The Roman Government before the Period of the Gracchi
For a whole generation after the battle of Pydna the Roman state enjoyed a profound calm, scarcely varied by a ripple here and there on the surface. Its dominion extended over the three continents; the lustre of the Roman power and the glory of the Roman name were constantly on the increase; all eyes rested on Italy, all talents and all riches flowed thither; it seemed as if a golden age of peaceful prosperity and intellectual enjoyment of life could not but there begin. The Orientals of this period told each other with astonishment of the mighty republic of the west, "which subdued kingdoms far and near, and whoever heard its name trembled; but it kept good faith with its friends and clients. Such was the glory of the Romans, and yet no one usurped the crown and no one paraded in purple dress; but they obeyed whomsoever from year to year they made their master, and there was among them neither envy nor discord."
Spread of Decay
So it seemed at a distance; matters wore a different aspect on a closer view. The government of the aristocracy was in full train to destroy its own work. Not that the sons and grandsons of the vanquished at Cannae and of the victors at Zama had so utterly degenerated from their fathers and grandfathers; the difference was not so much in the men who now sat in the senate, as in the times. Where a limited number of old families of established wealth and hereditary political importance conducts the government, it will display in seasons of danger an incomparable tenacity of purpose and power of heroic self-sacrifice, just as in seasons of tranquillity it will be shortsighted, selfish, and negligent—the germs of both results are essentially involved in its hereditary and collegiate character. The morbid matter had been long in existence, but it needed the sun of prosperity to develop it. There was a profound meaning in the question of Cato, "What was to become of Rome, when she should no longer have any state to fear?" That point had now been reached. Every neighbour whom she might have feared was politically annihilated; and of the men who had been reared under the old order of things in the severe school of the Hannibalic war, and whose words still sounded as echoes of that mighty epoch so long as they survived, death called one after another away, till at length even the voice of the last of them, the veteran Cato, ceased to be heard in the senate-house and in the Forum. A younger generation came to the helm, and their policy was a sorry answer to that question of the old patriot. We have already spoken of the shape which the government of the subjects and the external policy of Rome assumed in their hands. In internal affairs they were, if possible, still more disposed to let the ship drive before the wind: if we understand by internal government more than the transaction of current business, there was at this period no government in Rome at all. The single leading thought of the governing corporation was the maintenance and, if possible, the increase of their usurped privileges. It was not the state that had a title to get the right and best man for its supreme magistracy; but every member of the coterie had an inborn title to the highest office of the state—a title not to be prejudiced either by the unfair rivalry of men of his own class or by the encroachments of the excluded. Accordingly the clique proposed to itself, as its most important political aim, the restriction of re-election to the consulship and the exclusion of "new men"; and in fact it succeeded in obtaining the legal prohibition of the former about 603,(1) and in sufficing with a government of aristocratic nobodies. Even the inaction of the government in its outward relations was doubtless connected with this policy of the nobility, exclusive towards commoners, and distrustful towards the individual members of their own order. By no surer means could they keep commoners, whose deeds were their patent of nobility, aloof from the pure circles of the aristocracy than by giving no opportunity to any one to perform deeds at all; to the existing government of general mediocrity even an aristocratic conqueror of Syria or Egypt would have proved extremely inconvenient.
Attempts at Reform
Permanent Criminal Commissions
Vote by Ballot
Exclusion of the Senators from the Equestrian Centuries
The Public Elections
It is true that now also there was no want of opposition, and it was even to a certain extent effectual. The administration of justice was improved. The administrative jurisdiction, which the senate exercised either of itself or, on occasion, by extraordinary commissions, over the provincial magistrates, was confessedly inadequate. It was an innovation with a momentous bearing on the whole public life of the Roman community, when in 605, on the proposal of Lucius Calpurnius Piso, a standing senatorial commission (-quaestio ordinaria-) was instituted to try in judicial form the complaints of the provincials against the Roman magistrates placed over them on the score of extortion. An effort was made to emancipate the comitia from the predominant influence of the aristocracy. The panacea of Roman democracy was secret voting in the assemblies of the burgesses, which was introduced first for the elections of magistrates by the Gabinian law (615), then for the public tribunals by the Cassian law (617), lastly for the voting on legislative proposals by the Papirian law (623). In a similar way soon afterwards (about 625) the senators were by decree of the people enjoined on admission to the senate to surrender their public horse, and thereby to renounce their privileged place in the voting of the eighteen equestrian centuries.(2) These measures, directed to the emancipation of the electors from the ruling aristocratic order, may perhaps have seemed to the party which suggested them the first step towards a regeneration of the state; in fact they made not the slightest change in the nullity and want of freedom of the legally supreme organ of the Roman community; that nullity indeed was only the more palpably evinced to all whom it did or did not concern. Equally ostentatious and equally empty was the formal recognition accorded to the independence and sovereignty of the burgesses by the transference of their place of assembly from the old Comitium below the senate-house to the Forum (about 609). But this hostility between the formal sovereignty of the people and the practically subsisting constitution was in great part a semblance. Party phrases were in free circulation: of the parties themselves there was little trace in matters really and directly practical. Throughout the whole seventh century the annual public elections to the civil magistracies, especially to the consulship and censorship, formed the real standing question of the day and the focus of political agitation; but it was only in isolated and rare instances that the different candidates represented opposite political principles; ordinarily the question related purely to persons, and it was for the course of affairs a matter of indifference whether the majority of the votes fell to a Caecilian or to a Cornelian. The Romans thus lacked that which outweighs and compensates all the evils of party-life—the free and common movement of the masses towards what they discern as a befitting aim—and yet endured all those evils solely for the benefit of the paltry game of the ruling coteries.
