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The History of Rome, Book II From the Abolition of the Monarchy in Rome to the Union of Italy online

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consular constitution allowed; but the change came to be of essential
importance for the conflicts of the orders, and it may be that
that military object was rather the pretext than the reason for
this arrangement. According to the ancient law every burgess or
- metoikos - liable to service might attain the post of an officer,(2)
and in virtue of that principle the supreme magistracy, after having
been temporarily opened up to the plebeians in the decemvirate, was
now after a more comprehensive fashion rendered equally accessible to
all freeborn burgesses. The question naturally occurs, what interest
the aristocracy could have - now that it was under the necessity of
abandoning its exclusive possession of the supreme magistracy and of
yielding in the matter - in refusing to the plebeians the title, and
conceding to them the consulate under this singular form?(3) But,
in the first place, there were associated with the holding of the
supreme magistracy various honorary rights, partly personal, partly
hereditary; thus the honour of a triumph was regarded as legally
dependent on the occupancy of the supreme magistracy, and was never
given to an officer who had not administered the latter office in
person; and the descendants of a curule magistrate were at liberty to
set up the image of such an ancestor in the family hall and to exhibit
it in public on fitting occasions, while this was not allowed in the
case of other ancestors.(4) It is as easy to be explained as it is
difficult to be vindicated, that the governing aristocratic order
should have allowed the government itself to be wrested from their
hands far sooner than the honorary rights associated with it,
especially such as were hereditary; and therefore, when it was obliged
to share the former with the plebeians, it gave to the actual supreme
magistrate the legal standing not of the holder of a curule chair, but
of a simple staff-officer, whose distinction was one purely personal.
Of greater political importance, however, than the refusal of the
-ius imaginum- and of the honour of a triumph was the circumstance,
that the exclusion of the plebeians sitting in the senate from
debate necessarily ceased in respect to those of their number who,
as designated or former consuls, ranked among the senators whose
opinion had to be asked before the rest; so far it was certainly
of great importance for the nobility to admit the plebeian only to
a consular office, and not to the consulate itself.

Opposition of the Patriciate

But notwithstanding these vexatious disabilities the privileges of the
clans, so far as they had a political value, were legally superseded
by the new institution; and, had the Roman nobility been worthy of its
name, it must now have given up the struggle. But it did not. Though
a rational and legal resistance was thenceforth impossible, spiteful
opposition still found a wide field of petty expedients, of chicanery
and intrigue; and, far from honourable or politically prudent as such
resistance was, it was still in a certain sense fruitful of results.
It certainly procured at length for the commons concessions which
could not easily have been wrung from the united Roman aristocracy;
but it also prolonged civil war for another century and enabled
the nobility, in defiance of those laws, practically to retain the
government in their exclusive possession for several generations

Their Expedients

The expedients of which the nobility availed themselves were as
various as political paltriness could suggest. Instead of deciding
at once the question as to the admission or exclusion of the plebeians
at the elections, they conceded what they were compelled to concede
only with reference to the elections immediately impending. The vain
struggle was thus annually renewed whether patrician consuls or
military tribunes from both orders with consular powers should be
nominated; and among the weapons of the aristocracy this mode of
conquering an opponent by wearying and annoying him proved by no
means the least effective.

Subdivision of the Magistracy -

Moreover they broke up the supreme power which had hitherto been
undivided, in order to delay their inevitable defeat by multiplying
the points to be assailed. Thus the adjustment of the budget and of
the burgess - and taxation-rolls, which ordinarily took place every
fourth year and had hitherto been managed by the consuls, was
entrusted as early as the year 319 to two valuators (-censores-),
nominated by the centuries from among the nobles for a period, at
the most, of eighteen months. The new office gradually became the
palladium of the aristocratic party, not so much on account of its
financial influence as on account of the right annexed to it of
filling up the vacancies in the senate and in the equites, and of
removing individuals from the lists of the senate, equites, and
burgesses on occasion of their adjustment. At this epoch, however,
the censorship by no means possessed the great importance and moral
supremacy which afterwards were associated with it.


