A History of Rome, Vol 1 - During the late Republic and early Principate
by A H.J. Greenidge
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But the regard for the property of the State was unfortunately not extended to the property of its clients. Even before the provinces had yielded a prey rendered easy by distance and irresponsibility, Italian cities had been forced to complain of the violence and rapacity of Roman commanders quartered in their neighbourhood,[118] and the passive silence with which the Praenestines bore the immoderate requisitions of a consul, was a fatal guarantee of impunity which threatened to alter for ever the relations of these free allies to the protecting power.[119] But provincial commands offered greater temptations and a far more favourable field for capricious tyranny; for here the exactions of the governor were neither repudiated by an oath of office nor at first even forbidden by the sanctions of a law. Requisitions could be made to meet the needs of the moment, and these needs were naturally interpreted to suit the cravings and the tastes of the governor of the moment.[120] Cato not only cut down the expenses that had been arbitrarily imposed on the unhappy natives of Sardinia,[121] but seems to have been the author of a definite law which fixed a limit to such requisitions in the future.[122] But it was easier to frame an ordinance than to guarantee its observation, and, at a time when the surrounding world was seething with war, the regulations made for a peaceful province could not touch the actions of a victorious commander who was following up the results of conquest. Complaints began to pour in on every hand—from the Ambraciots of Greece, the Cenomani of Gaul[123] —and the senate did its best, either by its own cognisance or by the creation of a commission of investigation, to meet the claims of the dependent peoples. A kind of rude justice was the result, but it was much too rude to meet an evil which was soon seen to be developing into a trade of systematic oppression. A novel step was taken when in 171 delegates from the two Spains appeared in the Curia to complain of the avarice and insolence of their Roman governors. A praetor was commissioned to choose from the senatorial order five of such judges as were wont to be selected for the settlement of international disputes (recuperatores), to sit in judgment on each of the indicted governors,[124] and the germ of a regular court for what had now become a regular offence was thus developed. The further and more shameful confession, that the court should be permanent and interpret a definite statute, was soon made, and the Calpurnian law of 149[125]was the first of that long series of enactments for extortion which mark the futility of corrective measures in the face of a weak system of legal, and a still weaker system of moral, control. Trials for extortion soon became the plaything of politics, the favourite arena for the exercise of the energies of a young and rising politician, the favourite weapon with which old family feuds might be at once revenged and perpetuated. They were soon destined to gain a still greater significance as furnishing the criteria of the methods of administration which the State was expected to employ, as determining the respective rights of the administrator and the capitalist to guide the destinies of the inhabitants of a dependent district. Their manifold political significance destroys our confidence in their judgments, and we can seldom tell whether the acquittal or the condemnation which these courts pronounced was justified on the evidence adduced. But there can be no question of the evil that lay behind this legislative and judicial activity. The motive which led men to assume administrative posts abroad was in many cases thoroughly selfish and mean,—the desire to acquire wealth as rapidly as was consistent with keeping on the safe side of a not very exacting law. No motive of this kind can ever be universal in a political society, and in Rome we cannot even pronounce it to be general. Power and distinction attracted the Roman as much as wealth, and some governors were saved from temptation by the colossal fortunes which they already possessed. But how early it had begun to operate in the minds of many is shown by the eagerness which, as we shall see, was soon to be displayed by rival consuls for the conduct of a war that might give the victor a prolonged control over the rich cities which had belonged to the kingdom of Pergamon, if it is not proved by the strange unwillingness which magistrates had long before exhibited to assume some commands which had been entrusted to their charge.[126]

A suspicion of another type of abuse of power, more degrading though not necessarily more harmful than the plunder of subjects, had begun to be raised in the minds of the people and the government. It was held that a Roman might be found who would sell the supposed interests of his country to a foreign potentate, or at any rate accept a present which might or might not influence his judgment, A commissioner to Illyria had been suspected of pocketing money offered him by the potentates of that district in 171,[127] and the first hint was given of that shattering of public confidence in the integrity of diplomatists which wrought such havoc in the foreign politics of the period which forms the immediate subject of our work. The system of the Protectorate, which Rome had so widely adopted, with its secret diplomatic dealings and its hidden conferences with kings, offered greater facilities for secret enrichment, and greater security for the enjoyment of the acquired wealth, even than the plunder of a province. The proof of the committal of the act was difficult, in most cases impossible. We must be content to chronicle the suspicion of its growing frequency, and the suspicion is terrible enough. If the custom of wringing wealth from subjects and selling support to potentates continued to prevail, the stage might soon be reached at which it could be said, with that element of exaggeration which lends emphasis to a truth, that a small group of men were drawing revenues from every nation in the world.[128]

Such were the sources of wealth that lay open to men, to whom commerce was officially barred and who were supposed to have no direct interest in financial operations. Far ampler spheres of pecuniary enrichment, more uniformly legal if sometimes as oppressive, were open to the class of men who by this time had been recognised as forming a kind of second order in the State. The citizens who had been proved by the returns at the census to have a certain amount of realisable capital at their disposal—a class of citizens that ranged from the possessors of a moderate patrimony, such as society might employ as a line of demarcation between an upper and a lower middle class, to the controllers of the most gigantic fortunes—had been welded into a body possessing considerable social and political solidarity. This solidarity had been attained chiefly through the community of interest derived from the similar methods of pecuniary investment which they employed, but also through the circumstance (slight in itself but significant in an ancient society which ever tended to fall into grades) that all the members of this class could describe themselves by the courtesy title of "Knights"—a description justified by the right which they possessed of serving on their own horses with the Roman cavalry instead of sharing the foot-service of the legionary. A common designation was not inappropriate to men who were in a certain sense public servants and formed in a very real sense a branch of the administration. The knight might have many avocations; he might be a money-lender, a banker, a large importer; but he was preeminently a farmer of the taxes. His position in the former cases was simply that of an individual, who might or might not be temporarily associated with others; his position in the latter case meant that he was a member of a powerful and permanent corporation, one which served a government from which it might wring great profits or at whose hands it might suffer heavy loss—a government to be helped in its distress, to be fought when its demands were overbearing, to be encouraged when its measures seemed progressive, to be hindered when they seemed reactionary from a commercial point of view. A group of individuals or private firms could never have attained the consistency of organisation, or maintained the uniformity of policy, which was displayed by these societies of revenue-collectors; even a company must have a long life before it can attain strength and confidence sufficient to act in a spirited manner in opposition to the State; and it seems certain that these societies were wholly exempted from the paralysing principle which the Roman law applied to partnership—a principle which dictated that every partnership should be dissolved by the death or retirement of one of the associates.[129] The State, which possessed no civil service of its own worthy of the name, had taken pains to secure permanent organisations of private share-holders which should satisfy its needs, to give them something of an official character, and to secure to each one of them as a result of its permanence an individual strength which, in spite of the theory that the taxes and the public works were put up to auction, may have secured to some of these companies a practical monopoly of a definite sphere of operations. But a company, at Rome as elsewhere, is powerful in proportion to the breadth of its basis. A small ring of capitalists may tyrannise over society as long as they confine themselves to securing a monopoly over private enterprises, and as long as the law permits them to exercise this autocratic power without control; but such a ring is far less capable of meeting the arbitrary dictation of an aristocratic body of landholders, such as the senate, or of encountering the resentful opposition of a nominally all-powerful body of consumers, such as the Comitia, than a corporation which has struck its roots deeply in society by the wide distribution of its shares. We know from the positive assurance of a skilled observer of Roman life that the number of citizens who had an interest in these companies was particularly large.[130] This observer emphasises the fact in order to illustrate the dependence of a large section of society on the will of the senate, which possessed the power of controlling the terms of the agreements both for the public works which it placed in the hands of contractors and for the sources of production which it put out to lease;[131] but it is equally obvious that the large size of the number of shareholders must have exercised a profoundly modifying influence on the arbitrary authority of a body such as the senate which governed chiefly through deference to public opinion; and we know that, in the last resort, an appeal could be made to the sovereign assembly, if a magistrate could be found bold enough to carry to that quarter a proposal that had been discountenanced by the senate.[132] In such crises the strength of the companies depended mainly on the number of individual interests that were at stake; the shareholder is more likely to appear at such gatherings than the man who is not profoundly affected by the issue, and it is very seldom that the average consumer has insight enough to see, or energy enough to resist, the sufferings and inconveniences which spring from the machinations of capital. It may have been possible at times to pack a legislative assembly with men who had some financial interest, however slight, in a dispute arising from a contract calling for decision; and the time was soon to come when such questions of detail would give place to far larger questions of policy, when the issues springing from a line of foreign activity which had been taken by the government might be debated in the cold and glittering light of the golden stakes the loss or gain of which depended upon the policy pursued. Nor could it have been easy even for the experienced eye to see from the survey of such a gathering that it represented the army of capital. Research has rendered it probable that the companies of the time were composed of an outer as well as of an inner circle; that the mass of shareholders differed from those who were the promoters, managers and active agents in the concern, that the liability of the former at least was limited and that their shares, whether small or great, were transmissible and subject to the fluctuations of the market.[133] But, even if we do not believe that this distinction between socii and participes was legally elaborated, yet there were probably means by which members of the outside public could enter into business relations with the recognised partners in one of these concerns to share its profits and its losses.[134] The freedman, who had invested his small savings in the business of an enterprising patron, would attach the same mercantile value to his own vote in the assembly as would be given to his suffrage in the senate by some noble peer, who had bartered the independence of his judgment for the acquisition of more rapid profits than could be drawn from land.

