The clans retained, as may naturally be conceived, their religious privileges longer. Indeed, several of these, which were destitute of political importance, were never interfered with, such as their exclusive eligibility to the offices of the three supreme -flamines- and that of -rex sacrorum- as well as to the membership of the colleges of Salii. On the other hand the two colleges of Pontifices and of augurs, with which a considerable influence over the courts and the comitia were associated, were too important to remain in the exclusive possession of the patricians. The Ogulnian law of 454 accordingly threw these also open to plebeians, by increasing the number both of the pontifices and of the augurs from six to nine, and equally distributing the stalls in the two colleges between patricians and plebeians.

Equivalence Of Law And Plebiscitum

The two hundred years' strife was brought at length to: a close by the law of the dictator Q. Hortensius (465, 468) which was occasioned by a dangerous popular insurrection, and which declared that the decrees of the plebs should stand on an absolute footing of equality--instead of their earlier conditional equivalence--with those of the whole community. So greatly had the state of things been changed that that portion of the burgesses which had once possessed exclusively the right of voting was thenceforth, under the usual form of taking votes binding for the whole burgess-body, no longer so much as asked the question.

The Later Patricianism

The struggle between the Roman clans and commons was thus substantially at an end. While the nobility still preserved out of its comprehensive privileges the -de facto- possession of one of the consulships and one of the censorships, it was excluded by law from the tribunate, the plebeian aedileship, the second consulship and censorship, and from participation in the votes of the plebs which were legally equivalent to votes of the whole body of burgesses. As a righteous retribution for its perverse and stubborn resistance, the patriciate had seen its former privileges converted into so many disabilities. The Roman clan-nobility, however, by no means disappeared because it had become an empty name. The less the significance and power of the nobility, the more purely and exclusively the patrician spirit developed itself. The haughtiness of the "Ramnians" survived the last of their class-privileges for centuries; after they had steadfastly striven "to rescue the consulate from the plebeian filth" and had at length become reluctantly convinced of the impossibility of such an achievement, they continued at least rudely and spitefully to display their aristocratic spirit. To understand rightly the history of Rome in the fifth and sixth centuries, we must never overlook this sulking patricianism; it could indeed do little more than irritate itself and others, but this it did to the best of its ability. Some years after the passing of the Ogulnian law (458) a characteristic instance of this sort occurred. A patrician matron, who was married to a leading plebeian that had attained to the highest dignities of the state, was on account of this misalliance expelled from the circle of noble dames and was refused admission to the common festival of Chastity; and in consequence of that exclusion separate patrician and plebeian goddesses of Chastity were thenceforward worshipped in Rome. Doubtless caprices of this sort were of very little moment, and the better portion of the clans kept themselves entirely aloof from this miserable policy of peevishness; but it left behind on both sides a feeling of discontent, and, while the struggle of the commons against the clans was in itself a political and even moral necessity, these convulsive efforts to prolong the strife--the aimless combats of the rear-guard after the battle had been decided, as well as the empty squabbles as to rank and standing--needlessly irritated and disturbed the public and private life of the Roman community.

The Social Distress, And The Attempt To Relieve It

Nevertheless one object of the compromise concluded by the two portions of the plebs in 387, the abolition of the patriciate, had in all material points been completely attained. The question next arises, how far the same can be affirmed of the two positive objects aimed at in the compromise?--whether the new order of things in reality checked social distress and established political equality? The two were intimately connected; for, if economic embarrassments ruined the middle class and broke up the burgesses into a minority of rich men and a suffering proletariate, such a state of things would at once annihilate civil equality and in reality destroy the republican commonwealth. The preservation and increase of the middle class, and in particular of the farmers, formed therefore for every patriotic statesman of Rome a problem not merely important, but the most important of all. The plebeians, moreover, recently called to take part in the government, greatly indebted as they were for their new political rights to the proletariate which was suffering and expecting help at their hands, were politically and morally under special obligation to attempt its relief by means of government measures, so far as relief was by such means at all attainable.

The Licinian Agrarian Laws

Let us first consider how far any real relief was contained in that part of the legislation of 387 which bore upon the question. That the enactment in favour of the free day-labourers could not possibly accomplish its object--namely, to check the system of farming on a large scale and by means of slaves, and to secure to the free proletarians at least a share of work--is self-evident. In this matter legislation could afford no relief, without shaking the foundations of the civil organization of the period in a way that would reach far beyond its immediate horizon. In the question of the domains, on the other hand, it was quite possible for legislation to effect a change; but what was done was manifestly inadequate.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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