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tribe came to be composed of different townships scattered over the
whole Roman territory. Election-districts such as these, containing
on an average 8000 - the urban naturally having more, the rural fewer
- persons entitled to vote, without local connection or inward unity,
no longer admitted of any definite leading or of any satisfactory
previous deliberation; disadvantages which must have been the more
felt, since the voting itself was not preceded by any free debate.
Moreover, while the burgesses had quite sufficient capacity to discern
their communal interests, it was foolish and utterly ridiculous to
leave the decision of the highest and most difficult questions which
the power that ruled the world had to solve to a well-disposed but
fortuitous concourse of Italian farmers, and to allow the nomination
of generals and the conclusion of treaties of state to be finally
judged of by people who understood neither the grounds nor the
consequences of their decrees. In all matters transcending mere
communal affairs the Roman primary assemblies accordingly played a
childish and even silly part. As a rule, the people stood and gave
assent to all proposals; and, when in exceptional instances they of
their own impulse refused assent, as on occasion of the declaration
of war against Macedonia in 554,(42) the policy of the market-place
certainly made a pitiful opposition - and with a pitiful issue - to the
policy of the state.

Rise of a City Rabble

At length the rabble of clients assumed a position, formally of
equality and often even, practically, of superiority, alongside of
the class of independent burgesses. The institutions out of which it
sprang were of great antiquity. From time immemorial the Roman of
quality exercised a sort of government over his freedmen and
dependents, and was consulted by them in all their more important
affairs; a client, for instance, was careful not to give his children
in marriage without having obtained the consent of his patron, and
very often the latter directly arranged the match. But as the
aristocracy became converted into a special ruling class concentrating
in its hands not only power but also wealth, the clients became
parasites and beggars; and the new adherents of the rich undermined
outwardly and inwardly the burgess class. The aristocracy not only
tolerated this sort of clientship, but worked it financially and
politically for their own advantage. Thus, for instance, the old
penny collections, which hitherto had taken place chiefly for
religious purposes and at the burial of men of merit, were now
employed by lords of high standing - for the first time by Lucius
Scipio, in 568, on occasion of a popular festival which he had in
contemplation - for the purpose of levying on extraordinary occasions a
contribution from the public. Presents were specially placed under
legal restriction (in 550), because the senators began under that name
to take regular tribute from their clients. But the retinue of
clients was above all serviceable to the ruling class as a means of
commanding the comitia; and the issue of the elections shows clearly
how powerfully the dependent rabble already at this epoch competed
with the independent middle class.

The very rapid increase of the rabble in the capital particularly,
which is thus presupposed, is also demonstrable otherwise. The
increasing number and importance of the freedmen are shown by the very
serious discussions that arose in the previous century,(43) and were
continued during the present, as to their right to vote in the public
assemblies, and by the remarkable resolution, adopted by the senate
during the Hannibalic war, to admit honourable freedwomen to a
participation in the public collections, and to grant to the
legitimate children of manumitted fathers the insignia hitherto
belonging only to the children of the free-born.(44) The majority of
the Hellenes and Orientals who settled in Rome were probably little
better than the freedmen, for national servility clung as indelibly
to the former as legal servility to the latter.

Systematic Corruption of the Multitude
Distributions of Grain

But not only did these natural causes co-operate to produce a
metropolitan rabble: neither the nobility nor the demagogues,
moreover, can be acquitted from the reproach of having systematically
nursed its growth, and of having undermined, so far as in them lay,
the old public spirit by flattery of the people and things still
worse. The electors as a body were still too respectable to admit of
direct electoral corruption showing itself on a great scale; but the
favour of those entitled to vote was indirectly courted by methods far
from commendable. The old obligation of the magistrates, particularly
of the aediles, to see that corn could be procured at a moderate price
and to superintend the games, began to degenerate into the state of
things which at length gave rise to the horrible cry of the city
populace under the Empire, "Bread for nothing and games for ever!"
Large supplies of grain, cither placed by the provincial governors at
the disposal of the Roman market officials, or delivered at Rome free
of cost by the provinces themselves for the purpose of procuring
favour with particular Roman magistrates, enabled the aediles, from
the middle of the sixth century, to furnish grain to the population of
the capital at very low prices. "It was no wonder," Cato considered,
"that the burgesses no longer listened to good advice - the belly
forsooth had no ears."


