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the people, and designated as the equestrian order.' It consisted, as has been said, of men of wealth, though for the time of which we speak we have no evidence of an equestrian census, such as was introduced at a later period. Yet we can imagine that even without the aid of such a census a class could be formed sufficiently distinct from the existing classes to play a separate part in the commonwealth.



and the

Special circumstances favoured in Rome the formation The senate and growth of this class. In the financial administration capitalists. of the republic, the raising of the various revenues, the public works and contracts were entrusted to private contractors, who of course were obliged to have large sums of money at their disposal. With the growth of the empire these financial operations assumed huge proportions, and numerous capitalists combined to form companies for the purpose of conducting them. By custom and by law men of senatorial rank were not allowed to embark in such speculations. The lower class of citizens lacked, of course, the means for doing so. Thus it happened that the wealthy capitalists acquired a political and social importance which made them conspicuous and influential. They had frequent relations with the magistrates. The contracts, the various undertakings into which they entered with the government, the services they rendered in peace and war in Italy and the provinces, in the working of mines, salt works, and other demesnes, involved profits or losses of the largest amount. It was most desirable in the interest of the state, as well as in that of the capitalists, that there should be a good understanding, mutual confidence and co-operation between the reigning nobility, which supplied the magistrates, and the moneyed class. On the whole this appears to have been the case, and each party no doubt found that this served its own interests, though the interest of the public and especially that of the subjects of Rome might suffer. The disorder that always reigned in the public finances made it easy for both parties, magistrates as well as contractors, to fill their

When this name was first applied to this class is uncertain.


The urban and rural tribes.

pockets. It rarely happened that men like Cato tried to introduce order and to enforce honest dealings in these transactions. Evidently the capitalists as a class had become so powerful that the government could not easily venture to slight or offend them. On the contrary, they had a common interest which ought to have made them friends. Yet disagreements could not always be avoided. The jealousy and haughtiness of the nobility were especially galling to those men who owing to their wealth and social influence felt their exclusion from political power most keenly; and it was therefore natural that a reformer, bent on reducing the undue preponderance of the nobility, should look upon the equestrian order as a class qualified to form a controlling opposition.

Below the knights in social rank, but superior in political influence, was the mass of the poorer townspeople. The populace of Rome, exclusive of course of slaves and strangers, constituted that part of society which chiefly formed public opinion. They were to a great extent clients and dependents of the noble families; their wants and wishes were the constant care of these noble patrons, and in return they gave their votes and their assistance to carry out the measures proposed by them. The whole course of public affairs was directly and constantly under the influence of this sovereign people. But whilst Rome was rising in power and greatness, the original character of this town population had undergone a change not less fundamental nor less ominous for the republic than that which the ruling families of the nobility had experienced.

As long as the Roman territory was confined to a limited area in the immediate vicinity of the town, the population of that town exercised but a small influence on public affairs compared with the independent peasantry of the country tribes. The four city tribes comprised the poorer citizens, the tradesmen and artisans-in fact, all those who had the smallest interest in the maintenance of the established order of things. Here were the elements of democracy, and to these city tribes the censor Q.


Fabius Rullianus had, in 204 B.C., assigned the new СПАР. citizens, taken chiefly from the class of freedmen. The country tribes were looked upon as containing the conservative element of the Roman people, the independent peasantry and the larger landed proprietors. As these were spread over all the rural districts, the popular assembly of the tribes (comitia tributa), though organized upon the broadest democratic principle, without any of the distinctions which differences of age and property produced in the comitia of centuries, could nevertheless work in harmony with an aristocratic government. But this was changed in course of time. Year by year the city of Rome grew in importance; wealth was attracted from all parts to the centre of the empire; the advantages and pleasures offered to the inhabitants of the capital became greater and greater. The country tribes soon felt the influence of this powerful attraction. People migrated to Rome by thousands: not the better sort of the rural population, we may well believe, but adventurers and idlers who speculated on the easy profits to be made in Rome, on the largesses of the great, the bribes at elections, the games and shows and excitement of all sorts. These people who had come from the country tribes to reside in the city were not inscribed in the four city tribes, for it was not customary to shift the tribe with the residence, though in the first instance residence had determined the tribe to which each man was to belong. Thus it came to pass that the population actually resident in the town was composed of members of all the thirty-five tribes, and might be looked upon as a representation of the whole Roman people. The country tribes were entirely swamped in the popular assemblies by a rabble always on the spot and ready to take a part in political proceedings, whilst the respectable peasant could rarely spare the time for a

