Cicero : De Lege Agraria (63 BCE)
Cicero delivered this speech against P. Servilius Rullus (a Plebeian tribune of the Roman Republic) in 63 BCE
Quae res aperte petebatur, ea nunc occulte cuniculis oppugnatur. Dicent enim xviri, id quod et dicitur a multis et saepe dictum est, post eosdem consules regis Alexandri testamento regnum illud populi Romani esse factum. Dabitis igitur Alexandream clam petentibus eis quibus apertissime pugnantibus restitistis? Haec, per deos immortalis! utrum esse vobis consilia siccorum an vinolentorum somnia, et utrum cogitata sapientium an optata furiosorum videntur? [Videte nunc proximo capite ut impurus helluo turbet rem publicam, ut a maioribus nostris possessiones relictas disperdat ac dissipet, ut sit non minus in populi Romani patrimonio nepos quam in suo. Perscribit in sua lege vectigalia quae xviri vendant, hoc est, proscribit auctionem publicorum bonorum. Agros emi volt qui dividantur; quaerit pecuniam. Videlicet excogitabit aliquid atque adferet. Nam superioribus capitibus dignitas populi Romani violabatur, nomen imperi in commune odium orbis terrae vocabatur, urbes pacatae, agri sociorum, regum status xviris donabantur; nunc praesens pecunia, certa, numerata quaeritur.
On agrarian law
[1.] What (1) was then aimed at openly is now being secretly undermined. For the Decemvirs will say, what is said by many and has often been said, that, after the consulship of the same men, that kingdom became the Roman people’s by the will of King Alexander. Will you therefore give Alexandria (2) to them when they ask for it secretly, although when they fought against you quite openly you resisted them? By the immortal gods! do such ideas appear to you to be sober men’s plans or the dreams of men drunk with wine ? do they look like the deliberate opinions of wise men or the raving wishes of madmen? See now, in the next article of the law , how the infamous glutton is stirring up trouble in the republic, how he is ruining and squandering the possessions left by our ancestors, how he is as big a spendthrift of the inheritance of the Roman people as of his own. In his law he makes a list of certain sources of revenue, which the Decemvirs may sell, that is, he is putting up a notice of the sale of what belongs to the State. He wishes lands to be bought for distribution ; he wants money.
I suppose he will think out some plan and bring it forward. For in the former articles the dignity of the Roman people was violated, the name of our realm aroused the common hatred of all the world, cities that had been pacified, the lands of our allies, the status of kings, were presented to the decemvirs; now he wants a certain sum in cash paid down on the spot. I am waiting to see what our watchful and sagacious tribune of the plebs is thinking out. “Let the Scantian forest be sold,” says he. Did you, I ask, find this forest in the list of neglected possessions or in the pasture registers of the censors? If there is anything which you have hunted out, discovered, dug out of the darkness, although it is unfair, yet make away with it all the same, as happens to be convenient, since you brought it forward; but are you then to sell the Scantian forest as long as we are consuls and this senate exists? are you then to lay hands on any of the imposts? are you then to rob the Roman people of their support in war, of their ornaments during peace? Then indeed I shall judge myself to be a less energetic consul than those bravest of men in the times of our ancestors, because it will be thought that the revenues, which were obtained for the Roman people during their consulships, cannot even be retained when I am consul.
[2.] He is selling all the public property in Italy item by item. No doubt he is busy about that, for he does not let a single item pass. He searches through the whole of Sicily ** in the censors’ registers ; he leaves no building, no lands unnoticed. You have heard the sale of what belongs to the Roman people publicly advertised by a tribune of the plebs, arranged for the month of January, and you have no doubt, I imagine, that the reason why those who won it by the valour of their arms did not sell it for the sake of the treasury, was that we might have something that we could sell for the sake of bribery.
Now mark what they would be at more openly than before. For how, in the early part of the law, they attacked Pompeius, information has been given about them by me; they shall now give information about themselves. They order the lands of the inhabitants of Attalia and Olympus to be sold, towns which the victory of the gallant Publius Servilius ** added to the dominion of the Roman people; next, the royal territories in Macedonia, acquired by the valour partly of Titus Flamininus, partly of Lucius Paulus, ** who conquered Perses; next, that most excellent and fruitful land of Corinth, which by the successful campaign of L. Mummius ** was added to the revenues of the Roman people ; and afterwards the lands in Spain near New Carthage, which became Roman possessions by the distinguished valour of the two Scipios **; then they sell old Carthage itself, which Publius Africanus consecrated to be eternally remembered, stripped of its buildings and walls, either to mark the disaster to the Carthaginians, or as evidence of our victory, or after some religious ceremony had been enjoined. After the sale of these distinctions and jewels of our crown, ** which adorned this commonwealth that our ancestors have handed down to us, they order those lands to be sold, which King Mithridates possessed in Paphlagonia, Pontus, and Cappadocia. Can there be any shadow of doubt that they almost seem to make an attack upon the army of Pompeius with the crier’s spear, ** when they bid you put up for sale those very fields in which he is even now waging war and where he is engaged ?
