Ancient Society. Lewis H. Morgan 1877

Chapter XIII
The Institution of Roman Political Society

Servius Tullius, the sixth chief of the Roman military democracy, came to the succession about one hundred and thirty-three years after the death of Romulus, as near as the date can he ascertained.[1] This would place his accession about 576 B. C. To this remarkable man the Romans were chiefly indebted for the establishment of their political system. It will be sufficient to indicate its main features, together with some of the reasons which led to its adoption.

From the time of Romulus to that of Servius Tullius the Romans consisted of two distinct, classes, the populus and the plebeians. Both were personally free, and both entered the ranks of the army; but the former alone were organized in gentes, curiae and tribes, and held the powers of the government. The plebeians, on the other hand, did not belong to any gens, curia or tribe, and consequently were without the government.[2] They were excluded from office, from the comitia curiata, and from the sacred rites of the gentes. In the time of Servius they had become nearly if not quite as numerous as the populus. They were in the anomalous position of being subject to the military service, and of possessing families and property, which identified them with the interests of Rome, without being in any sense connected with the government. Under gentile institutions, as we have seen, there could be no connection with the government except through a recognized gens, and the plebeians had no gentes. Such a state of things, affecting so large a portion of the people, was dangerous to the commonwealth. Admitting of no remedy under gentile institutions, it must have furnished one of the prominent reasons for attempting the overthrow of gentile society, and the substitution of political. The Roman fabric would, in all probability, have fallen in pieces if a remedy had not been devised. It was commenced in the time of Romulus, renewed by Numa Pompilius, and completed by Servius Tullius.

The origin both of the plebeians and of the patricians, and their subsequent relations to each other, have been fruitful themes of discussion and of disagreement, A few suggestions may be ventured upon each of these questions.

A person was a plebeian because he was not: a member of a gens, organized with other gentes in a curia and tribe. It is easy to understand how large numbers of persons would have become detached from the gentes of their birth in the unsettled times which preceded and followed the founding of Rome. The adventurers, who flocked to the new city from the surrounding tribes, the captives taken in their wars and afterwards set free, and the unattached persons mingled with the gentes transplanted to Rome, would rapidly furnish such a class. It might also well happen that in filling up the hundred gentes of each tribe, fragments of gentes, and gentes having less than a prescribed number of persons, were excluded. These unattached persons, with the fragments of gentes thus excluded: from recognition and organization in a curia, would soon become, with their children and descendants, a great and increasing class. Such were the Roman plebeians, who, as such, were not members of the Roman gentile society; It: seems to be a fair inference from the epithet applied to the senators of the Luceres, the third Roman tribe admitted, who were styled ‘Fathers of the Lesser Gentes,’ that the old gentes were reluctant to acknowledge their entire equality. For a stronger reason they debarred the plebeians from all participation in the government. When the third tribe was filled up with the prescribed number of gentes, the last avenue of admission was closed, after which the number in the plebeian class would increase with greater rapidity. Niebuhr remarks that the existence of the plebeian class may be traced to the time of Ancus, thus implying that they made their first appearance at that time.[3] He also denies that the clients were a part of the plebeian body[4] in both of which positions he differs from Dionysius,[5] and from Plutarch.[6] The institution of the relation of patron and client is ascribed by the authors last named to Romulus, and it is recognized by Suetonius as existing in the time of Romulus.[7] A necessity for such an institution existed in the presence of a class without a gentile status, and without religious rites, who would avail themselves of this relation for the protection of their persons and property, and. for the access it gave them to religious privileges. Members of a gens would not be without this protection or these privileges; neither would it befit the dignity or accord with the obligations of a gens to allow one of its members to accept, a patron in another gens. The unattached class, or, in other words, the plebeians, were the only persons who would naturally seek patrons and become their clients: The clients formed no part of the populus for the reasons stated. It seems plain, notwithstanding the weight of Niebuhr’s authority on Roman questions, that the clients were a part of the plebeian body.