The farmers of the revenue fell into three broad classes. First there were the contractors for the creation, maintenance and repair of the public works possessed or projected by the State, such as roads, aqueducts, bridges, temples and other public buildings. Gigantic profits were not possible in such an enterprise, if the censors and their advisers acted with knowledge, impartiality and discretion; for the lowest possible tender was obtained for such contracts and the results might be repudiated if inspection proved them to be unsatisfactory. Secondly there were the companies which leased sources of production that were owned by the State such as fisheries, salt-works, mines and forest land. In some particular cases even arable land had been dealt with in this way, and the confiscated territories of Capua and Corinth were let on long leases to publicani. Thirdly there were the societies, which did not themselves acquire leases but acted as true intermediaries between the State and individuals[135] who paid it revenue whether as occupants of its territory, or as making use of sites which it claimed to control, or as owing dues which had been prescribed by agreement or by law. These classes of debtors to the State with whom the middlemen came into contact may be illustrated respectively by the occupants of the domain land of Italy, the ship-masters who touched at ports, and the provincials such as those of Sicily or Sardinia who were burdened with the payment of a tithe of the produce of their lands.[136] If we consider separately the characteristics of the three classes of state-farmers, we find that the first and the second are both direct employers of labour, the third reaping only indirect profits from the production controlled by others. It was in this respect, as employers of labour, that the societies of the time were free from the anxieties and restrictions that beset the modern employment of capital. Except in the rare case where the contractors had leased arable land and sublet it to its original occupants,—the treatment which seems to have been adopted for the Campanian territory[137]—there can be no question that the work which they controlled was done mainly by the hands of slaves. They were therefore exempt from the annoyance and expense which might be caused by the competition and the organised resistance of free labour. The slaves employed in many of these industries must have been highly skilled; for many of these spheres of wealth which the State had delegated to contractors required peculiar industrial appliances and unusual knowledge in the foremen and leading artificers. The weakness of slave-labour,—its lack of intelligence and spirit—could not have been so keenly felt as it was on the great agricultural estates, which offered employment chiefly for the unskilled; and the difficulties that might arise from the lack of strength or interest, from the possession of hands that were either feeble or inert, were probably overcome in the same uncompromising manner in the workshop of the contractor and on the domains of the landed gentry. The maxim that an aged slave should be sold could not have been peculiar to the dabbler in agriculture, and the ergastulum with its chained gangs must have been as familiar to the manufacturer as to the landed proprietor.[138] As to the promoters and the shareholders of these companies, it could not be expected that they should trace in imagination, or tremble as they traced, the heartless, perhaps inhuman, means by which the regular returns on their capital were secured.[139] Nor is it probable that the government of this period took any great care to supervise the conditions of the work or the lot of the workman. The partner desired quick and great returns, the State large rents and small tenders. The remorseless drain on human energy, the waste of human life, and the practical abeyance of free labour which was flooding the towns with idlers, were ideas which, if they ever arose, were probably kept in the background by a government which was generally in financial difficulties, and by individuals animated by all the fierce commercial competition of the age.

The desire of contractors and lessees for larger profits naturally took the form of an eagerness to extend their sphere of operations. Every advance in the Roman sphere of military occupation implied the making of new roads, bridges and aqueducts; every extension of this sphere was likely to be followed by the confiscation of certain territories, which the State would declare to be public domains and hand over to the company that would guarantee the payment of the largest revenue. But the sordid imperialism which animated the contractor and lessee must have been as nothing to that which fed the dreams of the true state-middleman, the individual who intervened between the taxpayer and the State, the producer and the consumer. Conquest would mean fresh lines of coast and frontier, on which would be set the toil-houses of the collectors with their local directors and their active "families" of freedmen and slaves. It might even mean that a more prolific source of revenue would be handed over to the care of the publican. The spectacle of the method in which the land-tax was assessed and collected in Sicily and Sardinia may have already inspired the hope that the next instance of provincial organisation might see greater justice done to the capitalists of Rome. When Sicily had been brought under Roman sway, the aloofness of the government from financial interests, as well as its innate conservatism, justified by the success of Italian organisation, which dictated the view that local institutions should not be lightly changed, had led it to accept the methods for the taxation of land which it found prevalent in the island at the time of its annexation. The methods implied assessment by local officials and collection by local companies or states.[140] It is true that neither consequence entirely excluded the enterprise of the Roman capitalists; they had crossed the Straits of Messina on many a private enterprise and had settled in such large numbers in the business centres of the island that the charter given to the Sicilian cities after the first servile war made detailed provision for the settlement of suits between Romans and natives.[141] It was not to be expected that they should refrain from joining in, or competing with, the local companies who bid for the Sicilian tithes, nor was such association or competition forbidden by the law. But the scattered groups of capitalists who came into contact with the Sicilian yeomen did not possess the official character and the official influence of the great companies of Italy. No association, however powerful, could boast a monopoly of the main source of revenue in the island. But what they had done was an index of what they might do, if another opportunity and a more complaisant government could be found. Any individual or any party which could promise the knights the unquestioned control of the revenues of a new province would be sure of their heartiest sympathy and support.

