- workers, tanners, smiths, and potters, and another guild combining, at first, all the remaining handicrafts, which afterward developed into new, separate societies.

Amongst these later guilds, frequently mentioned in inscriptions, we name the goldsmiths, bakers, purple-dyers, pig dealers sailors, ferry men, physicians etc. They had their separate inns (curia, schola), their statutes and rules of reception and expulsion of members, their collective and individual privileges, their laws of mutual protection and their widows' fund, not unlike the mediaeval guilds.

There was, however, no compulsion to join a guild. In consequence, there was much competition from freedmen-foreign, particularly Greek, workmen who settled in Rome, as also from the domestic slaves who supplied the wants of the large families-reasons enough to prevent the trades from acquiring much importance.

"They had, however, their time-honored customs, consisting of sacrifices and festive gatherings at their inns, on which occasions their banners (vexilla) and emblems were carried about the streets in procession. A wall-painting at Pompeii is most likely intended as an illustration of a carpenters' procession.

A large wooden tray (ferculum) surmounted by a decorated baldachin is being carried on the shoulders of young workmen. On the tray stands a carpenters bench in miniature, with two men at their work, the figure of Daedalus being seen in the foreground."

In reading this brief description, the principal details of which have already been given in our preceding pages, the reader can hardly fail to be struck with the far closer resemblance the usages of Freemasonry bear to those Roman colleges or guilds, than they do those of the Jewish workmen at the Temple, as we learn them from the very imperfect and unsatisfactory allusions contained in the Bible or in the Antiquities of Josephus. One can barely fail to see that the derivation of Masonry from the former is a far more reasonable hypothesis than a derivation from the latter.

Though but indirectly and remotely connected with this subject, one fact may be mentioned that shows how much the spirit of the guild organization, itself the spirit of Freemasonry, had imbued the common life of the Romans. The benefit societies of the present day, which are said to be and most probably are but coarse imitations of the Masonic Lodges, were not unknown to the ancient Romans.

They had their burial clubs, called Collegia Tenuirom, the literal meaning of which is Guilds of the Poor. They were, as their name imports, societies formed by the poorer classes, from whose funds, derived from annual contributions, the expenses of the burial of a member were defrayed and a certain sum was paid to the surviving family. [xvii]

Having shown that there existed among the Romans guild-like associations of craftsmen, presenting a very close resemblance in their usages and purposes to the guilds or corporations of Stonemasons of the Middle Ages, who are admitted to have been the predecessors of the Speculative Freemasons of the 18th century and of the present day, the further connection of these two institutions can be identified only by tracing the progress of the Roman colleges from their rise in the reign of Numa, to their dissolution at the time of the decline and fall of the Empire, and their absorption into the architectural associations which sprang up in those parts of Europe which had once been Roman provinces.

The inquiry into this difficult but interesting topic must be the appropriate subject of the following chapter.


[i] Gaius, lib. iv., ad Legem duodecium tabularum

[ii] Ulpian, "de Officis Pro Consulis," lib. ii, p. 7

[iii] "De Jud. Pub.," lib. ii.

[iv] "Digest," lib. xlvii., tit. xxii., 1

[v] "Ad Legem," xii., tab. lib. iv.

[vi] "Digest," ut supra

[vii] Krause, "Kunsturkunden," iv., p. 136

[viii] Ego attendum ne quis nisi faber, recipiatur, neve jure concesso in aliud utatur. Pliny, "Epistolae," lib. x., ep. 42

[ix] "Cod. Theodos. de excus. Artificum," lib. v.

[x] "Dict. Greek and Roman Antiq.," citing Dionysius of Halicarnassus, ii., 23

[xi] This was one of the orginal colleges of Numa. There is some dispute about their occupation; but the one given above is the most plausible

[xii] "Digest," lib. xlvii., tit, xxii

[xiii] Krause, "Kunsturkunden," iv., 165

[xiv] Don Cean-Bermudez, "Sumario de las Antiguedas Romanas que hay in Espana," Madrid, 1832, p. 179.

[xv] "Master and Freemason," p. 400

[xvi] Hueffer's Translation from third German edition, New York, 1875, p. 519

[xvii] Hueffer's Translation from third German edition, New York, 1875, p. 591

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