The next question is one of extreme difficulty, namely: the origin and extent of the patrician class — whether it, originated with the institution of the Roman Senate, and was limited to the senators, and to their children and descendants; or included the entire populus, as distinguished from the plebeians; It is claimed by the most eminent modern authorities that the entire populus were patricians. Niebuhr, who is certainly the first on Roman questions, adopts this view,[8] to which Long Schmitz, and others have given their concurrence.[9] But the reasons assigned are not conclusive. The existence of the patrician class, and of the plebeian class as well, may be traced, as stated, to the time of Romulus.[10] If the populus, who were the entire body of the people organized in gentes, were all patricians at this early day, the distinction would have been nominal, as the plebeian class was then unimportant. Moreover, the plain statements of Cicero and of Livy are not reconcilable with this conclusion. Dionysius, it is true, speaks of the institution of the patrician class as occurring before that of the senate, and as composed of a limited number of persons distinguished for their birth, their virtue, and their wealth, thus excluding the poor and obscure in birth, although they belonged to the historical gentes.[11] Admitting a class of patricians without senatorial connection, there was still a large class remaining in the several gentes who were not patricians. Cicero has left a plain statement that the senators and their children were patricians, and without referring to the existence of any patrician class beyond their number. When that senate of Romulus, he remarks, which was constituted of the best men, whom Romulus himself respected so highly that he wished them to be called fathers, and their children patricians, attempted,[12] etc. The meaning attached to the word fathers (patres) as here used was a subject of disagreement among the Romans themselves; but the word pctricii, for the class is formed upon patres, thus tending to show the necessary connection of the patricians with the senatorial office. Since each senator at the outset represented, in all probability, gens, and the three hundred thus represented all the recognized gentes, this fact could not of itself make all the members of the gentes patricians, because the dignity was limited to the senators, their children, and their posterity. Livy is equally explicit. They were certainly called fathers, he remarks, on account of their official dignity, and their posterity (progenies) patricians.[13] Under the reges and also under the republic, individuals were created patricians by the government, but apart from the senatorial office, and special creation by the government, the rank could not be obtained. It is not improbable that a number of persons, not admitted into the senate when it was instituted, were placed by public act on the same level with the senators as to the new patrician rank; but this would include a small number only of the: members of the three hundred gentes, all of whom were embraced in the Populus Romanus.

It is not improbable that the chiefs of the gentes were called fathers before the time of Romulus, to indicate the paternal character of the office; and that the office may have conferred a species of recognized rank upon their posterity. But we have no direct evidence of the fact. Assuming it to have been the case, and further, that the senate at its institution did not include all the principal chiefs, and further still, that when vacancies in the senate were subsequently filled, the selection was made on account of merit and not on account of gens, a foundation for a patrician class might have previously existed independently of the senate. These assumptions might be used to explain the peculiar language of Cicero, namely; that Romulus desired that the senators might be called Fathers, possibly because this was already the honoured title of the chiefs of the gentes. In this way a limited foundation for a patrician class may be found independent of the senate; but it would not be broad enough to include all the recognized gentes. It was in connection with the senators that the suggestion was made that their children and descendants should be called patricians. The same statement is repeated by Paterculus.[14]

It follows that there could be no patrician gens and no plebeian gens, although particular families in one gens might be patricians, and in another plebeians. There is some confusion also upon this point. All the adult male members of the Fabian gens, to the number of three hundred and six, were patricians.[15] It must be explained by the supposition that all the families in this gens could trace their descent from senators, or to some public act by which their ancestors were raised to the patriciate. There were of course patrician families in many gentes, and at a later day patrician and plebeian families in the same gens. Thus the Claudii and Marcelli, before referred to (supra p, 294), were two families of the Claudian gens, but the Claudii alone were patricians. It will be borne in mind, that prior to the time of Servius Tullius the Romans were divided into two classes, the populus and the plebeians; but that after his time, and particularly after the Licinian legislation (367 B, C.), by which all the dignities of the state were opened to every citizen, the Roman people, of the degree of freemen, fell into two political classes, which may be distinguished as the aristocracy and the commonalty. The former class consisted of the senators, and those descended from senators, together with those who had held either of the three curule offices, (consul, praetor, and curule aedile) and their descendants. The commonalty were now Roman citizens. The gentile organization had fallen into decadence, and the old division could no longer be maintained. Persons, who in the first period as belonging to the populus, could not be classed with the plebeians, would in the subsequent period belong to the aristocracy without being patricians; The Claudii could trace their descent from Appius Claudius who was made a senator in the time of Romulus; but the Marcelli could not trace their descent from him, nor from any other senator, although, as Niebuhr remarks,equal to the Apii in the splendour of the honours they attained to and incomparably more useful to the commonwealth."[16] This is a sufficient explanation of the position of the Marcelli without resorting to the fanciful hypothesis of Niebuhr, that the Marcelli had lost patrician rank through a marriage of disparagement.[17]

