The consequences followed as a matter of course. The first and most essential condition of all aristocratic government is, that the plenary power of the state be vested not in an individual but in a corporation. Now a preponderantly aristocratic corporation, the senate, had appropriated to itself the government, and at the same time the executive power not only remained in the hands of the nobility, but was also entirely subject to the governing corporation. It is true that a considerable number of men not belonging to the nobility sat in the senate; but as they were incapable of holding magistracies or even of taking part in the debates, and thus were excluded from all practical share in the government, they necessarily played a subordinate part in the senate, and were moreover kept in pecuniary dependence on the corporation through the economically important privilege of using the public pasture. The gradually recognized right of the patrician consuls to revise and modify the senatorial list at least every fourth year, ineffective as presumably it was over against the nobility, might very well be employed in their interest, and an obnoxious plebeian might by means of it be kept out of the senate or even be removed from its ranks.
The Plebeian Opposition
It is therefore quite true that the immediate effect of the revolution was to establish the aristocratic government. It is not, however, the whole truth. While the majority of contemporaries probably thought that the revolution had brought upon the plebeians only a more rigid despotism, we who come afterwards discern in that very revolution the germs of young liberty. What the patricians gained was gained at the expense not of the community, but of the magistrate's power. It is true that the community gained only a few narrowly restricted rights, which were far less practical and palpable than the acquisitions of the nobility, and which not one in a thousand probably had the wisdom to value; but they formed a pledge and earnest of the future. Hitherto the --metoeci-- had been politically nothing, the old burgesses had been everything; now that the former were embraced in the community, the old burgesses were overcome; for, however much might still be wanting to full civil equality, it is the first breach, not the occupation of the last post, that decides the fall of the fortress. With justice therefore the Roman community dated its political existence from the beginning of the consulate.
While however the republican revolution may, notwithstanding the aristocratic rule which in the first instance it established, be justly called a victory of the former --metoeci-- or the -plebs-, the revolution even in this respect bore by no means the character which we are accustomed in the present day to designate as democratic. Pure personal merit without the support of birth and wealth could perhaps gain influence and consideration more easily under the regal government than under that of the patriciate. Then admission to the patriciate was not in law foreclosed; now the highest object of plebeian ambition was to be admitted into the dumb appendage of the senate. The nature of the case implied that the governing aristocratic order, so far as it admitted plebeians at all, would grant the right of occupying seats in the senate not absolutely to the best men, but chiefly to the heads of the wealthy and notable plebeian families; and the families thus admitted jealously guarded the possession of the senatorial stalls. While a complete legal equality therefore had subsisted within the old burgess-body, the new burgess-body or former --metoeci-- came to be in this way divided from the first into a number of privileged families and a multitude kept in a position of inferiority. But the power of the community now according to the centuriate organization came into the hands of that class which since the Servian reform of the army and of taxation had borne mainly the burdens of the state, namely the freeholders, and indeed not so much into the hands of the great proprietors or into those of the small cottagers, as into those of the intermediate class of farmers--an arrangement in which the seniors were still so far privileged that, although less numerous, they had as many voting- divisions as the juniors. While in this way the axe was laid to the root of the old burgess-body and their clan-nobility, and the basis of a new burgess-body was laid, the preponderance in the latter rested on the possession of land and on age, and the first beginnings were already visible of a new aristocracy based primarily on the actual consideration in which the families were held--the future nobility. There could be no clearer indication of the fundamentally conservative character of the Roman commonwealth than the fact, that the revolution which gave birth to the republic laid down at the same time the primary outlines of a new organization of the state, which was in like manner conservative and in like manner aristocratic.
Notes For Book II Chapter I
1. I. IX. The Tarquins
2. The well-known fable for the most part refutes itself. To a considerable extent it has been concocted for the explanation of surnames (-Brutus-, -Poplicola-, -Scaevola-). But even its apparently historical ingredients are found on closer examination to have been invented. Of this character is the statement that Brutus was captain of the horsemen (-tribunus celerum-) and in that capacity proposed the decree of the people as to the banishment of the Tarquins; for, according to the Roman constitution, it is quite impossible that a mere officer should have had the right to convoke the curies. The whole of this statement has evidently been invented with the view of furnishing a legal basis for the Roman republic; and very ill invented it is, for in its case the -tribunus celerum- is confounded with the entirely different -magister equitum- (V. Burdens Of The Burgesses f.), and then the right of convoking the centuries which pertained to the latter by virtue of his praetorian rank is made to apply to the assembly of the curies.