The last days of the Republic. The period from about 130 to 44 BC. was indeed the gilded age, with enormous fortunes for the few. 37 Although the aristocracy kept a strong hand on the social ambitions of upstarts, there was an increase in the number of wealthier families. Public contracts, war booty, tax gathering, contributed to this end.Next Page
Of first importance in all this is the fact that, so far as class standing was concerned, little difference was achieved by the sudden addition of tens of millions of money units to the fortunes of an already propertied family, whether equite or senatorial. The social class ladder was not as responsive to differences in money fortunes in the first century BC. as in the United States in the nineteenth century AD.
The few "new" men of that era were the objects of much comment, but they were not new in the sense that they sprang from the proletariat. Usually they were of equite extraction; they were new only in that they now met the legal qualifications for rank among the hereditary nobility. The equites had, by this time, become what Bucher calls a "money aristocracy." 38
So rigid were the class lines at the top that above the men of business of equestrian rank, in social standing though not necessarily in wealth, there was in Cicero's time an aristocracy. 39 By this time all the aristocrats were known as "optimates." Of these the "clarissima," the highest of the high in fame, included some of the oldest and most aristocratic families of Roman history. 40
In the course of three hundred years 600 consuls were elected. Of this number, twenty-four were new men, and one of these, Marius, served seven of the twenty-four terms. "In regard to this condition one can speak of the rule of a nobility." 41 And again one must bear in mind that new men were not necessarily lacking in social class backgrounds. Mosca says that "in republican Rome the more prominent families held the same public offices from father to son for generation after generation." 42
From the foregoing it would appear that the Republic was not troubled by extensive upward social class mobility. So far as her social classes are concerned, Rome was never democratic. But already toward the end of the Republic rumblings of new and foreboding things to come were heard.
A concern of all aristocrats was the decline in the birth rate among all Roman and particularly among the upper class. Such a trend, if continued, would spell the end of the whole class as a hereditary, self-perpetuating entity. Obviously, recruitment was in order. Sulla, who could safely be trusted to choose aristocrats, provided for the automatic elevation of members of the quaestorian college into the senate, and he increased their number. 43
This was a sign of future trouble, but it did not point to the immediate disintegration of the upper classes. At the time of Cicero ". . . there were still prominent in Rome bearers of fair-sounding names like Cornelii, Claudii or Sulpieii." 44 It may be safely stated that the period of civil wars was more destructive to the Roman political and constitutional system than to the social class structure.
The middle classes. Few changes took place among the middle classes during the last days of the Republic. Julius Caesar granted citizenship to all doctors and those pursuing other studies who lived in Rome or who might move there. 45 This act probably had less effect upon the social classes than it did upon the theories pertaining to the classes. It contributed to the replacement of Romans by Greeks and others from the cast. This, in the course of time, probably strengthened the impression that there was considerable social mobility in Rome because of the prevalence of Greek names. Since there were destined to be many feedmen of Greek nationality, was it not natural yet incorrect to reason that many descendants of freedmen had risen in status?
37. Fahlbeck, op. cit., p. 256.
38. Karl Bucher, Beiträge zur Wirtschaftsgeschichte (Tübingen, 1922) p. 101.
39. See S. A. Cook, et al, The Roman Republic (133 - 44 BC.) vol. IX of the Cambridge Ancient History (Cambridge, 1932) pp. 777 - 779.
40. Gelzer, op. cit., p. 32.
41. Ibid., pp. 39 - 41.
42. Gaetano Mosca, The Ruling Class, ed. and rev. by Arthur Livingston (New York, 1939) p. 260.
43. Cook, et al, op. cit., vol. IX, p. 287.
44. Ibid., p. 777.
45. Eduard Meyer, Caesars Monarchie und das Principat des Pompejus (Stuttgart, 1919) p. 483.