The patrician class were necessarily numerous, because the senators, rarely less than three hundred, were chosen as often as vacancies occurred, thus constantly including new families; and because it conferred patrician rank on their posterity. Others were from time to time made patricians by act of the state.[18] This distinction, at first probably of little value, became of great importance with their increase in wealth, numbers and power; and it changed the complexion of Roman society. The full effect of introducing a privileged class in Roman gentile society was not probably appreciated at the time; and it is questionable whether this institution did not exercise a more injurious than beneficial influence upon the subsequent career of the Roman people.

When the gentes have ceased to be organizations for governmental purposes under the new political system, the populus no longer remained as distinguished from the plebeians; but the shadow of the old organization and of the old distinction remained far into the republic.[19] The plebeians under the new system were Roman citizens, but they were now the commonalty; the question of the connection or non-connection with a gens not entering into the distinction.

From Romulus to Servius Tullius the Roman organization, as before stated, was simply a gentile society, without relation to territory or property. All we find is a series of aggregates of persons in gentes, curiae and tribes, by means of which the people were dealt with by the government as groups of persons forming these several organic unities. Their condition was precisely like that of the Athenians prior to the time of Solon. But, they had instituted a senate in the place of the old council of chiefs, a comitia curiata in the place of the old assembly of the people, and had chosen a military commander, with the additional functions of a priest and judge. With a government of three powers, co-ordinated with reference to their principal necessities, and with a coalescence of the three tribes, composed of an equal number of gentes and curiae, into one people, they possessed a higher and more complete governmental organization than the Latin tribes had before attained. A numerous class had gradually developed, how- ever, who were without the pale of the government, and without religious privileges, excepting that portion who had passed into the relation of clients. 1f not a dangerous class, their exclusion from citizenship; and from all participation in the government, was detrimental to the commonwealth. A municipality was growing up upon a scale of magnitude unknown in their previous experience, requiring a special organization to conduct its local affairs. A necessity for a change in the plan of government must have forced itself more and more upon the attention of thoughtful men. The increase of numbers and of wealth, and the difficulty of managing their affairs, now complex from weight of numbers and diversity of interests, began to reveal the fact, it, must be supposed, that they could not hold together under gentile institutions. A conclusion of this kind is required to explain the several expedients which were tried.

Numa, the successor of Romulus, made the first significant movement, because it reveals the existence of an impression, that a great power could not rest upon gentes as the basis of a system. He attempted to traverse the gentes, as Theseus did, by dividing the people into classes, some eight in number, according to their arts and trades.[20] Plutarch, who is the chief authority for this statement, speaks of this division of the people according to their vocations as the most admired of Numa’s institutions; and remarks further, that it was designed to take away the distinction between Latin and Sabine, both name and thing, by mixing them together in a new distribution. But as he did not invest the classes with the powers exercised by the gentes, the measure failed, like the similar attempt of Theseus, and for the same reason. Each guild, as we are assured by Plutarch, had its separate hall, court and religious observances. These records, though traditionary, of the same experiment in Attica and at Rome, made for the same object, for similar reasons, and by the same instrumentalities, render the inference reasonable that the experiment as stated was actually tried in each case.