Popular amusements increased to an alarming extent. For five hundred
years the community had been content with one festival in the year,
and with one circus. The first Roman demagogue by profession, Gaius
Flaminius, added a second festival and a second circus (534);(45) and
by these institutions - the tendency of which is sufficiently indicated
by the very name of the new festival, "the plebeian games" - he
probably purchased the permission to give battle at the Trasimene
lake. When the path was once opened, the evil made rapid progress.
The festival in honour of Ceres, the goddess who protected the
plebeian order,(46) must have been but little, if at all, later than
the plebeian games. On the suggestion of the Sibylline and Marcian
prophecies, moreover, a fourth festival was added in 542 in honour of
Apollo, and a fifth in 550 in honour of the "Great Mother" recently
transplanted from Phrygia to Rome. These were the severe years of
the Hannibalic war - on the first celebration of the games of Apollo
the burgesses were summoned from the circus itself to arms; the
superstitious fear peculiar to Italy was feverishly excited, and
persons were not wanting who took advantage of the opportunity to
circulate Sibylline and prophetic oracles and to recommend themselves
to the multitude through their contents and advocacy: we can scarcely
blame the government, which was obliged to call for so enormous
sacrifices from the burgesses, for yielding in such matters. But what
was once conceded had to be continued; indeed, even in more peaceful
times (581) there was added another festival, although of minor
importance - the games in honour of Flora. The cost of these new
festal amusements was defrayed by the magistrates entrusted with the
providing of the respective festivals from their own means: thus the
curule aediles had, over and above the old national festival, those
of the Mother of the Gods and of Flora; the plebeian aediles had the
plebeian festival and that of Ceres, and the urban praetor the
Apollinarian games. Those who sanctioned the new festivals perhaps
excused themselves in their own eyes by the reflection that they were
not at any rate a burden on the public purse; but it would have been
in reality far less injurious to burden the public budget with a
number of useless expenses, than to allow the providing of an
amusement for the people to become practically a qualification for
holding the highest office in the state. The future candidates for
the consulship soon entered into a mutual rivalry in their expenditure
on these games, which incredibly increased their cost; and, as may
well be conceived, it did no harm if the consul expectant gave,
over and above this as it were legal contribution, a voluntary
"performance" (-munus-), a gladiatorial show at his own expense for
the public benefit. The splendour of the games became gradually the
standard by which the electors measured the fitness of the candidates
for the consulship. The nobility had, in truth, to pay dear for their
honours - a gladiatorial show on a respectable scale cost 720,000
sesterces (7200 pounds) - but they paid willingly, since by this
means they absolutely precluded men who were not wealthy from a
political career.

Squandering of the Spoil

Corruption, however, was not restricted to the Forum; it was
transferred even to the camp. The old burgess militia had reckoned
themselves fortunate when they brought home a compensation for the
toil of war, and, in the event of success, a trifling gift as a
memorial of victory. The new generals, with Scipio Africanus at their
head, lavishly scattered amongst their troops the money of Rome as
well as the proceeds of the spoil: it was on this point, that Cato
quarrelled with Scipio during the last campaigns against Hannibal in
Africa. The veterans from the second Macedonian war and that waged in
Asia Minor already returned home throughout as wealthy men: even the
better class began to commend a general, who did not appropriate the
gifts of the provincials and the gains of war entirely to himself and
his immediate followers, and from whose camp not a few men returned
with gold, and many with silver, in their pockets: men began to forget
that the moveable spoil was the property of the state. When Lucius
Paullus again dealt with it in the old mode, his own soldiers,
especially the volunteers who had been allured in numbers by the
prospect of rich plunder, fell little short of refusing to the
victor of Pydna by popular decree the honour of a triumph - an honour
which they already threw away on every one who had subjugated three
Ligurian villages.

