CHAPTER XII.



PROPERTY AT ROME.



The Romans, after passing the two successive stages of the village community and the family community, were the first to establish exclusive, individual property in land; and the principles they adopted on this subject still serve as the basis of law for continental states. Scarcely, however, was quiritary dominion established, when it threatened the existence of the democratic institutions and of the Republic, by its power of encroachment. It was in vain to set limits to it: la grande propriété consumed la petite. The economic history of Rome is little else than a picture of the struggle against the encroachments of quiritary dominion.(1)

The philosophers and legislators of antiquity knew well, by experience, that liberty and political equality can only exist when supported by equality of conditions. The Politics of Aristotle enumerates a number of means employed by the Greeks to maintain this equality. At one time they limit the maximum amount of land, which a citizen may possess; at another, they declare property inalienable to prevent its accumulation; at another, individual property is modified by common repasts, of which all partake. There is one constant struggle against inequality. "Inequality," says Aristotle(2) with much perception, "is the source of all revolutions." According to Böckh, the war between the rich and the poor destroyed Greece.(3) So long as landed property preserved its collective character, equality resulted from the periodic partition, as we still see in Russia. This was the golden age, of which the ancients preserved a recollection and which continued to be their ideal. Even later, when the several families lived on their common, indivisible and inalienable patrimony, as m Judaea or ancient Greece and Italy, at the time when the gens and preserved its primitive character, inequality was confined within limits. But at Rome, when quiritary, that is to say, individual and exclusive property, capable of indefinite extension, was developed, none of the precautions contrived by the Greeks were adopted to limit it. On the contrary, every newly conquered territory gave it a vast area over which it could extend. Thus the inequality increased which was to destroy the Republic, and subsequently the whole Roman Empire. We will state briefly the attempts made to check its progress.

The writers of greatest authority think that in Latium the soil was originally the collective property of the clan. At the time when the history of Rome begins, we find, it is true, lands belonging to citizens in private ownership, agri privati, as well as extensive lands belonging to the people collectively, ager populi, ager publicus. But private property was of small extent. It only comprised the space necessary for the house, court-yard and garden, that is, two jugera.(4) This was the heredium, the land which was transmitted hereditarily, while the rest of the territory was collective property, ager publicus.

The heredium, like the lot assigned to the Spartans, was regarded as inalienable, because it was the necessary home of the family, and even to the last days of the Republic it was a disgrace to sell it.(5) The heredium was not sufficient for the support of a family,(6) and accordingly they had to obtain the rest of their means of subsistence by cultivating portions of the ager publicus, and by turning on to the common pasturage the cattle, which was originally the principal form of wealth. This agrarian system is precisely similar to that of modem Russia or primitive Germany, where the hereditary domain seems to have been much the same in extent as the Roman heredium. There is, however, this difference, that we do not find that the collective domain was subject to periodic partition at Rome, as among the Germans or Slays. The custom, if it ever existed, has left no traces in history. The ager publicus was subject to the free right of occupancy, as in Java, or in Russia before the partition was introduced to establish equality. Every member of the populusevery patrician, that ismight occupy such vacant portion as he found convenient, on the one condition of conforming to the rules governing this method of occupation.(7) This did not confer any right of property, but a mere possessory right, in theory always revocable, which, however long it existed, was never transformed into full ownership, or dominium ex jure Quiritium. As a matter of fact, however, the patricians retained the enjoyment of the lands which they cultivated, because there was no fixed period at which they were to return into the common stock. The lands thus occupied by the patricians became so extensive, that they surrendered a portion to clients, precario, that is to say on the request of the clients, a portion of the produce being reserved. Later on, when successive conquests increased the number of slaves, the patricians cultivated by their labour the portions which they occupied of the ager publicus.