Servius Tullius instituted the new system, and placed it upon a foundation where it remained to the close of the republic, although changes were afterwards made in the nature of improvements. His period (about 576 — 533 B.C.) follows closely that of Solon (596 B.C.), and precedes that of Cleisthenes (509 B.C.). The legislation ascribed to him, and which was obviously modelled upon that of Solon, may be accepted as having occurred as early as the time named, because the system was in practical operation when the republic was established 509 B.C., within the historical period. Moreover, the new political system may as properly be ascribed to him as great measures have been attributed to other men, although in both cases the legislator does little more than formulate what experience had already suggested and pressed upon his attention. The three principal changes which set aside the gentes and inaugurated political society, based upon territory and upon property, were: first, the substitution of classes, formed upon the measure of individual wealth, in the place of the gentes; second, the institution of the comitia centuriata, as the new popular assembly, in the place of the comitia centuriata, the assembly of the gentes, with a transfer of the substantial powers of the latter to the former; and third, the creation of four city wards in the nature of townships circumscribed by metes and bounds and named as territorial areas, in which the residents of each ward were required to enrol their names and register their property.

Imitating Solon, with whose plan of government, he was doubtless familiar, Servius divided the people into five classes, according to the value of their property, the effect of which was to concentrate in one class the wealthiest men of the several gentes.[21] Each class was then subdivided into centuries, the number in each being established arbitrarily without regard to the actual number of persons it contained, and with one vote to each century in the comitia. The amount of political power to be held by each class was thus determined by the number of centuries given to each. Thus, the first class consisted of eighty centuries, with eighty votes in the comitia centuriata; the second class of twenty centuries, to which two centuries of artisans were attached, with twenty-two votes; the third class of twenty centuries, with twenty votes; the fourth class of twenty, to which two centuries of horn-blowers and trumpeters were attached, with twenty-two votes; and the fifth class of thirty centuries, with thirty votes. In addition to these, the equites consisted of eighteen centuries, with eighteen votes. To these classes Dionysius adds a sixth class, consisting of one century, with one vote. It was composed of those who had no property, or less than the amount required for admission into the fifth class. They neither paid taxes, nor served in war.[22] The whole number of centuries in the six classes with the equites added made a total of one hundred and ninety-three, according to Dionysius.[23] Livy, agreeing with the former as to the number of regular centuries in the five classes, differs from him by excluding the sixth class, the persons being formed into one century with one vote, and included in or attached to the fifth class. He also makes three centuries of horn-blowers instead of two, and the whole number of centuries one mare than Dionysius.[24] Cicero remarks that ninety-six centuries were a minority, which would he equally true under either statement.[25] The centuries of each class were divided into seniors and juniors, of which the senior centuries were composed of such persons as were above the age of fifty-five y-ears, and were charged with the duty, as soldiers, of defending the city; while the junior centuries consisted of those persons who were below this age and above seventeen, and were charged with external military enterprises.[26] The armature of each class was prescribed and made different for each. It will be noticed that the control of the government, so far as the assembly of the people could influence its action, was placed in the hands of the first class, and the equites. They held together ninety-eight votes, a majority of the whole. Each century agreed upon its vote separately when assembled in the comitia centuriata, precisely as each curia had been accustomed to do in the comitia curiata. In taking a vote upon any public question, the equites were called first, and then the first class.[28] If they agreed in their votes it decided the question, and the remaining centuries were not called upon to vote; but if they disagreed, the second class was called, and so on to the last, unless a majority sooner appeared.

The powers formerly exercised by the comitia curiata, now transferred to the comitia centuriata, were enlarged in some slight particulars in the subsequent period. It elected all officers and magistrates on the nomination of the senate; it enacted or rejected laws proposed by the senate, no measure becoming a law without its sanction; it repealed existing laws on the proposition of the same body, if they chose to do so; and it declared war on the same recommendation. But the senate concluded peace without consulting the assembly. An appeal in all cases involving life could be taken to this assembly as the highest judicial tribunal of the state. These powers were substantial, but limited — control over the finances being excluded. A majority of the votes, however, were lodged with the first class, including the equites, which embraced the body of the patricians; as must be supposed, and the wealthiest citizens. Property and not numbers controlled the government. They were able, however, to create a body of laws in the course of time which afforded equal protection to all, and thus tended to redeem the worst effects of the inequalities of the system.

