Cicero, de Lege Agraria (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Cic. Agr.].
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A short time before Cicero's inauguration as consul, which took place on the first of January, Publius Servilius Rullus, one of the new tribunes, (who entered on their office on the tenth of December,) had been alarming the senate with the proposal of a new agrarian law, the purport of which was to appoint ten commissioners, (decemviri) with absolute power for five years over all the revenues of the republic; to distribute them at pleasure to the citizens; to sell and buy what lands they thought fit; to determine the rights of the present possessors; to require an account from all the generals abroad, except, Pompey, of the spoils taken in their wars; to settle colonies wherever they judged it proper, and especially at Capua; and, in short, the entire command of the money and forces of the empire. (Middleton, ch. iii.)

This oration (of which some of the beginning is lost), was addressed to the senate on the first of January, to relieve them of their apprehensions respecting this law, by assuring them that he would oppose the law and all its promoters to the uttermost of his power; and that he would not suffer the state to be injured or its liberties to be impaired, while the administration remained in his hands.


In beardless youth


[The whole of the Propontis and of the Hellespont will therefore come under the power of the praetor; the whole coast of the Lycians and Cilicians will be advertised for sale; Mysia and Phrygia will be subjected to the same conditions [Note]]


The decemviri will sell the booty, the spoils, the division of the plunder, the very camp of Cnaeus Pompeius, while the general is forced to sit still.

ch. 1


That which was then openly sought, is now endeavoured to be effected secretly by mines. For the decemvirs will say, what indeed is said by many, and has often been said,—that after the consulship of those men, all that kingdom became the property of the Roman people, by the bequest of the king Alexander. Will you then give Alexandria [Note] to those men when they ask for it in an underhand way, whom you resisted when they openly fought against you? Which, in the name of the immortal gods, do these things seem to you,—the designs of sober men, or the dreams of drunken ones? the serious thoughts of wise men, or the frantic wishes of madmen?

1.2 See, now, in the second chapter of this law, how that profligate debauchee is disturbing the republic,—how he is ruining and dissipating the possessions left us by our ancestors; so as to be not less a spendthrift in the patrimony of the Roman people than in his own. He is advertising for sale by his law all the revenues, for the decemvirs to sell them; that is to say, he is advertising an auction of the property of the state. He wants lands to be bought, in order to be distributed; he is seeking money. No doubt he will devise something, and bring it forward; for in the preceding chapters the dignity of the Roman people was attacked; the name of our dominion was held up as an object of common hatred to all the nations of the earth; cities which were at peace with us, lands belonging to the allies, the ranks of kings in alliance with us, were all made a present of to the decemvirs; and now they want actual ready money paid down to them.

1.3 I am waiting to see what this vigilant and clever tribune is contriving. Let the Scantian [Note] wood, says he, be sold. Did you then find this wood mentioned among the possessions that were left, or in the pasture lands of the lessors? If there is anything which you have hunted out, and discovered, brought to light out of darkness, although it is not just, still use that, since it is convenient, and since you yourself were the person to bring it forward. But shall you sell the Scantian wood while we are consuls, and while this senate is in existence? Shall you touch any of the revenues? Shall you take away from the Roman people that which is their strength in time of war, their ornament in time of peace? But then indeed, I shall think myself a lazier consul than those fearless men who filled this office in the times of our ancestors; because the revenues which were acquired by the Roman people when they were consuls, will be considered not able to be preserved when I am consul.

ch. 2


He is selling all the possessions in Italy, in regular order. Forsooth, he is very busy in that occupation. For does not omit one. He goes through the whole of Sicily in the account-books of the censors. He does not omit one single house, or one single field. You have heard an auction of the property of the Roman people given notice of by tribune of the people, and fixed for the month of January and I suppose you do not doubt, that they who procured these things by their arms and their valour, did not sell the for the sake of the treasury, on purpose that we might have something to sell for the sake of bribery.


See, now, how much more undisguisedly than before he proceeds on his course. For it has been already shown by how they attacked Pompeius in the earlier part of the law; and now they shall show it also themselves. He orders the lands belonging to the men of Attalia and Olympus to be sold. These lands the victory of Publius Servilius, that most gallant general, had made the property of the Roman people. After that, the royal domains in Macedonia, which were acquired partly by the valour of Titus Flamininus, and part by that of Lucius Paullus, who conquered Perses. After that, that most excellent and productive land which belongs Corinth, which was added to the revenues of the Roman people by the campaigns and successes of Lucius Mummius. After that, they sell the lands in Spain near Carthagena, acquired by the distinguished valour of the two Scipios. Then Carthagena itself, which Publius Scipio, having stripped it of all its fortifications, consecrated to the eternal recollection of men, whether his purpose was to keep up the memory of the disaster of the Carthaginians, or to bear witness to our victory, or to fulfill some religious obligation.

