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[10arg] The meaning of proletarii and capite censi; also of adsiduus in the Twelve Tables, and the origin of the word.

ONE day there was a cessation of business in the Forum at Rome, and as the holiday was being joyfully celebrated, it chanced that one of the books of the Annals of Ennius was read in an assembly of very many persons. In this book the following lines occurred: 1
With shield and savage sword is Proletarius armed
At public cost; they guard our walls, our mart and town.
Then the question was raised there, what proletarius meant. And seeing in that company a man who was skilled in the civil law, a friend of mine, I asked him to explain the word to us; and when he rejoined that he was an expert in civil law and not in grammatical matters, I said: " You in particular ought to explain this, since, as you declare, you are skilled in civil law. For Quintus Ennius took this word from your Twelve Tables, in which, if I remember aright, we have the following: 2 'For a freeholder let the protector 3 be a freeholder. For a proletariate citizen 4 let whoso will be protector. “We therefore ask you to consider that not one of the books of Quintus Ennius' Annals, but the Twelve [p. 169] Tables are being read, and interpret the meaning of 'proletariate citizen' in that law.” “It is true,” said he, “that if I had learned the law of the Fauns and Aborigines, I ought to explain and interpret this. But since proletarii, adsidui, sanates, vades, subvades, 'twenty-five asses,' 'retaliation,' and trials for theft 'by plate and girdle' 5 have disappeared, and since all the ancient lore of the Twelve Tables, except for legal questions before the court of the centumviri, was put to sleep by the Aebutian law, 6 I ought only to exhibit interest in, and knowledge of, the law and statutes and legal terms which we now actually use.”

Just then, by some chance, we caught sight of Julius Paulus passing by, the most learned poet within my recollection. We greeted him, and when he was asked to enlighten us as to the meaning and derivation of that word, he said: "Those of the Roman commons who were humblest and of smallest means, and who reported no more than fifteen hundred asses at the census, were called proletarii, but those who were rated as having no property at all, or next to none, were termed capite censi, or 'counted by head.' And the lowest rating of the capite censi was three hundred and seventy-five asses. But since property and money were regarded as a hostage and pledge of loyalty to the State, and since there was in them a kind of guarantee and assurance of patriotism, neither the proletarii nor the capite censi were enrolled as soldiers except in some time of extraordinary disorder, because they had [p. 171] little or no property and money. However, the class of proletarii was somewhat more honourable in fact and in name than that of the capite censi; for in times of danger to the State, when there was a scarcity of men of military age, they were enrolled for hasty service, 7 and arms were furnished them at public expense. And they were called, not capite censi, but by a more auspicious name derived from their duty and function of producing offspring, for although they could not greatly aid the State with what small property they had, yet they added to the population of their country by their power of begetting children. Gaius Marius is said to have been the first, according to some in the war with the Cimbri in a most critical period for our country, or more probably, as Sallust says, in the Jugurthine war, to have enrolled soldiers from the capite censi, since such an act was unheard of before that time. Adsidaus in the Twelve Tables 8 is used of one who is rich and well to do, 9 either because he contributed 'asses' (that is, money) when the exigencies of the State required it, or from his 'assiduity' in making contributions according to the amount of his property." 10

Now the words of Sallust in the Iugurthine War about Gaius Marius and the capite censi are these: 11 “He himself in the meantime enrolled soldiers, not according to the classes, or in the manner of our forefathers, but allowing anyone to volunteer, for the most part the lowest class (capite censos). Some say that he did this through lack of good men, [p. 173] others because of a desire to curry favour, since that class had given him honour and rank, and as a matter of fact, to one who aspires to power the poorest man is the most helpful.”

1 Ann. 183 ff.

2 i. 4.

3 The vindex is here one who voluntarily agrees to go before the magistrate as the representative of the defendant, and thereby takes upon himself the action in the stead of the latter (Allen, Remnants of Early Latin, p. 85).

4 The proletarii (cf. proles) were “child-producers,” who made no other contribution to the State; see § 13.

5 XII Tab. i. 4, 5, 10; viii. 2, 4, 15. For proletarii see note, p. 167. The adsidui were “permanent settlers,” or taxpayers, belonging to one of the five upper Servian classes. The sanates seem to have been clients or dependents of the wealthy Roman citizens. Vades were sureties, who gave bail; subvades, sub-sureties, who gave security for the bail. On viginti quinque asses, the penalty for an assault, see xx. 1. 12; for taliones, xx. 1. 14; and for cum lance et licio, note on xi. 18. 9.

6 The date is unknown,

7 That is, to meet a tumultus, “a rebellion” or irregular warfare. At first used as a military term, tumultuarius later acquired a general sense; cf. tumultuario rogo, “on a hastily erected pyre,” Suet. Calig. lix.

8 i. 4, 10.

9 locuples seems to be derived from locus, in the sense of “land,” and the root ple- of pleo and plenus.

10 Both these derivations are fanciful; adsiduus is connected with adsideo, as the grammarian Caper knew (Gram. Lat. vii. 108. 5, Keil), and means “a permanent settler.”

11 Jug. lxxxvi. 2.

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hide References (10 total)
  • Cross-references to this page (8):
    • Harper's, Caput
    • Harper's, Centumvĭri
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), AC´TIO
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), CENTUM´VIRI
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), COMIT´IA
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), EXE´RCITUS
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), LEX
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), PROLETA´RII
  • Cross-references in general dictionaries to this page (2):
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