[3.] But what of their not definitely fixing a place for the auction which they are arranging ? For the decemvirs are allowed by the law to sell wherever they think fit. The censors may not let the farming of the revenues except in the sight of the Roman people ; shall these men be allowed to sell them even at the ends of the earth ? But even the most depraved of men, after their patrimony has been wasted, are in the habit of selling their property in the auctioneers’ halls ** rather than in the highways and cross-roads ; whereas this man allows the decemvirs to sell piecemeal the property of the Roman people in whatever obscurity it suits them or in whatever lonely place they choose.  Do you not see how harsh, how terrible, how profitable to the decemvirs that journeying to and fro is bound to be throughout the provinces, kingdoms, and free peoples? You have doubtless heard how great a burden is generally imposed upon our allies by the arrival of those to whom you have given a free mission ** for the sake of entering upon an inheritance, who left the city as private individuals on private business, with no large resources nor invested with supreme authority.  For this reason what terror and calamity do you think are hanging over the head of all nations as a result of this law, when decemvirs are let loose on the world with supreme power, excessively avaricious, and whose inordinate desire for everything is unlimited? Their arrival will be burdensome, their symbols of authority terrible, their judicial and arbitrary power will be unbearable ; for they will be allowed to declare whatever they please to be public property, and to sell what they have so declared, Even the thing which men of integrity ** will not do – take money for not selling, that very thing they will be allowed to do by the law. As the result what robberies, what bargainings, lastly, what trafficking in the law and men’s fortunes do you think will be rife everywhere ?
For what was definitely prescribed in the earlier part of the law, WHEN SULLA AND POMPEIUS WERE CONSULS, ** they have again made unrestricted and unlimited. [4.] L For it orders the same decemvirs to impose a very high tax on all public lands, so that they may be able to free any lands from it that they choose, and to declare any that they please to be public property. In making this decision one cannot see whether their severity is likely to be harsher or their generosity more profitable.
Two exceptions in the law, however, are suspicious rather than unfair. For in imposing the tax an exception is made in the case of the Recentoric territory ** in Sicily, and in selling the lands, of those as to which provision has been made by treaty. The latter are in Africa and are in the possession of Hiempsal. Here I ask, if Hiempsal is sufficiently safeguarded by the treaty and the Recentoric territory is private property, what was the use of an exception being made? But if there is any uncertainty in the treaty, and the Recentoric land is sometimes said to be public property, who does he suppose will imagine that only two things have been found in the whole world such that he spared them for nothing? Does any coin ever seem so carefully hidden that the authors of this law have not smelt it out? They are draining the provinces, the free cities, our allies and friends, and lastly, the kings : they are laying violent hands upon the revenues of the Roman people. That is not enough.  Listen, listen, you who have commanded armies and waged wars with the fullest approval of the people and senate: Whatever shall come to anyone by way of booty, ** spoils, presents of gold, ** and whatever has neither been spent on a memorial nor paid , into the treasury, is ordered to be paid to the decemvirs! From this article they hope much; they are arranging an investigation according to their own judgement into the affairs of all the generals and their heirs, but they think that they will obtain the largest sum of money from Faustus. ** A cause which judges on their oath were unwilling to undertake was undertaken by those decemvirs ; perhaps they think that it was passed over by the judges as being reserved for themselves.  Next, it most carefully ordains in regard to the future that each general shall immediately pay to the decemvirs whatever money he has. Yet have he excepts Pompeius, in much the same way, as it seems to me, as in that law, ** by which foreigners are expelled from Rome, while Glaucippus is excepted. For this exception is not a case of one man being kindly treated, but of one man being freed from an injustice. But the law attacks the revenues of the same man whose spoils it leaves alone. For it orders the decemvirs to have the use of any money received from fresh revenues after our consulship. As if we do not understand that it is the fresh revenues acquired by Gnaeus Pompeius that they are thinking of selling!
