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or redress. All classes suffered alike ; and the noblest
native of a country town, himself viewed as an alien,
might every day see a wealthy Roman manumit hundreds
of slaves, and thus raise them into the rank of citizens.
These causes of discontent, remaining unremoved, pro-
voked, in thirty years after the death of Caius, a general
war against the Romans, in which there fell on both
sides 300,000 men. In the year 666, the dominant na-
tion, at leng-th humbled, passed successive laws, con-
ferring the franchise on the whole Italian population as
far northward as the Amo and the Rubicon ; and Julius
Caesar extended the citizenship to the inhabitants of
Upper Italy.

Before and during the agitation kept up by the
Gracchi, the Ballot* was gradually introduced into every
proceeding of the National Conventions. The ground
assigned for the measure w^as intimidation on the part
of the new aristocracy ; and that body yielded to the
popular demand, considering this grievance more tolerable
than impeachments, or the loss of the public lands. The
ballot was first introduced, in a. u. 614, in the voting at
elections; and in G16 it was extended to the judicial
votes of the people in all criminal causes, except im-

■ Tabellam — vindicem tacitse libertatis. Cicero De Lege Agraria,
orat. ii. cap. 2.


peachments for treason. In 625, during the heat of
the agrarian agitation, it was adopted in their legisla-
tive votes ; and, finally, in 630, it was applied to
trials for treason.* We know that the degradation of
the political assemblies proceeded after this time with
tenfold rapidity ; that intimidation gave place to bribery ;
and that voting became a profitable and easy trade. A
new coinage of words became necessary, to describe the
machmery of corruption. The " Interpretes" were go-
betweens, who closed the bargain with individuals, or
with whole tribes or guilds ; the " Sequestres" were the
holders of the cash, employed with a view to evade the
frequent bribery-laws ; the " Divisores" handed the
money to the party, and bore the same name with the
officials who delivered the ballots before the vote. The
whole class of such agents were termed " Sodales" (good
fellows) ; and they and those they bribed were included
under the name of " Operge Campestres" (political ope-
ratives). For the state offence of which the bribers were
guilty, the laAvyers invented the name of " Decuriatio,"
or "Descriptio Populi."t But other causes of deprava-
tion were also at work : the constituency of that place
and time was the very worst subject on which the experi-
ment could have been tried, even in its application to
bodies simply electoral ; and the extension of the ballot
to legiskitive and judicial votes, — a vice which the Roman
constitution borrowed from the senates and tribunals of
the Greek commonwealths, and transmitted to the Italian
republics of the Middle Ages, — was a violation of prin-
ciple which corrupted the system in every branch.

The political ingredients of the poison which de-
stroyed liberty, were completed by the moral deteriora-
tion of the army. Caius Marius, on whose head rests the
guilt of the civil wars, being made consul in a. u. 647,
received among his troops the lowest class of citizens,

• Schulze, p. 256. Cicero De Legibus, lib. iii. cap. 16.

■f Schulze, p. 162-169 : — Beaufort, Republique Romaine,
livre iii. chap. 6. Cicero, in his Third Book De Legibus, dis-
cusses at great length the principle and operation of the ballot.


who had never yet been allowed (for that was the Roman
word) to serve as soldiers of their country. The precedent
was followed by all the parties who successively possessed
political ascendency ; largesses from the general or from
the treasury, and promised grants of public lands, soon
trained up a mercenary host, no longer the servants
of the state, but the hirelings of their captain. The com-
mander of the army was hencefoi-th the ruler of the
commonwealth ; and if laws continued to be enacted,
touching either the constitution or the administration,
they were enacted for show, and the great men's obedi-
ence to them was purely matter of condescension.

3. This is in brief the character of the last half-cen-
tury of the republic. In reference to the constitutional
history of the commonwealth, this age is almost use-
less ;* but the Campus Martius and the Forum were
never more interesting ; for they were the stage on which
appeared Cato, Cicero, Caesar, and Brutus.

