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609-506 B.C.

A further change of great importance followed the new powers given to the community as a whole. The right of annually electing the consuls, and of deciding, upon appeal from a criminal, the life or death of a citizen, gave the public assembly something more than the passive formal part in state-administration which it had played under the kings. The growth, wealth, and importance of the plebs, and the necessity of their help in making the reform, rendered it impossible for all power to remain in the hands of the smaller body of the patriciate, which by this time had practically become an order of nobility. Therefore the new community was extended so as to embrace the whole body of plebeians; all the non-burgesses, who were neither slaves nor citizens of foreign states, living at Rome under the jus hospitii, were admitted into the curies, and the old burgesses, who had hitherto formed the curies, lost the right of meeting and passing resolutions. Further, the curiate assembly (comitia curiata) had thus lost its fundamental character of burgesses belonging to different clans, and included many plebeians, who belonged to no clan, but were legally on an equal footing with the most aristocratic citizens. To obviate the results of such a democratic leveling, all political power was taken away from the comitia curiata, and was transferred to the assembly of the centuries (comitia centuriata); that is, to the assembled levy of those bound to military service, who now received the rights, as they had previously borne the burdens, of citizens. This body, originally constituted for purely military purposes, now decided cases of appeal, nominated magistrates, adopted or rejected laws. There was no debate in this assembly, any more than in that of the curies; but the constitution of the assembly gave the preponderance of power to the possessors of property, and the peculiar system, by which the decision of an election was often determined by the voting of the first centuries, gave a manifest advantage to the possessors of property, whose centuries had the privilege of giving their votes first.

The prerogatives of the senate were increased by the reform of the constitution. In addition to its old rights of appointing the interrex, and of confirming or rejecting the resolutions passed by the community, the senate could now either reject or confirm the appointment of the magistrates elected by the public assembly. The senate was still composed exclusively of patricians, but on occasions when its advice was asked, side by side with the patres, or true

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patrician senators, a number of non-patricians were admitted and "added to the senate-roll" (conscripti). These plebeians were not by this admission placed on a footing of equality; they did not become true senators, and were not invested with the senatorial insignia; they had no share in the magisterial prerogatives of the senate, nor were they allowed to express their opinion on those occasions when the senate met in the character of a state-council, and discussed what advice should be tendered the community: they were simply silent voters in the divisions of the house, and called " footmembers" by the proud nobility, or "men who voted with their feet." Still, this admission of plebeians into the senate-house was a most important step, and one fraught with no slight consequences. The consuls in office did not vote, but they selected the new members of the senate, alike the patres and the plebeian conscripti, although they were no doubt more restricted by the opinions of the nobility in their selection than the king had been. Two rules early obtained; that the consulship entailed upon the holder of it admission to the senate for life; that vacancies in the senate were not filled up at once, but on the occasion of the census, taken every fourth year, when the roll of senators was revised and completed. The number of senators remained unchanged, and, from the fact that the conscripti were included in the number, we may infer the diminution of the number of patriciate clans. It is easy to see what an immense preponderance of power the revolution gave the senate. Its right of rejecting the proposals of the comitia centuriata, its position as adviser of the chief magistrate, its tenure of office for life, as contrasted with the annual duration of magistracies,—all tended to place the government in its hands. But what chiefly did so, was the fact that the consul ruled for but a brief space, and was, on the expiration of his term of office, merely one of the nobility; and thus, even if a consul were inclined to question the senate's influence, he lacked the first element of political power, viz., time; while his authority was paralyzed alike by the priestly colleges and his own colleague, and, if need be, could be suspended by the dictatorship. The result was that the senate became the real governing power, and the consul subsided into a president, acting as its chairman and executing its decrees. The senate also drew into its own hands the management of the state finances, by causing the consul to commit the administration of the public chest to two quaestors, who naturally became dependent on the senate.

