Rullus, P. Servi'lius
tribune of the plebs, B. C. 63, proposed an agrarian law, which Cicero attacked in three orations, De Lege Agraria
, which have come down to us. We know scarcely any thing of the family or the life of Rullus. Pliny relates that his father was the first Roman who brought a boar whole upon the table (H. N.
8.51. s. 78), and Cicero describes the son as a debauchee (c. Rull.
This agrarian law, called as usual after the name of its proposer the Servilia Lex,
was the most extensive that had ever been brought forward.
The execution of it was entrusted to ten commissioners (decemviri
), whose election was to be conducted in the same manner as that of the pontifex maximus. Seventeen of the tribes were to be selected by lot, and nine of these were to give their votes in favour of each candidate.
The ten commissioners thus elected were to have extraordinary powers. Their office was to last five years, and the imperium was to be conferred upon them by a lex curiata. They were authorised to sell all the lands out of Italy, which had become part of the public domain since the consulship of Sulla and Q. Pompeius (B. C. 88), with the exception of those which had been guaranteed by treaty to the Roman allies; and likewise all the public domains in Italy, with the exception of the Campanian and Stellatian districts, and of the lands which had been assigned by the state, or had had a possessor since the consulship of Carbo and the younger Marius (B. C. 82).
The object of the latter enactment was to avert any opposition that might be made by the numerous persons who had received grants of public lands from Sulla. Further, all the proconsuls and other magistrates in the provinces, who had not yet paid into the treasury the monies which they had obtained from the booty of the enemy or in any other way, were commanded to give the whole of such monies to the decemvirs; but an exception was made in favour of Pompey, whom it was thought prudent to exempt from the operation of the law. All the sums thus received by the decemvirs, both from the sale of the public lands and from the Roman generals, were to be devoted by them to the purchase of lands in Italy, which were then to be assigned to the poor Roman citizens as their property. They were to settle a colony of 5000 citizens on the rich public lands in the Campanian and Stellatian districts, each of the colonists receiving ten jugera in the former and twelve in the latter district.
These were the chief objects of the Servilia Lex, but it contained besides many other provisions relating to the public land. Thus for instance the decemvirs were authorised to decide in all cases, whether the land belonged to the public domains or to a private person, and also to impose taxes on all the public lands which still remained in the hands of the possessors.
It is impossible to believe that Rullus would have ventured to bring forward this law without the sanction and approval of Caesar, who was then the leader of the popular party; but it is equally impossible to believe that Caesar could have desired or thought that it was practicable to carry such an unconstitutional and extravagant measure.
It is not, however, difficult to divine the probable motives which actuated him in rendering it his support. Any opposition, however just, to an agrarian law, was always unpopular among the lower classes at Rome.
The aristocratical party, by resisting and defeating the proposition of Rullus, would be looked upon by the people with greater dislike than ever; and their disappointment in not obtaining the grants they had anticipated would render still more welcome an agrarian law proposed by Caesar himself. Besides this consideration, Caesar was probably anxious to unmask Cicero, who had risen to the consulship by the favour of the people, but who now exhibited unequivocal signs of having deserted his former friends and united himself to the aristocracy.
The latter would expect their new champion, as consul, to show the sincerity of his conversion by opposing the popular measure with all the powers of his oratory; and thus he would of necessity lose much of the influence which he still possessed with the people.
Rullus entered upon his office with the other tribunes on the 10th of December, B. C. 64, and immediately brought forward his agrarian law, in order that the people might vote upon it in the following January. Cicero, who entered upon his consulship on the 1st of January, B. C. 63, lost no time in showing his zeal for his new party, and accordingly on the first day of the year opposed the law in the senate in the first of the orations which have come down to us.
But as his eloquence did not deter Rullus from persevering in his design, Cicero addressed the people a few days afterwards in the second of the speeches which are extant. Rullus did not venture upon a public reply, but he spread the report that Cicero only opposed the law in order to gratify those who had received grants of land from Sulla. To justify himself from this aspersion, Cicero again called the people together, and delivered the third oration which we have, in which he retorts the charge upon Rullus, and shows that his law, far from depriving the Sullan colonists of their lands, expressly confirmed them in their possessions. Meantime the aristocracy had gained the tribune L. Caecilius Rufus to put his veto upon the rogation, if it should be put to the vote ; but there was no occasion for this last resort; for Rullus, probably on the advice of Caesar, thought it more prudent to withdraw the measure altogether. (Drumann, Geschichte Roms,
vol. iii. pp. 147-159.)
From this time the name of Rullus does not occur again till B. C. 41, in which year we read of L. Servilius Rullus as one of the generals of Octavian in the Perusinian war (D. C. 48.28
; Appian, App. BC 5.58
He may have been the same person as the tribune mentioned above, but was more probably his son.