Sylla, playing off the selfish alarms of the rich against
the wanton wretchedness of the poor, became by war
and murder king of Rome for three years, giving to his
military usurpation the old name of the Dictatorship,
though without any ground of analogy, t His finn hand
protected public order and personal freedom, especially
in the harassed provinces ; and he promulgated a code
of constitutional laws, which are remarkable as a bold
medicine applied unsuccessfully in an incurable disease.
He anniliilated the democratic principles of the republic,
and made the senate its sovereigns. He strengthened that
council by enrolling in it 300 of the wealthiest knights ;
he completely restored its judicial functions, and its ini-
tiative and veto in all the proceedings of the conventions ;

* Cicero strikingly characterizes the times in the observation
which he says was addressed to his grandfather by the consul Scau-
rus, just before the rise of Marius. " AVe do not at present ac-
knowledge any laws of the constitution as subsisting : we are either
concocting new laws, or trying to reinstate old ones which we have
lost," — De Legibus, lib. iii. cap. 16.

t Machiavelli, Discorsi sopra la Prima Deca di Livio, lib. i.
cap. 34.


and he enlarged its control over the officers of the execu-
tive. He re-established the Servian constitution of the
centuries, and abolished the assembly of the tribes alto-
gether. He deprived the plebeian tribunes of every pre-
rogative except the veto, which he restricted to certain
cases, probably those of personal aggression ; and he art-
fully made their office contemptible, by declaring the
holders of it to be ever afterwards ineligible to any public
place. He lessened the power and influence of the elec-
tive dignities of state, by increasing the number of the in-
dividuals holding them ; and introduced a rule (which
subsisted in law, if not always in practice, till the end of
the republic), that persons should rise to the consulship
through the inferior offices by a fixed gradation, and
should not be a second time appointed till after an
interval of ten years. The system scarcely survived its
projector, who voluntarily abdicated in a. u. 678. In a
few years the tribunes recovered their wonted influence,
and the national assemblies were placed on their former
footing. The senate, however, struggled to retain their
new privileges, and in most particulars succeeded.

Every one is familiar with the events which followed,
and with the character of the actors. In a. u. G87,
Cneius Pompeius, misnamed the Great, having contrived
to render the populace manageable by the re-institution
of the tribuneship, obtained powers which for a time laid
the state at his feet. Three years afterwards, Cicero,
elected to the consulship by Pompey's interest, crushed
the insurrection of Catiline, with a firmness which his
subsequent political conduct wholly wanted. The reso-
lute and high-piincipled Cato was next, through the same
influence, appointed a tribune of the commons. Julius
Cjesar's rise followed : and his unjustifiable league with
Pompey and Crassus, called the First Triumvirate, no
sooner transpired than the small body of patriots de-
serted the new oligarchy. Cicero and Cato were imme-
diately punished by exile ; and Pompey's attempt to
degrade his rival led to the invasion of Italy by Cfesar
at the head of his devoted troops. The battle of Phar-


salia crushed the party of Pompey ; and Julius, though he
never received the royal title, was truly king of Rome
during the four years which closed with his assassina-
tion by Brutus and the other republican conspirators.
His reign was long enough for the refonn of much that
was amiss ; but his usurpation resembled that of Sylla
in little except the bloodshed which conducted to it, and
the moderation with which the dominion, when once at-
tained, was exercised. Caesar unequivocally aimed at
the establishment of a military monarchy ; and while he
checked the power of the people, and monopolized the
public offices, he purposely degraded the senate, by giving
seats to his o^^^l dependents, and even to foreigners.*

The parties which had been recently formed for main-
taining the cause of constitutional liberty, had strength-
ened themselves by siding with the senatorial aristocracy
against the combined forces of the successive oligarchies
and their tools the populace. The slayers of Caesar,
however, appear to have acted without a fixed plan, and
received no efficient support from either of the two great
factions. In truth their dream of freedom for Rome was
nothing more than a dream. The Romans were fallen ;
and it was better they should for a time serve one master
than three or a hundred. This was exactly the opinion
of the people themselves. The commonalty in the city, by
deserting Brutus and his associates, significantly declared
themselves unworthy to be free. The rest of the Italians
were equally apathetic ; the foreign provincials were posi-
tively hostile to the revolution ; and the tyrannicides
had to levy forced and heavy taxes from the towns within
their reach, in order to pay the hireling soldiers who
composed the army of liberty .+ With the two battles of
Philippi, in which Brutus and Cassius died, the repub-

