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Social life at Rome in the Age of Cicero by W. Warde Fowler

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'Ad illa mihi pro se quisque acriter intendat animum,
quae vita, quae mores fuerint.'--LIVY, _Praefatio_.







This book was originally intended to be a companion to Professor
Tucker's _Life in Ancient Athens_, published in Messrs. Macmillan's
series of Handbooks of Archaeology and Art; but the plan was abandoned
for reasons on which I need not dwell, and before the book was quite
finished I was called to other and more specialised work. As it
stands, it is merely an attempt to supply an educational want. At our
schools and universities we read the great writers of the last age of
the Republic, and learn something of its political and constitutional
history; but there is no book in our language which supplies a picture
of life and manners, of education, morals, and religion in that
intensely interesting period. The society of the Augustan age, which
in many ways was very different, is known much better; and of late my
friend Professor Dill's fascinating volumes have familiarised us with
the social life of two several periods of the Roman Empire. But the
age of Cicero is in some ways at least as important as any period of
the Empire; it is a critical moment in the history of Graeco-Roman
civilisation. And in the Ciceronian correspondence, of more than nine
hundred contemporary letters, we have the richest treasure-house of
social life that has survived from any period of classical antiquity.

Apart from this correspondence and the other literature of the time,
my mainstay throughout has been the _Privatleben der Roemer_ of
Marquardt, which forms the last portion of the great _Handbuch der
Roemischen Altertuemer_ of Mommsen and Marquardt. My debt is great also
to Professors Tyrrell and Purser, whose labours have provided us with
a text of Cicero's letters which we can use with confidence; the
citations from these letters have all been verified in the new Oxford
text edited by Professor Purser. One other name I must mention with
gratitude. I firmly believe that the one great hope for classical
learning and education lies in the interest which the unlearned public
may be brought to feel in ancient life and thought. We have just lost
the veteran French scholar who did more perhaps to create and
maintain such an interest than any man of his time; and I gladly here
acknowledge that it was Boissier's _Ciceron et ses amis_ that in my
younger days made me first feel the reality of life and character
in an age of which I then hardly knew anything but the perplexing
political history.

I have to thank my old pupils, Mr. H.E. Mann and Mr. Gilbert Watson,
for kind help in revising the proofs.





Virgil's hero arrives at Rome by the Tiber: we follow his example;
justification of this; view from Janiculum and its lessons; advantages
of the position of Rome, for defence and advance; disadvantages as to
commerce and salubrity; views of Roman writers; a walk through the
city in 50 B.C.; Forum Boarium and Circus maximus; Porta Capena; via
Sacra; summa sacra via and view of Forum; religious buildings at
eastern end of Forum; Forum and its buildings in Cicero's time; ascent
to the Capitol; temple of Jupiter and the view from it.



Spread of the city outside original centre; the plebs dwelt mainly
in the lower ground; little known about its life: indifference
of literary men; housing: the insulae; no sign of home life; bad
condition of these houses; how the plebs subsisted; vegetarian diet;
the corn supply and its problems; the corn law of Gaius Gracchus;
results, and later laws; the water-supply; history of aqueducts;
employment of the lower grade population; aristocratic contempt for
retail trading; the trade gilds; relation of free to slave labour;
bakers; supply of vegetables; of clothing; of leather; of iron, etc.;
gave employment to large numbers; porterage; precarious condition of
labour; fluctuation of markets; want of a good bankruptcy law.



Meaning of equester ordo; how the capitalist came by his money;
example of Atticus; incoming of wealth after Hannibalic war;
suddenness of this; rise of a capitalist class; the contractors; the
public contracting companies; in the age and writings of Cicero; their
political influence; and power in the provinces; the bankers and
money-lenders; origin of the Roman banker; nature of his business;
risks of the money-lender; general indebtedness of society; Cicero's
debts; story of Rabirius Postumus; mischief done by both contractors
and money-lenders.



The old noble families; their exclusiveness; Cicero's attitude
towards them; new type of noble; Scipio Aemilianus: his "circle"; its
influence on the Ciceronian age in (1) manners; (2) literary capacity;
(3), philosophical receptivity; Stoicism at Rome; its influence on the
lawyers; Sulpicius Rufus, his life and work; Epicureanism, its general
effect on society; case of Calpurnius Piso; pursuit of pleasure and
neglect of duty; senatorial duties neglected; frivolity of the younger
public men; example of M. Caelius Rufus; sketch of his life and
character; life of the Forum as seen in the letters of Caelius.



Meaning of matrimonium: its religious side; shown from the oldest
marriage ceremony; its legal aspect; marriage cum manu abandoned;
betrothal; marriage rites; dignified position of Roman matron; the
ideal materfamilias; change in the character of women; its causes; the
ladies of Cicero's time; Terentia; Pomponia; ladies of society and
culture: Clodia; Sempronia; divorce, its frequency; a wonderful Roman
lady: the Laudatio Turiae; story of her life and character as recorded
by her husband.



An education of character needed; Aristotle's idea of education;
little interest taken in education at Rome; biographies silent;
education of Cato the younger; of Cicero's son and nephew; Varro
and Cicero on education; the old Roman education of the body and
character; causes of its breakdown; the new education under Greek
influence; schools, elementary; the sententiae in use in schools;
arithmetic; utilitarian character of teaching; advanced schools;
teaching too entirely linguistic and literary; assumption of toga
virilis; study of rhetoric and law; oratory the main object; results
of this; Cicero's son at the University of Athens: his letter to Tiro.



The demand for labour in second century B.C.; how it was supplied; the
slave trade; kidnapping by pirates, etc.; breeding of slaves; prices
of slaves; possible number in Cicero's day; economic aspect of
slavery: did it interfere with free labour?; no apparent rivalry
between them; either in Rome; or on the farm; the slave-shepherds
of South Italy; they exclude free labour; legal aspect of slavery:
absolute power of owner; prospect of manumission; political results of
slave system; of manumission; ethical aspect: destruction of family
life; no moral standard; effects of slavery on the slave-owners.



Out-of-door life at Rome; but the Roman house originally a home;
religious character of it; the atrium and its contents; development of
atrium: the peristylium; desire for country houses: crowding at Rome;
callers, clients, etc.; effects of this city life on the individual;
country house of Scipio Africanus; watering-places in Campania;
meaning of villa in Cicero's time: Hortensius' park; Cicero's villas:
Tusculum; Arpinum; Formiae; Puteoli; Cumae; Pompeii; Astura; constant
change of residence, and its effects.



Roman division of the day; sun-dials; hours varied according to the
season; early rising of Romans; want of artificial light; Cicero's
early hours; early callers; breakfast, followed by business; morning
in the Forum; lunch (prandium); siesta; the bath; dinner: its hour
becomes later; dinner-parties: the triclinium; drinking after dinner;
Cicero's indifference to the table; his entertainment of Caesar at



The Italian festa, ancient and modern; meaning of the word feriae;
change in its meaning; holidays of plebs; festival of Anna Perenua;
The Saturnalia; the ludi and their origin; ludi Romani and plebeii;
other ludi; supported by State; by private individuals; admission
free; Circus maximus and chariot-racing; gladiators at funeral games;
stage-plays at ludi; political feeling expressed at the theatre;
decadence of tragedy in Cicero's time; the first permanent theatre, 55
B.C.; opening of Pompey's theatre; Cicero's account of it; the great
actors of Cicero's day: Aesopus; Roscius; the farces; Publilius Syrus
and the mime.



Absence of real religious feeling; neglect of worship, except in the
family; foreign cults, e.g. of Isis; religious attitude of Cicero and
other public men: free thought, combined with maintenance of the ius
divinum; Lucretius condemns all religion as degrading: his failure to
produce a substitute for it; Stoic attitude towards religion: Stoicism
finds room for the gods of the State; Varro's treatment of theology on
Stoic lines; his monotheistic conception of Jupiter Capitolinus;
the Stoic Jupiter a legal rather than a moral deity; Jupiter in the
Aeneid; superstition of the age; belief in portents, visions, etc.;
ideas of immortality; sense of sin, or despair of the future.










Translations of passages in foreign languages in this book will be
found in the Appendix following page 362.



The modern traveller of to-day arriving at Rome by rail drives to his
hotel through the uninteresting streets of a modern town, and thence
finds his way to the Forum and the Palatine, where his attention
is speedily absorbed by excavations which he finds it difficult to
understand. It is as likely as not that he may leave Rome without once
finding an opportunity of surveying the whole site of the ancient
city, or of asking, and possibly answering the question, how it
ever came to be where it is. While occupied with museums and
picture-galleries, he may well fail "totam aestimare Romam."[1]
Assuming that the reader has never been in Rome, I wish to transport
him thither in imagination, and with the help of the map, by an
entirely different route. But first let him take up the eighth book of
the _Aeneid_, and read afresh the oldest and most picturesque of all
stories of arrival at Rome;[2] let him dismiss all handbooks from his
mind, and concentrate it on Aeneas and his ships on their way from the
sea to the site of the Eternal City.

Virgil showed himself a true artist in bringing his hero up the Tiber,
which in his day was freely used for navigation up to and even above
the city. He saw that by the river alone he could land him exactly
where he could be shown by his friendly host, almost at a glance,
every essential feature of the site, every spot most hallowed by
antiquity in the minds of his readers. Rowing up the river, which
graciously slackened its swift current, Aeneas presently caught sight
of the walls and citadel, and landed just beyond the point where
the Aventine hill falls steeply almost to the water's edge. Here in
historical times was the dockyard of Rome; and here, when the poet was
a child, Cato had landed with the spoils of Cyprus, as the nearest
point of the river for the conveyance of that ill-gotten gain to the
treasury under the Capitol.[3] Virgil imagines the bank clothed with
wood, and in the wood--where afterwards was the Forum Boarium, a
crowded haunt--Aeneas finds Evander sacrificing at the Ara maxima of
Hercules, of all spots the best starting-point for a walk through the
heart of the ancient city. To the right was the Aventine, rising to
about a hundred and thirty feet above the river, and this was the
first of the hills of Rome to be impressed on the mind of the
stranger, by the tale of Hercules and Cacus which Evander tells his
guest. In front, but close by, was the long western flank of the
Palatine hill, where, when the tale had been told and the rites of
Hercules completed, Aeneas was to be shown the cave of the Lupercal;
and again to the left, approaching the river within two hundred yards,
was the Capitol to be:

Hinc ad Tarpeiam sedem et Capitolia ducit,
Aurea nunc, olim silvestribus horrida dumis.

Below it the hero is shown the shrine of the prophetic nymph Carmenta,
with the Porta Carmentalis leading into the Campus Martius; then the
hollow destined one day to be the Forum Romanum, and beyond it, in
the valley of the little stream that here found its way down from the
plain beyond, the grove of the Argiletum. Here, and up the slope of
the Clivus sacer, with which we shall presently make acquaintance,
were the lowing herds of Evander, who then takes his guest to repose
for the night in his own dwelling on the Palatine, the site of the
most ancient Roman settlement.[4]

What Evander showed to his visitor, as we shall presently see,
comprised the whole site of the heart and life of the city as it was
to be, all that lay under the steep sides of the three almost isolated
hills, the Capitoline, Palatine, and Aventine. The poet knew that he
need not extend their walk to the other so-called hills, which come
down as spurs from the plain of the Campagna,--Quirinal, Esquiline,
Caelian. Densely populated as those were in his own day, they were not
essential organs of social and politics life; the pulse of Rome was to
be felt beating most strongly in the space between them and the river
where too the oldest and most cherished associations of the Roman
people, mythical and historical, were fixed. I propose to take the
reader, with a single deviation, over the same ground, and to ask him
to imagine it as it was in the period with which we are concerned in
this book. But first, in order to take in with eye and mind the whole
city and its position, let us leave Aeneas, and crossing to the right
bank of the Tiber by the Pons Aemilius,[5] let us climb to the fort of
the Janiculum, an ancient outwork against attack from the north, by
way of the via Aurelia, and here enjoy the view which Martial has made
forever famous:

Hinc septem dominos videre montes
Et totam licet aestimare Romam,
Albanos quoque Tusculosque colles
Et quodcunque iacet sub urbe frigus.

