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Land Ownership

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Historians speak about most land property, during the hellenistic era, being public and only the right to collect taxes from local communities belonging to private individuals, cities, kings or temples. This kind of free populations that had to give a part of their products was known under many names, but mostly as "pariakoi"

This is not about the private property that someone held, but, about the rights that some had to collect tribute from peaseants that had a status between free men and slaves. Some historians evan call them "serfs".

My question is, when and how this type of property was converted to the full land ownership that we see during the Roman Empire?.

In fact, the situation was similar in Europe where the tribal aristocracy was not based on large proprieties worked with slaves or hired labour, but on rights to collect taxes from peasants.

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After the Fall of the Roman Empire, Europe had a Feudal System, which drew on the Romans' latifundia, which in turn drew from the , or laws regulating land distribution.

 

In the early Roman Republic there were three kinds of land: private land, common pasture, and public land or land of the public domain, which was rented to private entrepreneurs. By the second century B C, however, much of the public land was treated by its occupants as though it were private. Despite early laws limiting the amount which could be occupied, the wealthy amassed gigantic holdings a tendency encouraged by the growing importance of the olive and the vine, and especially of ranching At the same time there was a steady exodus of the small farmers to the city, partly because the continued demands of military service made farming increasingly hazardous, partly because of the predatory instincts of the great landowners, partly because the small farm was now at a competitive disadvantage. The result was an impoverished, restless, and unproductive urban population.

FYI: It was also during a speech by Julius Caesar about the ager publicus, with Crassus and Pompey flanking him that the First Triumvate was revealed.

Edited by Ziriel

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Whether Italy was swallowed up by large latifundia is still an open question. It's true that Tiberius Gracchus made this claim, based on his casual observations of the Italian countryside, but casual observation is darned near worthless. Recent archaeological and statistical work cited by Nathan Rosenstein in "Rome at War" seriously undermines Gracchus' claim.

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Whether Italy was swallowed up by large latifundia is still an open question. It's true that Tiberius Gracchus made this claim, based on his casual observations of the Italian countryside, but casual observation is darned near worthless. Recent archaeological and statistical work cited by Nathan Rosenstein in "Rome at War" seriously undermines Gracchus' claim.

 

I would disagree, Rosenstein writes well and the book is superb. However, I think the question of Depopulation and the growth the latifundia is far from resolved. Firstly the most recent archaeological work is tending to back up claims of rural depopulation in the second century (Liverani Papers of the British School 1984 and Patterson et al ibid 2004 if you have access). There is a gap in the ceramic chronology that has until recently been interpreted as either conservatism in form or evidence of economic crisis. The conservatism in form theory has been pretty much dismissed now but the economic crisis one has not. I tend to think that economic crisis would lead to a certain amount of depopulation anyway, especially in the regions closer to Rome. The final and obvious interpretation is that a lack of pots tends to point to a lack of people. There was also significant population migration caused by the search for better rights (ie latin or citizenship). Etruria certainly was depopulated, this is well documented it was a foul and malaria riddled place.

 

I agree that the case for the case of the latifundia taking over has not been proven as yet. However, I think we need to be careful with talking about archaeology as concrete evidence (no pun intended) it is as open to interpretation as literary source analysis and these interpretations change as our knowledge moves on. Twenty years ago everyone would have agreed that the Gracchan tradition was in danger of looking like nothing more than propaganda but these days the same archaeologists are talking in terms of crisis at this time. Personally I suspect that the lack of latifundia may in part be down to interpretation (everyone is looking for Cato's villa!), in part to regional differences in Italian farming that are not explored well enough as yet (guess what my current research is!) and in part (and this at the moment is an entirely unsubstantiated hypothesis..er a guess in other words!) I suspect that rural depopulation did come before the main thrust of the latifundia movement and we have been in wrong in ascribing a causal relationship. However, I think that the link was certainly there to some degree. It may be that we have compounded errors that the Romans themselves made about the causes of their problems.

 

 

All shooting down in flames type replies welcome...I have to defend my position I guess

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Whether Italy was swallowed up by large latifundia is still an open question. .... Recent archaeological and statistical work cited by Nathan Rosenstein in "Rome at War" seriously undermines Gracchus' claim.

