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p693 Lex Licinia

Article by George Long, M.A., Fellow of Trinity College
on pp693‑694 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

LEX LICINIA. In the year B.C. 375 C. Licinius Stolo and L. Sextius being elected two of the Tribuni Plebis, promulgated various Rogationes, the object of which was to weaken the power of the Patricians and for the benefit of the Plebs. One Rogatio related to the debts, with which the Plebs were encumbered (Liv. VI.34): and it provided that all the money which had been paid as interest should be deducted from the principal sum, and the remainder should be paid in three years by equal payments. The Second related to the Ager Publicus, and enacted that no person should occupy (possideret) more than 500 jugera. The Third was to the effect that no more Tribuni militum should be elected, but that consuls should be elected and one of them should be a Plebeian. The Patricians prevented these Rogationes from being carried by inducing the other tribunes to oppose their intercessio. C. Licinius Stolo and L. Sextius retaliated in the same way, and would not allow any comitia to be held except those for the election of Aediles and Tribuni Plebis. They were also re-elected Tribuni Plebis, and they persevered for five years in preventing the election of any Curule Magistratus.

In the year 368, the two tribunes were still elected, for the eighth time, and they felt their power increasing with the diminution of the opposition of their colleagues, and by having the aid of one of the Tribuni Militum, M. Fabius, the father-in‑law of C. Licinius Stolo. After violent agitation, a new Rogation was promulgated to the p694effect that instead of Duumviri sacris faciundis, Decemviri should be elected, and that half of them should be Plebeians. In the year B.C. 366, when Licinius and Sextius had been elected Tribuni for the tenth time, the law was passed as to the Decemviri, and five plebeians and five patricians were elected, a measure which prepared the way for the plebeians participating in the honours of the consulship. The Rogationes of Licinius were finally carried, and in the year B.C. 365 L. Sextius was elected consul, being the first Plebeian who attained that dignity. The Patricians were compensated for their loss of the exclusive right to the consulship by the creation of the office of Curule Aedile and of Praetor.

The law as to the settlement between debtor and creditor was, if Livy's texts is to be literally understood, an invasion of the established rights of property. Niebuhr's explanation of this law is contained in his third volume, pp23, &c.

Besides the limitation fixed by the second Lex to the number of jugera which an individual might possess in the public land, it declared that no individual should have above 100 large and 500 smaller animals on the public pastures. Licinius was the first who fell under the penalties of his own law. The statement is that "he, together with his son, possessed a thousand jugera of the ager (publicus), and by emancipating his son had acted in fraud of the law (Liv. VII.16). From this story it appears that the Plebeians could now possess the public land, a right which they may have acquired by the Law of Licinius, but there is no evidence on this matter. The story is told also by Columella (I.3), Pliny (H.N. XVIII.3), and Valerius Maximus (VIII.6 §3). The last writer not understanding what he was recording, says that in order to conceal his violation of the law, Licinius emancipated part of the land to his son. The facts as stated by Livy are not put in the clearest light. The son when emancipated would be as much intitled to possess 500 jugera as the father, and if he bona fide possessed that quantity of the Ager Publicus, there was no fraud on the law. From the expression of Pliny (substituta filii persona) the fraud appears to have consisted in the emancipation of the son being effected solely that he might in his own name possess 500 jugera while his father had the actual enjoyment. But the details of this Lex are too imperfectly known to give us more than a probable solution of the matter. As the object of the Lex was to diminish the possessiones of the patricians, it may be assumed that the surplus land thus arising was distributed (assignatus) among the plebeians, who otherwise would have gained nothing by the change; and such a distribution of land is stated to have been part of the Lex of Licinius by Varro (de Re Rust. I.2) and Columella (I.3).

According to Livy (VI.42) the Rogatio de Decemviris sacrorum was carried first, B.C. 366. The three other rogationes were included in one Lex, which was a Lex Satura (Liv. VII.39; Dion Cass. Frag. 33).

Besides the passages referred to, the reader may see Niebuhr, vol. III pp1‑36, for his view of the Licinian Rogations; and Goettling, Geschichte der Röm. Staatsverfassung, p354, and the note on the passage of Varro (de Re Rust. I.2). The Licinian Rogations have been the subject of much discussion. See the Classical Museum, No. V, on the Licinian Rogation De Modo Agri; No. VI, Ueber die Stelle des Varro, &c., De Re Rust. I.2 §9; and No. VII, Remarks on Professor Long's Paper on the Licinian Law De Modo Agri, by Professor Puchta; and on the passage in Appian's Civil Wars, I.8, which relates to the Licinian Law by Professor Long.

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