No one who has ever stood on the Janiculum, and looked down on the
river and the city, and across the Latin plain to the Alban mountain
and the long line of hills--the last spurs of the Apennines--enclosing
the plain to the north, can fail to realise that _Rome was originally
an outpost of the Latins_, her kinsmen and confederates, against the
powerful and uncanny Etruscan race who dwelt in the undulating hill
country to the north. The site was an outpost, because the three
isolated hills make it a natural point of defence, and of attack
towards the north if attack were desirable; no such point of similar
vantage is to be found lower down the river, and if the city had been
placed higher up, Latium would have been left open to attack,--the
three hills would have been left open to the enemy to gain a firm
footing on Latin soil. It was also, as it turned out, an admirable
base of operations for carrying on war in the long and narrow
peninsula, so awkward, as Hannibal found to his cost, for working out
a definite plan of conquest. From Rome, astride of the Tiber, armies
could operate on "interior lines" against any combination--could
strike north, east, and south at the same moment. With Latium faithful
behind her she could not be taken in the rear; the unconquerable
Hannibal did indeed approach her once on that side, but fell away
again like a wave on a rocky shore. From the sea no enemy ever
attempted to reach her till Genseric landed at Ostia in A.D. 455.

Thus it is not difficult to understand how Rome came to be the leading
city of Latium; how she came to work her conquering way into Etruria
to the north, the land of a strange people who at one time threatened
to dominate the whole of Italy; how she advanced up the Tiber valley
and its affluents into the heart of the Apennines, and southward into
the Oscan country of Samnium and the rich plain of Campania. A glance
at the map of Italy will show us at once how apt is Livy's remark that
Rome was placed in the centre of the peninsula.[6] That peninsula
looks as if it were cleft in twain by the Tiber, or in other words,
the Tiber drains the greater part of central Italy, and carries the
water down a well-marked valley to a central point on the western
coast, with a volume greater than that of any other river south of the
Po. A city therefore that commands the Tiber valley, and especially
the lower part of it, is in a position of strategic advantage with
regard to the whole peninsula. Now Rome, as Strabo remarked, was the
only city actually situated on the bank of the river; and Rome was not
only on the river, but from the earliest times astride of it. She held
the land on both banks from her own site to the Tiber mouth at Ostia,
as we know from the fact that one of her most ancient priesthoods[7]
had its sacred grove five miles down the river on the northern bank.
Thus she had easy access to the sea by the river or by land, and an
open way inland up the one great natural entrance from the sea into
central Italy.[8] Her position on the Tiber is much like that of
Hispalis (Seville) on the Baetis, or of Arles on the Rhone, cities
opening the way of commerce or conquest up the basins of two great
rivers. In spite of some disadvantages, to be noticed directly, there
was no such favourable position in Italy for a virile people apt to
fight and to conquer. Capua, in the rich volcanic plain of Campania,
had far greater advantages in the way of natural wealth; but Capua was
too far south, in a more enervating climate, and virility was never
one of her strong points. Corfinium, in the heart of the Apennines,
once seemed threatening to become a rival, and was for a time the
centre of a rebellious confederation; but this city was too near the
east coast--an impossible position for a pioneer of Italian dominion.
Italy looks west, not east; almost all her natural harbours are on her
western side; and though that at Ostia, owing to the amount of silt
carried down by the Tiber, has never been a good one, it is the only
port which can be said to command an entrance into the centre of the

No one, however, would contend that the position of Rome is an ideal
one. Taken in and by itself, without reference to Italy and the
Mediterranean, that position has little to recommend it. It is too far
from the sea, nearly twenty miles up the valley of a river with an
inconveniently rapid current, to be a great commercial or industrial
centre; and such a centre Rome has never really been in the whole
course of her history. There are no great natural sources of wealth in
the neighbourhood--no mines like those at Laurium in Attica, no vast
expanse of corn-growing country like that of Carthage. The river too
was liable to flood, as it still is, and a familiar ode of Horace
tells us how in the time of Augustus the water reached even to the
heart of the city.[9] Lastly, the site has never really been a healthy
one, especially during the months of July and August,[10] which are
the most deadly throughout the basin of the Mediterranean. Pestilences
were common at Rome in her early history, and have left their mark in
the calendar of her religious festivals; for example, the Apolline
games were instituted during the Hannibalic war as the result of a
pestilence, and fixed for the unhealthy month of July. Foreigners from
the north of Europe have always been liable to fever at Rome; invaders
from the north have never been able to withstand the climate for long;
in the Middle Ages one German army after another melted away under her
walls, and left her mysteriously victorious.

There are some signs that the Romans themselves had occasional
misgivings about the excellence of their site. There was a tradition,
that after the burning of the city by the Gauls, it was proposed that
the people should desert the site and migrate to Veii, the conquered
Etruscan city to the north, and that it needed all the eloquence of
Camillus to dissuade them. It has given Livy[11] the opportunity of
putting into the orator's mouth a splendid encomium on the city and
its site; but no such story could well have found a place in Roman
annals if the Capitol had been as deeply set in the hearts of the
people as was the Acropolis in the hearts of the Athenians. At a later
time of deep depression Horace[12] could fancifully suggest that the
Romans should leave their ancient home like the Phocaeans of old, and
seek a new one in the islands of the blest. Some idea was abroad that
Caesar had meant to transfer the seat of government to Ilium, and
after Actium the same intention was ascribed to Augustus, probably
without reason; but the third ode of Horace's third book seems to
express the popular rumour, and in an interesting paper Mommsen[13]
has stated his opinion that the new master of the Roman world may
really have thought of changing the seat of government to Byzantium,
the supreme convenience and beauty of which were already beginning to
be appreciated.[14]

Virgil, on the other hand, though he came from the foot of the Alps
and did not love Rome as a place to dwell in, is absolutely true to
the great traditions of the site. For him "rerum facta est pulcherrima
Roma" (_Georg_. ii. 534); and in the _Aeneid_ the destiny of Rome is
so foretold and expressed as to make it impossible for a Roman reader
to think of it except in connexion with the city. He who needs to be
convinced of this has but to turn once more to the eighth _Aeneid_,
and to add to the charming story of Aeneas' first visit to the seven
hills, the splendid picture of the origin and growth of Roman dominion
engraved on the shield which Venus gives her son. Cicero again, though
he was no Roman by birth, was passionately fond of Rome, and in his
treatise _de Republica_, praised with genuine affection her "nativa
praesidia."[15] He says of Romulus, "that he chose a spot abounding in
springs, healthy though in a pestilent region; for her hills are open
to the breezes, yet give shade to the hollows below them." And Livy,
in the passage already quoted, in language even more perfect than
Cicero's, wrote of all the advantages of the site, ending by
describing it as "regionum Italiae medium, ad incrementum urbis natum
unice locum." It is curious that all these panegyrics were written by
men who were not natives of Rome; Virgil came from Mantua, Livy from
Padua, Cicero from Arpinum. They are doubtless genuine, though in
some degree rhetorical; those of Cicero and Livy can hardly be called
strictly accurate. But taken together they may help us to understand
that fascination of the site of Rome, to which Virgil gave such
inimitable expression.

On this site, which once had been crowded only when the Roman farmers
had taken refuge within the walls with their families, flocks, and
herds on the threatening appearance of an enemy, by the time of Cicero
an enormous population had gathered. Many causes had combined to bring
this population together, which can be only glanced at here. As in
Europe and America at the present day, so in all the Mediterranean
lands since the age of Alexander, there had been a constantly
increasing tendency to flock into the towns; and the rise of huge
cities, such as Antioch, Alexandria, Carthage, Corinth, or Rhodes,
with all the inevitably ensuing social problems and complications, is
one of the most marked characteristics of the last three centuries
B.C. In Italy in particular, apart from the love of a pleasant social
life free from manual toil, with various convenient resorts and
amusements, the long series of wars had served to increase the
population, in spite of the constant loss by the sword or pestilence;
for the veteran soldier who had been serving, perhaps for years,
beyond sea, found it hard to return to the monotonous life of
agriculture, or perhaps found his holding appropriated by some
powerful landholder with whom it would be hopeless to contest
possession. The wars too brought a steadily increasing population
of slaves to the city, many of whom in course of time would be
manumitted, would marry, and so increase the free population. These
are only a few of the many causes at work after the Punic wars which
crammed together in the site of Rome a population which, in the latter
part of the last century B.C., probably reached half a million or even

Let us now descend from the Janiculum, and try to imagine ourselves in
the Rome of Cicero's time, say in the last year of the Republic, 50
B.C., as we walk through the busy haunts of this crowded population.
We will not delay on the right bank of the Tiber, which had probably
long been the home of tradesmen in their gilds,[17] and where farther
down the rich were buying land for gardens[18] and suburban villas;
but cross by the Pons Aemilius, with the Tiber island on our left, and
the opening of the Cloaca maxima, which drained the water from the
Forum, facing us, as it still does, a little to our right. We find
ourselves close to the Forum Boarium, an open cattle-market, with
shops (tabernae) all around it, as we know from Livy's record of
a fire here, which burnt many of these shops and much valuable
merchandise.[19] Here by the river was in fact the market in the
modern sense of the word; the Forum Romanum, which we are making for,
was now the centre of political and judicial business, and of social

We might go direct to the great Forum, up the Velabrum, or valley
(once a marsh), right in front of us between the Capitol on the left
and the Palatine on the right. But as we look in the latter direction,
we are attracted by a long low erection almost filling the space
between the Palatine and the Aventine, and turning in that direction
we find ourselves at the lower end of the Circus Maximus, which as
yet is the chief place of amusement of the Roman people. Two famous
shrines, one at each end of it, remind us that we are on historic
ground. At the end where we stand, and where are the _carceres_, the
starting-point for the competing chariots, was the Ara maxima of
Hercules, which prompted Evander to tell the tale of Cacus to his
guest; at the other end was the subterranean altar of Consus the
harvest-god, with which was connected another tale, that of the rape
of the Sabines. All the associations of this quarter point to the
agricultural character of the early Romans; both cattle and harvesting
have their appropriate myth. But nothing is visible here now, except
the pretty little round temple of a later date, which is believed to
have been that of Portunus, the god of the landing-place from the

The Circus, some six hundred yards long, at the time of Cicero was
still mainly a wooden erection in the form of a long parallelogram,
with shops or booths sheltering under its sides; we shall visit it
again when dealing with the public entertainments.[21] Above it on the
right is the Aventine hill, a densely populated quarter of the lower
classes, crowned with the famous temple of Diana, a deity specially
connected with the plebs.[22] The Clivus Patricius led up to this
temple; down this slope, on the last day of his life, Gaius Gracchus
had hurried, to cross the river and meet his murderers in the grove of
Furrina, of which the site has lately been discovered. If we were to
ascend it we should see, on the river-bank below and beyond it,
the warehouses and granaries for storing the corn for the city's
food-supply, which Gracchus had been the first to extend and organise.

But to ascend the Aventine would take us out of our course. Pushing
on to the farther end of the Circus, where the chariots turned at the
_metae_, we may pause a moment, for in front of us is a gate in the
city wall, the Porta Capena, by which most travellers from the south,
using the via Appia or the via Latina, would enter the city.[23]
Outside the wall there was then a small temple of Mars, from which the
procession of the Equites started each year on the Ides of Quinctilis
(July) on its way to the Capitol, by the same route that we are about
to take. We shall also be following the steps of Cicero on the happy
day September 4, 57 B.C., when he returned from exile. "On my arrival
at the Porta Capena," he writes to Atticus, "the steps of the temples
were already crowded from top to bottom by the populace; they showed
their congratulations by the loudest applause, and similar crowds and
applause followed me right up to the Capitol, and in the Forum and on
the Capitol itself there was again a wonderful throng" (_ad Att._ iv.

