Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Roman V. Lapyrionok, Der Kampf um die Lex Sempronia agraria. Vom Zensus 125/124 v. Chr. bis zum Agrarprogramm des Gaius Gracchus. Bonn: Dr. Rudolf Habelt, 2012. Pp. iv, 160. ISBN 9783774937956. €15.00.

Reviewed by Saskia T. Roselaar, The University of Nottingham (

Version at BMCR home site

DNB record

In this book Roman Lapyrionok discusses the years surrounding the agrarian programme of Gaius Gracchus, tribune of the plebs in 124-122 BC, and the relation of his policies to Roman population developments. A large number of books have been published in recent years on questions of Roman Republican demography, economy, and social developments, which have brought about a radical change in scholarship on the period. Anyone publishing on the period must be on top of the material and take into account a large variety of conflicting theories and reconstructions. Unfortunately it must be said this book often fails on this account – it does not always clearly engage with all recent literature, making its contribution to scholarship less important than it might otherwise have been.

Lapyrionok starts out with a short introduction, in which he describes the social and economic problems of the 130s BC. The introduction largely repeats the traditional picture of the socio-economic developments of the period: large estates pushing small farmers off their land, a problem which Tiberius Gracchus attempted to solve by distributing ager publicus to the landless.1 The introduction ends by describing the problems that the land commission set up by Tiberius encountered in the execution of its programme, so that Gaius Gracchus had to find a different solution to the problems the Republic faced. This is where Lapyrionok starts his account, with the census of 125/4 BC.

In the first chapter he discusses the meaning of the census figures, focusing on the census of 125/4. This showed a sudden increase in population of more than 70,000 compared to the previous census of 131/0. This rise has been explained in various ways, for example that these were the people who had been turned into assidui by the Gracchan land distributions and therefore were now counted in the census. However, this would only work if the land distributed by the Gracchan commission were held in private ownership, which leads Lapyrionok to discuss in some detail the status of this land. He concludes that the land distributed to small farmers did not become private until the lex agraria of 111, while that of the veteres possessores became private as a result of the first law after Tiberius Gracchus' death, mentioned by Appian. This is in itself a conclusion that can be supported from the evidence, especially the epigraphic lex agraria of 111 BC, but other possibilities are equally defensible. A problem is especially that the inscription recording the lex agraria is fragmentary, so that multiple reconstructions are possible and therefore various conclusions can be defended. Lapyrionok mostly uses Lintott's 19922 interpretation (although he cites the lex agraria from Crawford's 1996 edition,3 which differs substantially from Lintott's). The question of the reconstruction of the three post-Gracchan agrarian laws has been hugely debated by scholars; Lapyrionok's discussion is not more convincing than other, alternative solutions, but he gives a clear overview of the arguments supporting his position.

Other possible explanations of the rise in the census figures, such as the manumission of slaves or the granting of citizenship to allies, are rightly rejected by Lapyrionok His ideas on the inclusion of the Latins in the census are perhaps too formalistic; for example, Lapyrionok refers to 'latinische[s] Recht' (p. 37), as if all Latins shared the same status and had the same rights in respect to the metropole, which they certainly did not; he also believes that they all held the ius migrandi, a theory which was questioned recently by Broadhead.4 Lapyrionok concludes that the most likely cause of the rise in the census figure was a lowering of the census qualification, which means that many proletarii were turned into assidui and therefore counted in the census. However, this assumes that proletarii were not normally included, which seems rather unlikely. Lapyrionok's comment that the term capite censi appears in the sources only at a very late stage in the Republic (p. 26-29), is, however, worthwhile; the meanings of these various terms and their use by ancient authors deserve more attention from scholars in general.

Lapyrionok assumes that the census figures were roughly correct, which is a sensible conclusion to draw, but there are several possible reasons why not all citizens were registered in the census, leading to under-registration.5 He discusses the reliability of earlier census figures, especially in the Second Punic War, in some detail, but awards perhaps too much importance to this period (p. 20-23), since the war situation did not allow the Roman state to carry out a reliable census. It is a pity that Lapyrionok's book was published before he could take account of the new works by De Ligt 20126 and Hin 2013, 7 which are essential reading for anyone studying the Roman census. His conclusion that there is 'keine Alternative für das 'klassische' Bild der Krise der zweiten Hälfte des 2. Jahrhunderts' (p. 47), i.e. that the Roman free population was in decline, is therefore not tenable. Furthermore, he does not take into account other types evidence – archaeological surveys for example, which show a continuing presence of small farms in most areas of Italy, get only one page (45). Nevertheless, his insistence on regional differences in Italy and the changing role of Rome in the Italian economy (p. 46-7) is valid, and should have received more attention.

