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The History of Rome. Book III The History of Rome. Book III
Автор: Mommsen Theodor
Язык: en
Жанр: sci_history
sci_culture

The History of Rome by Theodor Mommsen, translated by William Purdie Dickson

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One of the most important consequences of this mercantile spirit, which displayed itself with an intensity hardly conceivable by those not engaged in business, was the extraordinary impulse given to the formation of associations. In Rome this was especially fostered by the system already often mentioned whereby the government had its business transacted through middlemen: for from the extent of the transactions it was natural, and it was doubtless often required by the state for the sake of greater security, that capitalists should undertake such leases and contracts not as individuals, but in partnership. All great dealings were organized on the model of these state-contracts. Indications are even found of the occurrence among the Romans of that feature so characteristic of the system of association - a coalition of rival companies in order jointly to establish monopolist prices[26]. In transmarine transactions more especially and such as were otherwise attended with considerable risk, the system of partnership was so extensively adopted, that it practically took the place of insurances, which were unknown to antiquity. Nothing was more common than the nautical loan, as it was called - the modern "bottomry" - by which the risk and gain of transmarine traffic were proportionally distributed among the owners of the vessel and cargo and all the capitalists advancing money for the voyage. It was, however, a general rule of Roman economy that one should rather take small shares in many speculations than speculate independently; Cato advised the capitalist not to fit out a single ship with his money, but in concert with forty-nine other capitalists to send out fifty ships and to take an interest in each to the extent of a fiftieth part. The greater complication thus introduced into business was overcome by the Roman merchant through his punctual laboriousness and his system of management by slaves and freedmen - which, regarded from the point of view of the pure capitalist, was far preferable to our counting-house system. Thus these mercantile companies, with their hundred ramifications, largely influenced the economy of every Roman of note. There was, according to the testimony of Polybius, hardly a man of means in Rome who had not been concerned as an avowed or silent partner in leasing the public revenues; and much more must each have invested on an average a considerable portion of his capital in mercantile associations generally.

All this laid the foundation for that endurance of Roman wealth, which was perhaps still more remarkable than its magnitude. The phenomenon, unique perhaps of its kind, to which we have already called attention[27] - that the standing of the great clans remained almost the same throughout several centuries - finds its explanation in the somewhat narrow but solid principles on which they managed their mercantile property.

In consequence of the one-sided prominence assigned to capital in the Roman economy, the evils inseparable from a pure capitalist system could not fail to appear.

Civil equality, which had already received a fatal wound through the rise of the ruling order of lords, suffered an equally severe blow in consequence of the line of social demarcation becoming more and more distinctly drawn between the rich and the poor. Nothing more effectually promoted this separation in a downward direction than the already-mentioned rule - apparently a matter of indifference, but in reality involving the utmost arrogance and insolence on the part of the capitalists - that it was disgraceful to take money for work; a wall of partition was thus raised not merely between the common day-labourer or artisan and the respectable landlord or manufacturer, but also between the soldier or subaltern and the military tribune, and between the clerk or messenger and the magistrate. In an upward direction a similar barrier was raised by the Claudian law suggested by Gaius Flaminius (shortly before 536), which prohibited senators and senators' sons from possessing sea-going vessels except for the transport of the produce of their estates, and probably also from participating in public contracts - forbidding them generally from carrying on whatever the Romans included under the head of "speculation" (quaestus)[28]. It is true that this enactment was not called for by the senators; it was on the contrary a work of the democratic opposition, which perhaps desired in the first instance merely to prevent the evil of members of the governing class personally entering into dealings with the government. It may be, moreover, that the capitalists in this instance, as so often afterwards, made common cause with the democratic party, and seized the opportunity of diminishing competition by the exclusion of the senators. The former object was, of course, only very imperfectly attained, for the system of partnership opened up to the senators ample facilities for continuing to speculate in secret; but this decree of the people drew a legal line of demarcation between those men of quality who did not speculate at all or at any rate not openly and those who did, and it placed alongside of the aristocracy which was primarily political an aristocracy which was purely moneyed - the equestrian order, as it was afterwards called, whose rivalries with the senatorial order fill the history of the following century.

