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During the Numantine war Rome was menaced by a new danger, which revealed one of the plague-spots in the Republic. We have already had occasion to describe the decay of the free population in Italy, and the great increase in the number of slaves from the foreign conquests of the state.[59] As slaves were cheap, in consequence of the abundant supply, the masters did not care for their lives, and treated them with great barbarity. A great part of the land in Italy was turned into sheep-walks. The slaves were made responsible for the sheep committed to their care, and were left to supply themselves with food as they best could. It was an aggravation of their wretched lot, that almost all these slaves had once been freemen, and were not distinguished from their masters by any outward sign, like the negroes in the United States. In Sicily the free population had diminished even more than in Italy; and it was in this island that the first Servile War broke out.

Only once did he falter. In March, 1871, when the French sympathizers of his subjects exposed him as a German Prince and a Hohenzollern to great unpopularity, while the bankruptcy of the Jewish speculator to whom his railway schemes had been intrusted threw discredit upon his ideas of economic development, he summoned the members of the Provisional Government from whom he had accepted the crown and announced to them his decision to abdicate. Fortunately for Rumania, they succeeded in dissuading him from his purpose. The famous Conservative statesman, Lascar Catargi, formed a Ministry which held office for five years and enabled the ruler to turn the most dangerous corner of his reign. Thenceforward the path was comparatively clear, though by no means easy. It led to Rumanian participation in the Russo-Turkish war, to the conquest of national independence, and eventually, on May 22, 1881, to his coronation as King of Rumania, with a crown made of steel from a Turkish gun captured by Rumanian troops at Plevna.

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