• The Romans resented the intrusion of the strangers, and ex-
pressed their anger in pasquinades on Caesar's barbarian senate,
several of which have been preserved. One placard in the streets
was in the following terras : — '* If any new senator asks the way to
the senate-house, it is particularly requested that no one will give
him the information." Suetonius in Julio, cap. 80.

t Taciti Annalium, lib. i. cap. 2.


lican party was at an end ; a struggle of eleven years fol-
lowed between Caesar's kinsman, Octavius, and his weaker
rivals for empire, Antony and Lepidus, who had formed
with him the Second Triumvii-ate ; in 722, the battle of
Actium destroyed Antony, the last competitor ; and the
conqueror founded the imperial power in Rome, becom-
ing its first emperor under the title of Augustus.

The System of Administration and Finance. — During
the whole republican period, the interest of Italian his-
tory centres in the capital. But the system pursued by
the Romans both towards their dependent provinces, and
towards the municipalities which, arranged in different
classes, abounded in Italy, as well as abroad, opens a
field of inquiry in which very important results may be
gathered. It is, however, too wide to be fully embraced
in a sketch like the present.

At the end of the republican times, we have to con-
sider the Italian peninsula as reduced, for the purposes of
general government, into one united province, placed im-
mediately under the superintendence of the supreme rulers
of the state. Sicily formed a second province, admini-
stered by a governor of its own, and subdivided into dis-
tricts for judicial and financial purposes : Sardinia and
Corsica together composed a third, having its principal
seat of authority in the former island.*

The municipal system in Italy was still complicated,
since those towns which possessed a civic constitution
continued to be classed as municipia, colonies, or prefec-
tures ; distinctions involving differences of local govern-
ment and right which are not altogether well ascertained.
The municipia, however, the most favoured class, pos-
sessed their own curise or town-councils, their magis-
tracies, and their funds, separated from the general re-
venue of the state, and appropriated exclusively to the
public service of the community. The municipalities
will present themselves more prominently to our notice,
when we glance at the polity of the Lower Empire.

• Sigonius de Antique Jure Provinciarum, lib. i. cap. 3, 4 :
(In Graevii Thesaur. Antiquit. Roman, torn, ii.)


The financial system of the Romans must be examined
rather more closely.*

The national religion was supported by lands and other
funds set apart for the purpose, and exempted from all
public burdens. The heaviest expense of the state arose
from the pay of the army and the necessary charges for its
support ; besides which, there were the allowances to
public functionaries, and the sums required for the
purchase of grain in the frequent seasons of scarcity.

The chief sources from which the public revenues
flowed, were the following : —

There were, in the first place, four principal sorts of
impositions which lay primarily and originally on Italy,
and may be regarded as having been the only burdens
directly affecting those who possessed the full Roman
franchise. 1. From the reign of Servius all the citizens
were long subject to a property-tax (tributum), which,
though not exacted every year, seldom failed to be so.
Its amount was determined by the public exigencies
for the time, and it was assessed in conformity to the
returns made in the census last preceding. On the
conquest of Macedon in a.u. 586, this tax ceased to be
levied ; and although similar impositions were sometimes
laid on in later times, commencing with one exacted by
the second triumvirate in the year 711, we may consider
the old property-tax to have never systematically revived
after its first discontinuance.t 2. In all the seaports

• Consult, for details on this head, Burmannus De Vectigalibus
Populi Romani, 1734; and Hegewisch's excellent Historischer
Versuch iiber die Roinischen Finanzen, 1804. A good deal may
be learned also from Bnllengerus De Tributis ac Vectigalibus
Populi Romani (in Graevii Thesaur. torn. viii. ) ; and from Bosse ;
GrundzUge des Finanzwesens im Rbmischen Staate, 1804. But
the principle of the leading taxes is distinctly unfolded nowhere,
except in an admirable though short paper by Savignyon the Land-
tax and Poll-tax of the imperial times, in the Transactions of the
Royal Academy of Sciences of Berlin for 1822-1823 : (p. 27-71 :
Ueber die Romische Steuerverfassung unter den Kaisern).