It was comparatively easy for the Roman noble to enter on the career of office as quaestor or tribune of the people; but the consulship and the censorship were attainable by him only through great exertions prolonged for years. The prizes were many, but those really worth having were few; the competitors ran, as a Roman poet once said, as it were over a racecourse wide at the starting-point but gradually narrowing its dimensions. This was right, so long as the magistracy was—what it was called—an "honour" and men of military, political, or juristic ability were rival competitors for the rare chaplets; but now the practical closeness of the nobility did away with the benefit of competition, and left only its disadvantages. With few exceptions the young men belonging to the ruling families crowded into the political career, and hasty and premature ambition soon caught at means more effective than was useful action for the common good. The first requisite for a public career came to be powerful connections; and therefore that career began, not as formerly in the camp, but in the ante-chambers of influential men. A new and genteel body of clients now undertook—what had formerly been done only by dependents and freedmen—to come and wait on their patron early in the morning, and to appear publicly in his train. But the mob also is a great lord, and desires as such to receive attention. The rabble began to demand as its right that the future consul should recognize and honour the sovereign people in every ragged idler of the street, and that every candidate should in his "going round" (-ambitus-) salute every individual voter by name and press his hand. The world of quality readily entered into this degrading canvass. The true candidate cringed not only in the palace, but also on the street, and recommended himself to the multitude by flattering attentions, indulgences, and civilities more or less refined. Demagogism and the cry for reforms were sedulously employed to attract the notice and favour of the public; and they were the more effective, the more they attacked not things but persons. It became the custom for beardless youths of genteel birth to introduce themselves with -eclat- into public life by playing afresh the part of Cato with the immature passion of their boyish eloquence, and by constituting and proclaiming themselves state-attorneys, if possible, against some man of very high standing and very great unpopularity; the Romans suffered the grave institutions of criminal justice and of political police to become a means of soliciting office. The provision or, what was still worse, the promise of magnificent popular amusements had long been the, as it were legal, prerequisite to the obtaining of the consulship;(3) now the votes of the electors began to be directly purchased with money, as is shown by the prohibition issued against this about 595. Perhaps the worst consequence of the continual courting of the favour of the multitude by the ruling aristocracy was the incompatibility of such a begging and fawning part with the position which the government should rightfully occupy in relation to the governed. The government was thus converted from a blessing into a curse for the people. They no longer ventured to dispose of the property and blood of the burgesses, as exigency required, for the good of their country. They allowed the burgesses to become habituated to the dangerous idea that they were legally exempt from the payment of direct taxes even by way of advance—after the war with Perseus no further advance had been asked from the community. They allowed their military system to decay rather than compel the burgesses to enter the odious transmarine service; how it fared with the individual magistrates who attempted to carry out the conscription according to the strict letter of the law, has already been related.(4)
Optimates and Populares
In the Rome of this epoch the two evils of a degenerate oligarchy and a democracy still undeveloped but already cankered in the bud were interwoven in a manner pregnant with fatal results. According to their party names, which were first heard during this period, the "Optimates" wished to give effect to the will of the best, the "Populares" to that of the community; but in fact there was in the Rome of that day neither a true aristocracy nor a truly self-determining community. Both parties contended alike for shadows, and numbered in their ranks none but enthusiasts or hypocrites. Both were equally affected by political corruption, and both were in fact equally worthless. Both were necessarily tied down to the status quo, for neither on the one side nor on the other was there found any political idea—to say nothing of any political plan—reaching beyond the existing state of things; and accordingly the two parties were so entirely in agreement that they met at every step as respected both means and ends, and a change of party was a change of political tactics more than of political sentiments. The commonwealth would beyond doubt have been a gainer, if either the aristocracy had directly introduced a hereditary rotation instead of election by the burgesses, or the democracy had produced from within it a real demagogic government. But these Optimates and these Populares of the beginning of the seventh century were far too indispensable for eachother to wage such internecine war; they not only could not destroy each other, but, even if they had been able to do so, they would not have been willing. Meanwhile the commonwealth was politically and morally more and more unhinged, and was verging towards utter disorganization.
The crisis with which the Roman revolution was opened arose not out of this paltry political conflict, but out of the economic and social relations which the Roman government allowed, like everything else, simply to take their course, and which thus found opportunity to bring the morbid matter, that had been long fermenting, without hindrance and with fearful rapidity and violence to maturity. From a very early period the Roman economy was based on the two factors —always in quest of each other, and always at variance—the husbandry of the small farmer and the money of the capitalist. The latter in the closest alliance with landholding on a great scale had already for centuries waged against the farmer-class a war, which seemed as though it could not but terminate in the destruction first of the farmers and thereafter of the whole commonwealth, but was broken off without being properly decided in consequence of the successful wars and the comprehensive and ample distribution of domains for which these wars gave facilities. It has already been shown(5) that in the same age, which renewed the distinction between patricians and plebeians under altered names, the disproportionate accumulation of capital was preparing a second assault on the farming system. It is true that the method was different. Formerly the small farmer had been ruined by advances of money, which practically reduced him to be the steward of his creditor; now he was crushed by the competition of transmarine, and especially of slave-grown, corn. The capitalists kept pace with the times; capital, while waging war against labour or in other words against the liberty of the person, of course, as it had always done, under the strictest form of law, waged it no longer in the unseemly fashion which converted the free man on account of debt into a slave, but, throughout, with slaves legitimately bought and paid; the former usurer of the capital appeared in a shape conformable to the times as the owner of industrial plantations. But the ultimate result was in both cases the same—the depreciation of the Italian farms; the supplanting of the petty husbandry, first in a part of the provinces and then in Italy, by the farming of large estates; the prevailing tendency to devote the latter in Italy to the rearing of cattle and the culture of the olive and vine; finally, the replacing of the free labourers in the provinces as in Italy by slaves. Just as the nobility was more dangerous than the patriciate, because the former could not, like the latter, be set aside by a change of the constitution; so this new power of capital was more dangerous than that of the fourth and fifth centuries, because nothing was to be done against it by changes in the law of the land.