We are now, as the map will show, at the south-eastern angle of the
Palatine, of which, in fact, we are making the circuit;[24] a and here
we turn sharp to the left, by what is now the via di San Gregorio,
along a narrow valley or dip between the Palatine and Caelian
hills--the latter the first we have met of the "hills" which are not
isolated, but spurs of the plain of the Campagna. The Caelian need not
detain us; it was thickly populated towards the end of the Republican
period, but was not a very fashionable quarter, nor one of the chief
haunts of social life. It held many of those large lodging-houses
(insulae) of which we shall hear more in the next chapter; one of
these stood so high that it interfered with the view of the augur
taking the auspices on the Capitol, and was ordered to be pulled
down.[25] Going straight on reach the north-eastern angle of the
Palatine, where now stands the arch of Constantine, with the Colosseum
beyond it, and turning once more to the left, we begin to ascend a
gentle slope which will take us to a ridge between the Palatine and
the Esquiline[26]--another of the spurs of the plain beyond--known by
the name of the Velia. And now we are approaching the real heart of
the city.

At this point starts the Sacra via,[27] so called because it is the
way to the most sacred spots of the ancient Roman city,--the temples
of Vesta and the Penates, and the Regia, once the dwelling of the Rex,
now of the Pontifex Maximus; and it will lead us, in a walk of about
eight hundred yards, through the Forum to the Capitol. It varied in
breadth, and took by no means a straight course, and later on was
crowded, cramped, and deflected by numerous temples and other
buildings; but as yet, so far as we can guess, it was fairly free and
open. We follow it and ascend the slope till we come to a point known
as the _summa sacra via_, just where the arch of Titus now stands, and
where then was the temple of Jupiter Stator, and where also a shrine
of the public Penates and another of the Lares (of which no trace is
now left) warn us that we are close on the penetralia of the Roman
State. Here a way to the left leads up to the Palatine the residence
then of many of the leading men of Rome, Cicero being one of them.

But our attention is not long arrested by these objects; it is soon
riveted on the Forum below and in front of us, to which the Sacred Way
leads by a downward slope, the Clivus sacer. At the north-western end
it is closed in by the Capitoline hill, with its double summit, the
arx to the right, and the great temple of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva
facing south-east towards the Aventine. It is of this view that
Virgil must have been thinking when he wrote of the happy lot of the
countryman who

nec ferrea iura
insanumque forum aut populi tabularia vidit.[28]

For the Forum is crowded with bustling human figures, intent on the
business of politics, or of the law-courts (ferrea iura), or of
money-making, and just beyond it, immediately under the Capitol, are
the record-offices (tabularia) of the Roman Empire. The whole Sacra
via from this point is crowded; here Horace a generation later was to
meet his immortal "bore," from whom he only escaped when the "ferrea
iura" laid a strong hand on that terrible companion. Down below, at
the entrance to the Forum by the arch of Fabius (fornix Fabiana), the
jostling was great. "If I am knocked about in the crowd at the arch,"
says Cicero, to illustrate a point in a speech of this time, "I do not
accuse some one at the top of the via Sacra, but the man who jostles

The Forum--for from this point we can take it all in, geologically and
historically--lies in a deep hollow, to the original level of which
excavation has now at last reached. This hollow was formed by a stream
which came down between the Esquiline and the Quirinal beyond it,
and made its exit towards the river on the other side by way of the
Velabrum. As the city extended itself, amalgamating with another
community on the Quirinal, this hollow became a common meeting-place
and market, and the stream was in due time drained by that Cloaca
which we saw debouching into the Tiber near the bridge we crossed.
The upper course of this stream, between Esquiline and Quirinal, is a
densely populated quarter known as the Argiletum, and higher up as the
Subura,[30] where artisans and shops abounded. The lower part of its
course, where it has become an invisible drain, is also a crowded
street, the vicus Tuscus, leading to the Velabrum, and so to our
starting-point at the Forum Boarium.

Let us now descend the Clivus sacer, crossing to the right-hand side
of the slope, which the via Sacra now follows, and reach the Forum by
the fornix Fabiana. Close by to our left is the round temple of
Vesta, where the sacred fire of the State is kept ever burning by its
guardians, the Vestal Virgins, and here too is their dwelling, the
Atrium Vestae, and also that of the Pontifex Maximus (Regia), in whose
potestas they were; these three buildings, then insignificant to look
at, constituted the religious focus of the oldest Rome.[31] A little
farther again to the left is the temple of Castor and the spring of
Juturna, lately excavated, where the Twins watered their steeds after
the battle of the lake Regillus. In front of us we can see over the
heads of the crowd the Rostra at the farther end of the Forum, where
an orator is perhaps addressing a crowd (_contio_) on some political
question of the moment, and giving some occupation to the idlers
in the throng; and to the right of the Rostra is the Comitium
or assembling-place of the people, with the Curia, the ancient
meeting-hall of the senate. In Cicero's day the mere shopman had been
got rid of from the Forum, and his place is taken by the banker and
money-lender, who do their business in _tabernae_ stretching in rows
along both sides of the open space. Much public business, judicial and
other, is done in the Basilicae,--roofed halls with colonnades, of
which there are already five, and a new one is arising on the south
side, of which the ground-plan, as it was extended soon afterwards by
Julius Caesar, is now completely laid bare. But it is becoming evident
that the business of the Empire cannot be much longer crowded into
this narrow space of the Forum, which is only about two hundred yards
long by seventy; and the next two generations will see new Fora
laid out larger and more commodious, by Julius and Augustus in the
direction of the Quirinal.

Now making our way towards the Capitol, we pass the famous temple or
rather gate of the double-headed Janus, standing at the entrance
to the Forum from the Argiletum and the Porta Esquilina; then the
Comitium and Curia (which last was burnt by the mob in 52 B.C., at the
funeral of Clodius), and reach the foot of the Clivus Capitolinus,
just where was (and is) the ancient underground prison, called
Tullianum, from the old word for a spring (_tullus_), the scene of the
deaths of Jugurtha and many noble captives, and of the Catilinarian
conspirators on December 5, 63. Here the via Sacra turns, in front of
the temple of Concordia, to ascend the Capitol. Behind this temple,
extending farther under the slope, is the Tabularium, already
mentioned, which is still much as it was then; and below us to the
south is the temple of Saturnus, the treasury (_aerarium_) of the
Roman people. Thus at this end of the Forum, under the Capitol,
are the whole set of public offices, facing the ancient religious
buildings around the Vesta temple at the other end.

The way now turns again to the right, and reaches the depression
between the two summits of the Capitoline hill. Leaving the arx on the
left, we reach by a long flight of steps the greatest of all Roman
temples, placed on a long platform with solid substructures of
Etruscan workmanship, part of which is still to be seen in the garden
of the German Embassy. The temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, with
his companions Juno and Minerva, was in a special sense the religious
centre of the State and its dominion. Whatever view he might take of
the gods and their cults, every Roman instinctively believed that this
great Jupiter, above all other deities, watched over the welfare of
Rome, and when a generation later Virgil placed the destiny of Rome's
mythical hero in the hands of Jupiter, every Roman recognised in this
his own inherited conviction. Here, on the first day of their office,
the higher magistrates offered sacrifice in fulfilment of the vows of
their predecessors, and renewed the same vows themselves. The consul
about to leave the city for a foreign war made it his last duty to
sacrifice here, and on his return he deposited here his booty. Here
came the triumphal procession along the Sacred Way, the conquering
general attired and painted like the statue of the god within the
temple; and upon the knees of the statue he placed his wreath of
laurel, rendering up to the deity what he had himself deigned to
bestow. Here too, from a pedestal on the platform, a statue of Jupiter
looked straight over the Forum,[32] the Curia, and the Comitium; and
Cicero could declare from the Rostra, and know that in so declaring he
was touching the hearts of his hearers, that on that same day on which
it had first been so placed, the machinations of Catiline and his
conspirators had been detected.[33] "Ille, ille Iupiter restitit;
ille Capitolium, ille haec templa, ille cunctam urbem, ille vos omnes
salvos esse voluit."

The temple had been destroyed by fire in the time of Sulla, and its
restoration was not as yet finally completed at the time of our
imaginary walk.[34] It faced towards the river and the Aventine, i.e.
south-east, according to the rules of augural lore, like all Roman
public buildings of the Republican period. From the platform on which
it stands we look down on the Forum Boarium, from which we started,
connected with the Forum by the Velabrum and the vicus Tuscus; and
more to the right below us is the Campus Martius, with access to the
city by that Porta Carmentalis which Evander showed to Aeneas. This
spacious exercise-ground of Roman armies is already beginning to be
built upon; in fact the Circus Flaminius has been there for more than
a century and a half, and now the new theatre of Pompeius, the first
stone theatre in Rome, rises beyond it towards the Vatican hill. But
there is ample space left; for it is nearly a mile from the Capitol
to that curve of the Tiber above which the Church of St. Peter now
stands; and on this large expanse, at the present day, the greater
part of a population of nearly half a million is housed. I do not
propose to take the reader farther. We have been through the heart of the
city, as it was at the close of the Republican period, and from the
platform of the great temple we can see all else that we need to keep
in mind in these chapters.



The walk we have been taking has led us only through the heart of
the city, in which were the public buildings, temples, basilicas,
porticos, etc., of which we hear so much in Latin literature. It was
on the hills which are spurs of the plain beyond, and which look down
over the Forum and the Campus Martius, the Caelian, Esquiline, and
Quirinal, with the hollows lying between them, and also on the
Aventine by the river, that the mass of the population lived. The most
ancient fortification of completed Rome, the so-called Servian wall
and _agger_, enclosed a singularly large space, larger, we are told,
than the walls of any old city in Italy;[35] it is likely that a
good part of this space was long unoccupied by houses, and served to
shelter the cattle of the farmers living outside, when an enemy was
threatening attack. But in Cicero's time, as to-day, all this space
was covered with dwellings; and as the centre of the city came to be
occupied with public buildings, erected on sites often bought from
private owners, the houses were gradually pushed out along the roads
beyond the walls. Exactly the same process has been going on for
centuries in the University city of Oxford where the erection of
colleges gradually absorbed the best sites within the old walls, so
that many of the dwelling-houses are now quite two miles from the
centre of the city. The fact is attested for Rome by the famous
municipal law of Julius Caesar, which directs that for a mile outside
the gates every resident is to look after the repair of the road in
front of his own house.[36]

As a general rule, the heights in Rome were occupied by the better
class of residents, and the hollows by the lower stratum of
population. This was not indeed entirely so, for poor people no doubt
lived on the Aventine, the Caelian, and parts of the Esquiline. But
the Palatine was certainly an aristocratic quarter; the Carinae, the
height looking down on the hollow where the Colosseum now stands, had
many good houses, e.g. those of Pompeius and of Quintus Cicero, and
we know of one man of great wealth, Atticus, who lived on the
Quirinal.[37] It was in the narrow hollows leading down from these
heights to the Forum, such as the Subura between Esquiline and
Quirinal, and the Argiletum farther down near the Forum, that we meet
in literature what we may call the working classes; the Argiletum, for
example, was famous both for its booksellers and its shoemakers,[38]
and the Subura is the typical street of tradesmen. And no doubt the
big lodging-houses in which the lower classes dwelt were to be found
in all parts of Rome, except the strictly aristocratic districts like
the Palatine.