And it would be worth the while of any individual or party which ventured to frame a programme traversing the lines of political orthodoxy, to bid for the co-operation of this class. For recent history had shown that the thorough organisation of capital, encouraged by the State to rid itself of a tiresome burden in times of peace and to secure itself a support in times of need, might become, as it pleased, a bulwark or a menace to the government which had created it. The useful monster had begun to develop a self-consciousness of his own. He had his amiable, even his patriotic moments; but his activity might be accompanied by the grim demand for a price which his nominal master was not prepared to pay. The darkest and the brightest aspects of the commercial spirit had been in turn exhibited during the Second Punic War. On the one hand we find an organised band of publicans attempting to break up an assembly before which a fraudulent contractor and wrecker was to be tried;[142] on the other, we find them meeting the shock of Cannae with the offer of a large loan to the beggared treasury, lent without guarantee and on the bare word of a ruined government that it should be met when there was money to meet it.[143] Other companies came forward to put their hands to the public works, even the most necessary of which had been suspended by the misery of the war, and told the bankrupt State that they would ask for their payment when the struggle had completely closed.[144] A noble spectacle! and if the positions of employer and employed had been reversed only in such crises and in such a way, no harm could come of the memory either of the obligation or the service. But the strength shown by this beneficence sometimes exhibited itself in unpleasant forms and led to unpleasant consequences. The censorships of Cato and of Gracchus had been fierce struggles of conservative officialdom against the growing influence and (as these magistrates held) the swelling insolence of the public companies; and in both cases the associations had sought and found assistance, either from a sympathetic party within the senate, or from the people. Cato's regulations had been reversed and their vigorous author had been threatened with a tribunician prosecution before the Comitia;[145] while Gracchus and his colleague had actually been impeached before a popular court.[146] The reckless employment of servile labour by the companies that farmed the property of the State had already proved a danger to public security. The society which had purchased from the censors the right of gathering pitch from the Bruttian forest of Sila had filled the neighbourhood with bands of fierce and uncontrolled dependants, chiefly slaves, but partly men of free birth who may have been drawn from the desperate Bruttians whom Rome had driven from their homes. The consequences were deeds of violence and murder, which called for the intervention of the senate, and the consuls had been appointed as a special commission to inquire into the outrages.[147] Nor were complaints limited to Italy; provincial abuses had already called for drastic remedies. A proof that this was the case is to be found in the striking fact that on the renewed settlement of Macedonia in 167 it was actually decreed that the working of the mines in that country, at least on the extended scale which would have required a system of contract, should be given up. It was considered dangerous to entrust it to native companies, and as to the Roman-their mere presence in the country would mean the surrender of all guarantees of the rule of public law or of the enjoyment of liberty by the provincials.[148] The State still preferred the embarrassments of poverty to those of overbearing wealth; its choice proved its weakness; but even the element of strength displayed in the surrender might soon be missed, if capital obtained a wider influence and a more definite political recognition. As things were, these organisations of capital were but just becoming conscious of their strength and had by no means reached even the prime of their vigour. The opening up of the riches of the East were required to develop the gigantic manhood which should dwarf the petty figure of the agricultural wealth of Italy.

Had the state-contractors stood alone, or had not they engaged in varied enterprises for which their official character offered a favourable point of vantage, the numbers and influence of the individuals who had embarked their capital in commercial enterprise would have been far smaller than they actually were. But, in addition to the publican, we must take account of the business man (negotiator) who lent money on interest or exercised the profession of a banker. Such men had pecuniary interests which knew no geographical limits, and in all broad questions of policy were likely to side with the state-contractor.[149] The money-lender (fenerator) represented one of the earliest, most familiar and most courted forms of Roman enterprise—one whose intrinsic attractions for the grasping Roman mind had resisted every effort of the legislature by engaging in its support the wealthiest landowner as well as the smallest usurer. It is true that a taint clung to the trade—a taint which was not merely a product of the mistaken economic conception of the nature of the profits made by the lender, but was the more immediate outcome of social misery and the fulminations of the legislature. Cato points to the fact that the Roman law had stamped the usurer as a greater curse to society than the common thief, and makes the dishonesty of loans on interest a sufficient ground for declining a form of investment that was at once safe and profitable.[150] Usury, he had also maintained, was a form of homicide.[151] But to the majority of minds this feeling of dishonour had always been purely external and superficial. The proceedings were not repugnant to the finer sense if they were not made the object of a life-long profession and not blatantly exhibited to the eyes of the public. A taint clung to the money-lender who sat in an office in the Forum, and handed his loans or received his interest over the counter;[152] it was not felt by the capitalist who stood behind this small dealer, by the nobleman whose agent lent seed-corn to the neighbouring yeomen, by the investor in the state-contracts who perhaps hardly realised that his profits represented but an indirect form of usury. But, whatever restrictions public opinion may have imposed on the money-lender as a dealer in Rome and with Romans, such restrictions were not likely to be felt by the man who had the capital and the enterprise to carry his financial operations beyond the sea. Not only was he dealing with provincials or foreigners, but he was dealing on a scale so grand that the magnitude of the business almost concealed its shame. Cities and kings were now to be the recipients of loans and, if the lender occupied a political position that seemed inconsistent with the profession of a usurer, his personality might be successfully concealed under the name of some local agent, who was adequately rewarded for the obloquy which he incurred in the eyes of the native populations, and the embarrassing conflicts with the Roman government which were sometimes entailed by an excess of zeal. Cato had swept both principals and agents out of his province of Sardinia;[153] but he was a man who courted hostility, and he lived before the age when the enmity of capital would prove the certain ruin of the governor and a source of probable danger to the senate. In the operations of the money-lender we find the most universal link between the Forum and the provinces. There was no country so poor that it might not be successfully exploited, and indeed exploitation was often conditioned by simplicity of character, lack of familiarity with the developed systems of finance, and the lack of thrift which amongst peoples of low culture is the source of their constant need. The employment of capital for this purpose was always far in advance of the limits of Roman dominion. A protectorate might be in the grasp of a group of private individuals long before it was absorbed into the empire, the extension of the frontiers was conditioned by considerations of pecuniary, not of political safety, and the government might at any moment be forced into a war to protect the interests of capitalists whom, in its collective capacity as a government, it regarded as the greatest foes of its dominion.

A more beneficent employment of capital was illustrated by the profession of banking which, like most of the arts which exhibit the highest refinement of the practical intellect, had been given to the Romans by the Greeks.[154] It had penetrated from Magna Graecia to Latium and from Latium to Rome, and had been fully established in the city by the time of the Second Punic War.[155] The strangers, who had introduced an art which so greatly facilitated the conduct of business transactions, had been welcomed by the government, and were encouraged to ply their calling in the shops rented from the State on the north and south sides of the Forum. These argentarii satisfied the two needs of the exchange of foreign money, and of advances in cash on easier terms than could be gained from the professional or secret usurer, to citizens of every grade[156] who did not wish, or found it difficult, to turn their real property into gold. Similar functions were at a somewhat later period usurped by the money-testers (nummularii), who perhaps entered Rome shortly after the issue of the first native silver coinage, and competed with the earlier-established bankers in most of the branches of their trade.[157] Ultimately there was no department of business connected with the transference and circulation of money which the joint profession did not embrace. Its representatives were concerned with the purchase and sale of coin, and the equalisation of home with foreign rates of exchange; they lent on credit, gave security for others' loans, and received money on deposit; they acted as intermediaries between creditors and debtors in the most distant places and gave their travelling customers circular notes on associated houses in foreign lands; they were equally ready to dissipate by auction an estate that had become the property of a congress of creditors or a number of legatees. Their carefully kept books improved even the methodical habits of the Romans in the matter of business entries, and introduced the form of "contract by ledger" (litterarum obligatio), which greatly facilitated business operations on an extended scale by substituting the written record of obligation for other bonds more difficult to conclude and more easy to evade.

The business life of Rome was in every way worthy of her position as an imperial city, and her business centre was becoming the greatest exchange of the commercial world of the day. The forum still drew its largest crowds to listen to the voice of the lawyer or the orator; but these attractions were occasional and the constant throng that any day might witness was drawn thither by the enticements supplied by the spirit of adventure, the thirst for news and the strain of business life. The comic poet has drawn for us a picture of the shifting crowd and its chief elements, good and bad, honest and dishonest. He has shown us the man who mingles pleasure with his business, lingering under the Basilica in extremely doubtful company; there too is a certain class of business men giving or accepting verbal bonds. In the lower part of the Forum stroll the lords of the exchange, rich and of high repute; under the old shops on the north sit the bankers, giving and receiving loans on interest.[158]

The Forum has become in common language the symbol of all the ups and downs of business life,[159] and the moralist of later times could refer all students, who wish to master the lore of the quest and investment of money, to the excellent men who have their station by the temple of Janus.[160] The aspect of the market place had altered greatly to meet the growing needs. Great Basilicae—sheltered promenades which probably derived their names from the Royal Courts of the Hellenic East—had lately been erected. Two of the earliest, the Porcian and Sempronian, had been raised on the site of business premises which had been bought up for the purpose,[161] and were meant to serve the purposes of a market and an exchange.[162] Their sheltering roofs were soon employed to accommodate the courts of justice, but it was the business not the legal life of Rome that called these grand edifices into existence.