Slavery and Its Consequences
Before we attempt to describe the course of this second great conflict between labour and capital, it is necessary to give here some indication of the nature and extent of the system of slavery. We have not now to do with the old, in some measure innocent, rural slavery, under which the farmer either tilled the field along with his slave, or, if he possessed more land than he could manage, placed the slave—either as steward or as a sort of lessee obliged to render up a portion of the produce—over a detached farm.(6) Such relations no doubt existed at all times—around Comum, for instance, they were still the rule in the time of the empire—but as exceptional features in privileged districts and on humanely-managed estates. What we now refer to is the system of slavery on a great scale, which in the Roman state, as formerly in the Carthaginian, grew out of the ascendency of capital. While the captives taken in war and the hereditary transmission of slavery sufficed to keep up the stock of slaves during the earlier period, this system of slavery was, just like that of America, based on the methodically-prosecuted hunting of man; for, owing to the manner in which slaves were used with little regard to their life or propagation, the slave population was constantly on the wane, and even the wars which were always furnishing fresh masses to the slave-market were not sufficient to cover the deficit. No country where this species of game could be hunted remained exempt from visitation; even in Italy it was a thing by no means unheard of, that the poor freeman was placed by his employer among the slaves. But the Negroland of that period was western Asia,(7) where the Cretan and Cilician corsairs, the real professional slave-hunters and slave- dealers, robbed the coasts of Syria and the Greek islands; and where, emulating their feats, the Roman revenue-farmers instituted human hunts in the client states and incorporated those whom they captured among their slaves. This was done to such an extent, that about 650 the king of Bithynia declared himself unable to furnish the required contingent, because all the people capable of labour had been dragged off from his kingdom by the revenue-farmers. At the great slave-market in Delos, where the slave-dealers of Asia Minor disposed of their wares to Italian speculators, on one day as many as 10,000 slaves are said to have been disembarked in the morning and to have been all sold before evening—a proof at once how enormous was the number of slaves delivered, and how, notwithstanding, the demand still exceeded the supply. It was no wonder. Already in describing the Roman economy of the sixth century we have explained that it was based, like all the large undertakings of antiquity generally, on the employment of slaves.(8) In whatever direction speculation applied itself, its instrument was without exception man reduced in law to a beast of burden. Trades were in great part carried on by slaves, so that the proceeds fell to the master. The levying of the public revenues in the lower grades was regularly conducted by the slaves of the associations that leased them. Servile hands performed the operations of mining, making pitch, and others of a similar kind; it became early the custom to send herds of slaves to the Spanish mines, whose superintendents readily received them and paid a high rent for them. The vine and olive harvest in Italy was not conducted by the people on the estate, but was contracted for by a slave-owner. The tending of cattle was universally performed by slaves. We have already mentioned the armed, and frequently mounted, slave-herdsmen in the great pastoral ranges of Italy;(9) and the same sort of pastoral husbandry soon became in the provinces also a favourite object of Roman speculation—Dalmatia, for instance, was hardly acquired (599) when the Roman capitalists began to prosecute the rearing of cattle there on a great scale after the Italian fashion. But far worse in every respect was the plantation-system proper—the cultivation of the fields by a band of slaves not unfrequently branded with iron, who with shackles on their legs performed the labours of the field under overseers during the day, and were locked up together by night in the common, frequently subterranean, labourers' prison. This plantation-system had migrated from the east to Carthage,(10) and seems to have been brought by the Carthaginians to Sicily, where, probably for this reason, it appears developed earlier and more completely than in any other part of the Roman dominions.(11) We find the territory of Leontini, about 30,000 -jugera- of arable land, which was let on lease as Roman domain(12) by the censors, divided some decades after the time of the Gracchi among not more than 84 lessees, to each of whom there thus fell on an average 360 jugera, and among whom only one was a Leontine; the rest were foreign, mostly Roman, speculators. We see from this instance with what zeal the Roman speculators there walked in the footsteps of their predecessors, and what extensive dealings in Sicilian cattle and Sicilian slave-corn must have been carried on by the Roman and Non-Roman speculators who covered the fair island with their pastures and plantations. Italy however still remained for the present substantially exempt from this worst form of slave-husbandry. Although in Etruria, where the plantation-system seems to have first emerged in Italy, and where it existed most extensively at least forty years afterwards, it is extremely probable that even now -ergastula- were not wanting; yet Italian agriculture at this epoch was still chiefly carried on by free persons or at any rate by non-fettered slaves, while the greater tasks were frequently let out to contractors. The difference between Italian and Sicilian slavery is very clearly apparent from the fact, that the slaves of the Mamertine community, which lived after the Italian fashion, were the only slaves who did not take part in the Sicilian servile revolt of 619-622.
The abyss of misery and woe, which opens before our eyes in this most miserable of all proletariates, may be fathomed by those who venture to gaze into such depths; it is very possible that, compared with the sufferings of the Roman slaves, the sum of all Negro sufferings is but a drop. Here we are not so much concerned with the hardships of the slaves themselves as with the perils which they brought upon the Roman state, and with the conduct of the government in confronting them. It is plain that this proletariate was not called into existence by the government and could not be directly set aside by it; this could only have been accomplished by remedies which would have been still worse than the disease. The duty of the government was simply, on the one hand, to avert the direct danger to property and life, with which the slave-proletariate threatened the members of the state, by an earnest system of police for securing order; and on the other hand, to aim at the restriction of the proletariate, as far as possible, by the elevation of free labour. Let us see how the Roman aristocracy executed these two tasks.
Insurrection of the Slaves
The First Sicilian Slave War
The servile conspiracies and servile wars, breaking out everywhere, illustrate their management as respects police. In Italy the scenes of disorder, which were among the immediate painful consequences of the Hannibalic war,(13) seemed now to be renewed; all at once the Romans were obliged to seize and execute in the capital 150, in Minturnae 450, in Sinuessa even 4000 slaves (621). Still worse, as may be conceived, was the state of the provinces. At the great slave-market at Delos and in the Attic silver-mines about the same period the revolted slaves had to be put down by force of arms. The war against Aristonicus and his "Heliopolites" in Asia Minor was in substance a war of the landholders against the revolted slaves.(14) But worst of all, naturally, was the condition of Sicily, the chosen land of the plantation system. Brigandage had long been a standing evil there, especially in the interior; it began to swell into insurrection. Damophilus, a wealthy planter of Enna (Castrogiovanni), who vied with the Italian lords in the industrial investment of his living capital, was attacked and murdered by his exasperated rural slaves; whereupon the savage band flocked into the town of Enna, and there repeated the same process on a greater scale. The slaves rose in a body against their masters, killed or enslaved them, and summoned to the head of the already considerable insurgent army a juggler from Apamea in Syria who knew how to vomit fire and utter oracles, formerly as a slave named Eunus, now as chief of the insurgents styled Antiochus king of the Syrians. And why not? A few years before another Syrian slave, who was not even a prophet, had in Antioch itself worn the royal diadem of the Seleucids.(15) The Greek slave Achaeus, the brave "general" of the new king, traversed the island, and not only did the wild herdsmen flock from far and near to the strange standards, but the free labourers also, who bore no goodwill to the planters, made common cause with the revolted slaves. In another district of Sicily Cleon, a Cilician slave, formerly in his native land a daring bandit, followed the example which had been set and occupied Agrigentum; and, when the leaders came to a mutual understanding, after gaining various minor advantages they succeeded in at last totally defeating the praetor Lucius Hypsaeus in person and his army, consisting mostly of Sicilian militia, and in capturing his camp. By this means almost the whole island came into the power of the insurgents, whose numbers, according to the most moderate estimates, are alleged to have amounted to 70,000 men capable of bearing arms. The Romans found themselves compelled for three successive years (620-622) to despatch consuls and consular armies to Sicily, till, after several undecided and even some unfavourable conflicts, the revolt was at length subdued by the capture of Tauromenium and of Enna. The most resolute men of the insurgents threw themselves into the latter town, in order to hold their ground in that impregnable position with the determination of men who despair of deliverance or of pnrdon; the consuls Lucius Calpurnius Piso and Publius Rupilius lay before it for two years, and reduced it at last more by famine than by arms.(16)
These were the results of the police system for securing order, as it was handled by the Roman senate and its officials in Italy and the provinces. While the task of getting quit of the proletariate demands and only too often transcends the whole power and wisdom of a government, its repression by measures of police on the other hand is for any larger commonwealth comparatively easy. It would be well with states, if the unpropertied masses threatened them with no other danger than that with which they are menaced by bears and wolves; only the timid and those who trade upon the silly fears of the multitude prophesy the destruction of civil order through servile revolts or insurrections of the proletariate. But even to this easier task of restraining the oppressed masses the Roman government was by no means equal, notwithstanding the profound peace and the inexhaustible resources of the state. This was a sign of its weakness; but not of its weakness alone. By law the Roman governor was bound to keep the public roads clear and to have the robbers who were caught, if they were slaves, crucified; and naturally, for slavery is not possible without a reign of terror. At this period in Sicily a razzia was occasionally doubtless set on foot by the governor, when the roads became too insecure; but, in order not to disoblige the Italian planters, the captured robbers were ordinarily given up by the authorities to their masters to be punished at their discretion; and those masters were frugal people who, if their slave-herdsmen asked clothes, replied with stripes and with the inquiry whether travellers journeyed through the land naked. The consequence of such connivance accordingly was, that OH the subjugation of the slave-revolt the consul Publius Rupilius ordered all that came into his hands alive—it is said upwards of 20,000 men—to be crucified. It was in truth no longer possible to spare capital.