They had also the right to depasture their cattle on the public pasturage (pascua publica) on paying to the treasury a rent, from which they soon freed themselves. The plebeians, like the hintersassen of the Germanic mark had no right of occupancy over the public domain. From time to time, however, lands were distributed among them, and their lots seem to have been ordinarily about 7 jugera in extent.(8) The plebeian lot was greater than the patrician heredium because it had to suffice for the maintenance of a family, whereas the bina jugera merely comprised the hof or dwelling-house and its accessories, the arable land and pasturage being taken from the ager publicus. As in early times agricultural labour is the sole source of wealth, every free man must have a portion of land to be able to subsist. Hence, in default of the periodic partition which maintained equality in the German and Slavonic commune, it was constantly necessary at Rome to have recourse to distributions of land which the plebeians never succeeded in retaining. According to the traditions collected by historians, there was a division of the soil made by Romulus. He divided the territory among the three tribes. Each tribe was divided into curiae, and each curia into centuries. The century, like the Anglo-Saxon hundred, contained a hundred warriors or heads of families, and each of them had a private domain of two acres. This was, according to tradition, the quantity allotted to each citizen by Romulus. Dionysius adds, that Romulus reserved a portion sufficient for the maintenance of religious worship, and that another portion remained the domain of the State. This last portion was far the largest. Kuma, Tullus Hostilius, Ancus Martius made distributions of land viritim according to Cicero, that is, in equal shares per head. Viritanus ager dicitur, says Festus, qui viritim populo distribuitur. Servius Tullius orders all those who have taken possession of public lands to restore. them; and gives those who have no land seven jugera, in order, as he tells us in the speech attributed to him by Dionysius, that the plebeians might no longer cultivate the lands of other people, but their own, and might be so made more courageous in the defence of their country. Under the Republic there are constant efforts to keep the land in the hands of the plebeians. In 404 B.C. Spurius Cassius proposes to distribute among them the conquered lands of the Hernicans; but he lost his life for this proposition, which Livy calls the first agrarian law: Tum primum lex agraria promulgata est (II. 41).(9) Some years later, the tribune Icilius effected the partition of the lands of the Aventine (Lex Icilia de Aventino publicaudo). During the century which elapsed between Spurius Cassius and Licinius Stolo, M. Antonin Macé reckons twenty-eight bills (rogationes) of the tribunes to obtain an assignment of lands in favour of the plebs. The patricians, however, defeated them, or else rendered them ineffectual. The continual wars tended more and more to the ruin of the small proprietors, and at the same time tended to favour the accumulation of land and wealth, by increasing the extent of land taken from the enemy, which the patricians took possession of and cultivated by the labour of the conquered inhabitants, who were reduced to slavery. The famous Licinian laws were intended to limit the advance of inequality, by checking the diminution in the number of freemen which had become alarming. The Lex Licinia forbade any one to possess more than 500 jugera of public land: ne quis plus quam quingenta jugera agri possideret, are the words of Livy (vi. 35). The Greek historian, Appian, gives the other clauses of the law: "No one shall depasture on the ager publicus more than a hundred head of large cattle, or more than five hundred sheep on his own land. Every one shall support a certain number of free men. The portion of the public land taken from those who have more than 500 jugera, shall be distributed among the poor." The Republic was saved for a time by the better distribution of the soil, which increased the number of free proprietors and of soldiers. Historians are unanimous in commending the good effects of the Licinian laws. "The century which follows the Licinian laws," says M. Laboulaye, "is the one in which the soldiers of Rome seem inexhaustible. Varro, Pliny, and Columella continually refer to these great days of the Republic, as the time when Italy was realty powerful by the richness of its soil, and the number and prosperity of its inhabitants. The law of the five hundred jugera is always quoted by them with admiration, as being the first which recognized the evil, and sought to remedy it by retarding the formation of those vast domains, or latifundia, which depopulated Italy, and after Italy the whole empire." (Des lois agraires chez les Romaines.) Unfortunately, after the conquest of Macedonia, the clauses of the Licinian law were no longer enforced. Shortly after the first Punic war, the tribune C. Flamunius demanded the distribution of the lands recently taken from the Gauls, to relieve the misery of the plebs, which had again become excessive. The small proprietors had disappeared, and their property had gone to swell the latifundia.