■f •• The census ceased at the end of the Macedonian war.
All later accounts of property-taxes relate merely to insulated,
transitory exactions, and to no systematic or permanent regula-
tion." — Savigny, p. 56.


of the Roman dominions, there were collected duties
ad valorem on merchandise imported and exported.
The owners of the goods were obliged to declare their
quantity and value ; undeclared articles were forfeited ;
and the rules as to the officials and other matters were
not unlike modem custom-house regulations.* In the
year of the city 693 these customs were, on the instiga-
tion of Pompey, abolished in the Italian ports, and were
not re-established there during the existence of the
republic. 3. From the year 398, the master of every
manumitted slave paid a tax of 5 per cent, on his value ;
and this imposition seems to have become very produc-
tive. 4. A duty was early imposed on salt, which, ac-
cording to a system adopted by some modern governments,
was next converted into a state-monopoly.

A second class of permanent revenues was derived
from foreign conquests.

For imderstanding the provincial taxation, however,
we must clear the way by putting out of view those
conj&scated lands, usually a third of a conquered province,
which formed the Public Domain. The early abuses of
these territories in Italy have been described, and it has
only to be added, that before the accession of Augustus
the whole was irrecoverably alienated. The foreign de-
mesnes were less glaringly misappropriated ; for, if arable,
they were either sold, remaining subject to a perpetual
ground-rent, or let for a valuable consideration, or assign-
ed for small annual payments, to the soldiers or other
poorer citizens. Pasture-lands, and forests allowing pas-
turage, were retained by the government, who le%'ied
a fixed sum on every head of cattle that grazed on those
tracts. In relation to the domain, in short, the state
was in the position of a landlord or proprietor ; and this
part of its revenue must be carefully distinguished from
that which it derived from the provincial territories as
a sovereign.

We now pass to this second part of the revenue, arising

* Burmann, cap. v. p. 58, et seq.


from lands which continued to belong in property to the
subjects of the state. After all the Italians bad obtained
the rank of Roman citizens, the rule was this, that all
lands in Italy were free from taxation. The property-
tax, into which the value of the soil, of course, entered,
had been long abolished ; and therefore the Italian land-
holder paid no tax on account of his estates, and no
direct tax whatever except that on manumissions. But
the rule farther bore, that all provincial lands should
pay taxes ; and Cicero tells us how these were managed
in his time.* In all the provinces, except Sicily, the
lands were subjected either to a fixed tax in money, or
to variable impositions, which were commonly farmed
out in Rome by the censors. We know from other
sources that these variable imposts, or the chief of them,
consisted in proportions of the annual fruits, usually a
tenth of grain, and a fifth of oil, wine, and garden produce.
Cicero goes on to inform us, that all the estates in Sicily
were in one or another of three positions. 1. The
greater part of them, including indeed all except those
which fall under the second or third heads, paid the same
proportions of fruits (called decumas or tithe), with
which they had been burdened in the time of Hiero,
and the imposition was administered by that prince's
rules. It was farmed out, but in small lots, which were
set up to lease on the ground, and were usually taken
by the tithe-payers themselves, at a very moderate rent
or composition. 2. The lands of a few to^vns which had
been reduced after resistance, paid the same sort of vari-
able proportions of their fruits ; but the returns from
these were leased out by the censors in Rome to the com-
mon farmers of the revenue. In short, lands of this
description were exactly in the same situation as most of
those in other provinces. 3. The territories attached to
seven towns which had aided the Romans in their wars,
were exempted from all land-taxes.

* Cicero in Verrem ; act. ii. lib. iii. cap. 6, and Savigny's ex-


These were the usual rules of the provincial land-taxes,
which soon became the principal source of the state-
revenue. INIines and minerals were taxed separately ;
and from the agricultural provinces, the principal of
which were Sicily, Sardinia, Africa, and Macedon, ex-
traordinary supplies of corn were exacted, when scarcity
prevailed at Rome. Customs on merchandise were intro-
duced in all the ports of the provinces, on the same system
as in the havens of Italy.

It has been stated at the commencement, that the senate
always possessed the prerogative of taxing the people ; and
it had also the whole management of the revenue ; for
to it the Qufestors or provincial collectors accounted
directly, without dependence on the proconsul or prae-
tor who was the local governor. The more weighty
branches of the revenue were farmed on leases of five
years, all the taxes of a province being usually con-
tracted for in one lot. The amount of expenditure re-
quired for such speculations obliged the equestrian order,
the capitalists of the republic, to form copartneries for
taking the leases ; and the united wealth of these monied
houses accelerated the growth of an undue influence,
which its holders abused grossly, both in their political
intrigues and in their oppression of the provincials.




