The History of Rome (Volumes 1-5)
by Theodor Mommsen
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To this earliest worship of the Roman community new rites were gradually added. The most important of these worships had reference to the city as newly united and virtually founded afresh by the construction of the great wall and stronghold. In it the highest and best lovis of the Capitol—that is, the genius of the Roman people—was placed at the head of all the Roman divinities, and his "kindler" thenceforth appointed, the -flamen Dialis-, formed in conjunction with the two priests of Mars the sacred triad of high-priests. Contemporaneously began the -cultus- of the new single city-hearth—Vesta—and the kindred -cultus- of the Penates of the community.(7) Six chaste virgins, daughters as it were of the household of the Roman people, attended to that pious service, and had to maintain the wholesome fire of the common hearth always blazing as an example(8) and an omen to the burgesses. This worship, half-domestic, half-public, was the most sacred of all in Rome, and it accordingly was the latest of all the heathen worships there to give way before the ban of Christianity. The Aventine, moreover, was assigned to Diana as the representative of the Latin confederacy,(9) but for that very reason no special Roman priesthood was appointed for her; and the community gradually became accustomed to render definite homage to numerous other deified abstractions by means of general festivals or by representative priesthoods specially destined for their service; in particular instances—such as those of the goddess of flowers (-Flora-) and of fruits (-Pomona-)—it appointed also special -flamines-, so that the number of these was at length fifteen. But among them they carefully distinguished those three "great kindlers" (-flamines maiores-), who down to the latest times could only be taken from the ranks of the old burgesses, just as the old incorporations of the Palatine and Quirinal -Salii- always asserted precedence over all the other colleges of priests. Thus the necessary and stated observances due to the gods of the community were entrusted once for all by the state to fixed colleges or regular ministers; and the expense of sacrifices, which was presumably not inconsiderable, was covered partly by the assignation of certain lands to particular temples, partly by the fines.(10)

It cannot be doubted that the public worship of the other Latin, and presumably also of the Sabellian, communities was essentially similar in character. At any rate it can be shown that the Flamines, Salii, Luperci, and Vestales were institutions not special to Rome, but general among the Latins, and at least the first three colleges appear to have been formed in the kindred communities independently of the Roman model.

Lastly, as the state made arrangements for the cycle of its gods, so each burgess might make similar arrangements within his individual sphere, and might not only present sacrifices, but might also consecrate set places and ministers, to his own divinities.

Colleges of Sacred Lore

There was thus enough of priesthood and of priests in Rome. Those, however, who had business with a god resorted to the god, and not to the priest. Every suppliant and inquirer addressed himself directly to the divinity—the community of course by the king as its mouthpiece, just as the -curia- by the -curio- and the -equites-by their colonels; no intervention of a priest was allowed to conceal or to obscure this original and simple relation. But it was no easy matter to hold converse with a god. The god had his own way of speaking, which was intelligible only to the man acquainted with it; but one who did rightly understand it knew not only how to ascertain, but also how to manage, the will of the god, and even in case of need to overreach or to constrain him. It was natural, therefore, that the worshipper of the god should regularly consult such men of skill and listen to their advice; and thence arose the corporations or colleges of men specially skilled in religious lore, a thoroughly national Italian institution, which had a far more important influence on political development than the individual priests and priesthoods. These colleges have been often, but erroneously, confounded with the priesthoods. The priesthoods were charged with the worship of a specific divinity; the skilled colleges, on the other hand, were charged with the preservation of traditional rules regarding those more general religious observances, the proper fulfilment of which implied a certain amount of knowledge and rendered it necessary that the state in its own interest should provide for the faithful transmission of that knowledge. These close corporations supplying their own vacancies, of course from the ranks of the burgesses, became in this way the depositaries of skilled arts and sciences.


Under the Roman constitution and that of the Latin communities in general there were originally but two such colleges; that of the augurs and that of the Pontifices.(11)

The six "bird-carriers" (-augures-) were skilled in interpreting the language of the gods from the flight of birds; an art which was prosecuted with great earnestness and reduced to a quasi-scientific system. The six "bridge-builders" (-Pontifices-) derived their name from their function, as sacred as it was politically important, of conducting the building and demolition of the bridge over the Tiber. They were the Roman engineers, who understood the mystery of measures and numbers; whence there devolved upon them also the duty of managing the calendar of the state, of proclaiming to the people the time of new and full moon and the days of festivals, and of seeing that every religious and every judicial act took place on the right day. As they had thus an especial supervision of all religious observances, it was to them in case of need—on occasion of marriage, testament, and -adrogatio- —that the preliminary question was addressed, whether the business proposed did not in any respect offend against divine law; and it was they who fixed and promulgated the general exoteric precepts of ritual, which were known under the name of the "royal laws." Thus they acquired (although not probably to the full extent till after the abolition of the monarchy) the general oversight of Roman worship and of whatever was connected with it—and what was there that was not so connected? They themselves described the sum of their knowledge as "the science of things divine and human." In fact the rudiments of spiritual and temporal jurisprudence as well as of historical recording proceeded from this college. For all writing of history was associated with the calendar and the book of annals; and, as from the organization of the Roman courts of law no tradition could originate in these courts themselves, it was necessary that the knowledge of legal principles and procedure should be traditionally preserved in the college of the Pontifices, which alone was competent to give an opinion respecting court-days and questions of religious law.


By the side of these two oldest and most eminent corporations of men versed in spiritual lore may be to some extent ranked the college of the twenty state-heralds (-fetiales-, of uncertain derivation), destined as a living repository to preserve traditionally the remembrance of the treaties concluded with neighbouring communities, to pronounce an authoritative opinion on alleged infractions of treaty-rights, and in case of need to attempt reconciliation or declare war. They had precisely the same position with reference to international, as the Pontifices had with reference to religious, law; and were therefore, like the latter, entitled to point out the law, although not to administer it.

But in however high repute these colleges were, and important and comprehensive as were the functions assigned to them, it was never forgotten—least of all in the case of those which held the highest position—that their duty was not to command, but to tender skilled advice, not directly to obtain the answer of the gods, but to explain the answer when obtained to the inquirer. Thus the highest of the priests was not merely inferior in rank to the king, but might not even give advice to him unasked. It was the province of the king to determine whether and when he would take an observation of birds; the "bird-seer" simply stood beside him and interpreted to him, when necessary, the language of the messengers of heaven. In like manner the Fetialis and the Pontifex could not interfere in matters of international or common law except when those concerned therewith desired it. The Romans, notwithstanding all their zeal for religion, adhered with unbending strictness to the principle that the priest ought to remain completely powerless in the state and—excluded from all command— ought like any other burgess to render obedience to the humblest magistrate.