The whole free population may roughly be divided into three classes,
of which the first two, constituting together the social aristocracy,
were a mere handful in number compared with the third. At the top of
the social order was the governing class, or _ordo senatorius_: then
came the _ordo equester_, comprising all the men of business, bankers,
money-lenders, and merchants (_negotiatores_) or contractors for the
raising of taxes and many other purposes (_publicani_). Of these two
upper classes and their social life we shall see something in later
chapters; at present we are concerned with the "masses," at least
320,000 in number,[39] and the social problems which their existence
presented, or ought to have presented, to an intelligent Roman
statesman of Cicero's time.

Unfortunately, just as we know but little of the populous districts of
Rome, so too we know little of its industrial population. The upper
classes, including all writers of memoirs and history, were not
interested in them. There was no philanthropist, no devoted inquirer
like Mr. Charles Booth, to investigate their condition or try to
ameliorate it. The statesman, if he troubled himself about them at
all, looked on them as a dangerous element of society, only to be
considered as human beings at election time; at all other times merely
as animals that had to be fed, in order to keep them from becoming an
active peril. The philosopher, even the Stoic, whose creed was by far
the most ennobling in that age, seems to have left the dregs of the
people quite out of account; though his philosophy nominally took the
whole of mankind into its cognisance, it believed the masses to be
degraded and vicious, and made no effort to redeem them.[40] The Stoic
might profess the tenderest feeling towards all mankind, as Cicero
did, when moved by some recent reading of Stoic doctrine; he might say
that "men were born for the sake of men, that each should help the
other," or that "Nature has inclined us to love men, for this is the
foundation of all law";[41] but when in actual social or political
contact with the same masses Cicero could only speak of them with
contempt or disgust. It is a melancholy and significant fact that what
little we do know from literature about this class is derived from the
part they occasionally played in riots and revolutionary disorders.
It is fortunately quite impossible that the historian of the future
should take account of the life of the educated and wealthy only; but
in the history of the past and especially of the last three centuries
B.C., we have to contend with this difficulty, and can only now and
then find side-lights thrown upon the great mass of mankind. The
crime, the crowding, the occasional suffering from starvation and
pestilence, in the unfashionable quarters of such a city as Rome,
these things are hidden from us, and rarely even suggested by the
histories we commonly read.

The three questions to which I wish to make some answer in this
chapter are: (1) how was this population housed? (2) how was it
supplied with food and clothing? and (3) how was it employed?

1. It was of course impossible in a city like Rome that each man,
married or unmarried, should have his own house; this is not so even
in the great majority of modern industrial towns, though we in England
are accustomed to see our comparatively well-to-do artisans dwelling
in cottages spreading out into the country. At Rome only the wealthy
families lived in separate houses (_domus_), about which we shall have
something to say in another chapter. The mass of the population lived,
or rather ate and slept (for southern climates favour an out-of-door
life), in huge lodging-houses called islands (_insulae_), because they
were detached from other buildings, and had streets on all sides of
them, as islands have water.[42] These _insulae_ were often three or
four stories high;[43] the ground-floor was often occupied by shops,
kept perhaps by some of the lodgers, and the upper floors by single
rooms, with small windows looking out on the street or into an
interior court. The common name for such a room was _coenaculum_, or
dining-room, a word which seems to be taken over from the _coenaculum_
of private houses, i.e. an eating-room on the first floor, where there
was one. Once indeed we hear of an _aedicula_, in an insula, which was
perhaps the equivalent of a modern "flat"; it was inhabited by a young
bachelor of good birth, M. Caelius Rufus, the friend of Cicero, and
in this case the insula was probably one of a superior kind.[44]
The common lodging-house must have been simply a rabbit-warren, the
crowded inhabitants using their rooms only for eating and sleeping,
while for the most part they prowled about, either idling or getting
such employment as they could, legitimate or otherwise.

In such a life there could of course have been no idea of home, or of
that simple and sacred family life which had once been the ethical
basis of Roman society.[45] When we read Cicero's thrilling language
about the loss of his own house, after his return from exile, and then
turn to think of the homeless crowds in the rabbit-warrens of Rome, we
can begin to feel the contrast between the wealth and poverty of that
day. "What is more strictly protected," he says, "by all religious
feeling, than the house of each individual citizen? Here is his altar,
his hearth, here are his Di Penates: here he keeps all the objects
of his worship and performs all his religious rites: his house is
a refuge so solemnly protected, that no one can be torn from it by
force."[46] The warm-hearted Cicero is here, as so often, dreaming
dreams: the "each individual citizen" of whom he speaks is the citizen
of his own acquaintance, not the vast majority, with whom his mind
does not trouble itself.

These insulae were usually built or owned by men of capital, and were
often called by the names of their owners. Cicero, in one of his
letters,[47] incidentally mentions that he had money thus invested;
and we are disposed to wonder whether his insulae were kept in good
repair, for in another letter he happens to tell his man of business
that shops (tabernae) belonging to him were tumbling down and
unoccupied. It is more than likely that many of the insulae were badly
built by speculators, and liable to collapse. The following passage
from Plutarch's _Life of Crassus_ suggests this, though, if Plutarch
is right, Crassus did not build himself, but let or sold his sites and
builders to others: "Observing (in Sulla's time) the accidents that
were familiar at Rome, conflagrations and tumbling down of houses
owing to their weight and crowded state, he bought slaves who were
architects and builders. Having collected these to the number of more
than five hundred, it was his practice to buy up houses on fire, and
houses next to those on fire: for the owners, frightened and anxious,
would sell them cheap. And thus the greater part of Rome fell into
the hands of Crassus: but though he had so many artisans, he built no
house except his own, for he used to say that those who were fond of
building ruined themselves without the help of an enemy."[48] The
fall of houses, and their destruction in the frequent fires, became
familiar features of life at Rome about this time, and are alluded to
by Catullus in his twenty-third poem, and later on by Strabo in his
description of Rome (p. 235). It must indeed have often happened that
whole families were utterly homeless;[49] and in those days there
were no insurance offices, no benefit societies, no philanthropic
institutions to rescue the suffering from undeserved misery. As we
shall see later on, they were constantly in debt, and in the hands of
the money-lender; and against his extortions their judicial remedies
were most precarious. But all this is hidden from our eyes: only now
and again we can hear a faint echo of their inarticulate cry for help.

2. The needs of these poorer classes in respect of food and drink were
very small; it was only the vast number of them that made the supply
difficult. The Italians, like the Greeks,[50] were then as now almost
entirely vegetarians; cattle and sheep were used for the production
of cheese, leather, and wool or for sacrifices to the gods; the only
animal commonly eaten, until luxury came in with increasing wealth,
was the pig, and grain and vegetables were the staple food of the poor
man, both in town and country. Among the lesser poems ascribed to
Virgil there is one, the _Moretum_, which gives a charming picture of
the food-supply of the small cultivator in the country. He rises very
early, gropes his way to the hearth, and stirs the embers into flame:
then takes from his meal-bin a supply of grain for three days and
proceeds to grind it in a hand-mill, knead it with water, shape it
into round cakes divided into four parts like a "hot-cross bun," and,
with the help of his one female slave, to bake these in the embers. He
has no sides of smoked bacon, says the poet, hanging from his roof,
but only a cheese, so to add to his meal he goes into his garden and
gathers thence a number of various herbs and vegetables, which he then
makes into the hotch-potch, or _pot-au-feu_ which gives the name to
the poem. This bit of delicate genre-painting, which is as good in its
way as anything in Crabbe's homely poems, has indeed nothing to tell
us of life in an insula at Rome; but it may serve to show what was the
ordinary food of the Italian of that day.[51] The absence of the sides
of bacon ("durati sale terga suis," line 57) is interesting. No doubt
the Roman took meat when he could get it; but to have to subsist on
it, even for a short time, was painful to him, and more than once
Caesar remarks on the endurance of his soldiers in submitting to eat
meat when corn was not to be had.[52]

The corn which was at this time the staple food of the Romans of the
city was wheat, and wheat of a good kind; in primitive times it had
been an inferior species called _far_, which survived in Cicero's day
only in the form of cakes offered to the gods in religious ceremonies.
The wheat was not brought from Italy or even from Latium; what each
Italian community then grew was not more than supplied its own
inhabitants,[53] and the same was the case with the country villas
of the rich, and the huge sheep-farms worked by slaves. By far the
greater part of Italy is mountainous, and not well suited to the
production of corn on a large scale; and for long past other causes
had combined to limit what production there was. Transport too,
whether by road or river, was full of difficulty, while on the other
hand a glance at the map will show that the voyage for corn-ships
between Rome and Sicily, Sardinia, or the province of Africa (the
former dominion of Carthage), was both short and easy--far shorter and
easier than the voyage from Cisalpine Gaul or even from Apulia, where
the peninsula was richest in good corn-land. So we are not surprised
to find that, according to tradition, which is fully borne out by more
certain evidence,[54] corn had been brought to Rome from Sicily as
early as 492 B.C. to relieve a famine, or that since Sicily, Sardinia,
and Africa had become Roman provinces, their vast productive capacity
was utilised to feed the great city.

Nor indeed need we be surprised to find that the State has taken over
the task of feeding the Roman population, and of feeding it cheaply,
if only we are accustomed to think, not merely to read, about life in
the city at this period. Nothing is more difficult for the ordinary
reader of ancient history than to realise the difficulty of feeding
large masses of human beings, whether crowded in towns or soldiers in
the field. Our means of transport are now so easily and rapidly set
in action and maintained, that it would need a war with some great
sea-power to convince us that London or Glasgow might, under certain
untoward circumstances, be starved; and as our attention has never
been drawn to the details of food-supply, we do not readily see why
there should have been any such difficulty at Rome as to call for the
intervention of the State. Perhaps the best way to realise the problem
is to reflect that every adult inhabitant needed about four and a half
pecks of corn per month, or some three pounds a day; so that if the
population of Rome be taken at half a million in Cicero's time, a
million and a half pounds would be demanded as the daily consumption
of the people.[55] I have already said that in the last three
centuries B.C. there was a universal tendency to leave the country for
the towns; and we now know that many other cities besides Rome
not only felt the same difficulty, but actually used the same
remedy--State importation of cheap corn.[56] Even comparatively small
cities like Dyrrhachium and Apollonia in Epirus, as Caesar tells us
while narrating his own difficulty in feeding his army there, used for
the most part imported corn.[57] And we must remember that while some
of the greatest cities on the Mediterranean, such as Alexandria and
Antioch, were within easy reach of vast corn-fields, this was not the
case with Rome. Either she must organise her corn-supply on a secure
basis, or get rid of her swarms of poor inhabitants; the latter
alternative might have been possible if she had been willing to let
them starve, but probably in no other way. To attempt to put them out
upon the land again was hopeless; they knew nothing of agriculture,
and were unused to manual labour, which they despised.

Thus ever since Rome had been a city of any size it had been the duty
of the plebeian aediles to see that it was adequately supplied with
corn, and in times of dearth or other difficulty these magistrates had
to take special measures to procure it. With a population steadily
rising since the war with Hannibal, and after the acquisition of two
corn-growing provinces, to which Africa was added in 146 B.C., it was
natural that they should turn their attention more closely to the
resources of these; and now the provincial governors had to see that
the necessary amount of corn was furnished from these provinces at a
fixed price, and that a low one.[58] In 123 B.C. Gaius Gracchus took
the matter in hand, and made it a part of his whole far-reaching
political scheme. The plebs urbana had become a very awkward element
in the calculations of a statesman, and to have it in a state of
starvation, or even fearing such a state, was dangerous in the
extreme, as every Roman statesman had to learn in the course of the
two following centuries. The aediles, we may guess, were quite unequal
to the work demanded of them; and at times victorious provincial
governors would bring home great quantities of corn and give it away
gratis for their private purposes, with bad results both economic
and moral. Gracchus saw that the work of supply needed thorough
organisation in regard to production, transport, warehousing, and
finance, and set about it with a delight in hard work such as no Roman
statesman had shown before, believing that if the people could be
fed cheaply and regularly, they would cease to be "a troublesome
neighbour."[59] We do not know the details of his scheme of
organisation except in one particular, the price at which the corn
was to be sold per _modius_ (peck): this was to be six and one-third
_asses_, or rather less than half the normal market-price of the day,
so far as it can be made out. Whether he believed that the cost of
production could be brought down to this level by regularity of demand
and transport we cannot tell; it seems at any rate probable that he
had gone carefully into the financial aspect of the business.[60] But
there can hardly be a doubt that he miscalculated, and that the result
of the law by which he sought to effect his object was a yearly
loss to the treasury, so that after his time, and until his law was
repealed by Sulla, the people were really being fed largely at the
expense of the State, and thus lapsing into a state of semipauperism,
with bad ethical consequences.