Decline of Warlike Spirit

How much the military discipline and the martial spirit of the
burgesses suffered from this conversion of war into a traffic in
plunder, may be traced in the campaigns against Perseus; and the
spread of cowardice was manifested in a way almost scandalous during
the insignificant Istrian war (in 576). On occasion of a trifling
skirmish magnified by rumour to gigantic dimensions, the land army
and the naval force of the Romans, and even the Italians, ran off
homeward, and Cato found it necessary to address a special reproof to
his countrymen for their cowardice. In this too the youth of quality
took precedence. Already during the Hannibalic war (545) the censors
found occasion to visit with severe penalties the remissness of those
who were liable to military service under the equestrian census.
Towards the close of this period (574?) a decree of the people
prescribed evidence of ten years' service as a qualification for
holding any public magistracy, with a view to compel the sons of
the nobility to enter the army.


But perhaps nothing so clearly evinces the decay of genuine pride and
genuine honour in high and low alike as the hunting after insignia and
titles, which appeared under different forms of expression, but with
substantial identity of character, among all ranks and classes. So
urgent was the demand for the honour of a triumph that there was
difficulty in upholding the old rule, which accorded a triumph only
to the ordinary supreme magistrate who augmented the power of the
commonwealth in open battle, and thereby, it is true, not unfrequently
excluded from that honour the very authors of the most important
successes. There was a necessity for acquiescence, while those
generals, who had in vain solicited, or had no prospect of attaining,
a triumph from the senate or the burgesses, marched in triumph on
their own account at least to the Alban Mount (first in 523). No
combat with a Ligurian or Corsican horde was too insignificant to be
made a pretext for demanding a triumph. In order to put an end to the
trade of peaceful triumphators, such as were the consuls of 574, the
granting of a triumph was made to depend on the producing proof of a
pitched battle which had cost the lives of at least 5000 of the enemy;
but this proof was frequently evaded by false bulletins - already in
houses of quality many an enemy's armour might be seen to glitter,
which had by no means come thither from the field of battle. While
formerly the commander-in-chief of the one year had reckoned it an
honour to serve next year on the staff of his successor, the fact that
the consular Cato took service as a military tribune under Tiberius
Sempronius Longus (560) and Manius Glabrio (563;(47)), was now
regarded as a demonstration against the new-fashioned arrogance.
Formerly the thanks of the community once for all had sufficed for
service rendered to the state: now every meritorious act seemed to
demand a permanent distinction. Already Gaius Duilius, the victor of
Mylae (494), had gained an exceptional permission that, when he walked
in the evening through the streets of the capital, he should be
preceded by a torch-bearer and a piper. Statues and monuments, very
often erected at the expense of the person whom they purported to
honour, became so common, that it was ironically pronounced a
distinction to have none. But such merely personal honours did not
long suffice. A custom came into vogue, by which the victor and his
descendants derived a permanent surname from the victories they had
won - a custom mainly established by the victor of Zama who got himself
designated as the hero of Africa, his brother as the hero of Asia, and
his cousin as the hero of Spain.(48) The example set by the higher
was followed by the humbler classes. When the ruling order did not
disdain to settle the funeral arrangements for different ranks and to
decree to the man who had been censor a purple winding-sheet, it could
not complain of the freedmen for desiring that their sons at any rate
might be decorated with the much-envied purple border. The robe, the
ring, and the amulet-case distinguished not only the burgess and the
burgess's wife from the foreigner and the slave, but also the person
who was free-born from one who had been a slave, the son of free-born,
from the son of manumitted, parents, the son of the knight and the
senator from the common burgess, the descendant of a curule house from
the common senator(49) - and this in a community where all that was
good and great was the work of civil equality!

The dissension in the community was reflected in the ranks of the
opposition. Resting on the support of the farmers, the patriots
raised a loud cry for reform; resting on the support of the mob in
the capital, demagogism began its work. Although the two tendencies
do not admit of being wholly separated but in various respects go hand
in hand, it will be necessary to consider them apart.