A further consequence of the one-sided power of capital was the disproportionate prominence of those branches of business which were the most sterile and the least productive for the national economy as a whole. Industry, which ought to have held the highest place, in fact occupied the lowest. Commerce flourished; but it was universally passive, importing, but not exporting. Not even on the northern frontier do the Romans seem to have been able to give merchandise in exchange for the slaves, who were brought in numbers from the Celtic and probably even from the Germanic territories to Ariminum and the other markets of northern Italy; at least as early as 523 the export of silver money to the Celtic territory was prohibited by the Roman government. In the intercourse with Greece, Syria, Egypt, Cyrene, and Carthage, the balance of trade was necessarily unfavourable to Italy. Rome began to become the capital of the Mediterranean states, and Italy to become the suburbs of Rome; the Romans had no wish to be anything more, and in their opulent indifference contented themselves with a passive commerce, such as every city which is nothing more than a capital necessarily carries on - they possessed, forsooth, money enough to pay for everything which they needed or did not need. On the other hand the most unproductive of all sorts of business, the traffic in money and the farming of the revenue, formed the true mainstay and stronghold of the Roman economy. And, lastly, whatever elements that economy had contained for the production of a wealthy middle class, and of a lower one making enough for its subsistence, were extinguished by the unhappy system of employing slaves, or, at the best, contributed to the multiplication of the troublesome order of freedmen.

But above all the deep rooted immorality, which is inherent in an economy of pure capital, ate into the heart of society and of the commonwealth, and substituted an absolute selfishness for humanity and patriotism. The better portion of the nation were very keenly sensible of the seeds of corruption which lurked in that system of speculation; and the instinctive hatred of the great multitude, as well as the displeasure of the well-disposed statesman, was especially directed against the trade of the professional money-lender, which for long had been subjected to penal laws and still continued under the letter of the law amenable to punishment. In a comedy of this period the money-lender is told that the class to which he belongs is on a parallel with the lenones

Cato the leader of the reform party expresses himself still more emphatically than the comedian. "Lending money at interest", he says in the preface to his treatise on agriculture, "has various advantages; but it is not honourable. Our forefathers accordingly ordained, and inscribed it among their laws, that the thief should be bound to pay twofold, but the man who takes interest fourfold, compensation; whence we may infer how much worse a citizen they deemed the usurer than the thief." There is no great difference, he elsewhere considers, between a money-lender and a murderer; and it must be allowed that his acts did not fall short of his words - when governor of Sardinia, by his rigorous administration of the law he drove the Roman bankers to their wits' end. The great majority of the ruling senatorial order regarded the system of the speculators with dislike, and not only conducted themselves in the provinces on the whole with more integrity and honour than these moneyed men, but often acted as a restraint on them. The frequent changes of the Roman chief magistrates, however, and the inevitable inequality in their mode of handling the laws, necessarily abated the effort to check such proceedings.

