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Agrarian Laws


AGRARIAN LAWS, law dealing with the disposal of the public land (ager publicus) of ancient Rome. No gratuitous disposition of state property could be made without the con sent of the people. Hence many of the ordinances affecting the public land were laws (leges) in the strictest sense of that word. It is, however, convenient to consider in this article all the regu lations that were made for the administration of the public land by the executive authorities, as well as by the people during the republic, and by the commands of the emperor, which had the force of law during the principate.

Public land was the prize of conquest and was one of the means of defraying the expenses of state administration. For this pur pose land was often leased on the condition of the payment of dues. But it was made to fulfil another purpose, the satisfaction of the individual needs of poorer citizens. To this end land was assigned, and on assignment ceased to be the property of the state. But it of ten happened that the state was not disinterested in such acts of assignment. It gained security and territorial control by planting garrisons in conquered country, and it relieved itself of the necessity of providing for its poorer classes by state-aid. The connection between agrarian legislation and colonization can be seen at once, and also the two aspects of colonization—the mili tary and the social. These two objects were connected throughout the whole of the earlier period of Roman agrarian assignation. After the time of the Gracchi social motives continued to be oper ative when military precautions had ceased to be necessary. One of the motives which prompted infant Rome to war with her neigh bours was the land-hunger of her citizens. This hunger she satis fied after conquest by annexing a portion of the enemy's territory. The amount thus confiscated varied. It was usually a third, but sometimes a half or even two-thirds, and after the fall of Capua in the Second Punic War the whole territory of the state was an nexed. By the close of the 2nd century B.C. one-half of the land of Italy belonged to Rome whether in private ownership or as the property of the state. Annexation was carried on in the provinces on a smaller scale; but Rome retained as domain-land much of the territory of communities which had been destroyed (e.g., Carthage and Corinth), and the estates of former kings. This peculiar property of the Roman state in the provinces must be carefully distinguished from the general overlordship which Rome was supposed to hold over all provincial soil, expressed in the statement that provincials had only possession or usufruct of land.

Methods of Handling Public Land.

Such portions of the territories of conquered cities as were not claimed by Rome were left in the possession of these cities. If the city was a federate state (civitas f oederata) this possession was guaranteed by a treaty; if it was a free city, the guarantee was made by charter; where Rome had marked out territory for assignment to her own citizens, but where, in or near the limits of the assignment, some of the land had been left in the hands of its former proprietors, such land was noted in the state registers as redditus veteri possessori.

The State dealt in two ways with such land as it retained. It alienated it, in exchange for a price or gratuitously; or it kept it as a source of revenue, whether on lease or on some system of remunerative occupation. The land might be sold for the benefit of the treasury. Typical instances of this treatment are furnished by the sale of some Campanian land during the Second Punic War. The censors may have directed the sale, but it was executed by the quaestors as the regular officials of the treasury. Hence such land was described as ager quaestorius. The land was sold in definitely marked out plots, and when this sale had been effected the lots fell under the absolute ownership of their purchasers.