The financial activity which centred in the Forum was a consequence, not merely of the contract-system encouraged by the State and of the business of the banker and the money-lender, but of the great foreign trade which supplied the wants and luxuries of Italy and Rome. This was an import trade concerned partly with the supply of corn for a nation that could no longer feed itself, partly with the supply of luxuries from the East and of more necessary products, including instruments of production, from the West. The Eastern trade touched the Euxine Sea at Dioscurias, Asia Minor chiefly at Ephesus and Apamea, and Egypt at Alexandria. It brought Pontic fish, Hellenic wines, the spices and medicaments of Asia and of the Eastern coast of Africa, and countless other articles, chiefly of the type which creates the need to which it ministers. More robust products were supplied by the West through the trade-routes which came down to Gades, Genua and Aquileia. Hither were brought slaves, cattle, horses and dogs; linen, canvas and wool; timber for ships and houses, and raw metal for the manufacture of implements and works of art. Neither in East nor West was the product brought by the producer to the consumer. In accordance with the more recent tendencies of Hellenistic trade, great emporia had grown up in which the goods were stored, until they were exported by the local dealers or sought by the wholesale merchant from an Italian port. As the Tyrrhenian Sea became the radius of the trade of the world, Puteoli became the greatest staple to which this commerce centred; thence the goods which were destined for Rome were conveyed to Ostia by water or by land, and taken by ships which drew no depth of water up the Tiber to the city.[163] But it must not be supposed that this trade was first controlled by Romans and Italians when it touched the shores of Italy. Groups of citizens and allies were to be found in the great staples of the world, receiving the products as they were brought down from the interior and supplying the shipping by which they were transferred to Rome.[164] They were not manufacturers, but intermediaries who reaped a larger profit from the carrying trade than could be gained by any form of production in their native land. The Roman and Italian trader was to be inferior only to the money-lender as a stimulus and a stumbling-block to the imperial government; he was, like the latter, to be a cause of annexation and a fire-brand of war, and serves as an almost equal illustration of the truth that a government which does not control the operations of capital is likely to become their instrument.[165]

If we descend from the aristocracy of trade to its poorer representatives, we find that time had wrought great changes in the lot of the smaller manufacturer and artisan. It is true that the old trade-gilds of Rome, which tradition carried back to the days of Numa, still maintained their existence. The goldsmiths, coppersmiths, builders, dyers, leather-workers, tanners and potters[166] still held their regular meetings and celebrated their regular games. But it is questionable whether even at this period their collegiate life was not rather concerned with ceremonial than with business, whether they did not gather more frequently to discuss the prospects of their social and religious functions than to consider the rules and methods of their trades. We shall soon see these gilds of artificers a great political power in the State—one that often alarmed the government and sometimes paralysed its control of the streets of Rome. But their political activity was connected with ceremonial rather than with trade; it was as religious associations that they supported the demagogue of the moment and disturbed the peace of the city. They made war against any aristocratic abuse that was dangled for the moment before their eyes; but they undertook no consistent campaign against the dominance of capital. Their activity was that of the radical caucus, not of the trade-union. But, if even their industrial character had been fully maintained and trade interests had occupied more of their attention than street processions and political agitation, they could never have posed as the representatives of the interests of the free-born sons of Rome. The class of freedmen was freely admitted to their ranks, and the freedman was from an economic point of view the greatest enemy of the pure-blooded Italian. We shall also see that the freedman was usually not an independent agent in the conduct of the trade which he professed. He owed duties to his patron which limited his industrial activity and rendered a whole-hearted co-operation with his brother-workers impossible. It is questionable whether any gild organisation could have stood the shock of the immense development of industrial activity of which the more fortunate classes at Rome were now reaping the fruits. The trades represented by Numa's colleges would at best have formed a mere framework for a maze of instruments which formed the complex mechanism needed to satisfy the voracious wants of the new society. The gold-smithery of early times was now complicated by the arts of chasing and engraving on precious stones; the primitive builder, if he were still to ply his trade with profit, must associate it with the skill of the men who made the stuccoed ceilings, the mosaic pavements, the painted walls. The leather-worker must have learnt to make many a kind of fashionable shoe, and the dyer to work in violet, scarlet or saffron, in any shade or colour to which fashion had given a temporary vogue. Tailoring had become a fine art, and the movable decorations of houses demanded a host of skilled workmen, each of whom was devoted to the speciality which he professed. It would seem as though the very weaknesses of society might have benefited the lower middle class, and the siftings of the harvest given by the spoils of empire might have more than supplied the needs of a parasitic proletariate. It is an unquestioned fact that the growing luxury of the times did benefit trade with that doubtful benefit which accompanies the diversion of capital from purposes of permanent utility to objects of aesthetic admiration or temporary display; but it is an equally unquestioned fact that this unhealthy nutriment did not strengthen to any appreciable extent such of the lower classes as could boast pure Roman blood. The military conscription, to which the more prosperous of these classes were exposed, was inimical to the constant pursuit of that technical skill which alone could enable its possessor to hold the market against freer competitors. Such of the freedmen and the slaves as were trained to these pursuits—men who would not have been so trained had they not possessed higher artistic perception and greater deftness in execution than their fellows—were wholly freed from the military burden which absorbed much of the leisure, and blunted much of the skill, possessed by their free-born rivals. The competition of slaves must have been still more cruel in the country districts and near the smaller country towns than in the capital itself. At Rome the limitations of space must have hindered the development of home-industries in the houses of the nobles, and, although it is probable that much that was manufactured by the slaves of the country estate was regularly supplied to the urban villa, yet for the purchase of articles of immediate use or of goods which showed the highest qualities of workmanship the aristocratic proprietor must have been dependent on the competition of the Roman market. But the rustic villa might be perfectly self-supporting, and the village artificer must have looked in vain for orders from the spacious mansion, which, once a dwelling-house or farm, had become a factory as well. Both in town and country the practice of manumission was paralysing the energies of the free-born man who attempted to follow a profitable profession. The frequency of the gift of liberty to slaves is one of the brightest aspects of the system of servitude as practised by the Romans; but its very beneficence is an illustration of the aristocrat's contempt for the proletariate; for, where the ideal of citizenship is high, manumission—at least of such a kind as shall give political rights, or any trading privileges, equivalent to those of the free citizen—is infrequent. In the Rome of this period, however, the liberation of a slave showed something more than a mere negative neglect of the interests of the citizen. The gift of freedom was often granted by the master in an interested, if not in a wholly selfish, spirit. He was freed from the duty of supporting his slave while he retained his services as a freedman. The performance of these services was, it is true, not a legal condition of manumission; but it was the result of the agreement between master and slave on which the latter had attained his freedom. The nobleman who had granted liberty to his son's tutor, his own doctor or his barber, might still bargain to be healed, shaved or have his children instructed free of expense. The bargain was just in so far as the master was losing services for which he had originally paid, and juster still when the freedman set up business on the peculium which his master had allowed him to acquire during the days of his servitude. But the contracting parties were on an unequal footing, and the burden enforced by the manumittor was at times so intolerable that towards the close of the second century the praetor was forced to intervene and set limits to the personal service which might be expected from the gratitude of the liberated slave.[167] The performance of such gratuitous services necessarily diminished the demand for the labour of the free man who attempted to practise the pursuit of an art which required skill and was dependent for its returns on the custom of the wealthier classes; and even such needs as could not be met by the gratuitous services of freedmen or the purchased labour of slaves, were often supplied, not by the labour of the free-born Roman, but by that of the immigrant peregrinus. The foreigner naturally reproduced the arts of his own country in a form more perfect than could be acquired by the Roman or Italian, and as Rome had acquired foreign wants it was inevitable that they should be mainly supplied by foreign hands. We cannot say that most of the new developments in trade and manufacture had slipped from the hands of the free citizens; it would be truer to maintain that they had never been grasped by them at all. And, worse than this, we must admit that there was little effort to attain them. Both the cause and the consequence of the monopoly of trade and manufacture of a petty kind by freedmen and foreigners is to be found in the contempt felt by the free-born Roman for the "sordid and illiberal sources of livelihood." [168] This prejudice was reflected in public law, for any one who exercised a trade or profession was debarred from office at Rome.[169] As the magistracy had become the monopoly of a class, the prejudice might have been little more than one of the working principles of an aristocratic government, had not the arts which supplied the amenities of life actually tended to drift into the hands of the non-citizen or the man of defective citizenship. The most abject Roman could in his misery console himself with the thought that the hands, which should only touch the plough and the sword, had never been stained by trade. His ideal was that of the nobleman in his palace. It differed in degree but not in kind. It centred round the Forum, the battlefield and the farm.

