Saint John Bosco and the Column to the Immaculate Conception, Built by Blessed Pope Pius IX

On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I was looking for a good article on the Column in Piazza di Spagna and found this one to share.

Saint John Bosco and the Column to the Immaculate Conception, Built by Blessed Pope Pius IX

August 30, 2015 | Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira 

Column of the Immaculate Conception in Piazza di Spagna, Rome, around 1880

Column of the Immaculate Conception in Piazza di Spagna (Rome), photo taken circa 1880.
The monument was inaugurated on December 8, 1857, three years after the proclamation of the dogma.

Pope Blessed Pius IX

Blessed Pope Pius IX

From Saint John Bosco’s work Fatti ameni della vita di Pio IX raccolti da pubblici documenti [Pleasant Episodes in the Life of Pius IX Taken from Public Documents”], Turin, 18711

The declaration of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception is one of the most remarkable events in Church history. A superb column erected in Piazza di Spagna, in Rome, forever memorialized this fact that so glorified Mary.

Four colossal statues of Moses, David, Ezechiel and Isaias surround the column, and their prophecies call to mind the great mystery defined by Pius IX.

That pedestal is adorned with two bas-reliefs. One represents Saint Joseph being warned by the Angel during his sleep about the mystery of the Incarnation; the other shows Pius IX proclaiming the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

Under the first bas-relief are written the simple but sublime words of the angelic greeting: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women.”
On the opposite side one reads:

Mariae Virgini Genitrici Dei

ipsa origine

ab omni labe immuni

Pius VIIII. P. M.

Insignis praeconii

fide confirmata

Decreto Q. D. S. VI ID. DEC.




“To the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, immune from all stain from her inception, Pius IX, Sovereign Pontiff, after having confirmed the faith in this outstanding privilege with his decree of eighth December, raised this monument at the expense of the Catholic universe in the 12th year of his Sacred Pontificate.”

Prophet Isaias: “Ecce Virgo concipiet - Behold a virgin will conceive”

The Prophet Isaias: “Ecce Virgo concipiet – Behold a virgin will conceive” (Isa. 7:14).

Isaias’s statue has as a caption these words of the prophet: “Ecce Virgo concipiet – Behold a virgin will conceive” (Isa. 7:14).

Prophet Ezechiel: “Porta haec clausa erit - This door will remain closed”

The Prophet Ezechiel: “Porta haec clausa erit – This door will remain closed” (Ezech. 44:2).

Under the pedestal of Ezechiel’s statue one reads: “Porta haec clausa erit – This door will remain closed” (Ezech. 44:2).

King David: “Sanctificavit tabernaculum suum Altissimus - The Most High has sanctified His tabernacle”

King David: “Sanctificavit tabernaculum suum Altissimus – The Most High has sanctified His tabernacle” (Ps. 65:5).

Under the pedestal of David’s statue: “Sanctificavit tabernaculum suum Altissimus – The Most High has sanctified His tabernacle” (Ps. 65:5).

Moses holds the prophecy from the Book of Genesis: “Inimicitias ponam inter te et muliere - I will put enmities between thee and the woman”

Moses holds open the prophecy from the Book of Genesis: “Inimicitias ponam inter te et muliere – I will put enmities between thee and the woman” (Gen. 3:15).

Moses opens the book of Genesis and prophesies the eternal struggle between heaven and hell: “Inimicitias ponam inter te et muliere – I will put enmities between thee and the woman” (Gen. 3:15).

Now, the serpent’s enemy is not only Mary but also the Church, of which the Virgin is the embodiment. “The Church too is the seat of Wisdom” as is the Mother of Christ, since, as Tertullian says, a Christian is another Christ.

Three Reasons the Church’s Enemies Hate the Immaculate Conception

Nowadays, that enmity is at its peak, the fight rages on. But the winning foot that crushes the serpent’s head presages a victory as glorious as it is infallible.
We [Saint John Bosco refers to himself] have had the good fortune to visit, in the church of Saint

Bonaventure [in Rome] the room of Blessed [now Saint] Leonard of Port Maurice who predicted this triumph in a now famous letter.

The example of Rome, mother and mistress of all churches, sparked worldwide ardor and zeal among the children of Mary. We have seen germinate a huge number of monuments, altars, shrines, churches and statues, all designed to perpetuate the memory of the great act of 8 December 1854 [proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception]; and the erection of the column by Pius IX in the Piazza di Spagna was also the signal to which the whole orb quickly responded with a wealth of monuments that spontaneously covered the world.2

On December 8, the statue of the Immaculate Conception in Piazza di Spagna is especially adorned by the faithful

On December 8, the statue of the Immaculate Conception in Piazza di Spagna, Rome, (photos above and below) is especially adorned by the faithful.

Firefighter places a wreath on the arm of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception on her feast day in Rome, Italy

Early in the morning of the same day, firefighters place a wreath on the arm of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception (photo above), which remains there until the same feast the following year. After having place the wreath, he then salutes her (photo below).

Firefighter salutes Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception on her feast day in the Piazza di Spagna, Rome, Italy


  1. Don Giovanni Bosco, Fatti ameni della vita di Pio IX raccolti da pubblici documenti, Torino, 1871
  2. cf. op. cit., pp. 43-49 in Opere Edite, Libreria Ateneo Salesiano, Rome, 1977

275. S. Maria in Trastevere


One of the most venerable of all the Christian buildings in Rome.

(1) Its Origin.

Its history reaches much further back than the time of Constantine. The historian Lampridius relates that during the Pontificate of Callixtus I the Christians were in possession of a place of assembly in Trastevere, their right to which was, however, disputed by the corporation of popinarii, or tavern-keepers. The question was brought before the Emperor Alexander Severus, who decided in favour of the Christians, saying that it was better that God should be worshipped there, in whatever fashion it might be, than that the place should be given over to revelry. (1)

The original oratory was erected by St. Callixtus I about the year 223, not long before his martyrdom. Julius I rebuilt it on a larger scale in 340, and this Julian Basilica was restored and adorned with frescoes by John VII (705 — 707). It was re-erected in its present form by Innocent II, in 1140, and consecrated by Innocent III, in 1198.

