Ancient Society. Lewis H. Morgan 1877

Chapter XI
The Roman Gens

When the Latins, and their congeners the Sabellians, the Oscans and the Umbrians, entered the Italian peninsula probably as one people, they were in possession of domestic animals, and probably cultivated cereals and plants.[1] At the least they were well advanced in the Middle Status of barbarism; and when they first came under historical notice they were in the Upper Status, and near the threshold of civilization.

The traditionary history of the Latin tribes, prior to the time of Romulus, is much more scanty and imperfect than that of the Grecian, whose earlier relative literary culture and stronger literary proclivities enabled them to preserve a larger proportion of their traditionary accounts. Concerning their anterior experience, tradition did not reach beyond their previous life on the Alban hills, and the ranges of the Appenines eastward from the site of Rome. For tribes so hr advanced in the arts of life it would have required a long occupation of Italy to efface all knowledge of the country from which they came. In the time of Romulus[2] they had already fallen by segmentation into thirty independent tribes, still united in a loose confederacy far mutual protection. They also occupied contiguous territorial areas. The Sabellians, Oscans, and Umbrians were in the same general condition; their respective tribes were in the same relations; and their territorial circumscriptions, as might have been expected, were founded upon dialect. All alike, including their northern neighbours the Etruscans, were organized in gentes, with institutions similar to those of the Grecian tribes. Such was their general condition when they first emerged from behind the dark curtain of their’ previous obscurity, and the light of history fell upon them. Roman history has touched but slightly the particulars of a vast experience anterior to the founding of Rome (about 753 B. C.). The Italian tribes had then become numerous and populous; they had become strictly agricultural in their habits, possessed flocks and herds of domestic animals, and had made great progress in the arts of life. They had also attained the monogamian family. All this is shown by their condition when first, made known to us; but the particulars of their progress from a lower to a higher state had, in the main; fallen out of knowledge. They were backward in the growth of the idea of government; since the confederacy of tribes was stillthe full extent of their advancement. Although the thirty tribes were confederated, it was in the nature of a league for mutual defence, and neither sufficiently close or intimate to tend to a nationality.

The Etruscan tribes were confederated; and the same was probably true of the Sabellian, Oscan and Umbrian tribes. While the Latin tribes possessed numerous fortified towns and country strongholds, they were spread over the surface of the country for agricultural pursuits, and for the maintenance of their flocks and herds. Concentration and coalescence had not occurred to any marked extent’ until the great movement ascribed to Romulus which resulted in the foundation of Rome. These loosely united Latin tribes furnished the principal materials from which the new city was to draw its strength. The accounts of these tribes from the time of the supremacy of the chiefs of Alba down to the time of Servius Tullius, were made up to a great extent of fables and traditions; but certain facts remained in the institutions and social usages transmitted to the historical period which tend, in a remarkable manner, to illustrate their previous condition. They are even more important than an outline history of actual events.

Among the institutions of the Latin tribes existing at the commencement of the historical period were the gentes, curiae and tribes upon which Romulus and his successors established the Roman power. The new government was not in all respects a natural growth; but modified in the upper members of the organic series by legislative procurement. The gentes, however, which formed the basis of the organization, were natural growths, and in the main either of common or cognate lineage. That is, the Latin gentes were of the same lineage, while the Sabine and other gentes, with the exception of the Etruscans, were of cognate descent. In the time of Tarquinius Priscus, the fourth in succession from Romulus, the organization had been brought to a numerical scale, namely: ten gentes to a curia, ten curia to a tribe, and three tribes of the Romans; giving a total of three hundred gentes integrated in one gentile society.

Romulus had the sagacity to perceive that a confederacy of tribes, composed of gentes and occupying separate areas, had neither the unity of purpose nor sufficient strength to accomplish more than the maintenance of an independent, existence. The tendency to disintegration counteracted the advantages of the federal principle. Concentration and coalescence were the remedy proposed by Romulus and the wise men of his time. It was a remarkable movement for the period, and still more remarkable in its progress from the epoch of Romulus to the institution of political society under Servius Tullius. Following the course of the Athenian tribes and concentrating in one city, they wrought out in five generations a similar and complete change in the plan of government, from a gentile into a political organization.

It will be sufficient to remind the reader of the general facts that Romulus united upon and around the Palatine Hill a hundred Latin gentes, organized as a tribe, the Ramnes; that by a fortunate concurrence of circumstances a large body of Sabines were added to the new community whose gentes, afterwards increased to one hundred, were organized as a second tribe, the Tities; and that in the time of Tarquinius Priscus a third tribe, the Luceres, had been formed, composed of a hundred gentes drawn from surrounding tribes, including the Etruscans. Three hundred gentes, in about the space of a hundred years, were thus gathered at Rome, and completely organized under a council of chiefs now called the Roman Senate, an assembly of the people now called the comitia curiata, and one military commander, the rex; and with one purpose, that of gaining a military ascendancy in Italy.

