Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Italian Niche: Rome, Italy and the Provinces, First Century B.C. (4)

The class of knights also grew richer, and a number of new families were added to it. The title of equites was no longer restricted to the eighteen centuries of knights, who were entered on the roll of citizens for mounted service: it was now enjoyed by all enfranchised citizens, whose property was valued at not less than 400,000 sesterces. The number of persons so qualified had risen enormously. By collecting the taxes in the provinces, by taking leases of public land, by lending money in Italy and abroad, by supplying and transporting armies, by building ships of war and transports, by buying up spoils of war, especially live stock and slaves, by purchasing confiscated land and other p roperty in Italy during the massacres and proscriptions__by all these means great numbers of enterprising and unscrupulous people, whose parents were in many cases still slaves, had made their fortunes.

This lately acquired wealth was invested in all kinds of enterprises_trade, industry, tax-farming__but chiefly in land both at home and abroad. Cicero's friend Atticus may be taken as a normal type of a rich and respected Knight who had given up specualtion. His fortune was mainly invested in land situated in Epirus, and he raised live stock there on a large scale. As a man of culture and lover of literature, he put some of his money into a publishing business. He was Cicero's publisher. Sulla's freedman Chrysogonus, who grew rich out of the proscription, and whom Cicero has pilloried, may serve as a specimen of the dishonest and rapacious specualtor.

Rome at this period was a vast centre of business and served as an exchange for the whole world. Immense bargains were concluded in the forum, e.g. for the Roman corn-supply of the great companies, which contracted for the collection of taxes or the cultivation of state domains, were bought and sold there. Many Roman citizens, especially from south Italy, spent their lives abroad__in Greece or Asia Minor, Africa or Gaul. They carried on commerce of all kinds, with special attention to money-lending and the slave trade. Every large centre of trade and industry in these provinces included a number of Roman citizens, who were untied in a corporation of their own and played an important part in the business life of the place. I have mentioned already how Mithradates massacred about 80,000 of these Roman traders with their clerks and slaves in Asia Minor and Greece.

The flow of capital from the East to Rome and Italy raised the wealth of peninsula to an extraordinary height, which was not affected even by the horrors of Civil war. M. Terentius Varro, born at Reate in the Sabine country, a friend of Cicero and also intimate with Caesar, wrote a treatise o n agriculture, a serious and scientific work, for Roman landlords and capitalists; and in it he gives a rose-coloured description of italy as the most fertile and best-cultivated country in the world. Now as earlier, this was due chiefly to the scientific farming of the nobles, Roman and Italian. The system was the same as that of earlier times. Most of the work was done by slaves. More and mroe attention was given to the culture of the vine and olive, to growing fruit and vegetables, to poultry, and to stock-breeding. To these subjects most of Varro's treatise is devoted. The fall of Carthage and the ruined state of the East (of which more will be said below) made Italy the chief producer of wine and oil for the western market. Improved methods applied to vines and olive groves made it possible even to export wine and oil to the East, which had once supplied the whole world with these commodities. Money was made also out of small allotments whose principal produce was grain. The thriving towns of Italy with a constantly rising population demanded an immense amount of corn. Corn imported from the provinces could not compete with the native product except in seaport towns, because the cost of carriage by land was excessive.

To be continued: (5)

Source of Information: A History of the Ancient World by M. Rostovtzeff; Volume II Rome (Translated from the Russian by J.D. Duff. Oxford at the Clarendon Press Published: 1927 Great Britain.

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