The second mode of alienation was that by assignation. Lands thus assigned were known as agri dati adsignati. The gift on the part of the State was gratuitous, and ownership passed wholly to the assignee. The land so given was definitely surveyed, marked out, and registered. Such an assignment might take one of two possible forms. It might be the means of establishing a new "plan tation" (colonda), with some independent organization of its own, or it might be the means of providing allotments for individuals who remained domiciled at Rome or in some already existing municipality. The amount granted to individuals in assignments of both types varied from time to time. It was reckoned in terms of the iugerum, which was approximately five-eighths of an Eng lish acre. The earliest and smallest assignment was two iugera: iugera was the maximum amount granted before the time of Ti. Gracchus 033 B.c.), and it was held by representatives of the old school that seven iugera were as much as any frugal Roman should want. The division was carried out by commissions appointed by the people. The land which the State retained as ager publicus was always placed in the hands of individuals, who occupied it in some manner remunerative to the State. These individuals (possessores) were never regarded as owners of the land thus occupied. It re mained the property of the State, was held without a contract (precario), and could be resumed by the State at will. But though the tenants had no claim against the State, their ownership could be defended against all other claimants ; from an early date the praetor's possessory interdict was used to protect all occupiers, provided their tenure had not been acquired by force (vi), by seizure of land in its occupiers' absence (clam), or by mere per mission of the previous holder to occupy (precario alter ab altero). Tenants of this type could transfer their land by inheritance, and the land was accepted as security by creditors. This kind of occupation, therefore, though clearly distinguished from owner ship (dominium), was yet regarded as a perfectly secure form of tenure. All occupiers of public land paid dues to the State through a state contractor (publicanus). These dues varied in amount and in the method of their collection. We learn from Appian that the ordinary dues paid by occupiers of arable land in Italy were one tenth of seed crops and one-fifth of plant produce. Owners who turned cattle or sheep on pasture land belonging to the state also paid fixed dues to the treasury. The occupiers of the Roman public land in Campania paid a large rent. The conditions of the tenure of the Roman public land in Africa are known to us from the Lex Agraria of B.c. The pub/icanus is the middleman be tween the State and the possessor and purchases from the censor the right of collecting dues. The law places no restriction on bar gaining between the censor and the publicanus, but enacts that no possessor or pastor shall ever be required by the publicanus to pay more than the amount prescribed by the censors of '15 B.c. These conditions may be regarded as typical for the occupation of public lands. When Cicero speaks of public land as let on lease (locatus) by the censor, lie refers to the leasing of the taxes to a publicanus for a fixed period, and not to the letting of the land. This seems clear from a passage (In Verr. 6.12) where he speaks of land in Sicily which had been restored by Rome to former owners as being leased. The land itself could not be leased by Rome if it belonged not to Rome but to the Sicilian inhabitants; but the col lection of the revenues due to Rome could be so leased to publi cani (q.v.). The same explanation would apply to Cicero's state ments that the Campanian land was let on lease by the censors. Cicero's repeated statement that the Campanian land was ex pressly exempted from the legislation of the Gracchi shows that there was not sufficient distinction between the Campanian tenure and that of other public land in Italy to make this definite excep tion by name superfluous. The Sempronian law could obviously not touch land which the State had leased to occupiers on the basis of a definite contract. It seems certain that in every case the possessor occupied precario, and that only in the bargain between the censor and the middleman was there room for contract. Thus the State was justified in the claim to resume public land which it made in many of the agrarian laws.

Survey of Agrarian Legislation.

The earliest agrarian measures of which we have any record are the distributions to poor citizens of land conquered in war, which later authorities attribute to Numa and Servius Tullius. Such assignments were a voluntary surrender on the king's part of his own portion of the spoils. The agrarian law of Spurius Cassius (486 B.c.) distributed ager publicus among the plebeians. Another agrarian law proposed by the tribune Lucius Icilius in 456 B.C. regulated the tenure of public land on the Aventine. In 376 B.C. the tribunes Licinius and Sextius introduced into their laws, for the promotion of the privi leges of the plebs, a clause enacting that no more than soo iugera of land should be occupied by a single cultivator ; the law also enacted that only oo cattle and 5oo sheep might be turned by one owner on the public pastures. But it failed of its object because it did not provide any adequate machinery for the resumption by the state of land held in excess of the prescribed amount, and was therefore easily evaded. The next agrarian law was a measure dealing with lands conquered from the Senones (q.v.) and Picen tines. In 232 B.C. C. Flaminius, tribune of the plebs, proposed to resume these lands for the state, although they were already occu pied by large landholders, and to distribute them in allotments to poor citizens. The measure met with much opposition from the richer classes, and did not gain the sanction of the senate ; but C. Flaminius ignored constitutional usage and brought it direct be fore the council of the plebs, by which it was made law. In 133 B.C. the tribune Tiberius Gracchus (q.v.) re-enacted the earlier measure of Licinius and Sextius, with the additional provisions that each owner might occupy 25o iugera for each son, in addi tion to the original soo, and that a commission of three (III. viri agris dandis adsignandis) should be appointed to carry out the terms of the law. He also enacted that the land occupied in excess of the prescribed amount, and on that account resumed for the State by the land commission, should be distributed in in alienable lots to poor citizens. Subsequent modifications of those provisions which dealt with the powers of the land commission led to a re-enactment of the whole by G. Gracchus (q.v.), the brother of Tiberius, tribune in 123 B.C. But within 15 years from the tribunate of G. Gracchus the whole of his law had been ren dered null by three further enactments. The first of these per mitted the sale of land allotted under the law, which thus tended to return into the hands of its former occupiers as private property, which the State had no longer any right to resume. The second abolished the commission appointed to carry out the terms of the law, thus putting a stop to further resumption and distribution, and also transformed existing occupiers into owners of the land they occupied, paying only a small due to the treasury. The third abolished the payment. That law belonged to the year III B.C.

