lex Agraria, 111 bce
- Tommaso Beggio
The lex Agraria dating from 111 bce is an epigraphic law dealing with the distribution and privatisation of public land (ager publicus) in Italy and the provinces. In its first part, concerning public land in Italy, the law first describes five different categories of land declared to be private, before identifying other kinds of land that were and should remain public. In the second part, relating to land in Africa and Greece, the law establishes rules mainly regarding pasture land and the public sale of land, which then had to be declared private; nonetheless, this land was subject to the payment of the vectigal. Therefore, the lex Agraria can be considered as a law that consolidated some of the achievements of the Gracchan reforms that took a significant step towards the privatisation of ager publicus. However, the question remains open as to whether the lex Agraria could be associated with one of the three post-Gracchan laws cited by Appian (B Civ. 1.27) and, if so, which one. A long-standing scholarly debate has arisen from these questions, and various theories have been advanced over the decades.
The Reconstruction of the Text and the Aim of the lex Agraria
The lex Agraria of 111 bce is an epigraphic law (CIL I1, nr. 200 and CIL XI, nr. 364a [fr. F] = CIL I2, nr. 585) that deals with the distribution and privatisation of public land (see ager publicus) in Italy and the provinces. It is probably the most important lex enacted under the so-called post-Gracchan legislation regarding the ager publicus.
The text of the lex Agraria was found on the reverse side of twelve fragments of a bronze inscription and is 105 lines long; the front side of the inscription contains the text of the lex Repetundarum.1 The epigraphic document is also referred to by scholars as the tabula Bembina, since it was owned by Cardinal Pietro Bembo, who received the twelve fragments of the document as a gift in the first half of the 16th century.2 The fragments had previously been conserved in the library of the Dukes of Urbino, since the end of the 14th century. After Bembo’s death they were gradually dispersed. Bembo’s son Torquato still possessed five fragments in 1575, when he decided to sell them to Fulvio Orsini. It was Orsini himself who published a first important edition of the lex Agraria in his Sylloge legum et senatus consultorum in lapide vel aere servatorum.3 Even before Orsini’s edition, however, the fragments had already attracted the interest of many famous 16th-century humanists, who published them amid the widespread rediscovery of classical epigraphy at the time.4
The first notable modern editions of the law date to the 19th century, when Klenze arranged the fragments of the lex Repetundarum, and his efforts inspired Rudorff’s reconstruction of the other face, the lex Agraria.5 Rudorff’s work was the basis for Mommsen’s edition, which first appeared in CIL I1 in 1863, an improved version of which was later published in his Gesammelte Schriften.6 Mommsen’s edition was long regarded as a standard text and a point of reference for studies of the lex Agraria, at least until the criticisms of Tibiletti and Mattingly.7 Mattingly, in particular, suggested a new reconstruction of the text of the law by incorporating a fragment (fragment F) ignored by Mommsen. In recent decades, new editions of text of the lex Agraria have been published by Johannsen, Lintott, and Crawford, with the aim of redefining the right collocation of the several fragments of the law and suggesting emendations to previous editions of the text.8 In 2015, Sisani published a new edition of the first 42 lines of the law and offered helpful illustrations of the text (also showing the reconstructions of the lex found in some previous editions).9
There is no agreement among scholars as to whether the law was a plebiscite, despite Appian (B Civ. 1.27.122–123) likely referred to the lex Agraria as to a plebiscite.10 The principal aim of this law was to set out a clear and stable arrangement regarding ager publicus in Italy, Africa, and Greece (especially Corinth), to overcome the situation of legal ambiguity that took place after the Gracchan reforms, and as a result of the post-Gracchan legislation. The lex Agraria thus laid down certain conditions concerning land tenure.11
The Content of the Law
According to Lintott, the text of the lex can be divided into two parts: lines 1 to 42 deal with public land in Italy, whereas the remaining lines, 43 to 105, refer to land outside Italy, namely in Africa and Greece.12
Initially, the lex sets out five different categories of land defined as private land (ll.1–7). The first category (a), described at ll.1–2, refers to the land held by the veteres possessores within the limit established by Tiberius Gracchus in 133 bce, namely the amount of 500 iugera for each man and additional 250 iugera for each child (but within an upper limit of 1000 iugera; App. B Civ. 1.9.37; Liv. Per. 58; Sicul. Flacc. de contr. agr. 136.10–13).13 Under the lex, the term vetus possessor refers to a person who first legally occupied a portion of ager publicus at the time of any distribution of land.14 The second category of land (b) relates to the allotments of land distributed by land commissions according to the Gracchan legislation (ll.2–3). The third clause of the lex (c), at ll.3–4, poses problems of interpretation, since only the words [re]dditus est survive. Several attempts have been made to retrace the content of the clause, although there is now general agreement that the lex here relates to cases involving an exchange and perhaps recovery of ager publicus. This clause was probably intended to provide other land as compensation to the possessores of ager publicus that had been requisitioned by the triumviri with the aim of founding a colonia.15 The fourth category (d) identified by the law, on the contrary, consists of land assigned by the Gracchan land commissions in towns or villages (ll.4–5). At ll.6–7, the lex deals with the allocation of buildings and building sites made over by the Gracchan commissions to prior possessors or new settlers.
