CHAPTER I. ANTECEDENTS OF THE REVOLUTION.
[Origin of the Ager Publicus.] The ground round a town like Rome was originally cultivated by the inhabitants, some of whom, as more food and clothing were required, would settle on the soil. From them the ranks of the army were recruited; and, thus doubly oppressed by military service and by the land tax, which had to be paid in coin, the small husbandman was forced to borrow from some richer man in the town. Hence arose usury, and a class of debtors; and the sum of debt must have been increased as well as the number of the debtors by the very means adopted to relieve it. [Fourfold way of dealing with conquered territory.] When Rome conquered a town she confiscated a portion of its territory, and disposed of it in one of four ways. [Colonies.] 1. After expelling the owners, she sent some of her own citizens to settle upon it. They did not cease to be Romans, and, being in historical times taken almost exclusively from the plebs, must often have been but poorly furnished with the capital necessary for cultivating the ground. [Sale.] 2. She sold it; and, as with us, when a field is sold, a plan is made of its dimensions and boundaries, so plans of the land thus sold were made on tablets of bronze, and kept by the State. [Occupation.] 3. She allowed private persons to 'occupy' it on payment of 'vectigal,' or a portion of the produce; and, though not surrendering the title to the land, permitted the possessors to use it as their private property for purchase, sale, and succession. [Commons.] 4. A portion was kept as common pasture land for those to whom the land had been given or sold, or by whom it was occupied and those who used it paid 'scriptura,' or a tax of so much per head on the beasts, for whose grazing they sent in a return. This irregular system was fruitful in evil. It suited the patres with whom it originated, for they were for a time the sole gainers by it. Without money it must have been hopeless to occupy tracts distant from Rome. The poor man who did so would either involve himself in debt, or be at the mercy of his richer neighbours, whose flocks would overrun his fields, or who might oust him altogether from them by force, and even seize him himself and enroll him as a slave. The rich man, on the other hand, could use such land for pasture, and leave the care of his flocks and herds to clients and slaves. [This irregular system the germ of latifundia.] So originated those 'latifundia,' or large farms, which greatly contributed to the ruin of Rome and Italy. The tilled land grew less and with it dwindled the free population and the recruiting field for the army. Gangs of slaves became more numerous, and were treated with increased brutality; and as men who do not work for their own money are more profuse in spending it than those who do, the extravagance of the Roman possessors helped to swell the tide of luxury, which rose steadily with foreign conquest, and to create in the capital a class free in name indeed, but more degraded, if less miserable, than the very slaves, who were treated like beasts through Italy. It is not certain whether anyone except a patrician could claim 'occupation' as a right; but, as the possessors could in any case sell the land to plebeians, it fell into the hands of rich men, to whichever class they belonged, both at Rome, and in the Roman colonies, and the Municipia; and as it was never really their property - 'dominium' - but the property of the State, it was a constant source of envy and discontent among the poor.