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Please note that Mommsen uses the AUC chronology (Ab Urbe Condita), i.e. from the founding of the City of Rome. You can use this reference table to have the B.C. dates


II. From the Abolition of the Monarchy in Rome to the Union of Italy

From: The History of Rome, by Theodor Mommsen
Translated with the sanction of the author by William Purdie Dickson

The History of Old Rome

CHAPTER II - The Tribunate of the Plebs and the Decemvirate


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Page 22

So this singular magistracy was instituted, which presented to the commons an obvious and available aid, and yet could not possibly carry out the necessary economic reform. It was no proof of political wisdom, but a wretched compromise between the wealthy aristocracy and the leaderless multitude. It has been affirmed that the tribunate of the people preserved Rome from tyranny. Were it true, it would be of little moment: a change in the form of the state is not in itself an evil for a people; on the contrary, it was a misfortune for the Romans that monarchy was introduced too late, after the physical and mental energies of the nation were exhausted.

But the assertion is not even correct; as is shown by the circumstance that the Italian states remained as regularly free from tyrants as the Greek states regularly witnessed their emergence. The reason lies simply in the fact that tyranny is everywhere the result of universal suffrage, and that the Italians excluded the burgesses who had no land from their public assemblies longer than the Greeks did: when Rome departed from this course, monarchy did not fail to emerge, and was in fact associated with this very tribunician orifice.

That the tribunate had its use, in pointing out legitimate paths of opposition and averting many a wrong, no one will fail to acknowledge; but it is equally evident that, where it did prove useful, it was employed for very different objects from those for which it had been established. The bold experiment of allowing the leaders of the opposition a constitutional veto, and of investing them with power to assert it regardless of the consequences, proved to be an expedient by which the state was politically unhinged; and social evils were prolonged by the application of useless palliatives.

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