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Chapter II

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
A History of Rome
by
Tenney Frank

published by
Henry Holt and Company
New York 1923

The text is in the public domain.

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Chapter IV

 p30  Chapter IΙI

Latium before and during Etruscan Occupation

The Revolution. The traditional date of the Revolution that ended Etruscan domination in Rome is 509 B.C., and this seems to be approximately correct. Since, however, many records of early Rome were destroyed in the Gallic fire in 387 B.C. and since no unified system of record-keeping was agreed upon for a century after that, we must always make an allowance for a few years in dating​1 events of the early republic.

The precise nature of the revolution it is not now possible to determine. The Romans could hardly have enjoyed being ruled by princes who spoke a language different from their own and worshiped foreign gods; the army service was exacting, and the Latins must have objected to being led by foreign princes to war against other Latins; we may assume also that the poor who lost their vote and especially those who had become serfs of foreign landlords were ready to revolt. The occasion for the revolt, according to legend, was an act of violence against a noble lady, Lucretia, which stirred several noblemen to form a conspiracy. These men went to the army, secured its help, and cleared the city of the foreign tyrants. The whole work, however, was not completed at one stroke. Etruscan princes still held some  p31 strongholds like Tusculum on the Alban hills, and there were also Latin cities which hesitated to accept the dominion of the Roman Republic. Hence Porsena, a powerful Etruscan king of Clusium, succeeded with the aid of some of the Latins in capturing Rome again, and we have the record of a law which he imposed forbidding Romans to use iron except for agriculture. It was not till about 496 B.C. that the decisive battle at Lake Regillus was fought, after which we hear no more of Etruscans in Latium or Rome.

The Republican government. The Comitia Centuriata. The formation of a new republican government at Rome was difficult. The powerful families in the city knew that a weak Latin league of the old kind would be powerless against future Etruscan invasions that seemed to be inevitable, nor did they have any faith in the rule of the brotherhoods (curiae) that had in the old days elected a praetor for each town every year by equal suffrage. They, therefore, wisely kept several ideas of the Etruscans that had made for a strong central government. They kept the army, in the first place, which was sure to be needed. Then they made the army organization the basis of the centuriate comitia, the voting and law‑making assembly. It will be remembered that there were 193 hundreds or centuries in the army, divided into five classes according to wealth. Now to make up the "town-meeting" (comitium) for voting and legislative purposes all the citizens, both in and outside the army, were divided by the same system of classification into 5 classes or 193 groups. The military term "century" was kept for each voting unit, though of course every political unit must have exceeded a hundred citizens, and the five units of citizens without property doubtless ran into the thousands. Since the first class, consisting of the wealthier men, made up 98 "centuries," i.e. more than half of 193, though they must naturally have been a decided minority of the citizen body, and since each "century" had one vote, the legislation and elections of this centuriate assembly must  p32 have had a conservative tendency. It is safe to say that poor men and radicals were seldom elected to office so long as the system held.

Consuls. For magistrates it was decided to have two consuls holding office for one year, and these consuls were to possess very much more power than the old Latin magistrates had enjoyed, almost, in fact, as much as the Etruscan kings had had. They were to be commanders of the army with absolute power in the field, and to have judicial and executive power at home. But since their powers were so great they were given their office for only one year, and each consul was subordinated to the veto power of the other. As an additional conservative measure, it was stipulated that only patricians could hold this high office. The title of king was not wholly abolished, since the religious laws required that certain rites should be performed by a rex. But, fearing tyranny from a life-magistrate, they took all civil power from the rex, and he was made simply a religious officer of no political importance and called rex sacrorum. The real head of the religious cults was henceforth the pontifex maximus.

The Senate. As the Etruscan kings had continued the old Latin custom of having an advisory body of elders, so the new constitution adopted the senate from the preceding régime. The consuls were allowed to form a body of 300 distinguished elders to serve in the senate for life. Since the consuls were patricians they generally chose men of that class at first, though not compelled to do so. This body was from the beginning given more power than it held during the regal period, so that it might serve as a check both on the legislative assembly (the comitia centuriata) and the consuls. It not only discussed and shaped bills before the consuls proposed them to the assembly but it had the veto power over all measures passed by the assembly. It also gained a distinct ascendancy over the consuls very early because the members held office for life  p33 whereas the consuls held it for a year only, and, again, the consuls generally came from the senate and returned to the senate after their year of office was over so that the power of "senatorial courtesy" generally bound the consuls' hands.

On the whole this constitution was a brilliant adaptation of native Latin customs of democracy to the requirements of a strong government needed at a time when foreign dangers were numerous. It combined the most effective elements of royal leadership and the liberal elements of democracy with a wisdom and foresight that was hardly to be expected of a people at so early a day. It at once reveals the Latin folk as possessing a genius for law‑making and government building. Under the strain of foreign danger it proved presently to be somewhat too conservative to invite wholehearted enthusiasm on the part of the poorer classes; but the foundations were securely laid, and the necessary compromises could be effected without a new revolt entailing the shedding of blood.