Character of the -Cultus-

The Latin worship was grounded essentially on man's enjoyment of earthly pleasures, and only in a subordinate degree on his fear of the wild forces of nature; it consisted pre-eminently therefore in expressions of joy, in lays and songs, in games and dances, and above all in banquets. In Italy, as everywhere among agricultural tribes whose ordinary food consists of vegetables, the slaughter of cattle was at once a household feast and an act of worship: a pig was the most acceptable offering to the gods, just because it was the usual roast for a feast. But all extravagance of expense as well as all excess of rejoicing was inconsistent with the solid character of the Romans. Frugality in relation to the gods was one of the most prominent traits of the primitive Latin worship; and the free play of imagination was repressed with iron severity by the moral self-discipline which the nation maintained. In consequence the Latins remained strangers to the excesses which grow out of unrestrained indulgence. At the very core of the Latin religion there lay that profound moral impulse which leads men to bring earthly guilt and earthly punishment into relation with the world of the gods, and to view the former as a crime against the gods, and the latter as its expiation. The execution of the criminal condemned to death was as much an expiatory sacrifice offered to the divinity as was the killing of an enemy in just war; the thief who by night stole the fruits of the field paid the penalty to Ceres on the gallows just as the enemy paid it to mother earth and the good spirits on the field of battle. The profound and fearful idea of substitution also meets us here: when the gods of the community were angry and nobody could be laid hold of as definitely guilty, they might be appeased by one who voluntarily gave himself up (-devovere se-); noxious chasms in the ground were closed, and battles half lost were converted into victories, when a brave burgess threw himself as an expiatory offering into the abyss or upon the foe. The "sacred spring" was based on a similar view; all the offspring whether of cattle or of men within a specified period were presented to the gods. If acts of this nature are to be called human sacrifices, then such sacrifices belonged to the essence of the Latin faith; but we are bound to add that, far back as our view reaches into the past, this immolation, so far as life was concerned, was limited to the guilty who had been convicted before a civil tribunal, or to the innocent who voluntarily chose to die. Human sacrifices of a different description run counter to the fundamental idea of a sacrificial act, and, wherever they occur among the Indo-Germanic stocks at least, are based on later degeneracy and barbarism. They never gained admission among the Romans; hardly in a single instance were superstition and despair induced, even in times of extreme distress, to seek an extraordinary deliverance through means so revolting. Of belief in ghosts, fear of enchantments, or dealing in mysteries, comparatively slight traces are to be found among the Romans. Oracles and prophecy never acquired the importance in Italy which they obtained in Greece, and never were able to exercise a serious control over private or public life. But on the other hand the Latin religion sank into an incredible insipidity and dulness, and early became shrivelled into an anxious and dreary round of ceremonies. The god of the Italian was, as we have already said, above all things an instrument for helping him to the attainment of very substantial earthly aims; this turn was given to the religious views of the Italian by his tendency towards the palpable and the real, and is no less distinctly apparent in the saint-worship of the modern inhabitants of Italy. The gods confronted man just as a creditor confronted his debtor; each of them had a duly acquired right to certain performances and payments; and as the number of the gods was as great as the number of the incidents in earthly life, and the neglect or wrong performance of the worship of each god revenged itself in the corresponding incident, it was a laborious and difficult task even to gain a knowledge of a man's religious obligations, and the priests who were skilled in the law of divine things and pointed out its requirements—the -Pontifices- —could not fail to attain an extraordinary influence. The upright man fulfilled the requirements of sacred ritual with the same mercantile punctuality with which he met his earthly obligations, and at times did more than was due, if the god had done so on his part. Man even dealt in speculation with his god; a vow was in reality as in name a formal contract between the god and the man, by which the latter promised to the former for a certain service to be rendered a certain equivalent return; and the Roman legal principle that no contract could be concluded by deputy was not the least important of the reasons on account of which all priestly mediation remained excluded from the religious concerns of man in Latium. Nay, as the Roman merchant was entitled, without injury to his conventional rectitude, to fulfil his contract merely in the letter, so in dealing with the gods, according to the teaching of Roman theology, the copy of an object was given and received instead of the object itself. They presented to the lord of the sky heads of onions and poppies, that he might launch his lightnings at these rather than at the heads of men. In payment of the offering annually demanded by father Tiber, thirty puppets plaited of rushes were annually thrown into the stream.(12) The ideas of divine mercy and placability were in these instances inseparably mixed up with a pious cunning, which tried to delude and to pacify so formidable a master by means of a sham satisfaction. The Roman fear of the gods accordingly exercised powerful influence over the minds of the multitude; but it was by no means that sense of awe in the presence of an all-controlling nature or of an almighty God, that lies at the foundation of the views of pantheism and monotheism respectively; on the contrary, it was of a very earthly character, and scarcely different in any material respect from the trembling with which the Roman debtor approached his just, but very strict and very powerful creditor. It is plain that such a religion was fitted rather to stifle than to foster artistic and speculative views. When the Greek had clothed the simple thoughts of primitive times with human flesh and blood, the ideas of the gods so formed not only became the elements of plastic and poetic art, but acquired also that universality and elasticity which are the profoundest characteristics of human nature and for this very reason are essential to all religions that aspire to rule the world. Through such means the simple view of nature became expanded into the conception of a cosmogony, the homely moral notion became enlarged into a principle of universal humanity; and for a long period the Greek religion was enabled to embrace within it the physical and metaphysical views—the whole ideal development of the nation—and to expand in depth and breadth with the increase of its contents, until imagination and speculation rent asunder the vessel which had nursed them. But in Latium the embodiment of the conceptions of deity continued so wholly transparent that it afforded no opportunity for the training either of artist or poet, and the Latin religion always held a distant and even hostile attitude towards art As the god was not and could not be aught else than the spiritualizattion of an earthly phenomenon, this same earthly counterpart naturally formed his place of abode (-templum-) and his image; walls and effigies made by the hands of men seemed only to obscure and to embarrass the spiritual conception. Accordingly the original Roman worship had no images of the gods or houses set apart for them; and although the god was at an early period worshipped in Latium, probably in imitation of the Greeks, by means of an image, and had a little chapel (-aedicula-) built for him, such a figurative representation was reckoned contrary to the laws of Numa and was generally regarded as an impure and foreign innovation. The Roman religion could exhibit no image of a god peculiar to it, with the exception, perhaps, of the double-headed Ianus; and Varro even in his time derided the desire of the multitude for puppets and effigies. The utter want of productive power in the Roman religion was likewise the ultimate cause of the thorough poverty which always marked Roman poetry and still more Roman speculation.

The same distinctive character was manifest, moreover, in the domain of its practical use. The practical gain which accrued to the Roman community from their religion was a code of moral law gradually developed by the priests, and the -Pontifices- in particular, which on the one hand supplied the place of police regulations at a time when the state was still far from providing any direct police-guardianship for its citizens, and on the other hand brought to the bar of the gods and visited with divine penalties the breach of moral obligations. To the regulations of the former class belonged the religious inculcation of a due observance of holidays and of a cultivation of the fields and vineyards according to the rules of good husbandry—which we shall have occasion to notice more fully in the sequel—as well as the worship of the heath or of the Lares which was connected with considerations of sanitary police,(13) and above all the practice of burning the bodies of the dead, adopted among the Romans at a singularly early period, far earlier than among the Greeks—a practice implying a rational conception of life and of death, which was foreign to primitive times and is even foreign to ourselves at the present day. It must be reckoned no small achievement that the national religion of the Latins was able to carry out these and similar improvements. But the civilizing effect of this law was still more important. If a husband sold his wife, or a father sold his married son; if a child struck his father, or a daughter-in-law her father-in-law; if a patron violated his obligation to keep faith with his guest or dependent; if an unjust neighbour displaced a boundary-stone, or the thief laid hands by night on the grain entrusted to the common good faith; the burden of the curse of the gods lay thenceforth on the head of the offender. Not that the person thus accursed (-sacer-) was outlawed; such an outlawry, inconsistent in its nature with all civil order, was only an exceptional occurrence—an aggravation of the religious curse in Rome at the time of the quarrels between the orders. It was not the province of the individual burgess, or even of the wholly powerless priest, to carry into effect such a divine curse. Primarily the person thus accursed became liable to the divine penal judgment, not to human caprice; and the pious popular faith, on which that curse was based, must have had power even over natures frivolous and wicked. But the banning was not confined to this; the king was in reality entitled and bound to carry the ban into execution, and, after the fact, on which the law set its curse, had been according to his conscientious conviction established, to slay the person under ban, as it were, as a victim offered up to the injured deity (-supplicium-), and thus to purify the community from the crime of the individual. If the crime was of a minor nature, for the slaying of the guilty there was substituted a ransom through the presenting of a sacrificial victim or of similar gifts. Thus the whole criminal law rested as to its ultimate basis on the religious idea of expiation.

But religion performed no higher service in Latium than the furtherance of civil order and morality by such means as these. In this field Hellas had an unspeakable advantage over Latium; it owed to its religion not merely its whole intellectual development, but also its national union, so far as such an union was attained at all; the oracles and festivals of the gods, Delphi and Olympia, and the Muses, daughters of faith, were the centres round which revolved all that was great in Hellenic life and all in it that was the common heritage of the nation. And yet even here Latium had, as compared with Hellas, its own advantages. The Latin religion, reduced as it was to the level of ordinary perception, was completely intelligible to every one and accessible in common to all; and therefore the Roman community preserved the equality of its citizens, while Hellas, where religion rose to the level of the highest thought, had from the earliest times to endure all the blessing and curse of an aristocracy of intellect. The Latin religion like every other had its origin in the effort of faith to fathom the infinite; it is only to a superficial view, which is deceived as to the depth of the stream because it is clear, that its transparent spirit-world can appear to be shallow. This fervid faith disappeared with the progress of time as necessarily as the dew of morning disappears before the rising sun, and thus the Latin religion came subsequently to wither; but the Latins preserved their simplicity of belief longer than most peoples and longer especially than the Greeks. As colours are effects of light and at the same time dim it, so art and science are not merely the creations but also the destroyers of faith; and, much as this process at once of development and of destruction is swayed by necessity, by the same law of nature certain results have been reserved to the epoch of early simplicity—results which subsequent epochs make vain endeavours to attain. The mighty intellectual development of the Hellenes, which created their religious and literary unity (ever imperfect as that unity was), was the very thing that made it impossible for them to attain to a genuine political union; they sacrificed thereby the simplicity, the flexibility, the self-devotion, the power of amalgamation, which constitute the conditions of any such union. It is time therefore to desist from that childish view of history which believes that it can commend the Greeks only at the expense of the Romans, or the Romans only at the expense of the Greeks; and, as we allow the oak to hold its own beside the rose, so should we abstain from praising or censuring the two noblest organizations which antiquity has produced, and comprehend the truth that their distinctive excellences have a necessary connection with their respective defects. The deepest and ultimate reason of the diversity between the two nations lay beyond doubt in the fact that Latium did not, and that Hellas did, during the season of growth come into contact with the East. No people on earth was great enough by its own efforts to create either the marvel of Hellenic or at a later period the marvel of Christian culture; history has produced these most brilliant results only where the ideas of Aramaic religion have sunk into an Indo-Germanic soil. But if for this reason Hellas is the prototype of purely human, Latium is not less for all time the prototype of national, development; and it is the duty of us their successors to honour both and to learn from both.

