My task from now on will be to trace the history in peace and of a free nation, governed by annually elected officers of state and subject not to the caprice of individual men, but to the overriding authority of law.
The hard–won liberty of Rome was rendered the more welcome, and the more fruitful, by the character of the last king, Tarquin the Proud. Earlier kings may all be considered, not unjustly, to have contributed to the city’s growth, making room for an expanding population, for the increase of which they, too, were responsible. They were all, in their way, successive ‘founders’ of Rome. Moreover it cannot be doubted that Brutus, who made for himself so great a name by the expulsion of Tarquin, would have done his country the greatest disservice, had he yielded too soon to his passion for liberty and forced the abdication of any of the previous kings. One has but to think of what the populace was like in those early days – a rabble of vagrants, mostly runaways and refugees – and to ask what would have happened if they had suddenly found themselves protected from all authority by inviolable sanctuary, and enjoying complete freedom of action, if not full political rights. In such circumstances, unrestrained by the power of the throne, they would, no doubt, have set sail on the stormy sea of democratic politics, swayed by the gusts of popular eloquence and quarrelling for power with the governing class of a city which did not even belong to them, before any real sense of community had had time to grow. That sense – the only true patriotism – comes slowly and springs from the heart: it is founded upon respect for the family and love of the soil. Premature ‘liberty’ of this kind would have been a disaster: we should have been torn to pieces by petty squabbles before we had ever reached political maturity, which, as things were, was made possible by the long quiet years under monarchical government; for it was that government which, as it were, nursed our strength and enabled us ultimately to produce sound fruit from liberty, as only a politically adult nation can.
Moreover the first step towards political liberty in Rome consisted in the fact that the consuls were annually elected magistrates – in the limitation, that is, not of their powers but of their period of office. The earliest consuls exercised the full powers of the kings, and carried all their insignia, with one exception – the most impressive of all – namely the ‘rods’. These were allowed to only one consul of the two, to avoid the duplication of this dreadful symbol of the power of life and death. Brutus by his colleague’s consent was the first to have the rods, and he proved as zealous in guarding liberty as he had been in demanding it. His first act was to make the people, while the taste of liberty was still fresh upon their tongues, swear a solemn oath never to allow any man to be king in Rome, hoping by this means to forestall future attempts by persuasion or bribery to restore the monarchy. He then turned his attention to strengthening the influence of the Senate, whose numbers had been reduced by the political murders of Tarquin; for this purpose he brought into it leading men of equestrian rank and made up its number to a total of three hundred. This, we are told, was the origin of the distinction between the ‘Fathers’ and the ‘Conscripts’: i.e. the original senators and those (the conscripts) who were later enrolled, or conscripted, as members of the senatorial body. The measure was wonderfully effective in promoting national unity and lessening friction between patricians and populace.
Attention was then paid to matters of state worship, and an official appointed with the title Rex Sacrificolus – ‘King Sacrificer’. Under the monarchy certain public religious ceremonies had been conducted by the kings in person, and the object of this new appointment was to fill the gap now that kings were no more; the office, however, was subordinated to that of the pontifex, to save appearances; for it was felt that, in conjunction with the title of ‘King’, it might in some way be felt to be anti–republican. I cannot help wondering, myself, whether the precautions taken at this time to safeguard liberty even in the smallest details were not excessive: a notable instance concerned one of the consuls, Tarquinius Collatinus, whose sole offence was the fact that his name – Tarquin – was universally detested. The Tarquins, people felt, were all too much accustomed to absolute power: it had begun with Priscus, and the reign of Tullius had not sufficed to make Tarquin the Proud forget his supposed claim upon the throne, or to regard it as another’s property; on the contrary he had resorted to violence to recover what he pretended to consider his rightful inheritance. And now, after his deposition, power was in the hands of another Tarquin – Collatinus. To every Tarquin power was the breath of life; it was a name of ill omen, dangerous to liberty. This sort of talk began with a few people anxious to test public opinion; gradually it spread, until, when the whole country was alive with it, Brutus summoned a mass meeting of the commons, whose suspicions were by then thoroughly aroused. He opened his address by repeating the people’s oath – that they would allow no man to be king and no man to live in Rome who threatened her liberties. ‘The sanctity of this oath,’ he continued, ‘we must guard with all our might; we must neglect no measure which has any bearing upon it. Personal considerations make it painful to say what I have to say: indeed, only the love I bear my country could have extorted it from me; but the fact is, the people of Rome do not believe in the reality of the freedom they have won. They are convinced that to true liberty an insuperable barrier still remains: the presence, namely, amongst us, and – worse – the promotion to power of a member of the royal family, himself bearing that hated name.’
Then turning to Collatinus, ‘Lucius Tarquinius,’ he cried, ‘Rome is afraid. It is in your hands to allay her fears. Believe us when we say we remember your part in the expulsion of the kings; crown that service now by ridding us of the royal name. I will see to it that you lose nothing; you will keep possession of your property – nay, if it is not enough, we will add to it handsomely. Leave us as a friend; free your country from her fear, however vain it may be. Of this all Rome is convinced – that with the family of Tarquin monarchy will be gone for ever.’
Collatinus was so much astonished by this strange and unexpected request, that for a moment he was speechless. Then, before he could reply, a number of people pressed in on him, begging with the greatest insistence that he would do as Brutus asked. They were all men of distinction, but their entreaties might have had little effect, without the powerful backing of Spurius Lucretius. Lucretius was older than Collatinus and much respected in public life; he was, moreover, the father of Collatinus’s wife, so when he began to use all the arts of prayer and persuasion to induce his son–in–law to yield to the unanimous feeling of Rome, he carried his point. Collatinus, fearing that when his year of office was over he would not only still be an object of hostility but might well be publicly disgraced and forced to submit to the confiscation of his property, resigned the consulship and went into voluntary exile at Lavinium, taking with him everything he possessed. Thereupon, in accordance with a decree of the Senate, Brutus brought before the people the proposal that every member of the Tarquin family should be banished from Rome. Elections were then held, and Publius Valerius, who had assisted Brutus in the expulsion of the kings, was chosen to fill the vacant consulship.
Everybody knew that war with the Tarquins was sure to come; it was, however, unexpectedly delayed, and the first move in the struggle took a form which no one had anticipated. Treason within the city itself nearly cost Rome her liberty. It began with a group of young aristocrats who had found life under the monarchy very agreeable; accustomed to associate with the younger members of the royal family, they had been able to give a freer rein to their appetites and to live the dissolute and irresponsible life of the court. Under the new dispensation they missed the freedom to do as they pleased, and began to complain that what might be liberty for others was more like slavery for themselves. A king, they argued, was, after all, a human being, and there was a chance of getting from him what one wanted, rightly or wrongly; under a monarchy there was room for influence and favour; a king could be angry, and forgive; he knew the difference between an enemy and a friend. Law, on the other hand, was impersonal and inexorable. Law had no ears. An excellent thing, no doubt, for paupers, it was worse than useless for the great, as it admitted no relaxation or indulgence towards a man who ventured beyond the bounds of mediocrity. Human nature not being perfect, to suppose that a man could live in pure innocence under the law was, to put it mildly, risky.
Now it happened about this time, very opportunely for the malcontents, that a mission from the Tarquins arrived in Rome. Its sole ostensible object was to recover the Tarquins’ property; no mention was made of their return. The envoys were granted a hearing in the Senate, and for the next few days the matter remained under discussion, the general opinion being that a refusal to restore the property would be taken as a pretext for war, while the result of consent would merely be to add to the resources of the enemy. Tarquin’s envoys, meanwhile, did not remain idle, and, still under cover of their original request, began secret negotiations for the recovery of the throne. As if in pursuance of their legitimate mission, they visited a number of the young nobles to find out what their attitude to the situation was likely to be; some showed evident sympathy, and to these the envoys gave letters from the Tarquins and proceeded to discuss arrangements for secretly admitting them into Rome under cover of darkness.
The Vitellii and Aquilii brothers were the first to be entrusted with the project. A sister of the Vitellii had married Brutus, and their two sons, Titus and Tiberius, already on the verge of manhood, were persuaded by their uncles to play a part in the conspiracy. A number of other young men of patrician rank had a share in the secret, but their names are forgotten.
Meanwhile a majority in the Senate had voted for the return of the Tarquins’ property. The envoys were allowed by the consuls to prolong their stay in Rome in order to collect transport for the furniture and moveables and they took advantage of this to have frequent consultations with the young conspirators, continually pressing them to give them something in writing which they could show to the Tarquins. For without written evidence, they argued, how in a matter of such importance could the royal family be brought to believe in the truth of their statements? The conspirators allowed themselves to be persuaded. Letters were written and signed – letters which, intended to prove their good faith, proved, in the event, their guilt.
The day before the envoys were due to leave Rome, they and the conspirators met for supper in the house of the Vitellii. During the evening they sent the servants from the room and, supposing that they were alone, began talking over, as men will, the details of their plot, which still had for them all the excitement of novelty. Unluckily, however, a slave overheard what they were saying: he had already guessed what was going on, and was waiting for the delivery to Tarquin’s envoys of the letters, the seizure of which would provide him with conclusive evidence. As soon as he was aware that the documents had changed hands, he laid his information before the consuls. The consuls at once left home to arrest the criminals; the plot was nipped in the bud without creating any public disturbance, and particular care was taken to ensure possession of the letters. The traitors were immediately imprisoned; about the treatment of the envoys there was some hesitation: it might well have been argued that their actions put them into the position of an enemy, but they were allowed the customary privilege of representatives of a foreign power.
The question of the Tarquins’ property was brought up in the Senate for reconsideration. This time indignation prevailed; the Senate refused to restore it, and refused to confiscate it officially; instead, they let the people loose on it to take what they pleased, hoping that once the lower orders had stained their hands with the gold of kings they would lose for ever all hope of making peace with them again. The tract of land between the city and the Tiber, formerly owned by the Tarquins, was consecrated to Mars, and became known as the Campus Martius. It is said that there was a crop of grain, already ripe, on the land there; and because, for religious reasons, it could not be used for food, it was cut, stalks and all, by hundreds of men all working together, packed into baskets and thrown into the Tiber. The river was low, as it was in the heat of midsummer, and the grain stuck on the bottom in the shallow water and piled up into muddy heaps, so that with the addition of other refuse which floated downstream an island was gradually formed. Later, no doubt, work was done to increase and strengthen it, and to make the whole area high enough and solid enough to carry buildings, even temples and porticoes.