(2) Description.

The mosaics in the facade are of the twelfth century. They represent our Saviour throned between angels : and (in the frieze below) our Lady and Child enthroned, with ten female figures approaching them, two of which have their lamps unlit, are more matronly in appearance, and wear veils instead of crowns upon their heads. Almost at the top of the campanile is a small mosaic of the Madonna and Child, probably also of the twelfth century. In the portico, re-erected in 1702, are some ancient monuments and inscriptions, many taken from the catacombs. The epitaph of Anastasius Bibliothecarius, compiler of the Papal Chronicles (Liber Pontificalis ), who died in 886, is said to be on the right wall. (2)

The interior, beautiful and impressive, retains its twelfth century character. The nave is divided from the aisles by twenty-two granite columns of unequal sizes, supporting a richly-decorated architrave. The splendid pavement ( Opus Romanian , or Cosimati work) is one of the richest in Rome.

Lanciani (3) informs us that the pavement of these ancient churches was divided into panels of various sizes (so many square feet in each) to be covered with mosaic work, devout persons paying each for a panel. Thus we read that “Claudia, a devout woman, and her niece Honoria, made 110 feet (of the mosaic floor) in fulfilment of a vow.” The pavements of this church, of St. Mary Major, S. Lorenzo, S. Maria in Cosmedin, were the joint offering of many parishioners.

The ceiling, richly decorated, has a beautiful painting of the Assumption, by Domenichino .

The high altar, which is of the time of Innocent II (1130 — 1143), is overshadowed by an arcaded canopy resting on four columns of porphyry. Beneath are the bodies of St. Callixtus I and St. Calepodius, martyrs, translated from the cemetery of Calepodius by Gregory IV in 834. The church also possesses the shrines of SS. Cornelius, Julius and Quirinus, martyrs, and a rich treasury of relics, shown to the faithful on certain feasts.

The beautiful mosaics of the apse are the work of Innocent II. He belonged to the Papareschi family, who had their palace in Trastevere. His portrait, with a square nimbus, and holding a model of the church, is introduced among the figures. Our Saviour is here represented seated, with His Holy Mother “ crowned and robed like a Queen beside Him, both sharing the same gorgeous throne and footstool ; while a hand extends from a fan-like glory with a jewelled crown held over His Head : she giving benediction with the usual action ; He embracing her with His left arm, and in the right hand holding a tablet that displays the words : ‘ Veni electa mea , et ponam in thronum meitm.’ ” (4)

On the left of the two enthroned figures, as we face them, stand St. Callixtus, St. Laurence, and Pope Innocent II ; and on the right, St. Peter, St. Cornelius, St. Julius, and St. Calepodius. Below is the Lamb of God, with a flock of sheep, type of the faithful, issuing from the mystical cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

The seven mosaic pictures below, illustrating subjects from the life of our Lady, are of the thirteenth century, the work, it is believed, of Pietro Cavallini.

In the sacristy is a fine picture, by Perugino, of our Lady with St. Roch and St. Sebastian.

(3) The Fons Olei, or Oil-spring.

In front of the sanctuary is a spot marked “Fons Olei,” where, in the third year of Augustus’ reign, three years before our Saviour’s birth, a miraculous oil-spring burst from the soil and flowed during an entire day. The place was then a hospital for old soldiers ( Taberna meritorid). The fact is confirmed by Dion Cassius, a pagan writer, and is mentioned by St. Jerome and Eusebius. (1)

(4) The Two Lady Chapels.

At the end of the right aisle is the chapel of Our Lady di Strada Cupa, so-called from the street where the picture was formerly venerated. Domenichino designed the chapel and painted in the vaulting the charming figure of a child scattering flowers. Henry, Cardinal-Duke of York, son of James the “ Old Pretender,” completed the decoration of this chapel.

At the end of the left aisle is the chapel of Our Lady of Clemency , with frescoes of the Council of Trent, by Cati.

The altar near the entrance to this chapel has a beautiful Gothic canopy, the gift of Cardinal (D’Alençon , nephew of Charles de Valois and brother of Philip le Bel. On one side is the tomb of that Cardinal (fourteenth century), and on the other the tomb of Cardinal Stefaneschi, with delicate carvings by Paolo Romano (fifteenth century).

In the left aisle is the tomb of Innocent II, whose remains were removed from the Lateran in 1408, after the great fire. The present monument was erected by Pius IX; the ancient inscription is preserved in the portico.

(1) Lampridius, Alex . Severus , 45; Thurston, S.J., Holy Year of Jubilee , p. 206 ; Marucchi, Basiliques de Rome , p. 429.
(2) He wrote only a portion of the History of the Popes, probably the part beginning with St. Leo the Great. The preceding portion is thought to be the work of some cleric or clerics at the Lateran.
(3) Pagan and Christian Rome , p. 30.
(4) Hemans, Mediceval Christian Art . V

By P.J Chanderly, S.J.
Author of ” Rooms and Shrines of the Saints”, “Le Gesù de Rome”, etc.
with a Preface by REV. JOHN GERARD, S.J.
(The right of Reproduction reserved .)

274. S. Maria della Scala


In the Via della Scala , on the way to S. Maria in Trastevere, we pass a church of the barefooted Carmelites, known as S. Maria della Scala, “ Our Lady of the Stair,” within which is venerated a miraculous picture of our Lady, that formerly occupied a niche on the landing of a house stair near this spot. A touching event first attracted popular devotion to this picture. A poor woman, who had a sick and deformed child, came every day to pray for its cure before this picture. As all her prayers remained ineffectual, frantic with grief, yet full of tender emotion, she cried out : “ O Mother of God, were you to ask me any favour I could give, I would grant it you at once.” This burst of maternal feeling touched our Lady’s heart ; the child was instantly cured, and all Trastevere rushed to kneel before the holy picture. It was decided to build a church on the spot, abundant alms being given by the good people of Trastevere. The church was first opened in 1592.

