Agrarian laws were passed early on in Rome and they were changed and formed over many centuries. Roman agrarian laws are the basis for most laws regarding land today. It is referred to on the Biblical Timeline with world history beginning around 500 BC.
The land was and still remains one of the most critical factors for wealth and power in any society. Individuals who owned land could produce food and materials that could be sold and traded for economic gain. Landowners in ancient Rome knew that land not only gave them wealth it also provided them with political and social power and position. Wealthy landowners could hire workers or amass slaves to work their fields and orchards for profit. They also could rent property to tenants, tax businesses who used their lands for commercial operations and have the poorer members of society become lifelong employees who worked their lands for a fee.
Owning land was very important to being somebody important in ancient Roman society. Only Roman citizens who owned land could become high ranking politicians, fight in wars or have some type of real social standing. Rome created agrarian laws because they were necessary for establishing protocols for how landowners could use their lands and how to manage property between neighbors. Agrarian laws also helped to establish the social order and privilege in Rome.
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Most lands in Rome was owned by the rich and powerful patrician class. This particular class of Roman citizens established the laws, conducted political affairs, fought military campaigns and controlled the economy. Whenever Rome defeated an enemy tribe they would confiscate their lands. The seized lands were supposed to be used as public lands for all of Rome, but the patrician class usually exploited these lands for their own personal profit. Since patricians were the ruling class of Roman society, the poorer members couldn’t effectively stop them from using the acquired tracts for their own gain. The Roman Republic was also cheated out of funds because of this practice, but most of the ruling members of society didn’t care.
Agrarian laws were passed early on in Rome and they were changed and formed over many centuries. At various time throughout Rome’s republic, the laws underwent major transformations. This was done to try to keep the patricians from taking public lands which belonged to all of the people and to keep some type of protocol for land usage between neighbors.
Agrarian laws divided land ownership up into three categories and they included public, private and common. Public lands were for all of the people of Rome, private lands were for private owners and common lands were lands owned by more than one person. Civic structures, graveyards, and parks were usually situated on public lands. Farms were also set up on public lands that were supposed to have been used to feed the Roman people. Military and economic operations were also conducted on public lands. Business owners and farm owners held private lands and used them to make a profit by selling crops and produce. Common lands were owned by more than one person and they also could be used for public or private purposes.
Agrarian laws outlined rules for how land was used between neighbors. For example, a neighbor could claim any produce that had fallen from their tree into another neighbor’s yard. A neighbor could also chop down another resident’s tree if their tree endangered their property in any way. These were but a few of the many laws that Rome used to keep civil peace between neighbors.
The poorer members of Roman society (plebeians) didn’t own much land but for those individuals that did they had rules that would help them to make the best use for their property. Plebeians were also taxed for the land that they owned or they worked on a patrician’s real property and paid a fee in the form of crops. Ultimately, ancient Roman agrarian laws helped to establish rules for land use and civil codes that are still in place in modern times.