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Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

The Antediluvian World

The Hebrew Race From Abraham To The Sale Of Joseph

The Civil Wars Between Caesar And Pompey

Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David

Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

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Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

The Antediluvian World

The Hebrew Race From Abraham To The Sale Of Joseph

The Civil Wars Between Caesar And Pompey

Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David

Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

The Roman Republic Till The Invasion Of The Gauls

The Tarquins being expelled, political power fell into the hands of
the patricians, under whose government the city slowly increased in wealth
and population, but it was the heroic period of Roman history, and the
legends of patriotic bravery are of great interest.

The despotism of Tarquinius Superbus inflamed all classes with
detestation of the very name of king--the wealthy classes, because they
were deprived of their ancient powers; the poorer classes, because they
were oppressed with burdens. The executive power of the State was
transferred to two men, called consuls, annually elected from the
patrician ranks. But they ruled with restricted powers, and were shorn of
the trappings of royalty. They could not nominate priests, and they were
amenable to the laws after their term of office expired. They were elected
by the Comitia Centuriata, in which the patrician power predominated. They
convened the Senate, introduced ambassadors, and commanded the armies. In
public, they were attended by lictors, and wore, as a badge of authority,
a purple border on the toga.

The Senate, a great power, still retained its dignity. The members
were elected for life, and were the advisers of the consuls. They were
elected by the consuls; but, as the consuls were practically chosen by the
wealthy classes, men were chosen to the Senate who belonged to powerful
families. The Senate was a judicial and legislative body, and numbered
three hundred men. All men who had held curule magistracies became
members. Their decisions, called Senatus Consulta, became laws--leges.

The Roman government at this time was purely oligarchic. The
aristocratical clement prevailed. Nobles virtually controlled the State.

Brutus, on the overthrow of the monarchy, was elected the first
consul B.C. 507 with L. Tarquinius Colatinus; but the latter was not
allowed to possess his office, from hatred of his family, and he withdrew
peaceably to Lavinium, and Publius Valerius was elected consul in his
stead--a harsh measure, prompted by necessity.

The history of Rome at this period is legendary. The story goes
that Tarquin, at the head of the armies of Veii and Tarquinii, seeking to
recover his throne, marched against Rome, and that for thirteen years he
struggled with various success, assisted by Porsenna, king of Etruria. The
legends say Horatius Cocles defended a bridge, single-handed, against the
whole Etrurian army--that Mamillus, the ruler of Tuscalum, fought a battle
at Lake Regillus, in which the cause of Tarquin was lost--the subject of
the most beautiful of Macaulay's lays--and that Mutius Scaevola attempted to
assassinate Porsenna, and, as a proof of his fortitude, held his hand in
the fire until it was consumed, which act converted Porsenna into a
friend. Another interesting legend is related in reference to Brutus, who
slew his own sons for their sympathy with, and treasonable aid, to the
banished king. These stories are not history, but still shed light on the
spirit of the time. It is probable that Tarquin made desperate efforts to
recover his dominion, aided by the Etruscans, and that the first wars of
the republic were against them.

The Etruscans were then in the height of their power, and were in
close alliance with the Carthaginians. Etruria was a larger State than
Latium, from which it was separated by the Tiber. It was bounded on the
west by the Tyrrhenian Sea, on the north by the Appenines, and the east by
Umbria. Among the cities were Veii and Tarquinii, the latter the
birthplace of Tarquinius Priscus, and the former the powerful rival of

In the war with the Etruscans, the Romans were worsted, and they
lost all their territory on the right bank of the Tiber, won by the kings,
and were thrown back on their original limits. But the Etruscans were
driven back, by the aid of the Latin cities, beyond the Tiber. It took
Rome one hundred and fifty years to recover what she had lost.

It was in those wars with the Etruscans that we first read of
dictators, extraordinary magistrates, appointed in great political
exigencies. The dictator, or commander, was chosen by one of the consuls,
and his authority was supreme, but lasted only for six months. He had all
the powers of the ancient kings.

The misfortunes of the Romans, in the contest with the Etruscans,
led to other political changes, and internal troubles. The strife between
the patricians and the plebeians now began, and lasted two centuries
before the latter were admitted to a full equality of civil rights. The
cause of the conflict, it would appear, was the unequal and burdensome
taxation to which the plebeians were subjected, and especially vexations
from the devastations which war produced. They were small land-owners, and
their little farms were overrun by the enemy, and they were in no
condition to bear the burdens imposed upon them: and this inequality of
taxation was the more oppressive, since they had no political power. They
necessarily incurred debts, which were rigorously exacted, and they thus
became the property of their creditors.

