Under the concept of full private ownership, or absolutum et directum dominium, a plot of land could be established as the private property (exclusive right of use and disposal) of a family patriarch. The absolute right was vested in the patriarch, subject only to the right of "eminent domain."

[Also called "Dominium directum et utile" - see Black's Law Dictionary Fifth edition, West Publishing Co., St. Paul, 1979, p. 436: The private right to land was based on: (1) first occupation or (2) prescriptive right created by the civil government. Once the property was legally recognized, it was the owners absolutely. He did whatever he desired with the property as long as he did no harm to others with it, and even then, the rules of liability were clear. The government, theoretically, had no power to take it from him. (See Loeb edition: Remains of Old Latin, vol. III Lucilius and Laws of the XII Tables translated by E.H. Warmington, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1938, pp. 467ff. See also Cochran's Law Lexicon, Fourth edition, The W.H. Anderson Co., Cincinnati, 1956, p.136)]

In the origins of the Germanic law, "od" meant property; "fee" meant conditional reward; and "al" designated "all." Feod or feud designated land held conditional to the bilateral feudal contract of lord and vassal. "Alod" meant having all property rights, or absolutum et directum dominium.

In the mid-1700s, William Blackstone in Commentaries on the Laws of England ii, pg. 2-3 wrote of the absence of "allodial" property in English property law, recognizing that all property in land originated as a "feud" or "fee": "This allodial property no subject in England has; it being a received, and now undeniable, principle in the law, that all the lands in England are holden mediately or immediately of the king. The king therefore only hath absolutum et directum dominium; but all subjects' lands are in the nature of feodum or fee; whether derived to them by descent from their ancestors, or purchased for a valuable consideration; for they cannot come to any man by either of those ways, unless accompanied with those feodal clogs, which were laid upon the first feudatory when it was originally granted."

"Fee simple," as "a freehold estate absolute and unqualified" - the highest estate known to English law - was never ownership "absolute and unqualified." It was essentially a right to "possess" land good against all but the monarch, held without "tenure," (feudal obligations of service or tribute,) and for time without end (estate.)  

The English "Doctrine of Estates" growing from the feudal system was stated by the court in Walsingham's Case in 1578: "The land itself is one thing and the estate in land is another thing: for an estate in the land is a time in the land, or land for a time: and there are diversities of estates, which are no more than diversities of time; for he who hath a fee simple in the land has a time in the land without end, or land for a time without end; and he who has land in tail has a time in land, or the land for a time, as long as he has issue from his body; and he who has an estate in land for life has no time longer than his own life; and so of one who has an estate in land for the life of another, or for years."

(Ref: John Bouvier, A Law Dictionary Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America and the Several States of the American Union, Childs & Peterson, c1856.)

ALLODIUM estates. Signifies an absolute estate of inheritance, in contradistinction to a feud.

In this country [United States] the title to land is essentially allodial, and every tenant in fee simple has an absolute and perfect title, yet in technical language his estate is called an estate in fee simple, and the tenure free and common socage. 3 Kent, Com. 390; Cruise, Prel. Dis. c. 1, Sec. 13; 2 Bl. Com. 45. For the etymology of this word, vide 3 Kent Com. 398 note; 2 Bouv. Inst. n. 1692.


For more on "allodial property" see Dr. John Cobin's website