The Italian Farmers
The care of the government for the elevation of free labour, and by consequence for the restriction of the slave-proletariate, promised fruits far more difficult to be gained but also far richer. Unfortunately, in this respect there was nothing done at all. In the first social crisis the landlord had been enjoined by law to employ a number of free labourers proportioned to the number of his slave labourers.(17) Now at the suggestion of the government a Punic treatise on agriculture,(18) doubtless giving instructions in the system of plantation after the Carthaginian mode, was translated into Latin for the use and benefit of Italian speculators—the first and only instance of a literary undertaking suggested by the Roman senate! The same tendency showed itself in a more important matter, or to speak more correctly in the vital question for Rome—the system of colonization. It needed no special wisdom, but merely a recollection of the course of the first social crisis in Rome, to perceive that the only real remedy against an agricultural proletariate consisted in a comprehensive and duly-regulated system of emigration;(19) for which the external relations of Rome offered the most favourable opportunity. Until nearly the close of the sixth century, in fact, the continuous diminution of the small landholders of Italy was counteracted by the continuous establishment of new farm-allotments.(20) This, it is true, was by no means done to the extent to which it might and should have been done; not only was the domain-land occupied from ancient times by private persons(21) not recalled, but further occupations of newly-won land were permitted; and other very important acquisitions, such as the territory of Capua, while not abandoned to occupation, were yet not brought into distribution, but were let on lease as usufructuary domains. Nevertheless the assignation of land had operated beneficially—giving help to many of the sufferers and hope to all. But after the founding of Luna (577) no trace of further assignations of land is to be met with for a long time, with the exception of the isolated institution of the Picenian colony of Auximum (Osimo) in 597. The reason is simple. After the conquest of the Boii and Apuani no new territory was acquired in Italy excepting the far from attractive Ligurian valleys; therefore no other land existed for distribution there except the leased or occupied domain-land, the laying hands on which was, as may easily be conceived, just as little agreeable to the aristocracy now as it was three hundred years before. The distribution of the territory acquired out of Italy appeared for political reasons inadmissible; Italy was to remain the ruling country, and the wall of partition between the Italian masters and their provincial servants was not to be broken down. Unless the government were willing to set aside considerations of higher policy or even the interests of their order, no course was left to them but to remain spectators of the ruin of the Italian farmer-class; and this result accordingly ensued. The capitalists continued to buy out the small landholders, or indeed, if they remained obstinate, to seize their fields without title of purchase; in which case, as may be supposed, matters were not always amicably settled. A peculiarly favourite method was to eject the wife and children of the farmer from the homestead, while he was in the field, and to bring him to compliance by means of the theory of "accomplished fact." The landlords continued mainly to employ slaves instead of free labourers, because the former could not like the latter be called away to military service; and thus reduced the free proletariate to the same level of misery with the slaves. They continued to supersede Italian grain in the market of the capital, and to lessen its value over the whole peninsula, by selling Sicilian slave-corn at a mere nominal price. In Etruria the old native aristocracy in league with the Roman capitalists had as early as 620 brought matters to such a pass, that there was no longer a free farmer there. It could be said aloud in the market of the capital, that the beasts had their lairs but nothing was left to the burgesses save the air and sunshine, and that those who were styled the masters of the world had no longer a clod that they could call their own. The census lists of the Roman burgesses furnished the commentary on these words. From the end of the Hannibalic war down to 595 the numbers of the burgesses were steadily on the increase, the cause of which is mainly to be sought in the continuous and considerable distributions of domain-land:(22) after 595 again, when the census yielded 328,000 burgesses capable of bearing arms, there appears a regular falling-off, for the list in 600 stood at 324,000, that in 607 at 322,000, that in 623 at 319,000 burgesses fit for service—an alarming result for a time of profound peace at home and abroad. If matters were to go on at this rate, the burgess-body would resolve itself into planters and slaves; and the Roman state might at length, as was the case with the Parthians, purchase its soldiers in the slave-market.