 

I would disagree, Rosenstein writes well and the book is superb. [...]

 

I agree that the case for the case of the latifundia taking over has not been proven as yet.

 

Then I think we end up agreeing. To my mind, whether Italy was swallowed up by latifundia is an unproven claim. The Gracchan testimony is just that--hearsay evidence, nothing more.

 

Rosenstein offers a compelling counter-explanation for the decline in Italian population, but (as he would be the first to admit) his case still needs more evidence.

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Whether Italy was swallowed up by large latifundia is still an open question. .... Recent archaeological and statistical work cited by Nathan Rosenstein in "Rome at War" seriously undermines Gracchus' claim.

 

I would disagree, Rosenstein writes well and the book is superb. [...]

 

I agree that the case for the case of the latifundia taking over has not been proven as yet.

 

Then I think we end up agreeing. To my mind, whether Italy was swallowed up by latifundia is an unproven claim. The Gracchan testimony is just that--hearsay evidence, nothing more.

 

Rosenstein offers a compelling counter-explanation for the decline in Italian population, but (as he would be the first to admit) his case still needs more evidence.

 

In general we may be in agreement, but the Gracchan testimony cannot be dismissed as hearsay unless you can explain the actions of of his predecessor.

 

"These the rich men employed in cultivating their ground of which they dispossessed the citizens. Caius Laelius, the intimate friend of Scipio, undertook to reform this abuse; but meeting with opposition from men of authority, and fearing a disturbance, he soon desisted, and received the name of the Wise or the Prudent, both which meanings belong to the Latin word Sapiens. " Plut Tib.Grac.8

 

Or are you saying that all ancient source material can be dismissed when it doesn't suit us? This was more than propaganda, if we look at Tiberius support it was often rurally based. Something was happening in the countryside we just don't know what.

 

In response to the orginal bit of this thread though it is an interesting question I would say that private land ownership certainly predates the mid 4th century BC because Roman property laws were well attested by then.

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In general we may be in agreement, but the Gracchan testimony cannot be dismissed as hearsay unless you can explain the actions of of his predecessor.

 

My dismissal of the Gracchan testimony is based on the fact that Gracchus could not have in fact determined from casual observation whether the spread of latifundia were responsible for poor conditions in the countryside. That's a claim that is simply outside the power of casual observation.

 

This was more than propaganda, if we look at Tiberius support it was often rurally based. Something was happening in the countryside we just don't know what.

How do we know how much support Tiberius had from the countryside? Most of Italy couldn't vote for Tiberius, so it's really impossible to know, isn't it? And what is the reason that Tiberius had any rural support? Because his economic analysis was correct (I think not); because his desire to extend the franchise to them was popular (I think so); both; or neither? The mere fact that Tiberius had some rural support in no way speaks definitively to his claims about land ownership--he could have been supported by Italians simply because they wanted real political rights.

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In general we may be in agreement, but the Gracchan testimony cannot be dismissed as hearsay unless you can explain the actions of of his predecessor.

 

My dismissal of the Gracchan testimony is based on the fact that Gracchus could not have in fact determined from casual observation whether the spread of latifundia were responsible for poor conditions in the countryside. That's a claim that is simply outside the power of casual observation.

 

This was more than propaganda, if we look at Tiberius support it was often rurally based. Something was happening in the countryside we just don't know what.

How do we know how much support Tiberius had from the countryside? Most of Italy couldn't vote for Tiberius, so it's really impossible to know, isn't it? And what is the reason that Tiberius had any rural support? Because his economic analysis was correct (I think not); because his desire to extend the franchise to them was popular (I think so); both; or neither? The mere fact that Tiberius had some rural support in no way speaks definitively to his claims about land ownership--he could have been supported by Italians simply because they wanted real political rights.

 

While I take your point on the difficulty of knowing about his support it is specifically attested in the sources

that a great crowd gathered from the countryside, that graffitti demanding land was found in many places in Rome.

