a term introduced in France during the Great French Revolution and since retained in historical literature to designate both movable and immovable property confiscated by the state. On Nov. 2, 1789, a law was adopted on the confiscation of church lands. On Feb. 9–12, 1792, the property of émigrés was confiscated and put on sale; in October 1793 the same was done with the property of persons who had been executed. At a meeting held from Feb. 26 to Mar. 3, 1794, the National Convention sanctioned the confiscation of the property of all enemies of the revolution and its transfer without compensation to “needy patriots.”
The greater part of these biens nationaux ended up in the hands of the bourgeoisie and the affluent peasantry. During the Restoration, unsold land that had been part of the biens nationaux was returned to former ownership. By a law of Apr. 27, 1825, the owners of all biens nationaux that had been subsequently sold received cash compensation that totaled about 1 billion francs.