Its greatest relic is the foot of St Teresa. In the first chapel on the right is a painting of the martyrdom of St.John the Baptist by Gerardo della Nolle, thought to be his best work. The tabernacle of the high altar is rich and beautiful.

By P.J Chanderly, S.J.
Author of ” Rooms and Shrines of the Saints”, “Le Gesù de Rome”, etc.
with a Preface by REV. JOHN GERARD, S.J.
(The right of Reproduction reserved .)

273. S. Dorotea – St. Cajetan and the Confraternity of Divine Love


After crossing the bridge we may pay a short visit at the little Church of St. Dorothy (S. Dorotea), virgin and martyr, which has some memorable associations. The Saint, a noble maiden of Cappadocia, was put to death for the faith in 304. It is related of her that she converted two apostate women sent to ensnare her virtue, and that as she was being led to the place of execution she also converted one Theophilus, by obtaining for him certain fruits and flowers from her heavenly Spouse. Her body is preserved in this church, and on her shrine are carved roses and apples, with other fruit, emblems of the unfading joys of Heaven.

The little church has much to interest us. Here St. Cajetan of Thienne joined the Confraternity of Divine Love, a pious institution for priests and clerics, the aim being to oppose the excessive luxury of the age and to rekindle the fervour of Divine charity ; here he associated himself with John Paul Caraffa (afterwards Paul IV), Paul Consigliari, of the noble family of Ghisleri, Boniface de Colle, Lippomano, Sadolet, Ghiberti, and other fervent souls, and laid the foundations of his Order of the Theatines , i.e., of Regular Clergy, whose object is to lead a perfect life on the model of that of the Apostles.

St. Joseph Calasanctius also belonged to this Confraternity, and here laid the foundations of the Order of the Regular Clergy of the pious schools, commonly known as Scolopi.

Cardinal Reginald Pole, in his younger days, was also a member of this same Confraternity.

In 1797, the French General Duphot, while exciting the Romans to insurrection against the Papal Government, was accidentally shot near S. Dorotea. This led to the advance of Berthier on Rome, the proclamation of the Republic, and the captivity of Pius VI.

By P.J Chanderly, S.J.
Author of ” Rooms and Shrines of the Saints”, “Le Gesù de Rome”, etc.
with a Preface by REV. JOHN GERARD, S.J.
(The right of Reproduction reserved .)

272. Ponte Sisto – St. Ignatius of Loyola and the Death of Father John Codurius


In the Via dei Pettinari is the Church of S. Salvatore in Onda, associated with the memory of the saintly Don Vincenzo Pallotti, whose rooms may be visited in the adjoining presbytery. The Life of this great servant of God has been written by Dr. Melia and by Lady Herbert of Lea. He was the founder of the Pious Society of Missions, and was commonly spoken of as the Saint of Rome. He died in 1850.
Near the river is an institution known as Cento Preti serving as a home, hospital, and house of study for poor priests. Its first foundation arose from a touching incident. A charitable apothecary visiting the patients of the poorer wards in the hospital of S. Spirito, noticed one who hid his face with the coverlet, as though fearing to be recognized. Inquiring of the assistants who he was, he was pained to hear that he was a priest, who was thus lying among the poorest of the poor. The good man at once resolved to spend what means he had in founding a hospital for poor priests. (1) The street on our right as we reach the river is the Via Giulia, where many a noble palace rose in the days of Julius II. The Church of S. Spirito has some beautiful frescoes by Pietro Gagliardi.

The bridge that here crosses the Tiber was built by Baccio Pintelli for Sixtus IV, in the years 1473 — 1475, but since 1870 it has been altered and spoilt. Pintelli made use of the ancient piles of the Pons Janiculensis, as a foundation for his piers. An incident in the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola lends the bridge a special interest. One of the Saint’s first companions, Father John Codurius, being seriously ill, Ignatius resolved to offer up the Holy Sacrifice for him in the Church of S. Pietro in Montorio. While crossing this bridge he suddenly lifted his eyes to Heaven, and said to his companion, Father John Baptist Viola : ” Let us return ; Codurius has just died.” The Father had expired at that moment. Ignatius never explained what he saw on the bridge, but his disciples believed that he himself beheld the vision, which, in a letter to Father Peter Faber, he describes as having been seen by another person, viz., of the soul of Father Codurius dazzling with light escorted to Heaven by angels. (2) The event happened on August 29, 1541.

(1) Morosini, lstituti di Carith , chap. xii.
(2) Ribadeneira, Life of St, Ignatius , Bk. iii. chap. i.

By P.J Chanderly, S.J.
Author of ” Rooms and Shrines of the Saints”, “Le Gesù de Rome”, etc.
with a Preface by REV. JOHN GERARD, S.J.
(The right of Reproduction reserved .)

The Sodality of Our Lady / Our Lady of the Jesuit College, Rome (1584) and Memorials of the Saints – 5 December

The Sodality of Our Lady / Our Lady of the Jesuit College, Rome (1584) – 5 December: The Abbot Orsini wrote: “In the year 1584 was instituted, the first congregation of Our Lady at the Jesuits’ college, at Rome, whence is derived their custom of establishing it in all their houses.” The Sodality of Our […]

The Sodality of Our Lady / Our Lady of the Jesuit College, Rome (1584) and Memorials of the Saints – 5 December

The Roman Senate

The system, the machine, the society, the life and function of the Roman world has left an indelible stamp on our culture and the understanding of how civilization should and should not work. How much there is to study and learn from the ways in which the ancient peoples of Rome developed and organized, built and administered, creating the empire to which its traces and impact are still relavent today. It is to this world that the first Christian people were to find themselves. Whether in Jerusalem or Syria in the East, Greece or Egypt, or on the Italian peninsula or to in Spain – almost every Christian was in some way under the government and social order issuing out of the city of Rome. It is of this point that it would be interesting to continue to look at this world and what these early Christians would be connected to in their state of life at that time. Here I am reposting an article with information in the Roman Senate from

