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An attempt of a tribune in the same year was soon
after (though the precise date is unknown) confirmed by
the law of Miienius, which extended to Elections in the
Centuries the provision of the second Publilian law as to
the legislative functions of that body.]] Over it the senate
had now no control.

The Publilian and Msenian laws furnished the tribunes
with a hint which was speedily taken ; and indeed, for

* Liv, lib. viii. cap. 12. Compare Niebuhr on the Publilian
Laws (vol. iii. p. 167-173), and Schulze, p. 95, with Wachs-
muth, p. 441.

t Eo anno plebi Romana; velut aliud initium libertatis factum
est, quod necti desierunt. Livii Histor. lib. viii. cap. 28.

Ij: Dionys. Halic. lib. ii. cap. 73. Cicero Ad Familiares, lib. iii.
ep. 10. The Pontifex Maximus, however, was always nominated
by the people. By the Domitian Law of 650, the people received,
but were not able permanently to retain, the right of nominating
to all the priestly offices. Cic. De Lege Agraria, orat. ii. cap. 7.
Velleius Paterculus, lib. ii. cap. 12. Suetonius in Nerone, cap. 2.

5 Niebuhr, vol. iii. p. 409-413 : On the Ogulnian Law.

', Ciceronis Brutus, cap. 14.


the preservation of consistency and order, it was abso-
lutely necessary that, if these laws were to subsist, their
principle should be extended to the Convention of the
Tribes. Accordingly, in 468, the Hortensian Law com-
pleted irretrievably the defeat of the patricians. The
senate had never possessed the initiative in the proceed-
ings of the Conventions of the Tribes ; but it exercised
the veto. The Hortensian law abolished this negative,
not, perhaps, on all resolutions of the tribes, but certainly
on all questions except those of administration.*

From this point of the history, the Convention of the
Tribes must be considered as in every view a national coun-
cil, embracing all orders of the state. It continues to be
styled an assembly of the plebeians, and its resolutions acts
of that body (plebiscita) ; but the plebs, or commonalty,
which in the subsequent times of the republic the tribes
represented, was not the old plebs : it was, in fact, com-
posed simply of the poorer classes, many of whom might
be, — and some, as we know, were, — men of pure patrician
extraction ; and the new aristocracy, who kept at a distance
from their meetings, and affected to despise them, Avere
themselves, with very few exceptions, genuine plebeians.

* Plinii Histor. Natur. lib. xvi. cap. 10. Auli GelliiNoct. Attic.
lib. sv. cap. 27. Livii, epit. lib. xi. Valer. Maxim, lib. vi. cap. i.
sect. 9. The terms of the three successive laws as to the Conven-
tion of the Tribes (the Valerian, Publilian, and Hortensian), have
reached us imperfectly : and we are left to interpret their real mean-
ing and extent by the practice which followed. Niebuhr's theory
of them, which depends on his great hypothesis, is the following : —
The Valerian law enacted, that resolutions of the tribes should be
law, on receiving the approval of the curicB. The Publilian law set
aside the approval of the curiae, and substituted that of the senate,
to be given either beforehand by their sending down a resolution,
or after a vote of the tribes, by their adoption of it. The Horten-
sian law declared the resolutions of the tribes to be eflFectual,
without their either originating in the senate, or being subsequently
approved by it : — '* A dangerous absoluteness, against which good
sense struggled very long :" Niebuhr, vol. ii. p. 365 — " In the
latter centuries of the republic, enactments touching the constitu-
tion were entirely independent of the senate : on the other hand,
no decree of the plebeians affecting the administration could be
promulgated without a previous ordinance of the senate." Niebuhr,
vol. ii. p. 221.




A. u. 468—722, OR b. c. 286—32.

The Character of the Times. — Although this is not the
place which has been allotted for our systematic inquiry
into the state of society and manners in Ancient Italy,
the most prominent moral and statistical features of the
period now to be considered must not, even at this stage,
be passed over in silence.