Political and economic conditions. Regarding the political and economic conditions of Rome during the first years of the Republic we fortunately get an insight from a contemporaneous document of very great importance, the first treaty between Rome and Carthage, which is also the earliest commercial treaty of the West in existence. It was dated the first year of the Republic, 509, by Polybius, who apparently saw the original in the Capitoline temple and translated it into Greek. It reads as follows:

"There shall be friendship between the Romans and their allies, and the Carthaginians and their allies, on these conditions:

(a) "Neither the Romans nor their allies are to sail beyond (west of) the Fair Promontory, unless driven by stress of weather or the fear of enemies. If any one of them be driven ashore there he shall not buy or take anything for himself save what is needful for the repair of  p34 his ship and the service of the gods, and he shall depart within five days.

(b) "Romans landing for traffic in Libya or Sardinia shall strike no bargain save in the presence of a herald or town-clerk. Whatever is sold in the presence of these, let the price be secured to the seller on the credit of the state.

(c) "If any Roman comes to the Carthaginian province in Sicily he shall enjoy all rights enjoyed by others.

(a′) "The Carthaginians shall do no injury to the people of Ardea, Antium, Laurentum, Circeii, Tarracina, nor any other people of the Latins that are subject to Rome.

(b′) "From those townships of Latium which are not subject to Rome they shall hold their hands; and if they take one they shall deliver it unharmed to the Romans.

(c′) "They shall build no fort in Latium; and if they enter the district in arms, they shall not stay a night therein."

This document reveals several important facts:​2

(1) It shows (in a′) that Rome under the kings had held sway over most of Latium, including all the seaport towns as far as Terracina, 60 miles southeast of Rome, and that Rome expected to continue that domination, disregarding the old Latin league. (2) It also shows (b′) that there were some districts that had not acknowledged the new republic, presumably towns like Tusculum and perhaps Velitrae, which were still under independent Etruscan princes; and that Rome hoped to get possession of these also. (3) Finally, it implies that Rome under the Etruscans had had an active share in the maritime trade (a, b, c), which the new republic might presumably continue, but which its leaders did not care very much to safeguard. They permitted Carthage to close several important seas to their shipping.

Reconstruction of the Latin League. The natural ambition of the Roman aristocrats to keep Rome the leader of  p35 the Latin tribe and the sovereign of all of Latium was doomed to disappointment. The Latin cities were glad enough to be rid of Etruscan oppressors, but they did not choose to fall into the position of vassals to one of their own number. This seems to be the reason why some of them aided the Etruscans at Lake Regillus. The Romans finally saw that, in order to have the goodwill of all the Latins in the continued struggle against the Etruscans, they must reëstablish the old Latin league on a more liberal basis and give up all claim to sovereignty over their liberty-loving brother-cities in return for promises of aid against a common enemy. Therefore, two or three years after the battle of Lake Regillus, the Latins and Romans came to an agreement which they embodied in a treaty, the foedus Cassianum, a copy of which was still in existence in Cicero's day. It​3 read as follows:

"Between the Romans and the combined Latin peoples there shall be peace forever. Neither shall attack nor incite foreign peoples against the other, nor permit the passage of an enemy through its territory. In case of invasion from without each shall use all its forces. The division of booty shall be equal, and war shall be conducted under the independent auspices of both parties to the agreement. When private bargains are made between Romans and Latins, decisions shall be rendered within ten days in the forum of the city where the bargain is made. No alterations of these terms shall be made without the consent of both parties."

The treaty is a full recognition of the independence of the southern half of Latium, which presumably preferred to revert to the old pre‑Etruscan democratic government of the League. The southern Latins were still an agricultural people chiefly and devoid of political ambitions. The treaty safeguards the territory of both parties, however, by providing for a full Latin army in case of invasion, and the clause dealing with contracts proves that the Latins and Romans  p36 still regarded themselves as brothers who might as individuals trade — and presumably marry — anywhere within the old tribe. Rome is by no word acknowledged as a superior: the Latins are to lead and control their own army. But experience soon proved that Rome would be leader to all practical purposes, for, being a unit, she could always act quickly and effectively, whereas the Latins, composed of several autonomous cities, required time to unite and reach decisions. This condition, through nobody's fault, finally led to bickerings which broke the League.

We still happen to have a list of the towns that formed the non‑Roman half. The northern line,​4 nearest Rome, ran through Tibur, Tusculum, Aricia, Lanuvium, Lavinium, and it extended southeast through Ardea, Pometia and Cora. It would seem that some of the southern coast-towns, which the Etruscan Rome had held (Antium, Satricum, and Tarracina), remained outside, as did also the strongly fortified Praeneste and Velitrae. Perhaps the last named had already become a Volscian possession. It appears then that Rome had now to be satisfied with a dominion of no more than about 300 square miles.

The temporary decline of Rome. Rome began to decline in importance very soon. Being at enmity with the Etruscans beyond the river, she could not readily keep up commercial relations with them, while they in their commerce with Campania employed the sea‑route rather than the Tiber-bridge held by a hostile state. She could not even invite the Latin trade to Rome since the Latin cities of Ardea, Antium, and Satricum were now independent of her and had their own harbors which served as ports of entry for the east and west roads that led to Aricia, Velitrae, Praeneste, and Tibur. The wealth that had flowed to Roman princes from Latin vassals was cut off, and with this diverted into other channels, and the lordly Etruscan princes gone, there was no incentive to building, manufacturing  p37 and trading. The city came to a period of rest; seafarers ceased coming to a place which produced little and had no money with which to buy, the seaport town of Ostia fell into decay, and the industrial classes and small traders of Rome began to scatter to more promising cities, or, falling into debt and bondage, to create disturbances at home. In fact a century and a half of hard conditions passed before Rome regained the prestige she lost in the decade or two after the revolution. But it must be remembered that the new prosperity which came later depended upon native resources that flowered out of a land of free people. It was not the frail hothouse growth nourished by a superimposed tyranny.