The Political History of Italy under the Roman Empire,

A. u. 722— A. u. 1229; or b. c. 32— a. d. 476.

Fourth Age : The Heathen Empire (b. c. 32 — a. d. 306)— List
of Emperors — Their personal Characters— Tenure of the Empire
—The Political Franchise lost— The Military Force— The Fi-
nancial System— The Two Exchequers— The Revenue — New
Taxes and Burdens— Mode of Collection — The Municipalities —
Their Prosperity — The general Decay— The Last Age of Hea-
thenism — Fifth Age : The Christian Empire (a. d. 306 —
A. D. 476) — List of Emperors— Disastrous External History —
The Fall of the Empire in Italy— State of Public Feeling— Con-
stantine's Administrative System — The Land and Poll Taxes —
Ruin of the Municipalities — Their Constitutions — Singular Posi-
tion of their Councillors.



A. u. 722—1059 : or b. c. 32— a. d. 306.

32. Octav'ius Csesar, called, from
B. c. 27, Augustus

A. D.

14. Tiberius Caesar

37. Caius Caesar, called Caligula

41 . Claudius Caesar

64. Nero Caesar

68-69. Galba, Otho, Vitellius

69. Flavius Vespasianus

79. Titus

81. Domitianus

A. D.

96. Nerva

98. Trajanus
117. Hadrianus
138. Antoninus Pius
161. Marcus Aurelius Antoninus
180. Commodus

193. Pertinax, Didius Julianus
193. Septimius Severus
211. Bassianus, called Caracalla

217. Macrinus

218. Bassianus, called HeHoga-

222. Alexander Severus




235-237. Maximinus, Gordianus
I., Gordianus II., Pupie-
nus Maximus, Balbinus

237. Gordianus III.

244. Philippus the Arab

249. Decius

251-263. Gallus, Hostilianus,

253. iEmilianus

253. Valerianus

260-268. Gallienus, and the Re-
bels called the Thirty Ty-

A. D.

268. ClaudiuSjSurnamedGothicus
270. Aurelianus

275. Tacitus

276. Probus

282-284. Carus, with Carinus and

284.Diocletianus ; assuming(286)
Maximianus as co-em-
peror, and (292) Galerius
and Constantius Chlorus
as Caesars

305. Galerius and Constantius

The three centuries and a half during which classical
paganism was the recognised religion of the empire,
embrace deeply interesting events in the personal history
of the emperors and other celebrated men. They display
extremes of vice and virtue as widely distant as those
wliich marked the republican times ; although the sphere
in which good men as well as bad now acted, was very
different from that wliich had been open to their free
ancestors. Augustus, whose real character was seen in
the cold-blooded atrocities of his youth, assumed a seem-
ing meekness along with the kingly power. The four
Csesars who succeeded him were, each in his own way,
cruel and worthless despots. Vespasian was a wise man ;
his eldest son, Titus, was a good one ; the third emperor
of the same family was one of the worst of the Roman
tyrants. For more than eighty years after Domitian's
murder, the throne was filled by a series of monarchs as
prudent and just as the world has ever possessed : Trajan,
the second in the list, was a model for sovereigns ; his
successor was better as a prince than as a man ; and the
two Antonines were better men than princes. But the
century and a quarter which elapsed between the acces-
sion of Commodus and the end of the heathen period,
formed a gloomy age, of whose public wretchedness the
shortness of the imperial reigns is one pregnant proof.
Some of the autocrats were oppressors ; several, like
Alexander Severus, Pertinax, and Tacitus, were vu-tuous
and excellent persons; Septhnius Severus, Aurelian,


Probus, and others, were brave and successful soldiers ;
and Diocletian, with whom the period almost closes, was
a stem but most able ruler. The personal history of the
emperors has been told so often and so well, that there is
the less reason for regretting the narrow limits which
here forbid more minute details.

The pagan period commences by exhibiting the em-
pire in its highest glory and prosperity ; it embraces two

Online LibraryWilliam SpaldingItaly and the Italian islands, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 35)