One of these consequences was that inconsiderate statesmen would only
too readily seize the chance of reducing the price of the corn still
lower, as was done by Saturninus in 100 B.C., for political purposes.
To prevent this Sulla abolished the Gracchan system _in toto_; but it
was renewed in 73 B.C., and in 58 the demagogue P. Clodius made the
distribution of corn gratuitous. In 46 Caesar found that no less than
320,000 persons were receiving corn from the State for nothing; by a
bill, of which we still possess a part,[61] he reduced the number to
150,000, and by a rigid system of rules, of which we know something,
contrived to ensure that it should be kept at that point. With the
policy of Augustus and his successors in regard to the corn-supply
(_annona_) I am not here concerned; but it is necessary to observe
that with the establishment of the Empire the plebs urbana ceased to
be of any importance in politics, and could be treated as a petted
population, from whom no harm was to be expected if they were kept
comfortable and amused. Augustus seems to have found himself compelled
to take up this attitude towards them, and he was able to do so
because he had thoroughly reorganised the public finance and knew what
he could afford for the purpose. But in time of Cicero the people were
still powerful legislation and elections, and the public finance was
disorganised and in confusion; and the result was that the corn-supply
was mixed up with politics,[62] and handled by reckless politicians
in a way that was as ruinous to the treasury as it was to the moral
welfare of the city. The whole story, from Gracchus onwards, is a
wholesome lesson on the mischief of granting "outdoor relief" in any
form whatever, without instituting the means of inquiry into each
individual case. Gracchus' intentions were doubtless honest and good;
but "ubi semel recto deerratum est, in praeceps pervenitur."

The drink of the Roman was water, but he mixed it with wine whenever
he had the chance. Fortunately for him he had no other intoxicating
drink; we hear neither of beer nor spirits in Roman literature. Italy
was well suited to the cultivation of the vine; and though down to the
last century of the Republic the choice kinds of wine came chiefly
from Greece, yet we have unquestionable proof that wine was made in
the neighbourhood of Rome at the very outset of Roman history. In the
oldest religious calendar[63] we find two festivals called Vinalia,
one in April and the other in August; what exactly was the relation of
each of them to the operations of viticulture is by no means clear,
but we know that these operations were under the protection of
Jupiter, and that his priest, the Flamen Dialis, offered to him the
first-fruits of the vintage. The production of rough wine must indeed
have been large, for we happen to know that it was at times remarkably
cheap. In 250 B.C., in many ways a wonderfully productive year, wine
was sold at an _as_ the _congius_, which is nearly three quarts;[64]
under the early Empire Columella (iii. 3. 10) reckoned the amphora
(nearly 6 gallons) at 15 sesterces, i.e. about eightpence That the
common citizen did expect to be able to qualify his water with wine
seems proved by a story told by Suetonius, that when the people
complained to Augustus that the price of wine was too high, he
curtly and wisely answered that Agrippa had but lately given them an
excellent water-supply.[65] It looks as though they were claiming to
have wine as well as grain supplied them by the government at a low
price or gratuitously; but this was too much even for Augustus. For
his water the Roman, it need hardly be said, paid nothing. On the
whole, at the time of which we are speaking he was fairly well
supplied with it; but in this, as in so many other matters of urban
administration, it was under Augustus that an abundant supply was
first procured and maintained by an excellent system of management.
Frontinus, to whose work _de Aqueductibus_ we owe almost all that we
know about the Roman water-supply, tells us that for four hundred and
forty-one years after the foundation of the city the Romans contented
themselves with such water as they could get from the Tiber, from
wells, and from natural springs, and adds that some of the springs
were in his day still held in honour on account of their health-giving
qualities.[66] Cicero describes Rome, in his idealising way, as "locum
fontibus abundantem," and twenty-three springs are known to have
existed; but as early 312 B.C. it was found necessary to seek
elsewhere for a purer and more regular supply. More than six miles
from Rome, on the via Collatina, springs were found and utilised for
this purpose, which have lately been re-discovered at the bottom of
some stone quarries; and hence the water was brought by underground
pipes along the line of the same road to the city, and through it to
the foot of the Aventine, the plebeian quarter. This was the Aqua
Appia, named after the famous censor Appius Claudius Caecus, whom
Mommsen has shown to have been a friend of the people.[67] Forty years
later another censor, Manius Curius Dentatus, brought a second supply,
also by an underground channel, from the river Anio near Tibur
(Tivoli), the water of which, never of the first quality, was used for
the irrigation of gardens and the flushing of drains. In 144 B.C.
it was found that these two old aqueducts were out of repair and
insufficient, and this time a praetor, Q. Marcius Rex (probably
through the influence of a family clique), was commissioned to set
them in order and to procure a fresh supply. He went much farther than
his predecessors had gone for springs, and drew a volume of excellent
and clear cold water from the Sabine hills beyond Tibur, thirty-six
miles from the city, which had the highest reputation at all times;
and for the last six miles of its course it was carried above ground
upon a series of arches.[68] One other aqueduct was added in 125 B.C.
the Aqua Tepula, so called because its water was unusually warm; and
the whole amount of water entering Rome in the last century of the
Republic is estimated at more than 700,000 cubic metres per diem,
which would amply suffice for a population of half a million. At the
present day Rome, with a population of 450,000, receives from all
sources only 379,000.[69] Baths, both public and private, were already
beginning to come into fashion; of these more will be said later
on. The water for drinking was collected in large _castella_, or
reservoirs, and thence distributed into public fountains, of which
one still survives--the "Trofei di Mario," in the Piazza Vittorio
Emmanuele on the Esquiline.[70] When the supply came to be large
enough, the owners of insulae and domus were allowed to have water
laid on by private pipes, as we have it in modern towns; but it is not
certain when this permission was first given.

3. But we must return to the individual Roman of the masses, whom we
have now seen well supplied with the necessaries of life, and try
to form some idea of the way in which he was employed, or earned a
living. This is by no means an easy task, for these small people, as
we have already seen, did not interest their educated fellow-citizens,
and for this reason we hear hardly anything of them in the literature
of the time. Not only a want of philanthropic feeling in their
betters, but an inherited contempt for all small industry and retail
dealing, has helped to hide them away from us: an _inherited_
contempt, because it is in fact a survival from an older social
system, when the citizen did not need the work of the artisan and
small retailer, but supplied all his own wants within the circle of
his household, i.e. his own family and slaves, and produced on his
farm the material of his food and clothing. And the survival was all
the stronger, because even in the late Republic the abundant supply of
slaves enabled the man of capital still to dispense largely with the
services of the tradesman and artisan.

Cicero expresses this contempt for the artisan and trading classes in
more than one striking passage. One, in his treatise on Duties, is
probably paraphrased from the Greek of Panaetius, the philosopher who
first introduced Stoicism to the Romans, and modified it to suit
their temperament, but it is quite clear that Cicero himself entirely
endorses the Stoic view. "All gains made by hired labourers," he says,
"are dishonourable and base, for what we buy of them is their labour,
not their artistic skill: with them the very gain itself does but
increase the slavishness of the work. All retail dealing too may be
put in the same category, for the dealer will gain nothing except
by profuse lying, and nothing is more disgraceful than untruthful
huckstering. Again, the work of all artisans (_opifices_) is sordid;
there can be nothing honourable in a workshop."[71]

If this view of the low character of the work of the artisan and
retailer should be thought too obviously a Greek one, let the reader
turn to the description by Livy[72]--a true gentleman--of the low
origin of Terentius Varro, the consul who was in command at Cannae; he
uses the same language as Cicero. "He sprang from an origin not merely
humble but sordid: his father was a butcher, who sold his own meat,
and employed his son in this slavish business." The story may not be
true, and indeed it is not a very probable one, but it well represents
the inherited feeling towards retail trade of the Roman of the higher
classes of society,--a feeling so tenacious of life, that even in
modern England, where it arose from much the same causes as in the
ancient world, it has only within the last century begun to die

Yet in Rome these humble workers existed and made a living for
themselves from the very beginning, as far as we can guess, of real
city life. They are the necessary and inevitable product of the growth
of a town population, and of the resulting division of labour. The
following passage from a work on industrial organisation in England
may be taken as closely representing the same process in early
Rome:[74] "The town arose as a centre in which the surplus produce of
many villages could be profitably disposed of by exchange. Trade
thus became a settled occupation, and trade prepared the way for
the establishment of the handicrafts, by furnishing capital for the
support of the craftsmen, and by creating a regular market for their
products. It was possible for a great many bodies of craftsmen,--the
weavers, tailors, butchers, bakers, etc., to find a livelihood, each
craft devoting itself to the supply of a single branch of those wants
which the village household had attempted very imperfectly to satisfy
by its own labours."

As in mediaeval Europe, so in early Rome, the same conditions produced
the same results: we find the craftsmen of the town forming themselves
into _gilds_, not only for the protection of their trade, but from a
natural instinct of association, and providing these gilds, on the
model of the older groups of family and gens, with a religious centre
and a patron deity. The gilds (_collegia_) of Roman craftsmen were
attributed to Numa, like so many other religious institutions; they
included associations of weavers, fullers, dyers, shoemakers, doctors,
teachers, painters, etc.,[75] and were mainly devoted to Minerva as
the deity of handiwork. "The society that witnessed the coming of
Minerva from Etruria ... little knew that in her temple on the
Aventine was being brought to expression the trade-union idea."[76]
These _collegia opificum_, most unfortunately, pass entirely out
of our sight, until they reappear in the age of Cicero in a very
different form, as clubs used for political purposes, but composed
still of the lowest strata of the free population (_collegia
sodalicia_).[77] The history and causes of their disappearance and
metamorphosis are lost to us; but it is not hard to guess that the
main cause is to be found in the great economic changes that followed
the Hannibalic war,--the vast number of slaves imported, and
the consequent resuscitation of the old system of the economic
independence of the great households; the decay of religious practice,
which affected both public and private life in a hundred different
ways; and that steady growth of individualism which is characteristic
of eras of town life, and especially of the last three centuries B.C.
It is curious to notice that by the time these old gilds emerge into
light again as clubs that could be used for political purposes, a new
source of gain, and one that was really sordid, had been placed within
the reach of the Roman plebs urbana: it was possible to make money by
your vote in the election of magistrates. In that degenerate when the
vast accumulation of capital made it possible for a man to purchase
his way to power, in spite of repeated attempts to check the evil by
legislation, the old principle of honourable association was used to
help the small man to make a living by choosing the unprincipled and
often the incompetent to undertake the government of the Empire.

