In spite of their concord in opposing a common foe such as was Tiberius Gracchus, a deep gulf lay between the nobility and the moneyed aristocracy; and Gaius, more adroit than his brother, enlarged it till the alliance was broken up and the mercantile class ranged itself on his side.

Insignia Of The Equites

That the external privileges, through which afterwards the men of equestrian census were distinguished from the rest of the multitude-- the golden finger-ring instead of the ordinary ring of iron or copper, and the separate and better place at the burgess-festivals--were first conferred on the equites by Gaius Gracchus, is not certain, but is not improbable. For they emerged at any rate about this period, and, as the extension of these hitherto mainly senatorial privileges(19) to the equestrian order which he brought into prominence was quite in the style of Gracchus, so it was in very truth his aim to impress on the equites the stamp of an order, similarly close and privileged, intermediate between the senatorial aristocracy and the common multitude; and this same aim was more promoted by those class-insignia, trifling though they were in themselves and though many qualified to be equites might not avail themselves of them, than by many an ordinance far more intrinsically important. But the party of material interests, though it by no means despised such honours, was yet not to be gained through these alone. Gracchus perceived well that it would doubtless duly fall to the highest bidder, but that it needed a high and substantial bidding; and so he offered to it the revenues of Asia and the jury courts.

Taxation Of Asia

The system of Roman financial administration, under which the indirect taxes as well as the domain-revenues were levied by means of middlemen, in itself granted to the Roman capitalist-class the most extensive advantages at the expense of those liable to taxation. But the direct taxes consisted either, as in most provinces, of fixed sums of money payable by the communities--which of itself excluded the intervention of Roman capitalists--or, as in Sicily and Sardinia, of a ground-tenth, the levying of which for each particular community was leased in the provinces themselves, so that wealthy provincials regularly, and the tributary communities themselves very frequently, farmed the tenth of their districts and thereby kept at a distance the dangerous Roman middlemen. Six years before, when the province of Asia had fallen to the Romans, the senate had organized it substantially according to the first system.(20) Gaius Gracchus(21) overturned this arrangement by a decree of the people, and not only burdened the province, which had hitherto been almost free from taxation, with the most extensive indirect and direct taxes, particularly the ground-tenth, but also enacted that these taxes should be exposed to auction for the province as a whole and in Rome-- a rule which practically excluded the provincials from participation, and called into existence in the body of middlemen for the -decumae-, -scriptura-, and -vectigalia- of the province of Asia an association of capitalists of colossal magnitude. A significant indication, moreover, of the endeavour of Gracchus to make the order of capitalists independent of the senate was the enactment, that the entire or partial remission of the stipulated rent was no longer, as hitherto, to be granted by the senate at discretion, but was under definite contingencies to be accorded by law.

Jury Courts

While a gold mine was thus opened for the mercantile class, and the members of the new partnership constituted a great financial power imposing even for the government--a "senate of merchants"-a definite sphere of public action was at the same time assigned to them in the jury courts. The field of the criminal procedure, which by right came before the burgesses, was among the Romans from the first very narrow, and was, as we have already stated,(22) still further narrowed by Gracchus; most processes--both such as related to public crimes, and civil causes--were decided either by single jurymen [-indices-], or by commissions partly permanent, partly extraordinary. Hitherto both the former and the latter had been exclusively taken from the senate; Gracchus transferred the functions of jurymen--both in strictly civil processes, and in the case of the standing and temporary commissions-- to the equestrian order, directing a new list of jurymen to be annually formed after the analogy of the equestrian centuries from all persons of equestrian rating, and excluding the senators directly, and the young men of senatorial families by the fixing of a certain limit of age, from such judicial functions.(23) It is not improbable that the selection of jurymen was chiefly made to fall on the same men who played the leading part in the great mercantile associations, particularly those farming the revenues in Asia and elsewhere, just because these had a very close personal interest in sitting in the courts; and, if the lists of jurymen and the societies of -publicani- thus coincided as regards their chiefs, we can all the better understand the significance of the counter-senate thus constituted. The substantial effect of this was, that, while hitherto there had been only two authorities in the state--the government as the administering and controlling, and the burgesses as the legislative, authority--and the courts had been divided between them, now the moneyed aristocracy was not only united into a compact and privileged class on the solid basis of material interests, but also, as a judicial and controlling power, formed part of the state and took its place almost on a footing of equality by the side of the ruling aristocracy. All the old antipathies of the merchants against the nobility could not but thenceforth find only too practical an expression in the sentences of the jurymen; above all, when the provincial governors were called to a reckoning, the senator had to await a decision involving his civic existence at the hands no longer as formerly of his peers, but of great merchants and bankers.

The Revolution Page 44

Italian Authors

Italian Books

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book