Social Justice in the Ancient World

By K. D. Irani; Morris Silver | Go to book overview

15
Demands for Land Redistribution and Debt Reduction in the Roman Republic

RICHARD E. MITCHELL

In every period of Roman history readers encounter cries for justice, and we can learn a great deal about Roman attitudes toward social justice by concentrating on the earliest demands for land redistribution and debt relief. Furthermore, instead of a comprehensive treatment of social justice, this discussion will serve as a "still" photograph to elucidate what remained static and what changed in the demands for social justice throughout Roman history. 1 Roman history, of course, was not systematically chronicled, nor was the city's past interpreted until after 200 and our extant treatments of the earlier period are even later--much later. 2 The momentous social, economic, and political events of the second and first centuries shaped the portrayal of earlier events, and later laments were telescoped back into the early history of Rome. "The Roman revolution," says P. A. Brunt, "which transformed an oligarchic Republic into the Principate of Augustus, had its origins . . . partly in the misery of the poor, in a social crisis . . .; it began with the Gracchi and with agrarian reform, and agrarian reform remained a leitmotiv in the turbulent century that followed. . . . Modern accounts tend to obscure or even deny the unity of this theme throughout the period. It is true," Brunt continues, "that in the earlier [Gracchan] phase reformers were more concerned to find remedies for social distress as such, and in the later to provide homes for veterans. But the Gracchan settlers and the veterans had two things in common: they were mostly countrymen, and they desired to obtain a secure livelihood by owning their own land" ( 1962: 69). I will concentrate on features accepted as accurate reflections of early Roman society, because, as Brunt further points out, there are no late Republican anal-

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