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

Produced by Ted Garvin, Nicolas Hayes and PG Distributed Proofreaders SOCIAL LIFE AT ROME IN THE AGE OF CICERO BY W. WARDE FOWLER, M.A. ‘Ad illa mihi pro se quisque acriter intendat animum, quae vita, quae mores fuerint.’–LIVY, _Praefatio_. AMICO VETERRIMO I.A. STEWART ROMAE PRIMUM VISAE COMES MEMOR D.D.D. PREFATORY NOTE This book was originally
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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 Cumae.



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 peninsula.

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 more.[16]

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 life.

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 river.[20]

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. 1).

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 me.”[29]

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 out.[73]

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 slaves.[93]

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 magistracy.[96]

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 wage-earner.

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 Empire.

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 revenue.[105]

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 period.

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 preserved.[119]”

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.”