Under the constitution of Romulus, and the subsequent legislation of Servius Tullius, the government was essentially a military democracy, because the military spirit predominated in the government. But it may be remarked in passing that a new and antagonistic element; the Roman senate, was now incorporated in the centre of the social system, which conferred patrician rank upon its members and their posterity. A privileged class was thus created at a stroke, and intrenched first, in the gentile and afterwards in the political system, which ultimately overthrew the democratic principles inherited from the gentes, It was the Roman senate, with the patrician class it created, that, changed the institutions and the destiny of the Roman people, and turned them from a career, analogous to that of the Athenians, to which their inherited principles naturally and logically tended. In its main features the new organization was a masterpiece of wisdom for military purposes. It soon carried them entirely beyond the remaining Italian tribes, and ultimately into supremacy over the entire peninsula.

The organization of the Latin and other Italian tribes into gentes has been investigated by Niebuhr, Hermann, Mommsen, Long and others; but their several accounts fall short of a clear and complete exposition of the structure and principles of the Italian gens. This is due in part to the obscurity in which portions of the subject are enveloped, and to the absence of minute details in the Latin writers. It is also in part due to a misconception, by some of the first named writers, of the relations of the family to the gens. They regard the gens as composed of families, whereas it was composed of parts of families; so that the gens and not the family was the unit of the social system. It may be difficult to carry the investigation much beyond the point where they have left it; but information drawn from the archaic constitution of the gens may serve to elucidate some of its characteristics which are now obscure.

Concerning the prevalence of the organization into gentes among the Italian tribes, Niebuhr remarks as follows: ‘Should any one still contend that no conclusion is to be drawn from the character of the Athenian genetes to that of the Roman gentiles, he will be bound to show how an institution which runs through the whole ancient world came to have a completely different character in Italy and in Greeee... Every body of citizens was divided in this manner; the Gephyraeans and Salaminians as well as the Athenians, the Tusculans as well: as the Romans.[3]

Besides the existence of the Roman gens, it is desirable to know the nature of the organization; its rights, privileges and obligations, and the relations of the gentes to each other, as members of. a social system. After these have been considered, their relations to the curiae tribes, and resulting people of which they formed a part, will remain for consideration in the next ensuing chapter.

After, collecting the accessible information from various sources upon these subjects it will be found incomplete in many respects, leaving some of the attributes and functions of the gens a matter of inference. The powers of the gentes were withdrawn, and transferred to new political bodies before historical composition among the Romans had fairly commenced. There was therefore, no practical necessity resting upon the Romans for preserving the special features of a system substantially set aside. Gaius, who wrote his Institutes in the early part of the second century of our era, took occasion to remark that the whole jus gentilicium had fallen into desuetude, and that it was then superfluous to treat the subject.[4] But at the foundation of Rome, and for several centuries thereafter, the gentile organization was in vigorous activity.

The Roman definition of a gens and of a gentilis, and the line in which descent was traced should be presented before the characteristics of the gens are considered. In the Topics of Cicero a gentilis is defined as follows: “Those are gentiles who are of the same name among themselves. This is insufficient. Who were born of free parents. Even that is not sufficient. No one of whose ancestors has been a slave. Something still is wanting. Who have never suffered capital diminution. This perhaps may do; for I am not aware that Scaevola, the Pontiff, added anything to this definition.” There is one by Festus: “A gentilis is described as one both sprung from the same stock, and who is called by the same name."[6] Also by Varro: “As from an Aemilius men are born Aemilii, and gentiles; so from the name Aemilius terms are derived pertaining to gentilism."[7]

Cicero does not attempt to define a gens, but rather to furnish certain tests by which the right to the gentile connection might be proved, or the loss of it be detected. Neither of these definitions show the composition of a gens; that is, whether all, or a part only, of the descendants of a supposed genarch were entitled to bear the gentile name; and, if a part only, what part. With descent in the male line the gens would include those only who could trace their descent through males exclusively; and if in the female line, then through females only. If limited to neither, then all the descendants would be included. These definitions must have assumed that descent in the male line was a fact known to all. From other sources it appears that those only belonged to the gens who could trace their descent through its male members. Roman genealogies supply this proof. Cicero omitted the material fact that, those were gentiles who could trace their descent through males exclusively from an acknowledged ancestor within the gens. It is in part supplied by Festus and Varro. From an Aemilius, the latter remarks, men are born Aemilii, and gentiles; each must be born of a male bearing the gentile name. But Cicero’s definition also shows that a gentilis must bear the gentile name.

In the address of the Roman tribune Canuleius (445 B. C.), on his proposition to repeal an existing law forbidding intermarriage between patricians and plebeians, there is a statement implying descent in the male line. “For what else is there in the matter, he remarks, if a patrician man shall wed a plebeian woman, or a plebeian man a patrician woman? What right in the end is thereby changed? The children surely follow the father."[8] A practical illustration, derived from transmitted gentile names, will show conclusively that descent was in the male line. Julia, the sister of Caius Julius Caesar, married Marcus Attius Balbus. Her name shows that she belonged to the Julian gens. Her daughter Attia, according to custom, took the gentile name of her father and belonged to the Attian gens.[9] Attia married Caius Octavius, and became the mother of Caius Octavius; the first Roman emperor. The son, as usual, took the gentile name of his father, and belonged to the Octavian gens.[10] After becoming emperor he added the names Caesar Augustus.

