chapter  V
14 Pages

The Union of the Orders and the Constitution

The Gallic invasion brought in its train a period of extreme distress. Amid this confusion the demands of the plebeians became more insistent until in 367 the Licinian Rogations won for them a considerable political victory which went far to unite the orders. Economic depression formed the background to much of the discontent. This centred around conditions of land tenure and the harsh laws of debt; it was aggravated by actual shortage of food. It has already been seen how pressing were these problems in the early days of the Republic (pp. 75f .). During the fi fth century, and especially in its last decades, Rome’s conquests in Italy had increased the amount of ager publicus . If the plebs had been refused a fair share of Roman territory earlier, it would obviously be fatal to refuse their demands when this territory had been so greatly increased partly as a result of their efforts. So although some land may have been sold by the state to those who could afford to buy, some was distributed in plots to individual citizens as their absolute property ( assignatio ) The tribunes were not yet powerful enough to propose such measures, which were moved by magistrates and voted by the Comitia Centuriata with the Senate’s approval. Part of the land taken from Veii was distributed in this way in 393 in allotments of perhaps 4 iugera each (Diodorus, xiv, 102, 4; Livy v, 30, 8, gives 7 iugera ). Patricians could apply for such land, but would probably sell or lease their portions; the poorer citizens were the chief gainers. By such grants of land the Romans secured the proximity and the interest of responsible self-supporting property owners who would rally to defend the state in

hours of need. There were other means of relief for those who lacked land: they could share in the founding of colonies where they received allotments, and it is estimated that some 50,000 people may have gone to colonies between 450 and 290 BC . Or land could be obtained by squatting ( occupatio ) on state property with the right of possessio . Nominally a rent was paid, but most of such land fell into the hands of the richer farmers who could afford to develop it and who in practice seldom paid their dues.