The formulation of the law, and the broad powers granted therein to the owners of the land that had been declared private, led scholars to suppose that this land was subject to dominium ex iure Quiritium.16 The censors had to record all categories of land and buildings that were declared private in their registers (ll.7–8).
At line 17, the law grants the same legal position of the veteres possessores to the so-called pro vetere possessore, a person who could not prove he had previously been the legitimate possessor, but who was still, according to some scholars, allowed to retain the land by the land commissioners; according to others, the pro vetere possessore was someone who had possession of ager publicus, but had been obliged to exchange the land for other public land due to the activities of the land commissions.17 The significance of this clause is that it afforded the pro vetere possessore the same legal protections as the vetus possessor in relation to the reinstatement of his land.
When public land had been taken away from the current possessors and given to colonists or had been taken from them and used for distributions, other portions of ager publicus were converted into private land in compensation for the lost public land (ll.22–23 and 27).
It is clear from this section that one aim of the lex was to move towards the privatisation of ager publicus, at times consolidating situations existing before 133 bce or created after the enactment of the Gracchan legislation.
Nevertheless, the law enumerates several categories of land that remained public: (a) agri viasiis vicanis dati, the land of the villagers by the roads (ll.11–13);18 (b) grazing land (ager compascuus). According to the provisions of the law (ll.14–15 and 25–26), it was possible for up to 10 large animals to graze, as well as an appropriate but unspecified number of smaller beasts, free of tax. The reason for establishing this rule was to avoid any monopolisation of land reserved for public use. This provision did not apply, however, to cattle on public roads (1.26).
The text then specifies that (c) private land converted into public land had to remain public (and vice versa, if public land had been exchanged for private land).19 Another category of land that had to remain public was (d) the so-called ager patritus; this term referred to public land that could be given via long-term lease (ll.27–28). At ll.31–32, the lex first defined the type of public land (e) granted to coloniae and municipia, which could rent it out or make it available to their own citizens for farming; then, the ager in trientabulis, land let to wealthy men as a sort of long-term lease, as a reward for the gold, silver, and jewellery given to Rome to finance the Second Punic War.20 The law also took into consideration the legal position of Latins and peregrini: those already entitled to enjoy public land in 112 bce were granted all the rights relative to public land that the lex accorded to Roman citizens. Moreover, Latins and peregrini were granted access to the same legal procedures as those offered to Roman citizens (ll.29–31).
The second part of the law (following the unknown content of the poorly preserved ll.43–48) deals with public land in the provinces, first in Africa (ll.48–58). The text regulates the conditions for land sold publicly that was to become private and subject to taxation (ager privatus vectigalisque). A commission of duumviri had to compile a register of all holdings deriving from the public sale of land. It was necessary to appoint a commissioner to check that the land assigned by the abrogated lex Rubria exceeded neither in number nor in quantity what had been established by that law. The important aspect of this passage (1.55; ll.58–61) is that claims to allotments of land allocated under the lex Rubria would be examined by the duumvir. This means that the provisions of C. Gracchus’ lex Rubria were fulfilled, at least in part. The lex Agraria cannot, therefore, be regarded as the result of anti-Gracchan reaction.