When everything that belonged to the Tarquins had been pillaged and gutted by the populace, the traitors received their sentence, and their punishment. It was a memorable scene: for the consular office imposed upon a father the duty of exacting the supreme penalty from his sons, so that he who, of all men, should have been spared the sight of their suffering, was the one whom fate ordained to enforce it. The condemned criminals were bound to the stake; all were young men of the best blood in Rome, but only the consul’s sons drew the eyes of the spectators; the others, for all the interest they aroused, might have come from the gutter. There was pity for their punishment, and greater pity for the crime which had brought it upon them; in every heart was a sort of incredulous sorrow for such treachery at such a time: that these young men, in the very year when Rome was liberated – and by their father’s hand – when the newly created consulship had fallen first to a member of their own family, should have brought themselves to betray the entire population of Rome, high and low alike, and all her gods, to a man who had once been a haughty tyrant and now, from his place of exile, was planning her destruction!
The consuls took their seats on the tribunal; the lictors were ordered to carry out the sentence. The prisoners were stripped, flogged, and beheaded. Throughout the pitiful scene all eyes were on the father’s face, where a father’s anguish was plain to see.
After the execution, the informer was rewarded; in addition to a gift of money he was granted his liberty with citizen rights. It was hoped that this measure might double the effect of the execution as a deterrent. The informer is said to have been the first slave to be emancipated by touching with the vindicta (staff); some think that the word vindicta was derived from his name, Vindicius. It was the custom subsequently to regard all slaves who were freed in this way as admitted to the rights of citizenship.
News of these events had a profound effect upon Tarquin; disappointed by the failure of his grand design, he was filled with violent resentment against Rome. One way – the way of treachery – being blocked, he turned to the only alternative, the preparation of open war. For this purpose he visited the various Etruscan towns in order to solicit their support, and his best hopes of success were centred on Veii and Tarquinii. ‘I am of the same blood as you,’ – so ran his argument – ‘yesterday I was a king in no mean kingdom; now I am a penniless exile. Do not let me perish with my young sons before your eyes. Other men have been called from abroad to reign in Rome; I, when the throne was mine, when I was extending Roman dominion by my conquests, was driven from power by a foul conspiracy in which my own kindred took part. My enemies could find no worthy successor, no one man fit to reign; so they snatched at fragments of power – broke it and divided it; they let the rabble, like a gang of thieves, plunder my wealth, that even the lowest might have a share of the guilt. It is my purpose to recover my country and my throne, to punish my ungrateful subjects. I appeal to you for aid. March with me to avenge the injuries you, too, have suffered in the past – your many defeats in battle and the loss of your lands.’
The men of Veii were not deaf to this appeal; it touched them on the quick, and Tarquin’s words were met by the sturdy response that every man was ready to wipe out the stain of old defeats and win back what they had lost in war. At Tarquinii the appeal was no less successful but for a different reason: there it was the name that told; all felt it was a fine thing that a man of their blood should reign in Rome. Accordingly two contingents, one from each town, joined Tarquin, bent upon the conquest of Rome and the recovery of the throne for their leader.
As the invading forces crossed the frontier, the consuls marched to meet them, Valerius in command of the infantry in square formation, Brutus feeling ahead with the mounted troops. The dispositions of the enemy were similar, the cavalry under the command of the king’s son Arruns in the van, Tarquin himself following up with the infantry. While the hostile forces were still some distance apart, Arruns recognized the consul by his lictors, and presently, coming near enough to distinguish his features, knew without doubt that it was Brutus. ‘There is the man,’ he cited in a burst of anger, ‘who drove us from our country! Look how he comes swaggering on, with all the marks of a power and dignity which by right are ours! Avenge, O God of battles, this insult to a king!’ Setting spurs to his horse, he made straight for the consul. Brutus was aware of the threat – a general was expected in those days to play his part in the actual fighting – and eagerly accepted the challenge. The two met with extreme violence, each without a thought for his own safety, intent only to strike his enemy down; and such weight was behind their thrust that the spear of each drove clean through his adversary’s shield deep into his body, and both fell dying to the ground.
By then a general cavalry engagement had begun, and soon afterwards the infantry forces appeared upon the scene. The battle which followed was indecisive; both armies were successful on the right, unsuccessful on the left; the contingent from Veii, accustomed to defeat by Rome, was once more routed, while the men of Tarquinii, who had no previous experience against Roman troops, not only held firm but forced the Roman left to withdraw. Oddly enough, however, though the engagement was indecisive, Tarquin and his Etruscans seem to have been suddenly overcome by despair of success, and the contingents from Veii and Tarquinii both dispersed during the night and went home, as if all were lost. There is a strange story that in the silence of the night after the battle a great voice, supposedly the voice of Silvanus, was heard from the depths of the Arsian wood, saying that the Etruscans had lost one more man in the fight than the Romans and the Romans were therefore victorious. Legends apart, there is no doubt that the Romans left the fields as conquerors and that their enemies admitted defeat, for when at dawn next morning not a man of the Etruscan army remained to be seen, the consul Valerius marched back to Rome with the spoils of battle, to celebrate his triumph. Brutus was given as splendid a funeral as those early days could afford; but an even greater tribute to him was the nation’s sorrow, of which the most poignant expression was given by the women of Rome, who mourned him for a year, as a father. It was their special tribute to his fierce championship of a woman’s honour.
The passions of the mob are notoriously fickle, and Valerius, the surviving consul, soon lost his popularity and came not only to be disliked but suspected on the gravest possible grounds. Rumour had it that he was aiming at the monarchy. The reasons for suspicion were two: first, because he had taken no steps to supply the place of his dead colleague; secondly, because he was building himself a house on the top of the Velia, which might well, in such a position, be turned into an impregnable fortress. Valerius, deeply distressed by the prevalence of these unworthy rumours, called a mass meeting of the people, and, before mounting the platform, ordered his lictors, as a gesture of sympathy with popular feeling, to lower their rods. The gesture was well received; the lowering of the fasces – the emblem of authority – in the people’s presence was taken as an admission that the majesty of power was vested in themselves rather than in the consul. Valerius then began to speak: he dwelt on the good fortune of his colleague who, having set Rome free, had held the highest office in the state, and had died fighting for his country at the very peak of his fame, before the breath of envy could tarnish its brightness. ‘While I,’ he went on, ‘have outlived my good name; I have survived only to face your accusations and your hate. Once hailed as a liberator of my country, I have sunk in your eyes to the baseness of traitors like the Aquilii and Vitellii. Will you never find in any man merit so tried and tested as to be above suspicion? How could I, the bitterest enemy of monarchy, ever have believed that I should face a charge of coveting a throne? If I lived in the fortress of the Capitol itself, could I ever have thought that my own fellow–citizens would be afraid of me? Can my reputation be blown away by so light a breath? Are the foundations of my honour so insecure that you judge me more by where I live than by what I am? No, my friends: no house of mine shall threaten your liberties. The Velia shall hold no dangers. I’ll build my house on the level – more, I’ll build it at the very base of the hill, so that you can live above me and keep a wary eye on the fellow–citizen you mistrust. Houses on the Velia must be reserved for men better to be trusted with Rome’s liberty than I am.’
The building material was all brought down to the bottom of the hill, and the house erected on the spot where the shrine of Vica Pota now stands.
Valerius then proceeded to propose measures which not only cleared him of the suspicion of monarchical ambitions but actually turned him into a popular democratic figure, and earned him the title of Publicola or the People’s Friend. The chief of these measures were the provision of the right of appeal to the people against a decision of the magistrates, and loss of all civil rights for anyone convicted of plotting for the return of the monarchy. As Valerius was anxious to have all the credit for these popular measures, he did not hold elections for the consular office left vacant by Brutus’s death until they were carried through. Spurius Lucretius was finally elected, but he was an old man, unfit for the heavy strain the office imposed; he died a few days later and was succeeded by Marcus Horatius Pulvillus. Some old chroniclers make no mention of Lucretius, but state that Brutus was succeeded directly by Horatius. Probably Lucretius’s consulship was forgotten as it was not marked by any event of importance.
The temple of Jupiter on the Capitol had not yet been dedicated, and the two consuls now drew lots to determine which of them should perform the ceremony. The lot fell to Horatius, and Publicola proceeded to conduct the operations against Veii. Publicola’s relatives were unreasonably hurt that the duty of dedicating so splendid a temple should fall to Horatius, and did everything they could to prevent it. When all else failed, and Horatius, with his hand on the door–post, was actually in the middle of his prayer, they broke in on the ceremony with the news that his son was dead, implying that while his house was in mourning he was not in a position to dedicate a temple. Horatius either did not believe the message, or showed extraordinary presence of mind – which, we are not told, nor is it easy to guess; but in any case the news had so little effect that he merely gave instructions for his son’s funeral and went on to complete the ceremony of dedication.
This completes the tale of Rome’s achievements at home and abroad during the first year after the expulsion of the kings. For the year following the consuls were Valerius, for a second term, and Titus Lucretius.
The Tarquins, meanwhile, had taken refuge at the court of Lars Porsena, the king of Clusium. By every means in their power they tried to win his support, now begging him not to allow fellow Etruscans, men of the same blood as himself, to continue living in penniless exile, now warning him of the dangerous consequences of letting republicanism go unavenged. The expulsion of kings, they urged, once it had begun, might well become common practice; liberty was an attractive idea, and unless reigning monarchs defended their thrones as vigorously as states now seemed to be trying to destroy them, all order and subordination would collapse; nothing would be left in any country but flat equality; greatness and eminence would be gone for ever. Monarchy, the noblest thing in heaven or on earth, was nearing its end. Porsena, who felt that his own security would be increased by restoring the monarchy in Rome, and also that Etruscan prestige would be enhanced if the king were of Etruscan blood, was convinced by these arguments and lost no time in invading Roman territory.
Never before had there been such consternation in the Senate, so powerful was Clusium at that time and so great the fame of Porsena. Nor was the menace of Porsena the only cause for alarm: the Roman populace itself was hardly less to be feared, for they might well be scared into admitting the Tarquins into the city and buying peace even at the price of servitude. To secure their support, therefore, the Senate granted them a number of favours, especially in the matter of food supplies. Missions were sent to Cumae and the Volscians to purchase grain; the monopoly in salt, the price of which was high, was taken from private individuals and transferred wholly to state control; the commons were exempted from tolls and taxes, the loss of revenue being made up by the rich, who could afford it; the poor, it was said, made contribution enough if they reared children. These concessions proved wonderfully effective, for during the misery and privation of the subsequent blockade the city remained united – so closely, indeed, that the poorest in Rome hated the very name of ‘king’ as bitterly as did the great. Wise government in this crisis gave the Senate greater popularity, in the true sense of the word, than was ever won by a demagogue in after years.
