Cicero : De Lege Agraria, 3

This speech was delivered against P. Servilius Rullus in 63 B.C.

The translation is by J.H. Freese (1930). Click on the L symbols to go to the Latin text of each section. Click on ** to go to the translator's footnotes.

[1.] L   [1] The tribunes of the plebs would have done better, O Romans, if, instead of bringing charges to you about me, they had attacked me openly and in my presence; for by doing so they would have retained the opportunity of discussing the matter fairly, the usage of their predecessors and the privileges of their authority. But since they have hitherto shrunk from an open contest and debate, let them now, if they like, come forward in this assembly over which I preside, and although, when challenged by me, they refused to accept my offer, let them at least return to it now that I have asked them again. [2] I see that certain of you, O Romans, indicate I know not what by your murmurs, and have not brought back the same countenance they showed at my last meeting. Wherefore I beg those of you, who have not believed anything about me, to retain the goodwill which you have always shown towards me ; but from you, whose feelings towards me I perceive are slightly changed, I claim the loan for a little time of your good opinion, on condition that you keep it for ever, if I prove to you what I am going to say; but if I do not, that here on this very spot you may drop it, fling it away, and go home. [3] It has been dinned into your ears and minds, O Romans, that I wished to gratify the seven tyrants ** and the other possessors of Sulla's allotments, and so opposed the agrarian law and your interests. If any did believe this, they must first have believed that by this agrarian law which has been proposed the Sullan allotments of land are to be taken away 'and divided amongst you, or that at least the public land held by private persons is to be in part diminished that you may be settled upon it. If I prove, that far from a clod of earth of the Sullan lands being taken from anyone, lands of that kind are ratified and guaranteed most impudently by the particular article of the law; if I show that Rullus by his law takes such care of the lands given by Sulla that it is easy to see that it has been drawn up, not by the defender of your interests, but by the son-in-law of Valgius: is there any reason, O Romans, why, by that false accusation which he has brought against me in my absence, he should not have displayed his contempt, not only for my carefulness and foresight, but also for yours ?