At ll.57–58, the law addresses a situation comparable with that described at ll.3–4. The clause seems to deal with the allocation of undistributed land in compensation for land that a person (apparently a Roman citizen) had been deprived of.21 The issues concerning the sale of land, probably not allowed if the private citizen had received the land as a colonist under the lex Rubria, is dealt with at ll.63–65 of the law. Line 66 deals with the sale of land at a token price, considered as a conveyance of property (probably in the case of land that was to become private property).22
From l. 66 to line 70, the lex set out rules for three different cases of compensation of land to colonists or purchasers of good faith; the duumvir was required to accomplish the compensation.
The specific characteristic of land thus publicly sold consisted in its being subject to private ownership and, at the same time, to the payment of the vectigal, the collection of which was further regulated by the lex (ll.70–74). Another category of land was then discussed in the text of the law, namely, the land to be leased principally for pasturage (ll.8–82). The law actually listed the land that could be sold, and it defined what land, on the contrary, was not to be private and was probably subject to rent or tax. The duumvir likely had the task to record the land that remained public after the sales and the allocations.
It is particularly interesting that at 1.82 a lex Sempronia is mentioned, even though it is not possible to know whether this law can be associated with the statute of C. Gracchus, concerning the taxation of Asia (and perhaps Africa), as Mommsen thought,23 or his lex frumentaria, or a sort of complementary plebiscite by C. Gracchus himself regarding taxation in Africa.24 This clause of the law, however, confirms the immunity from taxation, established by the above-mentioned lex Sempronia, of the land received in exchange, demonstrating once again the purpose of the lex Agraria—to consolidate some of the provisions established by the Gracchan reforms. Eventually, ll.90–91 introduce penalties for false declarations and rewards for informers.
From line 91 onwards the lex probably deals with Greece, establishing approximately the same rules as for the public sale of land Africa.25 Finally, at ll.96–97, the text designates a magistrate to conduct land measurement in Corinthian territory. This fact has led some scholars to argue that the law here is dealing with the issue of centuriation and that a colony had been planned there.
The purpose of the second section of the lex Agraria was, therefore, to consolidate land purchases made by Romans, especially in Africa (from ll.48 onwards).26 A closely linked aim, spelled out in the second part of the law, was to organise the exploitation of land in the empire.
The Unresolved Question of the Three Post-Gracchan Laws
A final question remains open to conjecture about this lex: whether it can be associated with one of the three post-Gracchan laws mentioned by Appian (B Civ. 1.27) and, if so, which of the three. Appian records that the third law abolished the vectigal in relation to ager publicus: this has led many scholars to associate the lex Agraria of 111 bce with the third of the three laws; lines 19–20 of the lex Agraria perhaps deal with the elimination of rent on public land.27 To accept this interpretation, the scholars have associated the tribunus plebis Thorius of the lex Thoria mentioned by Cicero (De or. 2.70.284; Brut. 36.136) with the Spurius Borius of Appian (B Civ. 1.27).28 The text of the Brutus by Cicero (Brut. 36.136) should therefore be interpreted to mean that Thorius imposed a vectigal on the land and thereby liberated the ager publicus from a flawed and useless law.29 However, various other theories have been developed concerning the relationship between the lex Agraria and the three laws by Appian.30
One such theory associates the lex Thoria with both the third law of Appian and the lex Agraria. Yet such an interpretation would imply that Appian had made a mistake in describing the former law as the second of the three post-Gracchan laws. One of the main arguments advanced by proponents of this theory is based on Cicero De or. 2.70.284, whose fictional date is 91 bce, at which time the lex Thoria appeared to be still in force. If this reconstruction was correct, it would mean that the lex Thoria would have abolished (rather than imposing) the vectigal, and Appian would, once more, be wrong in his description of the law.
