This law provided for the establishment of a commission of ten, empowered to purchase land in Italy for distribution amongst the poorer citizens and for the foundation of colonies. Its professed object was to clear Rome of the large number of pauper citizens, who formed a standing menace to peace. The members of the commission were to be invested with powers so extensive that Cicero spoke of them as ten "kings." They were to be elected for five years by seventeen of the tribes chosen by lot from the thirty-five; the imperium was to be conferred upon them by the lex curiata, together with judicial powers and the rank of praetor. Only those were eligible who personally gave in their names, a clause obviously intended to exclude Pompey, who was at the time absent in the East. In fact, the commission as a whole was intended to act as a counterpoise to his power.
The only land available for the purposes of the bill was the Ager Campanus and the Ager Stellatis, where 5000 citizens were to be settled at once, but as these were utterly insufficient, other lands were to be acquired by purchase. The necessary money was to be found by the sale of all the public property in Italy which had been ordered to be sold by resolutions of the senate (in 81 BC, or subsequently), but which the fear of unpopularity had deterred the consuls from selling; by the sale of lands, etc., in the provinces which had become public property since 88 BC, and even of the domains acquired during the Mithradatic war.
A special article, the object of which was to pacify those who had received grants of land from Sulla, declared such possessions to be private property, for which compensation was to be paid in case of surrender. The revenues of the provinces which were now being organized by Pompey, and the booty and money taken or received by generals during war were also to be applied to this purpose. The places to which colonies were to be sent were not specified (with the exception mentioned above), so that the commissioners would be able to sell wherever they pleased, and it was left to them to decide what was public or private property.
Cicero delivered four speeches against the bill, of which three are still extant, although the first is mutilated at the beginning. The second is the most important for the history of the bill; nothing is known of the fourth. Very little enthusiasm was shown in the matter by the people, who preferred the distribution of doles in the city to the prospect of distant allotments. One of the tribunes even threatened to put his veto on the bill, which was withdrawn before the voting took place. The whole affair was obviously a political move, probably engineered by Caesar, his object being to make the democratic leaders the rulers of the state. Although Caesar could hardly have expected the bill to pass, the aristocratic party would be saddled with the odium of rejecting a popular measure, and the people themselves would be more ready to welcome a proposal by Caesar himself, an expectation fulfilled by the passing of the lex Julia in 59 BC, whereby Caesar at least partly succeeded where Rullus had failed.
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.