From the very introduction of the republic the magistrate had lost the right of inflicting capital punishment on the burgess without consulting the community, except under martial law;(15) if this right of appeal by the burgess appears soon after the period of the Gracchi available even in the camp, and the right of the general to inflict capital punishments appears restricted to allies and subjects, the source of the change is probably to be sought in the law of Gaius Gracchus -de provocatione- But the right of the community to inflict or rather to confirm sentence of death was indirectly yet essentially limited by the fact, that Gracchus withdrew the cognizance of those public crimes which most frequently gave occasion to capital sentences--poisoning and murder generally-- from the burgesses, and entrusted it to permanent judicial commissions. These could not, like the tribunals of the people, be broken up by the intercession of a tribune, and there not only lay no appeal from them to the community, but their sentences were as little subject to be annulled by the community as those of the long-established civil jurymen. In the burgess-tribunals it had, especially in strictly political processes, no doubt long been the rule that the accused remained at liberty during his trial, and was allowed by surrendering his burgess-rights to save at least life and freedom; for the fine laid on property, as well as the civil condemnation, might still affect even the exiled. But preliminary arrest and complete execution of the sentence remained in such cases at least legally possible, and were still sometimes carried into effect even against persons of rank; for instance, Lucius Hostilius Tubulus, praetor of 612, who was capitally impeached for a heinous crime, was refused the privilege of exile, arrested, and executed. On the other hand the judicial commissions, which originated out of the civil procedure, probably could not at the outset touch the liberty or life of the citizen, but at the most could only pronounce sentence of exile; this, which had hitherto been a mitigation of punishment accorded to one who was found guilty, now became for the first time a formal penalty This involuntary exile however, like the voluntary, left to the person banished his property, so far as it was not exhausted in satisfying claims for compensation and money-fines. Lastly, in the matter of debt Gaius Gracchus made no alteration; but very respectable authorities assert that he held out to those in debt the hope of a diminution or remission of claims--which, if it is correct, must likewise be reckoned among those radically popular measures.

Elevation Of The Equestrian Order

While Gracchus thus leaned on the support of the multitude, which partly expected, partly received from him a material improvement of its position, he laboured with equal energy at the ruin of the aristocracy. Perceiving clearly how insecure was the rule of the head of the state built merely on the proletariate, he applied himself above all to split the aristocracy and to draw a part of it over to his interests. The elements of such a rupture were already in existence. The aristocracy of the rich, which had risen as one man against Tiberius Gracchus, consisted in fact of two essentially dissimilar bodies, which may be in some measure compared to the peerage and the city aristocracy of England. The one embraced the practically closed circle of the governing senatorial families who kept aloof from direct speculation and invested their immense capital partly in landed property, partly as sleeping partners in the great associations. The core of the second class was composed of the speculators, who, as managers of these companies, or on their own account, conducted the large mercantile and pecuniary transactions throughout the range of the Roman hegemony. We have already shown(16) how the latter class, especially in the course of the sixth century, gradually took its place by the side of the senatorial aristocracy, and how the legal exclusion of the senators from mercantile pursuits by the Claudian enactment, suggested by Gaius Flaminius the precursor of the Gracchi, drew an outward line of demarcation between the senators and the mercantile and moneyed men. In the present epoch the mercantile aristocracy began, under the name of the -equites-, to exercise a decisive influence in political affairs. This appellation, which originally belonged only to the burgess-cavalry on service, came gradually to be transferred, at any rate in ordinary use, to all those who, as possessors of an estate of at least 400,000 sesterces, were liable to cavalry service in general, and thus comprehended the whole of the upper society, senatorial and non-senatorial, in Rome. But not long before the time of Gaius Gracchus the law had declared a seat in the senate incompatible with service in the cavalry,(17) and the senators were thus eliminated from those qualified to be equites; and accordingly the equestrian order, taken as a whole, might be regarded as representing the aristocracy of speculators in contradistinction to the senate. Nevertheless those members of senatorial families who had not entered the senate, especially the younger members, did not cease to serve as equites and consequently to bear the name; and, in fact, the burgess-cavalry properly so called--that is, the eighteen equestrian centuries--in consequence of being made up by the censors continued to be chiefly filled up from the young senatorial aristocracy.(18)

This order of the equites--that is to say, substantially, of the wealthy merchants--in various ways came roughly into contact with the governing senate. There was a natural antipathy between the genteel aristocrats and the men to whom money had brought rank. The ruling lords, especially the better class of them, stood just as much aloof from speculations, as the men of material interests were indifferent to political questions and coterie-feuds. The two classes had already frequently come into sharp collision, particularly in the provinces; for, though in general the provincials had far more reason than the Roman capitalists had to complain of the partiality of the Roman magistrates, yet the ruling lords of the senate did not lend countenance to the greedy and unjust doings of the moneyed men, at the expense of the subjects, so thoroughly and absolutely as those capitalists desired.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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