Foreign Worships

Such was the nature and such the influence of the Roman religion in its pure, unhampered, and thoroughly national development. Its national character was not infringed by the fact that, from the earliest times, modes and systems of worship were introduced from abroad; no more than the bestowal of the rights of citizenship on individual foreigners denationalized the Roman state. An exchange of gods as well as of goods with the Latins in older time must have been a matter of course; the transplantation to Rome of gods and worships belonging to less cognate races is more remarkable. Of the distinctive Sabine worship maintained by the Tities we have already spoken.(14) Whether any conceptions of the gods were borrowed from Etruria is more doubtful: for the Lases, the older designation of the genii (from -lascivus-), and Minerva the goddess of memory (-mens-, -menervare-), which it is customary to describe as originally Etruscan, were on the contrary, judging from philological grounds, indigenous to Latium. It is at any rate certain, and in keeping with all that we otherwise know of Roman intercourse that the Greek worship received earlier and more extensive attention in Rome than any other of foreign origin. The Greek oracles furnished the earliest occasion of its introduction. The language of the Roman gods was on the whole confined to Yea and Nay or at the most to the making their will known by the method of casting lots, which appears in its origin Italian;(15) while from very ancient times—although not apparently until the impulse was received from the East—the more talkative gods of the Greeks imparted actual utterances of prophecy. The Romans made efforts, even at an early period, to treasure up such counsels, and copies of the leaves of the soothsaying priestess of Apollo, the Cumaean Sibyl, were accordingly a highly valued gift on the part of their Greek guest-friends from Campania. For the reading and interpretation of the fortune-telling book a special college, inferior in rank only to the augurs and Pontifices, was instituted in early times, consisting of two men of lore (-duoviri sacris faciundis-), who were furnished at the expense of the state with two slaves acquainted with the Greek language. To these custodiers of oracles the people resorted in cases of doubt, when an act of worship was needed in order to avoid some impending evil and they did not know to which of the gods or with what rites it was to be performed. But Romans in search of advice early betook themselves also to the Delphic Apollo himself. Besides the legends relating to such an intercourse already mentioned,(16) it is attested partly by the reception of the word -thesaurus- so closely connected with the Delphic oracle into all the Italian languages with which we are acquainted, and partly by the oldest Roman form of the name of Apollo, -Aperta-, the "opener," an etymologizing alteration of the Doric Apellon, the antiquity of which is betrayed by its very barbarism. The Greek Herakles was naturalized in Italy as Herclus, Hercoles, Hercules, at an early period and under a peculiar conception of his character, apparently in the first instance as the god of gains of adventure and of any extraordinary increase of wealth; for which reason the general was wont to present the tenth of the spoil which he had procured, and the merchant the tenth of the substance which he had obtained, to Hercules at the chief altar (-ara maxima-) in the cattle-market. Accordingly he became the god of mercantile covenants generally, which in early times were frequently concluded at this altar and confirmed by oath, and in so far was identified with the old Latin god of good faith (-deus fidius-). The worship of Hercules was from an early date among the most widely diffused; he was, to use the words of an ancient author, adored in every hamlet of Italy, and altars were everywhere erected to him in the streets of the cities and along the country roads. The gods also of the mariner, Castor and Polydeukes or, in Roman form, Pollux, the god of traffic Hermes—the Roman Mercurius—and the god of healing, Asklapios or Aesculapius, became early known to the Romans, although their public worship only began at a later period. The name of the festival of the "good goddess" (-bona dea-) -damium-, corresponding to the Greek —damion— or —deimion—, may likewise reach back as far as this epoch. It must be the result also of ancient borrowing, that the old -Liber pater- of the Romans was afterwards conceived as "father deliverer" and identified with the wine-god of the Greeks, the "releaser" (-Lyaeos-), and that the Roman god of the lower regions was called the "dispenser of riches" (-Pluto- - -Dis pater-), while his spouse Persephone became converted at once by change of the initial sound and by transference of the idea into the Roman Proserpina, that is, "germinatrix." Even the goddess of the Romano-Latin league, Diana of the Aventine, seems to have been copied from the federal goddess of the lonians of Asia Minor, the Ephesian Artemis; at least her carved image in the Roman temple was formed after the Ephesian type.(17) It was in this way alone, through the myths of Apollo, Dionysus, Pluto, Herakles, and Artemis, which were early pervaded by Oriental ideas, that the Aramaic religion exercised at this period a remote and indirect influence on Italy. We clearly perceive from these facts that the introduction of the Greek religion was especially due to commercial intercourse, and that it was traders and mariners who primarily brought the Greek gods to Italy.

These individual cases however of derivation from abroad were but of secondary moment, while the remains of the natural symbolism of primeval times, of which the legend of the oxen of Cacus may perhaps be a specimen,(18) had virtually disappeared. In all its leading features the Roman religion was an organic creation of the people among whom we find it.

Religion of the Sabellians

The Sabellian and Umbrian worship, judging from the little we know of it, rested upon quite the same fundamental views as the Latin with local variations of colour and form. That it was different from the Latin is very distinctly apparent from the founding of a special college at Rome for the preservation of the Sabine rites;(19) but that very fact affords an instructive illustration of the nature of the difference. Observation of the flight of birds was with both stocks the regular mode of consulting the gods; but the Tities observed different birds from the Ramnian augurs. Similar relations present themselves, wherever we have opportunity of comparing them. Both stocks in common regarded the gods as abstractions of the earthly and as of an impersonal nature; they differed in expression and ritual. It was natural that these diversities should appear of importance to the worshippers of those days; we are no longer able to apprehend what was the characteristic distinction, if any really existed.

Religion of the Etruscans

But the remains of the sacred ritual of the Etruscans that have reached us are marked by a different spirit. Their prevailing characteristics are a gloomy and withal tiresome mysticism, ringing the changes on numbers, soothsaying, and that solemn enthroning of pure absurdity which at all times finds its own circle of devotees. We are far from knowing the Etruscan worship in such completeness and purity as we know the Latin; and it is not improbable—indeed it cannot well be doubted—that several of its features were only imported into it by the minute subtlety of a later period, and that the gloomy and fantastic principles, which were most alien to the Latin worship, are those that have been especially handed down to us by tradition. But enough still remains to show that the mysticism and barbarism of this worship had their foundation in the essential character of the Etruscan people.

With our very unsatisfactory knowledge we cannot grasp the intrinsic contrast subsisting between the Etruscan conceptions of deity and the Italian; but it is clear that the most prominent among the Etruscan gods were the malignant and the mischievous; as indeed their worship was cruel, and included in particular the sacrifice of their captives; thus at Caere they slaughtered the Phocaean, and at Traquinii the Roman, prisoners. Instead of a tranquil world of departed "good spirits" ruling peacefully in the realms beneath, such as the Latins had conceived, the Etruscan religion presented a veritable hell, in which the poor souls were doomed to be tortured by mallets and serpents, and to which they were conveyed by the conductor of the dead, a savage semi-brutal figure of an old man with wings and a large hammer—a figure which afterwards served in the gladiatorial games at Rome as a model for the costume of the man who removed the corpses of the slain from the arena. So fixed was the association of torture with this condition of the shades, that there was even provided a redemption from it, which after certain mysterious offerings transferred the poor soul to the society of the gods above. It is remarkable that, in order to people their lower world, the Etruscans early borrowed from the Greeks their gloomiest notions, such as the doctrine of Acheron and Charon, which play an important part in the Etruscan discipline.