The Romans perceived moreover - as it was not difficult to perceive - that it was of far more consequence to give a different direction to the whole national economy than to exercise a police control over speculation; it was such views mainly that men like Cato enforced by precept and example on the Roman agriculturist. "When our forefathers", continues Cato in the preface just quoted, "pronounced the eulogy of a worthy man, they praised him as a worthy farmer and a worthy landlord; one who was thus commended was thought to have received the highest praise. The merchant I deem energetic and diligent in the pursuit of gain; but his calling is too much exposed to perils and mischances. On the other hand farmers furnish the bravest men and the ablest soldiers; no calling is so honourable, safe, and free from odium as theirs, and those who occupy themselves with it are least liable to evil thoughts". He was wont to say of himself, that his property was derived solely from two sources - agriculture and frugality; and, though this was neither very logical in thought nor strictly conformable to the truth[29], yet Cato was not unjustly regarded by his contemporaries and by posterity as the model of a Roman landlord. Unhappily it is a truth as remarkable as it is painful, that this husbandry, commended so much and certainly with so entire good faith as a remedy, was itself pervaded by the poison of the capitalist system. In the case of pastoral husbandry this was obvious; for that reason it was most in favour with the public and least in favour with the party desirous of moral reform. But how stood the case with agriculture itself? The warfare, which from the third onward to the fifth century capital had waged against labour, by withdrawing under the form of interest on debt the revenues of the soil from the working farmers and bringing them into the hands of the idly consuming fundholder, had been settled chiefly by the extension of the Roman economy and the throwing of the capital which existed in Latium into the field of mercantile activity opened up throughout the range of the Mediterranean. Now even the extended field of business was no longer able to contain the increased mass of capital; and an insane legislation laboured simultaneously to compel the investment of senatorial capital by artificial means in Italian estates, and systematically to reduce the value of the arable land of Italy by interference with the prices of grain. Thus there began a second campaign of capital against free labour or - what was substantially the same thing in antiquity - against the small farmer system; and, if the first had been bad, it yet seemed mild and humane as compared with the second. The capitalists no longer lent to the farmer at interest - a course, which in itself was not now practicable because the petty landholder no longer aimed at any considerable surplus, and was moreover not sufficiently simple and radical - but they bought up the farms and converted them, at the best, into estates managed by stewards and worked by slaves. This likewise was called agriculture; it was essentially the application of the capitalist system to the production of the fruits of the soil. The description of the husbandmen, which Cato gives, is excellent and quite just; but how does it correspond to the system itself, which he portrays and recommends? If a Roman senator, as must not unfrequently have been the case, possessed four such estates as that described by Cato, the same space, which in the olden time when small holdings prevailed had supported from 100 to 150 farmers' families, was now occupied by one family of free persons and about 50, for the most part unmarried, slaves. If this was the remedy by which the decaying national economy was to be restored to vigour, it bore, unhappily, an aspect of extreme resemblance to the disease.

The general result of this system is only too clearly obvious in the changed proportions of the population. It is true that the condition of the various districts of Italy was very unequal, and some were even prosperous. The farms, instituted in great numbers in the region between the Apennines and the Po at the time of its colonization, did not so speedily disappear. Polybius, who visited that quarter not long after the close of the present period, commends its numerous, handsome, and vigorous population: with a just legislation as to corn it would doubtless have been possible to make the basin of the Po, and not Sicily the granary of the capital. In like manner Picenum and the so-called ager Gallicus acquired a numerous body of farmers through the distributions of domain-land consequent on the Flaminian law of 522 - a body, however, which was sadly reduced in the Hannibalic war. In Etruria, and perhaps also in Umbria, the internal condition of the subject communities was unfavourable to the flourishing of a class of free farmers, Matters were better in Latium - which could not be entirely deprived of the advantages of the market of the capital, and which had on the whole been spared by the Hannibalic war - as well as in the secluded mountain-valleys of the Marsians and Sabellians. On the other hand the Hannibalic war had fearfully devastated southern Italy and had ruined, in addition to a number of smaller townships, its two largest cities, Capua and Tarentum, both once able to send into the field armies of 30,000 men. Samnium had recovered from the severe wars of the fifth century: according to the census of 529 it was in a position to furnish half as many men capable of arms as all the Latin towns, and it was probably at that time, next to the ager Romanus, the most flourishing region of the peninsula. But the Hannibalic war had desolated the land afresh, and the assignations of land in that quarter to the soldiers of Scipio's army, although considerable, probably did not cover the loss. Campania and Apulia, both hitherto well-peopled regions, were still worse treated in the same war by friend and foe. In Apulia, no doubt, assignations of land took place afterwards, but the colonies instituted there were not successful. The beautiful plain of Campania remained more populous; but the territory of Capua and of the other communities broken up in the Hannibalic war became state-property, and the occupants of it were uniformly not proprietors, but petty temporary lessees. Lastly, in the wide Lucanian and Bruttian territories the population, which was already very thin before the Hannibalic war, was visited by the whole severity of the war itself and of the penal executions that followed in its train; nor was much done on the part of Rome to revive the agriculture there - with the exception perhaps of Valentia (Vibo, now Monteleone), none of the colonies established there attained real prosperity.