Apart, however, from such illegal means of making money, there was
beyond doubt in the Rome of the last century B.C. a large amount of
honest and useful labour done by free citizens. We must not run away
with the idea that the whole labour of the city was performed by
slaves, who ousted the freeman from his chance of a living. There was
indeed a certain number of public slaves who did public work for the
State; but on the whole the great mass of the servile population
worked entirely within the households and on the estates of the rich,
and did not interfere to any sensible degree with the labour of the
small freeman. As has been justly observed by Salvioli,[78] never at
any period did the Roman proletariat complain of the competition of
slave labour as detrimental to its own interests. Had there been no
slave labour there, the small freeman might indeed have had a wider
field of enterprise, and have been better able to accumulate a small
capital by undertaking work for the great families, which was done,
as it was, by their slaves. But he was not aware of this, and the two
kinds of labour, the paid and the unpaid, went on side by side without
active rivalry. No doubt slavery helped to foster idleness, as it did
in the Southern States of America before the Civil War;[79] no doubt
there were plenty of idle ruffians in the city, ready to steal,
to murder, or to hire themselves out as the armed followers of a
political desperado like Clodius; but the simple necessities of the
life of those who had no slaves of their own gave employment, we may
be certain, to a great number of free tradesmen and artisans and
labourers of a more unskilled kind.

To begin with, we may ask the pertinent question, how the corn sold
cheap by the State was made into bread for the small consumer. Pliny
gives us very valuable information, which we may accept as roughly
correct, that until the year 171 B.C. there were no bakers in
Rome.[80] "The Quirites," he says, "made their own bread, which was
the business of the women, as it is still among most peoples." The
demand which was thus supplied by a new trade was no doubt caused by
the increase of the lower population of the city, by the return of old
soldiers, often perhaps unmarried, and by the manumission of slaves,
many of whom would also be inexperienced in domestic life and its
needs; and we may probably connect it with the growth of the system of
insulae, the great lodging-houses in which it would not be convenient
either to grind your corn or to bake your bread. So the bakers, called
_pistores_ from the old practice of pounding the grain in a mortar
(_pingere_), soon became a very important and flourishing section of
the plebs, though never held in high repute; and in connexion with the
distributions of corn some of them probably rose above the level of
the small tradesman, like the _pistor redemptor_, Marcus Vergilius
Eurysaces, whose monument has come down to us.[81] It should be noted
that the trade of the baker included the grinding of the corn; there
were no millers at Rome. This can be well illustrated from the
numerous bakers' shops which have been excavated at Pompeii.[82] In
one of these, for example, we find the four mills in a large apartment
at the rear of the building, and close by is the stall for the donkeys
that turned them, and also the kneading-room, oven, and store-room.
Small bakeries may have had only hand-mills, like the one with which
we saw the peasant in the _Moretum_ grinding his corn; but the donkey
was from quite early times associated with the business, as we know
from the fact that at the festival of Vesta, the patron deity of all
bakers, they were decorated with wreaths and cakes.[83]

The baking trade must have given employment to a large number of
persons. So beyond doubt did the supply of vegetables, which were
brought into the city from gardens outside, and formed, after the
corn, the staple food of the lower classes. We have already seen
in the _Moretum_ the countryman adding to his store of bread by a
hotch-potch made of vegetables, and the reader of the poem will have
been astonished at the number mentioned, including garden herbs for
flavouring purposes. The ancients were fully alive to the value of
vegetable food and of fruit as a healthy diet in warm climates, and
the wonderfully full information we have on this subject comes from
medical writers like Galen, as well as from Pliny's _Natural History_,
and from the writers on agriculture. The very names of some Roman
families, e.g. the Fabii and Caepiones, carry us back to a time when
beans and onions, which later on were not so much in favour, were a
regular part of the diet of the Roman people. The list of vegetables
and herbs which we know of as consumed fills a whole page in
Marquardt's interesting account of this subject, and includes most
of those which we use at the present day.[84] It was only when the
consumption of meat and game came in with the growth of capital
and its attendant luxury, that a vegetarian diet came to be at all
despised. This is another result of the economic changes caused by the
Hannibalic war, and is curiously illustrated by the speech of the cook
of a great household in the _Pseudolus_ of Plautus, who prides himself
on not being as other cooks are, who make the guests into beasts of
the field, stuffing them with all kinds of food which cattle eat, and
even with things which cattle would refuse![85] we may take it that at
all times the Roman of the lower class consumed fruit and vegetables
largely, and thus gave employment to a number of market-gardeners and
small purveyors. Fish he did not eat; like meat, it was too expensive;
in fact fish-eating only came in towards the end of the republican
period, and then only as a luxury for those who could afford to keep
fish-ponds on their estates. How far the supply of other luxuries,
such as butchers' meat, gave employment to freemen, is not very clear;
and perhaps we need here only take account of such few other products,
e.g. oil and wine, as were in universal demand, though not always
procurable by the needy. There were plenty of small shops in Rome
where these things were sold; we have a picture of such a shop
(_caupona_) in another of the minor Virgilian poems, the _Copa_, i.e.
hostess, or perhaps in this case the woman who danced and sang for the
entertainment of the guests. She plied her trade in a smoky tavern
(fumosa taberna), all the contents of which are charmingly described
in the poem.[86]

Let us now see how the other chief necessity of human life, the supply
of clothing, gave employment to the free Roman shopkeeper.

The clothing of the whole Roman population was originally woollen;
both the outer garment, the _toga_, the inner (_tunica_) were of this
material, and the sheep which supplied it were pastured well and
conveniently in all the higher hilly regions of Italy. Other
materials, linen, cotton, and silk, came in later with the growth
of commerce, but the manufacture of these into clothing was chiefly
carried on by slaves in the great households, and we need not take
any account of them here. The preparation of wool too was in well
regulated households undertaken even under the Empire by the women
of the family, including the materfamilias herself, and in many an
inscription we find the _lanificium_ recorded as the honourable
practice of matrons.[87] But as in the case of food, so with the
simple material of clothing, it was soon found impossible in a city
for the poorer citizens to do all that was necessary within their
own houses; this is proved conclusively by the mention of gilds of
fullers[88] (_fullones_) among those traditionally ascribed to Numa.
Fulling is the preparation of cloth by cleansing in water after it
has come from the loom; but the fuller's trade of the later republic
probably often comprised the actual manufacture of the wool for
those who could not do it themselves. He also acted as the washer of
garments already in use, and this was no doubt a very important part
of his business, for in a warm climate heavy woollen material is
naturally apt to get frequently impure and unwholesome. Soap was
not known till the first century of the Empire, and the process of
cleansing was all the more lengthy and elaborate; the details of the
process are known to us from paintings at Pompeii, where they adorn
the walls of fulleries which have been excavated. A plan of one of
them will be found in Mau's _Pompeii_, p. 388. The ordinary woollen
garments were simply bleached white, not dyed; and though dyers are
mentioned among the ancient gilds by Plutarch, it is probable that he
means chiefly fullers by the Greek word [_Greek: Bapheis_].

Of the manufacture of leather we do not know so much. This, like that
of wool, must have originally been carried on in the household, but
it is mentioned as a trade as early as the time of Plautus.[89] The
shoemakers' business was, however, a common one from the earliest
times, probably because it needs some technical skill and experience;
the most natural division of labour in early societies is sure to
produce this trade. The shoemakers' gild was among the earliest,
and had its centre in the _atrium sutorium_;[90] and the individual
shoemakers carried on their trade in booths or shops. The Roman shoe,
it may be mentioned here, was of several different kinds, according
to the sex, rank, and occupation of the wearer; but the two most
important sorts were the _calceus_, the shoe worn with the toga in the
city, and the mark of the Roman citizen; and the _pero_ or high boot,
which was more serviceable in the country.

Among the old gilds were also those of the smiths (_fabri ferrarii_)
and the potters (_figuli_), but of these little need be said here,
for they were naturally fewer in number than the vendors of food and
clothing, and the raw material for their work had, in later times at
least, to be brought from a distance. The later Romans seem to have
procured their iron-ore from the island of Elba and Spain, Gaul,
and other provinces,[91] and to have imported ware of all kinds,
especially the finer sorts, from various parts of the Empire; the
commoner kinds, such as the _dolia_ or large vessels for storing wine
and oil, were certainly made in Rome in the second century B.C., for
Cato in his book on agriculture[92] remarks that they could be best
procured there. But both these manufactures require a certain amount
of capital, and we may doubt whether the free population was largely
employed in them; we know for certain that in the early Empire
the manufacture of ware, tiles, bricks, etc., was carried on by
capitalists, some of them of noble birth, including even Emperors
themselves, and beyond doubt the "hands" they employed were chiefly

But industries of this kind may serve to remind us of another kind of
employment in which the lower classes of Rome and Ostia may have found
the means of making a living. The importation of raw materials, and
that of goods of all kinds, which was constantly on the increase
throughout Roman history, called for the employment of vast numbers of
porters, carriers, and what we should call dock hands, working both
at Ostia, where the heavier ships were unladed or relieved of part of
their cargoes in order to enable them to come up the Tiber,[94] and
also at the wharves at Rome under the Aventine. We must also remember
that almost all porterage in the city had to be done by men, with the
aid of mules or donkeys; the streets were so narrow that in trying to
picture what they looked like we must banish from our minds the
crowds of vehicles familiar in a modern city. Julius Caesar, in his
regulations for the government of the city of Rome, forbade waggons to
be driven in the streets in the day-time.[95] Even supposing that a
large amount of porterage was done by slaves for their masters, we may
reasonably guess that free labour was also employed in this way at
Rome, as was certainly the case at Ostia, and also at Pompeii, where
the pack-carriers (_saccarii_) and mule-drivers (_muliones_) are among
the corporations of free men who have left in the form of _graffiti_
appeals to voters to support a particular candidate for election to a

Thus we may safely conclude that there was a very considerable amount
of employment in Rome available for the poorer citizens, quite apart
from the labour performed by slaves. But before closing this chapter
it is necessary to point out the precarious conditions under which
that employment was carried on, as compared with the industrial
conditions of a modern city. It is true enough that the factory system
of modern times, with the sweating, the long hours of work, and the
unwholesome surroundings of our industrial towns, has produced much
misery, much physical degeneracy; and we have also the problem of the
unemployed always with us. But there were two points in which the
condition of the free artisan and tradesman at Rome was far worse
than it is with us, and rendered him liable to an even more hopeless
submersion than that which is too often the fate of the modern

First, let us consider that markets, then as now, were liable to
fluctuation,--probably more liable then than now, because the
supply both of food and of the raw material of manufacture was more
precarious owing to the greater difficulties of conveyance. Trade
would be bad at times, and many things might happen which would compel
the man with little or no capital to borrow money, which he could only
do on the security of his stock, or indeed, as the law of Rome still
recognised, of his person. Money-lenders were abundant, as we shall
find in the next chapter, interest was high, and to fall into
the hands of a money-lender was only another step on the way to
destruction. At the present day, if a tradesman fails in business, he
can appeal to a merciful bankruptcy law, which gives him every chance
to satisfy his creditors and to start afresh; or in the case of a
single debt, he can be put into a county court where every chance is
given him to pay it within a reasonable time. All this machinery, most
of which (to the disgrace of modern civilisation) is quite recent in
date was absent at Rome. The only magistrates administering the civil
law were the praetors, and though since the reforms of Sulla there
were usually eight of these in the city, we can well imagine how hard
it would be for the poor debtor in a huge city to get his affairs
attended to. Probably in most cases the creditor worked his will with
him, took possession of his property without the interference of the
law, and so submerged him, or even reduced him to slavery. If he chose
to be merciful he could go to the praetor, and get what was called a
_missio in bona_, i.e. a legal right to take the whole of his debtor's
property, waiving the right to his person. And it must be noted that
no more humane law of bankruptcy was introduced until the time of
Augustus. No wonder that at least three times in the last century
of the Republic there arose a cry for the total abolition of debts
(_tabulae novae_): in 88 B.C., after the Social War; in 63, during
Cicero's consulship, when political and social revolutionary projects
were combined in the conspiracy of Catiline; and in 48, when the
economic condition of Italy had been disturbed by the Civil War, and
Caesar had much difficulty in keeping unprincipled agitators from
applying violent and foolish remedies. But to this we shall return in
the next chapter.