Struggles with invaders. As it happened the Latins gained more from the renewal of the League than did the Romans, because it so happened that external dangers throughout the century came from the south and east instead of from the north where they had been most expected. The Etruscans in fact soon proved to be weakening, for they were just then beginning to suffer from Gallic invasions into the Po valley and from combined Samnite and Greek attacks in Campania. They had used their strength in exploiting their subjects and now were beginning to pay the price; besides, their adventurous lords were so bent on working for themselves that they failed to combine in time of danger for the common good. Hence the Tiber-boundary was seldom assailed after the battle of Lake Regillus. On the other hand the Latins soon had to endure a long series of attacks from Sabellian mountain tribes, Volscians and Aequians, who were being driven on by pressure due to the Celtic invasion of the Po valley and upper Picenum. Thus for a century Rome had constantly to waste her strength in the defense of southern Latium. The Latins about 500 B.C. had at first been strong enough to found colonies at Signia and Norba on the Volscian mountain that commanded the southern passes of Latium. The magnificent  p38 old walls of polygonal masonry of these colonies still stand. But the Aequians swept up the Trerus valley and captured even Tusculum, while the Volsci forced the pass below Signia and Norba, taking towns as far north as Ardea. For many decades Rome and the Latins had to labor to beat these peoples back. Tusculum was, however, retaken in 480, Ardea in 442, Velitrae in 406, and finally Tarracina in 404. These places were resettled as joint colonies of the Romans and the Latins to possess the same rights with respect to Rome as any Latin city.

The struggle of classes at Rome. During these struggles with external foes the new government had to meet attacks upon the constitution from within. The common people (plebs) claimed that the constitution favored the nobility (patricians), and demanded reforms. It is now difficult to state exactly how the Latins and Romans came to be divided into two classes as sharply separated as the plebeians and patricians. Some historians have supposed that a racial difference lay at bottom, a difference between Etruscans and Latins, or Latins and Sabines, or perhaps Latins and the original race of Italy. But there is no evidence of this nor any reasonable argument in its favor.

The caste system had probably arisen gradually within Latium by the natural processes of selection which may be observed at work everywhere to‑day. Even in the old democratic tribe, before the Etruscans came, some men must have gained distinction in the village councils by prudence and good sense and acquired the prestige that goes with wealth by their shrewdness and diligence in agriculture. The Etruscan kings must have selected the influential and wealthy farmers for their advisory senate, because they needed the good‑will of the subject people in order to succeed. When Livy says that the king selected the senators from the most distinguished elders (patres) and that this group and their descendants formed the body later called patricii, he has, therefore, given an essential fact.

 p39  The families thus ennobled by political distinction had naturally begun to consider themselves superior to the rest; and since the wealthier and more influential continued to be added to the group by each new king, the patrician class grew to be fairly large and powerful. We have seen that the patricians were the dominating class in the revolution, and that after the revolution they laid down the rule that only patricians could hold a magistracy. The implications of this rule were very important. At Rome no important political business could be entered upon before the will of the gods was ascertained through auspices, and as these were taken by magistrates and religious officials who must be patricians, it is easy to see that this class could absolutely control political action in case disputes arose. Out of this custom grew the theory that the gods dealt only with patricians in state matters and that the plebeians somehow were an inferior class, also the theory that a plebeian might not marry into a patrician family for fear that the exclusive religious right might, by blood descent, pass to a plebeian. Thus distinctions that were at first small and accidental created customs and theories of large significance.

In the new republic though distinguished plebeians might be admitted to the senate they were not considered quite the equals of the patrician group and they were addressed as conscripti. Thus a caste system was stereotyped which seemed after a while to be dividing the state into two factions. There were many good and influential plebeians constantly coming into prominence who objected to being considered unfit for office and for intermarriage with patricians. To make matters worse the Etruscan régime and the republican revolution had created a large class of very poor people who lost all political rights under the new timocratic voting system. Having no property they had no vote, and no influence. Some of these had apparently been nothing but serfs under Etruscan princes; some were workingmen of the city who had lived from hand to mouth in days of prosperity  p40 and were now in destitute condition because industry had fallen into decay; some had been servants and clients of the kings and now had no one to serve since the king was gone; some were small farmers who began to fall into debt when commerce deserted Rome and their products found no market. In a primitive society like that of Rome debt laws are very severe, and imprisonment for debt — usual in England till Dickens' day — and even peonage and enslavement for non‑payment of debt were frequent. Hence there was much distress among the poor, and they particularly attacked the aristocratic features of the constitution because they claimed that if they had full political rights in the assembly they could pass laws to remedy this condition.

Reform measures. Immediately after the founding of the Republic, the people secured the passage of the lex Valeria de provocatione which was always looked upon later as the first great step toward liberty. According to this law no Roman citizen could be put to death by a civil magistrate without being afforded the right of appealing his case to the popular assembly.

