agrarian laws defined in 1939 yearagrarian laws - Agrarian Laws (Lat. agrarius, relating to land);
agrarian laws - Roman laws, the object of which was to ensure a fair distribution of the state domains lager publicus, public land). These state domains, chiefly territory taken from conquered enemies, were from the first in the hands of the patricians, who paid at first a moderate rental, but later none at all. They remained state property, though holders could bequeath and sell them. The claim of the plebeians to a fair share of the land they had helped to win led to bitter struggles. By the Licinio-Sextian laws (367 B.C.) each person's holding was limited to 500 jugera (about 300 acres), and there were restrictions in regard to pasture-land. For a time this worked well, but the great wars ruined the small owners and led to the growth of large farms worked by slave labour, which, in the judgement of Pliny, "ruined Italy."
The Sempronian law (133) of Tiberius Gracchus imposed a maximum limit of 1,000 jugera for a single family, all in excess of this being broken up into small allotments for the poor, inalienable, and leased from the state at a small rental. The still more radical proposals of Caius Gracchus in 123 were rendered valueless by that of Marcus Livius Drusus (122), which became law, legalising alienation of the holdings, which thus again passed into the hands of the wealthy. The Thorian law (119) assigned state domains as private property to holders on payment of a tax (later remitted). This put an end to all distribution of land among the poorer classes and destroyed the lower-class landed proprietors. No agrarian laws are heard of under the empire. See Latifundia.
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