The meetings of the comitia were held in the Campus Martius annually for the election of magistrates and officers, and at other times when the public necessities required. The people assembled by centuries, and by classes under their offices, organized as an army (exercitus); for the centuries, and class were designed to subserve all the purposes of a military as well as a civil organization. At the first muster under Servius Tullius, eighty thousand citizen soldiers appeared in the Campus Martius under arms, each man in his proper century, each century in its class, and each class by itself.[29] Every member of a century was now a citizen of Rome, which was the most important fruit of the new political system. In the time of the republic the consuls, and in their absence; the praetor, had power to convene the comitia, which was presided over by the person who caused it to assemble.

Such a government: appears to us, in the light of our more advanced experience, both rude and clumsy; but it was a sensible improvement upon the previous gentile government, defective and illiberal as it appears. Under it, Rome became mistress of the world. The element, of property, now rising into commanding importance, determined its character. It had brought aristocracy and privilege into prominence, which seized the opportunity to withdraw the control of the government in a great, measure from the hands of the people, and bestow it upon the men of property. It was a movement in the opposite direction from that to which the democratic principles inherited from the gentes naturally tended. Against the new elements of aristocracy and privilege now incorporated in their governmental institutions, the Roman plebeians contended throughout the period of the republic, and at times with some measure of success. But patrician rank and property, possessed by the higher classes, were too powerful for the wiser and grander doctrines of equal rights and equal privileges represented by the plebeians. It was even then far too heavy a tax upon Roman society to carry a privileged class.

Cicero, patriot and noble Roman as he was, approved and commended this gradation of the people into classes, with the bestowment of a controlling influence in the government upon the minority of citizens. Servius Tullius, he remarks, ‘having created a large number of equites from the common mass of the people, divided the remainder into five classes, distinguishing between the seniors and juniors, which he so constituted as to place the suffrages, not in the hands of the multitude, but of the men of property; taking care to make it, a rule of ours, as it ought to be in every government,, that the greatest number should not have the greatest weight.’[30] In the light of the experience of the intervening two thousand years, it may well be observed that the inequality of privileges and the denial of the right of self-government here commended, created and developed that mass of ignorance and corruption which ultimately destroyed both government and people. The human race is gradually learning the simple lesson that the people as a whole are wiser for the public good and the public prosperity, than any privileged class of men, however refined and cultivated, have ever been, or, by any possibility, can ever become. Governments over societies the most advanced are still in a transitional stage; and they are necessarily and logically moving, as President Grant, not without reason, intimated in his last, inaugural address, in the direction of democracy; that form of self-government which represents and expresses the average intelligence and virtue of a free and educated people.

The property classes subserved the useful purpose of breaking up the gentes, as the basis of a governmental system, by transferring their powers to a different body. It was evidently the principal object of the Servian legislation to obtain a deliverance from the gentes, which were close corporations, and to give the new government a basis wide enough to include all the inhabitants of Rome, with the exception of the slaves. After the classes had accomplished this work, it might have been expected that they would have died out as they did at Athens; and that city wards and country townships, with their inhabitants organized as bodies politic, would have become the basis of the new political system, as they rightfully and logically should. But the municipal organization of Rome prevented this consummation. It gained at the outset, and maintained to the end the central position in the government, to which all areas without were made subordinate. It presents the anomaly of a great central municipal government expanded, in effect, first over Italy, and finally over the conquered provinces of three continents. The five classes, with some modifications of the manner of voting, remained to the end of the republic. The creation of a new assembly of the people to take the place of the old, discloses the radical character of the Servian constitution. These classes would never have acquired vitality without a newly constituted assembly, investing them with political powers. With the increase of wealth and population, the duties and responsibilities of this assembly were much increased. It was evidently the intention of Servius Tullius that it should extinguish the comitia curiata, and with it the power of the gentes.

