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by the simple fact that for several centuries the immense majority of these were habitually supported by gratuitous distributions of corn. In a very early period of Roman history we find occasional instances of distribution ; but it was not till A.U.C. 630 that Caius Gracchus caused a law to be made, supplying the poorer classes with corn at a price that was little more than nominal; and although, two years after, the nobles succeeded in revoking this law, it was after several fluctuations finally re-enacted in A.U.C. 679. The Cassia-Terentia law, as it was called from the consuls under whom it was at last established, was largely extended in its operation, or, as some think, revived from neglect in A.U.C. 691, by Cato of Utica, wbo desired by this means to divert popularity from the cause of Cæsar, under whom multitudes of the poor were enrolling themselves. Four years later, Clodius Pulcher, abolishing the small payment which had been demanded, made the distribution entirely gratuitous. It took place once a month, and consisted of five modül a head. In the time of Julius Cæsar no less than 320,000 persons were inscribed as recipients; but Cæsar reduced the number by one half. Under Augustus it had risen to 200,000. This emperor desired to restrict the distribution of corn to three or four times a year, but, yielding to the popular wish, he at last consented that it should continue monthly. It soon became the leading fact of Roman life. Numerous officers were appointed to provide it. A severe legislation controlled their acts, and to secure a regular and abundant supply of corn for the capital became the principal object of the provincial governors. Under the Antonines the number of the recipients had considerably increased, having sometimes, it is said, exceeded 500,000. Septimus Severus added to the corn a ration of oil. Aurelian replaced the
1 About Eths of a buskel. See Hume's Essay on the Populousness of Ancient Nations.
monthly distribution of unground corn by a daily distribution of bread, and added, moreover, a portion of pork. Gratuitous distributions were afterwards extended to Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch, and were probably not altogether unknown in smaller towns.
We have already seen that this gratuitous distribution of corn ranked, with the institution of slavery and the gladiatorial exhibitions, as one of the chief demoralising influences of the Empire. The most injudicious charity, however pernicious to the classes it is intended to relieve, has commonly a beneficial and softening influence upon the donor, and through him upon society at large. But the Roman distribution of corn, being merely a political device, had no humanising influence upon the people, while, being regulated only by the indigence, and not at all by the infirmities or character, of the recipient, it was a direct and overwhelming encouragement to idleness. With a provision of the necessaries of life, and with an abundant supply of amusements, the poor Romans readily gave up honourable labour, all trades in the city languished, every interruption in the distribution of corn was followed by fearful sufferings, free gifts of land were often insufficient to attract the citizens to honest labour, and the multiplication of children, which rendered the public relief inadequate, was checked by abortion, exposition, or infanticide.
When we remember that the population of Rome probably never exceeded a million and a half, that a large proportion of the indigent were provided for as slaves, and that more than 200,000 freemen were habitually supplied
The history of these distribu- debted. See, too, Monnier, Hist. tions is traced with admirable learn- de l’Assistance publique; B. Dumas, ing by M. Naudet in his Mémoire Des Secours publics chez les Anciens ; sur les Secours publics dans l'Anti- and Schmidt, Essai sur la Société quité (Mém. de l'Académie des In- civile dans le Monde romain et sur scrip. et Belles lettres, tome xiii.), sa Transformation par le Christianan essay to which I am much in- isme.
with the first necessary of life, we cannot, I think, charge the Pagan society of the metropolis, at least, with an excessive parsimony in relieving poverty. But besides the distribution of corn, several other measures were taken. Salt, which was very largely used by the Roman poor, had during the Republic been made a monopoly of the State, and was sold by it at a price that was little more than nominal. The distribution of land, which was the subject of the agrarian laws, was, under a new form, practised by Julius Cæsar, Nerva,3 and Septimus Severus,4 who bought land to divide it among the poor citizens. Large legacies were left to the people by Julius Cæsar, Augustus, and others, and considerable, though irregular, donations made on occasions of great rejoicings. Numerous public baths were established, to which, when they were not absolutely gratuitous, the smallest coin in use gave admission, and which were in consequence habitually employed by the poor. Vespasian instituted, and the Antonines extended, a system of popular education, and the movement I have already noticed, for the support of the children of poor parents, acquired very considerable proportions. The first trace of it at Rome may be found under Augustus, who gave money and corn for the support of young children, who had previously not been included in the public distributions.5 This appears, however, to have been but an act of isolated benevolence, and the honour of first instituting a systematic effort in this direction belongs to Nerva, who enjoined the support of poor children, not only in Rome, but in all the cities of Italy. Trajan greatly extended the system. In
Livy, ii. 9; Pliny, Hist. Nat. puellas puerosque natos parentibus Xxxi. 41.