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The revolution thus accomplished at Rome was, as we have seen, conservative in its character, in that the fundamental elements of the old constitution were retained. It was, in fact, a compromise between the two state parties—the old burgesses and the plebeians— who, for the time being, sank their party quarrels, and united under the pressure of the common danger of a despotism. The necessity of their cooperation caused those mutual concessions we have described above, and the importance of the revolution lay far more in the indirect effects of those concessions than in the limit of time imposed on the supreme magistracy. Among these indirect effects was the rise of the Roman citizens in the later sense of the term. The plebeians had hitherto been little better than aliens or metics in the eye of the law. Now they were enrolled in the curies as citizens, they voted in the common assembly and in the senate, and they were protected by the right of appeal. The elevation of the old burgess-body, or patriciate, into an exclusive aristocracy was another result of the revolution. The very incorporation of the plebeians into the burgess-body caused the patres to close up their ranks, and hold stubbornly to the privileges that remained to them; the admission of new clans into their body, which had not been very rare under the kings, now ceased. Although the plebeians might become military officers and senators, they could hold no public magistracy or priesthood: and the patres still maintained the legal impossibility of marriage between their order and the plebeians. It further became necessary to define the distinction between the enlarged burgess-body and those who were now the non-burgesses. To this epoch, therefore, we may trace back—in the views and feelings of the people—both the invidiousness of the distinction between the patricians and plebeians, and the strict and haughty line of demarcation between cives Romani and aliens.

The provinces of civil and military authority were now finally separated. The power of the consul within the city limits was restricted by law, as shown above; his power as general was absolute. Therefore the general and the army could not in their military capacity enter the city proper, unless allowed to do so. Thus the distinction between quirites and soldiers became deeply rooted in the minds of the people.

Viewing the revolution as a whole, its immediate effect was to e^ablish an aristocratic government, by making the senate practically supreme. But the germs of a more representative constitution

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were visible. The enrollment of the plebeians among the burgesses, the admission of certain of them to the senate, were victories of happy augury for the future. Those plebeian families admitted on account of their wealth or position into the senate naturally held aloof from the mass of the plebs. In addition to this distinction in the plebeian body, there arose another out of the system of voting in the comitia centuriata, which placed the chief power in that class of farmers whose property was in excess of that of the small freeholders, but inferior to that of the great proprietors; and this arrangement further enabled the seniors, although less numerous, to have as many voting divisions as the juniors. While in this way the ax was laid to the root of the old burgess-body and their clan-nobility, and the basis of a new burgess-body was laid, the preponderance in the latter rested on the possession of land and on age, and the first beginnings were already visible of a new aristocracy, based primarily on the consideration in which the families were held—the future nobility.

Chapter VI


T the beginning of the last chapter we noted the importance

of the struggle which was intimately connected with land

JL JL occupation. Before proceding to describe the constitutional changes which arose from this struggle, we must revert for a time to the original land-tenure among the Romans, and, as far as possible, strive to clearly present the main features of this most difficult and important question. From the first, agriculture was felt to be the main support and fundamental basis of every Italian commonwealth. The Roman state in particular secured by the plow what it won by the sword; it felt that the strength of man and of the state lay in their hold over the soil; and this feeling caused the state to avoid, if possible, the cession of Roman soil, and caused the farmers to cling tenaciously to their fields and homesteads. The main object of war was to increase the number of freeholders; this object was also evident in the Servian constitution, which showed the original preponderance of the agricultural class in the state; and which, by its division of the community into "freeholders" and "producers of children" (prolctarii), without reference to their political position, proved that a large portion of the landed property had passed into the hands of non-burgesses. This division, by imposing upon the freeholders the duties of citizens, paved the way, as we have seen, to conceding them political rights. In the earliest times no burgess had any special property in land: all arable land was the common possession of the several clans; each clan tilled its own portion and divided the produce among its constituent households. When and how the distribution of land among the individual burgesses was made we cannot tell—at any rate it was previous to the Servian constitution; and that same constitution leads us ta conclude that the mass of the land was divided into medium-sized farms of not less than 20 jugera, or 12^ acres. Landed estates were successfully guarded against excessive subdivision by custom and

Hist. Nat. in 4

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