Page 0769



"Mother, you have saved your country, but lost your son." He at once withdrew

with his army, and the territory of Rome was quickly recovered.

According to one of the traditions, Coriolanus returned to the Volscians, by whom

he was put to death; but another is to the effect that he spent the rest of his

days in exile. The result of the struggle had on the whole been favorable to the

cause of the plebeians. The power of the tribunes was more secure than before the

outbreak. The Roman commons were now an organized body, and were able, by means

of their officers, to offer systematic resistance to the consuls, backed as the

latter were by the patricians.

At the bottom of all the civil dissension which now distracted the state of Rome

lay the question of land. The territory of the commonwealth was limited. The land

had been acquired by conquest. Since, from the early days, the patricians had

virtually constituted the state they claimed and exercised the right of dividing

all the conquered lands among themselves. As the plebeians grew to be an

important element in the political society of Rome they began to claim their

right to share in the distribution of new lands, to the conquest of which they

had contributed as much as the patricians. But this claim was disallowed by the

ruling classes.

After the expulsion of Tarquin, the patres relented to the extent of conceding

certain lands to the plebeians on the same terms as those under which their own

estates were occupied; namely, the payment to the government of one-tenth of the

income. Subsequently still larger distributions of conquered territories were

made to the plebeians, but always with such restrictions and discriminations as

tended to engender discontent. Cultivation was made a condition of the gift, and

the poor peasant, whose resources consisted of cattle and sheep, was only mocked

by the offer of what he could not possess. The principle of debt, too, with the

usurious rates of interest which were charged, tended constantly and powerfully

to throw all of the lands into the hands of the nobles, and to reduce the

plebeians to the level of serfs.

The Roman commons became day-laborers on the estates of those who were their

masters in all but the name. For this state of affairs there was no remedy except

to strike at the root of the system, and change the principle which had hitherto

governed the distribution of the public lands. The partial concession which had

been made had thus far affected only the wealthier plebeians, and this to the

suffering poor had been an injury rather than a benefit; for the more powerful of

their own class were thus drawn over to the patricians, who persisted in claiming

the full right of disposing of the aged Romanus as they would.

It was in this emergency that Spurius Cassius, a patrician of noble birth, came

into the comitia centuriata, and proposed the first Agrarian Law. He was himself

a man of great influence in the state, having twice held the office of consul. He

had conducted two successful wars, the first with the Latins, and the second with

Hernicians. Both of the conflicts had been concluded with treaties favorable to

Rome, whereby considerable accessions had been made to the public domain. Cassius

now proposed in the assembly that the newly acquired lands, instead of being

offered for occupation on the old conditions, should be freely distributed to the

plebeians and subject Latin population. His proposition went so far as to

reclaim-in case the new lands should prove insufficient in quantity-certain parts

of the public domain previously distributed to the rich.

This radical movement on the part of Cassius awakened the most violent

opposition. The patricians were greatly embittered; and the wealthy plebeians

selfishly added their influence to the opposition. The patricians claimed that

Cassius was violating the Roman constitution by proposing in the comitia a

measure which could only be lawfully discussed by the Senate; and that the

measure itself was against the common right of property, since it touched the

redistribution of lands already acquired. Even the plebeians were dissatisfied

with the proposition made by their friend, since it included the Latins with

themselves in the new assignment of real property. Nevertheless the measure was

adopted by the comitia, and the patricians contented themselves with preventing

the execution of the law. At the