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[8] For these reasons the people became troubled lest they should no longer have sufficient allies of the Italian stock, and lest the government itself should be endangered by such a vast number of slaves. Not perceiving any remedy, as it was not easy, nor exactly just, to deprive men of so many possessions they had held so long, including their own trees, buildings, and fixtures, a law was once
Y.R. 387
passed with difficulty at the instance of the tribunes, that
B.C. 367
nobody should hold more than 500 jugera of this land,1 or pasture on it more than 100 cattle or 500 sheep. To ensure the observance of this law it was provided also that there should be a certain number of freemen employed on the farms, whose business it should be to watch and report what was going on.2 Those who held possession of lands under the law were required to take an oath to obey the law, and penalties were fixed for violating it, and it was supposed that the remaining land would soon be divided among the poor in small parcels. But there was not the smallest consideration shown for the law or the oaths. The few who seemed to pay some respect to them conveyed their lands to their relations fraudulently, but the greater part disregarded it altogether.
Y.R. 621

1 τῆσδε τῆς γῆς. "Of this land," the public land (ager publicus), not land in general. There has been much controversy over the question whether the agrarian laws of Rome were sumptuary laws intended to restrict the amount of landed property that one man could hold, or whether they applied only to the public domain, and this passage in Appian has played a large part in the controversy. M. Dureau de la Malle in his £Economie Politique des Romains (ii. 282 seq.) held that they were true sumptuary laws and he cited numerous authorities in support of the position. The most thorough examination of this question has been made by Mr. Geo. Long in his Decline of the Roman Republic (i. 144-159). His argument is convincing to the effect that these laws applied only to the public lands. This is the opinion also of Niebuhr, Mommsen, and Duruy. It may therefore be considered settled that they were not sumptuary laws and did not limit the amount of land a man might acquire by purchase, inheritance, or gift. The word possessio in Roman law meant not ownership, but a seizing or sitting upon land. A Possessor was a squatter. The law referred to by Appian as having been formerly passed with difficulty was the Licinian law, B.C. 367. The Roman jugerum was about two-thirds of an acre.

2 τὰ γιγνομένα, "what was going on." Mr. Long in his history (i. 161 and 166) construes this phrase by the word "produce," meaning that it was the duty of the freemen employed on the farms to keep account of the crops and make reports to the public authorities so that the state might receive its due share. This may be the true meaning, but it should be observed that in the preceding section where the author speaks of the yearly produce he uses the words τῶν ἐτησίων καρπῶν. According to the other interpretation it was the duty of the freemen to keep watch and make reports to the masters in order to prevent servile insurrection.

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    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), LEX
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), SERVUS
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