The second chapter investigates whether Gaius Gracchus proposed an agrarian law with the same contents as that of his brother, i.e. to distribute land to poor citizens, or a law to establish colonies, which are mentioned in the sources. Lapyrionok concludes that the latter is the most likely option, since the sources (except the Periochae of Livy's work, which are unreliable) do not mention an agrarian law by Gaius, but focus especially on his colonial activities. He convincingly suggests (p. 100-102) that Gaius proposed a new law, since Tiberius' law had caused so much opposition that it could not easily be revived. Therefore Gaius was stimulated to create new legal innovations, e.g. the exemption of certain lands from distribution.

The third chapter focuses on this exemption, mentioned in the lex agraria of 111. Again, this passage has been explained in a variety of ways by modern scholars, for example that it was land belonging to Latins or Italian allies (socii), a possibility that Lapyrionok rightly dismisses. He adheres to the theory that the land excluded from distribution were especially those lands that were rented out to individuals, and thus created an income for the Roman state, such as the ager Campanus, ager censorius, and ager quaestorius, all plausible suggestions. Connected to this is the question of what is meant by the term Italia or terra Italia, which appears several times in the lex agraria; the lands exempted from distribution were located in terra Italia. Lapyrionok concludes, as many scholars have done – although alternative reconstructions are possible, which Lapyrionok does not completely refute –, that this referred to Roman land in Italy (ager Romanus), rather than land in the geographical area of Italy as a whole. This would mean that Italian allies or Latins were not protected and could lose their land to the agrarian commission.

Chapter four is dedicated to the viasii vicaneive, a group mentioned in the lex agraria, which apparently was charged with maintaining the roads along which they were settled. Lapyrionok thinks that there were two types of viasii: those settled by the Gracchan commission (specifically those settled by M. Fulvius Flaccus in Cisalpine Gaul, as Lapyrionok suggests) and those settled by the Roman Senate, in competition to the Gracchan programme. Evidence for the existence of such an anti-Gracchan settlement scheme comes especially from the Elogium Pollae, but other than this very debatable inscription there is no proof that the Senate ever formulated a coherent settlement programme to take the wind from Gaius Gracchus' sails.

Lapyrionok ends by discussing the Lex Rubria, which most likely arranged for the settlement of colonies by Gaius Gracchus, especially for the settlement of colonies 'outside of Europe', as Lapyrionok calls it (p. 119) – we may question, of course, whether the concept 'Europe' at this time had the same meaning as nowadays; Gaius' colony in Carthage was still within the Roman state. In any case Gaius was the first to settle colonies outside of the geographical area of Italy, an important innovation; his example was often followed in the first century BC.

Overall, this book does not offer a coherent argument, but rather discusses a variety of aspects of the policy of Gaius Gracchus. It is true that his tribunate deserves more attention; often 'the Gracchi' are spoken of as one entity, but scholars should take care to distinguish between Tiberius's and Gaius's legislation, as Lapyrionok does. This book therefore does not give a full overview of Gaius' agrarian policies, but only focuses on their implications for the Roman population developments. Unfortunately Lapyrionok's argument in this respect fails to convince, especially because of his lack of engagement with the most up-to-date scholarship. In many cases Lapyrionok does not mention modern theories that differ from his own, or if he mentions them, he does not explain why he disagrees with them. Furthermore, Lapyrionok does not always cite the primary evidence, either in the original language or in translation, which makes it difficult to follow his argument (e.g. the exception clause in the lex agraria, discussed in chapter 3, is not in fact quoted in the chapter). The book in general is well edited, with only a few typographical errors. One irritant is that the bibliography is not organized in a sensible way, with books by the same author not ordered chronologically or in any other sensible manner.

In general this book offers some small new insights into the study of the Gracchan agrarian programme, but no new ideas on the socio-economic problems of the second century BC in general. It would be of interest to those wanting to study the finer details of the Gracchan programme – which the low price fortunately allows – but those looking for a recent, up-to-date overview of scholarship on the period should look elsewhere.

Table of Contents

Das Problem des Zensus 125/124 v. Chr.: alte und neue Lösungen
Lex agraria „quam et frater eius tulerat"
Eine Ausnahmeklausel in der epigraphischen lex agraria
Die viasiei vicani
Lex Rubria


1.   This theory has recently been questioned, not least by the current reviewer (Roselaar, S. T., 2010. Public Land in the Roman Republic: A Social and Economic History of Ager Publicus in Italy, 396-89 BC (Oxford); however, Lapyrionok does not acknowledge this.
2.   Lintott, A. W., 1992. Judicial Reform and Land Reform in the Roman Republic (Cambridge).
3.   Crawford, M. H., 1996. 'Lex agraria,' in: M. H. Crawford (ed.), Roman statutes I (London) 113-180.
4.   Broadhead, W., 2001. 'Rome's migration policy and the so-called ius migrandi,' CCG 12, 69-89.
5.   Roselaar 2010, p. 227-8, 254-6.
6.   de Ligt, L., 2012. Peasants, Citizens and Soldiers. Studies in the demographic history of Roman Italy 225 BC-AD 100 (Cambridge).
7.   Hin, S. C., 2013. The Demography of Roman Italy. Population Dynamics in an Ancient Conquest Society (201 BCE - CE 14) (Cambridge).

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