But the Etruscan occupied himself above all in the interpretation of signs and portents. The Romans heard the voice of the gods in nature; but their bird-seer understood only the signs in their simplicity, and knew only in general whether the occurrence boded good or ill. Disturbances of the ordinary course of nature were regarded by him as boding evil, and put a stop to the business in hand, as when for example a storm of thunder and lightning dispersed the comitia; and he probably sought to get rid of them, as, for example, in the case of monstrous births, which were put to death as speedily as possible. But beyond the Tiber matters were carried much further. The profound Etruscan read off to the believer his future fortunes in detail from the lightning and from the entrails of animals offered in sacrifice; and the more singular the language of the gods, the more startling the portent or prodigy, the more confidently did he declare what they foretold and the means by which it was possible to avert the mischief. Thus arose the lore of lightning, the art of inspecting entrails, the interpretation of prodigies—all of them, and the science of lightning especially, devised with the hair-splitting subtlety which characterizes the mind in pursuit of absurdities. A dwarf called Tages with the figure of a child but with gray hairs, who had been ploughed up by a peasant in a field near Tarquinii—we might almost fancy that practices at once so childish and so drivelling had sought to present in this figure a caricature of themselves—betrayed the secret of this lore to the Etruscans, and then straightway died. His disciples and successors taught what gods were in the habit of hurling the lightning; how the lightning of each god might be recognized by its colour and the quarter of the heavens whence it came; whether the lightning boded a permanent state of things or a single event; and in the latter case whether the event was one unalterably fixed, or whether it could be up to a certain limit artificially postponed: how they might convey the lightning away when it struck, or compel the threatening lightning to strike, and various marvellous arts of the like kind, with which there was incidentally conjoined no small desire of pocketing fees. How deeply repugnant this jugglery was to the Roman character is shown by the fact that, even when people came at a later period to employ the Etruscan lore in Rome, no attempt was made to naturalize it; during our present period the Romans were probably still content with their own, and with the Greek oracles.

The Etruscan religion occupied a higher level than the Roman, in so far as it developed at least the rudiments of what was wholly wanting among the Romans—a speculation veiled under religious forms. Over the world and its gods there ruled the veiled gods (-Dii involuti-), consulted by the Etruscan Jupiter himself; that world moreover was finite, and, as it had come into being, so was it again to pass away after the expiry of a definite period of time, whose sections were the -saecula-. Respecting the intellectual value which may once have belonged to this Etruscan cosmogony and philosophy, it is difficult to form a judgment; they appear however to have been from the very first characterized by a dull fatalism and an insipid play upon number.

Notes for Book I Chapter XII

1. I. II. Religion

2. This was, to all appearance, the original nature of the "morning-mother" or -Mater matuta-; in connection with which we may recall the circumstance that, as the names Lucius and especially -Manius- show, the morning hour was reckoned as lucky for birth. -Mater matuta-probably became a goddess of sea and harbour only at a later epoch under the influence of the myth of Leucothea; the fact that the goddess was chiefly worshipped by women tells against the view that she was originally a harbour-goddess.

3. From -Maurs-, which is the oldest form handed down by tradition, there have been developed by different treatment of the -u -Mars-, -Mavors-, -Mors-; the transition to -o (similar to -Paula-, -Pola-, and the like) appears also in the double form Mar-Mor (comp. -Ma-murius-) alongside of -Mar-Mor- and -Ma-Mers-.

4. The facts, that gates and doors and the morning (-ianus matutinus-) were sacred to Ianus, and that he was always invoked before any other god and was even represented in the series of coins before Jupiter and the other gods, indicate unmistakeably that he was the abstraction of opening and beginning. The double-head looking both ways was connected with the gate that opened both ways. To make him god of the sun and of the year is the less justifiable, because the month that bears his name was originally the eleventh, not the first; that month seems rather to have derived its name from the circumstance, that at this season after the rest of the middle of winter the cycle of the labours of the field began afresh. It was, however, a matter of course that the opening of the year should also be included in the sphere of Ianus, especially after Ianuarius came to be placed at its head.

5. I. IV. Tities and Luceres

6. I. VI. Amalgamation of the Palatine and Quirinal Cities

7. I. VII. Servian Wall

8. I. III. Latium

9. I. VII. Relation of Rome to Latium

10. I. V. Burdens of the Burgesses, I. XI. Crimes

11. The clearest evidence of this is the fact, that in the communities organized on the Latin scheme augurs and Pontifices occur everywhere (e. g. Cic. de Lege Agr. ii. 35, 96, and numerous inscriptions), as does likewise the -pater patratus- of the Fetiales in Laurentum (Orelli, 2276), but the other colleges do not. The former, therefore, stand on the same footing with the constitution of ten curies and the Flamines, Salii, and Luperci, as very ancient heirlooms of the Latin stock; whereas the Duoviri -sacris faciundis-, and the other colleges, like the thirty curies and the Servian tribes and centuries, originated in, and remained therefore confined to, Rome. But in the case of the second college—the pontifices—the influence of Rome probably led to the introduction of that name into the general Latin scheme instead of some earlier—perhaps more than one—designation; or—a hypothesis which philologically has much in its favour— -pons- originally signified not "bridge," but "way" generally, and -pontifex- therefore meant "constructor of ways."

The statements regarding the original number of the augurs in particular vary. The view that it was necessary for the number to be an odd one is refuted by Cicero (de Lege Agr. ii. 35, 96); and Livy (x. 6) does not say so, but only states that the number of Roman augurs had to be divisible by three, and so must have had an odd number as its basis. According to Livy (l. c.) the number was six down to the Ogulnian law, and the same is virtually affirmed by Cicero (de Rep. ii. 9, 14) when he represents Romulus as instituting four, and Numa two, augural stalls. On the number of the pontifices comp. Staatsrecht, ii. 20.

12. It is only an unreflecting misconception that can discover in this usage a reminiscence of ancient human sacrifices.

13. I. XII. Nature of the Roman Gods

14. I. XII. Priests

15. -Sors- from -serere-, to place in row. The -sortes- were probably small wooden tablets arranged upon a string, which when thrown formed figures of various kinds; an arrangement which puts one in mind of the Runic characters.

16. I. X. Hellenes and Latins

17. I. VII. Servian Wall

18. I. II. Indo-Germanic Culture

19. I. IV. Tities and Luceres


Agriculture, Trade, and Commerce

Agriculture and commerce are so intimately bound up with the constitution and the external history of states, that the former must frequently be noticed in the course of describing the latter. We shall here endeavour to supplement the detached notices which we have already given, by exhibiting a summary view of Italian and particularly of Roman economics.


It has been already observed(1) that the transition from a pastoral to an agricultural economy preceded the immigration of the Italians into the peninsula. Agriculture continued to be the main support of all the communities in Italy, of the Sabellians and Etruscans no less than of the Latins. There were no purely pastoral tribes in Italy during historical times, although of course the various races everywhere combined pastoral husbandry, to a greater or less extent according to the nature of the locality, with the cultivation of the soil. The beautiful custom of commencing the formation of new cities by tracing a furrow with the plough along the line of the future ring-wall shows how deeply rooted was the feeling that every commonwealth is dependent on agriculture. In the case of Rome in particular—and it is only in its case that we can speak of agrarian relations with any sort of certainty—the Servian reform shows very clearly not only that the agricultural class originally preponderated in the state, but also that an effort was made permanently to maintain the collective body of freeholders as the pith and marrow of the community. When in the course of time a large portion of the landed property in Rome had passed into the hands of non-burgesses and thus the rights and duties of burgesses were no longer bound up with freehold property, the reformed constitution obviated this incongruous state of things, and the perils which it threatened, not merely temporarily but permanently, by treating the members of the community without reference to their political position once for all according to their freeholding, and imposing the common burden of war-service on the freeholders—a step which in the natural course of things could not but be followed by the concession of public rights. The whole policy of Roman war and conquest rested, like the constitution itself, on the basis of the freehold system; as the freeholder alone was of value in the state, the aim of war was to increase the number of its freehold members. The vanquished community was either compelled to merge entirely into the yeomanry of Rome, or, if not reduced to this extremity, it was required, not to pay a war-contribution or a fixed tribute, but to cede a portion, usually a third part, of its domain, which was thereupon regularly occupied by Roman farms. Many nations have gained victories and made conquests as the Romans did; but none has equalled the Roman in thus making the ground he had won his own by the sweat of his brow, and in securing by the ploughshare what had been gained by the lance. That which is gained by war may be wrested from the grasp by war again, but it is not so with the conquests made by the plough; while the Romans lost many battles, they scarcely ever on making peace ceded Roman soil, and for this result they were indebted to the tenacity with which the farmers clung to their fields and homesteads. The strength of man and of the state lies in their dominion over the soil; the greatness of Rome was built on the most extensive and immediate mastery of her citizens over her soil, and on the compact unity of the body which thus acquired so firm a hold.