In 494, according to early tradition, the plebeians demanded some relief from what they considered inequitable arrests, imprisonment and court judgments, apparently in cases of debt. Getting no relief, they seceded to the Sacred Mount outside the walls when summoned to join the army. Here they threatened to settle and draw up a new constitution of their own. They refused to come back and join the army till the consuls and senate pledged themselves to pass a law giving the plebeians the right to elect two annual officers of their own class, called tribuni plebis (ward-leaders of the commons), who should have the power to intercede in behalf of individual plebeians in case of unjust arrest.

The nature of this relief-measure implies that in days past the people had had the privilege of appealing to the king for a rehearing of cases and that the new tribunes were to provide the kind of aid which they had lost with the disappearance  p41 of the king. Presently the number of the tribunes was raised from two to five and finally to ten.

The tribunes could exercise their powers only within the city walls, and were not to interfere with military discipline outside. They were declared inviolable (sacrosanct), so that no one dared hinder them in the pursuit of their duties. The creation of the tribuneship seemed at first only to provide poor clients with free legal service, but as time went on it was discovered that the tribunes could and would extend their powers immoderately. For they later undertook to enter the senate and the legislative assembly and forbid speakers to put motions that displeased them, on the plea that this was only forbidding action detrimental to their clients. But this extension of power came at a later day.

The appointment of tribuni implies that Rome and her territory had already been divided into wards, "tribus"; the city comprised four of these, the country at first seventeen. We do not know when this was done but it may have been an invention of the early republic made to facilitate the taking of the census by districts. It is interesting that the plebeians when they went to the comitium to elect these new officers voted by wards, each ward having one vote. Since the wards were presumably of about equal size at first, this method was far more democratic than election by property classes since a poor plebeian counted for as much as a rich. But it must be remembered that the new officers represented the plebs alone, hence the patricians were excluded from this election.

The Publilian law of 471 defined the tribunes' position more clearly and empowered the comitia tributa, which elected the tribunes, to pass resolutions expressing the desires of the plebeians​5 which the consuls must present for  p42 action to the senate and comitia centuriata. In 456 something was done to relieve the distress of the city poor by allotting the Aventine hill to them for homes, perhaps with garden lots. The ground had apparently belonged to the king in Etruscan times.

Before the middle of the century the plebeians called for a written code of laws, because the tribunes were constantly hindered from helping the poor by want of a fixed set of laws that might bind judges to consistent judgments. At Rome, as in all early states, old senators who had dealt with public matters all their lives were the only men who knew the sacred customs of the ancestors (mos majorum). From such men the judges learned the laws orally, and it was charged that they at times gave individual interpretations to them in the interests of their own class. The pressure for a public code was widespread, and the assembly voted that ten men (decemviri) be elected instead of two consuls to serve as executives for the next year and at the same time as a committee to draw up a code of laws. During that year ten tables were drawn up by the committee and accepted by the assembly. This was so satisfactory that decemvirs were elected again the next year, and it appears that there were even some plebeians among them. Two more tables were now drawn up, but a political quarrel arose when charges were made that the decemvirs were attempting to usurp power and continue in office illegally. Two consuls, Valerius and Horatius, were consequently elected for 449, who brought measures to reëstablish the old constitution with certain slight modifications and compromises. According to these laws of Valerius and Horatius, the twelve tables were adopted and posted in the Forum; the magisterial power was definitely restored to the two patrician consuls, the election of ten annual plebeian tribunes was legalized, and finally a provision was made that the resolutions (plebiscites) of the tribal assembly should, under certain  p43 qualifications not now known,​6 have the full force of laws.

The liberalizing of the constitution continued rapidly when the plebs had this organ of expression thus fully developed. Constantly new resolutions were forced upon the attention of the senate and the centuriate assembly. In 447 the quaestors, the treasury officers, were made elective instead of appointive, though a generation passed before plebeians were made eligible to the office. In 445 the worst stigma on the plebeian class was removed when the lex Canuleia legalized marriage between plebeians and patricians. In the same year the plebs demanded admission to the consulship. They did not gain the point, but they forced a compromise whereby the executive office might year by year be turned over to an executive committee of six called "consular tribunes" to which board plebeians would be eligible. This makeshift, which shows the jealous conservatism of the patricians, was used about fifty times during the seventy-eight years that the compromise law lasted. But we do not find any plebeian even in this office till about the year 400 B.C.

In 443 the consular office was again somewhat weakened by transferring to two censors certain important civil duties formerly performed by the consuls. The censors now made up the list of senators, chose the equites who were to serve in the cavalry, assigned all citizens to their proper class in the army and the assembly, and let state contracts. The office in time came to be one of the most important and certainly the most dignified at Rome. The august religious  p44 ceremonies connected with the office kept it for a long time in the hands of the patricians.

