2. Beginnings of Rome
3. Institutions of Early Rome
4. Etruscan Kings of Rome
5. Reorganization of Kingdom

6. Struggle against Kingship
7. Struggle for Economic Rights
8. Struggle for Equal Laws
9. Struggle for Political Equality
10. Conquest of Latium
11. Conquest of Central Italy
12. Conquest of Southern Italy
13. Supremacy of Rome in Italy
14. First Punic War
15. Second Punic War
16. Conquests in East
17. Reduction of Roman Conquests
18. Rome as a World Power
19. Times of Gracchi
20. Times of Marius and Sulla
21. Times of Pompey and Caesar
22. Times of Antony and Octavius

23. Reign of Augustus
24. Julian Emperors
25. Flavian Emperors
26. Five Good Emperors
27. Decline of Empire
28. Reorganization of Empire
29. Extinction of Western Empire
Outlines of Roman History
by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L.
New York, Cincinnati, Chicago: American Book Company (1901).



Table of contents




The Grievances of the Plebs, I.The First Secession and Its Results, II.Wars with the Volscians, Aequians, and Etruscans, III.


   The Power of the Patricians.—The patricians and plebeians had united in their efforts to drive out the kings; but when the struggle against the kingship was ended, the chief fruits of the victory fell to the patricians. The plebeians could, it is true, still vote in the comitia centuriata; but they could not hold any of the new offices, nor could they sit in the senate. Rome became a republic, but it was an aristocratic, and not a democratic republic; that is, the chief power rested not in the whole people, but in a particular class. The plebeians might perhaps have submitted to the government of the patricians, if it had not been exercised in a selfish and oppressive manner. But the patrician rule proved to be as despotic as that of the kings; and a long and fierce struggle ensued between the two orders. As the patricians were generally more wealthy than the plebeians, the conflict became at first a struggle between the rich and the poor, a contest for a more equal distribution of wealth.

   Poverty and Distress of the Plebeians.—The late wars had left the plebeians in a very dependent and deplorable condition. The wealthy patricians, for the most part, lived in the city; and their property was protected by the city walls. But the homes of the plebeians were generally in the country. Accordingly, when they were serving in the army, their little farms were neglected, or ravaged by the enemy, their families were driven away, and their property was destroyed. In this way, while serving their country, they were deprived of their houses and fields, and of the means of subsistence, and so were reduced to a condition of poverty and great distress.

   The Unjust Law of Debt.—The sorest burden which now rested upon the plebeians was the harsh law of debt. Having lost their property by the misfortunes of war, they were obliged to borrow money of the rich patricians; and they were thus reduced to the condition of a debtor class. But a debtor in the early days of Rome was especially wretched. If he could not pay his debt, he was liable to be arrested, thrown into a dungeon, and made the slave of his creditor. His lot was chains, stripes, and slavery.

   The law of debt was not only harsh in itself, but its effect was to keep the poor in a continual state of poverty, from which they could not easily escape.

   The Unequal Division of the Public Land.—Another cause which kept the plebeians in a state of poverty was the unjust distribution of the public land (ager publicus) which had been acquired in war. This land properly belonged to all the people, and might have been used to relieve the distress of the poor. But the government was in the hands of the patricians, and they disposed of this land for their own benefit; they allowed it to be “occupied,” at a nominal rent, by members of their own order. As long as the land remained public, it could not be sold by the occupants; but the longer the rich patricians retained the occupation of this land, the more they would look upon it as their own property, and ignore the fact that it belonged to the whole Roman people. So that the common people were deprived of their just share of the land which they had helped to conquer.


   First Secession of the Plebeians.—It was the hard law of debt which first drove the plebeians to revolt. As there was no legal way to redress their wrongs, they decided that they would no longer serve in the army, but leave the patricians to fight their own battles. They therefore deserted their general, marched in full array to a hill beyond the Anio, which they called the Sacred Mount (Mons Sacer), and proposed to form an independent city (B.C. 494). The patricians saw that the loss of the plebeian army would be the destruction of Rome. They were therefore compelled to make a solemn compact to the effect that the debts of all persons who were insolvent should be canceled; and that those who had been imprisoned on account of debt should be released.

   The Tribunes of the People.—But the most important result of the first secession was the creation of a new office, that of tribune of the people. In order to protect the plebeians from any further oppressive acts on the part of the patrician magistrate, it was agreed to appoint two tribunes from among the plebeians themselves. These new officers were given the power to “veto”—that is, to forbid—the act of any magistrate which bore unjustly upon any citizen. In order that the tribunes might exercise their authority without hindrance, their persons were made “inviolable,”—which means that they could not be arrested, and that anyone who interfered with them in the exercise of their lawful duty could be put to death. The tribunes were assisted by two aediles, who were also chosen from the plebeian body.