Ideas of Reform
Such was the external and internal condition of Rome, when the state entered on the seventh century of its existence. Wherever the eye turned, it encountered abuses and decay; the question could not but force itself on every sagacious and well-disposed man, whether this state of things was not capable of remedy or amendment. There was no want of such men in Rome; but no one seemed more called to the great work of political and social reform than Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus (570-625), the favourite son of Aemilius Paullus and the adopted grandson of the great Scipio, whose glorious surname of Africanus he bore by virtue not merely of hereditary but of personal right. Like his father, he was a man temperate and thoroughly healthy, never ailing in body, and never at a loss to resolve on the immediate and necessary course of action. Even in his youth he had kept aloof from the usual proceedings of political novices—the attending in the antechambers of prominent senators and the delivery of forensic declamations. On the other hand he loved the chase—when a youth of seventeen, after having served with distinction under his father in the campaign against Perseus, he had asked as his reward the free range of the deer forest of the kings of Macedonia which had been untouched for four years—and he was especially fond of devoting his leisure to scientific and literary enjoyment. By the care of his father he had been early initiated into that genuine Greek culture, which elevated him above the insipid Hellenizing of the semi-culture commonly in vogue; by his earnest and apt appreciation of the good and bad qualities in the Greek character, and by his aristocratic carriage, this Roman made an impression on the courts of the east and even on the scoffing Alexandrians. His Hellenism was especially recognizable in the delicate irony of his discourse and in the classic purity of his Latin. Although not strictly an author, he yet, like Cato, committed to writing his political speeches—they were, like the letters of his adopted sister the mother of the Gracchi, esteemed by the later -litteratores- as masterpieces of model prose—and took pleasure in surrounding himself with the better Greek and Roman -litterati-, a plebeian society which was doubtless regarded with no small suspicion by those colleagues in the senate whose noble birth was their sole distinction. A man morally steadfast and trustworthy, his word held good with friend and foe; he avoided buildings and speculations, and lived with simplicity; while in money matters he acted not merely honourably and disinterestedly, but also with a tenderness and liberality which seemed singular to the mercantile spirit of his contemporaries. He was an able soldier and officer; he brought home from the African war the honorary wreath which was wont to be conferred on those who saved the lives of citizens in danger at the peril of their own, and terminated as general the war which he had begun as an officer; circumstances gave him no opportunity of trying his skill as a general on tasks really difficult. Scipio was not, any more than his father, a man of brilliant gifts—as is indicated by the very fact of his predilection for Xenophon, the sober soldier and correct author- but he was an honest and true man, who seemed pre-eminently called to stem the incipient decay by organic reforms. All the more significant is the fact that he did not attempt it. It is true that he helped, as he had opportunity and means, to redress or prevent abuses, and laboured in particular at the improvement of the administration of justice. It was chiefly by his assistance that Lucius Cassius, an able man of the old Roman austerity and uprightness, was enabled to carry against the most vehement opposition of the Optimates his law as to voting, which introduced vote by ballot for those popular tribunals which still embraced the most important part of the criminal jurisdiction.(23) In like manner, although he had not chosen to take part in boyish impeachments, he himself in his mature years put upon their trial several of the guiltiest of the aristocracy. In a like spirit, when commanding before Carthage and Numantia, he drove forth the women and priests to the gates of the camp, and subjected the rabble of soldiers once more to the iron yoke of the old military discipline; and when censor (612), he cleared away the smooth-chinned coxcombs among the world of quality and in earnest language urged the citizens to adhere more faithfully to the honest customs of their fathers. But no one, and least of all he himself, could fail to see that increased stringency in the administration of justice and isolated interference were not even first steps towards the healing of the organic evils under which the state laboured. These Scipio did not touch. Gaius Laelius (consul in 614), Scipio's elder friend and his political instructor and confidant, had conceived the plan of proposing the resumption of the Italian domain-land which had not been given away but had been temporarily occupied, and of giving relief by its distribution to the visibly decaying Italian farmers; but he desisted from the project when he saw what a storm he was going to raise, and was thenceforth named the "Judicious." Scipio was of the same opinion. He was fully persuaded of the greatness of the evil, and with a courage deserving of honour he without respect of persons remorselessly assailed it and carried his point, where he risked himself alone; but he was also persuaded that the country could only be relieved at the price of a revolution similar to that which in the fourth and fifth centuries had sprung out of the question of reform, and, rightly or wrongly, the remedy seemed to him worse than the disease. So with the small circle of his friends he held a middle position between the aristocrats, who never forgave him for his advocacy of the Cassian law, and the democrats, whom he neither satisfied nor wished to satisfy; solitary during his life, praised after his death by both parties, now as the champion of the aristocracy, now as the promoter of reform. Down to his time the censors on laying down their office had called upon the gods to grant greater power and glory to the state: the censor Scipio prayed that they might deign to preserve the state. His whole confession of faith lies in that painful exclamation.
But where the man who had twice led the Roman army from deep decline to victory despaired, a youth without achievements had the boldness to give himself forth as the saviour of Italy. He was called Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (591-621). His father who bore the same name (consul in 577, 591; censor in 585), was the true model of a Roman aristocrat. The brilliant magnificence of his aedilician games, not produced without oppressing the dependent communities, had drawn upon him the severe and deserved censure of the senate;(24) his interference in the pitiful process directed against the Scipios who were personally hostile to him(25) gave proof of his chivalrous feeling, and perhaps of his regard for his own order; and his energetic action against the freedmen in his censorship(26) evinced his conservative disposition. As governor, moreover, of the province of the Ebro,(27) by his bravery and above all by his integrity he rendered a permanent service to his country, and at the same time raised to himself in the hearts of the subject nation an enduring monument of reverence and affection.
His mother Cornelia was the daughter of the conqueror of Zama, who, simply on account of that generous intervention, had chosen his former opponent as a son-in-law; she herself was a highly cultivated and notable woman, who after the death of her much older husband had refused the hand of the king of Egypt and reared her three surviving children in memory of her husband and her father. Tiberius, the elder of the two sons, was of a good and moral disposition, of gentle aspect and quiet bearing, apparently fitted for anything rather than for an agitator of the masses. In all his relations and views he belonged to the Scipionic circle, whose refined and thorough culture, Greek and national, he and his brother and sister shared. Scipio Aemilianus was at once his cousin and his sister's husband; under him Tiberius, at the age of eighteen, had taken part in the storming of Carthage, and had by his valour acquired the commendation of the stern general and warlike distinctions. It was natural that the able young man should, with all the vivacity and all the stringent precision of youth, adopt and intensify the views as to the pervading decay of the state which were prevalent in that circle, and more especially their ideas as to the elevation of the Italian farmers. Nor was it merely to the young men that the shrinking of Laelius from the execution of his ideas of reform seemed to be not judicious, but weak. Appius Claudius, who had already been consul (611) and censor (618), one of the most respected men in the senate, censured the Scipionic circle for having so soon abandoned the scheme of distributing the domain-lands with all the passionate vehemence which was the hereditary characteristic of the Claudian house; and with the greater bitterness, apparently because he had come into personal conflict with Scipio Aemilianus in his candidature for the censorship. Similar views were expressed by Publius Crassus Mucianus,(28) the -pontifex maximus- of the day, who was held in universal honour by the senate and the citizens as a man and a jurist. Even his brother Publius Mucius Scaevola, the founder of scientific jurisprudence in Rome, seemed not averse to the plan of reform; and his voice was of the greater weight, as he stood in some measure aloof from the parties. Similar were the sentiments of Quintus Metellus, the conqueror of Macedonia and of the Achaeans, but respected not so much on account of his warlike deeds as because he was a model of the old discipline and manners alike in his domestic and his public life. Tiberius Gracchus was closely connected with these men, particularly with Appius whose daughter he had married, and with Mucianus whose daughter was married to his brother. It was no wonder that he cherished the idea of resuming in person the scheme of reform, so soon as he should find himself in a position which would constitutionally allow him the initiative. Personal motives may have strengthened this resolution. The treaty of peace which Mancinus concluded with the Numantines in 617, was in substance the work of Gracchus;(29) the recollection that the senate had cancelled it, that the general had been on its account surrendered to the enemy, and that Gracchus with the other superior officers had only escaped a like fate through the greater favour which he enjoyed among the burgesses, could not put the young, upright, and proud man in better humour with the ruling aristocracy. The Hellenic rhetoricians with whom he was fond of discussing philosophy and politics, Diophanes of Mytilene and Gaius Blossius of Cumae, nourished within his soul the ideals over which he brooded: when his intentions became known in wider circles, there was no want of approving voices, and many a public placard summoned the grandson of Africanus to think of the poor people and the deliverance of Italy.
