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Agrarian Laws

land, public, roman, lands, conquered, free, rent, produce, tracts and slaves

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AGRARIAN LAWS (Agmrite Le ges). Those enactments were called Agrarian laws by the Romans which re lated to the public lands (Ager Publicus). The objects of these Agrarian laws were various. A law (lex) for the establish ment of a colony and the assignment of tracts of land to the colonists was an Agrarian law. The laws which regu lated the use and enjoyment of the public lands, and gave the ownership of por tions of them to the commonalty (plebes) were also Agrarian laws. Those Agra rian laws indeed which assigned small allotments to the plebeians, varying in amount from two jagera to seven jugera (a jugerum is about three-fourths of an English acre), were among the most im portant; but the Agrarian laws, or those clauses of Agrarian laws which limited the amount of public land which a man could use and enjoy, are usually meant when the term Agrarian laws is now used.

The origin of the Roman public land, or of the greater part of it, was this : Rome had originally a small territory, but by a series of conquests carried on for many centuries she finally obtained the dominion of the whole Italian penin sula. When the Romans conquered an Italian state, they seized a part of the lands of the conquered people ; for it was a Roman principle that the conquered people lost everything with the loss of their political independence ; and what they enjoyed after the conquest was a gift from the generosity of the conqueror. A state which submitted got better terms than one which made an obstinate resist ance. Sometimes a third of their land was taken from the conquered state, and sometimes two-thirds. It is not said how this arrangement was effected; whether each landholder lost a third, or whether an entire third was taken in the lump, and the conquered people were left to equalize the loss among themselves. But there were probably in all parts of Italy large tracts of uncultivated ground which were under pasture, and these tracts would form a part of the Roman share, for we find that pasture land was a con siderable portion of the Roman public laud. The ravages of war also often left many of the conquered tracts in a desolate condition, and these tracts formed part of the conqueror's share. The lands thus acquired could not always be care fully measured at the time of the con quest, and they were not always imme diately sold or assigned to the citizens. The Roman state retained the ownership of such public lands as were not sold or given in allotments, but allowed them to be occupied and enjoyed by any Roman citizen, or, according to some, by the patricians only at first, and in some cases certainly by the citizens of allied and friendly states, on the payment of a cer tain rent, which was one-tenth of the produce of arable land and one-fifth of the produce of land planted with the vine, the fig, the olive, and of other trees the produce of which was valuable, as the pine. It does not appear that this occu pation was originally regulated by any rules : it is stated that public notice was given that the lands might be occupied on such terms as above mentioned. Nor was the occupation probably limited to one class : either the patricians or the plebeians, either of these two portions of the Roman community, might occupy the lands. The enjoyment of the public land by the plebes is at least mentioned after the date of the Licinian laws. Such an ar rangement would certainly be favourable to agriculture. The state would have found it difficult to get purchasers for all its acquisitions ; and it would not have been politic to have made a free gift of all those conquered lands which, under proper management, would furnish a re venue to the state. Those who had

capital, great or small, could get the use of land without buying it, on the condi tion of paying a moderate rent, which depended on the produce. The rent may not always have been paid in kind, but still the amount of the rent would be equivalent to a portion of the produce. The state, as already observed, was the owner of the land : the occupier, who was legally entitled the Possessor, had only the use (usus). This is the account of Appian (Civil Wars, i. 7, &c.). The account of Plutarch (Tiberius Gracchus, 8) is in some respects different. Whatever land the Romans took from their neigh bours in war, they sold part and the rest they made public and gave to the poor to cultivate, on the payment of a small rent to the treasury (aerarium); but as the rich began to offer a higher rent, and ejected the poor, a law was passed which forbade any person to hold more than 500 jugera of (public) land. The law to which he alludes was one of the Licinian laws. (Camillus, 39.) This mode of occupying the land con tinued for a long period. It is not stated by any authority that there was originally any limit to the amount which an indi vidual might occupy. In course of time these possessions (possesaiones), as they were called, though they could not be considered by the possessors as their own, were dealt with as if they were. They made permanent improvements on them, they erected houses and other buildings, they bought and sold possessions like other property, gave them as portions with their daughters, and transmitted them to their children. There is no doubt that a possessor had a good title to his possession against all claimants; and there must have been legal remedies in cases of trespass, intrusion, and other disturbances of possession. • In course of time very large tracts had come into the possession of wealthy individuals, and the small occupiers had sold their pm sessions, and in some cases, it is said, had been ejected, though it is not said how, by a powerful neighbour. This, it is further said, arose in a great degree from the constant demands of the state for the services of her citizens in war. The possessors were often called from their fields to serve in the armies, and if they were too poor to employ labourers in their absence, or if they had no slaves, their farms must have been neglected. The rich stocked their estates with slaves, and refused to employ free labourers, because free men were liable to military service, and slaves were not. The free population of many parts of Italy thus gradually decreased, the possessions of the rich were extended, and most of the labourers were slaves. The Italian allies of Rome, who served in her armies and won her vic tories, were ground down by poverty, taxes, and military service. They had not even the resources of living by their labour, for the rich would only employ slaves ; and though slave labour under ordinary circumstances is not so profit able as free labour, it would be more pro fitable in a state of society in which the free labourers were liable at all times to be called out to military service. Besides this, the Roman agricultural slave was hard worked, and an unfeeling master might contrive to make a good profit out of him by a few years of bondage: ana if he died, his place would readuy ae supplied by a new purchase. Such a system of cultivation might be profitable to a lbw wealthy capitalists, and would ensure a large amount of surplus produce for the market ; but the political con sequences would be injurious.

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