Secondly, let us consider that in a large city of to-day the person
and property of all, rich or poor are adequately protected by a sound
system of police and by courts of first instance which are sitting
every day. Assault and murder, theft and burglary, are exceptional. It
might be going too far to say that at Rome they were the rule; but it
is the fact that in what we may call the slums of Rome there was no
machinery for checking them. No such machinery had been invented,
because according to the old rules of law, still in force, a father
might punish his children, a master his slaves, and a murderer or
thief might be killed by his intended victim if caught red-handed.
This rude justice would suffice in a small city and a simple social
system; but it would be totally inadequate to protect life and
property in a huge population, such as that of the Rome of the last
century B.C. Since the time of Sulla there had indeed been courts for
the trial of crimes of violence, and at all times the consuls with
their staff of assistants had been charged with the peace of the city;
but we may well ask whether the poor Roman of Cicero's day could
really benefit either by the consular imperium or the action of the
Sullan courts. A slave was the object of his master's care, and
theft from a slave was theft from his owner,--if injured or murdered
satisfaction could be had for him. But in that age of slack and sordid
government it is at least extremely doubtful whether either the person
or the property of the lower class of citizen could be said to have
been properly protected in the city. And the same anarchy prevailed
all over Italy,--from the suburbs of Rome, infested by robbers, to
the sheep-farm of the great capitalist, where the traveller might be
kidnapped by runaway slaves, to vanish from the sight of men without
leaving a trace of his fate.

It is the great merit of Augustus that he made Rome not only a city of
marble, but one in which the person and property of all citizens
were fairly secure. By a new and rational bankruptcy law, and by a
well-organised system of police, he made life endurable even for the
poorest. If he initiated a policy which eventually spoilt and degraded
the Roman population, if he failed to encourage free industry as
persistently as it seems to us that he might have done, he may perhaps
be in some degree excused, as knowing the conditions and difficulties
of the problem before him better than we can know them.



The highest class in the social scale at Rome was divided, roughly
rather than exactly, into two sections, according as they did or did
not aim at being elected to magistracies and so entering the senate.
To the senatorius ordo, which will be dealt with in the next chapter,
belonged all senators, and all sons of senators whether or no they had
as yet been elected to the quaestorship, which after Sulla was the
magistracy qualifying for the senate. But outside the senatorial ranks
there were numbers of wealthy and well educated men, most of whom
were engaged in one way or another in business; by which term is here
meant, not so much trading and mercantile operations, as banking,
money-lending, the undertaking of State contracts, and the raising of
taxes. The general name for this class was, strange to say, equites,
or knights, as they are often but unfortunately called in modern
histories of Rome. They were in fact at this time the most unmilitary
part of the population, and they inherited the title only because the
property qualification for the equites equo privato, i.e. the cavalry
who served with their horses, had been taken as the qualification also
for equestrian judices, to whom Gaius Gracchus had given the decision
of cases in the quaestio de repetundis.[97] This law of Gracchus had
had the result of constituting an ordo equester alongside of the ordo
senatorius, with a property qualification of 400,000 sesterces, or
about L3200, not of income but of capital. Any one who had this sum
could call himself an eques, provided he were not a senator, even if
he had never served in the cavalry or mounted a horse.

We are concerned here with the business which these men carried on,
not with their history as a body in the State; this latter difficult
subject has been handled by Dr. Greenidge in his _Roman Public
Life_, and by many other writers. We have to take them here as the
representatives of capital and the chief uses to which it was put in
the age of Cicero; for, as a matter of fact, they were then doing by
far the greatest part of the money-making of the Empire. They were not
indeed always doing it for themselves; they often represented men of
senatorial rank, and acted as their agents in the investment of money
and in securing the returns due. For the senator was not allowed, by
the strict letter of the law, to engage in business which would take
him out of Italy;[98] his services were needed at home, and if indeed
he had performed his proper work with industry and energy he never
could have found time to travel on his own business. At the time of
which we are speaking there were ways in which he could escape
from his duties,--ways only too often used; but many senators did
undoubtedly employ members of the equestrian order to transact their
business abroad, so that it is not untrue to say that the equites
had in their hands almost the whole of the monetary business of the

The property qualification may seem to us small enough, but it is of
course no real index to the amount of capital which a wealthy eques
might possess. Nothing is more astonishing in the history of the last
century of the republic than the vast sums of money in the hands of
individuals, and the enormous sums lent and borrowed in private by the
men whose names are familiar to us as statesmen. It is told of Caesar
that as a very young man he owed a sum equivalent to about L280,000;
of Crassus that he had 200 million sesterces invested in land
alone.[99] Cicero, though from time to time in difficulties, always
found it possible to borrow the large sums which he spent on houses,
libraries, etc. These are men of the ordo senatorius; of the equites
proper, the men who dealt rather in lending than borrowing, we have
not such explicit accounts, because they were not in the same degree
before the public. But of Atticus, the type of the best and highest
section of the ordo equester, and of the amount and the sources of his
wealth, we happen to know a good deal from the little biography of him
written by his contemporary and friend Cornelius Nepos, taken together
with Cicero's numerous letters to him. His father had left him the
moderate fortune of L16,000. With this he bought land, not in Italy
but in Epirus, where it was probably to be had cheap. The profits
arising from this land, with which he took no doubt much trouble and
pains, he invested again in other ways. He lent money to Greek cities:
to Athens indeed without claiming any interest; to Sicyon without much
hope of repayment; but no doubt to many others at a large profit. He
also undertook the publishing of books, buying slaves who were skilled
copyists; and in this, as in so many other ways, his friendship was of
infinite value to Cicero. When we reflect that every highly educated
man at this time owned a library and wished to have the last new
book, we can understand how even this business might be extensive and
profitable, and are not astonished to find Cicero asking Atticus to
see that copies of his Greek book on his own consulship were to be had
in Athens and other Greek towns.[100] This shrewd man also invested in
gladiators, whom he could let out at a profit, as no doubt he would
let out his library slaves.[101] Lastly, he owned houses in Rome; in
fact he must have been making money in many different ways, spending
little himself, and attending personally and indefatigably to all his
business, as indeed with true and disinterested friendship he
attended to that of Cicero In him we see the best type of the Roman
businessman: not the bloated millionaire living in coarse luxury, but
the man who loved to be always busy for himself or his friends, and
whose knowledge of men and things was so thorough that he could make
a fortune without anxiety to himself or discomfort to others. What
amount of capital he realised in these various ways we do not know,
but the mass of his fortune came to him after he had been pursuing
them for many years, in the form of a legacy from an uncle. This uncle
was a typical capitalist and money-lender of a much lower and coarser
type than his nephew; Nepos aptly describes him as "familiarem L.
Luculli, divitem, _difficillima natura_." The nephew was the only man
who could get on with this Peter Featherstone of Roman life, and this
simple fact tells us as much about the character and disposition of
Atticus as anything in Cicero's correspondence with him. The happy
result was that his uncle left him a sum which we may reckon at about
L80,000 (_centies sestertium_),[102] and henceforward he may be
reckoned, if not as a millionaire, at any rate as a man of large
capital, soundly invested and continually on the increase.

There is no doubt then as to the fact of the presence of capital on a
large scale in the Rome of the last century B.C., or of the business
talents of many of its holders, or again of the many profitable ways
in which it might be invested. But in order to learn a little more of
the history of capital at Rome, which is of the utmost importance for
a proper understanding not only of the economic, but of the social and
ethical characteristics of the age, it is necessary to go as far back
as the war with Hannibal at least.

That there had been surplus capital in the hands of individuals long
before the war with Hannibal is a well known fact, proved by the old
Roman law of debt, and by the traditions of the unhappy relations
of debtor and creditor. But in order not to go back too far, we may
notice a striking fact which meets us at the very outset of that
momentous war. In 215 B.C., and again the next year, the treasury was
almost empty; then for the first time, so far as we know, private
individuals came to the rescue, and lent large sums to the State;[103]
these were partners in certain associations to be described later on
in this chapter, which had made money by undertaking State contracts
in the previous wars. The presence of Hannibal in Italy strained the
resources of the State to the utmost in every way; it cut the Romans
off from their supply of the precious metals, forced them to reduce
the weight of the _as_ to one ounce, and, curiously enough, also to
issue gold coins for the first time,--a measure probably taken on
account of the dearth of silver,--and to make use of the uncoined gold
in the treasury or in private hands. At the end of the war the supply
of silver was recovered; henceforward all reckonings were made in
silver, and the gold coinage was not long continued.

At this happy time, when Rome felt that she could breathe again after
the final defeat of her deadly enemy, began the great inpouring of
wealth of which the capitalism of Cicero's time is the direct result.
The chief sources of this wealth, so far as the State was concerned,
were the indemnities paid by conquered peoples, especially Carthage
and Antiochus of Syria, and the booty brought home by victorious
generals. Of these Livy has preserved explicit accounts, and the best
example is perhaps that of the booty brought by Scipio Asiaticus
from Asia Minor in 189 B.C., of which Pliny remarks that it first
introduced luxury into Italy.[104] It has been roughly computed that
the total amount from indemnities may be taken at six million of our
pounds, in the period of the great wars of the second century B.C.,
and from booty very much the same sum. Besides this we have to take
account of the produce of the Spanish silver mines, of which the
Romans came into possession with the Carthaginian dominions in Spain;
the richest of these were near Carthago Nova, and Polybius tells us
that in his day they employed 40,000 miners, and produced an immense

All this went into the aerarium, except what was distributed out of
the booty to the soldiers, both Romans and socii, the former naturally
taking as a rule double the amount paid to the latter. But the influx
of treasure into the State coffers soon began to tell upon the
financial welfare of the whole citizen community; the most striking
proof of this is the fact that, in 167 B.C., after the second
Macedonian war, the _tribulum_ or property-tax was no longer imposed
upon all citizens. Henceforward the Roman citizen had hardly any
burdens to bear except the necessity of military service, and there
are very distinct signs that he was beginning to be unwilling to
bear even that one. He saw the prominent men of his time enriching
themselves abroad and leading luxurious lives, and the spirit of ease
and idleness began inevitably to affect him too. Polybius indeed,
writing about 140-130 B.C., declines to state positively that the
great Romans were corrupt or extortionate,[106] and those who were his
intimate friends, Aemilius Paullus and his sons, were distinguished
for their "abstinentia": but the mere occurrence of this word
"abstinentia" in the epitomes of Livy's lost books which dealt with
this time, betrays the fact too obviously. In 149 was passed the
first of the long series of laws intended, but in vain, to check the
tendency of provincial governors to extort money from their subjects;
and as this law established for the first time a standing court to try
offences of this kind, the inference is inevitable that such offences
were common and on the increase.

The remarkable fact about this inpouring of wealth is its
extraordinary suddenness. Within the lifetime of a single individual,
Cato the Censor, who died an old man in 149 B.C., the financial
condition of the State and of individuals had undergone a complete
change. Cato loved to make money and knew very well how to do it, as
his own treatise on agriculture plainly shows; but he wished to do it
in a legitimate way, and to spend profitably the money he made, and
he spared no pains to prevent others from making it illegally and
spending it unprofitably. He saw clearly that the sudden influx of
wealth was disturbing the balance of the Roman mind, and that the
desire to make money was taking the place of the idea of duty to the
State. He knew that no Roman could serve two masters, Mammon and the
State, and that Mammon was getting the upper hand in his views of
life. If the accumulation of wealth had been gradual instead of
sudden, natural instead of artificial, this could hardly have
happened; as in England from the fourteenth century onwards, the
steady growth of capital would have produced no ethical mischief, no
false economic ideas, because it would have been an _organic_ growth,
resting upon a sound and natural economic basis.[107] As the French
historian has said with singular felicity,[108] "Money is like water
of a river: if it suddenly floods, it devastates; divide it into a
thousand channels where it circulates quietly, and it brings life and
fertility to every spot."