A third theory considers the lex Thoria and the lex Agraria as the same law, in which case they would both be the second law mentioned by Appian.31 A first argument in favour of this theory is based on the alternative interpretation some scholars offer for ll.19–20 of the lex Agraria, which are mutilated. Accordingly, the law would impose a vectigal in this part of the text, thus establishing the same rule as can be found in the lex Thoria. Second, the fifteen-year period referred to by Appian as the time in which the Gracchan reforms were frustrated would run from the time of Caius Gracchus in 123 bce to 109 or 108 bce. According to this theory, a third law would have been enacted subsequent to the lex Agraria. However, the problem of the identification of the law with one of the post-Gracchan laws mentioned by the sources remains unresolved.32
The Role and Relevance of the lex Agraria
Regardless of the issues raised, the lex Agraria represents the end of an era of agrarian legislation that began with the Gracchan reforms and lasted over 20 years. During this period, a series of provisions, some of them inspired by an anti-Gracchan reaction, led to legal confusion in agrarian matters. The law set out a vast project of reform concerning the distribution and assignments of public land both in Italy and the provinces. Moreover, the lex Agraria confirmed, and at times precisely defined, some of the Gracchan enactments. This lex thus cannot be regarded as evidence for the failure of the Gracchan reforms. The aims of this law were, on the one hand, to stabilise the rules concerning the exploitation of public land and its arrangement in Italy and the provinces, after a period of turbulence, and on the other hand, to balance divergent interests.
Finally, the lex Agraria is particularly significant in that it is an epigraphic document; as such, it presents a concrete and unmediated perspective on land organisation and exploitation in Italy and the provinces at the end of the 2nd century bce, offering more in-depth information than later, literary sources dealing with the same issue.
- Badian, Ernst. “The lex Thoria. A Reconsideration.” In Studi in onore di B. Biondi, I. Milan, Italy: Giuffrè, 1963, 187–196.
- Badian, Ernst. Studies in Greek and Roman History, 235–242. Oxford: Blackwell, 1964.
- Burdese, Alberto. Studi sull’ager publicus. Turin: Giappichelli, 1952.
- Crawford, Michael H., ed. Roman Statutes. I. London: Institute of Classical Studies, University of London, 1996.
- De Ruggiero, Ettore. Agrariae leges, Enciclopedia giuridica italiana I/2.1 (1892): 733–910.
- Gabba, Emilio. Appiano e la storia delle guerre civili. Florence, Italy: La Nuova Italia, 1956.
- Hardy, Ernest Georg. Six Roman Laws. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1911.
- Hinrichs, Focke Tannen. Die lex agraria des Jahres 111 v. Chr.Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte (Romanistiche Abteilung) 83 (1966): 252–307.
- Johannsen, Kirsten. Die Lex Agraria des Jahres 111 v. Chr. Text und Kommentar. Munich: n. p., 1971.
- Kaser, Max. Die Typen der römischen Bodenrechte in der späteren Republik. Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte (Romanistiche Abteilung) 62 (1942): 1–81.
- Klenze, Clemens August Carl Klenze. Fragmenta legis Serviliae repetundarum. Berlin: Apud Ferdinandum Dummlerum, 1825.
- Lintott, Andrew William. “The So-Called Tabula Bembina and the Humanists.” Athenaeum 61 (1983): 201–214.
- Lintott, Andrew William. Judicial Reform and Land Reform in the Roman Republic. A New Edition, with Translation and Commentary, of the Laws from Urbino. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
- Mattingly, Harold B. The Two Republican Laws of the Tabula Bembina. Journal of Roman Studies 59 (1969): 129–143.
- Mommsen, Theodor. Lex agraria a.u.c. DCXLIII, CIL I1, nr. 200, 75–106, Berlin, 1863.
- Mommsen, Theodor. Gesammelte Schriften, I, 55–145. Berlin: Weidmann, 1905. This is an improved version of the previous entry.
- Orsini, Fulvio. Sylloge legume et senatus consultorum in lapide vel aere servatorum, supplement provided to Agustin, Antonio. De Legibus et Senatus consultis Liber. Rome: Basa, 1583.
- Riccobono, Salvatore, Giovanni Baviera, and Vincenzo Arangio-Ruiz (eds.). Fontes iuris romani antejustiniani in usum scholarum (FIRA). Editio altera aucta et emendata. I. Leges. (2nd ed.). Florence: Barbera, 1968.
- Roselaar, Saskia T. Public Land in the Roman Republic. A Social and Economic History of Ager Publicus in Italy, 396–89 BC. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
- Rudorff, Adolf August Friedrich. Das Ackergesetz des Spurius Thorius. Berlin: Nicolai, 1839.