In the Roman gens descent was in the male line from Augustus back to Romulus, and for an unknown period back of the latter. None were gentiles except such as could trace their descent through males exclusively from some acknowledged ancestor within the gens. But it was unnecessary, because impossible, that all should be able to trace their descent from the same common ancestor; and much less from the eponymous ancestor.

It will be noticed that in each of the above cases, to which a large number might be added, the persons married out of the gens. Such was undoubtedly the general usage by customary law. The Roman gens was individualized by the following tights, privileges and obligations:

I. Mutual rights of succession to the property of deceased gentiles.

II. The possession of a common burial place.

III. Common religious rites; sacra gentilicia.

IV. The obligation not to marry in the gens.

V. The possession of land in common;

VI. Reciprocal obligations of help, defence, and redress of injuries.

VII. The right to bear the gentile name.

VIII. The right to adopt strangers into the gens.

IX. The right to elect end depose its chiefs; query.

These several characteristics will be considered in the order named.

I. Mutual rights of succession to the property of deceased gentiles.

When the law of the Twelve Tables was promulgated (451 B. C.), the ancient rule, which presumptively distributed the inheritance among the gentiles, had been superseded by more advanced regulations. The estate of an intestate now passed, first, to his sui heredes, that is, to his children; and, in default of children, to his lineal descendants through males.[11] The living children took equally, and the children of deceased sons took the share of their father equally. It will be noticed that the inheritance remained in the gens; the children of the female descendants of the intestate, who belonged to other gentes, being excluded. Second, if there were no sui heredes, by the same law, the inheritance then passed to the agnates.[12] The agnatic kindred comprised all those persons who could trace their descent through males from the same common ancestor with the intestate. In virtue of such a descent they all bore the same gentile name, females as well as males, and were nearer in degree to the decedent than the remaining gentiles. The agnates nearest, in degree had the preference; first, the brothers and unmarried sisters; second, the paternal uncles and unmarried aunts of the intestate, and so on until the agnatic relatives were exhausted. Third, if there were no agnates of the intestate, the same law called the gentiles to the inheritance.[13] This seems at first sight remarkable; because the children of the intestate’s sisters were excluded from the inheritance, and the preference given to gentile kinsmen so remote that their relationship to the intestate could not be traced at all, and: only existed in virtue of an ancient lineage preserved by a common gentile name. The reason, how- ever, is apparent; the children of the sisters of the intestate belonged to another gens, and the gentile right predominated over greater nearness of consanguinity, because the principle which retained the property in the gens was fundamental. It is a plain inference from the law of the ‘Twelve Tables’ that inheritance began in the inverse order, and that the three classes of heirs represent the three successive rules of inheritance; namely, first, the gentiles; second, the agnates, among whom were the children of the decedent after descent was changed to the male line; and third, the children, to the exclusion of the remaining agnates.

A female, by her marriage, suffered what was technically called a loss of franchise or capital diminution (deminutio capitis) by which she forfeited her agnatic rights. Here again the reason is apparent. If after her marriage she could inherit as an agnate it would transfer the property inherited from her own gens to that of her husband. An unmarried sister could inherit; but a married sister could not.

With our knowledge of the archaic principles of the gens, we are enabled to glance backward to the time when descent in the Latin gens was in the female line, when property was inconsiderable, and distributed among the gentiles; not necessarily within the life-time of the Latin gens, for its existence reached back of the period of their occupation of Italy. That the Roman gens had passed from the archaic into its historical form is partially indicated by the reversion of property in certain cases to the gentiles.

“The right of succeeding to the property of members who died without kin and intestate,” Niebuhr remarks, “was that which lasted the longest; so long indeed, as to engage the attention of the jurists, and even — though assuredly not as anything more than a historical question — that of Gaius, the manuscript of whom is unfortunately illegible in this part."[15]

II. A common burial place.

The sentiment of gentilism seems to have been stronger in the Upper Status of barbarism than in earlier conditions, through a higher organization of society, and through mental and moral advancement. Each gens usually had a burial place for the exclusive use of its members as a place of sepulture. A few illustrations will exhibit Roman usages with respect to burial.

Appius Claudius, the chief of the Claudian gens, removed from Regili, a town of the Sabines, to Rome in the time of Romulus, where in due time he was made a senator, and thus a patrician. He brought with him the Claudian gens, and such a number of clients that his accession to Rome was regarded as an important event. Suetonius remarks that the gens received from the state lands upon the Anio for their clients, and a burial place for themselves near the capitol.[16] This statement seems to imply that a common burial place was, at that time, considered indispensable to a gens, The Claudii, having abandoned their Sabine connection and identified themselves with the Roman people, received both a grant of lands and a burial place for the gens, to place them in equality of condition with the Roman gentes. The transaction reveals a custom of the times.