The Party of Reform

The party of reform emerges, as it were, personified in Marcus Porcius
Cato (520-605). Cato, the last statesman of note belonging to that
earlier system which restricted its ideas to Italy and was averse to
universal empire, was for that reason accounted in after times the
model of a genuine Roman of the antique stamp; he may with greater
justice be regarded as the representative of the opposition of the
Roman middle class to the new Hellenico-cosmopolite nobility. Brought
up at the plough, he was induced to enter on a political career by the
owner of a neighbouring estate, one of the few nobles who kept aloof
from the tendencies of the age, Lucius Valerius Flaccus. That upright
patrician deemed the rough Sabine farmer the proper man to stem the
current of the times; and he was not deceived in his estimate.
Beneath the aegis of Flaccus, and after the good old fashion serving
his fellow-citizens and the commonwealth in counsel and action, Cato
fought his way up to the consulate and a triumph, and even to the
censorship. Having in his seventeenth year entered the burgess-army,
he had passed through the whole Hannibalic war from the battle on the
Trasimene lake to that of Zama; had served under Marcellus and Fabius,
under Nero and Scipio; and at Tarentum and Sena, in Africa, Sardinia,
Spain, and Macedonia, had shown himself capable as a soldier, a staff-
officer, and a general. He was the same in the Forum, as in the
battle-field. His prompt and fearless utterance, his rough but
pungent rustic wit, his knowledge of Roman law and Roman affairs, his
incredible activity and his iron frame, first brought him into notice
in the neighbouring towns; and, when at length he made his appearance
on the greater arena of the Forum and the senate-house in the capital,
constituted him the most influential advocate and political orator of
his time. He took up the key-note first struck by Manius Curius, his
ideal among Roman statesmen;(50) throughout his long life he made it
his task honestly, to the best of his judgment, to assail on all hands
the prevailing declension; and even in his eighty-fifth year he
battled in the Forum with the new spirit of the times. He was
anything but comely - he had green eyes, his enemies alleged, and red
hair - and he was not a great man, still less a far-seeing statesman.
Thoroughly narrow in his political and moral views, and having the
ideal of the good old times always before his eyes and on his lips, he
cherished an obstinate contempt for everything new. Deeming himself
by virtue of his own austere life entitled to manifest an unrelenting
severity and harshness towards everything and everybody; upright and
honourable, but without a glimpse of any duty lying beyond the sphere
of police order and of mercantile integrity; an enemy to all villany
and vulgarity as well as to all refinement and geniality, and above
all things the foe of his foes; he never made an attempt to stop evils
at their source, but waged war throughout life against symptoms, and
especially against persons. The ruling lords, no doubt, looked down
with a lofty disdain on the ignoble growler, and believed, not without
reason, that they were far superior; but fashionable corruption in and
out of the senate secretly trembled in the presence of the old censor
of morals with his proud republican bearing, of the scar-covered
veteran from the Hannibalic war, and of the highly influential senator
and the idol of the Roman farmers. He publicly laid before his noble
colleagues, one after another, his list of their sins; certainly
without being remarkably particular as to the proofs, and certainly
also with a peculiar relish in the case of those who had personally
crossed or provoked him. With equal fearlessness he reproved and
publicly scolded the burgesses for every new injustice and every fresh
disorder. His vehement attacks provoked numerous enemies, and he
lived in declared and irreconcilable hostility with the most powerful
aristocratic coteries of the time, particularly the Scipios and
Flaminini; he was publicly accused forty-four times. But the farmers
- and it is a significant indication how powerful still in the Roman
middle class was the spirit which had enabled them to survive the day
of Cannae - never allowed the unsparing champion of reform to lack the
support of their votes. Indeed when in 570 Cato and his like-minded
patrician colleague, Lucius Flaccus, solicited the censorship, and
announced beforehand that it was their intention when in that office
to undertake a vigorous purification of the burgess-body through all
its ranks, the two men so greatly dreaded were elected by the
burgesses notwithstanding all the exertions of the nobility; and the
latter were obliged to submit, while the great purgation actually took
place and erased among others the brother of Africanus from the roll
of the equites, and the brother of the deliverer of the Greeks from
the roll of the senate.