- Sacchi, Osvaldo. Regime della terra e imposizione fondiaria nell’età dei Gracchi. Testo e commento storico-giuridico della legge agraria del 111 a.C. Naples: Jovene editore, 2006.
- Saumagne, Charles. Sur la loi agraire de 111. Essai de restitution des lignes 19 et 20, Revue de philologie, de littérature et d’histoire anciennes 53 (1927): 50–80.
- Sisani, Simone. L’ager publicus in età graccana (133–111 a.C.): Una rilettura testuale, storica e giuridica della lex Agraria epigrafica. Rome: Edizioni Quasar, 2015.
- Tibiletti, Gianfranco. “Ricerche di storia agraria romana.” Athenaeum 38 (1950): 183–266.
- Tibiletti, Gianfranco. “Le leggi de iudiciis repetundarum fino alla Guerra Sociale.” Athenaeum 31 (1953): 5–100.
- Zancan, Leandro. Ager publicus. Ricerche di storia e di diritto romano. Padua: CEDAM, 1935.
1. Ten out of twelve fragments survived; we possess only copies of the other two. Most of the fragments are conserved at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli. The discovery and collection of the fragments are discussed in greater depth in the entry on the lex Repetundarum. For overviews, see Andrew William Lintott, Judicial Reform and Land Reform in the Roman Republic. A New Edition, with Translation and Commentary, of the Laws from Urbino (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 3–6 and 66–70; Michael H. Crawford, Roman Statutes, I (London: Institute of Classical Studies, University of London, 1996), 43–46; and Osvaldo Sacchi, Regime della terra e imposizione fondiaria nell’età dei Gracchi. Testo e commento storico-giuridico della legge agraria del 111 a.C. (Naples, Italy: Jovene editore, 2006), ss. On the reconstruction of the text, see in particular Simone Sisani, L’ager publicus in età graccana (133–111 a.C.). Una rilettura testuale, storica e giuridica della lex Agraria epigrafica (Rome: Edizioni Quasar, 2015), 14–44.
2. Andrew William Lintott, “The So-Called Tabula Bembina and the Humanists,” Athenaeum 61 (1983): 201–214.
3. Orsini’s work was a supplement to Antonio Agustin’s De Legibus et Senatus consultis Liber (Rome: Basa, 1583 and Paris: Apud Ioannem Richerium, 1584).
4. Lintott, “The So-Called Tabula Bembina,” 201–214; and Lintott, Judicial Reform and Land Reform, 66–70.
5. Clemens August Carl Klenze, Fragmenta legis Serviliae repetundarum (Berlin: Apud Ferdinandum Dummlerum, 1825); and Adolf August Friedrich Rudorff, Das Ackergesetz des Sp. Thorius (Berlin: Nicolai, 1839).
6. Theodor Mommsen, Lex agraria a.u.c. DCXLIII, CIL I1, nr. 200, 75–106; an improved version was published in Theodor Mommsen, Gesammelte Schriften. I (Berlin: Weidmann, 1905) 55–145. This edition was then reproduced in the FIRA. I. Leges.
7. Sacchi’s recent comprehensive work on the lex Agraria is still based on Mommsen’s edition of the text. See , Regime della terra. For criticisms on Mommsen’s edition, see Gianfranco Tibiletti, “Le leggi de iudiciis repetundarum fino alla Guerra Sociale,” Athenaeum 31 (1953): 5–100; and Harold B. Mattingly, “The Two Republican Laws of the Tabula Bembina,” Journal of Roman Studies 59 (1969): 129–143.
8. Kirsten Johannsen, Die Lex Agraria des Jahres 111 v. Chr. Text und Kommentar (Munich: privately printed, 1971); and Lintott, Judicial Reform and Land Reform; and Crawford, Roman Statutes. I, 53–63 and 113–180.
9. Sisani, L’ager publicus, with an important, scholarly and methodological introduction.
10. The lex Agraria has been recently considered a plebiscite by Lintott, Judicial Reform and Land Reform, 202; Crawford, Roman Statutes. I, 153; and Sacchi, Regime della terra, 1 ss. Both, however, underline that the text we possess contains no conclusive evidence either way.