System of Joint Cultivation

We have already indicated(2) that in the earliest times the arable land was cultivated in common, probably by the several clans; each clan tilled its own land, and thereafter distributed the produce among the several households belonging to it. There exists indeed an intimate connection between the system of joint tillage and the clan form of society, and even subsequently in Rome joint residence and joint management were of very frequent occurrence in the case of co-proprietors.(3) Even the traditions of Roman law furnish the information that wealth consisted at first in cattle and the usufruct of the soil, and that it was not till later that land came to be distributed among the burgesses as their own special property.(4) Better evidence that such was the case is afforded by the earliest designation of wealth as "cattle-stock" or "slave-and-cattle-stock" (-pecunia-, -familia pecuniaque-), and of the separate possessions of the children of the household and of slaves as "small cattle" (-peculium-) also by the earliest form of acquiring property through laying hold of it with the hand (-mancipatio-), which was only appropriate to the case of moveable articles;(5) and above all by the earliest measure of "land of one's own" (-heredium-, from -herus-lord), consisting of two -jugera- (about an acre and a quarter), which can only have applied to garden-ground, and not to the hide.(6) When and how the distribution of the arable land took place, can no longer be ascertained. This much only is certain, that the oldest form of the constitution was based not on freehold settlement, but on clanship as a substitute for it, whereas the Servian constitution presupposes the distribution of the land. It is evident from the same constitution that the great bulk of the landed property consisted of middle-sized farms, which provided work and subsistence for a family and admitted of the keeping of cattle for tillage as well as of the application of the plough. The ordinary extent of such a Roman full hide has not been ascertained with precision, but can scarcely, as has already been shown,(7) be estimated at less than twenty -jugera-(12 1/2 acres nearly).

Culture of Grain

Their husbandry was mainly occupied with the culture of the cereals. The usual grain was spelt (-far-);(8) but different kinds of pulse, roots, and vegetables were also diligently cultivated.

Culture of the Vine

That the culture of the vine was not introduced for the first time into Italy by Greek settlers,(9) is shown by the list of the festivals of the Roman community which reaches back to a time preceding the Greeks, and which presents three wine-festivals to be celebrated in honour of "father Jovis," not in honour of the wine-god of more recent times who was borrowed from the Greeks, the "father deliverer." The very ancient legend which represents Mezentius king of Caere as levying a wine-tax from the Latins or the Rutuli, and the various versions of the widely-spread Italian story which affirms that the Celts were induced to cross the Alps in consequence of their coming to the knowledge of the noble fruits of Italy, especially of the grape and of wine, are indications of the pride of the Latins in their glorious vine, the envy of all their neighbours. A careful system of vine-husbandry was early and generally inculcated by the Latin priests. In Rome the vintage did not begin until the supreme priest of the community, the -flamen- of Jupiter, had granted permission for it and had himself made a beginning; in like manner a Tusculan ordinance forbade the sale of new wine, until the priest had proclaimed the festival of opening the casks. The early prevalence of the culture of the vine is likewise attested not only by the general adoption of wine-libations in the sacrificial ritual, but also by the precept of the Roman priests promulgated as a law of king Numa, that men should present in libation to the gods no wine obtained from uncut grapes; just as, to introduce the beneficial practice of drying the grain, they prohibited the offering of grain undried.

Culture of the Olive

The culture of the olive was of later introduction, and certainly was first brought to Italy by the Greeks.(10) The olive is said to have been first planted on the shores of the western Mediterranean towards the close of the second century of the city; and this view accords with the fact that the olive-branch and the olive occupy in the Roman ritual a place very subordinate to the juice of the vine. The esteem in which both noble trees were held by the Romans is shown by the vine and the olive-tree which were planted in the middle of the Forum, not far from the Curtian lake.

The Fig

The principal fruit-tree planted was the nutritious fig, which was probably a native of Italy. The legend of the origin of Rome wove its threads most closely around the old fig-trees, several of which stood near to and in the Roman Forum.(11)

Management of the Farm

It was the farmer and his sons who guided the plough, and performed generally the labours of husbandry: it is not probable that slaves or free day-labourers were regularly employed in the work of the ordinary farm. The plough was drawn by the ox or by the cow; horses, asses, and mules served as beasts of burden. The rearing of cattle for the sake of meat or of milk did not exist at all as a distinct branch of husbandry, or was prosecuted only to a very limited extent, at least on the land which remained the property of the clan; but, in addition to the smaller cattle which were driven out together to the common pasture, swine and poultry, particularly geese, were kept at the farm-yard. As a general rule, there was no end of ploughing and re-ploughing: a field was reckoned imperfectly tilled, in which the furrows were not drawn so close that harrowing could be dispensed with; but the management was more earnest than intelligent, and no improvement took place in the defective plough or in the imperfect processes of reaping and of threshing. This result is probably attributable rather to the scanty development of rational mechanics than to the obstinate clinging of the farmers to use and wont; for mere kindly attachment to the system of tillage transmitted with the patrimonial soil was far from influencing the practical Italian, and obvious improvements in agriculture, such as the cultivation of fodder-plants and the irrigation of meadows, may have been early adopted from neighbouring peoples or independently developed—Roman literature itself in fact began with the discussion of the theory of agriculture. Welcome rest followed diligent and judicious labour; and here too religion asserted her right to soothe the toils of life even to the humble by pauses for recreation and for freer human movement and intercourse. Every eighth day (-nonae-), and therefore on an average four times a month, the farmer went to town to buy and sell and transact his other business. But rest from labour, in the strict sense, took place only on the several festival days, and especially in the holiday-month after the completion of the winter sowing (-feriae sementivae-): during these set times the plough rested by command of the gods, and not the farmer only, but also his slave and his ox, reposed in holiday idleness.

Such, probably, was the way in which the ordinary Roman farm was cultivated in the earliest times. The next heirs had no protection against bad management except the right of having the spendthrift who squandered his inherited estate placed under wardship as if he were a lunatic.(12) Women moreover were in substance divested of their personal right of disposal, and, if they married, a member of the same clan was ordinarily assigned as husband, in order to retain the estate within the clan. The law sought to check the overburdening of landed property with debt partly by ordaining, in the case of a debt secured over the land, the provisional transference of the ownership of the object pledged from the debtor to the creditor, partly, in the case of a simple loan, by the rigour of the proceedings in execution which speedily led to actual bankruptcy; the latter means however, as the sequel will show, attained its object but very imperfectly. No restriction was imposed by law on the free divisibility of property. Desirable as it might be that co-heirs should remain in the undivided possession of their heritage, even the oldest law was careful to keep the power of dissolving such a partnership open at any time to any partner; it was good that brethren should dwell together in peace, but to compel them to do so was foreign to the liberal spirit of Roman law. The Servian constitution moreover shows that even in the regal period of Rome there were not wanting cottagers and garden-proprietors, with whom the mattock took the place of the plough. It was left to custom and the sound sense of the population to prevent excessive subdivision of the soil; and that their confidence in this respect was not misplaced and the landed estates ordinarily remained entire, is proved by the universal Roman custom of designating them by permanent individual names. The community exercised only an indirect influence in the matter by the sending forth of colonies, which regularly led to the establishment of a number of new full hides, and frequently doubtless also to the suppression of a number of cottage holdings, the small landholders being sent forth as colonists.

