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THE RISE OF RANCHING
19 master chose, herded together in dungeon-dormitories, half clothed and half starved, and sold, or left to die, the moment that he showed signs of wear and tear. The dispossessed yeoman had, at any rate, lived on a higher scale than this; he had wife and family to keep, and, however frugal his fare and garb, they were at least better than those of the slave. The farm, if bought at a sufficiently low figure, might be able to pay the capitalist long after it had ceased to pay the freeholder.
But it was only exceptionally that the new acquirers of the yeomen's homesteads tried to keep the land under tillage. It was much more common to throw many small holdings into a vast ranche or sheep-farm, worked by a few slave-herdsmen. Cattle and sheep, kept on a large scale, could pay, long after corn had become a hopeless failure. For while the Roman market was flooded with foreign wheat, there was no such competition in the matter of live stock. Ancient merchant ships were not large, swift, or commodious enough for the transport of beasts on an extensive scale. Hence the Italian cattle-breeder need not fear provincial or foreign competition in the local market. Beef and mutton, hides and wool, might still be grown at a profit, long after barley and wheat had been given up. Hence came the rise of the great ranches of Southern Italy which figure in so many descriptions..
That Italian agriculture was flagging in the middle years of the second century, even in quarters where the capitalist did not intervene, is quite clear. Cato in his younger days had practised farming for profit; in his old age he had to confess that it had become more interesting than lucrative; he kept up his farms by way of amusement, but put his spare capital into the purchase of house property, factories, woods, and baths. When Rome had once become acknowledged as the capital of the Mediterranean world, merchandise of all kinds had begun to come to her market on a scale that had been unknown in the third century. And of the imports that were poured in from abroad, corn was one of the most prominent. The city was only a few miles from the sea, and nothing was simpler than to deliver this easily-packed commodity at Ostia, or even to send it up the Tiber to the very doors of the urban granaries. There were many countries where wheat could be grown at a far cheaper rate than in Central Italy. But it was not merely with the speculative importer from Spain, Africa, or Egypt, that the farmers of the Latin and Etruscan Campagna had now to compete. Simple free trade was not their only bane. They had also to face the state as a rival seller; the tithe-corn of Sicily from the civitates decumanae, who paid their tribute in kind instead of in money, was annually shot upon the Roman market, and the state had to get rid of it at what price it could. Experience shows that a Government which sells always receives less than the ruling rate for the commodity of which it is trying to get rid. The Sicilian corn was purchased by the rich grain dealers of Rome at a quotation which enabled them to put it upon the market at an absurdly low figure. The Senate and the urban populace did not care ; there was a vague notion abroad that if the corn did go cheap, it was Roman citizens who bought it, and Roman citizens ought to get as much as possible of the profits of Empire out of the "praedia populi Romani.” Indeed, the city mob were already clamouring for distributions of corn when any excuse, adequate or inadequate, could be found.
It is scarcely necessary to point out the effect on the agricultural classes of Central Italy of the appearance of such huge masses of cheap corn in the great central market of the capital. Mere foreign competitions would have been very bad for them, but the interference of the state as a seller made things hopeless. It is true that the
THE FATE OF CENTRAL ITALY 21 Roman farmer grew corn for his own consumption no less than for the purpose of selling it in the local market. This fact tended to make the working of the economic crisis slower. But the permanent fall in prices descended like a deadly blight on all the regions which had been wont to supply the city. It is necessary to remember, however, that it was not all Italy which was affected. The economic crisis mainly touched those regions which in older days had been the home-farm of the Roman people—the Latin and South-Etruscan lands. But it was felt also in Apulia and Lucania, where the majority of the soil was in Roman hands, owing to the confiscations that had followed the Hannibalic War. And Northern Etruria seems also to have suffered; it was a district which even in early days had been in the hands of great landholders who worked their farms with serfs, and now the serfs were being replaced by foreign slaves.
On the other hand, we must bear in mind that there were many parts of Italy where the agricultural depression does not seem to have been so much felt. Forty years later the Social War reveals to us the existence of a numerous free agricultural population all over the mountain-regions of the Apennines—Samnium, Picenum, the Marsian territory, and the rest. The Po valley in the north, too, was so fertile that it could compete in its own markets with any foreign seller. This region seems to have remained in a satisfactory economic condition long after depopulation began farther south. Roughly speaking, we may say that the economic crisis affected the land immediately round Rome, and certain other regions which Iwere mainly in Roman hands. The Italian allies as yet suffered comparatively little ; if they were sufficiently remote from the suzerain city, in a region of mountains and bad roads, they suffered not at all: for the fatal foreign corn could not creep among them on mulo-back over the passes, so as to compete with the local produce. In many states the old economic conditions of the third century continued to prevail even down to the Social War. Rome's policy unconsciously helped them to survive; she jealously kept the Italians isolated, and excluded them from the profits of the Empire, with the result that they remained torpid but well preserved in their remote valleys.
Under the stress of the competition of cheap foreign corn, the rural population of the regions round Rome had Pto displace itself, much in the same way as the rural population of nineteenth-century England. Nowadays such folks take refuge in emigration to America or Australia, or still more frequently drift city wards and are absorbed into the industrial classes. These ways of escape were not so obvious to the Roman of the second century. The idea that the citizen might permanently remove himself from Italy, and settle down on better soil in Spain or Africa—the America and Australia of the ancient world—had not yet become familiar. It seemed abnormal and unpatriotic to a race who still cherished the notion formulated in the statement omnis peregrinatio sordida est et inhonesta. Unlike the Greek, the Roman was not content to go abroad for ever; the first great transmarine colony (as we shall see) perished of sheer superstition, and traditionary dislike for a settlement outside the sacred soil of the Peninsula.
Nor could the industrial remedy be fully utilised, owing to the inveterate prejudice against citizens taking to handicrafts—the special portion of the slave and freedman according to Roman ideas. The ruined farmers drifted to Rome, to live on the cheap corn, the doles of patrons, the frequent largesses of the state, and the distributions of candidates for magistracies. These migrants GROWTH OF THE URBAN PROLETARIATE 23 by themselves would have been enough to form the basis for a dangerous mob, but in Rome they mingled with and were demoralised by a far worse element, the great mass of manumitted slaves. The freedmen of the city were precisely the least promising section of the governing people. The slaves who made themselves acceptable to their masters, and won their freedom, were the clever subtle Greeks and Syrians who had served in the households of the nobility, not the barbarian field-hands, whom their owners never saw or regarded. There was a serious danger that Rome might become a Levantine city some day, though she was still far from the generation when men could truly say that “ in Tiberim defluxit Orontes.”
For agricultural depression, such as there existed in Italy when Tiberius Gracchus first took to politics, there is only one certain remedy. If the citizens will neither emigrate nor turn themselves from agriculture to handicrafts, and if it is absolutely necessary that the farming class should be kept up, there must be Protection. The foreign corn must at all costs be kept out, so that the yeoman may make a margin of profit, and stay by his land. Here lay the one chance for preserving the old balance of classes in the Roman state. But unfortunately for those who had the interests of the farmer at heart, the constitution of Rome rested on a public assembly of citizens massed in the Campus Martius. On any ordinary day of meeting the assembly was entirely composed of the urban populace; it would require some very great matter to induce the farmers of the Campagna to trudge in many miles in order to exercise the franchise. The more distant voters in remoter corners of Italy were practically out of touch with politics altogether. Accordingly, the statesman who wished to carry his law before the Comitia had normally to face only the plebs urbana. On rare occasions the outvoters might alter the composi