For the spread of Christianity, at least in its social ideas which emanated from its doctrines, Mons. Begnini in his Social History of the Church notes several times that the Senate was a great obstacle owing to its resistance to what would seem to be a religious force that they would not be able to control. The Senate as an institution, seemed to be the most conservative by nature, having been the continuing factor since the earliest days of Rome itself. What is more, the Senate seemed to be in control, heavily, of the religion of the empire. Could the Senate consider making Christianity an or the official religion of Rome? It seems not, and that even the Senate was irrevocably united to the paganism of religion. Could the Senate survive without paganism, could it be Christianized? It seems the answer is no, that somehow paganism became essential to its life and function. But regardless, its influence on the Roman world in which the early Church lived is very great and interesting to learn about.

Roman Senate

What Did The Roman Senate Do?

A Roman Senate meeting

The Roman Senate (Senatus) from the latin Senex (for elder or council of elders) was a deliberative governing body. It is important to note the difference between deliberative and legislative, in that the Senate itself didn’t propose legislation; though magistrates within the Senate, such as Consuls, did.

The body of the senate deliberated these proposals, and along with the later Tribunes of the Plebs, approved or vetoed the various laws. The Senate and the Roman People (SPQR, or Senatus Populusque Romanus), described the distinction in class between the Senate and common people. The “Roman People” consisted of all citizens who were not members of the Senate.

Domestic power was vested in the Roman People, through the Committee of the Hundreds (Comitia Centuriata), the Committee of the Tribal People (Comitia Populi Tributa), and the Council of the People (Concilium Plebis). Actual legislation was secured in the various assemblies. They acted on the recommendations of the Senate’s deliberations and also elected the magistrates.

Despite its lack of actual law making power, the Senate held considerable authority in Roman politics. As the representative figurehead of Rome, it was the official body that sent and received ambassadors on behalf of the city, appointed officials to manage and govern provinces, declared war and negotiated peace, and appropriated funds for various projects such as public building construction. Appointments of military Legates, and the overall oversight of Roman religious practices remained in the control of the Senate as well.

It was also the Senate who held the authority to nominate a dictator (a single leader who acted with ultimate authority and without fear of reprisal) in a state of emergency, usually a military one. In the late Republic, and in attempts to stop the spiraling pattern of dictatorships, the Senate attempted to avoid the dictatorate by resorting to a senatus consultum de republica defendenda, or the senatus consultum ultimum. This was the declaration of martial law, and essentially empowered the Consuls with dictatorial power in defense of the Republic.

How Many Senators Were There?

The number of senators in Rome was initially a direct correlation to the number of tribes represented. In the earliest days of Rome under Romulus, when Rome consisted only of one tribe, the Ramnes, the senate consisted of one hundred members. Further incorporation of various tribes, such as the Tities and Luceres, increased accordingly the number of Senators to 300.

Proposals throughout the Republic by various magistrates such as Gracchus, Livius Drusus, Sulla and Marius altered the membership from between 300 and 600. At times, prominent equestrian plebes were added en masse, or even common soldiers and freedman, as when Julius Caesar increased the Senate roles to 900.

With the accession of Augustus, the permanent foundation for Senate numbers appears to have been fixed at 600, but this number also fluctuated throughout the empire at the whims of the emperors.

How Were Senators Chosen?

The initial 100 senators or advisory council, traditionally instituted by the mythical Romulus, were composed of the heads of leading families, the patricians (from the Latin Patres meaning fathers or forefathers). The later drafted plebeian senators were called Conscripti (conscripted men), as they had no choice but to take a Senatorial seat. The eventual nomenclature to describe Senators, Patres et Conscripti (Conscript Fathers), soon left out any distinction between Patrician and Plebeian and came to be an all encompassing term.

Members of the Senate were chosen from among eligible equites, and selected by Consuls, Tribunes and later by Censors. Alternatively, they were selected from those who were elected to previous magistracies, such as Quaestors. If not previously a member of the Senate, a magistrate ending his year of service in one of these offices would then be eligible for an immediate seat.

Not all Senators held equal status, however. Those selected by Censors or other magistrates to fill seats from among the equites had no right to vote or to speak on the Senate floor. Senators earned the proper dignity and nobility to vote and speak on the floor by virtue of holding various offices such as Consul, PraetorAedile, etc., Such dignified offices as the Pontifex Maximus (head of the Roman Religion), or the Flamen Dialis (chief priest of Jupiter) were categorized as non-voting and non-speaking, with the exception of various religious rituals.

There were also age requirements for admission into the senate. While no written record of the actual age exists for the early Republic, the Lex Annalis clearly indicates that a Quaestor is immediately eligible for inclusion at the end of his 1 year term of office. As questors had to be 31 at election, it stands to reason therefore, that 32 would be the minimum required age for selection for a Senate seat. Later, in the early Empire, Augustus fixed the age of entry at 25; an age which seems to have held up throughout the remainder of the Senate’s history.

How Did the Roman Senate Function?

The two elected consuls alternated monthly as the primary director of the Senate and held the right to propose his own agenda. The Princeps Senatus, who was generally chosen from among ex-censors for a term of 5 years, held the prestigious position of leader of the house. He was in control of such things as opening and closing meetings, as well as setting meeting times and places, reading documents before the members, meeting with dignitaries and imposing order on other Senators, including the Consuls.

Among the senators with speaking rights, a strict order defining who could speak and when was established, with a patrician always preceding a plebeian of equal rank. The speaking order was similar to that of the seating arrangement, in which the princeps senatus held the first chair, followed by the consuls, censors, praetors, aediles, tribunes and finally, the quaestors. There were no limits to debating, and various methods of delay and subversion were employed. Among these, the practice of the filibuster, or speaking at incredible lengths to derail the opposition and delay voting, was a popular one, just as it can and has been in modern-day politics.