In their despair, they broke out in open rebellion, in the
fifteenth year of the republic, during the consulship of Publius Servilius
and Appius Claudius--the latter a proud Sabine nobleman, who had lately
settled in Rome. They took position on a hill between the Anio and Tiber,
commanding the most fertile part of the Roman territory. The patrician and
wealthy classes, abandoned by the farmers, who tilled the lands, were
compelled to treat, in spite of the opposition of Appius Claudius. And the
result was, that the plebeians gained a remission of their debts, and the
appointment of two magistrates, as protectors, under the name of tribunes.

This new office introduced the first great change in the condition
of the plebeians. The tribunes had the power of putting a stop to the
execution of the law which condemned debtors to imprisonment or a military
levy. Their jurisdiction extended over every citizen, even over the
consul. There was no appeal from their decisions, except in the Comitia
Tributa, where the plebeian interest predominated--an assembly representing
the thirty Roman tribes, according to the Servian constitution, but which,
at first, had insignificant powers. The persons of the tribunes were
inviolable, but their power was negative. They could not originate laws;
they could insure the equitable administration of the laws, and prevent
wrongs. They had a constitutional veto, of great use at the time, but
which ended in a series of dangerous encroachments.

The office of aediles followed that of tribunes. There were at first
two, selected from plebeians, whose duty it was to guard the law creating
tribunes, which was deposited in the temple of Vesta, They were afterward

the keepers of the resolutions of the Senate as well as of the plebs, and
had the care of public buildings, and the sanitary police of the city, the
distribution of corn, and of the public lands, the superintendence of
markets and measures, the ordering of festivals, and the duty to see that
no new deities or rites were introduced.

One year after the victory of the plebeians, a distinguished man
appeared, who was their bitter enemy. This was Caius Marcius, called
Coriolanus, from his bravery at the capture of a Volscian town, Corioli.
When a famine pressed the city, a supply of corn was sent by a Sicilian
prince, but the proud patrician proposed to the Senate to withhold it from
the plebeians until they surrendered their privileges. The rage of the
plebeians was intense, and he was impeached by the tribunes, and condemned
by the popular assembly to exile. He went over, in indignation, to the
Volscians, became their general, defeated the Romans, and marched against
their city. In this emergency, the city was saved by the intercession of
his mother, Volumnia, who went to seek him in his camp, accompanied by
other Roman matrons.

A greater man than he, was Spurius Cassius, who rendered public
services of the greatest magnitude, yet a man whose illustrious deeds no
poet sang. He lived in a great crisis, when the Etruscan war had destroyed
the Roman dominions on the right bank of the Tiber, and where the
Volscians and Acquians were advancing with superior forces. Rome was in
danger of being conquered, and not only conquered, but reduced to
servitude. But he concluded a league with the Latins, and also with the
Hernicians--a Sabine people, who dwelt in one of the valleys of the
Appenines, by which the power of Rome was threatened. He is also known as
the first who proposed an agrarian law. It seems that the patricians had
occupied the public lands to the exclusion of the plebeians. Spurius
Cassius proposed to the Comitia Centuriata that the public domain--land
obtained by conquest--should be measured, and a part reserved for the use
of the State, and another portion distributed among the needy citizens--a
just proposition, since no property held by individuals was meddled with.
This popular measure was carried against violent opposition, but when the
term of office of Cassius as consul expired, he was accused before the
curiae, who assumed the right to judge a patrician, and he lost his life.
He was accused of seeking to usurp regal power, because he had sought to
protect the commons against his own order. "His law was buried with him,
but its spectre haunted the rich, and again and again it arose from its
tomb, till the conflicts to which it led destroyed the commonwealth."

The following seven years was a period of incessant war with the
Acquians and Veientines, as well as dissensions in the city, during which
the great house of the Fabii arose to power, for Fabius was chosen consul
seven successive years, and even proposed the execution of the agrarian
law of Cassius, for which he was scorned by the patricians, and left Rome
in disgust, with his family, and all were afterward massacred by the
Veientines. But one of the tribunes accused the consuls for their
opposition of the tribunes for the execution of the agrarian law. He was
assassinated. This violation of the sacred person of a tribune created
great indignation among the commons, and Volero, a tribune, proposed the
celebrated "Publilian Law," that the tribunes henceforth, as well as the
plebeian aediles, should be elected by the plebeians themselves in the
Comitia Tributa. Great disorders followed, but the commons prevailed, and
the Senate adopted the plebiscitum, and proposed it to the Comitia
Curiata, and it became a law. This step raised the authority of the
tribunes, and added to Roman liberties.

The critical condition of Rome, from the renewed assaults of the
Acquians and Volscians, led to the appointment of another very remarkable
man to the dictatorship--L. Quintius Cincinnatus, a patrician, who
maintained the virtues of better days. He cultivated a little farm of four
jugera with his own hands, and lived with great simplicity. He summoned
every man of military age to meet him in the Campus Martius, and these
were provided with rations for five days. He then marched against the
triumphant enemy, surrounded them, and compelled them to surrender. He
made no use of his political power, and after sixteen days, laid down the
dictatorship, and retired to his farm, B.C. 458. All subsequent ages and
nations have embalmed the memory of this true patriot, who preferred the
quiet labors of his small farm of three and a half acres to the enjoyment
of absolute power.