Tribunate of Gracchus
His Agrarian Law
Tiberius Gracchus was invested with the tribunate of the people on the 10th of December, 620. The fearful consequences of the previous misgovernment, the political, military, economic, and moral decay of the burgesses, were just at that time naked and open to the eyes of all. Of the two consuls of this year one fought without success in Sicily against the revolted slaves, and the other, Scipio Aemilianus, was employed for months not in conquering, but in crushing a small Spanish country town. If Gracchus still needed a special summons to carry his resolution into effect, he found it in this state of matters which filled the mind of every patriot with unspeakable anxiety. His father-in-law promised assistance in counsel and action; the support of the jurist Scaevola, who had shortly before been elected consul for 621, might be hoped for. So Gracchus, immediately after entering on office, proposed the enactment of an agrarian law, which in a certain sense was nothing but a renewal of the Licinio-Sextian law of 387.(30) Under it all the state-lands which were occupied and enjoyed by the possessors without remuneration—those that were let on lease, such as the territory of Capua, were not affected by the law—were to be resumed on behalf of the state; but with the restriction, that each occupier should reserve for himself 500 -jugera- and for each son 250 (so as not, however, to exceed 1000 -jugera- in all) in permanent and guaranteed possession, or should be entitled to claim compensation in land to that extent. Indemnification appears to have been granted for any improvements executed by the former holders, such as buildings and plantations. The domain-land thus resumed was to be broken up into lots of 30 jugera; and these were to be distributed partly to burgesses, partly to Italian allies, not as their own free property, but as inalienable heritable leaseholds, whose holders bound themselves to use the land for agriculture and to pay a moderate rent to the state-chest. A -collegium- of three men, who were regarded as ordinary and standing magistrates of the state and were annually elected by the assembly of the people, was entrusted with the work of resumption and distribution; to which was afterwards added the important and difficult function of legally settling what was domain-land and what was private property. The distribution was accordingly designed to go on for an indefinite period until the Italian domains which were very extensive and difficult of adjustment should be regulated. The new features in the Sempronian agrarian law, as compared with the Licinio-Sextian, were, first, the clause in favour of the hereditary possessors; secondly, the leasehold and inalienable tenure proposed for the new allotments; thirdly and especially, the regulated and permanent executive, the want of which under the older law had been the chief reason why it had remained without lasting practical application.
War was thus declared against the great landholders, who now, as three centuries ago, found substantially their organ in the senate; and once more, after a long interval, a single magistrate stood forth in earnest opposition to the aristocratic government. It took up the conflict in the mode—sanctioned by use and wont for such cases—of paralyzing the excesses of the magistrates by means of the magistracy itself.(31) A colleague of Gracchus, Marcus Octavius, a resolute man who was seriously persuaded of the objectionable character of the proposed domain law, interposed his veto when it was about to be put to the vote; a step, the constitutional effect of which was to set aside the proposal. Gracchus in his turn suspended the business of the state and the administration of justice, and placed his seal on the public chest; the government acquiesced—it was inconvenient, but the year would draw to an end. Gracchus, in perplexity, brought his law to the vote a second time. Octavius of course repeated his -veto-; and to the urgent entreaty of his colleague and former friend, that he would not obstruct the salvation of Italy, he might reply that on that very question, as to how Italy could be saved, opinions differed, but that his constitutional right to use his veto against the proposal of his colleague was beyond all doubt. The senate now made an attempt to open up to Gracchus a tolerable retreat; two consulars challenged him to discuss the matter further in the senate house, and the tribune entered into the scheme with zeal. He sought to construe this proposal as implying that the senate had conceded the principle of distributing the domain-land; but neither was this implied in it, nor was the senate at all disposed to yield in the matter; the discussions ended without any result. Constitutional means were exhausted. In earlier times under such circumstances men were not indisposed to let the proposal go to sleep for the current year, and to take it up again in each succeeding one, till the earnestness of the demand and the pressure of public opinion overbore resistance. Now things were carried with a higher hand. Gracchus seemed to himself to have reached the point when he must either wholly renounce his reform or begin a revolution. He chose the latter course; for he came before the burgesses with the declaration that either he or Octavius must retire from the college, and suggested to Octavius that a vote of the burgesses should be taken as to which of them they wished to dismiss. Octavius naturally refused to consent to this strange challenge; the -intercessio- existed for the very purpose of giving scope to such differences of opinion among colleagues. Then Gracchus broke off the discussion with his colleague, and turned to the assembled multitude with the question whether a tribune of the people, who acted in opposition to the people, had not forfeited his office; and the assembly, long accustomed to assent to all proposals presented to it, and for the most part composed of the agricultural proletariate which had flocked in from the country and was personally interested in the carrying of the law, gave almost unanimously an affirmative answer. Marcus Octavius was at the bidding of Gracchus removed by the lictors from the tribunes' bench; and then, amidst universal rejoicing, the agrarian law was carried and the first allotment-commissioners were nominated. The votes fell on the author of the law along with his brother Gaius, who was only twenty years of age, and his father-in-law Appius Claudius. Such a family- selection augmented the exasperation of the aristocracy. When the new magistrates applied as usual to the senate to obtain the moneys for their equipment and for their daily allowance, the former was refused, and a daily allowance was assigned to them of 24 -asses- (1 shilling). The feud spread daily more and more, and became more envenomed and more personal. The difficult and intricate task of defining, resuming, and distributing the domains carried strife into every burgess-community, and even into the allied Italian towns.
Further Plans of Gracchus
The aristocracy made no secret that, while they would acquiesce perhaps in the law because they could not do otherwise, the officious legislator should never escape their vengeance; and the announcement of Quintus Pompeius, that he would impeach Gracchus on the very day of his resigning his tribunate, was far from being the worst of the threats thrown out against the tribune. Gracchus believed, probably with reason, that his personal safety was imperilled, and no longer appeared in the Forum without a retinue of 3000 or 4000 men—a step which drew down on him bitter expressions in the senate, even from Metellus who was not averse to reform in itself. Altogether, if he had expected to reach the goal by the carrying of his agrarian law, he had now to learn that he was only at the starting-point. The "people" owed him gratitude; but he was a lost man, if he had no farther protection than this gratitude of the people, if he did not continue indispensable to them and did not constantly attach to himself fresh interests and hopes by means of other and more comprehensive proposals. Just at that time the kingdom and wealth of the Attalids had fallen to the Romans by the testament of the last king of Pergamus;(32) Gracchus proposed to the people that the Pergamene treasure should be distributed among the new landholders for the procuring of the requisite implements and stock, and vindicated generally, in opposition to the existing practice, the right of the burgesses to decide definitively as to the new province. He is said to have prepared farther popular measures, for shortening the period of service, for extending the right of appeal, for abolishing the prerogative of the senators exclusively to do duty as civil jurymen, and even for the admission of the Italian allies to Roman citizenship. How far his projects in reality reached, cannot be ascertained; this alone is certain, that Gracchus saw that his only safety lay in inducing the burgesses to confer on him for a second year the office which protected him, and that, with a view to obtain this unconstitutional prolongation, he held forth a prospect of further reforms. If at first he had risked himself in order to save the commonwealth, he was now obliged to put the commonwealth at stake in order to his own safety.
