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Form: =common land.
The Latin name for the State domains, formed of territory taken from conquered states. The Romans made a practice, upon every new acquisition of land, of adding a part of it, usually a third, to the domain. So far as this land was under culture, portions of it were sometimes assigned to single citizens or newly-founded colonies in fee simple, sometimes sold by the quaestors on the condition that, though the purchaser might bequeath and alienate it, it still remained State property. In token of this it paid a substantial or merely nominal rent (vectigal), and was called ager privatus vectigalisque or quaestorius. The greater part was left to the old occupiers, yet not as free property, but as rent-paying land, and was called ager publicus stipendiarius datus assignatus; the rest remained under State management, and was let by the Censors. Of uncultivated districts, the State, by public proclamation, gave a provisional right of seisin, occupatio, with a view to cultivation, in consideration of a tithe of the com raised and a fifth of the fruit, and reserving its right of resumption. Such seisin was called possessio. It could be bequeathed or otherwise alienated, yet never became private property, but remained a rent-paying and resumable property of the State. Though the Plebeians had as good a right to occupy lands won by their aid as the Patricians, yet in the early times of the Republic this right was exercised by the latter alone, partly because they had the greater command of means and men, and partly because by the right of the stronger they excluded the Plebeians from benefiting by the Ager Publicus. Against this usurpation the Plebeians waged a bitter and unbroken warfare, claiming not only a share in newly conquered lands, but a wholesale redistribution of existing possessiones, while the Patricians strained every nerve to maintain their vested interests, and managed to thwart the execution of all the enactments passed from time to time in favour of the Plebeians. Even the law of the tribune Gaius Licinius Stolo (B.C. 377), limiting possessiones to 500 iugera (acres) per man, and ordering the distribution of the remainder, were from the first eluded by the possessores, who now included both Patricians and well-to-do Plebeians. Allpossible means were employed, as pretended deeds of gift and other similar devices. The threatened extinction of the Italian peasantry by the great wars, and the rapid growth of huge estates (latifundia) worked by slaves, occasioned the law of Tiberius Gracchus (B.C. 133), retaining the Licinian limit of 500 acres, but allowing another 250 for each son, and granting compensation for lands resumed by the State. The land thus set free, and all the Ager Publicus that had been leased, except a few domains indispensable to the State, were to be divided among poor citizens, but on the condition that each allotment paid a quit-rent, and was not to be alienated. But again, the the resistance of the nobility practically reduced this law to a dead letter; and the upshot of the whole agrarian movement stirred up by Tiberius and his brother Gaius Gracchus was, that the wealthy Romans were not only left undisturbed in their possessiones, but were released from paying rent. In the civil wars of Sulla the Ager Publicus in Italy, which had been nearly all used up in assignations, received so vast an increase by the extermination of whole townships, by proscriptions and confiscations, that even after all the soldiers had been provided for, there remained a portion undistributed. Under the Empire there was hardly any left in Italy; what there was, whether in Italy or in the provinces, came gradually under the control of the imperial exchequer.
Type: Standard
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