1.6 Having sold all these ensigns and crowns, as it were, of the empire, with which the republic was adorned, and handed down to you by your ancestors, they then order the lands to be sold which the king Mithridates possessed in Paphlagonia, and Pontus, and Cappadocia. Do they not seem to be pursuing without much disguise, and almost with the crier's spear, the army of Cnaeus Pompeius, when they order those lands to be sold in which he is now engaged and carrying on war?

ch. 3


But what is the meaning of this, that they fix no place for this auction which they are establishing? For power is given to the decemvirs by this law, of holding their sales in any places which seem convenient to them. The censors are not allowed to let the contracts for farming the revenues, except in the sight of the Roman people. Shall these men be allowed to sell them in the most distant countries? But even the most profligate men, when they have squandered their patrimony, prefer selling their property in the auctioneer's rooms, rather than in the roads, or in the streets. This man, by his law, gives leave to the decemvirs to sell the property of the Roman people in whatever darkness and whatever solitude they find it convenient.

1.8 Do you not, moreover, see how grievous, how formidable, and how pregnant with extortion that invasion of the decemvirs and of the multitude that will follow in their train will be to all the provinces, and kingdoms, and free nations? In the case of those men on whom you have conferred lieutenancies for the sake of entering on inheritances, though they went as private men, on private business, invested with no excessive power and no supreme authority, you have still heard how burdensome their arrival has proved to your allies.

1.9 What alarm and what misfortune, then must you think all nations are threatened with by this law, when decemvirs are sent all over the world with supreme power,—men of the greatest avarice, and with an insatiable desire for every sort of property? whose arrival will be grievous, whose forces will be formidable, whose judicial and arbitrary power will be absolutely intolerable. For they will have the power of deciding whatever they please to be public property, and of selling whatever they decide to be such. Even that very thing which conscientious men will not do, namely, taking money to abstain from selling, is to be made

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lawful for them to do by the express provisions of the law. From this provision what plunderings, what bargainings, what a regular auction of all law and of every one's fortunes must inevitably arise!

1.10 Even that which in the former pert of the law made in the consulship of Sulla and Pompeius was strictly defined, that they have now left at the discretion of these men, without any restriction or limitation.

ch. 4

He orders these same decemvirs to impose an exceedingly heavy tax on all the public domains, in order that they might be able both to release what lands they choose and to confiscate what they choose. And in this proceeding it is hard to see whether their severity will be more cruel or their kindness more gainful.

However, there are in the whole law two exceptions, not so much unjust as suspicious. In imposing the tax it makes an exception with respect to the Recentoric district in Sicily; and in selling the land, he excepts those with respect to which there was an express provision in the treaty. These lands are in Africa, in the occupation of Hiempsal.

1.11 Here I ask, if sufficient protection is afforded to Hiempsal by the treaty and if the Recentoric district is private property, what was use of excepting these lands by name in the law? If that treaty itself has some obscurity in it, and if the Recentoric is sometimes said to be public property, who do you suppose will believe that there have been two interests found in the world, and only two, which he spared for nothing? Does there appear to have been any coin in the world so carefully hidden that the architects of this law have failed to scent it out? They are draining the provinces, the free cities, our allies, our friends, and even the kings who are confederate with us. They are laying bands on the revenue of the Roman people.


That is not enough. Listen—listen, you who, by the most honourable vote of the people and senate, have commanded armies and carried on wars:—“Whatever has come or shall come to anyone, of booty, of spoils, of money given for gold crowns, which has neither been spent on a monument, nor paid into the treasury, is all to be paid over to the decemvirs.” From this chapter they expect a great deal. The propose by their resolution an investigation into the affairs of all our generals and all their heirs. But they expect to go the greatest quantity of money from Faustus. That cause which the judges upon their oath would not undertake, these decemvirs have undertaken. They think, perhaps, that it was declined by the judges, on purpose to be reserved to them.

1.13 After that, the law most carefully provides for the future, that, whatever money any general receives, he is at once to pay over to the decemvirs. But here he excepts Pompeius, very much as, as it seems to me, in that law by which aliens are sent away from Rome an exception is made in favour of Glaucippus. For the effect of this exception is not to confer a kindness on one man, but merely to save one man from injustice. But the man whose spoils the law thus spares, has his revenues invaded by the same law. For it orders all the money which is received after our consulship from the new revenues, to be placed to the use of the decemvirs. As if we did not see that they were thinking of selling the revenues which Cnaeus Pompeius has added to the wealth of the Roman people.