But the important change made in the year 333 in respect to the
quaestorship amply compensated for this success of the patrician
party. The patricio-plebeian assembly of the tribes - perhaps taking
up the ground that at least the two military paymasters were in fact
officers rather than civil functionaries, and that so far the plebeian
appeared as well entitled to the quaestorship as to the military
tribuneship - carried the point that plebeian candidates also were
admitted for the quaestorial elections, and thereby acquired for
the first time the privilege of eligibility as well as the right of
election for one of the ordinary magistracies. With justice it was
felt on the one side as a great victory, on the other as a severe
defeat, that thenceforth patrician and plebeian were equally capable
of electing and being elected to the military as well as to the urban

Attempts at Counterrevolution

The nobility, in spite of the most obstinate resistance, only
sustained loss after loss; and their exasperation increased as their
power decreased. Attempts were doubtless still made directly to
assail the rights secured by agreement to the commons; but such
attempts were not so much the well-calculated manoeuvres of party as
the acts of an impotent thirst for vengeance. Such in particular was
the process against Maelius as reported by the tradition - certainly
not very trustworthy - that has come down to us. Spurius Maelius,
a wealthy plebeian, during a severe dearth (315) sold corn at such
prices as to put to shame and annoy the patrician store-president
(-praefectus annonae-) Gaius Minucius. The latter accused him of
aspiring to kingly power; with what amount of reason we cannot decide,
but it is scarcely credible that a man who had not even filled the
tribunate should have seriously thought of sovereignty. Nevertheless
the authorities took up the matter in earnest, and the cry of "King"
always produced on the multitude in Rome an effect similar to that
of the cry of "Pope" on the masses in England. Titus Quinctius
Capitolinus, who was for the sixth time consul, nominated Lucius
Quinctius Cincinnatus, who was eighty years of age, as dictator
without appeal, in open violation of the solemnly sworn laws.(5)
Maelius, summoned before him, seemed disposed to disregard the
summons; and the dictator's master of the horse, Gaius Servilius
Ahala, slew him with his own hand. The house of the murdered man was
pulled down, the corn from his granaries was distributed gratuitously
to the people, and those who threatened to avenge his death were
secretly made away with. This disgraceful judicial murder - a disgrace
even more to the credulous and blind people than to the malignant
party of young patricians - passed unpunished; but if that party had
hoped by such means to undermine the right of appeal, it violated
the laws and shed innocent blood in vain.

Intrigues of the Nobility

Electioneering intrigues and priestly trickery proved in the hands
of the nobility more efficient than any other weapons. The extent
to which the former must have prevailed is best seen in the fact
that in 322 it appeared necessary to issue a special law against
electioneering practices, which of course was of little avail. When
the voters could not be influenced by corruption or threatening, the
presiding magistrates stretched their powers - admitting, for example,
so many plebeian candidates that the votes of the opposition were
thrown away amongst them, or omitting from the list of candidates
those whom the majority were disposed to choose. If in spite of all
this an obnoxious election was carried, the priests were consulted
whether no vitiating circumstance had occurred in the auspices or
other religious ceremonies on the occasion; and some such flaw they
seldom failed to discover. Taking no thought as to the consequences
and unmindful of the wise example of their ancestors, the people
allowed the principle to be established that the opinion of the
skilled colleges of priests as to omens of birds, portents, and the
like was legally binding on the magistrate, and thus put it into their
power to cancel any state-act - whether the consecration of a temple
or any other act of administration, whether law or election - on the
ground of religious informality. In this way it became possible that,
although the eligibility of plebeians had been established by law
already in 333 for the quaestorship and thenceforward continued to
be legally recognized, it was only in 345 that the first plebeian
attained the quaestorship; in like manner patricians almost
exclusively held the military tribunate with consular powers down
to 354. It was apparent that the legal abolition of the privileges of
the nobles had by no means really and practically placed the plebeian
aristocracy on a footing of equality with the clan-nobility. Many
causes contributed to this result: the tenacious opposition of the
nobility far more easily allowed itself to be theoretically superseded
in a moment of excitement, than to be permanently kept down in the
annually recurring elections; but the main cause was the inward
disunion between the chiefs of the plebeian aristocracy and the mass
of the farmers. The middle class, whose votes were decisive in the
comitia, did not feel itself specially called on to advance the
interests of genteel non-patricians, so long as its own demands were
disregarded by the plebeian no less than by the patrician aristocracy.

The Suffering Farmers

During these political struggles social questions had lain on the
whole dormant, or were discussed at any rate with less energy. After
the plebeian aristocracy had gained possession of the tribunate for
its own ends, no serious notice was taken either of the question of
the domains or of a reform in the system of credit; although there was
no lack either of newly acquired lands or of impoverished or decaying
farmers. 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.

Combination of 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. 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.

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

Online LibraryTheodor MommsenThe History of Rome, Book II From the Abolition of the Monarchy in Rome to the Union of Italy → online text (page 6 of 27)