Landed Proprietors

It is far more difficult to perceive how matters stood with landed property on a larger scale. The fact that such larger properties existed to no inconsiderable extent, cannot be doubted from the early development of the -equites-, and may be easily explained partly by the distribution of the clan-lands, which of itself could not but call into existence a class of larger landowners in consequence of the necessary inequality in the numbers of the persons belonging to the several clans and participating in the distribution, and partly by the abundant influx of mercantile capital to Rome. But farming on a large scale in the proper sense, implying a considerable establishment of slaves, such as we afterwards meet with at Rome, cannot be supposed to have existed during this period. On the contrary, to this period we must refer the ancient definition, which represents the senators as called fathers from the fields which they parcelled out among the common people as a father among his children; and originally the landowner must have distributed that portion of his land which he was unable to farm in person, or even his whole estate, into little parcels among his dependents to be cultivated by them, as is the general practice in Italy at the present day. The recipient might be the house-child or slave of the granter; if he was a free man, his position was that which subsequently went by the name of "occupancy on sufferance" (-precarium-). The recipient retained his occupancy during the pleasure of the granter, and had no legal means of protecting himself in possession against him; on the contrary, the granter could eject him at any time when he pleased. The relation did not necessarily involve any payment on the part of the person who had the usufruct of the soil to its proprietor; but such a payment beyond doubt frequently took place and may, as a rule, have consisted in the delivery of a portion of the produce. The relation in this case approximated to the lease of subsequent times, but remained always distinguished from it partly by the absence of a fixed term for its expiry, partly by its non-actionable character on either side and the legal protection of the claim for rent depending entirely on the lessor's right of ejection. It is plain that it was essentially a relation based on mutual fidelity, which could not subsist without the help of the powerful sanction of custom consecrated by religion; and this was not wanting. The institution of clientship, altogether of a moral-religious nature, beyond doubt rested fundamentally on this assignation of the profits of the soil. Nor was the introduction of such an assignation dependent on the abolition of the system of common tillage; for, just as after this abolition the individual, so previous to it the clan might grant to dependents a joint use of its lands; and beyond doubt with this very state of things was connected the fact that the Roman clientship was not personal, but that from the outset the client along with his clan entrusted himself for protection and fealty to the patron and his clan. This earliest form of Roman landholding serves to explain how there sprang from the great landlords in Rome a landed, and not an urban, nobility. As the pernicious institution of middlemen remained foreign to the Romans, the Roman landlord found himself not much less chained to his land than was the tenant and the farmer; he inspected and took part in everything himself, and the wealthy Roman esteemed it his highest praise to be reckoned a good landlord. His house was in the country; in the city he had only a lodging for the purpose of attending to his business there, and perhaps of breathing the purer air that prevailed there during the hot season. Above all, however, these arrangements furnished a moral basis for the relation between the upper class and the common people, and so materially lessened its dangers. The free tenants-on-sufferance, sprung from families of decayed farmers, dependents, and freedmen, formed the great bulk of the proletariate,(13) and were not much more dependent on the landlord than the petty leaseholder inevitably is with reference to the great proprietor. The slaves tilling the fields for a master were beyond doubt far less numerous than the free tenants. In all cases where an immigrant nation has not at once reduced to slavery a population -en masse-, slaves seem to have existed at first only to a very limited amount, and consequently free labourers seem to have played a very different part in the state from that in which they subsequently appear. In Greece "day-labourers" (—theites—) in various instances during the earlier period occupy the place of the slaves of a later age, and in some communities, among the Locrians for instance, there was no slavery down to historical times. Even the slave, moreover, was ordinarily of Italian descent; the Volscian, Sabine, or Etruscan war-captive must have stood in a different relation towards his master from the Syrian and the Celt of later times. Besides as a tenant he had in fact, though not in law, land and cattle, wife and child, as the landlord had, and after manumission was introduced(14) there was a possibility, not remote, of working out his freedom. If such then was the footing on which landholding on a large scale stood in the earliest times, it was far from being an open sore in the commonwealth; on the contrary, it was of most material service to it. Not only did it provide subsistence, although scantier upon the whole, for as many families in proportion as the intermediate and smaller properties; but the landlords moreover, occupying a comparatively elevated and free position, supplied the community with its natural leaders and rulers, while the agricultural and unpropertied tenants-on-sufferance furnished the genuine material for the Roman policy of colonization, without which it never would have succeeded; for while the state may furnish land to him who has none, it cannot impart to one who knows nothing of agriculture the spirit and the energy to wield the plough.

Pastoral Husbandry

Ground under pasture was not affected by the distribution of the land. The state, and not the clanship, was regarded as the owner of the common pastures. It made use of them in part for its own flocks and herds, which were intended for sacrifice and other purposes and were always kept up by means of the cattle-fines; and it gave to the possessors of cattle the privilege of driving them out upon the common pasture for a moderate payment (-scriptura-). The right of pasturage on the public domains may have originally borne some relation -de facto- to the possession of land, but no connection -de jure- can ever have subsisted in Rome between the particular hides of land and a definite proportional use of the common pasture; because property could be acquired even by the —metoikos—, but the right to use the common pasture was only granted exceptionally to the —metoikos— by the royal favour. At this period, however, the public land seems to have held but a subordinate place in the national economy generally, for the original common pasturage was not perhaps very extensive, and the conquered territory was probably for the most part distributed immediately as arable land among the clans or at a later period among individuals.


While agriculture was the chief and most extensively prosecuted occupation in Rome, other branches of industry did not fail to accompany it, as might be expected from the early development of urban life in that emporium of the Latins. In fact eight guilds of craftsmen were numbered among the institutions of king Numa, that is, among the institutions that had existed in Rome from time immemorial. These were the flute-blowers, the goldsmiths, the coppersmiths, the carpenters, the fullers, the dyers, the potters, and the shoemakers—a list which would substantially exhaust the class of tradesmen working to order on account of others in the very early times, when the baking of bread and the professional art of healing were not yet known and wool was spun into clothing by the women of the household themselves. It is remarkable that there appears no special guild of workers in iron. This affords a fresh confirmation of the fact that the manufacture of iron was of comparatively late introduction in Latium; and on this account in matters of ritual down to the latest times copper alone might be used, e.g. for the sacred plough and the shear-knife of the priests. These bodies of craftsmen must have been of great importance in early times for the urban life of Rome and for its position towards the Latin land—an importance not to be measured by the depressed condition of Roman handicraft in later times, when it was injuriously affected by the multitude of artisan-slaves working for their master or on his account, and by the increased import of articles of luxury. The oldest lays of Rome celebrated not only the mighty war-god Mamers, but also the skilled armourer Mamurius, who understood the art of forging for his fellow-burgesses shields similar to the divine model shield that had fallen from heaven; Volcanus the god of fire and of the forge already appears in the primitive list of Roman festivals.(15) Thus in the earliest Rome, as everywhere, the arts of forging and of wielding the ploughshare and the sword went hand in hand, and there was nothing of that arrogant contempt for handicrafts which we afterwards meet with there. After the Servian organization, however, imposed the duty of serving in the army exclusively on the freeholders, the industrial classes were excluded not by any law, but practically in consequence of their general want of a freehold qualification, from the privilege of bearing arms, except in the case of special subdivisions chosen from the carpenters, coppersmiths, and certain classes of musicians and attached with a military organization to the army; and this may perhaps have been the origin of the subsequent habit of depreciating the manual arts and of the position of political inferiority assigned to them. The institution of guilds doubtless had the same object as the colleges of priests that resembled them in name; the men of skill associated themselves in order more permanently and securely to preserve the tradition of their art. That there was some mode of excluding unskilled persons is probable; but no traces are to be met with either of monopolizing tendencies or of protective steps against inferior manufactures. There is no aspect, however, of the life of the Roman people respecting which our information is so scanty as that of the Roman trades.

Inland Commerce of the Italians

Italian commerce must, it is obvious, have been limited in the earliest epoch to the mutual dealings of the Italians themselves. Fairs (-mercatus-), which must be distinguished from the usual weekly markets (-nundinae-) were of great antiquity in Latium. Probably they were at first associated with international gatherings and festivals, and so perhaps were connected in Rome with the festival at the federal temple on the Aventine; the Latins, who came for this purpose to Rome every year on the 13th August, may have embraced at the same time the opportunity of transacting their business in Rome and of purchasing what they needed there. A similar and perhaps still greater importance belonged in the case of Etruria to the annual general assembly at the temple of Voltumna (perhaps near Montefiascone) in the territory of Volsinii; it served at the same time as a fair and was regularly frequented by Roman traders. But the most important of all the Italian fairs was that which was held at Soracte in the grove of Feronia, a situation than which none could be found more favourable for the exchange of commodities among the three great nations. That high isolated mountain, which appears to have been set down by nature herself in the midst of the plain of the Tiber as a goal for the traveller, lay on the boundary which separated the Etruscan and Sabine lands (to the latter of which it appears mostly to have belonged), and it was likewise easily accessible from Latium and Umbria. Roman merchants regularly made their appearance there, and the wrongs of which they complained gave rise to many a quarrel with the Sabines.

Beyond doubt dealings of barter and traffic were carried on at these fairs long before the first Greek or Phoenician vessel entered the western sea. When bad harvests had occurred, different districts supplied each other at these fairs with grain; there, too, they exchanged cattle, slaves, metals, and whatever other articles were deemed needful or desirable in those primitive times. Oxen and sheep formed the oldest medium of exchange, ten sheep being reckoned equivalent to one ox. The recognition of these objects as universal legal representatives of value or in other words as money, as well as the scale of proportion between the large and smaller cattle, may be traced back—as the recurrence of both especially among the Germans shows—not merely to the Graeco-Italian period, but beyond this even to the epoch of a purely pastoral economy.(16) In Italy, where metal in considerable quantity was everywhere required especially for agricultural purposes and for armour, but few of its provinces themselves produced the requisite metals, copper (-aes-) very early made its appearance alongside of cattle as a second medium of exchange; and so the Latins, who were poor in copper, designated valuation itself as "coppering" (-aestimatio-). This establishment of copper as a general equivalent recognized throughout the whole peninsula, as well as the simplest numeral signs of Italian invention to be mentioned more particularly below(17) and the Italian duodecimal system, may be regarded as traces of this earliest international intercourse of the Italian peoples while they still had the peninsula to themselves.