On the approach of the Etruscan army, the Romans abandoned their farmsteads and moved into the city. Garrisons were posted. In some sections the city walls seemed sufficient protection, in others the barrier of the Tiber. The most vulnerable point was the wooden bridge, and the Etruscans would have crossed it and forced an entrance into the city, had it not been for the courage of one man, Horatius Cocles – that great soldier whom the fortune of Rome gave to be her shield on that day of peril. Horatius was on guard at the bridge when the Janiculum was captured by a sudden attack. The enemy forces came pouring down the hill, while the Roman troops, throwing away their weapons, were behaving more like an undisciplined rabble than a fighting force. Horatius acted promptly: as his routed comrades approached the bridge, he stopped as many as he could catch and compelled them to listen to him. ‘By God,’ he cried, ‘can’t you see that if you desert your post escape is hopeless? If you leave the bridge open in your rear, there will soon be more of them in the Palatine and the Capitol than on the Janiculum.’ Urging them with all the power at his command to destroy the bridge by fire or steel or any means they could muster, he offered to hold up the Etruscan advance, so far as was possible, alone. Proudly he took his stand at the outer end of the bridge; conspicuous amongst the rout of fugitives, sword and shield ready for action, he prepared himself for close combat, one man against an army. The advancing enemy paused in sheer astonishment at such reckless courage. Two other men, Spurius Lartius and Titus Herminius, both aristocrats with a fine military record, were ashamed to leave Horatius alone, and with their support he won through the first few minutes of desperate danger. Soon, however, he forced them to save themselves and leave him; for little was now left of the bridge, and the demolition squads were calling them back before it was too late. Once more Horatius stood alone; with defiance in his eyes he confronted the Etruscan chivalry, challenging one after another to single combat, and mocking them all as tyrants’ slaves who, careless of their own liberty, were coming to destroy the liberty of others. For a while they hung back, each waiting for his neighbour to make the first move, until shame at the unequal battle drove them to action, and with a fierce cry they hurled their spears at the solitary figure which barred their way. Horatius caught the missiles on his shield and, resolute as ever, straddled the bridge and held his ground. The Etruscans moved forward, and would have thrust him aside by the sheer weight of numbers, but their advance was suddenly checked by the crash of the falling bridge and the simultaneous shout of triumph from the Roman soldiers who had done their work in time. The Etruscans could only stare in bewilderment as Horatius, with a prayer to Father Tiber to bless him and his sword, plunged fully armed into the water and swam, through the missiles which fell thick about him, safely to the other side where his friends were waiting to receive him. It was a noble piece of work – legendary, maybe, but destined to be celebrated in story through the years to come.
For such courage the country showed its gratitude. A statue of Horatius was placed in the Comitium, and he was granted as much land as he could drive a plough round in a day. In addition to public honours many individuals marked their admiration of his exploit in the very hard times which were to follow, by going short themselves in order to contribute something, whatever they could afford, to his support.
Thwarted in his attempt to take the city by assault, Porsena now turned to siege operations. He garrisoned the Janiculum, took up a position on the flat ground near the river, and collected a number of vessels to prevent supplies from being brought into Rome and also to ferry troops across whenever, or wherever, an opportunity for a raid should present itself. His control over the whole outlying territory was soon so complete that, in addition to other sorts of property, all cattle had to be brought within the defences of the city, and nobody dared to drive them out to pasture. In point of fact, however, these excessive precautions were dictated by policy as much as by fear; for Valerius was awaiting his chance of really effective countermeasures, and was prepared to ignore minor raids by the enemy in the hope of striking a heavier blow, should he succeed in surprising a large body of them when they were intent only on their depredations and not expecting an attack. With this in mind, he gave orders that on the following day cattle should be driven out in large numbers through the Esquiline gate – the furthest from the enemy lines; the Etruscans, he was convinced, would soon know what was happening, as slaves were constantly deserting to escape the shortages of the blockade. Nor was he mistaken; a deserter took the information to the Etruscan lines, with the result that they crossed the river in much greater force than usual, expecting a grand haul. Valerius then issued his orders: Titus Herminius was to lie concealed with a small body of troops two miles out on the Gabinian Road, and Spurius Lartius was to take a company of lightly armed men to the Colline Gate, wait there till the enemy passed, and then cut off their line of retreat to the river. The consul Lucretius went out with a few companies by the Naevian Gate, and Valerius with a picked force by the Caelian. The consuls and their parties were the first to be seen by the enemy.
Immediately the engagement began, Herminius fell upon the rear of the Etruscans, who had turned to meet Lucretius. From the Colline and Naevian Gates the battle–cry was raised. The raiders were surrounded; and, being no match for the Roman troops and unable to evade them, were cut to pieces. The Etruscans learned their lesson and attempted no further raids on a similar scale.
The siege none the less continued; food in the city was scarce and dear, and Porsena’s hopes rose of being able to starve it into submission without risking an assault. It was in these circumstances that the young aristocrat Gaius Mucius performed his famous act of heroism. In the days of her servitude under the monarchy Rome had never, in any war, suffered the humiliation of a siege, and Mucius was so deeply conscious of the shame of the present situation, when, after winning their liberty, the Romans were blockaded by – of all people – the Etruscans, whom they had so often defeated in the field, that he determined to vindicate the national pride by a bold stroke. His first thought was to make his way, on his own initiative, into the enemy lines; but there was a risk, if he attempted this without anybody’s knowledge and without the authorization of the consuls, of being arrested by the guards as a deserter – a charge only too plausible, conditions in Rome being what they were. Accordingly he changed his mind, and presented himself in the Senate. ‘I wish,’ he said, ‘to cross the river and to enter, if I can, the enemy’s lines. My object is neither plunder nor reprisals, but, with the help of God, something more important than either.’
The Senate granted him permission to proceed and he started on his way, a dagger concealed in his clothing. Arrived at the Etruscan camp, he took his stand, in the crowd, close to the raised platform where the king was sitting. A great many people were present, as it was pay–day for the army. By the side of the king sat his secretary, very busy; he was dressed much like his master, and, as most of the men addressed themselves to him, Mucius could not be sure which was the secretary and which the king. Fearing to inquire, lest his ignorance should betray him, he took a chance – and stabbed the secretary. There was a cry of alarm; he was seized by the guards as he tried to force his way through the crowd with his blood–stained dagger, and dragged back to where Porsena was sitting. Help there was none, and his situation was desperate indeed: but he never flinched and, when he spoke, his proud words were those of a man who inspires fear, but feels none. ‘I am a Roman,’ he said to the king; ‘my name is Gaius Mucius. I came here to kill you – my enemy. I have as much courage to die as to kill. It is our Roman way to do and to suffer bravely. Nor am I alone in my resolve against your life; behind me is a long line of men eager for the same honour. Gird yourself, if you will, for the struggle – a struggle for your life from hour to hour, with an armed enemy always at your door. That is the war we declare against you: you need fear no action in the field, army against army; it will be fought against you alone, by one of us at a time.’
Porsena in rage and alarm ordered the prisoner to be burnt alive unless he at once divulged the plot thus obscurely hinted at, where upon Mucius, crying: ‘See how cheap men hold their bodies when they care only for honour!’ thrust his right hand into the fire which had been kindled for a sacrifice, and let it burn there as if he were unconscious of the pain. Porsena was so astonished by the young man’s almost superhuman endurance that he leapt to his feet and ordered his guards to drag him from the altar. ‘Go free,’ he said; ‘you have dared to be a worse enemy to yourself than to me. I should bless your courage, if it lay with my country to dispose of it. But, as that cannot be, I, as an honourable enemy, grant you pardon, life, and liberty.’
‘Since you respect courage,’ Mucius replied, as if he were thanking him for his generosity, ‘I will tell you in gratitude what you could not force from me by threats. There are three hundred of us in Rome, all young like myself, and all of noble blood, who have sworn an attempt upon your life in this fashion. It was I who drew the first lot; the rest will follow, each in his turn and time, until fortune favour us and we have got you.’
The release of Mucius (who was afterwards known as Scaevola, or the Left–Handed Man, from the loss of his right hand) was quickly followed by the arrival in Rome of envoys from Porsena. The first attempt upon his life, foiled only by a lucky mistake, and the prospect of having to face the same thing again from every one of the remaining conspirators, had so shaken the king that he was coming forward with proposals for peace. The proposals contained a demand for the restoration of the Tarquins. Porsena knew well enough that it would be refused – as indeed it was – but out of deference to the Tarquin family he could hardly avoid making it. He was successful, however, in obtaining the return of captured territory to Veii, and in forcing the Romans to give hostages if they wanted the Etruscan garrison withdrawn from the Janiculum. Peace was made on these terms: Porsena withdrew his troops from the Janiculum and evacuated Roman territory. Caius Mucius was rewarded by the Senate with a grant of land west of the river; it was known subsequently as the Mucian Meadows.
The public recognition of Mucius’s heroism inspired even the women of Rome to emulate him. A notable instance is the story of Cloelia. Cloelia, an unmarried girl, was one of the hostages, held, as it happened, in the Etruscan lines not far from the Tiber; one day, with a number of other girls who had consented to follow her, she eluded the guards, swam across the river under a hail of missiles, and brought her company safe to Rome, where they were all restored to their families. Porsena was furious, and sent to Rome to demand Cloelia’s return – adding that the loss of the other girls did not trouble him; soon, however, his anger gave way to admiration of her more than masculine courage: Horatius and Mucius, he declared, were not to be compared with her, and he made it clear that though he would regard the treaty as broken if she were not returned, he would nevertheless, if the Romans surrendered her, himself restore her safe and sound to her family. Both sides acted honourably: the Romans, as the terms of the treaty required, sent the hostage back, and Porsena not only protected the brave girl but praised her publicly, and marked his appreciation of her exploit by handing over to her discretion a certain number of the other hostages, to be chosen by herself. She is said to have chosen the young boys, a choice in accordance with her maiden modesty: the other hostages, moreover, agreed that in liberating them from the enemy those should be first considered who were most subject to injurious treatment. Friendly relations were thus restored, and the Romans paid tribute to Cloelia’s courage, unprecedented in a woman, by an equally unprecedented honour: a statue representing her on horseback was set up at the top of the Sacred Way.
The custom, which still survives when enemy goods are put up for auction, of offering for sale, amongst other formalities, the ‘property of King Porsena’, is inconsistent with the fact that Porsena withdrew from Roman territory in the peaceful manner above described. The practice may have begun during the war and have been retained afterwards; but it is also possible that it originated in circumstances quite different from what is suggested by a public notice that an enemy’s property is up for sale. The most credible explanation is that when Porsena withdrew from the Janiculum he made over to the Romans, who were short of food after the long siege, all the supplies which he had collected at his headquarters from the rich neighbouring lands of Etruria, and that these supplies were then regularly offered for sale, to prevent them from being pillaged by the populace; they were known as ‘Porsena’s property’, or ‘Porsena’s stores’, from appreciation of the gift rather than because they were Porsena’s property up for sale – in any case his property was not in Roman hands.
