CHAPTER I. ANTECEDENTS OF THE REVOLUTION.
During the last half of the second century before Christ Rome was undisputed mistress of the civilised world. A brilliant period of foreign conquest had succeeded the 300 years in which she had overcome her neighbours and made herself supreme in Italy. In 146 B.C. she had given the death-blow to her greatest rival, Carthage, and had annexed Greece. In 140 treachery had rid her of Viriathus, the stubborn guerilla who defied her generals and defeated her armies in Spain. In 133 the terrible fate of Numantia, and in 132 the merciless suppression of the Sicilian slave-revolt, warned all foes of the Republic that the sword, which the incompetence of many generals had made seem duller than of old, was still keen to smite; and except where some slave-bands were in desperate rebellion, and in Pergamus, where a pretender disputed with Rome the legacy of Attalus, every land along the shores of the Mediterranean was subject to or at the mercy of a town not half as large as the London of to-day. Almost exactly a century afterwards the Government under which this gigantic empire had been consolidated was no more.
Foreign wars will have but secondary importance in the following pages. [The history will not be one of military events.] The interest of the narrative centres mainly in home politics; and though the world did not cease to echo to the tramp of conquering legions, and the victorious soldier became a more and more important factor in the State, still military matters no longer, as in the Samnite and Punic wars, absorb the attention, dwarfed as they are by the great social struggle of which the metropolis was the arena. In treating of the first half of those hundred years of revolution, which began with the tribunate of Tiberius Gracchus and ended with the battle of Actium, it is mainly the fall of the Republican and the foreshadowing of the Imperial system of government which have to be described. [In order to understand the times of the Gracchi it is necessary to understand the history of the orders at Rome.] But, in order to understand rightly the events of those fifty years, some survey, however brief, of the previous history of the Roman orders is indispensable.
[The patres.] When the mists of legend clear away we see a community which, if we do not take slaves into account, consisted of two parts - the governing body, or patres, to whom alone the term Populus Romanus strictly applied, and who constituted the Roman State, and the governed class, or clientes, who were outside its pale. The word patrician, more familiar to our ear than the substantive from which it is formed, came to imply much more than its original meaning. [The clients.] In its simplest and earliest sense it was applied to a man who was sprung from a Roman marriage, who stood towards his client on much the same footing which, in the mildest form of slavery, a master occupies towards his slave. As the patronus was to the libertus, when it became customary to liberate slaves, so in some measure were the Fathers to their retainers, the Clients. That the community was originally divided into these two sections is known. What is not known is how, besides this primary division of patres and clientes, there arose a second political class in the State, namely the plebs. The client as client had no political existence. [The plebeians.] But as a plebeian he had. Whether the plebs was formed of clients who had been released from their clientship, just as slaves might be manumitted; or of foreigners, as soldiers, traders, or artisans were admitted into the community; or partly of foreigners and partly of clients, the latter being equalised by the patres with the former in self-defence; and whether as a name it dated from or was antecedent to the so-called Tullian organization is uncertain. But we know that in one way or other a second political division in the State arose and that the constitution, of which Servius Tullius was the reputed author, made every freeman in Rome a citizen by giving him a vote in the Comitia Centuriata. Yet though the plebeian was a citizen, and as such acquired 'commercium,' or the right to hold and devise property, it was only after a prolonged struggle that he achieved political equality with the patres. [Gradual acquisition by the plebs of political equality with the patres.] Step by step he wrung from them the rights of intermarriage and of filling offices of state; and the great engine by which this was brought about was the tribunate, the historical importance of which dates from, even though as a plebeian magistracy it may have existed before, the first secession of the plebs in 494 B.C. [Character of the tribunate.] The tribunate stood towards the freedom of the Roman people in something of the same relation which the press of our time occupies towards modern liberty: for its existence implied free criticism of the executive, and out of free speech grew free action. [The Roman government transformed from oligarchy into a plutocracy.]