11. Ettore De Ruggiero, Agrariae leges, Enciclopedia giuridica italiana I/2.1 (1892): 733–910; Alberto Burdese, Studi sull’ager publicus (Turin, Italy: Giappichelli, 1952), 89 and 98; Lintott, Judicial Reform and Land Reform, 48 s; and Saskia T. Roselaar, Public Land in the Roman Republic. A Social and Economic History of Ager Publicus in Italy, 396–89 BC (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 271 s.
12. Lintott, Judicial Reform and Land Reform, 49. Lintott affirms that lines from 43 to 48 represent “a small independent section about land in another part of the empire,” whereas other scholars have usually considered this part as belonging either to the Italian or to the African section of the law.
13. Mommsen, Lex agraria a.u.c. DCXLIII, CIL I1, nr. 200, 75–106, and the improved version published in Mommsen, Gesammelte Schriften. I , 96; Burdese, Studi sull’ager publicus, 78; Sacchi, Regime della terra,103; and contra Lintott, Judicial Reform and Land Reform, 206.
14. Sisani incorrectly affirms that the veteres possessores had a right of possessio (“diritto di possesso”): possession was not a right but a question of fact, depending on the continued physical control of a thing and a specific intention. See Sisani, L’ager publicus, 120 ff.
15. See Sisani, L’ager publicus, 127 f. Land exchange was not, however, a barter (permutatio), as Sisani claims.
16. Max Kaser, Die Typen der römischen Bodenrechte in der späteren Republik, Zeitschrift der Savigny-für Stiftung Rechtsgeschichte (Romanistische Abteilung) 62 (1942): 13 ss.; Burdese, Studi sull’ager publicus, 79; and Roselaar, Public Land in the Roman Republic, 274.
17. For the first interpretation, see Mommsen, Gesammelte Schriften. I, 95; Burdese, Studi sull’ager publicus, 76 s.; and for the second, Roselaar, Public Land in the Roman Republic, 273.
18. There is unanimity among scholars in referring to this type of land as public land, with the exception of Leandro Zancan, Ager publicus. Ricerche di storia e di diritto romano (Padua, Italy: CEDAM, 1934), 70.
19. It is possible to argue it happened in case of requisition of private land for public use, e.g., to build public roads. See further Lintott, Judicial Reform and Land Reform, 51.
20. At line 21 of the law, there is also a reference to some land quei trans Curione est; it is not clear, though, what kind of land is meant here. See Crawford, Roman Statutes. I, 164; and Roselaar, Public Land in the Roman Republic, 276.
21. Crawford, Roman Statutes. I, 171.
22. Lintott, Judicial Reform and Land Reform, 256 f.
23. Mommsen, Gesammelte Schriften. I, 153 ff.
24. Lintott, Judicial Reform and Land Reform, 270.
25. Lintott, Judicial Reform and Land Reform, 54 and 277 f. The clause here, however, “is too incomplete to exclude the possibility that it deals with informers . . .” (Crawford, Roman Statutes. I, 179).
26. The lex Agraria was enacted at more or less at the time when the Romans decided to declare war on the Numidian king Jugurtha (Lintott, Judicial Reform and Land Reform, 55).
27. This interpretation was first suggested by Rudorff and Mommsen and then accepted by the majority of the scholars. For discussion and further bibliography, Roselaar, Public Land in the Roman Republic, 262; and Sisani, L’ager publicus, 157 ff.
28. The emendation of Borius to Thorius, however, is not inevitable (Lintott, Judicial Reform and Land Reform, 286).
29. Cic. Brut. 36.136: is qui agrum publicum vitiosa et inutili lege vectigali levavit.
30. The various theories are described and discussed in-depth by Sacchi, Regime della terra, 1–40; and Roselaar, Public Land in the Roman Republic, 261–271.
31. See recently Crawford, Roman Statutes. I, 57–60; and Sacchi, Regime della terra, 26–32.
32. Sisani, L’ager publicus, 231 ff. The author tentatively suggests associating the lex Agraria with a lex Memmia proposed by the tribunus plebis Gaius Memmius.