The military success of Rome, in which it is so diffi-
cult not to rejoice, was based partly on her political in-
stitutions, partly on the personal character and rural
education of her burgher-soldiery. Trade was as yet con-
fined to the vassals and to strangers ; literary cultivation
belonged only to a few, and to these in no high degree ;
and till the conquest of Southern Italy was accomplished,
simplicity, or rather rudeness, marked the life and man-
ners of the whole community. Greece and her colonies
communicated to the higher classes of the Romans their
literature, their philosophical scepticism, their love of the
arts, and their luxury. Riches flowed in toiTents into
the pubUc treasury. Individuals, too, became wealthy,
some indeed enormously so, by commerce and money-
lending, by easy grants of the national lands, b}^ pro-
fitable leases of the revenues, and by monopolizing and
abusing those numerous and lucrative offices required
both at home and abroad, for the administration of a
powerful republic. These private treasures lay in the
liands of comparatively few, but patricians and ple-
beians soon shared in them alike ; and in no long time,
as the old patrician families died out, the wealth and
power of the republic belonged almost exclusively to the
plebeians, and chiefly to the equestrian order or knights ;
a subdivision of that class whose status in the latter
times of the commonwealth, though perhaps not entirely
in the earlier, depended on a property qualification,


and who now contrived to engross trade and the farming
of the revenue. The aristocracy of hirth speedily became
insigniiicant : a new plebeian aristocracy arose, founding
its nobility on the possession of public offices and seats in
the senate, either by the individual or by his ancestors.
These new senatorial, consular, and equestrian families,
soon taught the poorer classes, that lands, money, and of-
fice, can make men quite as tyrannical as old pedigrees can.
At the fall of liberty, there existed only fifty houses
of patrician blood, and not only do these furnish few
of the characters who were great in the later history of
the republic, but the few illustrious names of that order
belong almost exclusively to families which had been
obscure in the earlier times. We lose sight of the patrician
families of the Manlii,the Claudii,the Fabii,and the Furii.
The patrician race of the ^milii, long unkno\^^l to fame,
gives us at length Paulus jEmilius, the conqueror of
Macedon, and his son the younger Scipio ; and the Cor-
nelian house, the most distinguished of the newer patri-
cian families, gave birth in succession to the elder Scipio
and to the dictator Sylla. But in the century imme-
diately preceding the emph-e, the great men who could
boast of old nobility became fewer and fcAver. The Julian
house itself, the patrician nursery of the Csesars, was
propped by the plebeian Aurelii, to whom belonged the
mother of Julius Caesar, and by the plebeian Octavii,
one of whom was the father of Augustus, the first emperor.
Pompey also belonged to a plebeian race, no member of
which was consul till 612 ; the Pisos were descended
from the Calpurnii, the Metelli from the Csecilii, Brutus
and Cassius from the Junii and Cassii ; all of these being
plebeian families.* Some of the greatest Roman states-
men, and almost all the eminent men of letters, were not
only of the same order, but foreigners, being natives of
the other Italian districts. Among the foreign states-
men, it is enough to name Cato, Marius, and Cicero.

* Augustinus de Familiis RomaBorum, and Fulvius Ursinus de
Familiis Romanis Nobilioribus : (both treatises in Graevii Thesaur.
Antiquitat. Roman, torn, vii.)


The moral chtaracter of the lower classes degenerated
as mpidly as that of the upper ranks, while their penury
and indolence exposed them to temptations not felt hy
the richer citizens. Early in the seventh century of
Rome, the mass of the commonalty in the city were
sunk into extreme poverty and vice ; evils which spread
during the next hundred years like a pestilence. The
whole agricultural population of Italy suffered very
severely ; and the starvmg labourers, flocking to the
capital, coalesced with its degraded populace. For half
a century before the fall of the republic, an immense
proportion of the people consisted of paupers, receiving
the bounty of the state, and of hirelings who subsisted
by selling their votes and their blood to the highest

The E.iternal History of Rome. — The history of the
Italiot and Sicilian Greeks now merges in that of Rome.
Magna Graecia was harassed by the Syracusans, and by
the native tribes, who, first led against it by the elder
Dionysius, did not forget the lesson. These barbarians
reduced several districts of the coast, destroying Psestum,
Thurii, IMetapontum, and other towns. Some of the
Greeks mcautiously entreated the aid of the Romans ;
and tills caused the war with Pyrrhus the Epirote, who
had in like mamier been invited by the Sicilians. In
A. u. 481 the Romans took Tarentum, and made Magna
Graecia one of their provinces.