This legislator is said to have instituted the comitia tributa, a separate assembly of each local tribe or ward, whose chief duties related to the assessment and collection of taxes, and to furnishing contingents of troops. At a later day this assembly elected the tribunes of the people. The ward was the natural unit of their political system, and the centre where local self-government should have been established had the Roman people wished to create a democratic state. But the senate and the property classes had forestalled them from that career.

One of the first acts ascribed to Servius was the institution of the census. Livy pronounces the census a most salutary measure for an empire about to become so great; according to which the duties of peace and war were to be performed, not individually as before, but according to the measure of personal wealth.[31] Each person was required to enrol himself in the ward of his residence, with a statement, of the amount of his property. It was done in the presence of the censor; and the lists when completed furnished the basis upon which the classes were formed.[32] This was accompanied by a very remarkable act of the period, the creation of four city wards, circumscribed by boundaries, and distinguished by appropriate names. In point of time it was earlier than the institution of the Attic deme by Cleisthenes; but the two were quite different in their relations to the government; The Attic deme, as has been shown, was organized ac, a body politic with a similar registry of citizens and of their property, and having besides a complete local self-government, with an elective magistracy, judiciary and priest: hood. On the other hand, the Roman ward was a geographical area, with a registry of citizens and of their property, with a local organization, a tribune and other elective offices, and with an assembly. For a limited number of special objects the inhabitants of the wards were dealt with by the government through their territorial relations. But the government of the ward did not possess the solid attributes of that of the Attic deme. It was a nearer copy of the previous Athenian naucrary, which not unlikely furnished the model, as the Solonian classes did of the Servian. Dionysius remarks, that after Servius Tullius had inclosed the seven hills with one wall he divided the city into four parts, and gave the names of the hills to the re-divisions: to the first, Palatina, to the second, Suburra, to the third, Collina, and to the fourth, Esquilina; and made the city consist of four parts, which before consisted of three; and he ordered the people who dwelt in each of the four regions, like villagers, not to take any other dwelling, nor to pay taxes elsewhere, nor give in their names as soldiers elsewhere, nor pay their assessments for military purposes and other needs, which each must furnish for the common welfare; for these things were no longer to be done according to the three consanguine tribes, but according to the four local tribes, which last had been arranged by himself; and he appointed commanders over each tribe, as phylarchs or comarchs, whom he directed to note what house each inhabited.[33] Mommsen observes that “each of these four levy-districts had to furnish the fourth part not only of the force as a whole, but of each of its military subdivisions, so that each legion and each century numbered an equal proportion of conscripts from each region; evidently for the purpose of merging all distinctions of a gentile and local nature in one common levy of the community, and especially of binding, through the powerful levelling influence of the military spirit, the meteoci and the burgesses into one people."[34]

In like manner, the surrounding country under the government of Rome was organized in townships (tribus rusticae), the number of which is stated at, twenty-six by some writers, and at thirty-one by others; making with the four city wards, a total of thirty-one in one case, and of thirty-five in the other.[35] The total number was never increased beyond thirty-five. These townships did not become integral in the sense of participating in the administration of the government.

As finally established under the Servian constitution, the government was cast in the form in which it remained during the existence of the republic; the consuls taking the place of the previous military commanders. It was not based upon territory in the exclusive sense of the Athenian government, or in the modern sense; ascending from the township or ward, the unit of organization, to the county or arrondissement, and from the latter to the state, each organized and invested with governmental functions as constituents of a whole. The central government overshadowed and atrophied the parts. It rested more upon property than upon territory, this being made the commanding element, as is shown by the lodgement of the controlling power of the government in the highest property classes. It had, nevertheless, a territorial basis as well, since it recognized and used territorial subdivisions for citizenship, and for financial and military objects, in which the citizen was dealt with through his territorial relations.

