Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Italian Niche: Rome, Italy and the Provinces, First Century B.C. (3)

(Continued from Page: 2)

Thus the first century B.C. was an epoch of transition, when the old city-state was breaking up and degenerating into the rule of two privileged classes, the senators and knights, and when a new system of monarchy was growing up. The conception of a family of free and independent states__the conception which the Greeks fought for and which lay at the root of the Roman constitution in the fourth and third centuries B.C.__now gradually gave way to the ancient Eastern notion of a single world-wide state, possessing a uniform culture and ruled over by one man.

During this century the changes in the social and economic life of Italy were not less profound than the change in politics. The rural population in particular suffered greatly from civil war. The policy by which the Gracchi sought to revive the old system of small landholders was attempted more than once during these wars; but it proved a failure. Repeated distributions of land among the discharged soldiers did nothing to restore the old state of things, though Marius and Sulla, Pompey and Caesar, Antony and Octavian, all carried through extensive measures for this purpose. New landholders were created by hundreds of thousands, and as many were evicted from their holdings to satisfy the needs of the new-comers. We hear little of the way in which the country-side was affected by these tremendous upheavals; but we know enough to justify the belief that they made no radical alteration in Italian agriculture. Many of the veterans, unaccustomed to peaceful labour, went bankrupt, and their land passed into the hands of capitalists. Others held on to their allotments and either displaced or became part of the old landowning middle class who took the lead in the provincial towns. At all events, the award of land to veterans did nothing to stop the growth of large estates.

For this period, far more than for earlier times, we have plenty of evidence about the immense estates owned by the ruling aristocracy in Italy and the provinces__estates which were c ultivated by slaves or by tenants who might be called serfs. I have spoken already of Sulla and his forty thousand freedmen. Pompey's family owned such vast estates in Picenum that he could recruit a whole army among his own clients and freedmen to s upport Sulla against the democrats; and Domitius Ahenobarbus, one of the senatorial generals, did the same, when Caesar invaded Italy after his rupture with Pompey. Pompey was not boasting when he said, on the eve of the war with Caesar, that he had only to stamp his foot and legions would grow out of the ground. He was thinking not only of his veterans and their sons, who were now his clients, but of the multitude of tenants upon his great Italian estates. Cicero, though never reckoned a very richy man, possessed villas and estates in many parts of italy; and yet he disapproved of land in general as an investment. It is true that land did not remain long in the same hands: changing with the changes in politics, it passed from one owner to another. But it tended on the whole to become the monopoly of a few wealthy capitalists.

During the civil wars great fortunes became commoner: every spasm of the conflict gave birth to new millionaires. Marius, Sulla, Pompey, Caesar, Antony, and Octavian__all these not only became immensely rich themselves but also enriched a vast number of their adherents, some of whom were clever enough to stick to their money. Anarchy in the provinces and inefficiency in the central government increased the opp[ortunities of provincial governors to feather their own nests at the cost of their subjects. And lastly the conquest of the East by Pompey and of Gaul by Caesar enriched the generals and the officers. On the whole, the senatorial class grew richer than poorer during the Civil wars, and the number of great capitalists belonging to this class grew larger.

To be continued: (4)

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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