Voting in the Senate could be taken by voice or show of hands in unimportant matters, but important or formal motions were decided by a quorum, or an actual physical division of the house to either side of the floor. In these cases, even non-voting members were allowed to take places on either side of the issue, lending their support to a particular cause or motion, or to fulfill their client obligations.

Clothing, Privileges and Restrictions

Senators also carried certain privileges, and were subject to accompanying restrictions. All senators were entitled to wear a senatorial ring (originally made of iron, but later from gold) and a tunica clava, a white tunic with a broad purple stripe five inches wide (latus clavus) on the right shoulder. A senator pedarius (or a non-voting senator) wore a white toga virilis (also called a toga pura) without decoration. A senator who had held a curule magistracy, and thus the right to speak and vote, was entitled to wear the toga praetexta, a white toga with a broad purple border. Additionally all senators wore closed maroon leather shoes, but senators who had held curule magistracies also added a crescent-shaped buckle.

All Senators were forbidden to engage in mercantile activities outside of the ownership of land and natural resources. After the Punic Wars, a law was passed to prevent Senators from owning a ship of more than 300 amphorae in tonnage, to prevent shipping of goods for trading purposes. These laws, however, as cited from numerous sources, were frequently disregarded, as it was easy to mask such activities through various non-Senatorial clients.

Additionally, the Senate – both Patricians and Equestrian Plebes – were largely responsible for seating the 50 to 75 man criminal juries, as well as acting as the prosecution and defense attorneys in the various cases.

Did you know…
Cornelius Sulla was the first to use an army to usurp the power of the Senate.

Slavery in Ancient Rome

As part of a continuing study of the society of ancient Rome, how the Church influenced it, and how it effects what we see today, I have researched an article describing the institution of slavery (among other social institutions) that were a prevelant and almost necessary part of that society. Mons. Begnini in his Social History of the Church describes for us some of what the institution of slavery looked like. It is suprising that a very many different occupations were entrusted to slaves, not just manual labor, and that the slaves were often treated better by their masters than hired hands – mostly we think for they being regarded as personal property of the owners not to be mistreated or misused lest they be harmed and unable to perform their functions. It is also interesting to see that the Church did not set out to abolish slavery right out, through means of a social revolution, but rather took the course of abolishing through social evolution, whereby little by little the institution of slavery would be abandoned. It shows that the institution of slavery was at once so imbedded in all of social life and that society so much depended on it that to abolish it right away would create a caotic happening that we sense would have done more harm than good. But the Christian teaching that both master and slave were equal in God’s eyes as children of God was different, and that the value of a person was not in his social status but in his virtue was also a sort of revolution in ideas. It seemed that the immediate stance that the Church had towards slavery is that to masters to see their slaves as brothers in Christ (abhorring immorality) and for the slaves to be, as suffering through their condition, good slaves and efficacious to their masters.

Roman Slavery

The Roman Empire Depended Upon Slavery

Slavery in the ancient world, not to mention in the city of Rome itself, was vital to both the economy and even the social fabric of society.

Whilst it was commonplace throughout the Mediterranean region, and the Hellenistic regions in the east, it was not nearly so vital to others as it was to the dominance of Rome.

As the Romans consolidated their hegemony of Italy and Sicily, followed by the systematic conquest of western Europe, countless millions of slaves were transported to Rome, the Italian countryside and Latin colonies all over Europe.

Agricultural Slavery
Though slavery was prevalent in households throughout the city itself, it was on the farms and plantations where it had its greatest effect.

The Roman conquests of Carthage, Macedonia and Greece in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC altered what was once a luxury and privilege for the ruling elite into the predominant factor driving both social and economic policies for the Republic as a whole.

The mass influx of slaves during this time period first was a sign of great wealth and power, but later destabilized an already fragile Roman class system. Farms originally run by small business families throughout Italy were soon gobbled up and replaced by enormous slave run plantations owned by the aristocratic elite. Cheap slave labor replaced work for the average citizen and the rolls of the unemployed masses grew to epidemic proportions.

These issues had a great destabilizing effect on the social system which had a direct role in the demise of the Republic. As the rift between Senatorial elite (optimates) and social reformers (populares) grew, the use of the unemployed, landless, yet citizen mobs were an overwhelming ploy grinding away at the ability of the Senate to govern.

Though there are many factors involved in the Fall of the Republic, slavery and its effects rippled throughout every aspect of that turbulent time period.

Slaves Made Up a Significant Percentage of the Roman Population
Not only did slavery help push the Roman lower classes into organized mobs, but the slaves themselves understandably revolted against oppression.

The three servile wars in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, with the rebellion of Spartacus in the 70’s BC the most notable, showed that the social system was dangerous and unhealthy. By the end of these civil wars and general social disorder, slaves were abundantly present in Rome.

The slave population was at least equal to that of freedmen (non citizens), and has been estimated at anywhere from 25 to 40% of the population of the city as a whole. One such estimate suggests that the slave population in Rome circa 1 AD, may have been as much as 300,000 to 350,000 of the 900,000 total inhabitants. In outlying provinces, the numbers are certainly far less substantial, dropping to between an estimated 2 and 10% of the total. Still though, in some places such as Pergamum on the western coast of present day Turkey, the slave population may have been around 40,000 people or 1/3 of the cities total population.

At the height of the Roman Empire in the mid second century AD, some have estimated that the total slave population may have approached 10 million people, or approximately 1/6 of the population as a whole.

Ethnicity and Slavery
In the ancient world, slaves were taken simply based upon need or want. There was no ethnic or territorial preference for the taking of slaves. As the vast majority was captured as the result of Roman wars, wherever there were Roman victories, there would be new slaves. There is no evidence to suggest that the Romans placed any preference for slavery, or exceptions, based on race or country of origin. The only thing the Romans held in deference was whether or not someone was a Roman.