The family tomb had not entirely superseded that of the gens in the time of Julius Caesar, as was illustrated by the case of Quintilius Varus, who, having lost his army in Germany, destroyed himself, and his body fell into the hands of the enemy. The half-burned body of Varus, says Paterculus, was mangled by the savage enemy; his head was cut off, and brought to Maroboduus, and by him having been sent to Caesar, was at length honoured with burial in the gentile sepulchre.[17]

In his treatise on the laws, Cicero refers to the usages of his own times in respect to burial in the following language: now the sacredness of burial places is so great that it is affirmed to be wrong to perform the burial independently of the sacred rites of the gens. Thus in the time of our ancestors A. Torquatus decided respecting the Poplian gens.[18] The purport of the statement is that, it was a religious duty to bury the dead with sacred rites, and when possible in land belonging to the gens. It further appears that cremation and inhumation were both practiced prior to the promulgation of the Twelve Tables, which prohibited the burying or burning of dead bodies within the city.[19] The columbarium, which would usually accommodate several hundred urns, was eminently adapted to the uses of a gens. In the time of Cicero the gentile organization had fallen into decadence, but certain usages peculiar to it had remained, and that respecting a common burial place among the number. The family tomb began to take the place of that of the gens, as the families in the ancient gentes rose into complete autonomy; nevertheless, remains of ancient gentile usages with respect to burial manifested themselves in various ways, and were still fresh in the history of the past.

III. Common sacred rites; sacra gentilicia.

The Roman sacra embody our idea of divine worship, and were either public or private. Religious rites performed by a gens were called sacra privata, or sacra gentlicia. They were performed regularly at stated periods by the gens.[20] Cases are mentioned in which the expenses of maintaining these rites had become a burden in consequence of the reduced numbers in the gens. They were gained and lost by circumstances, e.g., adoption or marriage.[21] ‘That the members of the Roman gens had common sacred rites,’ observes Neibuhr, ‘is well known; there were sacrifices appointed for stated days and places.’[22] The sacred rites, both public and private, were under pontifical regulation exclusively, and not subject to civil cognizance.[23]

The religious rites of the Romans seem to have had their primary connection with the gens rather than the family. A college of pontiffs, of curiones, and of augurs, with an elaborate system of worship under these priesthoods, in due time grew into form and became established; but the system was tolerant and free. The priesthood was in the main elective.[24] The head of every family also was the priest of the household. The gentes of[25] the Greeks and Romans were the fountains from which flowed the stupendous mythology of the classical world.

In the early days of Rome many gentes had each their own sacellum for the performance of their religious rites. Several gentes had each special sacrifices to perform, which had been transmitted from generation to generation, and were regarded as obligatory; as those of the Nautii to Minerva, of the Fabii to Hercules, and of the Horatii in expiation of the sororicide committed by Horatius.[26] It is sufficient for my purpose to have shown generally that each gens had its own religious rites as one of the attributes of the organization.

IV. Obligation not to marry in the gens.

Gentile regulations were customs having the force of law. The obligation not to marry in the gens was one of the number. It does not appear to have been turned, at a later day, into a legal enactment; but evidence that such was the rule of the gens appears in a number of ways. The Roman genealogies show that marriage was out of the gens, of which instances have been given. This, as we have seen, was the archaic rule for reasons of consanguinity. A woman by her marriage forfeited her agnatic rights, to which rule there was no exception. It was to prevent the transfer of property by marriage from one gens to another, from the gens of her birth to the gens of her husband. The exclusion of the children of a female from all rights of inheritance from a maternal uncle or maternal grandfather, which followed, was for the same reason. As the female was required to marry out of her gens her children would be of the gens of their father, and there could be no privity of inheritance between members of different gentes.

V. The possession of lands in common

The ownership of lands in common was so general among barbarous tribes that the existence of the same tenure among the Latin tribes is no occasion for surprise. A portion of their lands seems to have been held in severalty by individuals from a very early period. No time can be assigned when this was not the case; but at first, it was probably the possessory right to lands in actual occupation, so often before referred to, which was recognized as far back as the Lower Status of barbarism.

Among the rustic Latin tribes, lands were held in common by each tribe, other lands by the gentes, and still other by households.

Allotments of lands to individual became common at Rome in the time of Romulus, and afterwards quite general, Varro and Dionysius both state that Romulus allotted two jugera (about two and a quarter acres) to each man.[27], Similar allotments are said to have been afterwards made by Numa and Servius Tullius. They were the beginnings of absolute ownership in severalty, and presuppose a settled life as well as a great advancement in intelligence It was not only admeasured but granted by the government, which was very different from a possessory right in lands growing out of an individual act. The idea of absolute individual ownership of land was a growth through experience, the complete attainment of whichbelongs to the period of civilization. These lands, however, were taken from those held in common by the Roman people. Gentes, curiae and tribes held certain lands in common after civilization had commenced, beyond those held by individuals in severalty. Mommsen remarks that ‘the Roman territory was divided in the earliest times into a number of clan-districts, which were subsequently employed in the formation of the earliest rural wards (tribus rasticae)....... These names are not like those of the districts added at a later period, derived from the localities, but are formed without exception from the names of the clans.’[28] Each gensheld an independent, district, and of necessity was localized, upon it. This was a step in advance, although it was the prevailing practice not only in the rural districts, but also in Rome, for the gentes to localize in separate areas. Mammsen further observes: “As each household had its own portion of land, so the clan- household or village, had clan-lands belonging to it, which, as will afterwards be shown, were managed up to a comparatively late period after the analogy of house-lands, that is, on the system of joint, possession..... These clanships, however, were from the beginning regarded not as independent societies, but as integral parts of a political community (civitas populi). This first presents itself as an aggregate of a number of clan-villages of the same stock, language and manners, bound to observance of law and mutual legal redress and to united action in aggression and defence."[29] Clan is here used by Mommsen, or his translator, in the place of gens, and elsewhere canton is used in the place of tribe, which are the more singular since the Latin language furnishes specific terms for these organizations which have become historical. Mommsen represents the Latin tribes anterior to the founding of Rome as holding lands by households, by gentes and by tribes; and he further shows the ascending series of social organizations in these tribes; a comparison of which with those of the Iroquois, discloses their’ close parallelism, namely, the gens, tribe and confederacy.[30] The phratry is not mentioned although it probably existed. The household referred to could scarcely have been a single family. It is not unlikely that it was composed of related families who occupied a join tenement house, and practiced communism in living in the household.