The duel with Veii. Near the end of the century Rome finally came to her last struggle with Veii after bickerings that had continued from the regal period. We include the story of it here since Rome's conquest of vessel had very important effects upon the constitution. Veii was as large as Rome, had a stronger situation, and commanded as much territory. Excavations on the site of the old city have recently disclosed heavy walls on the citadel, the foundations of the city's senate house, interesting remains of very old houses, and remarkable terracotta statues. These reveal the fact that Veii was a very wealthy and beautiful city. That a deadly rivalry should arise between Veii and Rome is not surprising. Even the Etruscan kings of Rome were unable to keep on friendly terms with Veii. The two cities came to blows over the salt-flats at the Tiber mouth, over the control of the river traffic and of the north and south trade routes, which had to cross the Tiber at Rome or at Fidenae six miles up the river. Since Rome controlled the traffic over her own bridge, the struggle often had to do with the control of Fidenae, a town that now favored one, now the other. Who started the last war we cannot say, but we know that the struggle flamed into terrible bitterness. Rome after a time gained the upper hand in the open campaign and succeeded in surrounding the lofty city. Veii refused to come to terms, but finally after a war of ten years (405‑396) Camillus, the Roman dictator, stormed the town. A large part of the city was sacked and burned, and some of its surviving inhabitants were sold into slavery. But since the Veians were largely of Latin stock, many of its people could be adopted as Roman citizens. Some of the rich Veian territory was distributed in small lots to poor Roman settlers, and four new Roman wards (tribus) were laid out north of the river.

The direct result of this distribution was that a large body  p45 of landless plebeians became landholders, a thing which not only strengthened the plebeian element in the centuriate assembly, and gave power to the plebeian assembly itself, but established the custom of dividing lands among the poor. After this enlargement of the plebeian influence in the city we may soon expect to see democracy winning its last battle against the patrician element.

Not all the vacated lands of Veii were thus given to poor Romans. The northern part was laid out in two Latin colonies, Nepete and Sutrium (383‑2), which were to serve as colonial forts on the northern border. This was doubtless a part payment to the Latins who, according to the terms of the foedus Cassianum, must have aided Rome in the struggle. The planting of Latin colonies north of Rome is, however, surprising, for it shows that the Romans did not at that time expect to extend their city-state north of these colonies. Finally, since Veii had much rough land not very suitable for agriculture, some of this was left unassigned and rented out by the treasury, especially to cattle grazers. Since only rich men could afford to stock cattle ranches, such leases were apt to be taken up by senators of wealth. Plebeians claimed that the senate and the censors had withheld good lands in order to make profit by state contracts and that certain senators used their personal influence with the censors to procure profitable leases. Such were the charges of "war‑profiteering" that presently led to the framing of a new set of laws.

Rome sacked by the Gauls, 387 B.C. The new class quarrel had, however, only begun, by the banishment of Camillus on the charge of profiting unduly from the war, when an invasion of Gauls strengthened the life not only of Rome but of all Italy. The Gauls during the preceding century had gained possession of the whole Po valley and of a long strip of the Adriatic coast in Picenum. Now hordes kept pouring down from central Europe, driven on presumably  p46 by Germanic and Oriental hordes behind them. The Umbrians of the mountains, who held poor land, offered no obstacle; the Etruscans had no strong central government to organize any effective opposition against them. Had it not been for the Romans, Italy instead of Gaul would probably have become the land of the Celts. The advancing horde of Senones, who lived below the Rubicon, swept through Etruria, and at the River Allia near Rome defeated the quickly levied Roman army (probable date 387, Varro's date 390). They captured Rome with the exception of the Capitoline hill. This held out for months, the one fact which tended to discourage the none too constant Celts. Meanwhile Marseilles, at the mouth of the Rhone, with the friendliness that Greeks generally showed towards the Latin people, came to the rescue of the city, advanced ransom money and saved the remnant.

Fortunately for Rome, the Celts had, in their characteristic fear of the gods, spared most of Rome's temples where her records were kept, fortunately too, most of the Latin countrymen had escaped from danger into the cities further south and the city of Rome soon began to regain its old appearance and a rapidly increasing population. The Servian wall was soon rebuilt by the soldiers with magnificent stone taken from Fidenae's old walls and from Veian quarries.

The Licinian-Sextian reforms. By the time that Rome had sufficiently recovered from the Gallic invasion, the class hatred flamed up again. The plebeians had suffered their part in the Veian and Gallic wars and claimed equal recognition in the distribution of offices; and they had grown strong enough by the addition of four wards north of the Tiber to press their claims with renewed force. The question of debts also entered into the account. Thousands had lost their homes and crops in the Gallic invasion, and such complained that debtor-laws permitting imprisonment were too severe, and that leased public lands ought to be distributed  p47 to the poor. The struggle threatened to grow into a revolution. There were riots and postponements of elections, and the appointment of dictators. Finally, the tribunes of 367, Licinius and Sextius, after they had been reëlected several times in succession, were able to reach a compromise with the aristocracy through the aid of the military hero, Camillus. It was agreed that the consulship should be restored on the condition that one seat must be open to the plebeians. However, the judicial duties of the consuls were transferred to praetors and the supervision of public works was transferred to a board of officers called curule aediles. Patricians alone were to be eligible to these new offices. As for lands, here too a compromise was reached: there is no mention of disturbing old lease-holds, but henceforth not over five hundred jugera (about three hundred acres) could be rented to any one man — with a possible maximum of 1,000 for fathers of two children — nor should any individual pasture more than 100 head of cattle or 500 head of sheep on public land. Thirdly, a moderate "moratorium" was declared for debtors. Interest already paid should be deducted from the principal, and the balance made payable in three annual instalments.

