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A Latin word meaning the year's produce, especially in wheat, the staple food of the city population; it was afterwards applied to the corn provided by the State to feed that population. As Italian agriculture decayed, and the city population steadily increased, the question of its maintenance became a constant care to the State, which, on the conquest of the first two provinces, Sicily and Sardinia, at once doomed them, especially the former, to the task of victualling the armies and feeding Rome, by imposing a tithe on corn, and forbidding its exportation to any country but Italy. The tenth paid as tribute, and other corn bought up by the State, was sold by the aediles at a moderate price, usually on terms which prevented the treasury being a loser. Thus till the time of the Gracchi the cura annonae was confined to the maintenance of a moderate price; but the corn law of Gaius Gracchus, B.C. 123, laid on the State the obligation to deliver to any Roman householder on demand 6 1/4 bushels of wheat a month at a fixed price, which even in cheap times was less than half the cost price; and Clodius in B.C. 58 went further, and made the delivery entirely gratuitous. By the year B.C. 46, the number of recipients had risen to 320,000, and the yearly outlay to a sum equivalent to £650,000. Caesar then reduced the recipients to 150,000; but their number grew again, till Augustus cut it down to 200,000, whose names were inscribed on a bronze table, and who received their monthly portion on presentation of a ticket. This arrangement as a whole remained in force till about the end of the Empire, except that in the 3rd century bread was given instead of grain. And, side by side with these gratuitous doles, grain could always be bought for a moderate price at magazines filled with the supplies of the provinces, especially Egypt and Africa, and with purchases made by the State. The expenses of the annona fell mainly on the imperial treasury, but partly on that of the senate. From Augustus' time the cura annonae formed one of the highest imperial offices, its holder, the praefectus annonae, having a large staff scattered over Rome and the whole empire. The annona, like so many other things, was personified by the Romans, and became a goddess of the importation of corn, whose attributes were a bushel, ears of wheat, and a horn of plenty.
Type: Standard
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