Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern

Article excerpt

Livy was recently invoked here to rally the top 15 per cent of earners to a bit of wholesome belt-tightening. Not that Livy had anything against the filthy rich. Far from it. But he did expect them to use their wealth wisely - no showing off, no power-grabbing - and if the state did interfere with it, he expected there to be an acceptable quid pro quo.

According to tradition, Servius Tullius (the sixth king of Rome, 578534 bc) divided the Roman people up into classes (same word as ours) by property. One of its purposes was to rank your ability to serve in the army.

The top classis was the equestres, rich enough to provide a horse for the cavalry (a bit like owning a Ferrari or two); then came those able to provide a full suit of armour and weapons, each subsequent classis providing less and less till the sixth, with nothing to offer except children - proletarii (Latin proles, 'child').

The second purpose was to divide the people into 'colleges' for voting purposes. The top two classes, divided into 88 voting blocks, therefore commanded 88 votes; the whole of the rest of the people, divided into 105 blocks, commanded 105. …

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