In the country, free men were no longer employed for the cultivation of the soil. In consequence of the foreign wars, slaves were sold at a low-price, and free men could not compete with them. The latter lived in idleness on distributions of corn, and made a traffic of their votes or their evidence. Pasturage replaced agriculture,(10) and Sicily and Africa were made to provide the corn supply as their tribute.

Tiberius Gracchus reproduced almost exactly the Licinian law.(11) The father of a family could retain, this time on a complete title, 500 jugera of public land; with half that amount in addition for each son. For the lands which he had to restore, he received an indemnity proportional to the improvements he had executed. The lands taken back by the State were to be distributed among the poorer citizens, who were already forbidden to alienate their share. The law was passed, but its execution was, in great measure, eluded. Caius revived it with the same result. It was almost impossible for the State to recover possession of lands which had been occupied for so long as to be indistinguishable from private property. It could only have done so successfully by a great effort based on some secure support. It is well known with what skill the patricians, using fraud and violence by turns, managed to rid themselves of the Gracchi, the greatest citizens and most clear-sighted statesmen that Rome produced.

But, for the salvation of Rome, an agrarian law was not sufficient. It required a series of such measures and a consistent policy, having in view the suppression of large properties, and the re-constitution of small ones. Unfortunately, fresh conquests were continually putting new lands, and slaves for the cultivation of them, at the disposal of the rich; and consequently it was impossible to stop the growth of latifundia.

After the death of the Gracchi, the higher classes succeeded in passing three agrarian laws, between the years 121 and 100 B.C., which Appian makes known to us. All three were intended to beand were effectuallyfavourable to the increase of large estates. The first, contrary to the laws of the Gracchi, allowed every one to sell the portion of land which he had received. The result was that the poor sold their shares, which they often did not know what to do with; and the rich gradually monopolised the whole of the ager publicus. The second law forbade any new division of the public land. It was to remain in the hands of its present holders, a rent being paid by them, the amount of which was to be distributed among the citizens. The latter, therefore, received in the place of the land which would have compelled them to labour, an allowance in money, which induced them to remain idle and live at the expense of the public treasury. Finally, the third law abolished even the rent; so that there remained nothing of the laws of the Gracchi but a single clause, favourable to the aristocracy, which gave a definite title to the possession of public land. Independently of these agrarian laws, an attempt was made to re-establish the class of proprietors by settling citizens and soldiers on the conquered lands. In 422 B.C. when a colony was founded at Labici in Latium, 1,500 plebeians, fathers of families, were sent out, and each obtained the bina jugera (Liv. iv. 47, 5). Eighty-nine years later, 300 colonists sent to Terracina receive similar lots (Liv. VIII 21, 11): and the maxim is proclaimed that lots of two jugera each are to be given to plebeians in all conquered lands.(12) In 369 B.C., 2,000 colonists established at Satricum in Latium obtain 2 jugera apiece (Liv. vi. 16, 6); in 359 B.C., 3,000 colonists sent to the Volscian country receive 3 7/10 jugera (Liv. v. 24, 4); and after the victory of Veii, which doubled the territory of Rome, the Senate allotted to every colonist 7 jugera (Liv. V. 30, 8). Pliny tells us that the consul, Manius Curius, after his victory over the Samnites, accused every one who was not content with seven jugera as being a dangerous citizen:perniciosum intelligi civem, cui septern jugera non essent satis (Hist. Nat. xviii. 4). In 200 B.C., after the return of Scipio from the conquest of Carthage, lands were distributed among the soldiers.