Having brought his army so far a field, Porsena felt it was a pity to have nothing to show for it, so when he had finally abandoned his attempt upon Rome, he sent a contingent under his son Arruns to attack Aricia. The first effect of this unexpected threat upon the people of the town was consternation; they rallied, however, and the arrival of reinforcements from Cumae and the Latin peoples so raised their hopes of a successful resistance that they ventured to challenge the Etruscans in the field. The engagement began with an Etruscan attack of such weight and fury that the Arician lines were completely disorganized; but the men of Cumae saved the day. Meeting force by strategy, they moved to the flank to allow the enemy to sweep past them, then turned and attacked them in the rear, with the result that the Etruscans were caught in a trap and cut to pieces almost in the moment of victory. Arruns was killed, and a handful of Etruscan soldiers, having nowhere nearer to go to, found their way to Rome, where they arrived unarmed and helpless and with no resource but to throw themselves on the Romans’ mercy. They were kindly received and billeted in various houses. Some, when their wounds were healed, went home to tell their friends of the generous treatment they had received, but the majority of them were induced to stay in Rome by their growing affection both for the city and for their hosts. They were allowed to live in a district which came to be known as the Tuscan Quarter.
The next consuls were Publius Lucretius and Publius Valerius Publicola. In the latter year Porsena made his final effort to procure Tarquin’s restoration to power. His envoys on their arrival in Rome were told that the Senate would dispatch a mission to the king, and this was immediately done. The members of the mission were all senators of the highest distinction. It would have been easy enough, they declared, to give a curt refusal, on the spot, to Porsena’s overtures. That was not the reason why Rome had sent representatives of such distinction rather than answer the Etruscan envoys directly; the reason was that the Romans wished the whole question of the restoration to be closed once and for all. Relations between Rome and Clusium were now excellent; it would be a pity, therefore, to risk the mutual irritation of a repeated request, on the one side, met, on the other, by a repeated refusal; and this would be bound to occur if Porsena continued to ask for what was incompatible with Roman liberty, and the Romans – short of allowing their good nature to prove their ruin – continued to refuse it to a man to whom they would not willingly refuse anything. Rome was no longer a monarchy; she enjoyed free institutions. The people of Rome would sooner open their gates to an enemy than to a king. There was not a man in the city who did not pray that the end of liberty, should it come, might also be the end of Rome. They urged Porsena, therefore, if he had the good of Rome at heart, to accept the fact that she would never surrender her liberties.
Porsena was deeply impressed. ‘Since,’ he said, ‘it is clear that nothing can shake your determination, I will no longer weary you with requests which I now know to be useless; nor shall I deceive the Tarquins with the hope of aid which I have no power to give. They must find – by force of arms or otherwise, as they please – some other place to spend their exile in; for nothing must disturb the friendly relations between myself and Rome.’
His deeds were better than his words: he sent back the remaining hostages, and restored to Rome the Veientine territory which had been ceded to him by the terms of the treaty of the Janiculum. Tarquin, now without any hope of returning to power, joined his son–in–law Mamilius Octavius in Tusculum. Peace between Rome and Porsena remained unbroken.
The consuls for the following year were Marcus Valerius and Publius Postumius. During the year there were successful operations against the Sabines, and the consuls celebrated ‘triumphs’. The Sabines then began preparations on a larger scale. At the same time there was danger of a sudden attack from Tusculum, where anti–Roman feeling was suspected though not yet openly declared. To meet this double threat Publius Valerius was elected consul for a fourth term and Titus Lucretius for a second.
At this juncture Sabine unity was split by the rise of a peace party, and this resulted in the transference to Rome of a portion of their strength. Attius Clausus, afterwards known in Rome as Appius Claudius, was a leader of the peace party, and finding himself hard pressed by his turbulent rivals, and no match for them, he left Regillus and fled to Rome, taking with him a large number of his dependants and supporters. They were granted citizen rights and some land on the further side of the river Anio. Later, these people came to be called the Old Claudian Tribe – the original settlers, that is, in the district – after new members had been added to their number. Appius was made a senator, and quickly rose to eminence.
A Roman force under the command of the consuls invaded Sabine territory, which it proceeded to devastate; by that means, and by means of a successful engagement which followed, the Romans broke the Sabines’ power of resistance so completely that there was no fear of further hostilities for a long time to come. Returning to Rome, the consuls celebrated their triumph. Next year, in the consulship of Menenius Agrippa and Publius Postumius, occurred the death of Publius Valerius, by universal consent the greatest soldier and statesman of his day; yet in spite of his unprecedented renown he was so poor that his resources were not enough to pay for his funeral. He was buried at the public expense, and the women of Rome went into mourning for him, as they had done for Brutus.
In the same year two Latin colonies, Pometia and Cora, threw off their allegiance and joined the Aurunci. War was declared and Auruncan territory invaded. A powerful force which gallantly attempted to check the invasion was defeated, and the whole weight of the Roman operations was then concentrated upon Pometia. The battle had been a bloody one; neither during nor after it was quarter given. More were killed than captured, and all prisoners were put to the sword. Not even the hostages, of whom there were three hundred, were spared. This year, too, a triumph was celebrated in Rome.
The consuls of the following year, Opiter Verginius and Spurius Cassius, proceeded at once to attempt the reduction of Pometia, first by assault, then by the use of vineae, or mantlets, and other siege engines. The Aurunci had little chance or expectation of success; but in sheer blind hatred of the enemy they came pouring out of the town, most of them carrying firebrands instead of swords. Spreading havoc in every direction, they set the mantlets on fire, inflicted heavy casualties in killed and wounded on the Roman troops, and came near to killing one of the two consuls – which, is not recorded. He was flung from his horse and very seriously injured. It was a bad day for Rome, and the army withdrew taking their wounded with them, amongst them the consul hanging between life and death.
Only enough time was allowed to elapse for nursing the wounded back to health and raising new troops, before a second attack was made against Pometia, this time with stronger forces, and greater savagery. The artillery and siege engines had all been reconstructed, and Roman troops were on the point of scaling the walls, when the town surrendered. In spite of its surrender its fate was no less horrible than if it had been taken by storm: the leading men were all executed, the rest sold as slaves; the town was gutted, and its land put up for sale. The war thus concluded had been a minor one; none the less the consuls celebrated a triumph – perhaps to signalize the severity of their revenge.
In the following year Postumus Cominius and Titus Lartius were elected consuls. During the games at Rome a party of young hooligans of Sabine nationality carried off some street–walkers, a piece of foolery which looked like having serious consequences. Crowds gathered; there was a violent quarrel – almost a fight, and it began to seem that there might be a fresh outbreak of war. Moreover, in addition to the chance of war with the Sabines, it was a matter of common knowledge that Octavius Mamilius had been urging the thirty Latin communities to form a league against Rome.
It was in these circumstances of mounting anxiety and tension that the proposal was made, for the first time, of appointing a dictator. The precise date of this is not known, nor which were the consuls who were suspected of pro–Tarquin sympathies – for that the consuls were indeed so suspected is generally believed. The oldest authorities, I find, state that the first Dictator was Titus Lartius and that Spurius Cassius was his Master of the Horse. Men of consular rank were appointed to these offices, for that was what the law demanded; and for that reason I feel that the ex–consul Lartius is more likely to have been raised to a position which gave him full control over the chief officers of the state than Manlius Valerius, son of Marcus and grandson of Volesus, who had never yet been consul at all. Moreover, if people particularly wanted a dictator from that family, they would have been much more likely to choose Marcus Valerius, an ex–consul and a man of proved ability.
The appointment of a dictator for the first time in Rome, and the solemn sight of his progress through the streets preceded by the ceremonial axes, had the effect of scaring the commons into a more docile frame of mind. While there were two consuls sharing power equally, it had been possible to appeal from one to the other; but from a dictator there was no appeal, and no help anywhere but in implicit obedience. The Sabines, too, were alarmed by this new appointment, especially as they were convinced that it was directed against themselves; accordingly they sent envoys to Rome to treat for peace. The envoys urged the Senate not to take too seriously what was only the prank of a few thoughtless young men, and were told in reply that though young men could be pardoned, old men could not, if – as in the present case – they continued to provoke hostilities. Nevertheless negotiations were begun, and the Sabines would have obtained their assurance of peace, if they had been willing to meet the Roman demand that they should guarantee the money which had been spent upon preparations for war. War was formally declared, but for the rest of the year by a sort of tacit agreement no action was taken.
Nothing of importance occurred the following year, when the consuls were Servius Sulpicius and Manlius Tullius; but the year after that, when Titus Aebutius and Gaius Vetusius were in office, saw the siege of Fidenae, the capture of Crustumeria, and the secession of Praeneste from the Latins to Rome. War with the Latins had been smouldering for some time, and it was now no longer possible to postpone it. Aulus Postumius, who had been granted dictatorial power, proceeded with Titus Aebutius, his Master of the Horse, and a powerful army of combined cavalry and infantry to Lake Regillus near Tusculum, where they encountered the Latin forces already on the march. Report had it that the Tarquins were with them, and their hated presence so inflamed the Roman commanders that nothing would satisfy them but immediate action. The battle which followed was for this reason fought with more determination and greater savagery than usual: officers of high rank, who would normally have confined themselves to directing operations, joined personally in the fighting, and with the exception of the Roman Dictator there was hardly a man amongst the nobility of either side who escaped without a wound. Postumius from his position in the front line was still making his final dispositions and urging his men to do their duty, when Tarquinius Superbus, now an old man with failing strength, came riding straight for him. The attempt failed. Tarquin was struck in the side, but his followers closed in round him and got him back to safety. Similarly on the other wing Aebutius, the Master of the Horse, had charged Octavius Mamilius; the Tusculan commander saw him coming and galloped to meet him; the two met with the utmost fury, Mamilius being wounded in the breast, while his own lance ran clean through his adversary’s arm. Mamilius was taken to the rear; Aebutius retired from the fight altogether, as with his wounded arm he could not hold a weapon. The Latin commander continued in spite of his wound to direct operations with full vigour; and seeing his men badly shaken by the Roman onslaught called up a company of Roman exiles under the command of Tarquin’s surviving son. Their joining in the action was a steadying influence, at any rate for a time, for they fought with especial fury in that they had especial cause. It was not long before the Romans in that sector began to give way; it was a critical moment, and Marcus Valerius, Publicola’s brother, was killed in a gallant attempt to retrieve the situation: the sight of young Tarquin on his horse, in the front rank of the exiles, insolently, as it seemed, inviting attack, set him on fire, and, resolving that the family of the Valerii should have the glory not only of the expulsion of the Tarquins but also of their death, he set spurs to his horse and made for the young prince, to run him through the body. Tarquin moved back as he saw him coming; his troopers rallied closely round him, and one of them, stepping aside as Valerius swept past at a mad gallop, thrust his spear through his body. Valerius fell dying to the ground, his shield and spear on top of him, while the riderless horse galloped on.
