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In the Homeric poems the basileis (see kingship) have special lots, or temenē, like those set aside for Glaucus and Sarpedon in Lycia, the gardens of Alcinoŭs the orchards of Laertes. These were tracts of fertile land, yielding fine produce useful for exchange. The title of others to the land they worked is not clear, but the idea of extensive private ownership of land was to spread, and become under the Roman law of property the dominant mode, and that which antiquity bequeathed to European culture.

Certain special types of property remained important throughout antiquity. The common land of early Greek poleis (see polis) was sometimes really common to the citizen body, and could, as in many new foundations, be assigned in shares equal by surface area, another step towards the regime of private property. The gods were also proprietors on a large scale, owning temene not unlike those of the Homeric heroes, administered for the running of the cult and sanctuary. Under the Roman empire the legacy of these practices was the wide dispersal of civic holdings (Arpinum for instance, home town of Marius and Cicero, owned land in Gaul (Cisalpine)) the revenues from which were vital to the survival of urban institutions. Italian temples and priesthoods like the Vestals also owned estates. The Roman state had started with public land like any polis, but for whatever reason the Roman theory of ager publicus developed in a very special and important way, fuelled by the Struggle of the Orders; it was constantly controversial because of the growing size of revenues from it and its potential importance for the settlement of veterans or plebeians.

The royal lands of the Hellenistic kingdoms represent a quite different tradition, based on the theory of the total ownership of the land by the king. In Egypt royal land was for the most part leased to small producers. The Roman emperors were the heirs of all these traditions. Forming huge portfolios of landed interests like their senatorial predecessors and contemporaries, they acquired a privileged share of the most productive assets, such as forests (see timber), quarries, or mines. Even outside areas that had once experienced Hellenistic royal government, their land‐holdings were increasingly run as distinctively imperial estates, with special rules and supervision.

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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