The Romans were now carried fairly out of gentile society into and under the second great plan of government founded upon territory and upon property. They had felt, gentilism and barbarism behind them, and entered upon a new career of civilization. Henceforth the creation and protection of property became the primary objects of the government, with a superadded career of conquest for domination over distant tribes and nations. This great change of institutions, creating political society as distinguished from gentile society, was simply the introduction of the new elements of territory and property, making the latter a power in the government, which before had been simply an influence. Had the wards and rustic townships been organized with full powers of local self-government, and the senate been made elective by these local constituencies without distinction of classes, the resulting government would have been a democracy, like the Athenian; for these local governments would have moulded the state into their own likeness. The senate, with the hereditary rank it conferred, and the property basis qualifying the voting power in the assembly of the people, turned the scale against democratical institutions, and produced a mixed government, partly aristocratic and partly democratic; eminently calculated to engender perpetual animosity between the two classes of citizens thus deliberately and unnecessarily created by affirmative legislation. It is plain, I think, that the people were circumvented by the Servian constitution and had a government put upon them which the majority would have rejected had they fully comprehended its probable results. The evidence is conclusive of the antecedent democratical principles of the gentes, which, however exclusive as against all persons not in their communion, were carried out fully among themselves. The evidence of this free spirit and of their free institutions is so decisive that the proposition elsewhere stated, that gentilism is incompatible with monarchy, seems to be incontrovertible.

As a whole, the Roman government was anomalous. The overshadowing municipality of Rome, made the centre of the state in its plan of government, was one of the producing causes of its novel character. The primary organization of the people into an army with the military spirit it fostered created the cohesive force which held the republic together, and afterwards the empire. With a selective senate holding office for life, and possessing substantial powers; with a personal rank passing to their children and descendants; with an elective magistracy graded to the needs of a central metropolis; with an assembly of the people organized into property classes, possessing an unequal suffrage, but holding both an affirmative and a negative upon all legislation; and with an elaborate military organization, no other government strictly analogous has appeared among men. It was artificial, illogical, approaching a monstrosity; but capable of wonderful achievements, because of its military spirit, and because the Romans were endowed with remarkable powers for organizing and managing affairs, The patchwork in its composition was the product of the superior craft of the wealthy classes who intended to seize the substance of power while they pretended to respect the rights and interests of all.

When the new political system became established, the old one did not immediately disappear. The functions of the senate and of the military commander remained as before; but the property classes took the place of the gentes, and the assembly of the classes took the place of t-he assembly of the gentes. Radical as the damages were, they were limited, in the main, to these particulars, and came in without friction or violence. The old assembly (comitia curiata) was allowed to retain a portion of its powers, which kept alive for a long period of time the organizations of the gentes, curiae and consanguine tribes. It still conferred the imperium upon all the higher magistrates after their election was completed, thou h in time it became a matter of form merely; it inaugurated certain priests, and regulated the religious observances of the curia. This state of things continued down to the time of the first Punic war, after which the comitia curiata lost its importance and soon fell into oblivion. Both the assembly and the curiae were, superseded rather than abolished, and died out from inanition; but the gentes remained far into the empire, not as an organization, for that also died out in time, hut as a pedigree and a lineage. Thus the transition from gentile into political society was gradually but effectuality accomplished, and the second great plan of human government was substituted by the Romans in the place of the first which had prevailed from time immemorial.