[5.] You see now, conscript fathers, that the money of the decemvirs is heaped and piled up by the aid of all kinds of imposts and ways of collecting money. “The unpopularity of this wealth will be lessened by its being spent in purchasing lands.” Excellent! Who then is going to buy those lands? The same decemvirs; you, Rullus (I say nothing about the rest), will buy what you like and you will sell what you like ; both of them you will do at any price you like. For that excellent man takes care not to buy from one who is unwilling to sell. As if we do not understand that it is unprofitable to a man to buy from him if he does not want to sell, but it is profitable to buy from one who wants to sell. To say nothing about the others, how much land will your father-in-law sell you? who, if I rightly understand his impartial temper, will not be unwilling to sell. The rest will gladly do the same, to change for money the unpopularity arising from their possession of land, to receive what they passionately desire, to give away what they find difficult to retain.
Now observe the unlimited and intolerable license of all these provisions. Money has been got together for buying lands ; moreover, they will not be bought from those who do not want to sell But if the owners agree not to sell, what will happen ? Will the money be repaid into the treasury ? It is not allowed. Will it be demanded from the decemvirs ? That is forbidden. But suppose that it is; there is nothing that cannot be bought, if you give as much as the vendor wants. Let us despoil the world, let us sell the revenues, let us drain the treasury in order that, no matter what happens, the “possessors” of an ill name or a plague may be made wealthy by the purchase.
What then ? what kind of settlement will be made in those lands ? what will be the method and arrangement of the whole affair? “Colonies will be settled there,” he says. Where? of what kind of men? in what places? For who can fail to see that all these things have to be taken into consideration in the matter of colonies ? Did you, Rullus, think that we should hand over to you and your engineers of all these schemes the whole of Italy unarmed, that you might strengthen it with garrisons, occupy it with colonies, and hold it bound and fettered by every kind of chain? For where is there any guarantee against your establishing a colony on the Janiculum, against your being able to press and beset this city by another? “We shall not do that,” says he. First, I am not so sure of that ; secondly, I am afraid ; lastly, I will never act so as to leave our chance of safety to depend more upon your kindness than upon our own wisdom.
[6.] Did you think that none of us would understand what kind of a plan was intended in your wish to fill the whole of Italy with your colonies ? For it is written: “THE decemvirs SHALL SETTLE ANY COLONISTS THEY LIKE IN WHATEVER MUNICIPAL TOWNS AND COLONIES THEY CHOOSE, AND ASSIGN THEM LANDS WHEREVER THEY PLEASE,” so that, after they have occupied the whole of Italy with their soldiery, we may have little hope left of retaining our dignity, and still less of recovering our independence. And this much is established by me on suspicion and conjecture.  Now every chance of mistake on every side shall be removed ; now they shall openly show that the name of this republic, the seat of our city and empire, lastly, that this temple of Jupiter best and greatest and this citadel of all nations meets with their disapproval. To Capua they would have colonists conducted ; that is the city they would have once more in opposition to this city; this is whither they would remove their wealth and the name of our empire. In a place which, owing to the fertility of its lands and abundance of all productions, is said to have given birth to pride and cruelty ** – it is there that our colonists, chosen for every kind of crime, will be settled by the decemvirs; and, I suppose, in a city in which men, born to long-standing rank and fortune, have proved themselves unable to bear with moderation their abundance of everything, in that city your henchmen will be able to curb their insolence.  In Capua our ancestors abolished the magistrates, the senate, the popular assembly and all the marks of the republic, leaving nothing else in the city except the empty name of Capua, not out of cruelty (for who were ever more lenient than those who frequently returned their property even to enemies outside Italy who had been conquered by them ?), but from prudence ; for they saw that, if any trace of a republic should still be contained within those walls, the very city itself might provide a dwelling-place for empire ; you, unless you desired to overthrow the republic and furnish a new tyranny for yourselves, would not, I imagine, see how that was wholly disastrous.
[7.] For what is to be guarded against in establishing colonies? If it is luxury, Capua corrupted Hannibal himself; if it is pride, this seems to have arisen in the same place from the pride of the inhabitants ; if protection is our object, that colony is not set in front of us, but is set against us. But how is it armed, O immortal gods! For in the Punic war, whatever Capua was able to accomplish, she accomplished by herself alone ; but now all the cities round Capua will be occupied by settlers sent by the same decemvirs ; for this is the reason why the law itself allows the decemvirs to conduct such settlers as they wish into any towns they please. And it orders the district of Campania and the plain of Stella ** to be divided among these settlers.  I do not complain of the decrease of the revenues, nor of the crime of this loss and damage ; I pass over those things which everyone can lament most truly and most grievously – that we have been unable to preserve the chief part of the public heritage, the fairest possession of the Roman people, the reserve of corn, the war granary, the revenue which the republic kept under seal and bar; lastly, that we have yielded that territory to Publius Rullus, which by itself alone resisted both the absolutism of Sulla and the bribery of the Gracchi. I do not say that this is the only revenue in the State which is left after others have been lost, which does not remain inactive, while others are interrupted ; which flourishes in peace, and does not lose its value in time of war ; which supports the soldiery and is not afraid of the enemy – I say nothing of all this now and reserve what I have to say for a public assembly. I am now speaking of the danger to our safety and freedom.  For what do you think will be left to you unimpaired in the republic or in the maintenance of your freedom and dignity, after Rullus and those whom you fear much more than Rullus, ** with all his band of beggars and scoundrels, with all his forces, with all his silver and gold, has occupied Capua and the surrounding cities ?