[2.] L   [4] There is a fortieth article of the law, which I have purposely avoided mentioning to you before, that I might not seem to be reopening an old wound of the State that is now healed or to be stirring up new disagreements at a most inopportune moment. And my reason for discussing it now is not that I think the present constitution should not be vigorously defended, especially since I have declared myself to the Roman people to be the defender of tranquillity and harmony for the present year, ** but simply to teach Rullus to keep silent in the future at least if there is anything in him or his acts which he would prefer not to be mentioned. [5] Of all laws I think that that is the most iniquitous and least like a law, which Lucius Flaccus, the interrex, ** passed in regard to Sulla - that all his acts, whatever they were, should be ratified. For, while in all other states, when tyrants are set up, all laws are annulled and abolished, in this case ** Flaccus by his law established a tyrant in a republic. It is a hateful law, as I have said, but there is some excuse for it; for it seems to be not the law of a man, but of the times. ** [6] But what if I show that this law is far more shameless? For by the Valerian and Cornelian laws there is robbery of land where there is bestowal of it; a shameless favour is united with a grievous wrong ; but still these laws leave some hope to the man who has been robbed and some scruples to him to whom it has been given. Here is the proviso in the law of Rullus : WHO AFTER THE CONSULSHIP OF GAIUS MARIUS AND GNAEUS PAPIRIUS. ** How utterly he has avoided suspicion, by specially naming those consuls who were most opposed to Sulla! For if he had mentioned the name of Sulla the dictator, he thought that would be an obviously unpopular thing todo. But which of us did he think would be so slow witted as not to remember that Sulla became dictator after those men were consuls ? [7] What then does this Marian tribune say, who is dragging us Sullans into unpopularity ? LET ALL THE LANDS, BUILDINGS, LAKES, MARSHES, SITES, POSSESSIONS (sky and sea he has omitted, he has got in everything else) WHICH HAVE BEEN PUBLICLY GIVEN, ASSIGNED, SOLD, AND GRANTED (by whom, Rullus? after the consulship of Marius and Carbo, who assigned, gave, or granted except Sulla ?) AFTER THE CONSULSHIP OF MARIUS AND CARBO, REMAIN UNDER THE SAME TITLE (what title? But I suppose he is going to upset titles somewhat ? Our tribune is too active, too energetic ; he is abolishing some acts of Sulla) AS THOSE THINGS WHICH ARE PRIVATE PROPERTY ON THE BEST TITLE. Shall one then hold them by a better title than those which come down to us from our fathers or ancestors? By a better. [8] But the Valerian law does not say this, the Cornelian laws do not sanction this, Sulla himself does not demand it. If those lands have any share of legality, any resemblance to private ownership, any hope of permanent possession, there will not be one of those men so impudent as not to consider himself extremely well treated. What then do you want, Rullus ? That they may keep what they have? Who forbids it? That they may keep it as private property ? So it is proposed. That your father-in-law's farm in the Hirpine district - or rather the territory of Hirpinum (for he possesses it all), is held by a better title than my farm at Arpinum, which has come down to me from my father and grandfathers? [9] Yes, that is the proviso you want. For those lands are certainly held by "the best title" which are held on the most favourable terms. Lands which are free from easements are held by a better title than those under an easement according to this article, all under easement will cease to be so. Those which are unmortgaged are in a better case than those which are mortgaged ; by the same article, all those that are encumbered, if only they were assigned by Sulla, are released from such encumbrances. Those which are tax-free are in a more comfortable position than those which are taxable. I, in respect of my land at Tusculum, have to pay a tax for the use of the Aqua Crabra, ** because I obtained my farm by legal purchase ; if it had been given to me by Sulla, by the law of Rullus I should not have to pay anything. [3.] L   [10] I see that you, my friends, as the nature of the case compels you, are stirred to indignation by the impudence of the law or of Rullus's speech : of the law, since it establishes a better title to estates assigned by Sulla than to hereditary property, of the speech since, in a cause of that kind, he dares to accuse anyone of defending the principles of Sulla with too great vehemence. But, if he were content only to ratify the Sullan allotments, I would say nothing, provided he confessed that he was one of his partisans. But he not only gives security to them but even increases their possessions by some kind of donation ; and the man who charges me with defending the donations of Sulla not only ratifies them, but appoints fresh allotments himself, and suddenly here is Sulla risen from the dead! [11] For consider what vast grants of land this accuser of ours endeavours to make by a single word : THE LANDS WHICH HAVE BEEN GIVEN, DONATED, GRANTED, OR SOLD. Very well, I hear. What next? POSSESSED. So this is what a tribune of the plebs has ventured to propose to enact - that anyone who has been in possession of a property since the consulship of Marius and Carbo should hold it by the best title that anyone can hold private property ! What! even if he has turned out the owner by violence, has obtained possession of it stealthily, or on sufferance ? So then this law will annul civil law, the titles to possessions, the provisional decisions of the praetors. [12] This is not an unimportant matter, my friends, nor is it a petty larceny that is hidden under this expression. For there are a number of lands confiscated by the Cornelian law, which have neither been assigned nor sold to anyone, and are occupied by a few men in a most shameless manner. It is these lands that he guarantees, confirms their possession, and makes them private property; Rullus does not mean to assign these lands to you, which Sulla allotted to no one, but to make them over for good to those who are in possession of them. I ask why you should allow the properties which your ancestors bequeathed to you in Italy, Sicily, Africa, the two Spains, Macedonia, and Asia, to be sold, when you see property which is your own made over to the present possessors by the same law. [13] You will now understand that the whole law, while it has been drawn up to secure the domination of a few, is also most perfectly adapted for the system of the allotments of Sulla. All because the father-in-law of Rullus is a good old sort ** ! Nor am I attacking his goodness, but I am discussing the impudence of his son-in-law. [4.] L   The father-in-law desires to keep what he has, and confesses that he belongs to the party of Sulla; the son-in-law, in order to have what he has not, desires to ratify with your assistance those titles which are uncertain; and, while he is more greedy even than Sulla himself, I, who am opposing these measures, am accused of defending the acts of Sulla. [14] "My father-in-law has some out-of-the-way waste lands; he will be able to sell them at whatever price he likes by virtue of my law. He has others of uncertain title, to the possession of which he has no right at all; they will be assured to him by the best possible title. He holds them as public property ; I will make them private property. Lastly, as to those rich and productive estates, which he has bought one after the other in the district of Casinum, by the proscription of his neighbours as far as the eye could reach, until all these farms completed the appearance of a single large district and estate - these lands, which he now holds with a certain amount of apprehension, he will be able to possess without any anxiety."

