Desire for Union.It became more and more evident that the power of Rome depended upon the union of her people; that harmony, and not discord, was the source of her strength. The two orders had begun to feel that their interests were one and the same. There had been of late little severity in the application of the law of debt; there had been a disposition even to give the plebeians some right in the conquered land; and some progress had been made in opening to them the public offices. But the great loss of property and the devastation resulting from the Gallic invasion were sorely felt by the poorer classes, and led once more to a general state of poverty and distress. The old grievances were revived, and a new set of reformers appeared.
The Attempt of M. Manlius.The first attempt to relieve the distress of the poor was that of Marcus Manlius, the defender of the Capitol. It is said that he rescued more than four hundred of his fellow-citizens from imprisonment by lending them money without interest. He sold his estates and devoted the proceeds to the relief of debtors. But from being a philanthropist, Manlius soon became a social agitator, and by his harangues sought to inflame the people against the government. The patricians therefore sought to crush him. He was charged with conspiracy against the state, and was finally condemned to death. Although his motives and methods were not above reproach, his admirers placed him by the side of Sp. Cassius and Sp. Maelius as a friend of the people who was unjustly condemned on the charge of aspiring to be king.
The Licinian Laws (B.C. 367).The continuation of distress among the lower classes showed how useless it was to try to abolish poverty by mere acts of charity, or by exciting the populace. A more thorough mode of reform was adopted under the able leadership of the two tribunes, C. Licinius Stolo and L. Sextius.l These men were able and broad-minded statesmen. It was not mere relief, but reformation, which they sought.
In the first place, they saw that some relief must be given to the helpless debtor class. But instead of confiscating all debts, they proposed that the interest already paid upon debts should be deducted from the principal; and that for the payment of the rest of the principal three years’ time should be allowed.
In the next place, they saw that some definite regulation should be made in the distribution of the public land, which by right belonged to the plebeians as well as to the patricians. They therefore provided that the occupation of the public land should be thrown open equally to all classes; that no person should receive and hold more than five hundred iugera (about three hundred acres); and that the number of slaves employed on estates should be limited, thus giving an opportunity for the poor freemen to earn something for themselves.
Finally, they saw that the plebeians could not receive full justice until they were admitted to the highest offices of the state. They provided that the new “military tribunate” (p. 64) should be done away with, and that consuls should hereafter always be elected, one of whom must be a plebeian.
It was natural that such an important scheme of legislation as this should meet with much opposition, but after a few years of strife, these proposals became laws. This noble body of law may be called the “third charter of Roman liberty.”
The Praetor and Curule Aediles.The patricians were yet loath to lose everything; and so the judicial power was taken away from the consuls and given to a new officer, called the praetor (B.C. 367), who must still be a patrician; also it was provided that there should be two patrician aediles (called curule aediles), to police the city, and to offset the plebeian aediles. Although complete equality was not even yet reached, the struggle was practically ended; and the great Camillus, who had been appointed dictator and had done much to reconcile the people, consecrated a temple to Concord.
Final Equality of the Orders.After the passage of the Licinian laws, there were a few offices which still remained in the possession of the patricians. These were the dictatorship, the censorship, the praetorship, and the curule aedileship. But it was not many years before these offices also were open to the plebeians,2 and the last barrier between the two orders was thus broken down. There was then no longer any civil or political distinction between the patrician and the plebeian. The old Roman aristocracy, which depended upon family relationship, passed away with the Licinian legislation and the laws which soon followed it. The union of patricians and plebeians into one compact body of citizens was a triumph for Rome greater than the conquest of Veii, or any other foreign victory. By it she conquered herself. She destroyed for a time the elements of discord within her own borders, and prepared herself to become the ruler of the world.
SELECTIONS FOR READING
Pelham, pp. 52-67, “Struggle between the Orders” (1).3
Ihne, Early Rome, Ch. 21, “Invasion of the Gauls” (5).
How and Leigh, Ch. 12, “The Licinian Laws” (1).
Abbott, Ch. 4, “The Struggle between the Orders” (13).
Mommsen, Vol. I., Bk. II., Ch. 3, “Equalization of the Orders” (2).
Taylor, Chs. 3-5, “Struggle between the Orders” (1).
Plutarch, “Camillus” (11).
Livy, Bk. V., Chs. 20-22, Capture of Veii (4).
TABLE OF THE REPUBLICAN MAGISTRATES, giving their names, when created, mode of election, and powers.Gow, pp. 172-184 (8); Shuckburgh, Ch. 16 (1); Ramsay and Lanciani, Ch. 5 (8); Eschenburg, pp. 248-252 (8); Harper’s Dict. Antiqq., “Consules,” “Tribunus,” etc. (8).
1 The abbreviations for the most common Latin proper names are the following: C. for Gaius; Cn. for Gnaeus; L. for Lucius; M. for Marcus; P. for Publius; Q. for Quintus; Sp. for Spurius; T. for Titus.
2 The distinction between the plebeian and the curule aedileship gradually passed away. The dictatorship was opened to the plebeians in B.C. 356; the censorship by the law of Publilius Philo, in B.C. 351; and the praetorship in B.C. 337. The legislative power of the comitia tributa was confirmed by the Hortensian law in B.C. 286.
3 The figure in parenthesis refers to the number of the topic in the Appendix, where a fuller title of the book will be found.