The neighbourhood of the Carthaginians in Sicily
produced, in the year 490, the First Punic War, which
lasted twenty-three years ; and its scene was chiefly in
that island, on the coasts of which the Romans trained
their new navy. By the final treaty the Africans
evacuated all their Sicilian possessions, and paid the costs
of the war. The second Hiero had by this time become
sovereign of Syracuse, and his submission to Rome
secured for his country, during his life, a peace wliich
was truly little different from bondage.

The contest with Carthage was followed by a compara-
tively pacific interval of nearly twenty-four years, during


which the Romans forcibly seized Corsica and Sardinia,
entered into friendly communication with Greece on
subduing the Illyrian pirates, and extended their Italian
garrisons to the north of the Po.

In 536, Hannibal's celebrated passage over the Alps
transferred to the very heart of his enemy's territories
the seat of the Second Punic War, which raged for seven-
teen years, in Italy, in Spain, in Africa, and in Sicily.
This war was a game in which the world was the stake ;
and nobly did the gamesters play it. There cannot be a
more glorious proof of the political and moral strength of
Rome during this period, than the unconquerable courage
with which her citizens bore up against the most fear-
ful calamities. Their defeats on the Ticinus and Trebia,
were followed by that of the Thrasymene Lake and the
fatal field of Cannte. Nearly all Italy revolted ; and the
Romans stood enclosed like hunted beasts of prey. But
the bark of their destiny was steered by two strong spirits,
the angel of freedom and the demon of ambition ; and
it rode proudly through the stomi. The instrument of
their deliverance was Scipio Africanus the elder ; and
Rome and Scipio found in Hannibal a worthy foe. By
the defeat near Zama in Africa Carthage was ruined.
She surrendered her fleet, that is, her commerce and her
warlike strength. Italy, from Rhegium to the Alps,
trembled and submitted ; and Sicily, already conquered
by Marcellus, who took Syracuse in 541, was made
formally a Roman province.

Rome, without a year's delay, commenced that system
of interposition in foreign affairs, that mock protection
of liberty against tyranny, and of small states against
great ones, which gave her a pretence for invasions, and
enabled her, before the loss of her o\vn freedom, to form
her mighty empire, embracing the fairest portion of
Europe, some parts of Asia, and the neai'est coast of Africa.
Greece was first attacked, and, by a humiliating dissimu-
lation of its conquerors, was proclaimed a free state. Syria
was next subdued, Macedonia reduced, and declared a re-
public, and Carthage destroyed (a. u. 608), after that


desperate struggle of three years, which was called the
Third Punic War, and which gave the surname of Africa-
nus to Cicero's favourite hero, the younger Scipio. In
the same year Corinth was taken, and both Greece and
Macedonia were declared provinces of Rome. A large part
of Spain was reduced ; conquests in Asia Minor were
begun about the same time ; and, after the Social War
(ending a. u. 665), successfully prosecuted by the Italians
in order to extort the franchise, the Roman dominions
abroad were extended by Marius, Sylla, and the soldiers
of the last days of liberty.

The Constitutional History of Rome. — The people were
now, in fact, as in theor}^, the sovereigns of the state ; and
in their conventions, the meanest citizen acted, and felt
that he acted, as a legislator, a judge, and a prince. This
erroneous notion as to the nature of the political franchise,
while it was the root from which grew up the haughty
patriotism of Rome, was also the cause of its speedy de-
cline. The personal exercise of the legislative power
became more dangerous with every accession to the num-
ber of citizens, and with every step which individuals made
towards the acquisition of extraordinary wealth. Be-
tween the years 594 and 639, we have eight statements of
the number of citizens entered on the censor's roUs. The
smallest return is 313,823, and the largest 894,336.
In A. u. 725, Augustus took a census, and the three au-
thorities which give us the returns (Eusebius, Suidas,
and the iMonumentum Ancyranum), concur, with minor
differences, in stating the numbers at more than four
milhons.*-" The political rights vested by law in this
immense multitude were in practice exercised for the
whole mass, by the few thousands that tumultuously filled
the place of meeting in the city.