By the mid to late imperial period, citizenship was a rather non-exclusive status, and ethnicity played little part. They were rounded up first from among the Italian tribes, where it spread to Carthage, Greece, Macedonia, Gaul and all over the eastern provinces, with little regard for origin. The Romans simply needed to replenish the stock, and the legions provided the means to do so.

As examples; at the end of the Third Macedonian War in 168 BC, it was recorded that as many as 150,000 residents of Epirus were sold in Roman bondage. It’s also been estimated that Julius Caesar, upon his conquest of Gaul, may have captured and enslaved 500,000 people.

Though ethnicity seems to have played little role in who would be Roman slaves, it did seem to play a part in what tasks they would be assigned to once in service. Obviously, the era one looks at will play a role, as each major conquest would bring a new influx of people from various parts of the world, but certain factors seem to hold true throughout Roman history. Gauls, Germanics and other ‘barbarian’ races were preferred for their strength and endurance. In fact, the Romans in many cases preferred to use these tribes in auxilia army roles rather than as slaves in the strictest sense. Still, these people were often relegated to the menial labor tasks of mining, farming and other labor related industries, reflecting upon stereotypes of the day.

Greeks were especially prized slaves for both their cultural refinement and education. Greeks with the ability to educate the Roman youth or with knowledge of medicine were expensive and highly sought after.

By the late empire, the predominant house slaves in Rome came almost entirely from the east (and all its various ethnicities), as Western Europe and Africa were almost exclusively of citizen class.

How Were Roman Slaves Treated?
Roman slaves were treated in a wide variety of manners, as would be expected, depending on the circumstances, the household and the time period.

Obviously, life working in a mine as a Roman slave wouldn’t be desired, by contrast to that of some house slaves. Some were so highly regarded that they were considered parts of families.

Tombs and gravesites lend evidence to support the praise that some Romans felt towards their slaves. Some really worked what we might consider a regular shift and were free to come and as they pleased outside of that time. Others lived in the cruelest and harshest conditions, victim to the whims of society or the cruelty of their masters. In the late Republic, slaves were strictly seen as property by the vast majority, especially at a time when the availability of new ‘property’ was coming in at alarming numbers. Varro called them ‘vocal agricultural implements’ and likely would’ve preferred them without the vocal part.

Cato the Elder, the great politician of ‘Carthage must be destroyed’ fame, once suggested that old and worn out slaves be sold, as a matter of economy.

How Much Did Slaves Cost in Ancient Rome?
Slaves, however, could be extraordinarily expensive, and the Roman household slave certainly had a different fate. The price for a male slave in Rome at the time of Augustus has been quoted at 500 denarii. A female could go for as much as 6,000 denarii. One recorded price in Pompeii at 79 AD indicates that a slave sold for 2,500 sestertii or 625 denarii.

The expense of slaves made it lucrative for the smart Roman to treat them well and keep them healthy. Even in the case of gladiators, which is often misrepresented historically to show a non stop flow of blood and Roman decadence, it was considered a horrible disaster to lose a Gladiator to death or career ending injury. These slaves were worth their weight in gold, and while still kept closely guarded, they could also be afforded the greatest of luxuries when appropriate. Great fame and fortune could not only come to the owner, but the gladiators as well, and the best of the best were treated as such.

Some Romans would even sell themselves into slavery, including the arena, in order to pay off tremendous debts or in an effort to become famous.

Slavery and the Law
There were a number of Roman laws regarding slavery, and these too, changed over time. In the Republican period, as already suggested, slaves had no rights and were always subject to the whims of their owners.

They did have some legal standing, however. They were allowed to act as witnesses in trials, and could gain freedom either through their owner’s gratitude after loyal service or by buying it through the meager earnings they might collect over a lifetime of service. For example, owners in the Republic had the right to kill or mutilate slaves at a whim, but later imperial laws took this right away, though in practice this law could be largely ignored.

How Was Slavery Affected by a Changing Empire?
As the empire changed, and social conditions along with it, the spread of slavery slowed and eventually was transformed. The Christian church and its policies regarding bondage helped alter the conditional mindset of the populace, despite the fact that it and its priest often owned slaves as well.

More importantly perhaps than the religious notions, however, were the economic and even military conditions of the time. As Roman military objectives were altered from one of conquest to border defense, the continual mass influx of new slave labor ceased. The cost to purchase slaves along with a completely destablized economy made employment of the free masses at cheap wages a far more attractive alternative.

The shift from central Roman Imperial power to local lords, kings and feudalism brought about a new condition of serf or peasant labor where the masses were not necessarily owned slaves but were tied directly to the land owned by these local lords. While in theory this evolution from ancient slavery to middle age European serfdom may have been more attractive, the conditions of the time and the drastically limited personal opportunities may have been far worse, or at least no better than the ancient Roman form of slavery.

Pandemic and the Roman Foundations of Property

In search of a good article explaining and applying the concept in Rome of jus utendi et abutendi, and not finding one, I discovered this interesting article which examines two concepts which are relevent today. The ideas of jus utendi and of salus populi suprema lex esto are taken together to see if there is a “golden mean” between the two.

Pandemic and the Roman Foundations of Property

by Leonidas Zelmanovitz, May 22, 2020, Law and Liberty

The maxims of Roman law—the fruit of centuries of case law—became the foundation of Western jurisprudence and moral teaching thanks to the wisdom of their ethical insights and the internal logic of the legal corpus they were part of. A substantial part of the legal thinking and moral teaching in the West is based on precepts of Roman law, as any educated person knows.

Let us consider two of those maxims, as they may help us navigate the crisis which has resulted from the current pandemic. First, the definition of property in Roman law included the right to use and abuse one’s own within the limits of the law: jus utendi et abutendi re suâ, guatenus juris ratio patitur. Second, salus populi suprema lex esto, or “the safety of the people shall be the supreme law,” was stipulated as early as the Law of the Twelve Tables (450 BC) and was restated by Cicero.