The Dictator Postumius now took steps to avert a dangerous situation. The loss of Valerius was in itself a heavy blow; the exiles were moving swiftly and confidently to the attack, and the Romans were giving ground. Accordingly he issued an order to the picked troops who were serving as his personal guard to cut down every Roman soldier whom they saw trying to save his own skin. The measure was successful: threatened simultaneously from front and rear, the Romans turned to face the enemy, and the line was reconstituted. The Dictator’s special force then went into action for the first time and with great effect: fresh and vigorous as they were, they attacked the exiles, who were beginning to tire, and cut them to pieces. This led to another notable duel between rival captains: the Latin commander, Mamilius, seeing the exiles almost cut off by Postumius, hurried with a few reserve companies to the front, and as they were marching up Titus Herminius, a Roman general officer, recognized Mamilius, who in his splendid equipment was an unmistakable figure. Instantly Herminius challenged him, riding at him with even greater ferocity than Aebutius had done a little while before. Such was the fury of his assault that he killed him with a single thrust through the body, and a moment later, as he stooped to strip the arms from his fallen enemy, he was himself mortally wounded by a javelin. He was carried to the rear – victorious indeed, but he died as soon as they started to dress his wound.
Postumius now galloped off to make a final appeal to his mounted troops; and urged them to abandon their horses and fight on foot shoulder to shoulder with the exhausted infantry. The appeal was answered; every man leapt from his horse and moved up at the double to the front line, which they covered with their shields. The effect was instantaneous, the infantry fighting with fresh determination, once they saw the young nobles ready to share their dangers on equal terms. From that moment the issue was no longer in doubt; the Latins wavered, and then broke; the Roman cavalry remounted and began the pursuit, followed by the infantry. Even then the dictator Postumius took no chances: to win heaven’s help he vowed a temple to Castor, and to get the utmost from his men he offered rewards to the first two soldiers to enter the Latin camp; and such was the ardour of the pursuit that the Roman forces were carried right into the enemy’s camp on the same wave that first broke his resistance. So ended the battle of Lake Regillus. The Dictator and the Master of the Horse returned to Rome in triumph.
During the three following years there was neither assured peace nor open war. The consulship was held, first by Quintus Cloelius and Titus Lartius, then by Aulus Sempronius and Marcus Minucius. During the latter’s term of office a temple was dedicated to Saturn and the Saturnalia was first instituted as a public holiday. The next consuls were Aulus Postumius and Titus Verginius. Some authorities, I find, assign the battle of Lake Regillus to this year, and state that Postumius was made Dictator after resigning his consulship out of suspicion of his colleague’s loyalty. I do not know: the order of magistrates varies so much in different records that there is much confusion about dates during this period, and it is not possible to be certain which consuls followed which or what was done in each particular year. One cannot hope for accuracy when dealing with a past so remote and with authorities so antiquated.
Next to hold the consulship were Appius Claudius and Publius Servilius. Their year of office was marked by an event of great importance, the death of Tarquin at Cumae. He had gone to the court of Aristodemus in that town after the debacle of the Latins. The news of Tarquin’s death came as a profound relief to all classes of society in Rome; it soon proved, however, a mixed blessing, for the patricians welcomed it far too much as an opportunity for self–indulgence at the expense of the masses, who had hitherto, as a matter of policy, been treated with every consideration. Now that the menace of Tarquin was removed, they began to feel the weight of oppression.
This same year the settlement at Signia, originally founded by Tarquin, was freshly established and its population increased. In Rome the number of the tribes was raised to twenty–one. On 15 May a temple was dedicated to Mercury.
During the Latin war relations between Rome and the Volscians had been strained, though actual hostilities had been avoided. The Volscians had raised troops to send to the aid of the Latins in the event of the Roman dictator failing to act promptly; but he did act promptly, to avoid the necessity of having to deal with both peoples at once. By way of reprisal for their hostile intentions, the consuls invaded Volscian territory, and the Volscians, who had not expected to have to pay for a plan which had never materialized, were surprised into submission. They made no resistance, and handed over three hundred hostages, all children of leading families in Cora and Pometia. Roman troops were then withdrawn.
Relieved of immediate anxiety the Volscians soon reverted to their normal practices: once again they began secret preparations for war. They made a military pact with the Hernici, and sent missions to all the Latin communities to stir up rebellion. The Latins, however, were in no mood for war; the recent defeat at Lake Regillus had filled them with such a fury of hatred against anyone who suggested further hostilities, that they actually laid violent hands upon the Volscian envoys and took them forcibly to Rome, where they were delivered to the consuls together with the information that the Volscians and the Hernici were preparing for war. The matter was brought up in the Senate, and so great was the gratitude there for the service done that six thousand Latin prisoners of war were released and the question of a treaty, which had been refused more or less in perpetuity, was referred to the magistrates of the coming year. No one could have been more delighted than the Latins themselves at this result. Praises were showered upon the peacemakers, and to mark their appreciation they sent a golden crown as a gift to Jupiter in the temple on the Capitol. The envoys who brought the gift were accompanied by thousands of the released prisoners of war, who visited the various houses where they had done menial service during their captivity; they thanked their former masters for treating them in their adversity with such liberality and kindness, and promised that for the future the bond between them should be a bond of friendship. Never at any previous time had relations, both public and personal, between Rome and the Latins been closer or more cordial.
Nevertheless a double danger was threatening the City’s peace: first, imminent war with the Volscians and, secondly, internal discord of ever–increasing bitterness between the ruling class and the masses. The chief cause of the dispute was the plight of the unfortunates who were ‘bound over’ to their creditors for debt. These men complained that while they were fighting in the field to preserve their country’s liberty and to extend her power, their own fellow–citizens at home had enslaved and oppressed them; the common people, they declared, had a better chance of freedom in war than in peace; fellow Romans threatened them with worse slavery than a foreign foe. Finally, their growing resentment was fanned into flame by a particular instance of the appalling condition into which a debtor might fall. An old man suddenly presented himself in the Forum. With his soiled and threadbare clothes, his dreadful pallor and emaciated body, he was a pitiable sight, and the uncouthness of his appearance was further increased by his unkempt hair and beard. Nevertheless, though cruelly changed from what he had once been, he was recognized, and people began to tell each other, compassionately, that he was an old soldier who had once commanded a company and served with distinction in various ways – an account which he himself supported by showing the scars of honourable wounds which he still bore upon his breast. A crowd quickly gathered, till the Forum was as full as if a public assembly were about to be held; they pressed round the pathetic figure of the old soldier, asking him how it was that he had come to this dreadful pass. ‘While I was on service,’ he said, ‘during the Sabine war, my crops were ruined by enemy raids, and my cottage was burnt. Everything I had was taken, including my cattle. Then, when I was least able to do so, I was expected to pay taxes, and fell, consequently, into debt. Interest on the borrowed money increased my burden; I lost the land which my father and grandfather had owned before me, and then my other possessions; ruin spread like a disease through all I had, and even my body was not exempt from it, for I was finally seized by my creditor and reduced to slavery: nay, worse – I was hauled away to prison and the slaughterhouse.’
The man’s story, added to the sight of the weals on his back which still remained from recent beatings, caused a tremendous uproar, which spread swiftly from the Forum through every part of the city. Debtors of all conditions – some actually in chains – forced their way into the streets and begged for popular support; everywhere men flocked to join the rising, until every street was packed with noisy crowds making their way to the Forum. Any senator who happened to be out was in imminent danger, and there is little doubt that the mob would have resorted to violence, had not the consuls, Servilius and Claudius, hastily intervened to attempt to quell the disturbance. But the angry crowd turned on them, forcing them to look at the fetters on their wrists and the other signs of the cruel treatment they had received, and crying out in bitterness of spirit that such was their reward for all the campaigns they had fought in. Every moment their tone grew more menacing. They demanded that the Senate should be convened, and pressed up to the doors of the Senate House that they might themselves witness the proceedings and, if necessary, control them. The handful of senators who chanced to be available were brought by the consuls into the House; the rest were too much alarmed by the way things were going even to venture into the streets, so nothing could be done for lack of a quorum. The mob took this as a mere device to put them off; they refused to believe that fear, or any other such reason, was keeping the absent senators away, and were convinced that it was a deliberate attempt to hold up business. They had no doubt that the consuls’ apparent attempt to convene the Senate was a mere empty formality, and that their own grievances were in no way being taken seriously. An explosion was only just avoided by the arrival of the absent senators, who had been unable to decide whether they ran the greater risk by staying away or coming. Had they decided not to come, it might well have been that even the majestic authority of the consuls would have been powerless to control the fury of the mob.
A quorum obtained, the debate began; but no general agreement could be reached, and the consuls were themselves divided: the proud and headstrong Appius was for a settlement by the sheer weight of consular authority – if one or two were arrested, the remainder, he declared, would soon calm down. Servilius, by nature inclined to less high–handed measures, was in favour of trying persuasion, which would, he thought, be both safer and easier than to use force.
On top of this highly critical situation came the alarming news, brought by mounted couriers from Latium, that a Volscian army was marching on Rome. So deeply was the country divided by its political differences, that the people, unlike their oppressors in the governing class, hailed the prospect of invasion with delight. For them, it seemed like an intervention of providence to crush the pride of the Senate; they went about urging their friends to refuse military service – to let the whole community perish rather than one section of it, as was happening in any case. Let the patricians, they argued, do the fighting, if they wished: if there were war, let those face its dangers who alone reaped its profits. The Senate, on the other hand, heard the news with very different feelings: there, in view of the double danger, from within and from without, there was both alarm and depression. Knowing that, of the two consuls, Servilius was more in sympathy with the popular cause, they begged him to do what he could to save the country from the appalling dangers which beset it. Servilius, accordingly, adjourned the meeting and presented himself before the people. He declared that the senators were genuinely anxious to do what they could for the benefit of the commons, who formed the largest part – though still only a part – of the community; but their deliberations upon what measures to adopt had been interrupted by a new fear which concerned the nation as a whole. With the enemy almost at the gates, defence must be the first consideration; even should the danger prove less immediate than it appeared, it was not to the people’s credit to refuse to fight for their country except upon terms, any more than it conduced to the honour of the Senate to be forced by circumstances to relieve the sufferings of their fellow–citizens, when they would later have done so voluntarily. Servilius then gave substance to this statement by issuing an edict, to the effect that it should be illegal, first, to fetter or imprison a Roman citizen and so prevent him from enlisting for service, and, secondly, to seize or sell the property of any soldier on active service, or interfere in any way with his children or grandchildren. As a result of the edict all ‘bound’ debtors who were present gave in their names on the spot, and others from every part of the city hurried from the houses where they could no longer be legally detained, into the Forum where they took the military oath. Their numbers were very considerable, and in the ensuing fight with the Volscians no troops did more distinguished service. The consul then marched, and took up a position not far from that of the enemy.