The unavoidable ruin of the republic was precipitated
by keeping up the Tribunitial College, which the reforms
in the constitution had rendered worse than useless ;
a board possessing, in the veto of its members, a power

* Beaufort ; Republique Romaine, livre iv. chap. 4.


which ought to be lodged in the higher, not the lower,
orders of the state, and which, fortified by the in-
violability of the tribunes, was greatly extended by
then- additional prerogative of presidency in the convo-
cation of the tribes. The people, no doubt, required
authorized protectors ; but the form of the protection
which the tribunate afforded them was altogether defec-
tive : it was too weak in good and too strong in evil ;
and it tended not immaterially to generate that ruinous
spirit of antipathy which soon prevailed between the
upper ranks and the great mass of the population.

During the two hundred and fifty years which pre-
ceded the fall of the republic, we may mark distinctly
three Constitutional Stages. The first, occupying a
century and a half, was, upon the whole, one of order.
The second, of fifty-one years, commencing with the
Gracchi, and closing with the usurpation of Sylla, was a
time of internal struggles, and ended in the temporary
destruction of liberty. In the third era, which also lasted
fifty-one years, the constitution was dormant or extinct,
and oligarchical rule alternated with civil war.

1 . In the first of these periods two important changes
took place.

The earlier of the two completely destroyed the here-
ditary constitution of the senate. The officers of state
were originally entitled to a place in that body during their
period of office ; and they soon acquired a right, after
the expiration of their functions, to claim from the
censors enrolment as senators for life. At length, but
probably not till after the time of the Gracchi, those
officers, whose numbers were now larger, retained their
seats without any formal enrolment. Military service in
situations of responsibility also gave a claim to admis-
sion on the roll ; and the censors filled up the remain-
ing vacancies nearly at discretion, giving effect, however,
to a property qualification.

A few regulations of this celebrated council may be
specified before we trace it to its fall. The senate could
be summoned only by the highest magistrate in town,


or by the tribunes. Its regular meetings took place
three times a-month ; but it could convene daily, and
always sat within consecrated walls. The functionary
who had called the meeting (excepting perhaps the tri-
bunes), presided in it, called up the speakers, and collected
the votes in a fixed order. A certain part of the senators,
those probably, in later times, who had not borne office,
possessed votes without the right of addressing the assem-
bly. The vote was taken by dividing the house. There
was a fixed quorum, perhaps 100 members ; and if the
number w^as not present, any member could have the
house counted out.*

The second alteration was one which has been gene-
rally overlooked, but which clearly took place, and goes
far to account for the fact that we read of no collisions
between the convention of the centuries and that of the
tribes, though in the age of the republic now under
review the two were really quite co-ordinate. The
former retained only some exclusive privileges, the chief
of which was the right of electing all officers of state,
except the tribunes and other plebeian functionaries.
The important change now to be described annihilated
or materially impaired the monopoly of influence wliich
the richer citizens had possessed in that convention.

The division into Classes was retained, but the number
of Centuries, assigned by Servius to each Class, was
altered. Each of the highest five classes, excepting the
first, now received an equal number of centuries ; pro-
bably seventy, as we learn that the number bore relation
to that of the tribes. This change did not take place till
after the year of the city .512, when the number of the
tribes had been raised to thirty-five, and there is reason to
believe that it was introduced in a. u. 673. The gross
majority of votes seems henceforth to have been possessed
by the first, second, and third classes together ; and as we
do not hear of any rise in the qualification, a large num-

• Beaufort, Republique Romaine, livre ii. chap. 1. Middleton
on the Roman Senate, part ii.



ber of the citizens must, long before the change, have
been admissible into these, through the inilux of wealth
into the state, and the depreciation of the cun-ency.*

2. The first events of the second stage were the com-
motions excited by the noble but incautious Gracchi,
the grandsons of the great Scipio. The growth of the

