From the earliest times the
supply of corn at Rome was considered one of the duties of the government.
Not only was it expected that the government should take care that the
) was properly supplied, but
likewise that in all seasons of scarcity they should purchase corn in the
surrounding countries, and sell it to the people at a moderate price (Liv. 2.9
, &c.; 26.40 ;--Cic. pro Dom. 5
). This price, which is spoken of
as annona vetus
), could not rise much, without exciting formidable discontent;
and the administration was in all such cases considered to have neglected
one of its most important duties. The superintendence of the corn-market
belonged in ordinary times to the aediles; but when great scarcity
prevailed, an extraordinary officer was appointed for the purpose, under the
title of Praefectus Annonae
) With the decay
of agriculture in Italy, which followed the importation of corn from the
provinces, and the decrease of the free population, the government had to
pay still further attention to the supply of corn for the city. In addition
to this, an indigent population gradually increased in Rome, which could not
even purchase corn at the moderate price at which it was usually sold, and
who demanded to be fed at the expense of the state. Even in early times it
had been usual for the state on certain occasions, and for wealthy
individuals who wished to obtain popularity and influence, to make
occasional donations of corn to the people (donatio,
; subsequently called frumentatio
). (Mommsen, Rom.
2.372.) But such donations were only casual; and it was not
till the year B.C. 123 that the first legal provision was made for supplying
the poor at Rome with corn at a price much below its market value. In that
year C. Sempronius Gracchus brought forward the first Lex
by which each citizen was entitled to receive
every month a certain quantity of wheat (triticum
) at the price of 6 1/3 asses for the modius, which was
equal to nearly 1 peck English.1
(Liv. Epit. 60
; Appian, App. BC 1.21
; Plut. C.
5; Vell. 2.6
; Cic. pro Sest.
48, 103.) This was only a trifle more than
half the market price, since in the time of Cicero 3 sesterces=12 asses were
considered a low sum for a modius of wheat (Boeckh, Metrol.
p. 420), and 4 sesterces was about the average price
(Dureau de la Malle, Écon. Pol.
1.109). It must
not be supposed that each person was allowed to receive as much as he
pleased every month; the quantity must of course have been fixed, and was
probably five modii monthly, as in later times. This quantity was only given
to fathers of families; but it was not confined to the poor, as Plutarch
) would imply, for every citizen had a
right to it, whether he were rich or poor (ἑκάστῳ
Appian, l.c.; viritim,
Cic. Tusc. Disp.
3.20, 48); and even Piso, who had been
consul, applied for his share at the distribution (Cic. l.c.
). It appears, however, from the anecdote which Cicero relates
about Piso, that each citizen had to apply in person, a regulation which
would of itself deter most of the rich. The example that had been set by
Gracchus was too tempting not to be followed, although the consequences of
such a measure were equally prejudicial to the public finances and the
public morality. It emptied the treasury, and at the same time taught the
poor to become state-paupers [p. 1.878]
instead of depending
upon their own exertions for obtaining a living, and crowded the city with
an idle population.
The demagogue Appuleius Saturninus went still further. In B.C. 100 he brought
forward his Lex Appuleia, by which the state was to sell corn at 5/6 ths of
an as for the modius. The city quaestor Q. Caepio pointed out that the
treasury could not bear such an expense (cf. Mommsen, Gesch. d.
p. 560), and the most violent
opposition was offered to the measure. It is doubtful whether it ever passed
into a law; and it is at all events certain that it was never carried into
execution (Auctor ad
1.12, 21: comp. Cic.
de Leg. ii. 6
, 14). The Lex Livia, which was
proposed by the tribune M. Livius Drusus in B.C. 91, was likewise never
carried into effect, as it was annulled by the senate, together with all his
other laws, as passed in opposition to the auspices. Of the provisions of
this Lex Frumentaria we have no account (Liv. Epit.
About the same time, either shortly before or shortly after the Lex Livia
p. 181), the tribune M.
Octavius, supported by the aristocracy, brought forward the Lex Octavia,
which modified the law of Gracchus to some extent, so that the public
treasury did not suffer so much. He probably either raised the price of the
corn, or diminished the number of modii which each citizen was entitled to
receive. (Cic. Brut. 62
; de Off.
Sulla went still further, and by his Lex Cornelia, B.C. 82, did away
altogether with these distributions of corn, so that in the language which
Sallust puts into the mouth of Lepidus, populus
Romanus--ne servilia quidem alimenta reliqua habet.