The tribune Apulcius Saturninus, in the year 100 B.C., passed a law which gave to the Roman citizens the lands of Cisalpine Gaul, reconquered from the Cimbri. He also pro. mised 100 jugera of land in Africa to the veterans of Marius. This law, however, seems to have been never carried into execution. Marius contented himself with giving 14 jugera to his soldiers, saying: "Please God, there be no Roman, who finds a portion of earth, sufficient for his sustenance, too small for him."

In the year 65, the tribune Servius Rullus proposed a new agrarian law, which M. Antonin Macé (Hist. des lois agraires) characterises as just and well framed.

Rullus endeavoured to reconstitute the public domain, without having recourse to confiscation. For this purpose, he proposed to sell the lands conquered in Asia, Africa, and Greece, and with the produce to purchase lands in Italy for distribution among the citizens. Cicero attacked this scheme in the speeches which have come down to us, and which are masterpieces of eloquence. The people themselves were induced by them to reject the rogatio, or bill, advocated by Rullus. Three years afterwards, Cicero supported the agrarian law proposed by Flavius. Its object was to purchase lands, and establish colonies on them, but it was not passed.

Caesar revived the ideas of Rullus and the Gracchi. As Dio Cassius tells us, he wished to restore agriculture; to repeople the wastes made in Italy by the latifundia; to take from Rome the idle and starving proletarians, by giving them land to cultivate; and to arrest depopulation, by re-forming fresh families of peasant proprietors. With this object, he introduced a law which distributed the public domainespecially that in Campania hitherto let on farmamong all poor citizens with three or more children.

The public domain, proving insufficient, had to be supplemented by the purchase of private estates, with the treasure Pompey derived from his conquests. According to Suetonius, this law was carried into execution, and 20,000 fathers of families received land. He subsequently gave lands to 60,000 more colonists. At the end of the Republic, Sylla, Caesar, Antony, and Octavius, to reward the soldiers who had won them power, distributed among them the treasure and the lands of the conquered; but these were not economic agrarian laws. Nevertheless, they had the effect of re-populating towns ruined by the civil wars, and of leading to the formation of new colonies. The emperors also endeavoured to increase the number of proprietors. Augustus sent colonists to all the provinces, and founded 28 colonies in Italy. In a single year, 30 A.D., 120,000 veterans obtained lands. Nero himself, also, adopted the same policy.

According to M. Macé, agrarian laws, that is to say, the distribution of public land among the citizens, produced the best results every time they were really carried into execution: and the aristocracy, by their opposition to them, caused alike their own ruin and that of the empire.

Pliny says, with much wisdom: latifundia perdidere Itaham, jam vero et provincias (Hist. Nat. xviii. 7). Italy was handed over to slaves, and no longer subjected to the plough. A few sumptuous villas, and immense pasturages, replaced the varied cultivation, which had been carried on by small proprietors of Latin, Samnite, Etruscan or Campanian origin, and had maintained so many flourishing cities.

To maintain the populace of Rome and to support the luxury of the great, it was necessary to pillage the conquered countries. Praetors, proconsuls, and public farmers, fell on the provinces like birds of prey, and ruined them to support the idleness of Rome. The free citizens disappeared; and the Roman world, literally devoured by its plutocracy, became the sport of its armies recruited from strangers and barbarians. The fate of the empire was decided by military pronunciamentos. When the Germans appeared, the country districts and the towns had alike lost great part of their inhabitants.

From the commencement of the Republic the concentration of property had been increasing, and towards the close was rapidiy accelerated. Cicero was not one of the wealthiest citizens, and yet he possessed numerous estates, one of which alone had cost 3,500,000 sesterces (nearly 30,000). When the tribune L. Marcius Philippus introduced his agrarian law, he was able to assert, that there were only 2,000 citizens to be found in the State, who owned property: non esse in civitate duo millia hominum qui rem haberent (Cic. de Offic. ii. 21). Crassus, the triumvir, besides many houses in Rome, owned lands valued at 200,000,000 sesterces; and his wife, Cecilia Metella, was buried on the Via Appia in the splendid tomb, which in the middle ages served as a fortress.