* The subject is curious, and has received little attention. The
main proof is to be found in Livy, lib. i. cap. 43. — " It is not
surprising," says he, "that the present number of the centuries
does not correspond to that established by Servius ; for, after the
number of the tribes had been made up to thirty-five, the number
of the centuries was so arranged, that for each tribe" (earum
refers to trihus, not to centuriis), "there were now two centuries,
a senior and a junior." The chief difficulty is, the reconciling of
this statement with the known fact that the classes subsisted to
the last. An obscure hint, contained in an old note to the passage
(Drakenborch's Livy, note of Fulvius Ursinus, derived from the
monk Pantagathus, who died in 1494), has been followed out by the
celebrated Savigny, in a paper first published in 1805, in Professor
Hugo's Civil Law Magazine : (Civilistisches Magazin, Berlin,
1812, vol. iii. p. 307). Savigny's theory is the following :— He
supposes that each of the first five classes was divided into 70
centuries, receiving from each of the 35 tribes a senior and
a junior century ; tliat, in addition to the centuries so formed,
the equestrian centuries continued to belong to the first class, and
that their number was raised also, but only to 35, not to 70, because
these centuries, as Savigny holds (founding on a very explicit
passage, Quinti Ciceronis De Petit. Consulat. cap. 8), were
all juniors, composing not the whole equestrian order, but a
body selected from it ; and that the sixth class continued to form
only one century. In this way, the first class would contain 105
centuries, the second, third, fourth, and fifth 70 centuries each,
and the sixth ] ; — making in all 386. (It may perhaps be remarked,
that there is no clear evidence that the number of the eques-
trian centuries was at all increased ; and Professor Hugo observes ;
1st, that probably no citizens of the first class were taken from
any of the four Urban tribes ; and, 2dly, that it cannot be assumed
as certain whether the subdivision into seniors and juniors extended
lower than the first three classes.) The date of this alteration is
fixed with much probability by Professor Schulze (Volksversamm-
lungen, p. 75). In Livy's history (xl. 51 ; a. u. 573) is a difficult
passage, describing an alteration in the mode of voting (sufFragia),
which has been usually applied to the convention of the tribes,
but which Schulze refers to that of the- centuries, on the ground
that we know the former assembly to have never admitted sub-
divisions, while the latter always admitted subdivisions of the very
kinds which Livy here mentions. ( See Cicero De Legibus, lib.
iii. cap. 19.)


people's collective power, and that of their personal
%vretchedness, had of late kept equal pace. The exer-
tions of Tiberius Gracchus, as tribune, were confined to
the remedy of personal misery. His first measure,
which was carried and allowed to fall asleep, was a
new Agrarian Law, reviving that of Licinius, though -wdth
several necessary mitigations : his second was an un-
successful attempt to procure a grant from the treasury,
for enabling the poor to stock the famis which his
other act was to give them.* Tiberius, calumniated
and intrigued against by the body of the patricians, and
weakly aided by his few aristocratic friends, such as
Appius Claudius, Scaevola the lawyer, and the orator
Crassus, was at length (a. u. 620) deserted by the un-
grateful people, and murdered. His younger brother,
Caius, stepped into the breach, fired both by patriotism
and by a burning thirst for revenge ; and he too fell
(a. u. 632), without benefiting the indigent more than
Tiberius had done. He procured, indeed, a renewal of
his brother's agrarian law, and also caiTied through his
other measure ; but both enactments were cunningly
eluded. Another law of Caius, wliich experienced the
same fate, was one for forming permanent magazines of
grain, and delivering their contents to the poor at a price
far below their value ; a proposition forming the first step
towards that legalized pauperism, which, unaccompanied
by political disfranchisement of the paupers, soon became
systematic in Rome. In other changes which he ad-
vocated, he attacked the prerogatives of the senate and
the officers of state ; and, by giving to the equestrian
order the exclusive right of serving as judices or jurymen,
a privilege formerly belonging to the senators, he at-
tempted to unite the fonner into a body having an in-
terest separate from that of the senate.

The last undertaking of Caius which requires notice,

* Appianus De Bellis Civilibus, lib. i. cap. 9. Plutarchus in
Tiberio Graccbo, cap. 8. Heeren, Kleine Schriften, vol. i.
p. 179, et seq. Compare Hooke, book vi. chap. 7.


was likewise intended to strengthen the anti-senatorial
party. He proposed that aU the inhabitants of Middle
and Lower Italy should receive the Roman franchise.
To a few Italian towns and districts citizenship had
been granted, always under restrictions, and in most
cases without votes. The rest, under various titles, as
colonies, prefectures, and the like, were refused all such
rights, and treated like conquered enemies: they paid
heavy taxes, fi'om which all Romans were exempted ;
they had to support expensive establishments of Roman
governors, with their troops ; and, besides the various
humiliations to which they were subjected, many of
them were plundered and oppressed without protection

Online LibraryWilliam SpaldingItaly and the Italian islands, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) → online text (page 7 of 35)