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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


III. From the Union of Italy to the Subjugation of Carthage and the Greek States

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 XII - The Management of Land and of Capital


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Page 45

Unhappily it is a truth as remarkable as it is painful, that this husbandry, commended so much and certainly with so entire good faith as a remedy, was itself pervaded by the poison of the capitalist system. In the case of pastoral husbandry this was obvious; for that reason it was most in favour with the public and least in favour with the party desirous of moral reform. But how stood the case with agriculture itself? The warfare, which from the third onward to the fifth century capital had waged against labour, by withdrawing under the form of interest on debt the revenues of the soil from the working farmers and bringing them into the hands of the idly consuming fundholder, had been settled chiefly by the extension of the Roman economy and the throwing of the capital which existed in Latium into the field of mercantile activity opened up throughout the range of the Mediterranean.

Now even the extended field of business was no longer able to contain the increased mass of capital; and an insane legislation laboured simultaneously to compel the investment of senatorial capital by artificial means in Italian estates, and systematically to reduce the value of the arable land of Italy by interference with the prices of grain. Thus there began a second campaign of capital against free labour or--what was substantially the same thing in antiquity--against the small farmer system; and, if the first had been bad, it yet seemed mild and humane as compared with the second. The capitalists no longer lent to the farmer at interest --a course, which in itself was not now practicable because the petty landholder no longer aimed at any considerable surplus, and was moreover not sufficiently simple and radical--but they bought up the farms and converted them, at the best, into estates managed by stewards and worked by slaves. This likewise was called agriculture; it was essentially the application of the capitalist system to the production of the fruits of the soil.

The description of the husbandmen, which Cato gives, is excellent and quite just; but how does it correspond to the system itself, which he portrays and recommends? If a Roman senator, as must not unfrequently have been the case, possessed four such estates as that described by Cato, the same space, which in the olden time when small holdings prevailed had supported from 100 to 150 farmers' families, was now occupied by one family of free persons and about 50, for the most part unmarried, slaves. If this was the remedy by which the decaying national economy was to be restored to vigour, it bore, unhappily, an aspect of extreme resemblance to the disease.

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