   The Plebeian Assembly.—The meetings which the plebeians had occasionally held before this time now assumed the character of a permanent assembly (concilium plebis). This assembly could be called together by the tribunes, who were permitted to address the people in regard to their interests; and no magistrate was allowed to interrupt them while speaking or to disperse this assembly (lex Icilia, B.C. 492). The assembly could also pass resolutions (plebiscita), which were binding upon the plebeians, but not as yet upon the whole people. It was not many years before the plebeian assembly was given the right to elect their own tribunes and aediles (lex Publilia, B.C. 472). In this way the plebeians acquired a position in the state which they had never before held.

   The Agrarian Law of Spurius Cassius.—The second great cause of complaint was, as we have seen, the unjust distribution of the public land. To remove this injustice was the effort of the consul Spurius Cassius. This man was both a patriot and a statesman. He loved the people, and he labored to protect their interests. In order to strengthen Rome against her foreign enemies, he first of all made a new treaty with the Latin towns, and also a treaty with the neighboring tribe of the Hernicans.

   But the most famous act of Sp. Cassius was the proposal of the first “agrarian law,” that is, a law intended to reform the division of the public land (B.C. 486). It was not his purpose to take away any private land which legally belonged to the patricians; but to make a more just distribution of the land which properly belonged to the whole state. When this law was brought forward, the patricians used their influence to prevent its passage. After his year of office had expired, Sp. Cassius was charged with treason and with the attempt to make himself king. He was tried, condemned, scourged, and beheaded; and thus one of Rome’s greatest patriots suffered the doom of a traitor. But the people remembered Sp. Cassius, and his name was inscribed upon a tablet and placed in the Forum, where it remained for many generations.


   The Foreign Enemies of Rome.—While these struggles were going on to relieve the distress of the poor plebeians, the frontiers were continually threatened by foreign enemies. The chief enemies of Rome at this time were the Volscians, the Aequians, and the Etruscans. The Volscians occupied the southern plains of Latium, near the seacoast. The Aequians held the slopes of the Apennines on the northeast. The Etruscans held all their original territory on the right bank of the Tiber, except the hill Janiculum. On every side Rome was beset by foes; and for many years her armies fought in defense of their homes, and almost within sight of the city. By the treaties which Sp. Cassius had formed, the Romans, the Latins, and the Hernicans made common cause in repelling these attacks. There is no continuous history of these frequent wars, but the Roman historians have preserved the memory of them in certain legends, which were sacred to the Romans themselves, and which we should not forget if we would understand the character and spirit of the Roman people.

   Coriolanus and the Volscians.—The Volscian wars have left us the story of Coriolanus, which tells us that this young patrician opposed the distribution of grain among the plebeians; that he was threatened by the common people and fled to the Volscians, and led an army against his native city; that his mother and his wife went to the Volscian camp and pleaded with him to cease his wars upon Rome; that Rome was thus saved, and a temple was built to commemorate the patriotism of the Roman women.

   Cincinnatus and the Aequians.—The memory of the Aequian wars is preserved in the story of the Roman patriot Cincinnatus, who was called from his country home to rescue the Roman army, which was surrounded by the Aequians, and threatened with destruction in a narrow defile in Mt. Algidus, near the Alban hills (see map, page 46); and who with great speed and skill defeated the Aequian army, compelling it to “pass under the yoke” as a sign of submission, and then returned the next evening to Rome in triumph. The “yoke” consisted of a spear supported in a horizontal position by two spears fixed upright in the ground.

   The Fabii and the Etruscans.—With the Etruscan wars is linked the story of the Fabian gens, which was one of the greatest patrician houses of Rome; and which, having volunteered to carry on the war against the Etruscans at its own expense, was, with the exception of one person, utterly destroyed by the enemy. The Fabian gens was therefore honored for having sacrificed itself in the defense of Rome.

   These stories should be read, not as an accurate narration of facts, but because they show the kind of virtues that the early Romans most admired.


How and Leigh, Ch. 6, “First Struggle of the Plebeians” (
Shuckburgh, Ch. 8, “Constitutional History from B.C. 509 to 390” (1).
Mommsen, abridged, pp. 50-58, “Tribunate of the Plebs” (2).
Ihne, Early Rome, Ch. 13, “Tribunes of the People” (5).
Arnold, Hist., Ch. 9, “Spurius Cassius” (2).
Plutarch, “Coriolanus” (11).
Livy, Bk. II., Chs. 27-33, First Secession of the Plebs (4).


   THE PUBLIC LAND, ager publicus.—Leighton, pp. 60-62 (1); Liddell, p.96 (1); How and Leigh, pp. 56-58 (1); Merivale, Gen. Hist., pp. 70-72 (1); Ihne, Early Rome, Ch. 14 (5); Ihne, Hist., Vol. I., Bk. 2, Ch. 7 (2); Mommsen, Vol. I., pp. 347-350 (2); Harper’s Dict. Antiqq., “Agrariae Leges” (8); Niebuhr, Hist., Vol. II., p. 65 et seq. (2).

1 The figure in parenthesis refers to the number of the topic in the
Appendix, where a fuller title of the book will be found.


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