It was in this period of the great wars, so unwholesome and perilous
economically, that the men of business, as defined at the beginning of
this chapter--the men of capital outside the ordo senatorius--first
rose to real importance. In the century that followed, and as we see
them more especially in Cicero's correspondence, they became a great
power in the State, and not only in Rome, but in every corner of the
Empire. We have now to see how they gained this importance and
this power, and what use they made of their capital and their
opportunities. This is not usually explained or illustrated in the
ordinary histories of Rome, yet it is impossible without explaining it
to understand either the social or the public life of the Rome of this

The men of business may be divided into two classes, according as they
undertook work for the State or on their own account entirely. It does
not follow that these two classes were mutually exclusive; a man might
very well invest his money in both kinds of undertaking, but these two
kinds were totally distinct, and called by different names. A public
undertaking was called _publicum_,[109] and the men who undertook it
_publicani_; a private undertaking was _negotium_, and all private
business men were known as _negotiatores_. The publicani were always
organised in joint-stock companies (_societates publicanorum_);
the negotiatores might be in private partnership with one or more
partners,[110] but as a rule seem to have been single individuals. We
will deal first with the publicani.

In a passage of Livy quoted just now it is stated that at the
beginning of the Hannibalic war money was advanced to the State by
societates publicanorum; Livy also happens to mention that three of
these competed for the privilege. Thus it is clear that the system of
getting public work done by contract was in full operation before that
date, together with the practice on the part of the contractors of
uniting in partnerships to lessen the risk. System and practice are
equally natural, and it needs but a little historical imagination to
realise their development. As the Roman State became involved in wars
leading to the conquest of Italy, and in due time to the acquisition
of dominions beyond sea, armies and fleets had to be equipped and
provisioned, roads had to be made, public rents to be got in, new
buildings to be erected for public convenience or worship, corn had to
be procured for the growing population, and, above all, taxes had
to be collected both in Italy and in the provinces as these were
severally acquired.[111] The government had no apparatus for carrying
out these undertakings itself; it had not, as we have, separate
departments or bureaux with a permanent staff of officials attached to
each, and even if it had been so provided, it would still have
found it most convenient, as modern governments also do, to get the
necessary work carried out in most cases by private contractors. Every
five years the censors let the various works by auction to contracting
companies, who engaged to carry them out for fixed sums, and make what
profit they could out of the business (_censoria locatio_). This saved
an immense amount of trouble to the senate and magistrates, who were
usually busily engaged in other matters; nor was there at first any
harm in the system, so long as the Romans were morally sound, and
incapable of jobbing or scamping their work. The very fact that they
united into companies for the purpose of undertaking these contracts
shows that they were aware of the risk involved, and wished as far as
possible to neutralise it; it did not mean greed for money, but rather
anxiety not to lose the capital invested.

But as Rome advanced her dominion in the second century B.C., and
had to see to an ever-increasing amount of public business, it was
discovered that the business of contracting was one which might indeed
be risky, but with skill and experience, and especially with a trifle
of unscrupulousness, might be made a perfectly safe and paying
investment. This was especially the case with the undertakings for
raising the taxes in the newly acquired provinces as well as in Italy,
more particularly in those provinces, viz. Sicily and Asia, which paid
their taxes in the form of tithe and not in a lump sum. The collection
of these revenues could be made a very paying concern seeing that it
was not necessary to be too squeamish about the rights and claims of
the provincials. And, indeed, by the time of the Gracchi all these
joint-stock companies had become the one favourite investment in
which every one who had any capital, however small, placed it without
hesitation. Polybius, who was in Rome at this time for several years,
and was thoroughly acquainted with Roman life, has left a valuable
record in his sixth book (ch. xvii.) of the universal demand for
shares in these companies; a fact which proves that they were believed
to be both safe and profitable.

These societates were managed by the great men of business, as our
joint-stock companies are directed by men of capital and consequence.
Polybius tells us that among those who were concerned, some took the
contracts from the censors: these were called _mancipes_, because
the sign of accepting the contract at the auction was to hold up the
hand.[112] Others, Polybius goes on, were in association with these
mancipes, and, as we may assume, equally responsible with them; these
were the _socii_. It was of course necessary that security should be
given for the fulfilment of the contract, and Polybius does not omit
to mention the _praedes_ or guarantors[113]. Lastly, he says that
others again gave their property on behalf of these official members
of the companies, or in their name, for the public purpose in hand.
These last words admit of more than one interpretation, but as in the
same passage Polybius tells us that all who had any money put it into
these concerns, we may reasonably suppose that he means to indicate
the _participes_, or small holders of shares, which were called
_partes_, or if very small, _particulae_[114]. The socii and
participes seem to be distinguished by Cicero in his Verrine orations
(ii. 1. 55), where he quotes an addition made by Verres illegally as
praetor to a lex censoria: "qui de censoribus redemerit, eum socium ne
admittito neve partem dato." If this be so, we may regard the socius
as having a share both in the management and the liability, while the
particeps merely put his money into the undertaking[115]. The actual
management, on which Polybius is silent, was in Rome in the hands of a
_magister_, changing yearly, like the magistrates of the State, and
in the provinces of a _pro-magister_ answering to the pro-magistrate,
with a large staff of assistants[116]. Communications between
the management at home and that in the provinces were kept up by
messengers (_tabellarii_), who were chiefly slaves; and it is
interesting incidentally to notice that these, who are constantly
mentioned in Cicero's letters, also acted as letter-carriers for
private persons to whom their employers were known.

Such a business as this, involving the interests of so many citizens,
must have necessitated something very like the Stock Exchange or
Bourse of modern times; and in fact the basilicas and porticoes which
we met with in the Forum during our walk through Rome did actually
serve this purpose.[117] The reader of Cicero's letters will have
noticed how often the Forum is spoken of as the centre of life at
Rome--going down to the Forum was indeed the equivalent of "going into
the City," as well as of "going down to Westminster." All who had
investments in the societates would wish to know the latest news
brought by _tabellarii_ from the provinces, e.g. of the state of the
crop in Sicily or Asia, or of the disposition of some provincial
governor towards the publicani of his province, or again of the
approach of some enemy, such as Mithridates or Ariovistus, who by
defeating a Roman army might break into Roman territory and destroy
the prospects of a successful contractual enterprise. Assuredly
Cicero's love for the Forum was not a political one only; he loved it
indeed as the scene of his great triumphs as an advocate, but also
no doubt because he was concerned in some of the companies which had
their headquarters there. When urging the people to give Pompeius
extraordinary powers to drive Mithridates out of reach of Roman Asia,
where he had done incalculable damage, he dwells both with knowledge
and feeling on the value of the province, not only to the State, but
to innumerable private citizens who had their money invested in its
revenues[118]. "If some," he pleads, "lose their whole fortunes,
they will drag many more down with them. Save the State from such a
calamity: and believe me (though you see it well enough) that the
whole system of credit and finance which is carried on here at Rome in
the Forum, is inextricably bound up with the revenues of the Asiatic
province. If those revenues are destroyed, our whole system of credit
will come down with a crash. See that you do not hesitate for a moment
to prosecute with all your energies a war by which the glory of the
Roman name, the safety of our allies, our most valuable revenues,
and the fortunes of innumerable citizens, will be effectually

This is a good example of the way in which political questions might
be decided in the interests of capital, and it is all the more
striking, because a few years earlier Sulla had done all he could to
weaken the capitalists as a distinct class. Pompeius went out with
abnormal powers, and might be considered for the time as their
representative; the result in this case was on the whole good, for the
work he did in the East was of permanent value to the Empire. But the
constitution was shaken and never wholly recovered, and nothing that
he was able to do could restore the unfortunate province of Asia
to its former prosperity. Four years later the company which had
contracted for raising the taxes in the province sought to repudiate
their bargain. This was disgraceful, as Cicero himself expressly
says;[120] but it is quite possible that they had great difficulty
in getting the money in, and feared a dead loss,[121] owing to
the impoverishment of the provincials. This matter again led to a
political crisis; for the senate, urged by Cato, was disposed to
refuse the concession, and the alliance between the senatorial class
and the business men (_ordinum concordia_), which it had been Cicero's
particular policy to confirm, in order to mass together all men of
property against the dangers of socialism and anarchy, was thereby
threatened so seriously that it ceased to be a factor in politics.

These companies and their agents were indeed destined to be a thorn in
Cicero's side as a provincial governor himself. When called upon to
rule Cilicia in 51 B.C. he found the people quite unable to pay their
taxes and driven into the hands of the middleman in order to do
so;[122] his sympathies were thus divided between the unfortunate
provincials, for whom he felt a genuine pity, and the interests of
the company for collecting the Cilician taxes, and of those who had
invested their money in its funds. In his edict, issued before his
entrance into the province, he had tried to balance the conflicting
interests; writing of it to Atticus, who had naturally as a capitalist
been anxious to know what he was doing, he says that he is doing all
he can for the publicani, coaxing them, praising them, yielding to
them--but taking care that they do no mischief;[123] words which
perhaps did not altogether satisfy his friend. All honest provincial
governors, especially in the Eastern provinces, which had been the
scene of continual wars for nearly three centuries, found themselves
in the same difficulty. They were continually beset by urgent appeals
on behalf of the tax-companies and their agents--appeals made
without a thought of the condition of a province or its tax-paying
capacity--so completely had the idea of making money taken possession
of the Roman mind. Among the letters of Cicero are many such appeals,
sent by himself to other provincial governors, some of them while he
was himself in Cilicia. We may take two as examples, before bringing
this part of our subject to a close.

The first of these letters is to P. Silius Nerva, propraetor of
Bithynia, a province recently added to the Empire by Pompeius. Cicero
here says that he is himself closely connected with the partners
in the company for collecting the pasture-dues (scriptura) of the
province, "not only because that company as a body is my client, but
also because I am very intimate with most of the individual partners."
Can we doubt that he was himself a shareholder? He urges Nerva to do
all he can for Terentius Hispo, the pro-magister of the company,
and to try to secure for him the means of making all the necessary
arrangements with the taxed communities--relying, we are glad to find,
on the tact and kindness of the governor.[124] The second letter, to
his own son-in-law, Furius Crassipes, quaestor of Bithynia, shall be
quoted here in full from Mr. Shuckburgh's translation:[125]

"Though in a personal interview I recommended as earnestly as I could
the publicani of Bithynia, and though I gathered that by your own
inclination no less than from my recommendation, you were anxious to
promote the advantage of that company in every way in your power, I
have not hesitated to write you this, since those interested thought
it of great importance that I should inform you what my feeling
towards them was. I wish you to believe that, while I have ever had
the greatest pleasure in doing all I can for the order of publicani
generally, yet this particular company of Bithynia has my special
good wishes. Owing to the rank and birth of its members, this company
constitutes a very important part of the state: for it is made up of
members of the other companies: and it so happens that a very large
number of its members are extremely intimate with me, and especially
the man who is at present at the head of the business, P. Rupilius,
its pro-magister. Such being the case, I beg you with more than common
earnestness to protect Cn. Pupius, an employe of the company,[126] by
every sort of kindness and liberality in your power, and to secure, as
you easily may, that his services shall be as satisfactory as possible
to the company, while at the same time securing and promoting the
property and interests of the partners--as to which I am well aware
how much power a quaestor possesses. You will be doing me in this
matter a very great favour, and I can myself from personal experience
pledge you my word that you will find the partners of the Bithynia
company gratefully mindful of any services you can do them."

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