agrarian laws and policy

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Allocation of land by the community is attested in the Greek world at the times of new city foundations (see colonization, greek), and when land was annexed (cleruchies). There is also some evidence for legislation restricting the disposal of allotments by sale or inheritance, in order to maintain the original land‐units, which sustained the households. On the other hand, there developed strong resistance to the notion of redividing the city's territory so as to change the proportions of private landholdings: a promise not to propose anything of the kind was included in the oath of the Athenian jurors. See also sparta.

At Rome agrarian legislation played a large part in the history of the republic and the struggles between the aristocracy and the plebs. Legislation arose originally from annexation of land after Roman military expansion. It thus concerned land which was the public territory of the Roman people (see ager publicus), not land belonging to private individuals (private land remained free from interference by the community except where it could be shown that a public right existed over it, such as access to a water supply). One type of law established new cities (colonies) with their associated land, a second assigned new allotments in a wide tract of territory, such as those in the ager Gallicus in Picenum, a third restricted the exploitation at will of unassigned public land by reference to area occupied or number of beasts grazed. The first known law of the last type, the lex Licinia of 367 bc, was probably a response to the opportunities created by the acquisition of all the land of Veii. During the middle republic, when Italy and Cisalpine Gaul were gradually subjected to Roman power, land demands were satisfied by new allocations. However, in the late 2nd cent. bc, with a rising number of landless and a shortage of new land available for distribution in the peninsula, the Gracchi passed laws which sought to recover what was still technically public land from rich men who were exploiting it illegally to excess, and to redistribute it to the poor. This was regarded by rich landholders as a subversive move. Nevertheless the Gracchan programme (see Sempronius Gracchus 2, Tiberius and Sempronius Gracchus, Gaius) was largely completed, and such redistribution seems to have remained part of agrarian policy until the death of Livius Drusus (tribune of the plebs 91), though settlements were also made in territory acquired by conquest abroad. The Social War followed by Sulla's proscriptions led to big changes in landholding in Italy, which favoured the larger landholders against the peasants. Some attempt was made to return to Gracchan policies in the late republic, but the chief means of public acquisition of land in Italy now had to be purchase from private individuals. The proscriptions by the triumvirs (see triumviri) after Caesar's murder made land available for distribution to their soldiers, but Augustus returned to purchase in order to secure land for his veterans after Actium.

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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