After an immensely protracted duration, running back of the separate existence of the Aryan family and received by the Latin tribes from their remote ancestors, the gentile — organization finally surrendered its existence, among the Romans, to the demands of civilisation. It had held exclusive possession of society through these several ethnical periods, end until it had won by experience all the elements of civilization, which it then proved unable to manage. Mankind owe a debt of gratitude to their savage ancestors for devising an institution able to carry the advancing portion of the human race out of savagery into barbarism, and through the successive stages of the latter into civilization. It also accumulated by experience the intelligence and knowledge necessary to devise political society while the institution yet remained. It holds a position on the great chart of human progress second to none in its influence, in its achievements and in its history. As a plan of government, the gentile organization was unequal to the wants of civilized man; but it is something to, be said in its remembrance that it developed from the germ the principal, government institutions of modern civilized states. Among others, as before stated, out of the ancient council of chiefs came the modern senate; out of the ancient assembly of the people came the modern representative assembly, the two together constituting the modern legislature; out of the ancient general military commander cam the modern chief magistrate, whether a feudal or constitutional king, an emperor or a president, the latter being the natural and logical results; and out of the ancient custos urbis, by a circuitous derivation, came the Roman praetor and the modern judge. Equal rights and privileges, personal freedom and the cardinal principles of democracy were also inherited from the gentes. When property had become created in masses, and its influence and power began to be felt in society, slavery came in; an institution violative of all these principles, but sustained by the selfish and delusive consideration that the person made a slave was a stranger in blood and a captive enemy. With property also came in gradually the principle of aristocracy, striving for the creation of privileged classes. The element of property, which has controlled society to a great event during the comparatively short period of civilization, has given mankind despotism, imperialism, monarchy, privileged classes, and finally representative democracy. It has also made the career of the civilized nations essentially a property-making career. But when the intelligence of mankind rises to the height of the great question of the abstract rights of property, — including the relations of property to the state, as well as the rights of persons to property, — a modification of the present order of things may be expected. The nature of the coming changes it may be impossible to conceive; but it seems probable that democracy, once universal in a rudimentary form and repressed in many civilized states, is destined to become again universal and supreme.

An American, educated in the principles of democracy, and profoundly impressed with the dignity and grandeur of those great conceptions which recognize the liberty, equality and fraternity of mankind, may give free expression to a preference for self-government and free institutions. At the same time the equal right of every other person must be recognized to accept and approve any form of government, whether imperial or monarchical, that satisfies his preferences.


1. Dionysius, iv; 1.

2. Niebuhr says: “The existence of the plebs, as acknowledgedly a free and very numerous portion of the nation, may be traced back to the reign of Ancus; but before the time of Servius it was only an aggregate of unconnected parts; not a united regular whole.” — “History of Rome,” 1. c., i, 315.

3. “History of Rome.” i, 315.

4. “That the clients were total strangers to the plebeian commonalty and did not coalesce with it until late, when the bond of servitude had been loosened, partly from the houses of their patrons dying of or sinking into decay, partly from the advance of the whole nation toward freedom, will be proved in the sequel of this history.” — “History of Rome,” i; 315.

5. Dionysius; ii; 8.

6. Plutarch, “Vit, Rom”., xiii, 16.

7. “Vit. Tiberius,” cap. 1.

8. “History of Rome,” i. 256,450.

9. Smith’s “Dic., Articles, Gens, Patricii, and P1ebs.”

10. Dionysius; ii; 8; Plutarch, “Vit. Rom”., xiii.

11. Ib., ii,. 8.

12. “De Rep.,” ii. 12.

13. Livy, ii 8.

14. Velleus Paterculus, 1, 8.

15. Livy, ii, 49.

16. “History of Rome,” i, 246.

17. Ib., i, 245.

18. Livy, iv, 4.

19. Livy, iv, 51.

20. Plutarch, “Vit. Numa,” xvii, 20.

21. The property qualification for the first class was 100,000 asses; for the second class, 75,000 asses; for third, 50,000, for the fourth, 25,000; and for the fifth, 11,000 asses. — Livy, i, 43.

22. Dionysius, iv, 20.

23. Ib, iv, 16, 17, 18.

24. Livy, i, 43.

25. “De Rep.,” ii, 20.

26. Dionysius, iv. 16.

27. Livy, i, 43.

28. Livy, i, 43; But Dionysius places the equites in the first class, and remarks that this class was first called — — Dionysius, iv, 20.

29. Livy, i, 44; Dionysius states the number at 84,700. — iv, 22.

30. Cicero, “De Rep.,” ii, 22.

31. Livy, i, 42.

32. Dionysius, iv, 15.

33. Dionyius, iv, 14.

34. “History of Rome,” 1, c., Scribner’s ed., i, 136.

35. Dionysius, iv, 15; Niebuhr has furnished the names of sixteen country townships, as follows: Aemilian, Camilian, Cluentian, Cornelian, Fabian, Galerian, Horatian, Lemonian, Menenian, Paperian, Romilian, Sergian, Veturian, Claudian.- “History of Rome,” i, 320, note.