Taking them together, we see that Roman law granted property owners an ample sphere of discretion, yet property rights were not absolute: they were limited by law, with the safety of the community sometimes taking precedence over other considerations. Looking at how these principles are balanced in the modern world can give us some useful insight into economic flourishing and the policy response to our current pandemic.

Property Rights and Economic Flourishing

In modern times, Hayek taught us that economic efficiency is a result of an institutional setting under which individuals are allowed to benefit from their knowledge of particular circumstances. A regime of private property rights that grants ample freedom to individuals to dispose of what is theirs provides such incentives for wealth creation—so much so that we are forced to conclude that faster economic growth must be associated with greater freedom for individuals to interact as defined by the scope of the property rights they possess. In other words, those societies that firmly protect the first of our two maxims typically see greater economic flourishing.

A case in point is “Communist” China. There is no question that the Chinese regime is brutal, non-representative, and truly authoritarian. Their dictatorship may well have made the pandemic worse by their lack of transparency, intended either to save face or to intentionally impose the same economic pain they were suffering on the rest of the world. But the almost unbelievable creation of wealth that has taken place under its rule in the last 40 years is evidence that, regardless of other liberties they lack, the Chinese people have experienced, in certain respects, an expanded freedom to interact and greater assurance that they may keep for themselves the fruits of their efforts, even as the peoples of the United States and Western Europe have seen such rights curtailed the same period.

Counterintuitive as it may be, we may realize that this is indeed the case when we think of how many years it takes to get a license to build anything in the United States. The number of persons with “veto” power over what other people can do with their property—local officials, environmental agencies, district attorneys, leaders of neighborhood associations, and a plethora of other rent-seekers—is astonishing. “How, we ask, could our society have regressed to the point where a bridge that could be built in less than a year one century ago takes five times as long to repair today?” Larry Summers and Rachel Lipson pondered in a now-famous op-ed.

The fact is that western countries have an institutional setting that allows for less effective forms of human interaction and that is embodied, I argue, in weaker property rights than the ones we had a century ago or, recognizing the limits of such a claim, the ones emerging in China today.

Note that this is not an apology for authoritarian regimes, as I, for one, think that only a truly representative regime can, in the long run, protect individual rights, including property rights. The Faustian bargain offered by dictatorships makes for precarious protection of individual rights, and the aftermath of the current crisis may show us that. The fact remains, though, that China and the West have been moving in opposite directions when it comes to property rights in the last several decades. Both economies are reaping the rewards of their choices, and that should give us pause.

Property Rights and the Pandemic

That brings us to our current predicament. As the lockdown measures in the United States extend to more than seven weeks now, the media has been crowded with articles on how a lot of people are taking, apparently, a cavalier attitude towards the protective measures meant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Are these people doing so because they are ill-informed or do not know how to use their freedom? Is it not a moment for us to rethink the idea of freedom and free markets during uncertain times like the current one? These seem to be very interesting questions to consider, especially in light of the situation in New York City and the various responses to the pandemic. In trying to make sense of that, I will offer some initial thoughts before returning to the question of property rights.

One may recognize the prerogative of the state to reduce protections of property rights, but these powers are to be used sparingly if the state is to keep the legitimacy that comes from upholding the rule of law.

To be alive is to risk death. Anything you do in life carries a certain risk of death (taking a shower, taking a bus, eating a snack, etcetera). Different people, in different circumstances, have a different risk “preference.” For instance, Adam Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations that the pay of sailors and soldiers was low at his time because young people tend to be less concerned with risks. Furthermore, if you have money to buy food for you and your family and to pay your rent you are more inclined to stay home than if you do not. This is yet another reason for leaving individuals free to manage their property (and physical bodies) in the way they see fit.

So people may more or less rationally expose themselves to the risk of contagion, either because they have a low perception of risk or because they cannot afford to evade the risk. We should not say that people are “failing” to recognize the risks. We should say that their estimation of the risk (rightly or wrongly) leads them to take their chances, and that is an individual decision.

But the government has a responsibility for public health that trumps individual preferences. The salus populi maxim may help us here. The practical consequences of that maxim were, for example, that in case of a city fire, it was legitimate for the Roman state to burn a house to prevent the fire from spreading further, and the owner was not entitled to compensation. In case of an epidemic, it was deemed legitimate for Rome to quarantine the affected population. There are cases reported in our sources of people who starved to death inside of walled cities because such measures were applied heavy-handedly.

What we are seeing today is that governments all around the world are leaving very little room for individuals, health providers, and local governments to make their own decisions. The monopolization of testing, the licensing of new therapies, the extension of the confinement, all indicate that governments aren’t interested in balancing the salus populi principle with the jus utendi principle of individual property rights. If you add to this the politicians’ compulsion to signal that they are doing “something,” you can see the incentives to overreach and with that, to defenestrate any cost-benefit analysis.

Someone coming from a poor area is more likely to understand that some people simply do not have the wherewithal to stay home a month or two without work. There are people who, if they do not work, will not eat that day. It is clear that driving cars kills millions of people every year around the globe, but would we force people to stop driving cars if doing so is their only way to put food on their table?

The coronavirus is not like the fire spreading through ancient Rome. Its risks have been greatly exaggerated by models that assume people do not change their behavior spontaneously in response to perceived changes in the environment. This year, the number of deaths from all causes, and those just of respiratory diseases, in comparison with recent years confirms that. In the USA, for instance, so far this year, the deaths from all causes are just about what would be expected from the death rate in 2017-19. And in any event, in the absence of the possible invention of a vaccine (something for which we cannot afford to wait), there is really no other way to reduce mortality in the long run than by developing herd immunity.

Moreover, the authors of a recent paper using parameters from the pandemic in the US concluded that the economic devastation we are experiencing could be greatly reduced with no statistically significant increase in mortality if the lockdown were restricted to the elderly.