ch. 5


You see now, O conscript fathers, that the money which is to belong to the decemvirs is collected and heaped together from every possible source, and by every imaginable expedient. The unpopularity arising from their possession of this large sum is to be diminished, for it shall be spent in the purchase of lands. Exceedingly well. Who then is to buy those lands? These same decemvirs. You, O Rullus— for I say nothing of the rest of them,—are to buy whatever you like; to sell whatever you like, to buy or sell at whatever price you please. For that admirable man takes care not to buy of any one against his will. As if we did not understand that to buy of a man against his will is an injurious thing to do; but to buy of one who has no objection, is profitable. How much land (to say nothing of other people) will your father-in-law sell you? and, if I have formed a proper estimate of the fairness of his disposition, will have no objection to sell you? The rest will do the same willingly; they will be glad to exchange the unpopularity attaching to the possession of land for money; to receive whatever they demand, and to part with what they can scarcely retain.

1.15 Now just see the boundless and intolerable licentiousness of all these measures. Money has been collected for the purchase of lands. More-over, the lands are not to be bought of people against their will. Suppose all the owners agree not to sell, what is to happen then? Is the money to be refunded? That cannot

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be. Is it to be collected? The law forbids that. However, let that pass. There is nothing which cannot be bought, if you will only give as much as the seller asks. Let us plunder the whole world, let us sell our revenues, let us exhaust the treasury, in order that, whether men be owners of wealth, or of odium, or even of a pestilence, still their lands may be bought.

1.16 What is to happen then? what sort of men are to be established as settlers in those lands? what is to be the system and plan adopted in the whole business? Colonies, say the law, shall be led thither, and settled there. How many? Of what class of men? Where are they to be established? For who is there who does not see that all these things have got to be considered when we are talking of colonies? Did you think, O Rullus, that we would give up the whole of Italy to you and to those contrivers of everything whom you have set up, in an unarmed and defenceless state, for you to strengthen it with garrisons afterwards? for you to occupy it with colonies? to hold it bound and fettered by every sort of chain? For where is there any clause to prevent your establishing a colony on the Janiculan Hill? or from oppressing and overwhelming this city with some other city? We will not do so, says he. In the first place, I don't know that; in the next place, I am afraid of you; lastly, I will never permit our safety to depend on your kindness rather than on our own prudence.

ch. 6


But as you wanted to fill all Italy with your colonies, did you think that not one of us would understand what sort of a measure that was? For it is written, “The decemvirs may lead whatever settlers they choose into whatever municipalities and colonies they like; and they may assign them lands in whatever places they please;” so that, when they have occupied all Italy with their soldiers, you may have no hope left you, I will not say of retaining your dignity, but none even of recovering your liberty. And these things, indeed, I object to on suspicion and from conjecture.

1.18 But now all mistake on any side shall be removed; now they shall show openly that the very name of this republic, and the situation of this city and empire, that even this very temple of the good and great Jupiter, and this citadel of all nations, is odious to them. They wish settlers to be conducted to Capua. They wish again to oppose that city to this city. They think of removing all their riches thither of transferring thither the name of the empire. That place which, because of the fertility of its lands and its abundance of every sort of production, is said to be the parent of pride and cruelty—in that our colonists, men selected as fit for every imaginable purpose, will be settled by the decemvirs. No doubt, in that city, in which men, though born to the enjoyment of ancient dignities and hereditary fortunes, were still unable to bear with moderation the luxuriance of their fortunes, your satellites will be able to restrain their insolence and to behave with modesty.

1.19 Our ancestors removed from Capua the magistrates, the senate, the general council, and all the ensigns of the republic, and left nothing there except the bare name of Capua; not out of cruelty, (for what was ever more merciful than they were? for they often restored their property even to foreign enemies when they had been subdued;) but out of wisdom; because they saw that if any trace of the republic remained within those walls, the city itself might be able to afford a home to supreme power. And would not you too see how mischievous these things were, if you were not desirous of overturning the republic, and of procuring a new sort of power for your own selves?

ch. 7


For what is there that is especially to be guarded against in the establishment of colonies? If it be luxury—Capua corrupted Hannibal himself. If it be pride—that appears from the general arrogance of the Campanians to be innate there. If we want a bulwark for the state—then I say, that Capua is not placed in front of this city as an outwork, but is opposed to it as an enemy. But how is it armed? O ye immortal gods! For in the Punic war all the power that Capua had, it had from its unassisted resources; but now, all the cities which are around Capua will be occupied by colonists, by the order of these same decemvirs. For, for this reason, the law itself allows, “that the decemvirs may lead whoever they please as settlers to every town which they choose.” And it orders the Campanian district, and that of Stella, to be divided among these colonists.