Such things as these, conscript fathers, I will resist passionately and vigorously ; nor will I, while I am consul, allow men to set forth those plans against the State which they have long had in mind.  You made a great mistake, Rullus, you and some of your colleagues, in hoping that, by opposing a consul who was popular in reality not in pretence, you could be considered popular in overthrowing the republic. I challenge you, I summon you to a public meeting, I desire to employ the Roman people to decide between us. [8.] L For, in examining everything which is pleasant and agreeable to the people, we shall find nothing so popular as peace, harmony, and quietness. You have handed over to me a state agitated by suspicion, hesitating through fear, upset by your laws, your public meetings, and settling of colonists ; you have given hope to the wicked and inspired the good with fear; you have banished credit from the forum, and dignity from the republic.  In the midst of this confusion and disturbance of men’s minds and affairs, when the voice and authority of a consul has suddenly brought light into utter darkness for the Roman people; when it has shown that nothing need be feared ; that no army, no band, no colonies, no sale of revenues, no new dominion, no rule of decemvirs, no second Rome nor another seat of empire will exist as long as we are consuls; that there will be a period of complete tranquillity, peace, and quietness ; then, I suppose, we shall have to fear that this wonderful agrarian law of yours will appear more popular.  But when I have revealed the wickedness of your designs, the cunning fraud of your law, and the snares which are set by the popular tribunes for the Roman people itself, then, I suppose, I shall be afraid that I shall not be permitted to take a firm stand against you before a public meeting, especially as I have decided and made up my mind to carry on my consulship in the only manner in which it can be carried on with dignity and freedom. I will never seek to obtain a province, any honours, any distinction or advantage, nor anything that a tribune of the plebs can prevent me from obtaining.  Your consul, on this 1st of January, in a crowded senate declares that, if the republic continues in its present state, and unless some danger arises which he cannot honourably avoid meeting, he will not accept the government of a province. I will so conduct myself in this office, conscript fathers, that if a tribune of the plebs falls out with the republic, he may find control, and, if with me, contempt.
[9.] L Wherefore, by the immortal gods! I beg you, tribunes of the plebs, recover yourselves! abandon those by whom, unless you are careful, you will soon yourselves be abandoned. Think with us, agree with the good, take up with a common zeal and affection the defence of our common country. The republic has many hidden wounds, many pernicious designs of nefarious citizens are being formed; there is no danger from without, no king, no people, no nation, is to be feared ; the evil is confined within our gates, it is internal and domestic. It is the duty of each of us to remedy it to the best of our power and we ought all to endeavour to heal it. You are mistaken, if you think that the senate alone approves of my words, but that the people is differently inclined. All who wish to be safe will follow the authority of a consul free from all ambitious desires, and not burdened with evil deeds, prudent in the midst of dangers, bold in strife. But if any one of you is inspired by the hope of being able to set his sails for office by methods of disorder, in the first place let him abandon the hope of that as long as I am consul; and, secondly, let him take myself, whom he sees now consul, born in equestrian ranks, as an example of what way of life most surely leads good citizens to honour and dignity. But if, conscript fathers, you promise me your zeal in upholding the common dignity, I will certainly fulfil the most ardent wish of the republic, that the authority of this order, which existed in the time of our ancestors, may now, after a long interval, be seen to be restored to the State.
1. L. Sulla and Q. Pompeius (88 B.C.).
2. Alexandria and Egypt. The will, if there was one, was never acted upon by the senate. But there is much dispute whether Alexander I. (d. 88), or II. (d. 81), is referred to. Mommsen favours the second alternative, chiefly because Alexander II. was the last genuine Lagid, “since it was always by the last scion of the legitimate ruling family that Rome was appointed heir, as in the similar cases of Pergamon Cyrene, and Bithynia ” (Hist. of Rome, iv. p.318 note). In xvi. 41 he is called Alexas, whom some have identified with a third king, who died about 65.
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