WHEN ROME WAS RULED BY WEALTH ALONE

FOR the next two hundred years the internal history of Rome consisted of a struggle in which the Senate and the hereditary nobility of wealthy landowners, called Patricians (Patricii), tried to prevent the Plebeians (Plebs), the commoners, from acquiring equal status. The assembly of the people started as a group on a combined family and local basis. This decayed, and was succeeded by oan assembly based on wealth, as shown in the capacity to provide oneself with arms. The wealthy classes were ensured control because the votes were weighted in their favour. The Roman assembly was less effective than the assemblies of the Greek city-states because only magistrates had the right to address it. There was no debating between rival politicians, and all that the citizens could do was to answer " yes " or " no " to the questions put before them. The chief magistracy was the consulship, an annual office, for which only Patricians were eligible, although the whole body of citizens voted at the elections. The Consuls, of whom there were two, each with power to veto the other's actions, were the embodiment of the authority (imperium) of the State. They were attended by officials, each carrying a bundle of rods (fasces), with an axe in the middle, to indicate that the Consuls had power to scourge and to execute. (The Fascisti of modem Italy derive their name from this Latin word.) As the State grew larger, some of the duties of the Consuls were divided among subordinate officers. The quaestors attended to financial affairs, the prcetors both administered and developed the law by their decisions, very much in the way that our judges do, the censors guarded the traditional decency and dignity, kept the roll of citizens, and assessed the taxes. In times of crisis, a dictator with absolute power was temporarily appointed. The restriction of office to one year, and the division of office between two magistrates who could veto each other's acts, was meant to prevent any attempt at monarchy. It was possible only because the Romans had a strong sense of what is right and proper (gravitas), and, believing strongly in precedent, altered their constitution to suit the needs of the time.