He Solicits Re-election to the Tribunate
The tribes met to elect the tribunes for the ensuing year, and the first divisions gave their votes for Gracchus; but the opposite party in the end prevailed with their veto, so far at least that the assembly broke up without having accomplished its object, and the decision was postponed to the following day. For this day Gracchus put in motion all means legitimate and illegitimate; he appeared to the people dressed in mourning, and commended to them his youthful son; anticipating that the election would once more be disturbed by the veto, he made provision for expelling the adherents of the aristocracy by force from the place of assembly in front of the Capitoline temple. So the second day of election came on; the votes fell as on the preceding day, and again the veto was exercised; the tumult began. The burgesses dispersed; the elective assembly was practically dissolved; the Capitoline temple was closed; it was rumoured in the city, now that Tiberius had deposed all the tribunes, now that he had resolved to continue his magistracy without reelection.
Death of Gracchus
The senate assembled in the temple of Fidelity, close by the temple of Jupiter; the bitterest opponents of Gracchus spoke in the sitting; when Tiberius moved his hand towards his forehead to signify to the people, amidst the wild tumult, that his head was in danger, it was said that he was already summoning the people to adorn his brow with the regal chaplet. The consul Scaevola was urged to have the traitor put to death at once. When that temperate man, by no means averse to reform in itself, indignantly refused the equally irrational and barbarous request, the consular Publius Scipio Nasica, a harsh and vehement aristocrat, summoned those who shared his views to arm themselves as they could and to follow him. Almost none of the country people had come into town for the elections; the people of the city timidly gave way, when they saw men of quality rushing along with fury in their eyes, and legs of chairs and clubs in their hands. Gracchus attempted with a few attendants to escape. But in his flight he fell on the slope of the Capitol, and was killed by a blow on the temples from the bludgeon of one of his furious pursuers —Publius Satureius and Lucius Rufus afterwards contested the infamous honour—before the statues of the seven kings at the temple of Fidelity; with him three hundred others were slain, not one by weapons of iron. When evening had come on, the bodies were thrown into the Tiber; Gaius vainly entreated that the corpse of his brother might be granted to him for burial. Such a day had never before been seen by Rome. The party-strife lasting for more than a century during the first social crisis had led to no such catastrophe as that with which the second began. The better portion of the aristocracy might shudder, but they could no longer recede. They had no choice save to abandon a great number of their most trusty partisans to the vengeance of the multitude, or to assume collectively the responsibility of the outrage: the latter course was adopted. They gave official sanction to the assertion that Gracchus had wished to seize the crown, and justified this latest crime by the primitive precedent of Ahala;(33) in fact, they even committed the duty of further investigation as to the accomplices of Gracchus to a special commission and made its head, the consul Publius Popillius, take care that a sort of legal stamp should be supplementarily impressed on the murder of Gracchus by bloody sentences directed against a large number of inferior persons (622). Nasica, against whom above all others the multitude breathed vengeance, and who had at least the courage openly to avow his deed before the people and to defend it, was under honourable pretexts despatched to Asia, and soon afterwards (624) invested, during his absence, with the office of Pontifex Maximus. Nor did the moderate party dissociate themselves from these proceedings of their colleagues. Gaius Laelius bore a part in the investigations adverse to the partisans of Gracchus; Publius Scaevola, who had attempted to prevent the murder, afterwards defended it in the senate; when Scipio Aemilianus, after his return from Spain (622), was challenged publicly to declare whether he did or did not approve the killing of his brother-in-law, he gave the at least ambiguous reply that, so far as Tiberius had aspired to the crown, he had been justly put to death.
The Domain Question Viewed in Itself
Let us endeavour to form a judgment regarding these momentous events. The appointment of an official commission, which had to counteract the dangerous diminution of the farmer-class by the comprehensive establishment of new small holdings from the whole Italian landed property at the disposal of the state, was doubtless no sign of a healthy condition of the national economy; but it was, under the existing circumstances political and social, suited to its purpose. The distribution of the domains, moreover, was in itself no political party-question; it might have been carried out to the last sod without changing the existing constitution or at all shaking the government of the aristocracy. As little could there be, in that case, any complaint of a violation of rights. The state was confessedly the owner of the occupied land; the holder as a possessor on mere sufferance could not, as a rule, ascribe to himself even a bonafide proprietary tenure, and, in the exceptional instances where he could do so, he was confronted by the fact that by the Roman law prescription did not run against the state. The distribution of the domains was not an abolition, but an exercise, of the right of property; all jurists were agreed as to its formal legality. But the attempt now to carry out these legal claims of the state was far from being politically warranted by the circumstance that the distribution of the domains neither infringed the existing constitution nor involved a violation of right. Such objections as have been now and then raised in our day, when a great landlord suddenly begins to assert in all their compass claims belonging to him in law but suffered for a long period to lie dormant in practice, might with equal and better right be advanced against the rogation of Gracchus. These occupied domains had been undeniably in heritable private possession, some of them for three hundred years; the state's proprietorship of the soil, which from its very nature loses more readily than that of the burgess the character of a private right, had in the case of these lands become virtually extinct, and the present holders had universally come to their possessions by purchase or other onerous acquisition. The jurist might say what he would; to men of business the measure appeared to be an ejection of the great landholders for the benefit of the agricultural proletariate; and in fact no statesman could give it any other name. That the leading men of the Catonian epoch formed no other judgment, is very clearly shown by their treatment of a similar case that occurred in their time. The territory of Capua and the neighbouring towns, which was annexed as domain in 543, had for the most part practically passed into private possession during the following unsettled times. In the last years of the sixth century, when in various respects, especially through the influence of Cato, the reins of government were drawn tighter, the burgesses resolved to resume the Campanian territory and to let it out for the benefit of the treasury (582). The possession in this instance rested on an occupation justified not by previous invitation but at the most by the connivance of the authorities, and had continued in no case much beyond a generation; but the holders were not dispossessed except in consideration of a compensatory sum disbursed under the orders of the senate by the urban praetor Publius Lentulus (c. 589).(34) Less objectionable perhaps, but still not without hazard, was the arrangement by which the new allotments bore the character of heritable leaseholds and were inalienable. The most liberal principles in regard to freedom of dealing had made Rome great; and it was very little consonant to the spirit of the Roman institutions, that these new farmers were peremptorily bound down to cultivate their portions of land in a definite manner, and that their allotments were subject to rights of revocation and all the cramping measures associated with commercial restriction.
