They were intended, in fine, to procure a share in the common usufructs of burgesses for the poorer commons, alleviation for the suffering debtors, and employment for the day-labourers that were destitute of work. Abolition of privileges, civil equality, social reform--these were the three great ideas, of which it was the design of this movement to secure the recognition. Vainly the patricians exerted all the means at their command in opposition to these legislative proposals; even the dictatorship and the old military hero Camillus were able only to delay, not to avert their accomplishment. Willingly would the people have separated the proposals; of what moment to it were the consulate and custodiership of oracles, if only the burden of debt were lightened and the public lands were free! But it was not for nothing that the plebeian nobility had adopted the popular cause; it included the proposals in one single project of law, and after a long struggle--it is said of eleven years--the senate at length gave its consent and they passed in the year 387.

Political Abolition Of The Patriciate

With the election of the first non-patrician consul--the choice fell on one of the authors of this reform, the late tribune of the people, Lucius Sextius Lateranus--the clan-aristocracy ceased both in fact and in law to be numbered among the political institutions of Rome. When after the final passing of these laws the former champion of the clans, Marcus Furius Camillus, founded a sanctuary of Concord at the foot of the Capitol--upon an elevated platform, where the senate was wont frequently to meet, above the old meeting-place of the burgesses, the Comitium--we gladly cherish the belief that he recognized in the legislation thus completed the close of a dissension only too long continued. The religious consecration of the new concord of the community was the last public act of the old warrior and statesman, and a worthy termination of his long and glorious career. He was not wholly mistaken; the more judicious portion of the clans evidently from this time forward looked upon their exclusive political privileges as lost, and were content to share the government with the plebeian aristocracy. In the majority, however, the patrician spirit proved true to its incorrigible character. On the strength of the privilege which the champions of legitimacy have at all times claimed of obeying the laws only when these coincide with their party interests, the Roman nobles on various occasions ventured, in open violation of the stipulated arrangement, to nominate two patrician consuls. But, when by way of answer to an election of that sort for the year 411 the community in the year following formally resolved to allow both consular positions to be filled by non-patricians, they understood the implied threat, and still doubtless desired, but never again ventured, to touch the second consular place.

Praetorship-- Curule Aedileship-- Complete Opening Up Of Magistracies And Priesthoods

In like manner the aristocracy simply injured itself by the attempt which it made, on the passing of the Licinian laws, to save at least some remnant of its ancient privileges by means of a system of political clipping and paring. Under the pretext that the nobility were exclusively cognizant of law, the administration of justice was detached from the consulate when the latter had to be thrown open to the plebeians; and for this purpose there was nominated a special third consul, or, as he was commonly called, a praetor. In like manner the supervision of the market and the judicial police-duties connected with it, as well as the celebration of the city-festival, were assigned to two newly nominated aediles, who--by way of distinction from the plebeian aediles--were named from their standing jurisdiction "aediles of the judgment seat" (-aediles curules-). But the curule aedileship became immediately so far accessible to the plebeians, that it was held by patricians and plebeians alternately. Moreover the dictatorship was thrown open to plebeians in 398, as the mastership of the horse had already been in the year before the Licinian laws (386); both the censorships were thrown open in 403, and the praetorship in 417; and about the same time (415) the nobility were by law excluded from one of the censorships, as they had previously been from one of the consulships. It was to no purpose that once more a patrician augur detected secret flaws, hidden from the eyes of the uninitiated, in the election of a plebeian dictator (427), and that the patrician censor did not up to the close of our present period (474) permit his colleague to present the solemn sacrifice with which the census closed; such chicanery served merely to show the ill humour of patricianism. Of as little avail were the complaints which the patrician presidents of the senate would not fail to raise regarding the participation of the plebeians in its debates; it became a settled rule that no longer the patrician members, but those who had attained to one of the three supreme ordinary magistracies--the consulship, praetorship, and curule aedileship --should be summoned to give their opinion in this order and without distinction of class, while the senators who had held none of these offices still even now took part merely in the division. The right, in fine, of the patrician senate to reject a decree of the community as unconstitutional--a right, however, which in all probability it rarely ventured to exercise--was withdrawn from it by the Publilian law of 415 and by the Maenian law which was not passed before the middle of the fifth century, in so far that it had to bring forward its constitutional objections, if it had any such, when the list of candidates was exhibited or the project of law was brought in; which practically amounted to a regular announcement of its consent beforehand. In this character, as a purely formal right, the confirmation of the decrees of the people still continued in the hands of the nobility down to the last age of the republic.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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