VI. Reciprocal obligations of help, defence and redress of injuries.

During the period of barbarism the dependence of the gentiles upon each other for the protection of personal tights would be constant; but after the establishment of political society, the gentilis, now a citizen, would turn to the law and to the state for the protection before administered by his gens; This feature of the ancient system would be one of the first to disappear under the new. Accordingly but slight references to these mutual obligations are found in the early authors. It does not follow, however, that the gentiles did not practice these duties to each other in the previous period; on the contrary, the inference that they did is a necessary one from the principles of the gentile organization. Remains of these special usages appear, under special circumstances, well down in the historical period. When Appius Claudius was cast into prison (about 432 B. C.), Caius Claudius, then at enmity with him, put on mourning, as well as the whole Claudian gens.[31] A calamity or disgrace falling upon one member of the body was felt and shared by all. During the second Punic war, Niebuhr remarks, “the gentiles united to ransom their fellows who were in captivity, and were forbidden to do it by the senate. This obligation is an essential characteristic of the gens."[32] In the case of Camillus, against whom a tribune had lodged an accusation on account of the Veientian spoil, he summoned to his house before the day appointed for his trial his tribesmen and clients to ask their advice, and he received for an answer that they would collect whatever sum he was condemned to pay; but to clear him was impossible."[33] The active principle of gentilism is plainly illustrated in these cases. Niebuhr further remarks that the obligation to assist their indigent gentiles rested on the members of the Roman gens.[34]

VII. The right to bear the gentile name.

This followed necessarily from the nature of the gens. All such persons as were born sons or daughters of a male member of the gens were themselves members, and of right entitled to hear the gentile name. In the lapse of time, it was found impossible for the members of a gens to trace their descent back to the founder, and, consequently, for different families within the gens to find their connection through a later common ancestor. Whilst this inability proved the antiquity of the lineage, it was no evidence that these families had not sprung from a remote common ancestor. The fact that persons were born in the gens, and that each could trace his descent through a series of acknowledged members of the gens, was sufficient evidence of gentile descent, and strong evidence of the blood connection of all the gentiles. But some investigators, Niebuhr among the number[35] have denied the existence of any blood relationship between the families in a gens, since they could not show a connection through a common ancestor. This treats the gens as a purely fictitious organization, and is therefore untenable. Niebuhr’s inference against a blood connection from Cicero’s definition is not sustainable. If the right of a person to bear the gentile name were questioned, proof of the right would consist, not in tracing his descent from the genarch, but from a number of acknowledged ancestors within the gens. Without written records the number of generations through which a pedigree might be traced would be limited. Few families in the same gens might not be able to find a common ancestor, but it would not follow that they were not of common descent from some remote ancestor within the gens.[36]

After descent was changed to the male line the ancient names of the gentes, which not unlikely were taken from animals,[37] or inanimate objects, gave place to personal names. Some individual, distinguished in the history of the gens, became its eponymous ancestor, and this person, aselsewhere suggested, was not unlikely superseded by another at long intervals of time. When a gens divided in consequence of separation in area, one division would be apt to take a new name, but such a change of name would not disturb the kinship upon which the gens was founded. When it is considered that the lineage of the Roman gentes, under changes of names, ascended to the time when the Latins, Greeks and Sanskrit speaking people of India were one people, without reaching its source, some conception of its antiquity may be gained. The loss of the gentile name at any time by any individual was the most improbable of all occurrences; consequently its possession was the highest evidence that he shared with his gentiles the same ancient lineage. There was one way, and but one, of adulterating gentile descent, namely: by the adoption of strangers in blood into the gens. This practice prevailed, but the extent of it was small. If Niebuhr had claimed that the blood relationship of the gentiles had become attenuated by lapse of time to an in-appreciable quantity between some of them, no objection could be taken to his position; but a denial of all relationship which turns the gens into a fictitious aggregation of persons, without any bond of union, controverts: the principle upon which the gens came into existence, and which perpetuated it through three entire ethnical periods. Elsewhere I have called attention to the fact that the gens came in with a system of consanguinity which reduced all consanguinei to a small number of categories, and retained their descendants indefinitely in the same. The relationships of persons were easily traced, no matter how remote their actual common ancestor. In an Iroquois gens of five hundred persons, all its members are related to each other and each person knows or can find his relationship to every other; so that the fact of kin was perpetually present in the gens of the archaic period. With the rise of the monogamian family, a new and totally different system of consanguinity came in, under which the relationships between collaterals soon disappeared. Such was the system of the Latin and Grecian tribes at the commencement of the historical period. That which preceded it was, presumptively at least, Turanian, under which the relationships of the gentiles to each other would have been known; After the decadence of the gentile organization commenced, new gentes ceased to form by the old process of segmentation, and some of those existing died out. This tended to enhance the value of gentile descent as a lineage. In the times of the empire, new families were constantly establishing themselves in Rome from foreign parts, and assuming gentile names to gain social advantages. This practice being considered an abuse, the Emperor Claudius (A-.D. 40-54) prohibited foreigners from assuming Roman names, especially those of the ancient gentes.[38] Roman families, belonging to the historical gentes, placed the highest value upon their lineages both under the republic and the empire.

