Instances indeed of assignations took place, particularly in the recently conquered border-territories, such as those of the domain of Ardea in 312, of Labici in 336, and of Veii in 361--more however on military grounds than for the relief of the farmer, and by no means to an adequate extent. Individual tribunes doubtless attempted to revive the law of Cassius--for instance Spurius Maecilius and Spurius Metilius instituted in the year 337 a proposal for the distribution of the whole state-lands--but they were thwarted, in a manner characteristic of the existing state of parties, by the opposition of their own colleagues or in other words of the plebeian aristocracy. Some of the patricians also attempted to remedy the common distress; but with no better success than had formerly attended Spurius Cassius. A patrician like Cassius and like him distinguished by military renown and personal valour, Marcus Manlius, the saviour of the Capitol during the Gallic siege, is said to have come forward as the champion of the oppressed people, with whom he was connected by the ties of comradeship in war and of bitter hatred towards his rival, the celebrated general and leader of the optimate party, Marcus Furius Camillus. When a brave officer was about to be led away to a debtor's prison, Manlius interceded for him and released him with his own money; at the same time he offered his lands to sale, declaring loudly that, as long as he possessed a foot's breadth of land, such iniquities should not occur. This was more than enough to unite the whole government party, patricians as well as plebeians, against the dangerous innovator. The trial for high treason, the charge of having meditated a renewal of the monarchy, wrought on the blind multitude with the insidious charm which belongs to stereotyped party-phrases. They themselves condemned him to death, and his renown availed him nothing save that it was deemed expedient to assemble the people for the bloody assize at a spot whence the voters could not see the rock of the citadel--the dumb monitor which might remind them how their fatherland had been saved from the extremity of danger by the hands of the very man whom they were now consigning to the executioner (370).

While the attempts at reformation were thus arrested in the bud, the social disorders became still more crying; for on the one hand the domain-possessions were ever extending in consequence of successful wars, and on the other hand debt and impoverishment were ever spreading more widely among the farmers, particularly from the effects of the severe war with Veii (348-358) and of the burning of the capital in the Gallic invasion (364). It is true that, when in the Veientine war it became necessary to prolong the term of service of the soldiers and to keep them under arms not--as hitherto at the utmost--only during summer, but also throughout the winter, and when the farmers, foreseeing their utter economic ruin, were on the point of refusing their consent to the declaration of war, the senate resolved on making an important concession. It charged the pay, which hitherto the tribes had defrayed by contribution, on the state-chest, or in other words, on the produce of the indirect revenues and the domains (348). It was only in the event of the state-chest being at the moment empty that a general contribution (-tributum-) was imposed on account of the pay; and in that case it was considered as a forced loan and was afterwards repaid by the community. The arrangement was equitable and wise; but, as it was not placed upon the essential foundation of turning the domains to proper account for the benefit of the exchequer, there were added to the increased burden of service frequent contributions, which were none the less ruinous to the man of small means that they were officially regarded not as taxes but as advances.

CombinationOf The Plebian Aristocracy And The Farmers Against The Nobility-- Licinio-Sextian Laws

Under such circumstances, when the plebeian aristocracy saw itself practically excluded by the opposition of the nobility and the indifference of the commons from equality of political rights, and the suffering farmers were powerless as opposed to the close aristocracy, it was natural that they should help each other by a compromise. With this view the tribunes of the people, Gaius Licinius and Lucius Sextius, submitted to the commons proposals to the following effect: first, to abolish the consular tribunate; secondly, to lay it down as a rule that at least one of the consuls should be a plebeian; thirdly, to open up to the plebeians admission to one of the three great colleges of priests--that of the custodiers of oracles, whose number was to be increased to ten (-duoviri-, afterwards -decemviri sacris faciundis-(6)); fourthly, as respected the domains, to allow no burgess to maintain upon the common pasture more than a hundred oxen and five hundred sheep, or to hold more than five hundred -jugera- (about 300 acres) of the domain lands left free for occupation; fifthly, to oblige the landlords to employ in the labours of the field a number of free labourers proportioned to that of their rural slaves; and lastly, to procure alleviation for debtors by deduction of the interest which had been paid from the capital, and by the arrangement of set terms for the payment of arrears.

The tendency of these enactments is obvious. They were designed to deprive the nobles of their exclusive possession of the curule magistracies and of the hereditary distinctions of nobility therewith associated; which, it was characteristically conceived, could only be accomplished by the legal exclusion of the nobles from the place of second consul. They were designed, as a consequence, to emancipate the plebeian members of the senate from the subordinate position which they occupied as silent by-sitters,(7) in so far as those of them at least who had filled the consulate thereby acquired a title to deliver their opinion with the patrician consulars before the other patrician senators.(8) They were intended, moreover, to withdraw from the nobles the exclusive possession of spiritual dignities; and in carrying out this purpose for reasons sufficiently obvious the old Latin priesthoods of the augurs and Pontifices were left to the old burgesses, but these were obliged to open up to the new burgesses the third great college of more recent origin and belonging to a worship that was originally foreign.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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