1.21 I do not complain of the diminution of the revenues; nor of the wickedness of this loss and injury. I pass over those things which there is no one who cannot complain of with the greatest weight and the greatest truth; that we have not been able to preserve the most important part of the public patrimony of the state, that which has been to us the source of our supply of corn, our granary in time of war, our revenue placed under custody of the seals and bolts of the republic; that we, in short, have abandoned that district to Publius Rullus, which itself by its own resources had resisted both the absolute power of Sulla, and the corrupting liberality of the Gracchi. I do not say that, now that so much has been lost, this is the only revenue which remains in the republic; the only one which, while other sources of income are interrupted, does not fail us; the only one which is splendid in peace, is; not worn out in war; which supports our soldiery, and is not afraid of our enemies. I pass over all this which I might say; I reserve that for the assembly of the people. I am speaking now of the danger to our safety and to our liberty.

1.22 For what do you think will remain to you unimpaired in the whole republic, or in your liberty, or in your dignity, when Rullus, and those whom you are much more afraid of than you are of Rullus, with his whole band of needy and unprincipled men, with all his forces, with all his silver and gold, shall have occupied Capua and the cities around Capua? These things, O conscript fathers, I will resist eagerly and vigorously; and I will not permit men, while I am consul, to bring forth those plans against the republic which they have long been meditating.

1.23 You made a great mistake, O Rullus, you and some of your colleagues, when you hoped that, in being in opposition to a consul who studied the interests of the people in reality, not by making a vain parade of so doing, you would be able to gain popularity while overturning the republic. I challenge you; I invite you to the assembly; I will accept the Roman people as an umpire between us

ch. 8

In fact, if we look round to survey everything which is; pleasant and acceptable to the people, we shall find that nothing is so popular as peace, and concord, and ease. You have given up to me a city made anxious with suspicion, in suspense from fear, harassed to death by your proposed laws, and assemblies, and seditions. You have inflamed the hopes of the wicked; you have filled the virtuous with alarms; you have banished good faith from the forum, and dignity from the republic.

1.24 Amid all this commotion and agitation of minds and circumstances, when the voice and authority of the consul has suddenly, from amid such great darkness, dawned on the Roman people; when it has shown that nothing need be feared; that no regular army, no band of extempore ruffians, no colony, no sale of the revenues, no new of command, no reign of decemvirs, no new Rome or opposition seat of empire, will be allowed to exist while we are consuls; that the greatest tranquillity of peace and ease will be secured; then, no doubt, we shall have much reason to ear that this beautiful agrarian law of yours will appear popular.

1.25 But when I have displayed the wickedness of your counsels, the dishonesty of your law, and the treachery which is planned by those popular tribunes of the people against the Roman people; then, I suppose, I shall have reason to fear that I shall not be allowed to appear in the assembly, for the purpose of opposing you; especially when I have determined and resolved so to conduct myself in my consulship, (and the duties of the consulship cannot be discharged with dignity and freedom, in any other manner,) as neither to desire any province, nor honour, nor dignity nor advantage nor anything whatever which can have any hindrance thrown in its way by any tribune of the people.

1.26 The consul states, in full senate, on the calends of January, that if the present condition of the republic continues, and if no new event arises, on account of which he cannot with honour avoid it, he will not go to any province. By that means I shall be able, O conscript fathers, so to behave myself in this magistracy, as to be able to restrain any tribune of the people who is hostile to the republic,—to despise any one who is hostile to myself.

ch. 9

Wherefore, in the name of the immortal gods! I entreat you, recollect yourselves, O tribunes of the people; desert those men by whom, in a short time, unless you take great care, you will yourselves be deserted. Conspire with us; agree with all virtuous men defend our common republic with one common zeal and affection. There are many secret wounds sustained by the republic. There are many mischievous counsels of abandoned citizens designed against her. There is no external danger. There is no king no nation, no people in the world whom we need fear. The evil is confined within our own walls internal and domestic very one of us to the best of his power ought to resist and to remedy this.

1.27 You mistake if you think that the senate approves of what is said by me, but that the inclinations of the people are different. All men, who wish to be safe themselves, will follow the authority of the consul, a man uninfluenced by evil passion; free from all suspicion of guilt; cautious in danger; not fearful in contest. But if any one of you cherishes a hope that he may be able in a turbulent state of affairs to promote his own interests, first of all, let him give up hoping any such thing as long as I am consul. In the next place, let him take me myself as a proof—(me whom he sees now consul, though born only in the equestrian rank)—of what course of life most easily conducts virtuous men to honour and dignity. But if you, O conscript father, assist me with your zeal and energy in defending our common dignity, then, in truth, I shall accomplish that of which our republic is at present in the greatest possible need. I shall make the authority of this order, which existed so long among our ancestors, appear after a long interval to be again restored to the republic.

Cicero, de Lege Agraria (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Cic. Agr.].
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