From that time forward a change came over land legislation. The ordinary public land in Italy, in the hands of occupiers, which had given rise to all the agrarian legislation between 376 and III B.c. had practically ceased to exist. The Campanian land still re mained, but the same reasons which led to its exemption from the Gracchan legislation seem to have continued to protect its holders until 63 B.C. In the meantime several agrarian laws were passed which provided for the distribution of land placed in some other way at the disposal of the State. In oo B.C. Apuleius Saturninus (q.v.) tribune, proposed the allotment of lands recently taken from the Cimbri in Gaul. This law was passed but eventually de clared null by the senate, with the rest of Saturninus's laws. A more dangerous precedent was set by Sulla in his dictatorship (82-81 B.c.). He was the first to confiscate the lands of his political opponents and of communities which had resisted him and, treat ing them as ager publicus, assign them to his veterans as a prize. This example was followed by Octavian (Augustus) and Antony (M. Antonius) after their proscriptions in 43 B.c. A third method of providing land for distribution was that adopted by Servilius Rullus (q.v.) in 63 B.C. His bill enacted that land should be pur chased in Italy with money gained by the sale of Roman territories abroad, and allotted to citizens. A commission of ten (X. viri agris dandis adsignandis), annually elected by nine out of the 35 tribes, was to carry out the terms of the law. Rullus also ventured to propose the distribution of the Campanian land which had hitherto been respected by all agrarian ref ormers. It was chiefly on this ground that Cicero in his three speeches on the Agrarian law suc ceeded in exciting such a general feeling against it that it was eventually withdrawn. In 6o B.C. the tribune L. Flavius brought forward a bill for the distribution of lands to Pompey's veterans. The Campanian land was certainly to be included in the distribu tion, and it is clear from Cicero that the bill in some way dealt violently with the rights of private owners. It also, however, enacted that land should be purchased by the State with the wealth which Pompey's conquests had brought into the treasury. The last proposal was supported by Cicero, but the bill seems to have been dropped, only to reappear in more moderate form in the following year. A consular bill, the lex lulia Campana, was passed by Julius Caesar in 59 B.C., which provided for the settlement of Pompey's veterans on the Campanian land, and other lands pur chased by the state from private owners in Italy with the full con sent of the latter. In its original form, the bill omitted all reference to the Campanian land, which seems to have been included by Caesar in the distribution only when the continued and unrea soning opposition of the senate had goaded him to extreme meas ures. A commission of twenty was to be appointed to carry out the law, from which Caesar himself was expressly excluded. This measure finally settled the question of the Campanian land, which now passed out of the category of ager publicus. The last agrarian law of the republic was that passed in 44 B.c. on the proposal of the consul M. Antonius. We have no detailed account of the meas ure, but it seems to have provided grants of land for veterans, and was to be administered by seven commissioners. The law was afterwards cancelled by decree of the senate.

BIBLIOGRAPHY.-Marquardt, Romische Staatsverwaltung (1881) ; Bibliography.-Marquardt, Romische Staatsverwaltung (1881) ; Madvig, Verfassung and Verwaltung des romischen Staates (1882) ; J. E. Sandys, Companion to Latin Studies (1921) with useful biblio graphy ; W. E. Heitland, The Roman Republic (1923) . (See also ROME, History.)

land, bc, law, public and rome