The Volscians fancied that the political troubles in Rome would facilitate their task, so the next night, under cover of darkness, they made a tentative move in the hope of encouraging deserters from the Roman ranks. Their approach, however, did not escape the Roman sentries, who at once roused the troops. The bugles blew the call to arms; every man took his station, and the Volscians’ attempt was frustrated. For the remainder of the night there was no further action. At dawn next morning the Volscians began an assault upon the protective rampart round the Roman position; they filled in the trenches, and before long were at work demolishing the palisades. The consul’s men – led by the debtors – urged him in no uncertain terms to give the signal for action; but he held on a few moments longer, to be quite certain of their temper and intentions; then, when there was no longer any doubt that they were spoiling for a fight, he gave the order to advance. They burst out as hungry for blood as the beasts in the circus.
One charge was enough; the enemy fled. The Roman infantry gave chase so far as it could, striking at the fugitives’ backs; and the mounted troops pursued them to their camp, which, in its turn, was soon surrounded. Once again there was no resistance, and the camp was taken and stripped of all it contained. The routed Volscians had made for Suessa Pometia, and on the following day the Roman forces marched on the town, which a day or two later was captured. Servilius turned his men loose in it, to take what they pleased, a windfall which by no means came amiss to them.
The victorious consul returned to Rome covered with glory. On his way there he was approached by representatives of the Volscians of Ecetra, whom the capture of Pometia had filled with forebodings. By a decree of the Senate they were granted peace, but their territory was confiscated.
Immediately after this the Sabines caused a certain amount of trouble. It was, however, only a minor incident: news arrived one night that a Sabine raiding party had penetrated as far as the Anio, where it was burning farms and looting over a wide area. Postumius, who had acted as Dictator during the Latin war, was promptly sent out with all the Roman mounted troops, and Servilius followed him with a picked force of infantry. Most of the raiders were rounded up by the cavalry, and the Sabine troops, such as they were, offered no resistance when they saw Servilius’s infantry approaching. No doubt they were tired by their long march and their nocturnal activities – most of them, too, were sodden with drink and swollen with food which they had stolen from the farms – and they hardly had strength enough even to run away. Thus the same night which brought the news of the raid saw its end, and there were high hopes of a general peace; but on the following day representatives of the Aurunci informed the Senate that unless Roman troops evacuated Volscian territory they would declare war. The Auruncan forces had left home at the same time as their envoys and a report that they had been seen near Aricia caused a severe shock in Rome. So great was the consequent hurry and confusion that no regular motion could be brought before the Senate and it was impossible to return a pacific answer to the envoys of a people who were already threatening invasion, while Rome herself was hastily preparing her defence. Roman troops at once marched for Aricia. Battle was joined near the town, and in a single engagement the enemy’s attempt was foiled once and for all.
Feeling that by this rapid succession of successful actions they had done their duty, the Roman commons now looked to the consul Servilius and the Senate to stand by the promises they had made to them. Appius, however, thought otherwise: in his desire to discredit his colleague, no less than by his own natural arrogance, he began to give the harshest possible judgements in the cases which came before him for the recovery of debts. Men previously bound over were, in consequence of his judgements, abandoned to the mercy of their creditors, and others, previously free, were bound over in their turn. All soldiers thus treated appealed to Servilius; his house was soon crowded with angry men urging him to keep his pledged word, bitterly reminding him of their war service and exhibiting their scars. Either, they declared, he must bring their case formally before the Senate, or help them himself in his double capacity of consul and commanding officer. Servilius was not unaware of the strength of their case, but he was unable wholeheartedly to support them because of the violence of the opposition both of his colleague Appius and of the governing class as a whole. Consequently he temporized, and by trying to make the best of both worlds succeeded in neither: the commons disliked him and thought him dishonest; the nobles distrusted him as a weak consul trying to curry popular favour. Soon it was obvious that he was as much hated as Appius.
About this time the two consuls had begun to quarrel about which of them should perform the dedication ceremony for the temple of Mercury. The Senate referred the decision to the people, and informed them that the man they chose should be instructed to control the distribution of grain, to establish a guild of merchants, and perform the necessary rites on behalf of the pontifex. The people accordingly voted, and gave the dedication to neither of the consuls, but to a senior centurion named Marcus Laetorius – an act obviously intended not to honour Laetorius, whose station in life was quite unsuited to a commission of this kind, but to humiliate the consuls. This time, at any rate, the fury of Appius and the Senate knew no bounds; but popular confidence was growing and the general attitude to the masses was very different from what it had been. They knew now that it was idle to look to the consuls or the Senate for relief: when they saw a debtor carried off to the courts, they took matters into their own hands and rushed to his defence; the noise they made rendered inaudible any order the consul might give; his decrees were ignored, violence reigned, and it was now not the debtors who had to look to their lives but the creditors themselves who were set upon singly by gangs and beaten up in the very presence of the consul.
In this dangerous situation there came the alarming news of a Sabine invasion. The order to raise troops was promptly issued, but there was no response: not a man gave in his name. Appius was beside himself: he accused Servilius of deliberate chicanery and of betraying the country in order to keep the mob quiet; not only, he declared, had Servilius refused to pronounce sentence in cases of debt; he had gone further, and disobeyed the Senate’s decree by neglecting to raise troops in the proper manner. ‘Nevertheless,’ he exclaimed, ‘Rome is not utterly deserted; the authority of the consuls is not yet altogether thrown away. I myself will stand up, alone, for the majesty of my office and of the Senate.’
Deeds quickly followed: observing a certain notorious troublemaker in the crowd of men which every day gathered, ripe for mischief, in the Forum, Appius ordered his arrest. The lictors were in the act of dragging him off, when he appealed. Appius knew well enough what the popular decision would be, if the appeal were allowed, and he was at first determined to refuse it; however, in spite of his savage contempt for what people thought of him, he was forced to yield, not so much by popular clamour as by the authoritative advice of the nobles. From then onward the situation grew more and more serious: rioting continued, and – what was much more dangerous – groups of malcontents began to confer in secret. At last the time came for the two consuls to lay down their office. Both had been hated by the popular party – Servilius by the conservative nobility as well, with whom Appius was in high favour.
The consuls for the following year were Aulus Verginius and Titus Vetusius. Not knowing what their attitude to the dispute was likely to be, the people continued to hold meetings to discuss policy; for greater privacy the meetings were held at night on the Esquiline or the Aventine, as it was felt that if they attempted to discuss their affairs in the Forum they might be stampeded into hasty and ill–considered action. The consuls, rightly enough, saw the dangers of this procedure and reported it to the Senate. The report was greeted with uproar and indignation; no orderly discussion of it was possible; the members of the House bitterly resented the attempt to saddle them with a disagreeable task which ought to have been dealt with out of hand by the exercise of consular authority. In their view, if the country had magistrates worthy of the name, there would never have been any question of secret meetings by groups of agitators – the normal Assembly would have sufficed. As things were, the country was split into fragments: instead of the Assembly of the People there were a thousand dissident and petty groups whispering and putting their heads together on the Esquiline or Aventine. What was needed, they declared, was not a mere consul, but a man – a real man, like Appius Claudius: anyone like him would have broken up those treasonous gangs in five minutes.
These were harsh words, and the consuls had to swallow them as best they could: they asked the Senate what steps they wished them to take, adding an assurance that they were prepared to act with all the sternness and vigour which the Senate required. The House replied that the mob having got out of hand through sheer lack of employment, the consuls were to levy troops with the utmost strictness of the law. The Senate then adjourned, and the consuls, taking their stand on the tribunal, began proceedings, calling the younger men individually, by name. No one answered. The crowd swarmed round the tribunal, and voices were raised saying that the people refused to be fobbed off any longer: the consuls would never get a single soldier without a public guarantee of redress for their grievances; every man must be given liberty again before arms were put into his hands – for if they were to fight, they were determined to do so not for their masters, but for their country and their fellow–citizens.
The Senate’s instructions to the two consuls had been clear enough; nevertheless of all the members of the House who had spoken with such truculence, not one had ventured outside the walls to support the consuls in the highly invidious task they had asked them to perform. That a violent struggle was imminent was no longer in doubt; so before proceeding to extremities, the consuls decided once again to take the opinion of the Senate. The House accordingly met, and immediately the younger members came crowding up to the consuls’ seats with a demand for their resignation of an office which they had not the courage to implement. The consuls, after weighing carefully the two courses open to them – namely appeasement or coercion – said: ‘Remember, gentlemen, that you have been warned. We are threatened with something like civil war. We demand that those of you who most loudly accuse us of cowardice should stand by us while we are proceeding with the levy of troops. Then – since that is what you want – we will carry out our duty as firmly as the most ruthless amongst you could desire.’ They returned to the Forum, mounted the tribunal, and gave deliberate orders that a particular man, whom they could see in the crowd, should have his name called. The man did not answer. A number of others pressed round him, to protect him against possible violence. Then, by the consuls’ order, a lictor was ordered to arrest him. The lictor was thrust back by the crowd, and the senators who had left the Curia to support the consuls, enraged at this shameless flouting of the consular authority, hurried down from the rostrum to the lictor’s assistance. The lictor, who had merely been prevented from effecting an arrest, was in no danger, and the crowd at once turned its attention to the senators. The consuls, however, intervened, and some sort of order was restored. No stones had been thrown, no weapons drawn; in fact, there had been more anger and noise than physical violence.
The position, however, was still critical, and a meeting of the Senate was called in the utmost haste. Its proceedings, when it met, were even more disorderly: the members who had been mobbed demanded an inquiry, and the die–hards in the House supported the demand with shouts and general uproar, as they were too angry to make any kind of formal proposal. When at last the atmosphere was calm enough for the consuls to speak, they remarked severely that there was little to choose between the behaviour of members in the House and that of the mob in the streets, after which business was able to proceed normally. Three proposals were put forward: Verginius opposed any measure for general relief, and suggested that only those men should be considered who had fought in the Volscian, Auruncan, and Sabine wars on the strength of the promise made to them by the consul Servilius. Titus Lartius urged that this was no time merely for preferential treatment of the deserving: the commons as a whole were sunk in debt, and the situation could not be remedied without general relief; any sort of preferential treatment, far from allaying, would only aggravate their sense of grievance. Appius Claudius took a different line altogether: naturally harsh as he was, and rendered even more uncompromising by the hatred of the commons and the fervid support of the nobility, he roundly declared that the mob had nothing whatever to complain of: the disturbances were not due to their sufferings but to their disregard for law and order; they were not angry – for they had nothing to be angry about: they were merely out of hand. That, he continued, was the natural consequence of the right of appeal: the appeal had destroyed consular authority; for now that the law allowed an appeal to those who were equally guilty, the consuls could never act – they could only threaten. ‘I urge you, therefore,’ he said, ‘to appoint a Dictator, from whom there is no right of appeal. Do that, and you will quickly enough throw water on the blaze. I should like to see anyone use force against a lictor then, when he knows that the power to scourge or kill him is wholly in the hands of the man whose majesty he has dared to offend!’