But his victory was not decisive, and the Romans continued to be harassed
by the neighboring nations, and they, moreover, suffered all the evils of
pestilence. It was at this time, in the three hundredth year of the city,
that they sought to make improvements in their laws--at least, to embody
laws in a written form. Greece was then in the height of her glory, in the
interval between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars, and thither a
commission was sent to examine her laws, especially those of Solon, at
Athens. On the return of the three commissioners, a new commission of ten
was appointed to draw up a new code, composed wholly of patricians, at the
head of which was Appius Claudius, consul elect, a man of commanding
influence and talents, but ill-regulated passions and unscrupulous
ambition. The new code was engraved upon ten tables, and subsequently two
more tables were added, and these twelve tables are the foundation of the
Roman jurisprudence, that branch of science which the Romans carried to
considerable perfection, and for which they are most celebrated. The
jurisprudence of Rome has survived all her conquests, and is the most
valuable contribution to civilization which she ever made.

The decemvirs--those who codified the laws--came into supreme power,
and suspended the other great magistracies, and ruled, under the direction
of Appius Claudius, in an arbitrary and tyrannical manner. Their power
came to an end in a signal manner, and the history of their fall is
identified with one of the most beautiful legends of this heroic age,
which is also the subject of one of Macaulay's lays.

Appius Claudius, who perhaps aspired to regal power, became
enamored of the daughter of a centurion, L. Virginius. In order to gratify
his passions, Claudius suborned a false accuser, one of his clients, who
was to pretend that the mother of Virginia had been his slave. Appius sat
in judgment, and against his own laws, and also the entreaties of the
people, declared her to be the slave of the accuser. Her father returned
from the army, and in his indignation plunged a dagger in her breast,
preferring her death to shame. The people and soldiers rallied around the
courageous soldier, took the capitol, and compelled the decemvirs to lay
down their office. The result of this insurrection was the creation of ten
tribunes instead of the old number, and ten continued to be the regular
number of tribunes till the fall of the republic. It was further decreed
that the votes of the plebs, passed in the Comitia Tributa, should be
binding on the whole people, provided they were confirmed by the Senate
and the assemblies of the curias and centuries. The persons of the
tribunes were declared to be inviolable, under the sanctions of religion,
and they, moreover, were admitted to the deliberations of the Senate,
though without a vote. Thus did the commons ascend another step in
political influence, B.C. 449. The next movement of the commons was to
take vengeance on Appius Claudius, who ended his life in prison.

The plebs, now strengthened by the plebeian nobles, who sought
power through the tribunate, insisted on the abrogation of the law which
prevented the marriage of plebeians with patricians. This was effected
four years later, B.C. 445. These then attempted to secure the higher
magistracies, but this was prevented for a time, although they acquired
the right of plebeians to become military tribunes, or chief officer of
the legions, but none of the plebeians arose to that rank for several

A new office of great dignity was now created, that of censors, who
were chosen from men who had been consuls, and therefore had higher rank
than they. It was their duty to superintend the public morals, take the
census, and administer the finances. They could brand with ignominy the
highest officers of the State, could elect to the Senate, and control,
with the aediles, the public buildings and works. There were two elected to
this high office, and were chosen from the patrician ranks till the year
B.C. 421, when plebeians were admitted. They were even held in great
reverence, and enjoyed a larger term of office than the consuls, even of
five years.

The commons gained additional importance by the opening of the
quaestorship to the plebeians, which took place about this time. The
quaestors virtually had charge of the public money, and were the paymasters
of the army. As these were curule officers, they had, by their office,
admission to the Senate. Another great increase of power among the
plebeians, about twenty years after the decemviral legislature, was the
right, transferred from the curiae to the centuries, of determining peace
and war.

While these internal changes were in progress, the State was in
almost constant war with the Volscians and Acquians, and also with the
Etruscans. The former were kept at bay by the aid of the Latin and
Hernican allies. The latter were more formidable foes, and especially the
inhabitants of Veii--a powerful city in the plain of Southern Etruria, and
the largest of the confederated Etruscan cities, equal in size to Athens,
defended by a strong citadel on a hill. The Veientines, not willing to
contend with the Romans in the field, shut themselves up in their strong
city, to which the Romans laid siege. They drew around it a double line of
circumvallation, the inner one to prevent egress from the city, the outer
one to defend themselves against external attacks. The siege lasted ten
years, as long as that of Troy, but was finally taken by the great
Camillus, by means of a mine under the citadel. The fall of this strong
place was followed by the submission of all the Etruscan cities south of
the Ciminian forest, and the lands of the people of Veii were distributed
among the whole Roman people, at the rate of seven jugera to each
landholder, B.C. 396.