1.45, 11, Kritz.) But the senate soon found
it inexpedient to deprive the people of their customary largesses, as the
popular party began to increase in power; and it was accordingly at the
desire of the senate that the consuls of B.C. 73 brought forward the Lex
Terentia Cassia, which was probably only a renewal of the Lex Sempronia,
with one or two additions respecting the manner in which the state was to
obtain the corn. The law enacted that each Roman citizen should receive 5
modii a month at the price of 6 1/3 asses for each modius. It appears from
the various orations of Cicero, that by this law the provinces were obliged
to furnish the greater part of the corn at a fixed price, which was paid by
the Roman treasury, and that the governors of the provinces had to take care
that the proper quantity of corn was supplied. (Cic. Ver. 3.70, 163
; 5.21, 52
25, 55; Ascon. in
4, p. 9, ed. Orelli.) Occasionally extraordinary distributions
of corn were made in virtue of decrees of the senate. (Cic.
l.c. Plut. Cat. Mi.
All the Leges Frumentariae that have been hitherto mentioned had sold
corn to the people, although at a price much
below what the state had paid for it; but as the great party-leaders towards
the close of the republic were ready to purchase the support of the people
at any sacrifice to the state, the distribution of corn became at length
quite gratuitous. Caesar, in his consulship, B.C. 59, had threatened to make
it so (Cic. Att. 2.1. 9
; cf. pro
10, 25); and this threat was carried into execution in the
following year, B.C. 58, by the Lex Clodia of the tribune Clodius. The corn
was thus in future distributed without any payment; and the abolition of the
payment cost the state a fifth part of its revenues. (Cic. pro Sest.
25, 55, with Schol. Bob. p. 301, ed.
Orelli; Ascon. in Pis.
4, p. 9; D. C.
.) In B.C. 57, Pompey received by the Lex Cornelia Caecilia
the superintendence of the corn-market (cura
) for a period of five years but no alteration was made in the
distribution of corn by virtue of this measure. The only extension which he
gave to the distribution was by allowing those citizens whose names had not
hitherto been entered in the lists of the censors, to share in the bounty of
the state. (D. C. 39.24
.) At this time the
distribution of corn must have cost the state nearly £700,000 a
The dangerous consequences of such a system did not escape the penetration of
Caesar; and accordingly, when he became master of the Roman world, he
resolved to remedy the evils attending it, as far as he was able. He did not
venture to abolish altogether these distributions of corn, but he did the
next best thing in his power, which was reducing the number of the
recipients. During the civil wars numbers of persons who had no claim to the
Roman franchise had settled at Rome, in order to obtain a share in the
distributions of corn. The first thing, therefore, that Caesar did was to
have an accurate list made out of all the corn-receivers, and to exclude
from this privilege every person who could not prove that he was a Roman
citizen. By this measure the 320,000 persons who had previously received the
corn were at once reduced to 150,000.2
Having thus reduced the number of corn-receivers to 150,000, he
enacted that this number should not be exceeded for the future, and that
vacancies that occurred by death should be filled up every year by lot by
the praetor urbanus. (Suet. Jul. 55
; D. C. 43.21
.) It is further exceedingly probable
that as a general rule the corn was not given even to these 150,000, but
sold at a low price, as had been the case at an earlier period; and that it
was only to the utterly destitute that the corn was supplied gratuitously:
the latter class of persons were furnished with tickets, called tesserae nummariae
Thus we find it stated (Suet.
41) that Augustus, on one occasion, doubled the number
of the tesserae frumentariae.
the corn was as a general rule not given, but sold, we may conclude that
every citizen was entitled to be enrolled in the 150,000 corn-receivers,
independently of his fortune. The opposite opinion has been maintained by
many modern writers; but the arguments which have been brought forward by
Mommsen (Die Römischen Tribus,
p. 187) and others,
render the above supposition exceedingly probable.
The useful regulations of Caesar fell into neglect after his death, and the
number of corn-receivers was soon increased beyond the limits of 150,000,
which had been fixed by the dictator. This we learn from the Monumentum [p. 1.879]
Ancyranum, in which Augustus (100.15) enumerates
the number of persons to whom he had given congiaria at different times; and
there can be no doubt that the receivers of the congiaria and of the public
corn were the same. Thus, in B.C. 44, and on the three following occasions,
he distributed the congiaria to 250,000 persons; and in B.C. 5, the number
of recipients had amounted to 320,000. At length, in B.C. 2, Augustus
reduced the number of recipients to 200,000, and renewed many of Caesar's
regulations. (Suet. Octav.
40; D. C.
.) He had, indeed, thought of abolishing the system of
corn-distributions altogether on account of their injurious influence upon
Italian agriculture, but had not persevered in his intention from the
conviction that the practice would again be introduced by his successors.