All the members of a gens were free, and equal in their rights and privileges, the poorest, as well as the richest; the distinguished as well as the obscure, and they shared equally in whatever dignity the gentile name conferred which they inherited as a birthright. Liberty, equality and fraternity were cardinal principles of the Roman gens, not less certainly than of the Grecian, and of the American Indian.

VIII. The right of adopting strangers in blood into the gens.

In the times of the republic; and also of the empire, adoption into the family, which carried the person: into the gens of the family, was practiced; but it was attended with formalities which rendered it difficult. A person who had no children, and who was past the age to expect them, might adopt a son with the consent of the pontifices, and of the comitia curiata. The college of pontiffs were entitled to be consulted lest the sacred rites of the family, from which the adopted person was taken, might thereby be impaired,[39] as also the assembly, because the adopted person would receive the gentile name, and might inherit the estate of his adoptive father. From the precautions which remained in the time of Cicero, the inference is reasonable that under the previous system, which was purely gentile, the restrictions must have been greater and the instances, rare. It is not probable that adoption in the early period was allowed without, the consent of the gens, and of the curia to which the gens belonged; and if so, the number adopted must have been limited. Few details remain of the ancient usages with respect to adoption.

IX. The right of electing and deposing its chiefs, query.

The incompleteness of our knowledge of the Roman gentes is shown quite plainly by the absence of direct information with respect to the tenure of the office of chief (princeps). Before the institution of political society each gens had its chief, and probably more than one. When the office became vacant it was necessarily filled, either’ by the election of one of the gentiles, as among the: Iroquois, or taken by hereditary right. But the absence of any proof of hereditary right, and the presence of the elective principle with respect to nearly all offices under the republic, and before that, under the reges, leads to the inference that hereditary right was alien to the institutions of the Latin tribes. The highest office, that of rex was elective, the office of senator was elective or by appointment, and that of consuls and of inferior’ magistrates. It varied with respect to the college of pontiffs instituted by Numa. At first the pontiffs themselves filled vacancies by election. Livy speaks of the election of a pontifex maximus by the comitia about 212 B.C.[40] By the lex Domitia the right to elect, the members of the several colleges of pontiffs and of priests was transferred to the people, but the law was subsequently modified by Sulla.[41] The active presence of the elective principle among the Latin gentes when they first come under historical notice, and from that time through the period of the republic, furnishes strong grounds for the inference that the office of chief was elective in tenure. The democratic features of their social system, which present themselves at so many points, were inherited from the gentes. It would require positive evidence that the office of chief passed by hereditary right to overcome the presumption against it. The right to elect carries with it the right to depose from office, where the tenure is for life.

These chiefs, or a selection from them, composed the council of the several Latin tribes before the founding of Rome, which was t-he principal instrument of government. Traces of the three powers co-ordinated in the government appear among the Latin tribes as they did in the Grecian, namely, the council of chiefs, the assembly of the people, to which we must suppose the more important public measures were submitted for adoption or rejection, and the military commander. Mommsen remarks that “All of these cantons. [tribes] were in primitive times politically sovereign, and each of them was governed by its prince, and the co-operation of the council of elders, and the assembly of the warriors."[42] The order of Mommsen’s statement should be reversed, and the statement qualified. This council, from its functions and from its central position in the social system, of which it was a growth, held of necessity the supreme power in civil affairs. It was the council that governed, and not the military commander. “In all the cities belonging to civilized nations on the coasts of the Mediterranean,” Niebuhr observes, “a senate was a no less essential and indispensable part of the state than a popular assembly; it was a select body of elder citizens;” such a council, says Aristotle, “there always is, whether the council be aristocratical or democratical, even in oligarchies, be the number of shares in the sovereignty ever so small, certain councillors are appointed for preparing public measures."[43] The senate of political society succeeded the council of chiefs of gentile society. Romulus formed the first Roman senate of a hundred elders; and as there were then but a hundred gentes, the inference is substantially conclusive that they were the chiefs of these gentes. The office was for life and non-hereditary; whence the final inference, that the office of chief was at the time elective. Had it been otherwise there is every probability that the Roman senate would have been instituted as an hereditary body. Evidence of the essentially democratic constitution of ancient society meets us at many points; which fact has failed to find its way into the modern historical expositions of Grecian and Roman gentile society.

