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Italy and the Italian islands, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) online

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The Greek Colonies. — The Greek cities in Italy and
Sicily, like the mother-country, point to this period as
the zenith of their glory and the commencement of their
decay. In Greece this era embraces the most splendid
portion of the republican historj^ extending from the Per-
sian war to Philip of Macedon ; and it closes with the for-
mation and partition (a. u. 430) of Alexander's empire.
To this age belong, in art, Phidias and his successors, and
in philosophy, literature, and oratory, that illustrious
an-ay of names which begins with Herodotus and ends
vi-ith Aristotle. The progi'ess of the Greco-Italians
kept pace with that of then- parent-land, with which
they were in constant communication. About the time
of the Roman revolution Sybaris was destroyed, and, a
few years after the death of Virginia, Thiu'ii was found-
ed on its mins. Tarentum, the most flourishing city
of Magna Graecia, was at the summit of its prosperity
from the expulsion of Tarquin till the sack of Rome by
the Gauls, and Arch}'tas was latterly the president of
its republic. Cumse was subdued by the native Campa-
nians, and remained under their dominion; and the


Syracusans, repeatedly attacking Magna Graecia, took
Croton more than once, and destroyed Rhegium, which,
however, was rebnilt.

Sicily underwent various vicissitudes. The Cartha-
ginians were actively striving to convert their few colo-
nies on the western coast into a sovereignty over the whole
island ; and they came into direct communication with
Rome by commercial treaties, the first of which, if
genuine, is dated a.u. 246. The history of the smaller
Greek to%^Tis in that island is dependent on the annals of
Agrigentum and Sp'acuse.* The first of these was for
some time subject to princes, among whom was Theron, at
whose court Pindar appeared, and it then obtained a
democratical constitution, which subsisted little more
than half a centuiy. During this short period the splen-
dour of the city, and its trade with Africa and Gaul,
were at their height. It was subdued by Syracuse, and
being afterwards (a. u. 840) destroyed by the Carthagi-
nians, never recovered its former greatness. Syracuse,
in like manner, presents in this age its liighest glory
and its decline. Its history contains fii*st, from a. u. 270
to 287, the reigns of the good Gelo, of Hiero, Pindar's
patron, and of Tlirasybulus. The expulsion of the last
of these rulers was followed by a democracy of sixty-one
years, raising the state to the greatest power it ever at-
tained. During this free period it subdued Agrigentum,
and repulsed the famous Athenian invasion under jN'icias
and Alcibiades. The -wars witli Carthage followed, and,
aided by the dangerous increase of the popular ascend-
ency, enabled the elder Dionysius to possess himself first
of the army and then of the throne, which he held thirty-
eight years, when liis life was brought to a close by poison.
In his constant wars against the Carthaginians his success
varied, but, at the time of his death, that people possessed
by treaty the whole Avestern half of the island from the
river Halycus. This struggle prevented him from fully

* For the political institutions of these two cities, see Miiller's
Dorians, book iii. chap. 9 (English Translation, 2 vols, 1830).


executing his favourite project, — the conquest of Southern
Italy. His weak son, the younger Dionysius, was first
dispossessed by the noble Dion, Plato's friend, and, after
the murder of that patriot, was ejected a second time
by the Corinthians under the stern Timoleon. A short
period of republicanism ensued all over Sicily, ending
when the sovereignty of Syracuse was usurped by Aga-
thocles, who, for twenty-eight years, prosecuted unsuc-
cessfully the old designs of expelling the African invaders
and reducing Magna Graecia.

The Constitutional History of Rome. — This age is the
most important of any in the history of the political con-
stitution of the Roman commonwealth. Its commence-
ment exliibits an hereditary nobility, possessing the
executive powers of the government to the entire exclu-
sion of the commons, and practically exercising an undue
influence over the legislature, the functions of which
were by the theory of the constitution vested in the
nation at large. At the end of this period the distinc-
tions between the two orders are completely destroyed,
the legislative power of the people is quite uncontrolled,
and their influence on the executive begins to be excessive
and consequently dangerous.

The framework of the Roman constitution was con-
structed before the establishment of the republic. It
recognised two classes of citizens, — the Plebeians or com-
monalty, and tlie Patricians, an hereditary nobility, whose
privileges belonged to none but persons of pure patri-
cian blood. j\Iany of the first class, however, formed in
truth a third order, that of the Clients, or hereditaiy
vassals of the patricians ; a body of men who, while their
political rights were not aff'ected by their vassalship, were
individually protected by their respective patrons even
against the laws of the state, while, in return, they were
legally and hereditarily bound to yield service to their pro-
tectors. The notion that every plebeian was indi\4dually
attached as a client to some patrician is quite en-oneous,
and originates in a misapprehension of the historian Dio-
nysius, caused by the altered position of tilings in the last


days of the republic, when a voluntary and personal
clientship, quite different from the hereditary relation of
the older vassals, had become very general. In the early
ages of the commonwealth, a large proportion of the ple-
beians were not clients ; and it is this free body of
commoners that we find asserting the claims of their
order against the nobility, while the clients invariably
supported the prerogatives of their lords.