Transmarine Traffic of the Italians

We have already indicated generally the nature of the influence exercised by transmarine commerce on the Italians who continued independent. The Sabellian stocks remained almost wholly unaffected by it. They were in possession of but a small and inhospitable belt of coast, and received whatever reached them from foreign nations—the alphabet for instance—only through the medium of the Tuscans or Latins; a circumstance which accounts for their want of urban development. The intercourse of Tarentum with the Apulians and Messapians appears to have been at this epoch still unimportant. It was otherwise along the west coast. In Campania the Greeks and Italians dwelt peacefully side by side, and in Latium, and still more in Etruria, an extensive and regular exchange of commodities took place. What were the earliest articles of import, may be inferred partly from the objects found in the primitive tombs, particularly those at Caere, partly from indications preserved in the language and institutions of the Romans, partly and chiefly from the stimulus given to Italian industry; for of course they bought foreign manufactures for a considerable time before they began to imitate them. We cannot determine how far the development of handicrafts had advanced before the separation of the stocks, or what progress it thereafter made while Italy remained left to its own resources; it is uncertain how far the Italian fullers, dyers, tanners, and potters received their impulse from Greece or Phoenicia or had their own independent development But certainly the trade of the goldsmiths, which existed in Rome from time immemorial, can only have arisen after transmarine commerce had begun and ornaments of gold had to some extent found sale among the inhabitants of the peninsula. We find, accordingly, in the oldest sepulchral chambers of Caere and Vulci in Etruria and of Praeneste in Latium, plates of gold with winged lions stamped upon them, and similar ornaments of Babylonian manufacture. It may be a question in reference to the particular object found, whether it has been introduced from abroad or is a native imitation; but on the whole it admits of no doubt that all the west coast of Italy in early times imported metallic wares from the East. It will be shown still more clearly in the sequel, when we come to speak of the exercise of art, that architecture and modelling in clay and metal received a powerful stimulus in very early times through Greek influence, or, in other words, that the oldest tools and the oldest models came from Greece. In the sepulchral chambers just mentioned, besides the gold ornaments, there were deposited vessels of bluish enamel or greenish clay, which, judging from the materials and style as well as from the hieroglyphics impressed upon them, were of Egyptian origin;(18) perfume-vases of Oriental alabaster, several of them in the form of Isis; ostrich-eggs with painted or carved sphinxes and griffins; beads of glass and amber. These last may have come by the land-route from the north; but the other objects prove the import of perfumes and articles of ornament of all sorts from the East. Thence came linen and purple, ivory and frankincense, as is proved by the early use of linen fillets, of the purple dress and ivory sceptre for the king, and of frankincense in sacrifice, as well as by the very ancient borrowed names for them (—linon—, -linum-; —porphura—, -purpura-; —skeiptron—, —skipon—, -scipio-; perhaps also —elephas—, -ebur-; —thuos—, -thus-). Of similar significance is the derivation of a number of words relating to articles used in eating and drinking, particularly the names of oil,(19) of jugs (—amphoreus—, -amp(h)ora-, -ampulla-, —krateir—, -cratera-), of feasting (—komazo—, -comissari-), of a dainty dish (—opsonion—, -opsonium-) of dough (—maza—, -massa-), and various names of cakes (—glukons—, -lucuns-; —plakons—, -placenta-; —turons—, -turunda-); while conversely the Latin names for dishes (-patina-, —patanei—) and for lard (-arvina-, —arbinei—) have found admission into Sicilian Greek. The later custom of placing in the tomb beside the dead Attic, Corcyrean, and Campanian vases proves, what these testimonies from language likewise show, the early market for Greek pottery in Italy. That Greek leather-work made its way into Latium at least in the shape of armour is apparent from the application of the Greek word for leather —skutos— to signify among the Latins a shield (-scutum-; like -lorica-, from -lorum-). Finally, we deduce a similar inference from the numerous nautical terms borrowed from the Greek (although it is remarkable that the chief technical expressions in navigation—the terms for the sail, mast, and yard—are pure Latin forms);(20) and from the recurrence in Latin of the Greek designations for a letter (—epistolei—, -epistula-), a token (-tessera-, from —tessara—(21)), a balance (—stateir—, -statera-), and earnest-money (—arrabon—, -arrabo-, -arra-); and conversely from the adoption of Italian law-terms in Sicilian Greek,(22) as well as from the exchange of the proportions and names of coins, weights, and measures, which we shall notice in the sequel. The character of barbarism which all these borrowed terms obviously present, and especially the characteristic formation of the nominative from the accusative (-placenta- = —plakounta—; -ampora- = —amphorea—; -statera-= —stateira—), constitute the clearest evidence of their great antiquity. The worship of the god of traffic (-Mercurius-) also appears to have been from the first influenced by Greek conceptions; and his annual festival seems even to have been fixed on the ides of May, because the Hellenic poets celebrated him as the son of the beautiful Maia.

Commerce, in Latium Passive, in Etruria Active

It thus appears that Italy in very ancient times derived its articles of luxury, just as imperial Rome did, from the East, before it attempted to manufacture for itself after the models which it imported. In exchange it had nothing to offer except its raw produce, consisting especially of its copper, silver, and iron, but including also slaves and timber for shipbuilding, amber from the Baltic, and, in the event of bad harvests occurring abroad, its grain. From this state of things as to the commodities in demand and the equivalents to be offered in return, we have already explained why Italian traffic assumed in Latium a form so differing from that which it presented in Etruria. The Latins, who were deficient in all the chief articles of export, could carry on only a passive traffic, and were obliged even in the earliest times to procure the copper of which they had need from the Etruscans in exchange for cattle or slaves—we have already mentioned the very ancient practice of selling the latter on the right bank of the Tiber.(23) On the other hand the Tuscan balance of trade must have been necessarily favourable in Caere as in Populonia, in Capua as in Spina. Hence the rapid development of prosperity in these regions and their powerful commercial position; whereas Latium remained preeminently an agricultural country. The same contrast recurs in all their individual relations. The oldest tombs constructed and furnished in the Greek fashion, but with an extravagance to which the Greeks were strangers, are to be found at Caere, while—with the exception of Praeneste, which appears to have occupied a peculiar position and to have been very intimately connected with Falerii and southern Etruria—the Latin land exhibits only slight ornaments for the dead of foreign origin, and not a single tomb of luxury proper belonging to the earlier times; there as among the Sabellians a simple turf ordinarily sufficed as a covering for the dead. The most ancient coins, of a time not much later than those of Magna Graecia, belong to Etruria, and to Populonia in particular: during the whole regal period Latium had to be content with copper by weight, and had not even introduced foreign coins, for the instances are extremely rare in which such coins (e.g. one of Posidonia) have been found there. In architecture, plastic art, and embossing, the same stimulants acted on Etruria and on Latium, but it was only in the case of the former that capital was everywhere brought to bear on them and led to their being pursued extensively and with growing technical skill. The commodities were upon the whole the same, which were bought, sold, and manufactured in Latium and in Etruria; but the southern land was far inferior to its northern neighbours in the energy with which its commerce was plied. The contrast between them in this respect is shown in the fact that the articles of luxury manufactured after Greek models in Etruria found a market in Latium, particularly at Praeneste, and even in Greece itself, while Latium hardly ever exported anything of the kind.

Etrusco-Attic, and Latino-Sicilian Commerce

A distinction not less remarkable between the commerce of the Latins and that of the Etruscans appears in their respective routes or lines of traffic. As to the earliest commerce of the Etruscans in the Adriatic we can hardly do more than express the conjecture that it was directed from Spina and Atria chiefly to Corcyra. We have already mentioned(24) that the western Etruscans ventured boldly into the eastern seas, and trafficked not merely with Sicily, but also with Greece proper. An ancient intercourse with Attica is indicated by the Attic clay vases, which are so numerous in the more recent Etruscan tombs, and had been perhaps even at this time introduced for other purposes than the already-mentioned decoration of tombs, while conversely Tyrrhenian bronze candlesticks and gold cups were articles early in request in Attica. Still more definitely is such an intercourse indicated by the coins. The silver pieces of Populonia were struck after the pattern of a very old silver piece stamped on one side with the Gorgoneion, on the other merely presenting an incuse square, which has been found at Athens and on the old amber-route in the district of Posen, and which was in all probability the very coin struck by order of Solon in Athens. We have mentioned already that the Etruscans had also dealings, and perhaps after the development of the Etrusco-Carthaginian maritime alliance their principal dealings, with the Carthaginians. It is a remarkable circumstance that in the oldest tombs of Caere, besides native vessels of bronze and silver, there have been found chiefly Oriental articles, which may certainly have come from Greek merchants, but more probably were introduced by Phoenician traders. We must not, however, attribute too great importance to this Phoenician trade, and in particular we must not overlook the fact that the alphabet, as well as the other influences that stimulated and matured native culture, were brought to Etruria by the Greeks, and not by the Phoenicians.