With respect to the number of persons in a Roman gens, we are fortunately not without some information. About 474 B.C, the Fabian gens proposed to the senate to undertake the Veientian war as a gens, which they said required a constant rather than a large force.[44] Their offer was accepted, and they marched out of Rome three hundred and six soldiers, all patricians, amid the applause of their countrymen.[45] After a series of successes they were finally cut [46] to a man through an ambuscade. But they left behind them at Rome a single male under the age of puberty, who alone remained to perpetuate the Fabian gens.[46] It seems hardly credible that three hundred should have left in their families but a single male child, below the age of puberty, but such is the statement. This number of persons would indicate an equal number of females, who, with the children of the males, would give an aggregate of at least seven hundred members of the Fabian gens.

Although the rights, obligations and functions of the Roman gens have been inadequately presented, enough has been adduced to show that this organization was the source of their social, governmental and religious activities. As the unit of their social system it projects its character upon the higher organizations into which it entered as a constituent. A much fuller knowledge of the Roman gens than we now, possess is essential to a full comprehension of Roman institutions in their origin and development.


1. “During the period when the Indo-Germanic nations which are now separated still formed one stock speaking the same language, they attained a certain stage of culture, and they had a vocabulary corresponding to it. This vocabulary the several nations carried along with them, in its conventionally established use, as a common dowry and a foundation for further structures of their own..... In this way we possess evidence of the development of pastoral life at that remote epoch in the unalterably fixed names of domestic animals; the Sanskrit ‘gaus’ is the Latin ‘bos,’ the Greek ‘bous,’ Sanskrit ‘avis,’ is the Latin ‘ovis,’ the Greek ‘ois;’ Sanskrit ‘aovas,’ Latin ‘equus,’ Greek ‘hippos,’ Sanskrit ‘hansas,’ Latin ‘anser,’ Greek ‘chen;’... on the other hand, we have as yet no certain proofs of the existence of agriculture at this period. Language rather favours the negative view.” — Mommsen’s “History of Rome,” Dickson’s Trans., Scribner’; ed., 1871, i, 37.

In a note he remarks that “barley, wheat, and spelt were found growing together in a wild state on the right hank of the Euphrates, northwest from Anah. The growth of barley and wheat in a wild state in Mesopotamia had already been mentioned by the Babylonian historian, Berosus.”

Fick remarks upon the same subject as follows: “While pasturage evidently formed the foundation of primitive social life we can find in it hut very slight beginnings of agriculture. They were acquainted to be sure with a few of the grains, but the cultivation of these was carried on very incidentally in order to gain a supply of milk and flesh. The material existence of the people rested in no way upon agriculture. This becomes entirely clear from the small number of primitive words which have reference to agriculture. These words are ‘yava,’ wild fruit, ‘varka,’ hoe, or plough, ‘rava,’ sickle, together with ‘pio, pinsere’ (to bake) and ‘make,’ Gk. ‘masso,’ which give indications of threshing out and grinding of grain.” — Fick’s “Primitive Unity of Indo-European Languages,” Gottingen, 1873. p. 280. See also “Chips From a German Workshop,” ii, 42.

With reference to the possession of agriculture by the Graeco-Italic people, see Mommsen, i, p. 47, et seq.

2. The use of the word Romulus, and of the names of his successors, does not involve the adoption of the ancient Roman traditions. These names personify the great movements which then took place with which we are chiefly concerned.

3. “History of Rome,” 1. c., i, 241, 245.

4. “Inst,,” iii, 17.

5. “Cice’ro, Topica 6.”

6. Quoted in Smith’s “Dic. Gk. & Rom. Antiq., Article, Gens.”

7. Varro ‘De Lingua Latina,’ Iib. viii, cap. 4.

8. Livy, lib. iv. cap. 4.

9. “When there was only one daughter in a family, she used to be called from the name of the gens; thus, Tullia, the daughter of Cicero, Julia, the daughter of Caesar; Octavia, the sister of Augustus, etc.; and they retained the same name after they were married. When there were two daughters, the one was called Major and the other Minor. If there were more than two, they were distinguished by their number: thus, Prima, Secunda, Tertia, Quarta, Quinta, etc.; or more softly, Tertulla, Quartilla, Quintilla, etc.... During the flourishing state of the republic, the names of the gentes, and surnames of the families, always remained fixed and certain. They were common to all the children of the family, and descended to their posterity. But after the subversion of liberty they were changed and confounded.” — Adams’s “Roman Antiquities,” Glasgow ed., 1825, p. 27.

10. Suetonius, “Vit. Octavianus,” c. 3 and 4.

11. Gaius, “Institutes,” Iib. iii, 1 and Z. The wife was a co-heiress with the children.

12. Ib., lib; iii, 9.

13. Gaius; “Inst.,” Iib. iii, 17.

14. A singular question arose between the Marcelli and Claudii, two families of the Claudian gens, with respect to the estate of the son of a freedman of the Marcelli; the former claiming by right of family, and the latter by right of gens. The law of the Twelve Tables gave the estate of a freedman to his former master, who by the act of manumission became his patron, provided he died intestate, and without ‘sui heredes’ but it did not reach the case of the son of a freed-man. The fact that the Claudii were a patrician family, and the Marcelli were not could not affect the question. The freedman did not acquire gentile rights in his master’s gens by his manumission, although he was allowed to adopt the gentile name of his patron; as Cicero’s freedman, Tyro, was called M. Tullius Tyro. It is not known how the case, which is mentioned by Cicero (“De Oratore,” i, 39), and commented upon by Long (Smith’s “Dic. Gk. & Rom. Antiq., Art. Gens”), and Niebuhr, was decided; but the latter suggests that it was probably against the Claudii (“Hist. of Rome,” i, 245, ‘note’). It is difficult to discover how any claim whatever could be urged by the Claudii; or any by the Marcelli, except through an extension of the patronal right by judicial construction. It is a noteworthy case, because it shows how strongly the mutual rights with respect to the inheritance of property were intrenched in the gens.