It will be granted that these objections to the Sempronian agrarian law were of no small weight. Yet they are not decisive. Such a practical eviction of the holders of the domains was certainly a great evil; yet it was the only means of checking, at least for a long time, an evil much greater still and in fact directly destructive to the state—the decline of the Italian farmer-class. We can well understand therefore why the most distinguished and patriotic men even of the conservative party, headed by Gaius Laelius and Scipio Aemilianus, approved and desired the distribution of the domains viewed in itself.
The Domain Question before the Burgesses
But, if the aim of Tiberius Gracchus probably appeared to the great majority of the discerning friends of their country good and salutary, the method which he adopted, on the other hand, did not and could not meet with the approval of a single man of note and of patriotism. Rome about this period was governed by the senate. Any one who carried a measure of administration against the majority of the senate made a revolution. It was revolution against the spirit of the constitution, when Gracchus submitted the domain question to the people; and revolution also against the letter, when he destroyed not only for the moment but for all time coming the tribunician veto— the corrective of the state machine, through which the senate constitutionally got rid of interferences with its government—by the deposition of his colleague, which he justified with unworthy sophistry. But it was not in this step that the moral and political mistake of the action of Gracchus lay. There are no set forms of high treason in history; whoever provokes one power in the state to conflict with another is certainly a revolutionist, but he may be at the same time a discerning and praiseworthy statesman. The essential defect of the Gracchan revolution lay in a fact only too frequently overlooked—in the nature of the then existing burgess-assemblies. The agrarian law of Spurius Cassius(35) and that of Tiberius Gracchus had in the main the same tenor and the same object; but the enterprises of the two men were as different, as the former Roman burgess-body which shared the Volscian spoil with the Latins and Hernici was different from the present which erected the provinces of Asia and Africa. The former was an urban community, which could meet together and act together; the latter was a great state, as to which the attempt to unite those belonging to it in one and the same primary assembly, and to leave to this assembly the decision, yielded a result as lamentable as it was ridiculous.(36) The fundamental defect of the policy of antiquity —that it never fully advanced from the urban form of constitution to that of a state or, which is the same thing, from the system of primary assemblies to a parliamentary system—in this case avenged itself. The sovereign assembly of Rome was what the sovereign assembly in England would be, if instead of sending representatives all the electors of England should meet together as a parliament—an unwieldy mass, wildly agitated by all interests and all passions, in which intelligence was totally lost; a body, which was neither able to take a comprehensive view of things nor even to form a resolution of its own; a body above all, in which, saving in rare exceptional cases, a couple of hundred or thousand individuals accidentally picked up from the streets of the capital acted and voted in name of the burgesses. The burgesses found themselves, as a rule, nearly as satisfactorily represented by their de facto representatives in the tribes and centuries as by the thirty lictors who de jure represented them in the curies; and just as what was called the decree of the curies was nothing but a decree of the magistrate who convoked the lictors, so the decree of the tribes and centuries at this time was in substance simply a decree of the proposing magistrate, legalised by some consentients indispensable for the occasion. But while in these voting-assemblies, the -comitia-, though they were far from dealing strictly in the matter of qualification, it was on the whole burgesses alone that appeared, in the mere popular assemblages on the other hand—the -contiones—-every one in the shape of a man was entitled to take his place and to shout, Egyptians and Jews, street- boys and slaves. Such a "meeting" certainly had no significance in the eyes of the law; it could neither vote nor decree. But it practically ruled the street, and already the opinion of the street was a power in Rome, so that it was of some importance whether this confused mass received the communications made to it with silence or shouts, whether it applauded and rejoiced or hissed and howled at the orator. Not many had the courage to lord it over the populace as Scipio Aemilianus did, when they hissed him on account of his expression as to the death of his brother-in-law. "Ye," he said, "to whom Italy is not mother but step-mother, ought to keep silence!" and when their fury grew still louder, "Surely you do not think that I will fear those let loose, whom I have sent in chains to the slave-market?"
That the rusty machinery of the comitia should be made use of for the elections and for legislation, was already bad enough. But when those masses—the -comitia- primarily, and practically also the -contiones—- were permitted to interfere in the administration, and the instrument which the senate employed to prevent such interferences was wrested out of its hands; when this so-called burgess-body was allowed to decree to itself lands along with all their appurtenances out of the public purse; when any one, whom circumstances and his influence with the proletariate enabled to command the streets for a few hours, found it possible to impress on his projects the legal stamp of the sovereign people's will, Rome had reached not the beginning, but the end of popular freedom—had arrived not at democracy, but at monarchy. For that reason in the previous period Cato and those who shared his views never brought such questions before the burgesses, but discussed them solely in the senate.(37) For that reason contemporaries of Gracchus, the men of the Scipionic circle, described the Flaminian agrarian law of 522—the first step in that fatal career—as the beginning of the decline of Roman greatness. For that reason they allowed the author of the domain-distribution to fall, and saw in his dreadful end, as it were, a rampart against similar attempts in future, while yet they maintained and turned to account with all their energy the domain-distribution itself which he had carried through—so sad was the state of things in Rome that honest patriots were forced into the horrible hypocrisy of abandoning the evil-doer and yet appropriating the fruit of the evil deed. For that reason too the opponents of Gracchus were in a certain sense not wrong, when they accused him of aspiring to the crown. For him it is a fresh impeachment rather than a justification, that he himself was probably a stranger to any such thought. The aristocratic government was so thoroughly pernicious, that the citizen, who was able to depose the senate and to put himself in its place, might perhaps benefit the commonwealth more than he injured it.
But such a bold player Tiberius Gracchus was not. He was a tolerably capable, thoroughly well-meaning, conservative patriot, who simply did not know what he was doing; who in the fullest belief that he was calling the people evoked the rabble, and grasped at the crown without being himself aware of it, until the inexorable sequence of events urged him irresistibly into the career of the demagogue-tyrant; until the family commission, the interferences with the public finances, the further "reforms" exacted by necessity and despair, the bodyguard from the pavement, and the conflicts in the streets betrayed the lamentable usurper more and more clearly to himself and others; until at length the unchained spirits of revolution seized and devoured the incapable conjurer. The infamous butchery, through which he perished, condemns itself, as it condemns the aristocratic faction whence it issued; but the glory of martyrdom, with which it has embellished the name of Tiberius Gracchus, came in this instance, as usually, to the wrong man. The best of his contemporaries judged otherwise. When the catastrophe was announced to Scipio Aemilianus, he uttered the words of Homer:
"—Os apoloito kai allos, otis toiauta ge pezoi—"
and when the younger brother of Tiberius seemed disposed to come forward in the same career, his own mother wrote to him: "Shall then our house have no end of madness? Where shall be the limit? Have we not yet enough to be ashamed of, in having confused and disorganized the state?" So spoke not the anxious mother, but the daughter of the conqueror of Carthage, who knew and experienced a misfortune yet greater than the death of her children.