Latin commerce assumed a different direction. Rarely as we have opportunity of instituting comparisons between the Romans and the Etruscans as regards the reception of Hellenic elements, the cases in which such comparisons can be instituted exhibit the two nations as completely independent of each other. This is most clearly apparent in the case of the alphabet. The Greek alphabet brought to the Etruscans from the Chalcidico-Doric colonies in Sicily or Campania varies not immaterially from that which the Latins derived from the same quarter, so that, although both peoples have drawn from the same source, they have done so at different times and different places. The same phenomenon appears in particular words: the Roman Pollux and the Tuscan Pultuke are independent corruptions of the Greek Polydeukes; the Tuscan Utuze or Uthuze is formed from Odysseus, the Roman Ulixes is an exact reproduction of the form of the name usual in Sicily; in like manner the Tuscan Aivas corresponds to the old Greek form of this name, the Roman Aiax to a secondary form that was probably also Sicilian; the Roman Aperta or Apello and the Samnite Appellun have sprung from the Doric Apellon, the Tuscan Apulu from Apollon. Thus the language and writing of Latium indicate that the direction of Latin commerce was exclusively towards the Cumaeans and Siceliots. Every other trace which has survived from so remote an age leads to the same conclusion: such as, the coin of Posidonia found in Latium; the purchase of grain, when a failure of the harvest occurred in Rome, from the Volscians, Cumaeans, and Siceliots (and, as was natural, from the Etruscans as well); above all, the relations subsisting between the Latin and Sicilian monetary systems. As the local Dorico-Chalcidian designation of silver coin —nomos—, and the Sicilian measure —eimina—, were transferred with the same meaning to Latium as -nummus- and -hemina-, so conversely the Italian designations of weight, -libra-, -triens-, -quadrans-, -sextans-, -uncia-, which arose in Latium for the measurement of the copper which was used by weight instead of money, had found their way into the common speech of Sicily in the third century of the city under the corrupt and hybrid forms, —litra—, —trias—, —tetras—, —exas—, —ougkia—. Indeed, among all the Greek systems of weights and moneys, the Sicilian alone was brought into a determinate relation to the Italian copper-system; not only was the value of silver set down conventionally and perhaps legally as two hundred and fifty times that of copper, but the equivalent on this computation of a Sicilian pound of copper (1/120th of the Attic talent, 2/3 of the Roman pound) was in very early times struck, especially at Syracuse, as a silver coin (—litra argurion—, i.e. "copper-pound in silver"). Accordingly it cannot be doubted that Italian bars of copper circulated also in Sicily instead of money; and this exactly harmonizes with the hypothesis that the commerce of the Latins with Sicily was a passive commerce, in consequence of which Latin money was drained away thither. Other proofs of ancient intercourse between Sicily and Italy, especially the adoption in the Sicilian dialect of the Italian expressions for a commercial loan, a prison, and a dish, and the converse reception of Sicilian terms in Italy, have been already mentioned.(25) We meet also with several, though less definite, traces of an ancient intercourse of the Latins with the Chalcidian cities in Lower Italy, Cumae and Neapolis, and with the Phocaeans in Velia and Massilia. That it was however far less active than that with the Siceliots is shown by the well-known fact that all the Greek words which made their way in earlier times to Latium exhibit Doric forms—we need only recall -Aesculapius-, -Latona-, -Aperta-, -machina-. Had their dealings with the originally Ionian cities, such as Cumae(26) and the Phocaean settlements, been even merely on a similar scale with those which they had with the Sicilian Dorians, Ionic forms would at least have made their appearance along with the others; although certainly Dorism early penetrated even into these Ionic colonies themselves, and their dialect varied greatly. While all the facts thus combine to attest the stirring traffic of the Latins with the Greeks of the western main generally, and especially with the Sicilians, there hardly occurred any immediate intercourse with the Asiatic Phoenicians, and the intercourse with those of Africa, which is sufficiently attested by statements of authors and by articles found, can only have occupied a secondary position as affecting the state of culture in Latium; in particular it is significant that—if we leave out of account some local names—there is an utter absence of any evidence from language as to ancient intercourse between the Latins and the nations speaking the Aramaic tongue.(27)

If we further inquire how this traffic was mainly carried on, whether by Italian merchants abroad or by foreign merchants in Italy, the former supposition has all the probabilities in its favour, at least so far as Latium is concerned. It is scarcely conceivable that those Latin terms denoting the substitute for money and the commercial loan could have found their way into general use in the language of the inhabitants of Sicily through the mere resort of Sicilian merchants to Ostia and their receipt of copper in exchange for ornaments. Lastly, in regard to the persons and classes by whom this traffic was carried on in Italy, no special superior class of merchants distinct from and independent of the class of landed proprietors developed itself in Rome. The reason of this surprising phenomenon was, that the wholesale commerce of Latium was from the beginning in the hands of the large landed proprietors—a hypothesis which is not so singular as it seems. It was natural that in a country intersected by several navigable rivers the great landholder, who was paid by his tenants their quotas of produce in kind, should come at an early period to possess barks; and there is evidence that such was the case. The transmarine traffic conducted on the trader's own account must therefore have fallen into the hands of the great landholder, seeing that he alone possessed the vessels for it and—in his produce—the articles for export.(28) In fact the distinction between a landed and a moneyed aristocracy was unknown to the Romans of earlier times; the great landholders were at the same time the speculators and the capitalists. In the case of a very energetic commerce such a combination certainly could not have been maintained; but, as the previous representation shows, while there was a comparatively vigorous traffic in Rome in consequence of the trade of the Latin land being there concentrated, Rome was by no means essentially a commercial city like Caere or Tarentum, but was and continued to be the centre of an agricultural community.

Notes for Book I Chapter XIII

1. I. II. Agriculture

2. I. III. Clan Villages, I. V. The Community

3. The system which we meet with in the case of the Germanic joint tillage, combining a partition of the land in property among the clansmen with its joint cultivation by the clan, can hardly ever have existed in Italy. Had each clansman been regarded in Italy, as among the Germans, in the light of proprietor of a particular spot in each portion of the collective domain that was marked off for tillage, the separate husbandry of later times would probably have set out from a minute subdivision of hides. But the very opposite was the case; the individual names of the Roman hides (-fundus Cornelianus-) show clearly that the Roman proprietor owned from the beginning a possession not broken up but united.

4. Cicero (de Rep. ii. 9, 14, comp. Plutarch, Q. Rom. 15) states: -Tum (in the time of Romulus) erat res in pecore et locorum possessionibus, ex quo pecuniosi et locupletes vocabantur—(Numa) primum agros, quos bello Romulus ceperat, divisit viritim civibus-. In like manner Dionysius represents Romulus as dividing the land into thirty curial districts, and Numa as establishing boundary-stones and introducing the festival of the Terminalia (i. 7, ii. 74; and thence Plutarch, -Numa-, 16).

5. I. XI. Contracts

6. Since this assertion still continues to be disputed, we shall let the numbers speak for themselves. The Roman writers on agriculture of the later republic and the imperial period reckon on an average five -modii- of wheat as sufficient to sow a -jugerum-, and the produce as fivefold. The produce of a -heredium- accordingly (even when, without taking into view the space occupied by the dwelling-house and farm-yard, we regard it as entirely arable land, and make no account of years of fallow) amounts to fifty, or deducting the seed forty, modii. For an adult hard-working slave Cato (c. 56) reckons fifty-one -modii-of wheat as the annual consumption. These data enable any one to answer for himself the question whether a Roman family could or could not subsist on the produce of a -heredium-. The attempted proof to the contrary is based on the ground that the slave of later times subsisted more exclusively on corn than the free farmer of the earlier epoch, and that the assumption of a fivefold return is one too low for this earlier epoch; both assumptions are probably correct, but for both there is a limit. Doubtless the subsidiary produce yielded by the arable land itself and by the common pasture, such as figs, vegetables, milk, flesh (especially as derived from the old and zealously pursued rearing of swine), and the like, are specially to be taken into account for the older period; but the older Roman pastoral husbandry, though not unimportant, was withal of subordinate importance, and the chief subsistence of the people was always notoriously grain. We may, moreover, on account of the thoroughness of the earlier cultivation obtain a very considerable increase, especially of the gross produce—and beyond doubt the farmers of this period drew a larger produce from their lands than the great landholders of the later republic and the empire obtained (iii. Latium); but moderation must be exercised in forming such estimates, because we have to deal with a question of averages and with a mode of husbandry conducted neither methodically nor with large capital. The assumption of a tenfold instead of a fivefold return will be the utmost limit, and yet it is far from sufficing. In no case can the enormous deficit, which is left even according to those estimates between the produce of the -heredium- and the requirements of the household, be covered by mere superiority of cultivation. In fact the counter-proof can only be regarded as successful, when it shall have produced a methodical calculation based on rural economics, according to which among a population chiefly subsisting on vegetables the produce of a piece of land of an acre and a quarter proves sufficient on an average for the subsistence of a family.

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