42.) The chief regulations of Augustus seem to
have been :--1. That every citizen should receive monthly a certain quantity
of corn (probably 5 modii) on the payment of a certain small sum. As the
number of recipients was fixed by Augustus at 200,000, there were
consequently 12,000,000 modii distributed every year. Occasionally, in
seasons of scarcity, or in order to confer a particular favour, Augustus
made these distributions quite gratuitous: they then became congiaria. [CONGIARIUM
] 2. That those who
were completely indigent should receive the corn gratuitously, as Julius
Caesar had determined, and should be furnished for the purpose with tesserae nummariae
which entitled them to the corn without
payment. (Suet. Octav.
The system which had been established by Augustus was followed by his
successors ; but as it was always one of the first maxims of the state
policy of the Roman emperors to prevent any disturbance in the capital, they
frequently lowered the price of the public corn, and frequently distributed
it gratuitously as a congiarium.
Hence the cry
of the populace, pane et circenses.
ventured to abolish the public distributions of corn: the most that he dared
do, was to raise the price at which it was sold. When, therefore, we find it
stated in Dio Cassius (62.18), that Nero did away with the distributions of
corn after the burning of Rome, we cannot understand this literally, but
must suppose that he either raised the price of the commodity, or, what is
more probable, obliged those poor to pay for it who had previously received
it gratuitously. The care which the emperors took to keep Rome well supplied
with corn is frequently referred to in their coins by the legends, Annona, Ubertas, Abundantia, Liberalitas,
&c. We find in a coin of Nerva the legend plebei
urbanae frumento constituto.
(Eckhel, vol. vi. p. 406.)
In course of time, the sale of the corn by the state seems to have ceased
altogether, and the distribution became altogether gratuitous. Every
corn-receiver was therefore now provided with a tessera,
and this tessera, when once granted to him, became his
property. Hence it came to pass that he was not only allowed to keep the
tessera for life, but even to dispose of it by sale, and bequeath it by
will. (Dig. 5
.). Every citizen living
in Rome, even freedmen and criminals (Senec. de Benef.
2), was, competent to hold a tessera with the exception of senators.
Further, as the corn had been originally distributed to the people according
to the thirty-five tribes into which they were divided, the corn-receivers
in each tribe formed a kind of corporation, which came eventually to be
looked upon as the tribe, when the tribes had lost all political
significance. Hence the purchase of a tessera became equivalent to the
purchase of a place in a tribe; and accordingly we find in the Digest the
expressions emere tribum
and emere tesseram
used as synonymous (Dig.
fifty of these tesserae are still known to exist (Marquardt, ii. p. 124,
Another change was also introduced at a later period, which rendered the
bounty still more acceptable to the people. Instead of distributing the corn
every month, wheaten bread, called annona
was given to the people. It is uncertain at what time this
change was introduced, but it seems to have been the custom before the reign
of Aurelian (A.D. 270-275), as it is related of this emperor that on his
return from his Eastern expedition he distributed among the people a larger
quantity of bread, and of a different form from that which had been usually
given. (Vopisc. Aurel.
35; Zosim. 1.61.) The bread was baked
by the Pistores, who delivered it to the various depots in the city, from
which it was fetched away on certain days by the holders of the tesserae.
no. 3358.) These depôts had
) leading to them, whence the
bread was called panis gradilis;
and there were
the strictest regulations that the bread should only be distributed from
these steps, and should never be obtained at the baker's. (Cod. Theod.
14.17, 3, 4.) When Constantine transferred the seat of government to
Constantinople, the system of gratuitous distribution of bread was also
transferred to that city; and in order to encourage the building of houses,
all householders were entitled to a share of the imperial bounty. (Zosim.
3.32; Socrat. H. E.
2.13; Sozom. 3.7; Cod. Theod. 14.17.) The
distribution of bread at Rome was, however, still continued; and the care
which the later emperors took that both Rome and Constantinople should be
properly supplied with corn, may be seen by the regulations in the Cod.
Theod. xiv. tit. 15, De Canone Frumenetario urbis Romae,
tit. 16, De Frumento Urbis Constantinopolitanae.
superintendence of the corn-market, under the emperors, belonged to the
Many points connected with this subject have been necessarily omitted in
consequence of our limits. The reader who wishes for further information is
referred to: Contarini, De Frum. Rom. Largitione,
Thesaurus of Graevius, vol. viii. p. 923; Dirksen, Civilist.
vol. ii. p. 163 ff.; Mommsen, Dic
Altona, 1844; Kuhn, Ueber die
Korneinfuhr in Rom im Alterthum,
in the Zeitschr.
für d. Alterthumsw.
1845, pp. 993-1008, 1073-1084; Rein
ap. Pauly, s. v. Largitio;
vol. i. pt. ii., pp. 138 ff., 384
ff.; Walter, Gesch. des Röm. Rechts,
§ § 276-278, 360, 361; and especially Hirschfeld,
Die Getreideverwaltung in der Röm. Kaiserzeit
and Marquardt, Staatsverw.
2.106-132. [W. S.