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THE CORN-DOLE INSTITUTED appears to have been simply and solely intended to commend him to the populace, as the true friend who had once and for all filled their stomachs. He proposed a lex frumentaria, which provided that corn—the tithe-corn of the Sicilian cities stored in the granaries of the stateshould be sold to any citizen who applied for it at 6} asses per modius. Each man was allowed to buy five modii a month. In order to prevent swindling and speculation, the buyer had to visit the granary himself and receive the corn in person. Thus the bill profited the urban mob alone, since they were the only citizens who lived near enough to the fount of supply to be able to turn it to account.
Now, 6} asses per modius was, as it would appear, a rate which represented about one-half the normal price of corn in the Roman market during an average year. The measure was equivalent, therefore, to the free gift of half his daily loaf to every urban voter. The proletariate thought the bill a most admirable one, and its author was hailed, wherever he appeared, as the true friend of the people. He had appealed to them in a manner which even the simplest could understand, and their gratitude reminds us of the famous cry of the Portuguese army when it saluted its commander with the shout, “ Long live Marshal Beresford, who takes care of our bellies."
The voters of the Suburra were blameless. They knew no better, when they aided their leader to carry through this most unhappy bill. But Caius must bear a very heavy burden of reproach for this miserable bid for popularity. Not only had he devised the surest means of demoralising the urban multitude, but he also dealt the last death-blow to Italian agriculture. More than any other single man, he was responsible for the growth of that mass of paupers asking for nothing but panem et circenses, which in a few generations was to represent the sovereign people of Rome. When once the indigent multitude had begun to expect food from the state at an artificial price, it was not likely that they would stop clamouring till they got it for nothing. The demagogues who pandered to them by continually increasing the - dole were the legitimate offspring of Caius Gracchus.
The case against him is made even worse by the fact that at the same moment when he began to distribute the tithe-corn at half-price, he also made a great parade of re-enacting his brother's Agrarian Law. He declared that the restoration of the old yeoman class was as dear to his heart as it had been to that of Tiberius. He restored the full powers of the Land Commission, for the distribution of what remained of the public domains, and commenced once more to plant out farmers on small allotments.
This was sheer economic lunacy, for how could farming pay in Central Italy, if the state entered the field as a competitor against the local agriculturist, and swamped the Roman market with corn sold at half-price? If Caius really supposed that it was any use to send forth new farmers, at the moment when he was underbidding them by the institution of the corn-dole, he must have been an idiot. If he set the Land Commission to work with a full knowledge that all its efforts must be futile, he must have been a deliberate impostor. Knowing the cleverness of the man, we are forced to conclude that the latter alternative is the nearer to the truth. He probably re-enacted his brother's law for purely political reasons, not because he thought that it would have any good effect, but because it looked well in the Democratic programme. His real scheme for relieving the economic pressure was of quite a different kind. He intended to despatch the ruined Italian farmers over-seas, to form new colonies in the provinces, where their efforts would not be sterilised by the unnatural condition of the local Roman market.
This was the true way of relieving the distress of the
THE COLONIAL SCHEMES OF CAIUS 61 yeoman class : they could not hold their own in Italy without Protection, which it was certain that Caius's friends in the urban multitude would never grant them. But on the fertile soil of Africa they might do well enough. Accordingly, Caius set his colleague, the tribune Rubrius, to introduce a bill for the founding of a colony on a very large scale—there were to be allotments for no less than 6000 citizens—on the deserted site of ancient Carthage. If the settlers failed to maintain themselves as agriculturists, they would have a good second chance of succeeding as traders, for it was inevitable that some great town must grow up again at a point of the Mediterranean so central and so well suited for maritime traffic. So far Caius was right : within two centuries the restored Carthage was to be one of the greatest cities of the empire, but it was not to call a Gracchus its founder.
Other colonies were to be planted in Italy itself: the places chosen were Tarentum and Capua. These new settlements can never have been intended to live on agriculture; they were clearly designed to become (what each of them had been in the past) great urban centres of trade. The old Capua and Tarentum had not died natural deaths. The one had come to a violent end because it had in the hour of danger deserted Rome during the Hannibalic War. The other, though not quite so harshly treated in a political sense, had been practically ruined by its protracted sieges and the forcible diversion of its commerce to the rival port of Brundisium. Now Capua was an open village without even a legal existence, and Tarentum a decayed fishing-haven. But Caius thought that there was an opening for a great market-town in the midst of the Campanian plain, and for a flourishing port on the Ionian Sea. If strengthened by a draft of Roman citizens, the cities might rise again, if only from the more convenience of their sites.
For the colonial schemes of Caius, both in Italy and in Africa, we have nothing but praise. He had hit upon the true method of relieving the misery of the proletariate, and if he had been enabled to carry out his designs, there would have been an opening provided for every citizen who was willing to work, and disliked the miserable life of the dole-fed pauper. There are other laws to be placed to his credit which show that when his mind was not warped by revenge or ambition he was a true statesman of the first rank. One was destined to complete the road system of Italy, which had grown up very much at haphazard, and still left many regions practically isolated from the main arteries of communication. Admiring biographers describe to us the excellence of his roads, “ drawn in a straight line throughout the country, wonderfully built, with a bed of binding gravel below and a paved chaussée above. When a ravine was met, it was filled up with rubble; when a watercourse, it was spanned by a bridge. Levelled and brought to a perfect parallel, the highroad presented a regular and even elegant prospect for mile after mile. There were pillars of stone to mark the distances and directions, and horse-blocks at convenient spots to enable the traveller to mount with ease."
Another law that was obviously beneficial, and had been long called for, was one for relieving the rank and file of the army from the burden of providing themselves with clothing. In the old days, when the citizen-soldier spent a few months in the field, at no great distance from his home, and was disbanded at the coming of winter, the custom had been natural and reasonable. But to expect a conscript sent for six years to Spain to keep himself clothed from his modest pay was absurd. Not only was this boon secured to the soldiery, but other laws of Gracchus mitigated the severity of the conscription, securing that no man should be forced to serve before he had
CAIUS AND THE EQUITES 63 attained the legal age, and reducing the number of years for which he could be kept on continuous service. Less happily inspired was another bill, which seems to have given the soldiers at the wars the right to appeal against any sentence of death passed by their general. Such a provision would certainly prove detrimental to discipline. There are occasions when it is absolutely necessary that the commander should be able to punish mutiny or cowardice on the spot by the extreme penalty, and to allow an appeal against him is preposterous. As a matter of fact, the law was not always observed. There are cases known, long after this time, in which military executions took place on the largest scale. Crassus, in the Servile War, once decimated a whole cohort for gross cowardice in the field.
But the most important of all the legislative enactments of Caius Gracchus were those by which he set to work to modify the constitution, by cutting down the powers of the Senate. His chief device for this purpose was to raise up a new corporation in the state, with interests which should be so different from those of the Senate that it might be trusted to act as a check on that body. It was in the Equestrian Order that he found the materials for this counterpoise.
In early days the Equites were simply the cavalry of the Roman army; every man with the “equestrian census,” had to serve as a horse-soldier, whether he were senator, landholder, or capitalist. But by B.C. 123 the Equites had become a very anomalous body. They had practically ceased to have a military organisation; the last occasion on which we hear of them taking the field as a separate corps was at the siege of Numantia. The Roman burgess-cavalry had been entirely superseded by squad
1 I am following Mommsen in ascribing the grant of appeal from the imperator's sentence to a Gracchan law De Provocatione.