« EelmineJätka »
he was cursed with a mother (a very superior woman, said every voice in Rome), who was always reminding him that he was the grandson of Scipio the elder, and asking, “How long am I to be called the daughter of Africanus and not the mother of the Gracchi?” All the domestic circle marked him off from early youth as one from whom something great was expected. His very tutor made him his moral touchstone. “If Tiberius said that a thing was right,” observed this good man, “ right of course it must be.” When he grew up, the world conspired to do him honour. He was made an augur far below the usual age. The most respected member of the Senate, chancing to lie next him at a dinner-party, offered him his daughter's hand in marriage without waiting to be asked. When Appius came home that night, he called out to his wife, as soon as he was inside the door, that he had betrothed their daughter. “Why in such a hurry," asked the lady, "unless indeed you chance to have got Tiberius Gracchus for her?” Clearly public opinion, among the matrons of Rome who were blessed with marriageable daughters, looked
the young man as the most eligible parti in the city.
Tiberius saw his first military service in Africa during the Third Punic War. He was taken out under the best possible auspices, as one of the aides-de-camp of his brother-in-law, the younger Scipio Africanus. The general's kinsman was offered and took overy opportunity for distinction. He returned with the decoration of a mural crown, and the esteem, as we are told, of the whole army. When he first obtained a magistracy and went to Spain as quaestor to the Consul Mancinus, chance gave him an utterly unexpected opportunity of saving a Roman army from destruction (B.C. 137). The Numantines having defeated and surrounded the consul, offered to treat for a definitive peace, not with Mancinus, but with Gracchus, TIBERIUS AT NUMANTIA
the reason being that the young quaestor's father had enjoyed a great name for good faith and justice among the Spaniards. Tiberius drew up an equitable treaty, which was sworn to by both sides, and the army was allowed to depart. It was no fault of his if the Senate afterwards refused to ratify the agreement, and sent Mancinus in chains to Numantia. He was only remembered as the saviour of the lives of the defeated legions, and all the ignominy of the defeat was laid upon the consul.
If Tiberius had been merely fortunate and virtuous, he might have gone through life with honour and success, have gained his consulship, celebrated his triumph, and have been buried in peace in the tomb of his ancestors. Unhappily for himself and for Rome, he had enough brains to see that the times were out of joint, enough heart to feel for the misfortunes of his countrymen, enough conscience to refuse to leave things alone and take the easy path to success that lay before him, and enough self-confidence to think that he was foreordained by the gods to set all to rights. Such was the genius of the first of Rome's many self-constituted saviours of society.
The particular evil which had struck the eye of Tiberius, and which started him upon his crusade, was the terrible and rapid decline in the numbers of the free agricultural population which had been setting in for the last thirty years. He had at first no constitutional reforms in his head, but merely economic ones. Passing through Etruria on his way to Spain, as we are told, he saw no one working in the fields but slaves ; tillage seemed to be dying out and the free farmer to have disappeared. The sight shocked him, and he pondered deeply over it during the leisure hours of his Spanish campaign. He learnt by inquiry that the same thing was to be seen in many
parts of Italy. Doubtless the discontented conscripts, whom he had to command, told him all the woes of the poor freeholder in the days when farming had ceased to pay. At any rate, when he settled down once more in Rome, he imagined that he had probed to the bottom the existing distress and its causes, and that he had hit upon the necessary remedies.
The evils from which Italy, or rather Roman Italy, was suffering in B.C. 134 were much the same as those through which rural England has been passing during the last twenty years—the phenomenon that is vaguely called "agricultural depression.” It was marked by a permanent decrease in the selling value of corn, a widespread turning of arable land into pasture, so that tillage seemed almost to have ceased in certain districts, and a slow but sure shrinkage in the numbers of the free farming population who "lived by the land.”
It is usual for historians to trace the decline of Italian agriculture to various causes which began to operate as far back as the Second Punic War—to the ravages of Hannibal, the awful drain of life during his continuance in the peninsula, and after his departure to the tribute of blood levied for the never-ending and disastrous Spanish campaigns.
On the whole, too much is made of these causes. If farming is really paying, it suffers less than might be expected from a protracted war, unless indeed that war is waged within the country-side itself. Hannibal had departed seventy years before, and in a healthy state of agriculture the traces of his sojourn would long have disappeared. The Spanish and other wars of the next generation, waged far away, would not have sufficed to ruin rural Italy. As a matter of fact, the drain of life did not, for two generations after Zama, even affect the natural increase of population. The number of land
DECLINE OF AGRICULTURE
holding Roman citizens fit to bear arms went rapidly up from the end of the Punic Wars down to B.C. 159. Attaining its maximum in that year, it began very slowly but steadily to decrease. In 159 there were 338,000 assidui; in 154 there were 324,000; in 147, 322,000. If Hannibal did not succeed in permanently bringing down the number of Roman freeholders, we shall not be persuaded that Viriathus and the Numantines succeeded in doing so. It was really economic changes, in a time of comparative peace, that were doing the mischief. Otherwise the Roman farmer, like the British farmer in the golden days of the struggle with Napoleon, might have prayed for “a bloody war and a wet harvest," as the
, things most likely to send up wheat to 12os. the quarter.
Again, it is often said that the free farming class was beginning to decline because of the growth in Italy of great landed estates—the latifundia, worked by chaingangs of Eastern slaves, of which we hear so many complaints. We are assured that the freeholders decayed because of the perverse wickedness of the great capitalists, who insisted on buying out their smaller neighbours, or on ousting them by means of litigation, or even by that rougher sort of process which Ahab of old applied to Naboth. All this, we are told, they did in order that they might supplant the freeholder by their gangs of Asiatic slaves. Any theory based on the hypothesis that rich men are gratuitously and perversely wicked has found eager acceptance in certain quarters ever since history began. When the land is suffering from poverty and depression, it is always popular to lay the blame on the backs of tangible and obvious individuals, rather than to search for obscure economic causes.
To us it seems that the growth of the latifundia and the slave-gangs was the effect, and not the cause, of the decay of the free population in the Italy of B.C. 155-135.
The fact simply was that under the stress of foreign competition corn-growing was ceasing to pay in many parts of the peninsula. There is a point at which the freeholder, even if he be as frugal as the old Roman farmer, and even if he lives mainly by the consumption of his own produce, will refuse to stop any longer on the soil, more especially when the alternative is not emigration to the Far West, but removal to the capital, with all its urban pleasures, its cheap food, and its opportunities of living without the back-breaking toil of plough and mattock.
Those who wish to persuade us that the latifundia drove out the freeholder have always neglected to explain one well-known economic fact. Cultivation by slave labour is notoriously wasteful and dear. The yeoman and his family, working for themselves, will get much more out of a farm than will a gang of slaves. The compulsory labourer, even under the lash, always succeeds in putting in much less rapid, willing, and thorough work than the freeman. Why then should the capitalist be so eager to buy out the farmer, if immediately on purchase the productive value of the purchased land went down? Surely he would have found better use for his money.
The truth seems to be rather that the yeoman was beginning, about the year B.C. 160, to find that his farm no longer paid, and was eager to get rid of it. He sold it to the capitalist at a ruinous sacrifice, since he was simply anxious to move on at any price. If the buyer threw several farms together, and worked them by cheap slaves in a ruthless way, he might make a profit for a time. Slave-labour on the Roman system had just one advantage--that the slave was the only unit in the population he had no wife or children to keep, and every pair of hands represented only one mouth. Moreover, he had no standard of comfort whatever; he had to live as his