The immediate effect of this misdeed was the Publilian law (283), one of the most momentous in its consequences with which Roman history has to deal. Two of the most important arrangements--the introduction of the plebeian assembly of tribes, and the placing of the -plebiscitum- on a level, although conditionally, with the formal law sanctioned by the whole community--are to be referred, the former certainly, the latter probably, to the proposal of Volero Publilius the tribune of the people in 283. The plebs had hitherto adopted its resolutions by curies; accordingly in these its separate assemblies, on the one hand, the voting had been by mere number without distinction of wealth or of freehold property, and, on the other hand, in consequence of that standing side by side on the part of the clansmen, which was implied in the very nature of the curial assembly, the clients of the great patrician families had voted with one another in the assembly of the plebeians. These two circumstances had given to the nobility various opportunities of exercising influence on that assembly, and especially of managing the election of tribunes according to their views; and both were henceforth done away by means of the new method of voting according to tribes. Of these, four had been formed under the Servian constitution for the purposes of the levy, embracing town and country alike;(8) subsequently-perhaps in the year 259--the Roman territory had been divided into twenty districts, of which the first four embraced the city and its immediate environs, while the other sixteen were formed out of the rural territory on the basis of the clan-cantons of the earliest Roman domain.(9) To these was added--probably only in consequence of the Publilian law, and with a view to bring about the inequality, which was desirable for voting purposes, in the total number of the divisions--as a twenty-first tribe the Crustuminian, which derived its name from the place where the plebs had constituted itself as such and had established the tribunate;(10) and thenceforth the special assemblies of the plebs took place, no longer by curies, but by tribes. In these divisions, which were based throughout on the possession of land, the voters were exclusively freeholders: but they voted without distinction as to the size of their possession, and just as they dwelt together in villages and hamlets. Consequently, this assembly of the tribes, which otherwise was externally modelled on that of the curies, was in reality an assembly of the independent middle class, from which, on the one hand, the great majority of freedmen and clients were excluded as not being freeholders, and in which, on the other hand, the larger landholders had no such preponderance as in the centuries. This "meeting of the multitude" (-concilium plebis-) was even less a general assembly of the burgesses than the plebeian assembly by curies had been, for it not only, like the latter, excluded all the patricians, but also the plebeians who had no land; but the multitude was powerful enough to carry the point that its decree should have equal legal validity with that adopted by the centuries, in the event of its having been previously approved by the whole senate. That this last regulation had the force of established law before the issuing of the Twelve Tables, is certain; whether it was directly introduced on occasion of the Publilian -plebiscitum-, or whether it had already been called into existence by some other--now forgotten--statute, and was only applied to the Publilian -plebiscitum- cannot be any longer ascertained. In like manner it remains uncertain whether the number of tribunes was raised by this law from two to four, or whether that increase had taken place previously.

Agrarian Law Of Spurius Cassius

More sagacious in plan than all these party steps was the attempt of Spurius Cassius to break down the financial omnipotence of the rich, and so to put a stop to the true source of the evil. He was a patrician, and none in his order surpassed him in rank and renown. After two triumphs, in his third consulate (268), he submitted to the burgesses a proposal to have the public domain measured and to lease part of it for the benefit of the public treasury, while a further portion was to be distributed among the necessitous. In other words, he attempted to wrest the control of the public lands from the senate, and, with the support of the burgesses, to put an end to the selfish system of occupation. He probably imagined that his personal distinction, and the equity and wisdom of the measure, might carry it even amidst that stormy sea of passion and of weakness. But he was mistaken. The nobles rose as one man; the rich plebeians took part with them; the commons were displeased because Spurius Cassius desired, in accordance with federal rights and equity, to give to the Latin confederates their share in the assignation. Cassius had to die. There is some truth in the charge that he had usurped regal power, for he had indeed endeavoured like the kings to protect the free commons against his own order. His law was buried along with him; but its spectre thenceforward incessantly haunted the eyes of the rich, and again and again it rose from the tomb against them, until amidst the conflicts to which it led the commonwealth perished.


A further attempt was made to get rid of the tribunician power by securing to the plebeians equality of rights in a more regular and more effectual way. The tribune of the people, Gaius Terentilius Arsa, proposed in 292 the nomination of a commission of five men to prepare a general code of law by which the consuls should in future be bound in exercising their judicial powers. But the senate refused to sanction this proposal, and ten years elapsed ere it was carried into effect--years of vehement strife between the orders, and variously agitated moreover by wars and internal troubles. With equal obstinacy the party of the nobles hindered the concession of the law in the senate, and the plebs nominated again and again the same men as tribunes.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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