 

"While these classes were thus lamenting and indulging in mutual accusations, a great number of others, composed of colonists, or inhabitants of the free towns, or persons otherwise interested in the lands and who were under like apprehensions, flocked in and took sides with their respective factions. Emboldened by numbers and exasperated against each other they kindled considerable disturbances, and waited eagerly for the voting on the new law, some intending to prevent its enactment by all means, and others to enact it at all costs" Appian BC.10

 

Also it was not just the Italians that supported Gracchus but the urban poor as well who wanted land either to improve their lot or because they had been dispossessed in some way. Also the Italians were not by any means unanimous in their support for Tiberius, the Gracchan land comissin was stymied by the Italians protesting over losing land that they had regarded as theirs. I wouldn't say that extending the franchise was by any means popular with the Italians. They had been offered it partly as a sop over losing land, and partly because I think Tiberius probably had quite a strongly held belief that this was the right thing to do. If the Italians wanted citizenship so badly at the time they had a very funny way of showing it.

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How about other provinces? Did the romans changed the laws or customs of land property in other areas?

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In general we may be in agreement, but the Gracchan testimony cannot be dismissed as hearsay unless you can explain the actions of of his predecessor.

 

My dismissal of the Gracchan testimony is based on the fact that Gracchus could not have in fact determined from casual observation whether the spread of latifundia were responsible for poor conditions in the countryside. That's a claim that is simply outside the power of casual observation.

 

This was more than propaganda, if we look at Tiberius support it was often rurally based. Something was happening in the countryside we just don't know what.

How do we know how much support Tiberius had from the countryside? Most of Italy couldn't vote for Tiberius, so it's really impossible to know, isn't it? And what is the reason that Tiberius had any rural support? Because his economic analysis was correct (I think not); because his desire to extend the franchise to them was popular (I think so); both; or neither? The mere fact that Tiberius had some rural support in no way speaks definitively to his claims about land ownership--he could have been supported by Italians simply because they wanted real political rights.

 

Casual observation! What else could be done? If one sees more people in rags one day than the day before, that's pretty good evidence. It's practical! I don't think that anyone, then, had a university statistical analysis of the matters. Tenancy does not equate to ownership. As has been stated elsewhere, 95% of the population were poor. And that point is not up for grabs.

If we don't 'know', how can anyone conclude? Differing people often make odd bed fellows when it comes to some particular point. As for voting, then as now, it was fixed.

If 'guessing' is to be used, maybe the bad boys had this in mind: If one doesn't have a direct interest in the nation, one won't fight for it.

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My dismissal of the Gracchan testimony is based on the fact that Gracchus could not have in fact determined from casual observation whether the spread of latifundia were responsible for poor conditions in the countryside. That's a claim that is simply outside the power of casual observation.

Casual observation! What else could be done? If one sees more people in rags one day than the day before, that's pretty good evidence. It's practical! I don't think that anyone, then, had a university statistical analysis of the matters. Tenancy does not equate to ownership. As has been stated elsewhere, 95% of the population were poor. And that point is not up for grabs.

 

Two points. First, casual observation *might* establish that poverty increased (if rags really do indicate poverty and the increase in rag-wearing increases by a large amount). However, it isn't possible to know from this observation alone whether increases in latifundian were reponisble for the increase in poverty. A number of other factors might explain the increase in poverty. For example, the number of latifundia may have been constant, but poverty increased because (1) the weather had been very bad for a number of seasons, (2) the amount of time farmers spent on campaign increased, (3) soldiers returning home in large numbers led to a "baby boom" and thus an instantaneous and widespread hit to the resources of family farmers, and (4) the availability of seed grain had been depleted to feed the army.

Edited by M. Porcius Cato

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I believe that by the time of the Gracchi most of the existing ager publicus in the ager Romanus had been given private rights of tenure, making it either ager quaestorius (land auctioned by the quaestors in Rome), ager censorius (land leased out by the censors for a rent) and ager in trientabulis (land given as repayment to Roman creditors during the Second Punic War); the most convincing recent interpretation of the lex Sempronia that I have read actually cites the law itself as the reason for the conversion of most of the former ager publicus into private land, since Tiberius' law made hereditary possession of ager publicus within the 500 iugera limitation permanent and tried to offer private rights of tenure to everyone intended to be covered under his law. With the Gracchan land commission no more by the last decade of the second century, the lex Thoria of 111 was essentially the logical end of distributing ager publicus with no history of Roman settlement. The agrarian movements of the first century were similar in intention but quite different in nature to the lex Sempronia.

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