The Common People of Ancient Rome eBook

Frank Frost Abbott
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 203 pages of information about The Common People of Ancient Rome.
of their poverty.  This was socialism or state philanthropy.  Like the agrarian bill of Tiberius, the corn law of Gaius Gracchus, which provided for the sale of grain below the market price, was a paternal measure inspired in part by sympathy for the needy.  The political element is clear in both cases also.  The people who were thus favored by assignments of land and of food naturally supported the leaders who assisted them.  Perhaps the extensive building of roads which Gaius Gracchus carried on should be mentioned in this connection.  The ostensible purpose of these great highways, perhaps their primary purpose, was to develop Italy and to facilitate communication between different parts of the peninsula, but a large number of men was required for their construction, and Gaius Gracchus may well have taken the matter up, partly for the purpose of furnishing work to the unemployed.  Out of these small beginnings developed the socialistic policy of later times.  By the middle of the first century B.C., it is said that there were three hundred and twenty thousand persons receiving doles of corn from the state, and, if the people could look to the government for the necessities of life, why might they not hope to have it supply their less pressing needs?  Or, to put it in another way, if one politician won their support by giving them corn, why might not another increase his popularity by providing them with amusement and with the comforts of life?  Presents of oil and clothing naturally follow, the giving of games and theatrical performances at the expense of the state, and the building of porticos and public baths.  As the government and wealthy citizens assumed a larger measure of responsibility for the welfare of the citizens, the people became more and more dependent upon them and less capable of managing their own affairs.  An indication of this change we see in the decline of local self-government and the assumption by the central administration of responsibility for the conduct of public business in the towns of Italy.  This last consideration suggests another phase of Roman history which a study of paternalism would bring out—­I mean the effect of its introduction on the character of the Roman people.

The history of paternalism in Rome, when it is written, might approach the subject from several different points.  If the writer were inclined to interpret history on the economic side, he might find the explanation of the change in the policy of the government toward its citizens in the introduction of slave labor which, under the Republic, drove the free laborer to the wall and made him look to the state for help, in the decline of agriculture, and the growth of capitalism.  The sociologist would notice the drift of the people toward the cities and the sudden massing there of large numbers of persons who could not provide for themselves and in their discontent might overturn society.  The historian who concerns himself with political changes mainly, would notice the socialistic legislation of the Gracchi and their political successors and would connect the growth of paternalism with the development of democracy.  In all these explanations there would be a certain measure of truth.

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The Common People of Ancient Rome from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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