For even the most lofty aristocrat would have exempted agriculture from the ban of labour;[170] and, if the man of free birth could still have toiled productively on his holding, his contempt for the rabble which supplied the wants of his richer fellow-citizens in the towns would have been justified on material, if not on moral, grounds. He would have held the real sources of wealth which had made the empire possible and still maintained the actual rulers of that empire. Italian agriculture was still the basis of the brilliant life of Rome. Had it not been so, the epoch of revolution could not have been ushered in by an agrarian law. Had the interest in the land been small, no fierce attack would have been made and no encroachment stoutly resisted. We are at the commencement of the epoch of the dominance of trade, but we have not quitted the epoch of the supremacy of the landed interest.

The vital question connected with agriculture was not that of its failure or success, but that of the individuals who did the work and shared the profits. The labourer, the soil, the market stand in such close relations to one another that it is possible for older types of cultivation and tenure to be a failure while newer types are a brilliant success. But an economic success may be a social failure. Thus it was with the greater part of the Italian soil of the day which had passed into Roman hands. Efficiency was secured by accumulation and the smaller holdings were falling into decay.

A problem so complex as that of a change in tenure and in the type of productive activity employed on the soil is not likely to yield to the analysis of any modern historian who deals with the events of the ancient world. He is often uncertain whether he is describing causes or symptoms, whether the primary evil was purely economic or mainly social, whether diminished activity was the result of poverty and decreasing numbers, or whether pauperism and diminution of population were the effects of a weakened nerve for labour and of a standard of comfort so feverishly high that it declined the hard life of the fields and induced its possessors to refuse to propagate their kind. But social and economic evils react so constantly on one another that the question of the priority of the one to the other is not always of primary importance. A picture has been conjured up by the slight sketches of ancient historians and the more prolonged laments of ancient writers on agriculture, which gives us broad outlines that we must accept as true, although we may refuse to join in the belief that these outlines represent an unmixed and almost incurable evil. These writers even attempt to assign causes, which convince by their probability, although there is often a suspicion that the ultimate and elusive truth has not been grasped.

The two great symptoms which immediately impress our imagination are a decline, real or apparent, in the numbers of the free population of Rome, and the introduction of new methods of agriculture which entailed a diminution in the class of freehold proprietors who had held estates of small or moderate size. The evidence for an actual decline of the population must be gathered exclusively from the Roman census lists.[171] At first sight these seem to tell a startling tale. At the date of the outbreak of the First Punic War (265 B.C.) the roll of Roman citizens had been given as 382,284,[172] at a census held but three years before the tribunate of Tiberius Gracchus (136 B.C.) the numbers presented by the list were 307,833.[173] In 129 years the burgess roll had shrunk by nearly 75,000 heads of the population. The shrinkage had not always been steadily progressive; sometimes there is a sudden drop which tells of the terrible ravages of war. But the return of peace brought no upward movement that was long maintained. In the interval of comparative rest which followed the Third Macedonian War the census rolls showed a decrease of about 13,000 in ten Years.[174] Seven years later 2,000 more have disappeared,[175] and a slight increase at the next lustrum is followed by another drop of about 14,000.[176] The needs of Rome had increased, and the means for meeting them were dwindling year by year. This must be admitted, however we interpret the meaning of these returns. A hasty generalisation might lead us to infer that a wholesale diminution was taking place in the population of Rome and Italy. The returns may add weight to other evidence which points this way; but, taken by themselves, they afford no warrant for such a conclusion. The census lists were concerned, not only purely with Roman citizens, but purely with Roman citizens of a certain type. It is practically certain that they reproduce only the effective fighting strength of Rome,[177] and take no account of those citizens whose property did not entitle them to be placed amongst the classes.[178] But, if it is not necessary to believe that an actual diminution of population is attested by these declining numbers, the conclusion which they do exhibit is hardly less serious from an economic and political point of view. They show that portions of the well-to-do classes were ceasing to possess the property which entitled them to entrance into the regular army, and that the ranks of the poorer proletariate were being swelled by their impoverishment. It is possible that such impoverishment may have been welcomed as a boon by the wearied veterans of Rome and their descendants. It meant exemption from the heavier burdens of military service, and, if it went further still, it implied immunity from the tribute as long as direct taxes were collected from Roman citizens.[179] As long as service remained a burden on wealth, however moderate, there could have been little inducement to the man of small means to struggle up to a standard of moderately increased pecuniary comfort, which would certainly be marred and might be lost by the personal inconvenience of the levy.

The decline in the numbers of the wealthier classes is thus attested by the census rolls. But indications can also be given which afford a slight probability that there was a positive diminution in the free population of Rome and perhaps of Italy. The carnage of the Hannibalic war may easily be overemphasised as a source of positive decline. Such losses are rapidly made good when war is followed by the normal industrial conditions which success, or even failure, may bring. But, as we shall soon see reason for believing that these industrial conditions were not wholly resumed in Italy, the Second Punic War may be regarded as having produced a gap in the population which was never entirely refilled. We find evidences of tracts of country which were not annexed by the rich but could not be repeopled by the poor. The policy pursued by the decaying Empire of settling foreign colonists on Italian soil had already occurred to the statesmen of Rome in the infancy of her imperial expansion. In 180 B.C. 40,000 Ligurians belonging to the Apuanian people were dragged from their homes with their wives and children and settled on some public land of Rome which lay in the territory of the Samnites. The consuls were commissioned to divide up the land in allotments, and money was voted to the colonists to defray the expense of stocking their new farms.[180] Although the leading motive for this transference was the preservation of peace amongst the Ligurian tribes, yet it is improbable that the senate would have preferred the stranger to its kindred had there been an outcry from the landless proletariate to be allowed to occupy and retain the devastated property of the State.

But moral motives are stronger even than physical forces in checking the numerical progress of a race. Amongst backward peoples unusual indulgence and consequent disease may lead to the diminution or even extinction of the stock; amongst civilised peoples the motives which attain this result are rather prudential, and are concerned with an ideal of life which perhaps increases the efficiency of the individual, but builds up his healthy and pleasurable environment at the expense of the perpetuity of the race. The fact that the Roman and Italian physique was not degenerating is abundantly proved by the military history of the last hundred years of the Republic. This is one of the greatest periods of conquest in the history of the world. The Italy, whom we are often inclined to think of as exhausted, could still pour forth her myriads of valiant sons to the confines marked by the Rhine, the Euphrates and the Sahara; and the struggle of the civil wars, which followed this expansion, was the clash of giants. But this vigour was accompanied by an ideal, whether of irresponsibility or of comfort, which gave rise to the growing habit of celibacy—a habit which was to stir the eloquence of many a patriotic statesman and finally lead to the intervention of the law. When the censor of 131 uttered the memorable exhortation "Since nature has so ordained that we cannot live comfortably with a wife nor live at all without one, you should hold the eternal safety of the State more dear than your own brief pleasure," [181] it is improbable that he was indulging in conscious cynicism, although there may have been a trace of conscious humour in his words. He was simply bending to the ideal of the people whom he saw, or imagined to be, before him. The ideal was not necessarily bad, as one that was concerned with individual life. It implied thrift, forethought, comfort—even efficiency of a kind, for the unmarried man was a more likely recruit than the father of a family. But it sacrificed too much—the future to the present; it ignored the undemonstrable duty which a man owes to the permanent idea of the State through working for a future which he shall never see. It rested partly on a conviction of security; but that feeling of security was the most perilous sign of all.

