A FURTHER LIMITATION imposed by the Roman imperial system stems from this elegant, leisured and highly privileged lifestyle. It rested upon the massively unequal distribution of landed property: as noted earlier, less than 5 per cent of the population owned over 80 per cent, and perhaps substantially more. And at the heart of this inequality was the Roman state itself, in that its laws both defined and protected the ownership rights of the property-owning class... Its land registration systems were the ultimate arbiter of who owned - and hence who did not own - land, and its criminal legislation rigorously defended owners against the hostile attentions of those left out in the economic cold...Peter Heather; The Fall of the Roman Empire. pp. 138-140
A huge amount of Roman law dealt precisely with property: basic ownership, modes of exploiting it (selling, leasing tor longer or shorter terms, simple renting and sharecropping), and its transfer between generations through marriage settlements, inheritance and special bequests. The ferocity of Roman criminal law, likewise, protected ownership: death was the main punishment for theft - certainly, for anything beyond petty pilfering. Again, we can see a resemblance here to later 'genteel societies relied on similarly unequal distributions of landed wealth in an overwhelmingly agricultural economy, when Jane Austen was writing her elegant tales of love, marriage and property transfer, you could be whipped (for theft valued at up to l0p), branded (for theft up to 4s l0p) or hanged (theft over 5 shillings). In eighteenth century London an average of twenty people were hanged each year.
The Roman state had to advance and protect the interests of these landowning classes because they were, in large measure, the same people who participated in its political structures. This didn't mean that there weren't occasional conflicts between the state and individual landowners, or even whole groups of them. Landowning families sometimes lost their estates by confiscation it they ended up on the wrong side of a political dispute, for instance. (This didn't necessarily mean that they were ruined for ever: as in the medieval world, restoring confiscated lands was a favoured way for a subsequent ruler to win a family's loyalty.) Nonetheless, as we have seen, the state relied on the administrative input of its provincial landowning classes at all levels of the governmental machine, and in particular to collect its taxes - the efficient collection of which hung on the willingness of these same landed classes to pay up.
Friday, May 29, 2015
Posted by escapefromwisconsin at 8:32 PM