[15] Now, since I have shown you for what reason and for whose sake Rullus has brought forward this law, it is for him to make you understand what occupier I am defending when I oppose this law. You are selling the Scantian wood; it is in the possession of the Roman people. I am for the defence. You are dividing Campanian territory ; you are in possession of it. I refuse to give it up. Next, I see that possessions in Italy, Sicily, and the other provinces are for sale and proscribed by this law : they are your estates, your possessions; I shall resist and oppose this, and, as long as I am consul, I will not allow the Roman people to be turned out of its possessions by anyone, especially since no advantage is sought for you. [16] For you ought not to remain any longer in error. Is there any one of you inclined to violence, crime, or even murder? No one. And yet, believe me, it is for men of that kind that Campanian territory and the beautiful Capua are reserved ; an army is being raised against you, against your liberty, against Gnaeus Pompeius; it is against the city of Rome that Capua is to be opposed, against you that bands of audacious scoundrels are being organised ; against Gnaeus Pompeius that ten generals are being appointed. Let them come and, since they have summoned me before your assembly at your request, let them argue the question and answer me face to face !


[fr.1]   'Imberba iuventute'; "in beardless youth." {The reference is perhaps to the description of Rullus, ii. 5. 18.}

[fr.2-3]   This figure - a disjunctive proposition or statement - embellishes and amplifies discourse in the following manner: They will occupy Capua, having conducted colonists thither, they will secure Atella with a garrison, they will obtain possession of Nuceria, Cumae with a large number of their people ; they will bind together the rest of the towns with garrisons. Another instance is: The whole of the Propontis and the Hellespont will therefore be sold under the public crier ; the whole coast of the Lycians and Cilicians will be knocked down, Mysia and Phrygia will be put under the same conditions and laws. {The reference is perhaps to ii. 15, 38-46.}

[fr.4]   The decemvirs will sell the booty, the spoils, the division of the plunder (confiscated goods) and lastly the camp itself of Gnaeus Pompeius, while the general has to sit still. {The reference is perhaps to the digressions about Pompey.}


1.(↑)   Possibly important persons who had large holdings of land. Amongst them were probably the two Luculli and M. Crassus, who had rendered valuable support to Sulla.

2.(↑)   Attempts had been made after Sulla's death to abolish some of his laws, which Cicero considers would be inopportune at the present time.

3.(↑)   See Pro Roscio Amerino, xliii. 125.

4.(↑)   Referring to Flaccus.

5.(↑)   i.e., wishes the necessities of the times call for, not the wishes of an individual.

6.(↑)   82 B.C.

7.(↑)   A small artificial stream running through Cicero's property.

8.(↑)   The phrase multum bonus seems undoubtedly conversational.


From the introduction to the translation :

At the end of 64 B.C., P. Servilius Rullus proposed an agrarian law intended to place almost unlimited power in the hands of a commission of ten (called decemvirs), and to manipulate their election so as to secure that they would act wholly in the interests of the democratic party . . . The commissioners' term of office was for five years ; they could not be removed and were not subject to the veto of the tribunes.

They had the power of selling all lands which had been made state lands in 88 B.C. or afterwards outside Italy, except the domains covered by treaty, which were held by Hiempsal, King of Mauretania ; in Italy, all the public forests and possessions except the Campanian and Stellatis lands which were to be distributed among 5000 colonists. They were to have the power of putting an impost on all public lands except the Recentoricus in Sicily, which enabled them to treat private lands as public and to free the public lands from burdens; further, all the booty, spoils, and crown gold possessed by the generals (with the exception of Pompeius) unless it had been spent on a public memorial or paid into the exchequer was to be handed over to them. The money thus acquired was to be employed in purchasing land in Italy for distribution amongst the Roman people.

Attalus' home page   |   15.03.23   |   Any comments?