The practice of celibacy generally leads to irregular attachments between the sexes. In a society ignorant of slavery, such attachments, as giving rise to social inconveniences far greater than those of marriage, are usually shunned on prudential grounds even where moral motives are of no avail. But the existence in Italy of a large class of female dependants, absolutely outside the social circle of the citizen body, rendered the attachment of the master to his slave girl or to his freedwoman fatally easy and unembarrassing. It was unfortunately as attractive as it was easy. Amidst the mass of servile humanity that had drifted to Italy from most of the quarters of the world there was scarcely a type that might not reproduce some strange and wonderful beauty. And the charm of manner might be secured as readily as that of face and form. The Hellenic East must often have exhibited in its women that union of wit, grace and supple tact which made even its men so irresistible to their Roman masters. The courtesans of the capital, whether of high or low estate,[182] are from the point of view which we are considering not nearly so important as the permanent mistress or "concubine" of the man who might dwell in any part of Italy. It was the latter, not the former, that was the true substitute for the wife. There is reason to believe that it was about this period that "concubinage" became an institution which was more than tolerated by society.[183] The relation which it implied between the man and his companion, who was generally one of his freedwomen, was sufficiently honourable. It excluded the idea of union with any other woman, whether by marriage or temporary association; it might be more durable than actual wedlock, for facilities for divorce were rapidly breaking the permanence of the latter bond; it might satisfy the juristic condition of "marital affection" quite as fully as the type of union to which law or religion gave its blessing. But it differed from marriage in one point of vital importance for the welfare of the State. Children might be the issue of concubinatus, but they were not looked on as its end. Such unions were not formed liberum quaerendorum causa.

The decline, or at least the stationary character, of the population may thus be shown to be partly the result of a cause at once social and economic; for this particular social evil was the result of the economic experiment of the extended use of slavery as a means of production. This extension was itself partly the result of the accidents of war and conquest, and in fact, throughout this picture of the change which was passing over Italy, we can never free ourselves from the spectres of militarism and hegemony. But an investigation of the more purely economic aspects of the industrial life of the period affords a clear revelation of the fact that the effects of war and conquest were merely the foundation, accidentally presented, of a new method of production, which was the result of deliberate design and to some extent of a conscious imitation of systems which had in turn built up the colossal wealth, and assisted the political decay, of older civilisations with which Rome was now brought into contact. The new ideal was that of the large plantation or latifundium supervised by skilled overseers, worked by gangs of slaves with carefully differentiated duties, guided by scientific rules which the hoary experience of Asia and Carthage had devised, but, in unskilled Roman hands, perhaps directed with a reckless energy that, keeping in view the vast and speedy returns which could only be given by richer soils than that of Italy, was as exhaustive of the capacities of the land as it was prodigal of the human energy that was so cheaply acquired and so wastefully employed. The East, Carthage and Sicily had been the successive homes of this system, and the Punic ideal reached Rome just at the moment when the tendency of the free peasantry to quit their holdings as unprofitable, or to sell them to pay their debts, opened the way for the organisation of husbandry on the grand Carthaginian model.[184] The opportunity was naturally seized with the utmost eagerness by men whose wants were increasing, whose incomes must be made to keep pace with these wants, and whose wealth must inevitably be dependent mainly on the produce of the soil. Yet we have no warrant for accusing the members of the Roman nobility of a deliberate plan of campaign stimulated by conscious greed and selfishness. For a time they may not have known what they were doing. Land was falling in and they bought it up; domains belonging to the State were so unworked as to be falling into the condition of rank jungle and pestilent morass. They cleared and improved this land with a view to their own profit and the profit of the State. Free labour was unattainable or, when attained, embarrassing. They therefore bought their labour in the cheapest market, this market being the product of the wars and slave-raids of the time. They acted, in fact, as every enlightened capitalist would act under similar circumstances. It seemed an age of the revival of agriculture, not of its decay. The official class was filled with a positive enthusiasm for new and improved agricultural methods. The great work of the Carthaginian Mago was translated by order of the senate.[185] Few of the members of that body would have cared to follow the opening maxim of the great expert, that if a man meant to settle in the country he should begin by selling his house in town;[186] the men of affairs did not mean to become gentlemen farmers, and it was the hope of profitable investment for the purpose of maintaining their dignity in the capital, not the rustic ideal of the primitive Roman, that appealed to their souls. But they might have hoped that most of the golden precepts of the twenty-eight books, which unfolded every aspect of the science of the management of land, would be assimilated by the intelligent bailiff, and they may even have been influenced by a patriotic desire to reveal to the small holder scientific methods of tillage, which might stave off the ruin that they deplored as statesmen and exploited as individuals. But the lessons were thrown away on the small cultivator; they probably presupposed the possession of capital and labour which were far beyond his reach; and science may have played but little part even in the accumulations of the rich, although the remarkable spectacle of small holdings, under the personal supervision of peasant proprietors, being unable to hold their own against plantations and ranches managed by bailiffs and worked by slaves, does suggest that some improved methods of cultivation were adopted on the larger estates. The rapidity with which the plantation system spread must have excited the astonishment even of its promoters. Etruria, in spite of the fact that three colonies of Roman citizens had lately been founded within its borders,[187] soon showed one continuous series of great domains stretching from town to town, with scarcely a village to break the monotonous expanse of its self-tilled plains. Little more than forty years had elapsed since the final settlement of the last Roman colony of Luna when a young Roman noble, travelling along the Etruscan roads, strained his eyes in vain to find a free labourer, whether cultivator or shepherd.[188] In this part of Italy it is probable that Roman enterprise was not the sole, or even the main, cause of the wreckage of the country folk. The territory had always been subject to local influences of an aristocratic kind; but the Etruscan nobles had stayed their hand as long as a free people might help them to regain their independence.[189] Now subjection had crushed all other ambition but that of gain and personal splendour, while the ravages of the Hannibalic war had made the peasantry an easy victim of the wholesale purchaser. Farther south, in Bruttii and Apulia, the hand of Rome had co-operated with the scourge of war to produce a like result. The confiscations effected in the former district as a punishment for its treasonable relations with Hannibal, the suitability of the latter for grazing purposes, which had early made it the largest tract of land in Italy patrolled by the shepherd slave,[190] had swept village and cultivator away, and left through whole day's journeys but vast stretches of pasture between the decaying towns.

For barrenness and desolation were often the results of the new and improved system of management. There were tracts of country which could not produce cereals of an abundance and quality capable of competing with the corn imported from the provinces; but even on territories where crops could be reared productively, it was tempting to substitute for the arduous processes of sowing and reaping the cheaper and easier industry of the pasturage of flocks. We do not know the extent to which arable land in fair condition was deliberately turned into pasturage; but we can imagine many cases in which the land recently acquired by capitalists, whether from the State or from smaller holders, was in such a condition, either from an initial lack of cultivation or from neglect or from the ravages of war, that the new proprietor may well have shrunk from the doubtful enterprise of sinking his capital in the soil, for the purpose of testing its productive qualities. In such cases it was tempting to treat the great domain as a sheep-walk or cattle-ranch. The initial expenses of preparation were small, the labour to be employed was reduced to a minimum, the returns in proportion to the expenses were probably far larger than could be gained from corn, even when grown under the most favourable conditions. The great difficulty in the way of cattle-rearing on a large scale in earlier times had been the treatment of the flocks and herds during the winter months. The necessity for providing stalls and fodder for this period must have caused the proprietor to limit the heads of cattle which he cared to possess. But this constraint had vanished at once when a stretch of warm coast-line could be found, on which the flocks could pasture without feeling the rigour of the winter season. Conversely, the cattle-rearer who possessed the advantage of such a line of coast would feel his difficulties beginning when the summer months approached. The plains of the Campagna and Apulia could have been good neither for man nor beast during the torrid season. The full condition which freed a grazier from all embarrassment and rendered him careless of limiting the size of his flocks, was the combined possession of pastures by the sea for winter use, and of glades in the hills for pasturage in summer.[191] Neither the men of the hills nor the men of the plains, as long as they formed independent communities, could become graziers on an extensive scale, and it has been pointed out that even a Greek settlement of the extent of Sybaris had been forced to import its wool from the Black Sea through Miletus.[192] But when Rome had won the Apennines and extended her influence over the coast, there were no limits to the extent to which cattle rearing could be carried.[193] It became perhaps the most gigantic enterprise connected with the soil of Italy. Its cheapness and efficiency appealed to every practical mind. Cato, who had a sentimental attachment to agriculture, was bound in honesty to reply to the question "What is the best manner of investment?" by the words "Good pasturage." To the question as to the second-best means he answered "Tolerable pasturage." When asked to declare the third, he replied "Bad pasturage." To ploughing he would assign only the fourth place in the descending Scale.[194] Bruttii and Apulia were the chief homes of the ranch and the fold. The Lucanian conquest of the former country must, even at a time preceding the Roman domination, have formed a connection between the mountains and the plains, and pasturage on a large scale in the mountain glades of the Bruttian territory may have been an inheritance rather than a creation of the Romans; but the ruin caused in this district by the Second Punic War, the annexation to the State of large tracts of rebel land,[195] and the reduction of large portions of the population to the miserable serf-like condition of dediticii,[196] must have offered the capitalists opportunities which they could not otherwise have secured; and both here and in Apulia the tendency to extend the grazing system to its utmost limits must have advanced with terrible rapidity since the close of the Hannibalic war. It was the East coast of Southern Italy that was chiefly surrendered to this new form of industry, and we may observe a somewhat sharp distinction between the pastoral activity of these regions and the agricultural life which still continued, although on a diminished scale, in the Western districts.[197]

