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Chapter XVIII.—Reformation of Abuses at Rome by the Emperor Theodosius.

The emperor Theodosius during his short stay in Italy, conferred the greatest benefit on the city of Rome, by grants on the one hand, and abrogations on the other. His largesses were indeed very munificent; and he removed two most infamous abuses which existed in the city. One of them was the following: there were buildings of immense magnitude, erected in ancient Rome in former times, in which bread was made for distribution among the people.746746    In the earlier periods of Roman history the government undertook to regulate the price of corn, so as to protect the poorer classes; in time of scarcity the government was to purchase the grain and sell it at a moderate price. This provision was gradually changed into a dispensation of public charity, at first by the sale of the grain below cost, and afterwards by the gratuitous distribution of the same. Some time before the reign of Aurelian, 270–275 a.d., the distribution of grain seems to have given place to the distribution of bread. Such distribution was made after the reign of Constantine at Constantinople as well as at Rome. See Smith, Dict. of the Greek and Rom. Antiq., art. Leges Frumentariæ. Those who had the charge of these edifices, who Mancipes747747    Originally this name was applied to all farmers-general of the public revenues. See Smith, Dict. of Greek and Rom. Antiq., art. Manceps. were called in the Latin language, in process of time converted them into receptacles for thieves. Now as the bake-houses in these structures were placed underneath, they build taverns at the side of each, where they kept prostitutes; by which means they entrapped many of those who went thither either for the sake of refreshment, or to gratify their lusts, for by a certain mechanical contrivance they precipitated them from the tavern into the bake-house below. This was practiced chiefly upon strangers; and such as were in this way kidnapped were compelled to work in the bake-houses, where many of them were immured until old age, not being allowed to go out, and giving the impression to their friends that they were dead. It happened that one of the soldiers of the emperor Theodosius fell into this snare; who being shut up in the bake-house, and hindered from going out, drew a dagger which he wore and killed those who stood in his way: the rest being terrified, suffered him to escape. When the emperor was made acquainted with the circumstance he punished the Mancipes, and ordered these haunts of lawless and abandoned characters to be pulled down. This was one of the disgraceful nuisances of which the emperor purged the imperial city: the other was of this nature. When a woman was detected in adultery, they punished the delinquent not in the way of correction but rather of aggravation of her crime. For shutting her up in a narrow brothel, they obliged her to prostitute herself in a most disgusting manner; causing little bells to be rung at the time of the unclean deed that those who passed might not be ignorant of what was doing within. This was doubtless intended to brand the crime with greater ignominy in public opinion. As soon as the emperor was apprised of this indecent usage, he would by no means tolerate it; but having ordered the Sistra748748    Lit. = ‘bells.’ Cf. Smith, Dict. of Greek and Rom. Antiq., art. Sistrum. —for so these places of penal prostitution were denominated—to be pulled down, he appointed other laws for the punishment of adulteresses.749749    From a law of Constantine’s (Cod. 9. 30) whose genuineness is, however, disputed, the punishment of adultery was death. The same punishment appears to have been inflicted in specific cases mentioned by Am. Marcellinus. Rerum Gestarum, XXVII. 1. 28. Whence it appears that Socrates must have been misinformed concerning the facts mentioned here. 128Thus did the emperor Theodosius free the city from two of its most discreditable abuses: and when he had arranged all other affairs to his satisfaction, he left the emperor Valentinian at Rome, and returned himself with his son Honorius to Constantinople, and entered that city of the 10th of November, in the consulate of Tatian and Symmachus.750750    391 a.d.


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