Roman expansion overseas between 264 – 133 BC was accompanied by social changes in Italy.
Traditionally always been an agrarian society (farmers). But in this period:
-decline of the small farms owned and worked by peasants
-rise of large estates, Latifundia, owned by wealthy aristocrats, operated by slave labour
Poor ex-farmers flocked to Rome in search of alternate forms of employment.
Military service abroad was an option – lots of overseas wars. Many small farmers went to war,
returned to find that farms burnt, cops destroyed, from 2 Punic War (Hannibal waging war up
and down peninsula for 14 years). Many farmers were casualties, never returned home. Those
who were fortunate enough to survive could not resume former agricultural livelihood – could no
longer compete with efficiently run latifundia (owners could afford to undercut prices, drive out
small farmers by creating monopoly). Many small farmers who survived, returned, had little
alternative but to sell out to wealthy landowners. Called the dispossessed; after drifting into
Rome in search of work, became the Urban Proliterate.
Wealthy aristocracy, including returning generals enriched by war booty, nobles who had made
profits, invested money in land and accumulated Latfundia. Real estate was a good investment.
Since Roman senators were prohibited by Lex Claudia from engaging in overseas trading
commerce or participating in public contracts (equites ended up dominating these, also
publicanii). Roman aristocracy instead (even patricians, nobles didn’t want to be involved with
trade – dirty work) invested in land, which was the means to political advancement. In addition
to purchasing the small farms of dispossessed Italian peasants, aristocracy also procured land by
leasing public tracts from the government, since they possessed sufficient capital and
commanded necessary labour to cultivate it. As time passed, these wealthy renters soon viewed
land as their own, even though it was public land (AGER PUBLICUS). The Latifundia were
very large scale, professionally managed, capital intensive, highly profitable operations. On
suburban estates, usually several hundred acres that no longer grew grain like small farmers had,
but specialized in things like wine, olives, fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese and eggs, and the
rearing of cattle, sheep, pigs, and poultry.
Owners of Latifundia swamped the local markets (esp. Rome) with produce and readily found
new markets in N, W, and E Europe.
Decline and disappearance of Italian small farmer resulted in lack of military recruits for Roman
army because only Roman citizens who owned property were eligible to serve in the legions of
the army. Roman soldiers had been recruited from mainly rural population of citizens; after
period of expansion overseas (after 133), a great % of population no longer owned property.
Dangerous shortage of army recruits.
Also, what do you do with veterans? They were used to regular pay, had no pension. Senatorial nobility would have liked to return to family farms. But this conflicted with the
growth of their own suburban estates, the Latifundi. So instead, land was confiscated at the
expense of small farmers and given to veterans. Even more peasant families forced from their
land. Also went to Rome. Everyone crammed in, poor living conditions. Social unrest.
Equites (class of knights) and publicanii had profited from Rome’s rapid expansion overseas, but
wanted more faster. The equites were also politically frustrated at the increasing difficulty of
gaining access to the senate, and the near impossibility of becoming a Novus Homo, and
breaking into the consular ranks.
Italian allies had contributed much manpower to Roman army, even though they weren’t Roman
citizens, greatly aiding overseas expansion. Had suffered enormous casualties, like Rome. But
they did not likewise share in the spoils of conquest, nor had they yet been rewarded with Roman
citizenship for all their efforts.
Slaves were discontented with the brutal and inhumane treatment they were forced to endure at
the hands of cruel masters – always restless. Many slaves were captives of war, former soldiers
in enemy armies conquered by Romans. Since there was strength in their sheer numbers, would
pose serious threat in revolted.
Slave revolt in Sicily in 136 – escalated into a war that lasted until 131, when finally crushed by
Period of overseas expansion 264-133 was a turbulent time in external affairs (war, all the war)
but was a period of relative calm internally in domestic politics. Since struggle of orders had
concluded with the enactment of Lex Hortensia (made all laws passed by council of plebs
binding on all citizens) there had been relatively little going on. As soon as wars of conquest
were done in 133BC, (fall of Numantia in West/Spain, bequest to Rome of Pergamum in Asia
Minor to the east), domestic tranquility shattered by social and economic repercussions
engendered by the many years of foreign warfare.
Two greatest problems that plagued social conditions were interrelated:
-impoverishment of Italian peasantry
-lack of recruits for military service
From an economic standpoint, rich became richer, poor got poorer. Peasant distress had reached
epidemic proportions. Urban unemployment and underemployment caused constant hardship to
those who had migrated from the countryside to Rome. Resulting crisis was so severe, ushered in
era of political upheaval: THE ROMAN REVOLUTION (133 on). Frequent and increasingly
bitter civil strife. Eventually resulted in downfall of the Republic.
The moderate phase of the Roman Revolution commenced with the Agrarian legislation
proposed by Tiberius Sempronius Graccus, a tribune of the plebs. Tiberius and his brother Gaius
Laelius were members of great noble political families on both sides; father had twice been consul (177 and 163) as well as governor of Spain. Mother Cornelia was daughter of the elder
Scipio Africanus, victor of battle of Zana in 202 BC, where Hannibal was conquered. Their
brother in law was Scipio the younger Africanus, the sacker of Carthage, who had married
The Gracchi brothers are examples of politicians whose power depended on popular support.
Focused on championing the poor. Both held role of tribune of plebs. Goal was to bring about
the agrarian reform and to deal with critical issue of landless poor in Rome. Landless poor could
Ambitious politicians could now ram measures through as tribunes and circumvent the authority
of the senate by appealing to the people for support to achieve their way. Dangerous precedent.
According to Lacidian-Sextian laws of 367, a pleb was eligible for the consul. ALSO, an
individual was limited to holding 500 iugera of public land (like acres). This legislation was
ignored in 2 century by wealthy landowners of Latifundia estates.
Gaius Laelius, consul 140, had tried to introduce agrarian reform by proposing a bill to reinforce
Lacinean-Sextian legislation. His proposal met with so many protests from wealthy landowners
that he withdrew the motion.
As tribune in 133BC, Tiberius Graccus d