Thus practically the last disqualification was lifted from the plebeians — for they soon gained admission to the praetorship and aedileship also — and the old class struggle between patricians and plebeians was almost ended. It was not long, however, before a new line of demarcation became visible. Naturally the plebeians who had now gained admittance to high offices did their utmost to emphasize the importance of political honors. A new patricio-plebeian nobility, therefore, arose of people who held curule offices and of their descendants. Such men before long combined to further the influence of the senate against the popular assembly, and we shall find that in the third century a new political contest arose between the common people and the recent nobility that based its pretensions  p48 not upon pride of birth but upon political distinction.

The middle of the fourth century B.C. marks the end of a period. The aristocratic constitution had slowly been modified to represent the views and permit the healthy participation of all classes of the citizen body, though it was still timocratic in nature. The state had survived the Latin demand for autonomy, the economic dwindling of Rome, the attacks of Etruscans, Aequi, Volsci and Sabines, and the capture of Rome by the Gauls. The new era opens with a more aggressive political and economic policy, which apparently was fathered chiefly by forceful plebeian leaders who had gained power through the democratic reforms.

Economic and social conditions. Before entering the new epoch inaugurated by the reforms of 367, we must glance back and form some picture of Rome and her people as the foreign traveler would have found them about the time of the decemviral legislation.

The population of the city had dwindled very much. Archaeologists find in the Latin and Roman remains of the fifth century very little evidence of home industries except those occupied in the production of the simplest wares made for home use. There is no manufacturing for export. They also find no foreign imports worthy of mention. Greek pottery, jewelry, wearing apparel, statuary, and architectural adornment — even Etruscan — practically disappear. The Greek, Carthaginian, and Etruscan traders who went up and down the Tyrrhenian sea seldom considered it worth while now to stop at Rome. The harbor at Ostia shows no signs of having been used between the regal period and the recolonization in the new democratic period of about 350.

The population settled back to a secluded life of "home economy" based mainly on intensive "hoe‑culture" of the land in the immediate vicinity of Rome. Many of the nobles had fairly large farms worked by tenants, but they  p49 themselves did not scorn to live on their farms and participate in the work. The story of Cincinnatus summoned from the plow to the high office of dictatorship represents the life of the times accurately. Cincinnatus indeed was noteworthy not so much because of his occupation as a farmer as because of his modest possessions.

The quality of their thinking must be judged from the fragments of the twelve tables that have survived, since we have no other written documents from which to draw conclusions. These tables are really a peculiar mixture of conceptions, some very progressive, others very conservative. The fragments from the civil law reveal advanced customs and farsighted thinking which prove that the Romans had profited from a contemplation of the vigorous commerce and industry of the preceding century as well as from the existence of old aristocratic families that needed advanced inheritance and property laws. It was only vigorous trade in the Forum that could beget at so early a day the clear conception of contract that accepted a mere agreement as a valid bargain;​7 and only the deep respect for private property that is begotten out of a long succession of estates from father to son in families of long pedigree could so early have created the liberal testamentary laws of these tables which permitted a father to leave property by legacy outside of his family.8

Here and there, however, even in the civil law the twelve tables show backwardness, as for instance in overdue respect for property. This fault is traceable partly to aristocratic tendencies which over-protect the creditor, but  p50 partly also to the lack of machinery in any and every early government. Though the state provided the judge to pronounce the penalty for debt, it did not yet provide officers to enforce his judgment. Hence the creditor was allowed so heavy a judgment that the debtor and his friends would be frightened into payment.​9 These are the intentions of laws that permit imprisonment and enslavement for unpaid debts.

In criminal law we again find the conservatism that is due to lack of executive machinery. Since the Latin peoples had for long had no central government, but had left jurisdiction in the villages chiefly to the patriarchs, prosecuting and police machinery were slow to develop. Hence in case of injury, the injured, though permitted to bring the culprit to the judge, received no aid from the state to enforce the judgment. To cover this deficiency, the twelve tables permitted talio (retaliation) on the part of the injured to aid him in compelling the culprit to pay the adjudged claims. Thus we have the rule of the twelve tables:​10 "If a man break the limb of another and does not satisfy the claim for injury, the injured may retaliate" ("an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth").

Finally we must notice that religious awe was still so effective that it could be trusted to take care of many offenses. Hence there are such laws as: "He who burns another's grain shall be under the curse of Ceres."11 Needless to say Rome would be ready to bring such crimes under civil jurisdiction as soon as religion proved insufficient  p51 for the purpose. This rule is not so much a mark of failure to define the sphere of law as of a tendency on the part of the state to assume obligations only where necessary.

The code then is far from exemplary in details or in legal conception. It reflects a religious community that likes to trust the ancestral customs of a village democracy as far as possible. Nevertheless it shows traces of much experience in industrial life and the effects of aristocratic conceptions of property, family, and inheritance. In points of jurisprudence it has many wise clauses, as for instance, the one that forbids class legislation, and another which permits the revision of the code or any part of it upon a majority vote of the comitia centuriata.