The proposal seemed to many, as indeed it was, excessively severe; on the other hand the proposals of Verginius and Lartius were not felt likely to have a salutary effect – certainly not the latter, which would completely undermine credit. The general sense of the House was inclined to the compromise proposed by Verginius; political decisions, however, always have been, and always will be, influenced for ill by party spirit and concern for property. The present case was no exception; Appius carried this point, and came very near to being appointed Dictator himself. Had this actually occurred, it would have been disastrous: the commons would have been completely alienated at a moment of great national danger when the Volscians, Aequians, and Sabines were simultaneously up in arms. Happily both consuls, supported by the elder members of the Senate, took care that an office, in itself of such formidable power, should be entrusted to a man of moderate temper, and appointed Manlius Valerius, the son of Volesus.
The commons were well aware that the appointment of a dictator was directed against themselves; nevertheless they had little fear of violent or oppressive measures. It was a Valerius, the brother of the Dictator, who had originally given them the right of appeal, and they trusted the family in consequence. Their confidence, moreover, was soon increased when the dictator issued an edict very similar in tenor to that of Servilius, though the effect of it, coming as it did from a man they trusted in an office they were bound to respect, was much greater. They gave up their opposition and enlisted for service. Ten legions were formed, a larger force than ever before; three legions were put under the command of each consul, the remaining four under the command of the Dictator.
By now the Aequians had invaded Latin territory, and action could no longer be deferred. Representatives of the Latins were already in Rome, asking the Senate either for aid or for permission to arm themselves in their own defence. The latter was refused, as Rome was unwilling to allow the Latins to rearm; the safer course appeared to be to send troops. Vetusius was commissioned to lead them, and his arrival marked the end of the raids, as the Aequians withdrew to the hills where they hoped to be safer than in the open country with only their swords to defend them. The other consul proceeded against the Volscians and quickly got down to business, doing his best, chiefly by destroying their crops, to provoke the enemy to battle. In this he was successful; the Volscians advanced to a position close to the Romans, and the two armies, each in front of its own stockade, prepared to engage. Numerical superiority made the Volscians overconfident, so that they advanced to the attack in loose order and a somewhat casual and undisciplined manner. Verginius, the Roman commander, bided his time: he instructed his men to ground their spears and to wait, in silence, until the enemy were upon them. Then they were to be up and at them, using the short sword only, hand to hand. The Volscians had come on at the double, shouting as they came, and persuaded that sheer terror had fixed the Romans to the spot; by the time they were within striking distance they were already tired, and when they found that they were met with vigorous opposition and saw the flash of the Roman swords, the shock was as great as if they had fallen into an ambush. They lost their nerve and withdrew as fast as their blown and breathless condition allowed. It was not fast enough to save them; for the Romans, who had quietly awaited their attack and were in consequence still fresh, easily overtook the panting fugitives, captured their camp by assault and chased them beyond it as far as Velitrae, where both armies, victors and vanquished together, burst simultaneously into the town. The place soon became a scene of indiscriminate slaughter, and more blood was shed than in the actual battle. A handful of men who laid down their arms and gave themselves up were spared.
Meanwhile the dictator Valerius was no less successful against the Sabines, Rome’s most dangerous enemy. The Sabines, by extending their flanks too widely, had weakened their centre, and Valerius, after a devastating cavalry charge, sent in his infantry to finish the work. His forces then swept on to capture the enemy camp, and the operation was over. After the battle of Lake Regillus it was the most distinguished action of that period. Valerius rode into Rome in triumph; in addition to the usual honours a place was reserved for him and his descendants in the Circus, and a chair of state was put there for his use.
As a result of their defeat the Volscians were deprived of the territory belonging to Velitrae, and the town itself was reoccupied by settlers from Rome.
Soon after this there was an engagement with the Aequians. As the ground was unfavourable for a Roman advance, the consul was unwilling to make any move until compelled to do so by his men: they accused him of deliberately prolonging hostilities in order to enable the Dictator to lay down his office before they returned to Rome, in which case the promises he had made them would come to nothing, just as those of the consul Servilius had done. To prevent this, they forced him to undertake a highly risky advance up the slopes of the hills. It was a rash move, but it succeeded through the enemy’s cowardice, for they were so badly shaken by what they thought the extreme audacity of the Roman troops, that before they were even within range they abandoned their very strong position and fled for their lives down into the valleys on the further side of the hills. It was a bloodless victory and a good deal of valuable material fell into Roman hands.
In spite of this triple military success both parties in Rome remained as anxious as ever about the issue of the political struggle, for the money–lenders had used all their influence and employed every device to produce a situation which was not only unfavourable to the commons, but tied the hands of the Dictator himself. After the return to Rome of the consul Vetusius, the first business which Valerius brought before the Senate was the case of the commons – who had fought with such distinction in the recent wars. His motion was that the House should declare their policy regarding those who were bound over for debt. The motion was rejected. ‘I stand,’ Valerius retorted, ‘for domestic concord. You will have none of it. But mark my words: the day will soon come when you will wish in vain for men of my way of thinking to plead the cause of the populace. As for myself, I will no longer frustrate the hopes of the citizens of this country; I will resign from my now useless office. Two things made it necessary: war and our own political differences. The wars are won, we have peace abroad; but here at home there are still insuperable obstacles to it. I prefer to meet the real struggle, when it comes, not as Dictator but as a private citizen.’ With these words Valerius left the House and resigned his office. It was clear enough to the people that the reason for his resignation was anger at the unfair treatment they had received; he had not actually kept his promise to relieve them, but at least it was through no fault of his that the promise had come to nothing. That was enough to win their gratitude, and they escorted him from the Senate to his house with every sign of appreciation.
The senatorial party now began to fear that if the army were disbanded, representatives of the populace would begin once more to hold their secret and seditious meetings; accordingly, they invented a reason which would justify keeping the men under arms. Actually, the troops had been raised by order of the Dictator, but as they had taken the military oath to obey the consuls as their commanders, it was possible to hold that they were still bound by it; on this assumption, therefore, and on the pretext that the Aequians had recommenced hostilities, the army was ordered to march. The order promptly brought matters to a head: there was talk, we are told, amongst the soldiers of assassinating the consuls, which would have freed them from their oath of allegiance; but they abandoned the project when they were warned that a criminal act could never absolve them from a sacred obligation. Instead, on the suggestion of a man named Sicinius and without orders from the consuls, they took themselves off in a body to the Sacred Mount, three miles from the city across the Anio. The historian Piso declared that they went to the Aventine, but the version of the story which I have given is the one which is more generally accepted. There on the Sacred Mount, without any officer to direct them, they made themselves a camp, properly fortified in the usual way, where for a number of days they stayed quietly, taking only what they needed for subsistence. No hostile move was made against them.
In Rome there was something like panic; with one party as much alarmed by the situation as the other, everything came to a standstill. The commons, abandoned as they were by their friends in the army, feared violence at the hands of the senatorial party, who, in their turn, were afraid of the commons still left in the city, and could hardly make up their minds if they would rather see them stay or go. Moreover, how long would the deserters be content to remain inactive? What would happen if, in the present situation, there were a threat of foreign invasion? Clearly the only hope lay in finding a solution for the conflicting interests of the two classes in the state: by fair means or foul the country must recover its internal harmony. The senatorial party accordingly decided to employ Menenius Agrippa as their spokesman to the commons on the Sacred Mount – he was a good speaker, and the commons liked him as he was one of themselves. Admitted to the deserters’ camp, he is said to have told them, in the rugged style of those far–off days, the following story. ‘Long ago when the members of the human body did not, as now they do, agree together, but had each its own thoughts and the words to express them in, the other parts resented the fact that they should have the worry and trouble of providing everything for the belly, which remained idle, surrounded by its ministers, with nothing to do but enjoy the pleasant things they gave it. So the discontented members plotted together that the hand should carry no food to the mouth, that the mouth should take nothing that was offered it, and that the teeth should accept nothing to chew. But alas! while they sought in their resentment to subdue the belly by starvation, they themselves and the whole body wasted away to nothing. By this it was apparent that the belly, too, has no mean service to perform: it receives food, indeed; but it also nourishes in its turn the other members, giving back to all parts of the body, through all its veins, the blood it has made by the process of digestion; and upon this blood our life and our health depend.’
This fable of the revolt of the body’s members Menenius applied to the political situation, pointing out its resemblance to the anger of the populace against the governing class; and so successful was his story that their resentment was mollified. Negotiations began and an agreement was reached on the condition that special magistrates should be appointed to represent the commons; these officers – ‘tribunes of the people’ – should be above the law, and their function should be to protect the commons against the consuls. No man of the senatorial class was to be allowed to hold the office. Two tribunes were accordingly created, Gaius Licinius and Lucius Albinus, who, in their turn, appointed three colleagues, one of whom was the Sicinius who had led the revolt. Who the other two were is uncertain. According to one account, two tribunes only were appointed to office on the Sacred Mount, and it was there that the law was passed which secured their inviolability.
During the ‘Secession of the Plebs’, as it came to be called, Spurius Cassius and Postumus Cominius began their term as consuls. That year a treaty was made with the communities of Latium, and to preside over the ceremony one of the consuls remained in Rome; the other went on service against the Volscians and heavily defeated them at Antium. They were forced to take refuge at Longula, which shortly afterwards also fell to Rome; the capture of Polusca, another Volscian town, quickly followed, after which a powerful attack was launched against Corioli. Serving in the army at this time was a young aristocrat named Gaius Marcius, an active and intelligent officer, who was presently to earn the courtesy–title of Coriolanus. It so happened that at a critical moment during the operations Marcius was on guard: the last thing the Romans were expecting was any danger from outside the town, upon the siege of which their whole attention was concentrated. Suddenly, however, a Volscian force appeared from the direction of Antium, and to coincide with its attack there was a vigorous sortie from the town. Marcius with a small body of picked men broke up the sortie and then, with great daring, forced his way through the open gate into Corioli itself; there he laid about him to some purpose, and finally seized a blazing firebrand and flung it amongst the houses just within the wall of the town. The cry which arose, and the shrieks of women and children in terror of death were, for the Roman troops, a heartening sound; but for the Volscians it seemed to be the end: the town they had come to relieve was already taken. In this way the men of Antium were defeated, and Corioli fell. Marcius had covered himself with glory, so much so that he completely overshadowed his commander, the consul Cominius; indeed, no one would have remembered that Cominius had fought at all in the action against the Volscians, had it not been for the record, on a brazen column, of the treaty made at that time with the Latins. That record declared that the treaty was signed by one consul only, Spurius Cassius, the other being absent from Rome on service.
