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rons raised from among the allies. Nor did the Equites any longer number senators in their ranks; since B.C. 129 no senator could be a knight. The body now consisted of those men of wealth who had not been called up to sit in the senate. It was heterogeneous, containing two very different classes of members. The more reputable half of it comprised the larger landowners of non-senatorial rank throughout Roman Italy. The other half was composed of the great capitalists, merchants, and contractors of the city. The urban and the rural knights had few common privileges or functions. The only occasions when they had occasion to meet was when the censor called them up to his quinquennial review, or when the “equestrian centuries” had to give their vote in the Comitia Centuriata. They had very little cohesion or esprit de corps.
Caius resolved to make this wealthy but ill-compacted class into a corporation with common honorary rights and practical advantages. The part of it with which he had mainly to deal was the capitalist class in the city, for just as the urban proletariate, being always on the spot, came to style itself the Roman people, so the speculators and contractors of the capital came to speak of themselves as if they were the whole equestrian body.
The most important of the laws by which Gracchus designed to sow discord between the Senate and the Equites was that by which the control of the law courts was transferred from the one to the other body. Hitherto senators alone were placed upon the album judicum, and allowed to serve as jurymen. The results had been discreditable of late years, and in particular the provincials complained that a senatorial jury would never convict a defaulting governor for embezzlement and oppression. There had been a particularly bad case of the sort just before Caius received the tribunate. M'Aquilius, governor of Asia, had been acquitted, in spite of the fact that the provincials
THE EQUESTRIAN JURIES
proved against him a number of scandalous acts of misgovernment. His acquittal had been secured by wholesale bribery, and the decision had been so iniquitous that the reputation of senatorial juries had sunk to a very low ebb. It was easy, therefore, to attack them on high moral grounds, and Caius's talent for vituperative eloquence had free scope. His line of argument may be guessed from a fragment of one of his speeches against the Senate which has survived :—"No senator troubles himself about public affairs for nothing,” he observed, “and in the case before us (an arbitration concerning territories in Asia Minor) the honourable gentlemen may be divided into three classes. Those who voted aye have been bribed by one claimant, those who voted no by the other, and those who did not vote at all by both; and these last are the most cunning of all, for they have persuaded each party that they abstained in his interest, saying that if they had voted at all, they must have done so for the other side.”
The senatorial juries had undoubtedly been most unsatisfactory. But the equestrian juries which Caius substituted for them were even worse : there is no reason to believe that the tribune was unaware of this fact, for in reference to this law he is recorded to have remarked that “he had cast daggers into the Forum with which the two orders should lacerate each other.” Clearly his purpose was to brew mischief for the benefit of the Senate, rather than to secure any advantage for the citizens or the provincials. To put the control of the law courts into the hands of the urban knights (for the rural knights did not count) had the worst possible effect. The typical eques was a good deal more of a money-lender, speculator, and financial agent than of a mere merchant. His interests were as much opposed to those of the provincials as they were to those of the Senate. His main wish was to exploit the empire for the benefit of his own class. It
is difficult to construct any parallel from modern times which can bring home to the reader the exact meaning of the surrender of justice into the hands of the Equites. Some faint adumbration of the results may be realised by imagining what might happen in England if all juries had to be chosen exclusively from members of the Stock Exchange. Whenever any financial question might be in dispute, there would be a tendency, even in honest men, to decide in favour of their own class interests. The Roman publicanus was little influenced either by delicacy or by regard for public opinion. The result of giving him judicial omnipotence was merely that he abused it for his own interest rather more than his senatorial predecessors had done. “The Equites," says Appian, “soon adopted the senators' system of bribery, and no sooner had they experienced the pleasures of unlimited gains, than they proceeded to strive after them far more shamelessly than had ever been done before. They used to set up suborned accusers against the senators; they not merely tyrannised over them in the law courts, but openly insulted them.” The old grievance had been that bad provincial governors escaped punishment for their misdeeds, owing to the misplaced tenderness of their friends on the jury. The new grievance was that any one who did not play into the hands of the Equites, and grant them whatever they asked, was prosecuted and condemned, however blameless his conduct might have been. It took some years for the system of blackmailing to reach its perfection, but what it grew to may be judged from the case of Rutilius Rufus. This virtuous administrator had set himself to protect the provincials of Asia from the extortions of the publicani. He came home bringing with him the blessings of the whole land; but on his return the financiers had him accused (of all things in the world) of embezzlement and extortion. He THE ASIATIC TITHES
67 was promptly condemned, though he brought representatives of every class of the provincials to bear witness that he was the best friend they had ever known: and retired to live in honoured exile among the very people whom he was supposed to have oppressed.
Doubtless Caius did not foresee the full harvest of scandals which was destined to spring up from his treatment of the law courts. But he must have known that he was putting power into the hands of a class that could not be trusted. For the results, therefore, he must take the responsibility. Meanwhile he obtained the immediate profit that he had desired : “the Equites supported the tribune when votes were required, and received from him in return whatever they wished.”
How harmful to the state were these “things which they wished” may be seen from the case of the Asiatic taxes. Since their annexation in B.C. 133, or rather since their rescue from the hands of the rebel Aristonicus in B.C. 129, the cities of Asia had been paying to Rome a fixed tribute of moderate amount. But the knights loved the system of tax-farming, and suggested to Caius that it might be introduced into this wealthiest of all the provinces. He consented, and by his law de Provincia Asia censoribus locanda instituted a most detestable form of it. Not only was the tithe system imposed on Asia, and the administration of it farmed out, but it was ordained that the bidding for the tithes should take place before the censors at Rome—not at Pergamus or Ephesus—and that the whole revenue of the province should be contracted for en bloc. The object of this strange arrangement was that provincial competition for the contracts might be excluded, firstly, by the fact that the auction was held in Italy, and, secondly, by the enormous capital required. For only a syndicate of Roman millionaires could afford to contemplate the tremendous sums that had to be dealt with, when the land revenues of the whole of the two hundred cities of Asia were handled in a single contract.
By means of Caius's law the old kingdom of Pergamus, the last region of the Hellenic East which had preserved its prosperity, was reduced in a single generation to a deplorable state of misery. The best commentary on the new system of government is that when, in the year B.C. 88, a foreign enemy entered Asia, the whole country-side rose like one man in his favour, and massacred in a single day the 80,000 Roman traders, officials, and tax-collectors who dwelt among them.
The great tribune was re-elected for a second term of office without any difficulty, and his work in B.C. 122 was a continuation of that of the previous twelve months. Several of the laws of which we have already spoken only came to full fruition in the latter year. Caius was now thoroughly well established in power as the people's prime minister: he was commencing to add a whole bundle of standing offices to his main title of tribune, being triumvir on the agrarian board, chief commissioner of roads, and official superintendent of the new colonies that were to be founded. Plutarch, speaking in a somewhat exaggerated strain, asserts that he was occupying a quasi-royal position, that he had novapxiun Tis 1o xus. But he forgets to point out that he was destitute of one most important element of power—he had no regular armed force at his back, only the fickle bands of the urban multitude. The Roman constitution, as time was to show, could only be overthrown by an imperator with legions at his heels : the orator, who had but his ready tongue and his chance mob of partisans, was really unequal to the task of upsetting the old régime. But meanwhile his power and activity were very terrifying to the Senate. “Those who most feared the man were struck with his amazing