But this event was soon followed by a great calamity to Rome--the
greatest she had ever suffered. The city fell into the hands of the
Gauls--a Celtic race. They were rather pastoral than agricultural, and
reared great numbers of swine. They had little attachment to the soil,
like the Italians and Germans, and delighted in towns. Their chief
qualities were personal bravery, an impetuous temper, boundless vanity,
and want of perseverance. They were good soldiers and bad citizens. They
were fond of a roving life, and given to pillage. They loved ornaments and
splendid dresses, and wore a gold collar round the neck. After an
expedition, they abandoned themselves to carousals. They sprung from the
same cradle as the Hellenic, Italian, and German people. Their first great
migration flowed past the Alps, and we find them in Gaul, Britain, and
Spain. From these settlements, they proceeded westward across the Alps. In
successive waves they invaded Italy. It was at the height of Etruscan
power, that they assumed a hostile attitude. From Etruria they proceeded
to the Roman territories.

The first battle with these terrible foes resulted disastrously to
the Romans, who regarded them as half-disciplined barbarians, and
underrated their strength. Their defeat was complete, and their losses
immense. The flower of the Roman youth perished, B.C. 390.

The victors entered Rome without resistance, while the Romans
retreated to their citadel, such as were capable of bearing arms. The rest
of the population dispersed. The fathers of the city, aged citizens, and
priests, seated themselves in the porches of their patrician houses, and
awaited the enemy. At first, they were mistaken for gods, so venerable and
calm their appearance; but the profanation of the sacred person of
Papirius dissolved the charm, and they were massacred.

The Gauls then attempted to assault the capital, but failed. But a
youth, Pontius Cominius, having climbed the hill in the night with safety,
and opened communication with the Romans at Veii, the marks of his passage
suggested to the Gauls the means of taking the citadel. In the dead of the
following night a party of Gauls scaled the cliff, and were about to
surprise the citadel, when some geese, sacred to Juno, cried out and
flapped their wings, which noise awakened M. Manlius, who rushed to the
cliff and overpowered the foremost Gaul. A panic seized the rest, and the
capitol was saved. At length, when the siege had lasted seven months, and
famine pressed, the invaders were bought off by a ransom of one thousand
pounds weight of gold. "The iron of the barbarians had conquered; but they
sold their victory, and by selling, lost it." They were subsequently
defeated by Camillus, and Manlius, surnamed Torquatus, from the gold
collar he took from a gigantic Gaul, and also by other generals.

The destruction of Rome was not a permanent calamity; it was a misfortune.
The period which followed was one of distress, but the energy of Camillus
reorganized the military force, and new alliances were made with the Latin
cities. Etruria, humbled and restricted within narrower limits, and
moreover enervated by luxury, was in no condition to oppose a people
inured to danger and sobered by adversity.

The subsequent fate of Manlius, who saved the city, suggests the
fickleness and ingratitude of a republican State. The distress of the
lower classes, in consequence of the Gaulish invasion, became intolerable.
They became involved in debt, and thus were in the power of their
creditors. Manlius undertook to be their defender, but the envy of the
patricians caused him to be accused of aspiring to the supreme power, and
he was, in spite of his great services, sentenced to death and hurled from
the Tarpeian rock. His error was in premature reform. But, in the year 367
B.C., the tribunes Licinius and L. Sextius secured the passage of three
memorable laws in the Curiata Tributa--the abolition of the military
tribunate, which had increased the power of the patricians, and the
restoration of the consulate, on the condition that one of the consuls
should be a plebeian; the second, that no citizen should possess more than
five hundred jugera of the public lands; and the third, that all interest
thus paid on loans should be deducted from the principal. These were
called the Licinian Rogations. But a new curule magistracy was created,
as a sort of compensation to the patricians, that of praetors, to be held
by them, exclusively. These political changes were made peaceably, and
with them the old gentile aristocracy ceased to be a political
institution. The remaining patrician offices were not long withheld from
the plebeians. But these political changes did not much ameliorate the
social condition of the poorer classes. The strictness of the Licinian
laws, the oppression of the rich, the high rate of interest, and the
existence of slavery, made the poor poorer, and the rich richer, and
prevented the expansion of industry. The plebeians had gained political
privileges, but not till great plebeian families had arisen. Power was
virtually in the hands of nobles, whether patrician or plebeian, and
aristocratic distinctions still remained. The plebeian noble sympathized
with patricians rather than with the poorer classes. Debt, usury, and
slavery began to bear fruits before the conquest of Italy.

Next: The Conquest Of Italy

Previous: Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

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