We have already made occasional reference to the accidents on which the new industrial methods that created the latifundia were designedly based. It is now necessary to examine these accidents in greater detail, if only for the purpose of preparing the ground for a future estimate of the efficacy of the remedies suggested by statesmen for a condition of things which, however naturally and even honestly created, was deplorable both on social and political grounds. The causes which had led to the change from one form of tenure and cultivation to another of a widely different kind required to be carefully probed, if the Herculean task of a reversion to the earlier system was to be attempted. The men who essayed the task had unquestionably a more perfect knowledge of the causes of the change than can ever be possessed by the student of to-day; but criticism is easier than action, and if it is not to become shamelessly facile, every constraining element in the complicated problem which is at all recoverable (all those elements so clearly seen by the hard-headed and honest Roman reformers, but known by them to possess an invulnerability that we have forgotten) must be examined by the historian in the blundering analysis which is all that is permitted by his imperfect information, and still more imperfect realisation, of the temporary forces that are the millstones of a scheme of reform.

The havoc wrought by the Hannibalic invasion[198] had caused even greater damage to the land than to the people. The latter had been thinned but the former had been wasted, and in some cases wasted, as events proved, almost beyond repair. The devastation had been especially great in Southern Italy, the nations of which had clung to the Punic invader to the end. But such results of war are transitory in the extreme, if the numbers and energy of the people who resume possession of their wrecked homes are not exhausted, and if the conditions of production and sale are as favourable after the calamity as they were before. The amount of wealth which an enemy can injure, lies on the mere surface of the soil, and is an insignificant fraction of that which is stored in the bosom of the earth, or guaranteed by a favourable commercial situation and access to the sea. Carthage could pay her war indemnity and, in the course of half a century, affright Cato by her teeming wealth and fertility. Her people had resumed their old habits, bent wholeheartedly to the only life they loved, and the prizes of a crowded haven and bursting granaries were the result. If a nation does not recover from such a blow, there must be some permanent defect in its economic life or some fatal flaw in its administrative system. The devastation caused by war merely accelerates the process of decay by creating a temporary impoverishment, which reveals the severity of the preceding struggle for existence and renders hopeless its resumption. Certainly the great war of which Italy had been the theatre did mark such an epoch in the history of its agricultural life. A lack of productivity began to be manifested, for which, however, subsequent economic causes were mainly responsible. The lack of intensity, which is a characteristic of slave labour, lessened the returns, while the secondary importance attached to the manuring of the fields was a vicious principle inherent in the agricultural precepts of the time.[199] But it is probable that from this epoch there were large tracts of land the renewed cultivation of which was never attempted; and these were soon increased by domains which yielded insufficient returns and were gradually abandoned. The Italian peasant had ever had a hard fight with the insalubrity of his soil. Fever has always been the dreaded goddess of the environs of Rome. But constant labour and effective drainage had kept the scourge at bay, until the evil moment came when the time of the peasant was absorbed, and his energy spent, in the toils of constant war, when his land was swallowed up in the vast estates that had rapid profits as their end and careless slaves as their cultivators. Then, the moist fields gave out their native pestilence, and malaria reigned unchecked over the fairest portion of the Italian plain.[200]

One of the leading economic causes, which had led to the failure of a certain class of the Italian peasant-proprietors, was the competition to which they were exposed from the provinces. Rome herself had begun to rely for the subsistence of her increasing population on corn imported from abroad, and many of the large coast-towns may have been forced to follow her example. The corn-producing powers of the Mediterranean lands had now definitely shifted from the regions of the East and North to those of the South.[201] Greece, which had been barely able to feed itself during the most flourishing period of its history, could not under any circumstances have possessed an importance as a country of export for Italy; but the economic evils which had fallen on this unhappy land are worthy of observation, as presenting a forecast of the fate which was in store for Rome. The decline in population, which could be attributed neither to war nor pestilence, the growing celibacy and childlessness of its sparse inhabitants,[202] must have been due to an agricultural revolution similar to that which was gradually being effected on Italian soil. The plantation system and the wholesale employment of slave labour must have swept across the Aegean from their homes in Asia Minor. Here their existence is sufficiently attested by the servile rising which was to assume, shortly after the tribunate of Tiberius Gracchus, the pretended form of a dynastic war; and the troubles which always attended the collection of the Asiatic tithes, in the days when a Roman province had been established in those regions, give no favourable impression of the agricultural prosperity of the countries which lay between the Taurus and the sea. As far south as Sicily there was evidence of exhaustion of the land, and of unnatural conditions of production, which excluded the mass of the free inhabitants from participation both in labour and profits. But even Sicily had learned from Carthage the evil lesson that Greece had acquired from Asia; the plantation system had made vast strides in the island, and the condition of the aratores, whether free-holders or lessees, was not what it had been in the days of Diocles and Timoleon. The growing economic dependence of Rome on Sicily was by no means wholly due to any exceptional productive capacities in the latter, but was mainly the result of proximity, and of administrative relations which enabled the government and the speculator in corn to draw definite and certain supplies of grain from the Sicilian cultivators. This was true also, although to a smaller degree, of Sardinia. But Sicily and Sardinia do mark the beginning of the Southern zone of lands which were capable of filling the markets of the Western world. It was the Northern coast of Africa which rose supreme as the grain-producer of the time. In the Carthaginian territory the natural absence of an agricultural peasantry amidst a commercial folk, and the elaboration of a definite science of agriculture, had neutralised the ill effects which accompanied the plantation system amongst other peoples less business-like and scientific; the cultivators had shown no signs of unrest and the soil no traces of exhaustion. It has been inferred with some probability that the hostility of Cato, the friend of agriculture and of the Italian yeoman, to the flourishing Punic state was directed to some extent by the fear that the grain of Africa might one day drive from the market the produce of the Italian fields;[203] and, if this view entered into the calculations which produced the final Punic War, the very short-sightedness of the policy which destroyed a state only to give its lands to African cities and potentates or to Roman speculators, who might continue the methods of the extinct community, is only too characteristic of that type of economic jealousy which destroys an accidental product and leaves the true cause of offence unassailed. The destruction of Carthage had, as a matter of fact, aggravated the danger; for the first use which Masinissa of Numidia made of the vast power with which Rome had entrusted him, was an attempt to civilise his people by turning them into cultivators;[204] and the virgin soil of the great country which stretched from the new boundaries of Carthage to the confines of the Moors, was soon reckoned amongst the competing elements which the Roman agriculturist had to fear.