At the time of the first census under Augustus, one Roman citizen, Claudius Isidorus, was found to have 4,116 slaves, 60,000,000 sesterces, 360,000 jugera, and 257,000 sheep (Pliny, H. N. xxxiii. 9).

Half of Roman Africa belonged to six proprietors, when Nero made them disgorge (Pliny, Hist. Nat. XVIIL 7). Pliny also tells us, that in other provinces the whole of the ager publicus was owned by a few families; and Dio Cassius (Lib. xxix.) says, that the whole Thracian Chersonese belonged to Agrippa. An aqueduct, six Roman miles in length, only traversed eleven estates, belonging to nine proprietors! "A country," says Seneca (letter 49), "which once contained a whole people, too narrow for a single individual! How far would you drive your plough, if the boundaries of a province may not limit your estate? Its rivers run for one man; and, from their source to their mouth, their vast plains, once powerful kingdoms, are your property."

In the Satiricon of Petronius written under Nero, we find a passage which gives some idea of the extent of a Latifundium: "On the 26 July on the lands of Cumae belonging to Trimalchion, there were born thirty boys and forty girls. They took from the threshing-floor, and shut up in his barn 500,000 bushels of corn: they collected in his stalls 500 oxen. The same day they placed in his coffers 10,000,000 sesterces, which he could not invest." Appian describes exactly how these latifundia were created. "As the Romans subjugated the various parts of Italy, they took a portion of the conquered soil. The cultivated part was assigned or let to tenants. As for the uncultivated part, it was abandoned undivided to any one who wished to cultivate it, an annual rent of one-tenth of the grain, or one-fifth of other produce, being reserved. The object was to multiply the Italian race, which was patient and courageous, so as to increase the number of citizen soldiers. The contrary, however, of what was intended, took place. For the rich, who were masters of greater part of the undivided lands, emboldened by length of possession, obtained by voluntary purchase or actual force the inheritance of their poor neighbours, and created vast estates of their holdings. They employed slaves for their labourers and shepherds. Military service took free men from agriculture: the slaves, who were exempt from it, replaced them, and rendered the new properties productive. The rich thus became disproportionately wealthy, and the number of slaves rapidly increased. In the meanwhile, the Italian race was impoverished, and disappeared consumed by taxes, by misery, and by war. The free man was destined to sink into idleness: for the soil was tilled by slaves, and entirely in the hands of the rich, who had no need of him."

We find then, originally, village communities, which supported a numerous population in Italy of commoners, who were both warriors and cultivators, and lived under free, democratic institutions. The absolute right of individual property, or quiritary dominium, was constituted at Rome, and a powerful landed aristocracy was formed on this basis. It gradually invaded the ager publicus, the common domain, which still represented the primitive collective mark. Continual conquests, always furnishing new lands for usurpation and slaves to cultivate them, constantly augmented their wealth and power. The attempt to re-constitute the old class of small free proprietors by means of agrarian laws failed. By the side of the large estates cultivated by slaves, there was no place for them: just as m the Southern States of the American Union, small independent property could not subsist by the side of the large plantations worked by negroes. The plebeians obtained political rights: but as they succeeded in establishing no means of obtaining property, they soon derived no other benefit from their vote than that of selling it. The concentration of property in a few hands, by multiplying the number of slaves, dried up the natural source of wealth, free and responsible labour; and by destroying the sturdy race of proprietor cultivators, at once excellent soldiers and good citizens, who had given Rome the empire of the world, it destroyed the foundation of republican institutions. Latifundia perdidere Itatiam, the irremediable fall of the Roman Empire justifies the phrase, which re-echoes through the centuries as a warning to modern societies.(13) The French Revolution, and most continental legislation, has been inspired with the feeling, which dictated the Licinian laws and those of the Gracchi. It endeavoured to create a nation of proprietors; such had been the actual result of primitive communities. To-day, in presence of the democratic movement, by which we are impelled, and of the equalising tendencies which agitate the labouring classes, the one means of averting disaster and saving liberty, is to seek an organization, which may confer property on all citizens able to labour.