Under the kings the Senate was formed, and consisted
of three hundred patricians, vacancies in the number
being filled up by the prince. The IS'ational Assemblies
of the people, embracing eveiy individual possessing the
political franchise, whether patrician, free plebeian, or
client, w^ere of two kinds. The older foim, the intro-
duction of which is ascribed to Romulus, was the con-
vention called the Comitia Curiata. The whole body of
the citizens was divided into thirty curia; every citizen
possessed one vote in his o^^^l curia, and eveiy curia pos-
sessed one vote in the convention. The second form was
that said to have been established by King Servius
Tullius, called the Comitia Centuriata, which, even
before the origin of the republic, had nearly superseded
the other. For the purposes of this new assembly the
citizens were divided into centuries or hundreds, in which
each person possessed one vote, while each century had a
vote in the general meeting. But the centuries were so
arranged as to throw the power of the assembly altogether
into the hands of the richer men. The w^hole body of the
citizens was arranged in six Classes. The first of these
was composed of such persons as possessed the largest
amount of taxable property ; the qualification dimin-
ished in each succeeding class ; and the sixth, which,
perhaps, was not strictly tei-med a class, consisted of
those who were not rated in the rolls as possessing any
taxable property at all, and neither paid taxes on that
ground nor rendered military service in the legions. The
whole number of centuries may be stated at about 193.
The sixth class, probably a very- numerous one, contained
only one century, and consequently had only one vote ;


while the first class, which cannot originally have con-
tained many individuals, was divided into at least ninety-
eight centuries, — eighty being rated for military service
in the infantry, and eighteen, composing the equestrian
order or knights (among whom the patricians were pro-
bably included), for service in the cavalry. Besides
this, the votes of the first class were always taken first.
If its centuries were unanimous, the question before the
convention was of course already decided : if their votes
did not form a majority, the second class was applied to,
and the voting scarcely ever went much lower. The
amount of taxation and of military service levied on
each of the first five classes was proportional to its valua-
tion in the roll, with this exception, that military servic?
was not exacted from the clients.*

* The account here given is substantially that which is com-
monly received. But an entirely new theory of the original consti-
tution of Rome has been propounded by a great historian of the
present age. Every student of ancient history is Niebuhr's debtor,
and is bound thankfully and admiringly to acknowledge the
obligation, however difficult it may be to acquiesce in his leading

Niebuhr's interesting theory is briefly the following : — The ori-
ginal population of Rome consisted exclusively of patricians and
their clients ; but the populus, or body of citizens possessing the
political franchise, comprehended only the patricians. The patri-
cians exercised the franchise in the convention of the curice.
Gradually, however, there arose a third class,— the plebeians, —
who, though not clients, did not possess the political franchise.
This new body may have been composed of various sorts of men ;
— of clients emancipated by the extinction of the families of their
patrons ; of the children of marriages between patricians and non-
patricians ; of the inhabitants of conquered towns ; and of indivi-
duals immigrating. The constitution of Servius Tulllus communi-
cated the franchise to the plebeians and the clients, allowing them,
along wath the patricians, to exercise it in the convention of the
centuries — The chief points in which this theory touches the
constitutional vicissitudes of the repiiblic will be noticed as they
occur. For a minute exposition of Niebuhr's system see his His-
tory of Rome, vol. i. pp. 301-331, 398-424 (Hare and Thirlwall's
Translation, edition 1831), vol. ii. p. 129-164 (Translation, edit.
1832), and both volumes passim. Part of it is illustrated ably in
Maldon's uncompleted History of Rome in the Library of Useful
Knowledge. Arnold's learned History of Rome (vol. i. To the
taking of Rome by the Gauls, 1838), adopts the outline of the theory.
In the following sketch much use has also been made of the


In passing to the political changes of the republic, cer-
tain particulars may be noted, in which the Roman con-
stitution was opposed to modern opinions, and which are
therefore liable to be misunderstood.

1. Their system of government, like every other in
the ancient world, wanted altogether the modem prin-
ciple of a representation of the people. Every individual
possessing the civic franchise, was held entitled to exer-
cise it personally by his vote in all proceedings of the
national conventions. 2. The legislative, executive, and
judicial functions, were not separated with sufficient
nicety, and this defect produced much of the internal
discord tliat prevailed. The legislative power, theoreti-
cally vested in the people, the sovereign of the common-
wealth, was long practically intruded on by the senate ;
the executive was loosely shared between the latter body
and the officers of state ; and the judicial power was long
in still greater confusion, at least in criminal matters.
The military character of the republic produced a similar
anomaly in the union of civil and military authority in
the person of the consul, and afterwards of some of the
lower political functionaries. S. The initiative or right
of proposing measures was jealously confined. There were
frequtnt contests between the senate and the national as-
semblies on this head ; but it was an admitted i-ule tliat, in
all legislative meetings of the conventions, the initiative

" Early Roman History" of Waclismuth, an opponent of Niebuhr
(Aeltere Geschichte des Romischen Staates, Halle, 1819), and
of the excellent treatise " On the Roman National Assemblies"
by Schulze, a convert to Niebuhr's doctrine (Von den Volksver-

Online LibraryWilliam SpaldingItaly and the Italian islands, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) → online text (page 5 of 35)