Religion. During this period Roman religion underwent no improvement. The Etruscans had taught the Roman children what the gods looked like by erecting Hellenic-looking terracotta statues of them. Jupiter, instead of being the spirit that pervaded life and dwelt in lightning, now became a reddish brown well-bearded terracotta creature that stood in the Capitoline temple between Juno and Minerva. Juno was an Italic spirit that the Etruscans adopted and figured in the shape of Hera. Hence she suddenly became Jupiter's wife. Minerva, the spirit of skill, the Etruscans shaped into the appearance of the Athenian Pallas. She, therefore, must needs be a daughter of Jupiter. This blithe family group standing stiffly in the Capitoline temple inherited much simple reverence which they did little to increase. The spirit of light beholding all men's deeds had been a god that was called upon to witness all important agreements, and thus had become a protector of truth and fidelity. This fact had once tended to give a deep moral significance to the worship of Jupiter. But anthropomorphism made further growth in that direction impossible, since Jupiter inherited the very mundane legends that were told of Zeus. Morality had to seek for aid elsewhere  p52 than in religion. Etruscan methods of using religion also emphasized the lower tendencies of the cults. The Etruscans were skilled above all in the precise methods of eliciting practical benefits out of religion. The intricate science of augury from the flight of birds, from the sacred fowls, from lightning and from the precise condition of each of the forty parts of a calf's liver, when first introduced at Rome, invited skepticism, but was thoroughly acclimated during the hundred years of Etruscan domination. It was a science which tended to make religion nothing but the art of exploiting the gods.

However, the state itself organized the cults and placed the worship in the hands of state priests, and since religion had lost its ethical importance, this was an advantage. The individual at least then felt that the sacrifices were being duly performed, the mysterious gods were being properly appeased, and that he need not fret day by day. He had only to give tokens of remembrance and libations to the household and field gods, and give his votive tablet or simple offering in case of special incidents. The minor gods of his daily life remained much what they had been before.

After the departure of the Etruscans the habits imposed on the state by them were continued and new divinities were brought in from time to time. Sometimes these were gods of conquered cities like Veii, introduced partly to secure the advantage of their friendship, partly to satisfy the desires of the subjugated and incorporated inhabitants. Sometimes the Romans, reverting to their old‑time animism, made gods out of abstractions, as when, after the compromise between the classes in 367, they erected a temple to Concordia, the spirit who had presumably reconciled the warring factions. An artist was called in to make an appropriate statue of her, and thus a new goddess was born. But the greatest source of the new accretions was the Sibylline literature that was brought to Rome from the Greek colony at Cumae, where it had developed in connection with Apollo's oracle. In  p53 consulting these oracles the Romans found mention of important Greek gods whom they did not have. Hence at a time of famine, about 493 B.C., they decided to introduce the Greek goddess of grain, Demeter, whom they identified with Ceres. In the same manner Apollo was brought from Cumae in 433 to allay the ravages of a pestilence.

These cults of Cumae offered but little improvement over the Etruscan ones, for they introduced the crass Graecus ritus, which represented the figures of the twelve gods sitting at table to partake of the sacrificial banquet (lectisternium). This rite always seemed disagreeable to the Romans, but at times of great danger when prudence suggested the need of every possible precaution it also was resorted to.

Religious rites were generally conducted in an orderly fashion by the state officials. The pontifex maximus was usually a man greatly revered who had held all the highest offices of state. He could be trusted to preside over the festivals and conduct the sacrifices with dignity, prudence, and sobriety. The augurs, also, who had great power because of their right to declare legal or illegal practically any undertaking, were generally chosen by coöptation from among the most distinguished men of Rome. A board of ten responsible men controlled the imported cults and the consultation of the Sibylline books in order to prevent dangerous innovations and religious panics. Thus the confused religion imposed on Rome was at least kept as dignified and harmless as possible. The need for such administration in a state destined to absorb all kinds of races is patent. That, however, the state's management kept religion coldly impersonal and out of the sphere of moral conduct is also obvious.

The Roman family. One of the most striking institutions at Rome was the patriarchal family. No history of civilization is adequate which does not take full cognizance of it. In early Rome the father controlled the whole familia:  p54 wife, sons, daughters, slaves and all the property. These were said to be in his hand (manus) by right of the patria potestas. He in fact had the authority over his household which sovereign states alone have now, the authority of life and death. Not that he often exercised this power to the limit. The Roman paterfamilias was an affectionate father and a husband of a strict puritanic code, and his wife had a dignity and authority not known in Greece. Furthermore the Roman paterfamilias did not exercise his patria potestas in serious matters without calling together a consilium of related patres to whom he submitted his decisions for full discussion. Yet the fact remains that well into the last days of the Republic the familia submitted to him for the decisions which later were considered to belong only to the civil authorities.

The elevation of the Roman paterfamilias to this dignity and authority was due to several causes. It is a well recognized fact that during long periods of folk-wanderings the civil authority of the large group is apt to atomize, as it were, and revert to clans and families. This is due to the fact that in the constant migrations the tribal government or chief is overburdened with the questions of military organization. As the central authority in social, civil, religious and criminal matters reverted to the pater, the individuals of the horde aggregated to the several authoritative heads, since everyone must know to which head he was most closely related, and the degree of his relationship. Thus family and clan relationship grew important.

Native instincts and temperament, inherited with other racial qualities, also enter into the making of a centralized family rule. It is very likely that the Latins like the Celts had inherited from their forefathers a stronger social instinct, which we sometimes term "loyalty" and especially "loyalty to kin" or "clannishness," than some other branches of the Indo-European race. It would seem, therefore, that both inherited temperament and the long centuries of migration  p55 from the northern home had something to do with making the patriarchal family so strong in early Rome.