1 See vol. i. p. 436.

2 I am not aware that this has ever been noticed before. Yet it is an important fact, without which the character of the ensuing revolution cannot be properly understood.

BOOK journey to Rome, without which he could not exercise his political rights.

VII. City life in Rome.

Town and country have at all times been opposed to each other, not only in the occupation and wants of their inhabitants, but in feeling, views, and politics. Whilst the Roman peasants lived by the produce of their fields, the townspeople had abandoned agriculture, and made their living by trade and by the traffic of a large town. Thus the poorer men became dependent upon the richer, hangerson and clients of the noble houses. Their services were wanted by the ruling classes to carry on the government. The wealth acquired by the conquests of the republic was squandered profusely on the needy plebeians. Great numbers of them actually subsisted on the bounties which in one way or another were lavished on them by the great. At elections the votes were systematically bought, in defiance of all the laws against bribery. The distributions of meat, oil, or other necessaries of life, the wages for workmen employed in public works, the endless games and public amusements which multiplied to an ominous extent, had the effect of changing the simple, honest, proud people of the olden time into an idle, venal, dissipated, thoughtless, and reckless populace, ready to perform any service demanded from them by the men in authority. Surely, if the nobility was lost in selfishness and ambition, the Roman people had degenerated no less. Nay, it would not be easy to determine on which side corruption had proceeded further. We are inclined to think that it was on the side of the people. The nobles had at least a will of their own, a political conviction, nay, a sort of patriotism and self-respect; they thought they were enjoying power lawfully and legitimately possessed, and that they were entitled to do with their own as they liked. But the people were a dull, inert mass, living without a thought of the future, too abject even to feel their wretched condition, too ignorant and indifferent to understand or care about political questions, too faint-hearted to rally round a leader that might take up their cause and the cause of the com

munity at large. The part played by the Roman populace in the disturbances caused by the Sempronian laws is so undignified and contemptible that no observer can feel the least sympathy or even pity for it. We shall see that these men were moved by one care alone, the care for their daily wants; we shall see that they clung as persistently to unjust privileges as the nobility itself; that they were inaccessible to every feeling of noble enthusiasm, to every feeling of gratitude and justice; that they were destitute even of manly courage, and had become strangers to the patriotism of their ancestors.




By the side of the nobility, the capitalists and the city The old plebs, there was a fourth class of Roman citizens, whose peasantry. peculiar wants and economical condition we must understand if we wish to realise the deplorable state of affairs for which the Gracchi endeavoured to find a remedy. This class consisted of the rural population, engaged as of old in agriculture, and not yet degraded, like the populace of the capital, by a life of idleness and corruption. It was that class in which lay originally the strength of the nation, from which the republic had long drawn her intrepid and victorious legions, to whose sound sense and honest feelings the magistrates had been able, in the good old time, to entrust the decision of the most important political measures matured in the deliberations of the senate. What had now become of this sturdy and respectable peasantry?

Let us first look at the change that had taken place in the exercise of their constitutional rights. In the early ages of the republic the men living in the country were able regularly to take part in the annual elections and other public business of the popular assemblies. But after the last Latin war (338 B.C.), when the country tribes extended over the whole of Latium and far away into Etruria, Campania, and the Sabine mountains, this was no longer possible without a sacrifice of time and trouble far beyond the means of the ordinary peasant. It was now a long journey from the remote country tribes to the capital, and

Effects of

the of the the extension of tribes.

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