But the force of circumstances caused the Sicilian and Sardinian cultivator to be the most formidable of his immediate competitors. The facility of transport from Sicily to Rome rendered that island superior as a granary to even the more productive portions of the Italian mainland. Sicily could never have revealed the marvellous fertility of the valley of the Po, where a bushel and a half of wheat could be purchased for five pence half-penny, and the same quantity of barley was sold for half this price;[205] but it was easier to get Sicilian corn to Rome by sea than to get Gallic corn to Rome by land; and the system of taxation and requisitions which had grown out of the provincial organisation of the island, rendered it peculiarly easy to place great masses of corn on the Roman market at very short notice. Occasionally the Roman government enforced a sale of corn from the province (frumentum emptum),[206] a reasonable price being paid for the grain thus demanded for the city or the army; but this was almost the only case in which the government intervened to regulate supplies. In the ordinary course of things the right to collect the tithes of the province was purchased by public companies, who paid money, not grain, into the Roman treasury, and these companies placed their corn on the market as best they could. The operations of the speculators in grain doubtless disturbed the price at times. But yet the certainty, the abundance and the facilities for transport of this supply were such as practically to shut out from competition in the Roman market all but the most favourably situated districts of Italy. Their chance of competition depended mainly on their accidental possession of a good road, or their neighbourhood to the sea or to a navigable river.[207] The larger proprietors in any part of Italy must have possessed greater facilities for carrying their grain to a good market than were enjoyed by the smaller holders. The Clodian law on trade permitted senators to own sea-going ships of a certain tonnage; they could, therefore, export their own produce without any dependence on the middle-man, while the smaller cultivators would have been obliged to pay freight, or could only have avoided such payment by forming shipping-companies amongst themselves. But such combination was not to be looked for amongst a peasant class, barely conscious even of the external symptoms of the great revolution which was dragging them to ruin, and perhaps almost wholly oblivious of its cause.

It required less penetration to fathom the second of the great reasons for the accumulation of landed property in the hands of the few; for this cause had been before the eyes of the Roman world, and had been expounded by the lips of Roman statesmen, for generations or, if we credit a certain class of traditions,[208] even for centuries. This cause of the growing monopoly of the land by the few was the system of possession which the State had encouraged, for the purpose of securing the use and cultivation of its public domain. The policy of the State seems to have changed from time to time with reference to its treatment of this particular portion of its property, which it valued as the most secure of its assets and one that served, besides its financial end, the desirable purpose of assisting it to maintain the influence of Rome throughout almost every part of Italy. When conquered domain had first been declared "public," the government had been indifferent to the type of occupier which served it by squatting on this territory and reclaiming land that had not been divided or sold chiefly because its condition was too unattractive to invite either of these processes.[209] It had probably extended its invitation even to Latin allies,[210] and looked with approval on any member of the burgess body who showed his enterprise and patriotism by the performance of this great public service. If the State had a partiality, it was probably for the richer and more powerful classes of its citizens. They could embrace a greater quantity of land in their grasp, and so save the trouble which attended an estimate of the returns of a great number of small holdings; they possessed more effective means of reclaiming waste or devastated land, for they had a greater control of capital and labour; lastly, through their large bands of clients and slaves, they had the means of efficiently protecting the land which they had occupied, and this must have been an important consideration at a time when large tracts of the ager publicus lay amidst foreign territories which were barely pacified, and were owned by communities that often wavered in their allegiance to Rome. But, whatever the views of the government, it is tolerably clear that the original occupiers must have chiefly represented men of this stamp. These were the days when the urban and the rustic tribes were sharply divided, as containing respectively the men of the town and the men of the country, and when there were comparatively few of the latter folk that did not possess some holding of their own. It was improbable that a townsman would often venture on the unfamiliar task of taking up waste land; it was almost as improbable that a small yeoman would find leisure to add to the unaided labour on his own holding the toil of working on new and unpromising soil, except in the cases where some unclaimed portion of the public domain was in close proximity to his estate.

We may, therefore, infer that from very early times the wealthier classes had asserted themselves as the chief occupiers of the public domain. And this condition of things continued to be unchallenged until a time came[211] when the small holders, yielding to the pressure of debt and bankruptcy, sought their champions amongst the tribunes of the Plebs. The absolute control of the public domain by the State, the absolute insecurity of the tenure of its occupants, furnished an excellent opportunity for staving off schemes of confiscation and redistribution of private property, such as had often shaken the communities of Greece, and even for refusing to tamper with the existing law of debtor and creditor.[212] It was imagined that bankrupt yeomen might be relieved by being allowed to settle on the public domain, or that the resumption or retention of a portion of this domain by the State might furnish an opportunity for the foundation of fresh colonies, and a law was passed limiting the amount of the ager publicus that any individual might possess. The enactment, whatever its immediate results may have been, proved ineffective as a means of checking the growth of large possessions. No special commission was appointed to enforce obedience to its terms, and their execution was neglected by the ordinary magistrates. The provisions of the law were, indeed, never forgotten, but as a rule they were remembered only to be evaded. Devious methods were adopted of holding public land through persons who seemed to be bona fide possessors in their own right, but were in reality merely agents of some planter who already held land up to the permitted limit.[213] Then came the agricultural crisis which followed the Punic Wars. The small freeholds, mortgaged, deserted or selling for a fraction of their value, began to fall into the meshes of the vast net which had spread over the public domain. In some cases actual violence is said to have been used to the smaller yeomen by their neighbouring tyrants,[214] and we can readily imagine that, when a holding had been deserted for a time through stress of war or military service, it might be difficult to resume possession in the face of effective occupation by the bailiff of some powerful neighbour. The latifundium—acquired, as it was believed, in many cases by force, fraud and shameless violation of the law—was becoming the standard unit of cultivation throughout Italy.[215] When we consider the general social and economic circumstances of the time, it is possible to imagine that large properties would have grown in Italy, as in Greece, had Rome never possessed an inch of public domain; but the occupation of ager publicus by the rich is very important from two points of view. On the one hand, it unquestionably accelerated the process of the formation of vast estates; and a renewed impulse had lately been given to this process by the huge confiscations in the South of Italy, and perhaps by the conquest of Cisalpine Gaul; for it is improbable that the domain possessed by the State in this fertile country had been wholly parcelled out amongst the colonies of the northern frontier.[216] But on the other hand, the fact that the kernel of these estates was composed of public land in excess of the prescribed limit seemed to make resumption by the State and redistribution to the poor legally possible. The ager publicus, therefore, formed the basis for future agitation and was the rallying point for supporters and opponents of the proposed methods of agricultural reform.

But it was not merely the negligence of the State which led to the crushing of the small man by the great; the positive burdens which the government was forced to impose by the exigencies of the career of conquest and hegemony into which Rome had drifted, rendered the former an almost helpless competitor in the uneven struggle. The conscription had from early days been a source of impoverishment for the commons and of opportunity for the rich. The former could obey the summons of the State only at the risk of pledging his credit, or at least of seeing his homestead drift into a condition of neglect which would bring the inevitable day when it could only be rehabilitated by a loan of seed or money. The lot of the warrior of moderate means was illustrated by the legend of Regulus. He was believed to have written home to the consuls asking to be relieved of his command in Africa. The bailiff whom he had left on his estate of seven jugera was dead, the hired man had stolen the implements of agriculture and run away; the farm lay desolate and, were its master not permitted to return, his wife and children would lack the barest necessaries of existence.[217] The struggle to maintain a household in the absence of its head was becoming more acute now that corn-land was ceasing to pay, except under the most favourable conditions, and now that the demand for conscripts was sometimes heavier and always more continuous than it had ever been before. Perhaps one-tenth of the adult male population of Rome was always in the field;[218] the units came and went, but the men who bore the brunt of the long campaigns and of garrison duty in the provinces were those to whom leisure meant life—the yeomen who maintained their place in the census lists by hardy toil, and who risked their whole subsistence through the service that had been wrested from them as a reward for a laborious career. When they ceased to be owners of their land, they found it difficult to secure places even as labourers on some rich man's property. The landholder preferred the services of slaves which could not be interrupted by the call of military duty.[219]

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