Every Roman indicated his position in the family by the form of his name. He regularly bore the gentile name ending in ius, and if the gens (clan) was divided into several important branches, a family cognomen as well. His personal name, called the praenomen, was given first. Thus in the standard form of name, Marcus Tullius Cicero, we have the praenomen, nomen and cognomen in regular order. Every gens also had its separate protecting deity and separate rite, and could, in case a member died intestate and without relations, inherit such a man's property. Of course thousands of plebeians who had fallen into utter poverty lost all trace of their proper gens. Laboring men have more pressing duties than to look up pedigrees. But the plebeian families that had been distinguished enough to keep up their family traditions were as careful of gentile rites and pedigrees as were the patricians.

This strong patriarchal system accounts for many things in Roman history: for the ability of the old families to cling together and survive, which in turn protected the old Indo-European civilization and customs much longer in Rome than in Greece; for the custom of keeping the family estates intact so far as possible; to a great extent for the continued dignity of women in the Roman household, when Southern civilization in other countries generally gave them an inferior position; for the deference to the nobility which often overrode economic considerations at elections; and finally, because of these things, for a long continued respect for senatorial rule. It must not be thought that the patria potestas retained its old rigidity in Cicero's day. To be sure, laws had not been passed to abolish it: Romans usually let their customs progress and make dead letters of old laws without much legal disturbance. When, however, the central government grew strong at Rome and assumed normal civil and criminal jurisdiction over all citizens, the  p56 fathers of families gradually gave up to the civil authorities their disagreeable responsibilities in difficult cases. After this, members of a man's family usually submitted their disputes to the courts of the state instead of to the paterfamilias. By Cicero's day very few women were passed into their husband's full manus at marriage, or if they were, it was under a contract that the husband's potestas should not be exercised. The girl's parents, for her sake as well as for their own, provided at marriage that her property and her liberty should be fully safeguarded. Women then managed their own property, and they even had the right to annul the marriage contract at will and without rendering an explanation. In theory, however, the patriarchal family continued to the end.

We have remarked that the patriarchal rule indicated only a temporary and necessary shifting of sovereignty while the state was weak, it did not imply harsh rule within the family. Nowhere in fact could one find more parental affection than in the Roman family. It did not manifest itself in a sentimental fashion, but it was deep and constant. The concern with which senators took their young sons into the senate to learn the great lessons of state, or placed them in the train of distinguished statesmen to acquire direct training for their high duties, or brought them along on far‑off diplomatic journeys to all the provinces to learn the lessons of responsible government, or devoted personal care to their education, proves that Roman children did not have to dread the exercise of a father's extraordinary potestas. That it might entail bitter experience is true. There are cases recorded where a father had to face the duty of pronouncing the sentence of death upon a son who had proved a coward or traitor on the battlefield, and one belated instance of the exercise of that power is even reported in Cicero's day.


The Author's Notes:

1 The discrepancy in the dates of early events was due to the fact that some later historians reckoned dates by the nails driven annually into the doorposts of the Capitoline temple, and others by the names of consuls who were elected annually. Since, however, opinions differed somewhat as to when the first nail of the temple was driven, and since political disturbances occasionally prevented the election of consuls, the later historians who tried to fit the two systems together did not always arrive at identical conclusions. We cannot cavil, therefore, if early Roman dates show slight discrepancies.

2 Many scholars have doubted Polybius' dating, but there is no other period before 341 when Rome could have laid claim to sovereignty over Latium except during or immediately after the regal period.

3 Dionysius of Halicarnassus, VI.95.º The traditional date is 493 B.C.

4 See map, page 24.

5 It was in an attempt to get rid of the tribunate that Coriolanus involved himself in a quarrel with the plebeians and was banished. The play of Shakespeare on this character is largely taken from the account of Plutarch, which rests, however, almost wholly on oral tradition.

6 Some authorities suppose that the tribal assembly was now opened to all the citizens so that its resolutions were actually expressions of a full "town-meeting" and needed only the approval of the senate as did bills that passed the centuriate assembly to become effective. Others suppose that it was still an assembly of plebeians only, and that its resolutions (plebiscites) were by the law of 449 made the first order of business for the regular lawmaking assembly, the comitia centuriata, to be accepted or rejected as that body saw fit. If this be true, as seems likely, the law of 449 elevated the tribal assembly only to the extent of compelling the real legislative assembly to take cognizance of and early action upon all plebiscites.

7 See table VI: "If a man enters a personal obligation or makes a purchase, as the tongue his spoken, so shall it be." Primitive laws usually do not recognize a bargain as valid until the actual exchange has been effected.

8 Cf. the fifth table: "As a man bequeaths his personal property and his power of guardianship, so shall it be." Primitive codes, usually assuming that property rights belong to the community or family, seldom recognize free testamentary rights.

9 See table III: "After a judgment for debt, there shall be thirty days of grace. Then the creditor may lay hands upon of the debtor and bring him to court; if the debt is not then discharged, the creditor may lead the debtor away in chains . . . after three market days unless the debt is paid the debtor shall lose his civil rights or be sold beyond the Tiber." On this law see Radin, Secare partis, in Am. Jour. Phil. 1922.

10 See table VIII: Si membrum rupsit, ni cum eo pacit, talio esto. Manu fusive si os frigit liberto, ccc, si servo, cl poenam subito.

11 See table VIII, 8‑10.


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