With every allowance for the inequality in the political and economic circumstances of the different districts and for the comparatively flourishing condition of several of them, the retrogression is yet on the whole unmistakeable, and it is confirmed by the most indisputable testimonies as to the general condition of Italy. Cato and Polybius agree in stating that Italy was at the end of the sixth century far weaker in population than at the end of the fifth, and was no longer able to furnish armies so large as in the first Punic war. The increasing difficulty of the levy, the necessity of lowering the qualification for service in the legions, and the complaints of the allies as to the magnitude of the contingents to be furnished by them, confirm these statements; and, in the case of the Roman burgesses, the numbers tell the same tale. In 502, shortly after the expedition of Regulus to Africa, they amounted to 298,000 men capable of bearing arms; thirty years later, shortly before the commencement of the Hannibalic war (534), they had fallen off to 270,000, or about a tenth, and again twenty years after that, shortly before the end of the same war (550), to 214,000, or about a fourth; and a generation afterwards - during which no extraordinary losses occurred, but the institution of the great burgess-colonies in the plain of northern Italy in particular occasioned a perceptible and exceptional increase - the numbers of the burgesses had hardly again reached the point at which they stood at the commencement of this period. If we had similar statements regarding the Italian population generally, they would beyond all doubt exhibit a deficit relatively still more considerable. The decline of the national vigour less admits of proof; but it is stated by the writers on agriculture that flesh and milk disappeared more and more from the diet of the common people. At the same time the slave population increased, as the free population declined. In Apulia, Lucania, and the Bruttian land, pastoral husbandry must even in the time of Cato have preponderated over agriculture; the half-savage slave-herdsmen were here in reality masters in the house. Apulia was rendered so insecure by them that a strong force had to be stationed there; in 569 a slave-conspiracy planned on the largest scale, and mixed up with the proceedings of the Bacchanalia, was discovered there, and nearly 7000 men were condemned as criminals. In Etruria also Roman troops had to take the field against a band of slaves (558), and even in Latium there were instances in which towns like Setia and Praeneste were in danger of being surprised by a band of runaway serfs (556). The nation was visibly diminishing, and the community of free burgesses was resolving itself into a body composed of masters and slaves; and, although it was in the first instance the two long wars with Carthage which decimated and ruined both the burgesses and the allies, the Roman capitalists beyond doubt contributed quite as much as Hamilcar and Hannibal to the decline in the vigour and the numbers of the Italian people. No one can say whether the government could have rendered help; but it was an alarming and discreditable fact, that the circles of the Roman aristocracy, well-meaning and energetic as in great part they were, never once showed any insight into the real gravity of the situation or any foreboding of the full magnitude of the danger. When a Roman lady belonging to the high nobility, the sister of one of the numerous citizen-admirals who in the first Punic war had ruined the fleets of the state, one day got among a crowd in the Roman Forum, she said aloud in the hearing of those around, that it was high time to place her brother once more at the head of the fleet and to relieve the pressure in the market-place by bleeding the citizens afresh (508). Those who thus thought and spoke were, no doubt, a small minority; nevertheless this outrageous speech was simply a forcible expression of the criminal indifference with which the whole noble and rich world looked down on the common citizens and farmers. They did not exactly desire their destruction, but they allowed it to run its course; and so desolation advanced with gigantic steps over the flourishing land of Italy, where countless free men had just been enjoying a moderate and merited prosperity.

Chapter XIII

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