15. “History of Rome,” i, 242.

16. Suet, “Vit. Tiberius,” cap. 1.

17. “Velleius Paterculus,” ii, 119.

18. “De Leg.,” ii, 22.

19. Cicero, “De Leg.,” ii, 23.

20. “There were certain sacred rites (’sacra gentilicia’) which belonged to a gens, to the observance of which all the members of a gens, as such, were bound, whether they were members by birth, adoption or abrogation. A person was freed from the observance of such ‘sacra,’ and lost the privileges connected with his gentile rights when he lost his gens.” — Smith’s “Dic. Antiq., Gens.”

21. Cicero, “Pro Domo,” c. 13.

22. “History of Rome,” i, 241.

23. Cicero, “De Leg.,” ii 23,

24. “Dionysius,” ii, 22.

25. lb., ii, 21.

26. Niebuhr’s “History of Rome”, I, 241.

27. Varro, “De Re Rustica,” lib; i; cap, 10.

28. “History of Rome,” i, 62. He names, the Camillii, Galerii, Lemonii, Pollii, Pupinii, Voitinii, Aemilii, Cornelii, Fabii, Horatii, Menenii, Papirii, Romilii, Sergii, Veturii, Ib., p. 63;:

29. “History of Rome,” i, 63.

30. “A fixed local centre was quite as necessary in the case of such a canton as in that of a clanship; but as the members of the clan, or, in other words, the constituent elements of the canton dwelt in villages, the centre of the canton can- not have been a town or place of joint settlement in the strict sense. It must, on the contrary, have been simply a place of common assembly, containing the seat of justice and the common. sanctuary of the canton, where the members of the canton met every eighth day for purposes of intercourse and amusement, and where, in case of war, they obtained a safer shelter for themselves and their cattle than in the villages; in ordinary circumstances this place of meeting was not at all or but scantily inhabited.... These cantons accordingly, having their rendezvous in some stronghold; and including a certain number of clanships, from the primitive political unities with which Italian history begins.... All of these cantons were in primitive times politically sovereign, and each of them was governed by its prince with the co-operation of the council of elders and the assembly of warriors. Nevertheless the feeling of fellowship based on community of descent and of language not only pervaded the whole of them, but manifested itself in an important religions and political institution — the perpetual league of the collective Latin cantons.” -"Hist. of Rome,” i, 64-66. The statement that the canton or tribe was governed by its prince with the co-operation of the council, etc., is a reversal of the correct statement, and therefore misleading. We must suppose that the military commander held an elective office, and that he was deposable at the pleasure of the constituency who elected him. Further than this, there is no ground for assuming that he possessed any civil functions. It is a reasonable, if not a necessary conclusion, therefore, that the tribe was governed by a council composed of the chiefs of the gentes, and by an assembly of the warriors, with the co-operation of a general military commander, whose functions were exclusively military. It was a government of three powers, common in the Upper Status of barbarism, and identified with institutions essentially democratical.

31. Livi, vi, 20

32. “History of Rome,” i, 242.

33. Livy, v, 32.

34. “History of Rome,” i, 242: citing Dionysius, ii, 10.

35. “History of Rome,” i, 240.

36. “Nevertheless, affinity in blood always appeared to the Romans to lie at the root of the connection between the members of the clan, and still more between those of a family; and the Roman community can only have interfered with these groups to a limited extent consistent with the retention of their fundamental character of affinity.” — Mommsen’s “History of Rome,” i, 103.

37. It is a curious fact that Cleisthenes of Argos changed the names of the three Dorian tribes of Sicyon, one to Hyatae, signifying in the singular ‘a boar;’ another to Oneatae, signifying ‘an ass’ and a third to Choereatae, signifying ‘a little pig.’ They were intended as an insult to the Sicyonians; but they remained during his lifetime,’ and for sixty years afterwards. Did the idea of these animal names come down through tradition? — See Grote’s “Histary of Greece,” iii, 33; 36.

38. Sueton, “Vit C1audius” cap, 25.

39. Cicero, “Pro Domo” cap.13.

40. Livy, xxv, 5.

41. Smith’sDic. Art. Pontifex.”

42. ‘History of Rome’ i, 66.

43. Ib., i, 258.

44. Livy, ii, 48.

45. Ib., ii, 49.

46. Trecentos sex perisse satis convenit: unum prope pubescem aetate relictum stirpem gente Fabiae, dubiisque rebus populi Romani sepe domi bellique ve1 maximum futurum auxilium.- Livy, ii, 50; and see Ovid:, “Fasti,” ii, 193.