1. See an interesting essay by G. Arendt, Du regime de la p propriété territoriale, considéré dans ses rapports avec le mouvement politique.

2. Politics, v. 1.

3. Staatsh. der Ath., I. p. 201.

4. Varro clearly marks this distinctive feature: Bina jugera a Romulo prismum divisa dicebantur viritim quae, quod heredem sequerentur, heredium vocantur.

5. See Schwegler, Römische Gesch. Tubingen, 1856, ii. 6, 444: and Moritz Voigt, die Bina jugera, Rhein. Museum für Philologie, 1866.

6. The Bina jugera, which are about an acre and a quarter, according to Mommsen, could only yield 800 kilogrammes of corn, or only 400 annually, as they would have to lie fallow every other year.

7. For proof see Maynz' excellent work, Cours de droit romain, 14 and 82.

8. See Maynz. Varro, de Re Rustica, I.2,9: Livy, v. 24, 30: Pliny, H.N. xviii. 3, 4: Columella, de Re Rustica, I. 3.

9. For the agrarian laws, consult Römische Rechtgeschichte of A. F. Budorif, p.38; Dr Wilhelm Ihne, Forschungen auf dem Gebiete der Römischen Verf assungsgeschichte, p.75. Ihne shews that if the plebeians were constantly indebted to the patricians, it was not from having borrowed money of them; but because they had obtained lands from them, for which they owed rents, which they were often unable to. pay. Ludwig Lange, Röminische Alterthümer, p. 140. The first volume of the Corpus inscriptionum latinarum: de agro publico populi romani (Mommsen). Laboulaye, Des lois agraires chez lex Romains. Revue de législation, vol ii. p. 385 and vol. III, 1; and especially Antonin Macé, Histoire de la propriété, du domaine public et des lois agraires chez lex Romains; Savigny, Traité de la possession d'après isa principes du droit romain; Giraud, Recherches sur is droit de propriété chez lex Romains sous la république et sous l'empire; Niehubr, History of Rome; Antonin Macé, Histoire des lois agreires; W. Drumann, Die Arbeiter und Communisten in Griechenland und Rom.

10. Varro, ii. 10. Caecilius Claudius suffered great losses during the Civil wars, and yet left at his death 3,600 yoke of oxen, and 257,000 head of other cattle (Pliny, XXXIII, 47).

11. In the magnificent harangue put into his lips by Plutarch, after saying that one might travel for several days in Italy without meeting a single free man, he exclaims: "The wild beasts have dens and lairs to retreat to, while those who fight and shed their blood in the defence of Italy, have nothing of their own but the light of the sun and the air which they breathe; houseless, and homeless, they wander in all directions with their wives and children."

12. Livy, vi. 36, 11, Auderentne postulare patres ut cum bina jugera agri plebi dividerentur ipsis plus quinquagenta jugera habere liceret?Sicul. Flacc. edit. Lacbm. p. 153, Antiqui agrum ex hoste captum victori populo per bina jugera partiti sunt.

13. The eminent German economist, Bruno Hildebrand, sums up an instructive treatise on the distribution of landed property in antiquity as follows "The agrarian history of antiquity shews us that all ancient lawgivers endeavoured to secure to every one a certain inheritance, and to make every family participate in the benefits of landed property. Everywhere, however, the proprietors were too independent, and succeeded in centralizing and monopolizing the possession of the soil, and thus the ancient world was ruined." Vertheilung des Grundeigenthums im AlterthumJahrbücker für Natioisalökon., 1869, xxi. p. 129, 139, 155.