Police Reform

This warfare directed against individuals, and the various attempts to
repress the spirit of the age by means of justice and of police,
however deserving of respect might be the sentiments in which they
originated, could only at most stem the current of corruption for a
short time; and, while it is remarkable that Cato was enabled in spite
of that current, or rather by means of it, to play his political part,
it is equally significant that he was as little successful in getting
rid of the leaders of the opposite party as they were in getting rid
of him. The processes of count and reckoning instituted by him and by
those who shared his views before the burgesses uniformly remained,
at least in the cases that were of political importance, quite as
ineffectual as the counter-accusations directed against him. Nor was
much more effect produced by the police-laws, which were issued at
this period in unusual numbers, especially for the restriction of
luxury and for the introduction of a frugal and orderly housekeeping,
and some of which have still to be touched on in our view of the
national economics.

Assignations of Land

Far more practical and more useful were the attempts made to
counteract the spread of decay by indirect means; among which, beyond
doubt, the assignations of new farms out of the domain land occupy the
first place. These assignations were made in great numbers and of
considerable extent in the period between the first and second war
with Carthage, and again from the close of the latter till towards the
end of this epoch. The most important of them were the distribution
of the Picenian possessions by Gaius Flaminius in 522;(51) the
foundation of eight new maritime colonies in 560;(52) and above all
the comprehensive colonization of the district between the Apennines
and the Po by the establishment of the Latin colonies of Placentia,
Cremona,(53) Bononia,(54) and Aquileia,(55) and of the burgess-
colonies, Potentia, Pisaurum, Mutina, Parma, and Luna(56) in the years
536 and 565-577. By far the greater part of these highly beneficial
foundations may be ascribed to the reforming party. Cato and those
who shared his opinions demanded such measures, pointing, on the
one hand, to the devastation of Italy by the Hannibalic war and the
alarming diminution of the farms and of the free Italian population
generally, and, on the other, to the widely extended possessions of
the nobles - occupied along with, and similarly to, property of their
own - in Cisalpine Gaul, in Samnium, and in the Apulian and Bruttian
districts; and although the rulers of Rome did not probably comply
with these demands to the extent to which they might and should have
complied with them, yet they did not remain deaf to the warning voice
of so judicious a man.

Reforms in the Military Service

Of a kindred character was the proposal, which Cato made in the
senate, to remedy the decline of the burgess-cavalry by the
institution of four hundred new equestrian stalls.(57) The exchequer
cannot have wanted means for the purpose; but the proposal appears to
have been thwarted by the exclusive spirit of the nobility and their
endeavour to remove from the burgess-cavalry those who were troopers
merely and not knights. On the other hand, the serious emergencies of
the war, which even induced the Roman government to make an attempt
- fortunately unsuccessful - to recruit their armies after the Oriental
fashion from the slave-market,(58) compelled them to modify the
qualifications hitherto required for service in the burgess-army, viz.
a minimum census of 11,000 -asses- (43 pounds), and free birth. Apart
from the fact that they took up for service in the fleet the persons
of free birth rated between 4000 -asses- (17 pounds) and 1500 -asses-
(6 pounds) and all the freedmen, the minimum census for the legionary
was reduced to 4000 -asses- (17 pounds); and, in case of need, both
those who were bound to serve in the fleet and the free-born rated
between 1500 -asses- (6 pounds) and 375 -asses- (1 pound 10 shillings)
were enrolled in the burgess-infantry. These innovations, which
belong presumably to the end of the preceding or beginning of the
present epoch, doubtless did not originate in party efforts any more
than did the Servian military reform; but they gave a material impulse
to the democratic party, in so far as those who bore civic burdens
necessarily claimed and eventually obtained equalization of civic

Online LibraryTheodor MommsenThe History of Rome (Volumes 1-5) → online text (page 88 of 216)