So, what to do? The only sensible thing for anyone trained as an economist, as a lawyer, or a social scientist is to call attention to the fundamentals of physical and social realities and try to help people to make sense of what is going on. Many people may then realize the madness of destroying the livelihood of so many, and start working to minimize this tragedy by lifting the lockdowns and establishing pro-growth policies moving forward.

A Golden Mean

Since Roman times, property rights have never been absolute. Still, there is a golden mean between the right to “use and abuse” one’s own property, and the extended “veto” powers that governments are exercising over one’s property today. That balance may allow for a more efficient satisfaction of human needs than what we have today. One may recognize the prerogative of the state to reduce protections of individual rights, including property rights, in cases the safety of the community so requires, but these powers are to be used sparingly, and for the shortest time possible, if the state is to keep the legitimacy that comes from upholding the rule of law.

Unwisely, in the last few months, we have burdened society with debt and created immense economic dislocation in an attempt to fight what we did not know how to fight (though we should have known, since plagues are as old as humanity).

Now it is time to reduce the costs of the production of new wealth, which will be sorely needed in the years to come. The way to allow for this greater wealth is to reestablish the balance between salus populi and jus utendi by reducing regulations and allowing broader rights to property ownership of everything, from land to ideas.

The Elm and the Vine

In Mons. Umberto Begnini’s Social History of the Church, he mentions or recounts the story from the Shepherd of Hermas, an early Christian writing, of the Elm and the Vine. Its allegorical form provides an illustration of an ideal or a system in how the harmony and mutual benificience of the rich and the poor are attained in a work for God.

As the vine is Supported by the Elm, So is the Rich Man Helped by the Prayer of the Poor.

The Pastor: Books First, Second, Third — The Pastor of Hermas

As I was walking in the field, and observing an elm and vine, and determining in my own mind respecting them and their fruits, the Shepherd appears to me, and says, “What is it that you are thinking about the elm and vine?” “I am considering,” I reply, “that they become each other exceedingly well.” “These two trees,” he continues, “are intended as an example for the servants of God.” “I would like to know,” said I, “the example which these trees you say, are intended to teach.” “Do you see,” he says, “the elm and the vine?” “I see them sir,” I replied. “This vine,” he continued, “produces fruit, and the elm is an unfruitful tree; but unless the vine be trained upon the elm, it cannot bear much fruit when extended at length upon the ground; [251] and the fruit which it does bear is rotten, because the plant is not suspended upon the elm. When, therefore, the vine is cast upon the elm, it yields fruit both from itself and from the elm. You see, moreover, that the elm also produces much fruit, not less than the vine, but even more; because,” [252] he continued, “the vine, when suspended upon the elm, yields much fruit, and good; but when thrown upon the ground, what it produces is small and rotten. This similitude, [253] therefore, is for the servants of God — for the poor man and for the rich.” “How so, sir?” said I; “explain the matter to me.” “Listen,” he said: “The rich man has much wealth, but is poor in matters relating to the Lord, because he is distracted about his riches; and he offers very few confessions and intercessions to the Lord, and those which he does offer are small and weak, and have no power above. But when the rich man refreshes [254] the poor, and assists him in his necessities, believing that what he does to the poor man will be able to find its reward with God — because the poor man is rich in intercession and confession, and his intercession has great power with God — then the rich man helps the poor in all things without hesitation; and the poor man, being helped by the rich, intercedes for him, giving thanks to God for him who bestows gifts upon him. And he still continues to interest himself zealously for the poor man, that his wants may be constantly supplied. For he knows that the intercession of the poor man is acceptable and influential [255] with God. Both, accordingly, accomplish their work. The poor man makes intercession; a work in which he is rich, which he received from the Lord, and with which he recompenses the master who helps him. And the rich man, in like manner, unhesitatingly bestows upon the poor man the riches which he received from the Lord. And this is a great work, and acceptable before God, because he understands the object of his wealth, and has given to the poor of the gifts of the Lord, and rightly discharged his service to Him. [256] Among men, however, the elm appears not to produce fruit, and they do not know nor understand that if a drought come, the elm, which contains water, nourishes the vine; and the vine, having an unfailing supply of water, yields double fruit both for itself and for the elm. So also poor men interceding with the Lord on behalf of the rich, increase their riches; and the rich, again, aiding the poor in their necessities, satisfy their souls. Both, therefore, are partners in the righteous work. He who does these things shall not be deserted by God, but shall be enrolled in the books of the living. Blessed are they who have riches, and who understand that they are from the Lord. [For they who are of that mind will be able to do some good. [257] ]”

[251] The Vatican reads: “Unless this vine be attached to the elm, and rest upon it, it cannot bear much fruit. For, lying upon the ground, it produces bad fruit, because it is not suspended upon the elm.”
[252] The Vatican here makes Hermas interrupt the Shepherd, and ask, “How greater than the vine?”
[253] [Based on James 1:9-11, 27, and ii. 1-9: introducing the heathen world to just ideas of human brotherhood, and the mutual relations of the poor and the rich.]
[254] The translation of the text is based on the Palatine. Lips. Reads: “When the rich man fills out upon the poor.” Hilgenfeld amends this: “When the rich man recovers breath upon the poor.” Neither gives sense. The Æthiopic has: “But if the rich man lean on the poor;” and the Greek of Hilgenfeld might mean: “When the rich man recovers his breath by leaning on the poor.” The Vatican is quite different: “When, therefore, the rich man helps the poor in those things which he needs, the poor man prays to the Lord for the rich man, and God bestows all blessings upon the rich man, because the poor man is rich in prayer, and his prayer has great merit with God. Then the rich man accordingly assists the poor man’s things, because he feels that he is fully heard (exaudiri) by the Lord; and the more willingly and unhesitatingly does he give him every help, and takes care that he wants for nothing. The poor man gives thanks to God for the rich man, because they do their duty in respect to the Lord (a Domino).”
[255] [I note this use of the word “influential,” because it was formerly denounced as an Americanism.]
[256] [Luke 12:42.]
[257] The sentence in brackets is not in Lips. It is taken from Pal.