egestosis sumptu publico per Italiæ 2 Dion Cassius, xxxviii. 1-7. oppida ali jussit.—Sext. Aurelius
Xiphilin, lxviii. 2; Pliny, Ep. Victor, Epitome, “Nerva.' This vii. 31.
measure of Nerva, though not men*Spartian. Sept. Severus. tioned by any other writer, is con
5 Suet. August. 41; Dion Cas- firmed by the evidence of medals. sius, li »l.
(Naudet, p. 75.) 6 " Afflictos civitatis relevavit;
his reign 5,000 poor children were supported by the Government in Rome alone,' and similar measures, though we know not on what scale, were taken in the other Italian and even African cities. At the little town of Velleia, we find a charity instituted by Trajan, for the partial support of 270 children. Private benevolence followed in the same direction, and several inscriptions which still remain, though they do not enable us to write its history, sufficiently attest its. activity. The younger Pliny, besides warmly encouraging schools, devoted a small property to the support of poor children in his native city of Como.3 The name of Cælia Macrina is preserved as the foundress of a charity for 100 children at Terracina.4 Hadrian increased the supplies of corn allotted to these charities, and he was also distinguished for his bounty to poor women.
Antoninus was accustomed to lend money to the poor at four per cent., which was much below the normal rate of interest, and both he and Marcus Aurelius dedicated to the memory of their wives institutions. for the support of girls. Alexander Severus in like manner dedicated an institution for the support of children to the memory of his mother.8 Public hospitals were probably unknown in Europe before Christianity; but there are tracesof the distribution of medicine to the sick poor;9 there were private infirmaries for slaves, and also, it is believed, military hospitals.10 Provincial towns were occasionally assisted by
· Plin. Panegyr. xxvi. xxviii. Mours romaines, üi. p. 157.
? We know of this charity 10 Seneca (De Ira, lib. i. cap. 16) from an extant bronze tablet. See speaks of institutions called valeSchmidt, Essai historique sur la tudinaria, which most writers think Société romaine, p. 428.
were private infirmaries in rich 3 Plin. Ep. i. 8; iv. 13. men's houses. The opinion that * Schmidt, p. 428.
the Romans had public hospitals. Spartianus, Hadrian.
is maintained in a very learned • Capitolinus, Antoninus. and valuable, but little-known
Capitolinus, Anton., Marc. work, called Collections relative to Aurel.
the Systematic Relief of the Poor. Lampridius, A. Severus. (London, 1815.) • See Friedlænder, Hist. de
the Government in seasons of great distress, and there are some recorded instances of private legacies for their benefit.
These various measures are by no means inconsiderable, and it is not unreasonable to
similar steps were taken, of which all record has been lost.
The history of charity presents so few salient features, so little that can strike the imagination or arrest the attention, that it is usually almost wholly neglected by historians; and it is easy to conceive what inadequate notions of our existing charities could be gleaned from the casual allusions in plays or poems, in political histories or court memoirs. There can, however, be no question that neither in practice nor in theory, neither in the institutions that were founded nor in the place that was assigned to it in the scale of duties, did charity in antiquity occupy a position at all comparable to that which it has obtained by Christianity. Nearly all relief was a State measure, dictated much more by policy than by benevolence; and the habit of selling young children, the innumerable expositions, the readiness of the poor to enrol themselves as gladiators, and the frequent famines, show how large was the measure of unrelieved distress. A very few Pagan examples of charity have, indeed, descended to us. Among the Greeks we find Epaminondas ransoming -captives, and collecting dowers for poor girls;2 Cimon, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked ;3 Bias, purchasing, emancipating, and furnishing with dowers some captive girls of Messina. Tacitus has described with enthusiasm how, after a catastrophe near Rome, the rich threw open their houses and taxed all their resources to relieve the sufferers.5 "There existed, too, among the poor, both of Greece and Rome, mutual insurance societies, which undertook to pro