As early as 622 the consul of that year, Publius Popillius, the same who directed the prosecutions of the adherents of Tiberius Gracchus, recorded on a public monument that he was "the first who had turned the shepherds out of the domains and installed farmers in their stead"; and tradition otherwise affirms that the distribution extended over all Italy, and that in the formerly existing communities the number of farms was everywhere augmented--for it was the design of the Sempronian agrarian law to elevate the farmer- class not by the founding of new communities, but by the strengthening of those already in existence. The extent and the comprehensive effect of these distributions are attested by the numerous arrangements in the Roman art of land-measuring that go back to the Gracchan assignations of land; for instance, a due placing of boundary-stones so as to obviate future mistakes appears to have been first called into existence by the Gracchan courts for demarcation and the land- distributions. But the numbers on the burgess-rolls give the clearest evidence. The census, which was published in 623 and actually took place probably in the beginning of 622, yielded not more than 319,000 burgesses capable of bearing arms, whereas six years afterwards (629) in place of the previous falling-off(2) the number rises to 395,000, that is 76,000 of an increase--beyond all doubt solely in consequence of what the allotment-commission did for the Roman burgesses. Whether it multiplied the farms among the Italians in the same proportion maybe doubted; at any rate what it did accomplish yielded a great and beneficent result. It is true that this result was not achieved without various violations of respectable interests and existing rights. The allotment-commission, composed of the most decided partisans, and absolute judge in its own cause, proceeded with its labours in a reckless and even tumultuary fashion; public notices summoned every one, who was able, to give information regarding the extent of the domain-lands; the old land-registers were inexorably referred to, and not only was occupation new and old revoked without distinction, but in various cases real private property, as to which the holder was unable satisfactorily to prove his tenure, was included in the confiscation. Loud and for the most part well founded as were the complaints, the senate allowed the distributors to pursue their course; it was clear that, if the domain question was to be settled at all, the matter could not be carried through without such unceremonious vigour of action.

Its Suspension By Scipio Aemilianus

But this acquiescence had its limit. The Italian domain-land was not solely in the hands of Roman burgesses; large tracts of it had been assigned in exclusive usufruct to particular allied communities by decrees of the people or senate, and other portions had been occupied with or without permission by Latin burgesses. The allotment- commission at length attacked these possessions also. The resumption of the portions simply occupied by non-burgesses was no doubt allowable in formal law, and not less presumably the resumption of the domain-land handed over by decrees of the senate or even by resolutions of the burgesses to the Italian communities, since thereby the state by no means renounced its ownership and to all appearance gave its grants to communities, just as to private persons, subject to revocation. But the complaints of these allied or subject communities, that Rome did not keep the settlements that were in force, could not be simply disregarded like the complaints of the Roman citizens injured by the action of the commissioners. Legally the former might be no better founded than the latter; but, while in the latter case the matter at stake was the private interests of members of the state, in reference to the Latin possessions the question arose, whether it was politically right to give fresh offence to communities so important in a military point of view and already so greatly estranged from Rome by numerous disabilities de jure and de facto(3) through this keenly-felt injury to their material interests. The decision lay in the hands of the middle party; it was that party which after the fall of Gracchus had, in league with his adherents, protected reform against the oligarchy, and it alone was now able in concert with the oligarchy to set a limit to reform. The Latins resorted personally to the most prominent man of this party, Scipio Aemilianus, with a request that he would protect their rights. He promised to do so; and mainly through his influence,(4) in 625, a decree of the people withdrew from the commission its jurisdiction, and remitted the decision respecting what were domanial and what private possessions to the censors and, as proxies for them, the consuls, to whom according to the general principles of law it pertained. This was simply a suspension of further domain-distribution under a mild form. The consul Tuditanus, by no means Gracchan in his views and little inclined to occupy himself with the difficult task of agrarian definition, embraced the opportunity of going off to the Illyrian army and leaving the duty entrusted to him unfulfilled. The allotment-commission no doubt continued to subsist, but, as the judicial regulation of the domain-land was at a standstill, it was compelled to remain inactive.

Assassination Of Aemilianus

The reform-party was deeply indignant. Even men like Publius Mucius and Quintus Metellus disapproved of the intervention of Scipio. Other circles were not content with expressing disapproval. Scipio had announced for one of the following days an address respecting the relations of the Latins; on the morning of that day he was found dead in his bed. He was but fifty-six years of age, and in full health and vigour; he had spoken in public the day before, and then in the evening had retired earlier than usual to his bedchamber with a view to prepare the outline of his speech for the following day.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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