During the course of this year Menenius Agrippa died. Throughout his life he had been much loved by both parties in the state, and after the secession he had made himself, to the commons, even dearer than before. His services to his country had been great: sent by the Senate as their ambassador to the people, he had carried through the negotiations which healed the breach between the opposing classes, and had been the means of bringing back to Rome the citizens who had deserted her; yet he died so poor that his estate could not bear the expense of his funeral. He was buried by the commons, who each contributed a few pence for the purpose.
The next consuls to enter upon office were Titus Geganius and Publius Minucius. It was a year of peace, and the political troubles were for the moment over, but Rome, none the less, had to face a situation even more dangerous than war or civil discord. During the secession work on the land had been suspended, and the result was a steep rise in the price of grain; famine followed so severe that Rome might have been a beleaguered city. The slaves and the poorer members of the community would undoubtedly have starved to death, had not the consuls acted promptly and sent agents over a wide area to arrange for the purchase of grain. Bad relations with neighbouring communities had made it necessary to go far a field, and the agents were instructed to travel north–west along the Etrurian coast and south–east along the Volscian coast to Cumae, and even as far as Sicily. Aristodemus, the reigning prince of Cumae, was the heir of the Tarquins, and after supplies had been bought there he retained the Roman grain–ships in lieu of the property he ought to have inherited. From the Volscians and the people of the Pomptine marshes nothing could be obtained; indeed, the agents were actually in danger of violence. From Etruria supplies reached Rome by way of the Tiber, and this was enough to keep the people alive. Fortunately for Rome the Volscians at this time, just as they were preparing an invasion, were struck down by a serious epidemic; had this not occurred, Rome would have had a disastrous war on her hands, to add to her other difficulties. Volscian morale was so shattered by the effect of the epidemic, that they hardly recovered even after the worst of it was over, and the Romans took advantage of the situation to increase the number of their settlers in Velitrae and to send out fresh settlers to the hill town of Norba, which thus became a fortified point for the defence of the Pomptine region.
In the following year, when Marcus Minucius and Aulus Sempronius had entered on their term of office, large supplies of grain were imported from Sicily, and there was a debate in the Senate on the price which the commons were to be charged for it. Many thought that the time had come for repressive measures and for recovering the privileges which the commons, by their act of secession, had forced the governing class to surrender. Their chief spokesman was Marcius Coriolanus, who was a bitter enemy of the newly instituted power of the tribunes. ‘If they want grain at the old price,’ he said, ‘they must give us back our old privileges. What have I done that I should see upstarts from the mob in office? Am I a slave? Have I been ransomed from brigands? Am I to endure this indignity a moment longer than I need? King Tarquin was not to be borne – are we to bear, then, with King Sicinius? Let him pack up his traps and be gone, and the rabble with him – the road is clear to the Sacred Mount, or any other hills. They can steal grain from our fields as they did two years ago; as for prices, it was their own folly which raised them to their present level, so they must make the best of it. If I am not mistaken, their troubles will soon make them change their tune; they are more likely to get to work on the land again themselves than to go off under arms and prevent others from doing so.’
Whether Coriolanus was actually right is not easy to say; I do, however, think it is possible that the senatorial party might have succeeded in freeing themselves from the various restrictions, including the tribunate, to which they had been forced to agree, if only they had consented to reduce the price of grain. As it was, the attitude of Coriolanus seemed to them excessively harsh, while the commons were so infuriated by it that they almost resorted to violence; to them it seemed that it was a deliberate threat to starve them by withholding the bare necessities of life, and that the imported grain, the sole means of support which an unexpected piece of luck had brought them, would be snatched from their mouths unless Gaius Marcius were permitted to work his brutal will upon them, and the tribunes, their only defence, were sacrificed to satisfy his pride. Marcius, in short, was little better than their executioner; he offered them the choice between death and slavery.
As he was leaving the Senate House he would have been assaulted but for the timely action of the tribunes, who issued a summons against him. This mollified the fury of the mob, as the position was now reversed and every man was enabled to see himself as the judge of his hated enemy, with power over him of life and death. As for Marcius, his first reaction to the strong measures taken by the tribunes was one of contempt: their office, he declared, had nothing to do with the senatorial party; they were not empowered to inflict punishment, but merely to support the popular cause. Up to a point, however, the Senate was forced to yield, feeling it wiser to sacrifice one of their number to appease the popular fury; they did, nevertheless, take steps to counter their adversaries, employing such resources as they possessed, individual or corporate: for instance, they used their personal dependants to try to scare people from taking part in popular meetings in the hope of wrecking their plans; then, when that failed, they turned to entreaty, hundreds of them going into the streets and begging the angry populace to give them back their friend – after all, he was but one, a single member of their order, and, if they could not acquit him, would they not, as a favour, let him go free? It was a strange scene, almost as if the whole nobility, as a body, were on their trial before the people. But it was all to no purpose: Coriolanus failed to appear in court, and the feeling against him finally hardened. He was condemned in his absence and went into exile with the Volscians, bitter as ever and vowing vengeance upon his country. The Volscians, who gave him a warm welcome, treated him with ever greater consideration as they observed his growing bitterness towards Rome and listened to the complaints and threats of revenge against her which were ever more frequently on his lips. He stayed in the house of Attius Tullius, the most distinguished name amongst the Volscian peoples and a life–long enemy of Rome. This dangerous pair, the one moved by inveterate hostility, the other by resentment at his recent wrongs, began to lay their plans for war. Both knew that the chief obstacle would be the attitude of the Volscian commons, who after their many previous defeats would not easily be persuaded, or driven, to renew hostilities; many men, moreover, of military age had died in the recent epidemic, and that, added to the war losses of the past few years, had gone far to break their spirit. Popular hatred of Rome had cooled with the lapse of time, and it was necessary, in consequence, to devise something which would once more exacerbate their feelings against their old enemy.
It so happened that preparations were in progress at Rome for a repetition of the Great Games. The reason for holding the ceremony afresh was an incident which, in the first instance, had violated its sanctity. Early in the morning, before the ceremony opened, someone had driven one of his slaves, manacled, across the arena, beating him as he went. The Games then began, as it apparently occurred to nobody that this had been an act of desecration. Soon after, however, a working man named Titus Latinius dreamed that Jupiter told him that he was displeased with the ‘leading dancer’ at the Games, and then went on to say that unless the festival were started all over again in the most sumptuous manner, Rome would be in peril. It was his duty, therefore, the God declared, to go and tell this to the consuls. Latinius was by no means insensitive to the solemn import of this dream; but in spite of his alarm he was so much in awe of the consular office, and so much afraid of being laughed at, that he could not bring himself to obey the God’s command. His hesitation cost him dear, for a few days later he lost his son; then, as proof, if proof were needed, of the cause of this sudden calamity, the unfortunate man again dreamed that he saw the figure of Jupiter, who this time asked him if he thought he was fairly paid for ignoring the divine command, and threatened that worse was to come if he did not make haste to tell the consuls of the warning he had received. The poor fellow now realized that there was no escape; but, for all that, he continued to hesitate, until he fell desperately ill and so, at long last, learnt his lesson. Exhausted by sickness and grief, he summoned his kinsmen to his bedside and told them how more than once he had seen Jupiter in his dreams and heard his voice, and how the threats of the angry gods had been fulfilled in his own misfortunes. All were agreed without any doubt upon what was to be done, and he was forthwith carried in a litter to the consuls in the Forum. The consuls instructed his bearers to take him to the Senate House, and there, to the wonder of all who were present, he repeated his tale. The ending of it was crowned by another miracle; for – if we may believe the traditional account – though he had entered the Senate House a desperately sick man, once his duty was done he walked home unaided.
The Senate issued a decree that the Games should be celebrated anew with all possible splendour, and Attius Tullius arranged for them to be attended by a very large number of his countrymen. Before they began, Tullius, according to a plan which he and Marcius had hatched between them, informed the consuls that he had some business of state which he would like to discuss in private. The consuls agreed and, as soon as they were alone, Tullius began. ‘I hesitate,’ he said, ‘to say anything derogatory about my own countrymen – and indeed I am not here to accuse them, but merely to put you on guard lest they should misbehave themselves. The fact is, there is more instability and caprice in our national character than I like to admit. We have learnt this the hard way, since we owe our preservation less to our own merits than to your forbearance. Now many hundreds of my people are here in Rome; a festival is in progress, and everyone’s attention will be occupied in watching it. I have not forgotten what the Sabines did to you on a similar occasion, and I am anxious lest some foolish and regrettable incident should occur today. I thought it my duty, gentlemen, to mention this to you, for both our sakes. Personally, I propose to go home at once, to avoid being implicated in anything disagreeable that may be done or said.’
The consuls reported this to the Senate as soon as Tullius had gone. The warning was vague, but it came from a reliable source, and for this reason, naturally enough, the Senate, by way of a precaution which might well have proved unnecessary, issued an order to the effect that all Volscians should leave the city at once. Officers were instructed to order every man to be out before dark. The first effect of this upon the unfortunate Volscians was something like panic, as they scurried to their lodgings to collect their luggage; then, once they were on the road, alarm gave way to indignation at being treated like plague–spotted criminals and driven out at a time of solemn religious festival as if they were unfit to associate with gods or men. Tullius rode on ahead of the long line of angry men and stopped to wait for them at the source of the Ferentina. As the various notables arrived, he accosted them with bitter complaints about what had happened, and they, in their turn, were only too eager to listen to what so well accorded with their own resentment. Meanwhile he led them to a field below the road, whither they had no difficulty in persuading all the others to accompany them. When they were all assembled, Tullius addressed them. ‘My friends,’ he said, ‘you have been insulted. Forget, if you will, the injuries which Rome has inflicted upon us in the past and the many disasters we have suffered. But – I ask you – how do you propose to tolerate what has been done to you today? The opening event in their festival was our humiliation! Do you not realize that you have today suffered a most shameful defeat? When they turned you out, did you not feel the curious eyes of every man of them upon you, of Romans and foreigners alike, while your wives and children were laughed to scorn? Is it not obvious that everybody who heard the proclamation, or saw us go, or met this ignominious procession on the road, must believe that there is some dreadful stain upon us, and that we are being expelled from the society of decent men because our presence at the Games would pollute them? Moreover has it not occurred to you that we should probably all be dead if we had not got away – or run away, rather – so quickly? Surely you cannot fail to feel that Rome is an enemy city, since another day’s delay there would have meant your deaths. Rome has declared war on you; and she will be sorry for it – if you are men.’
Tullius’s speech was fuel to the fire of the general indignation. They all dispersed to their various communities, and there, by inflammatory speeches, so effectively roused everybody else that soon the whole Volscian nation was in revolt.
The command in the war which was now imminent was by universal consent entrusted to Attius Tullius and Gaius Marcius, the Roman exile. Of the two, the latter was felt to be the abler man, nor did he in fact disappoint the confidence which was placed in him. Moreover his successes indicated that the strength of Rome lay in her commanders rather than in the armies they commanded. Marcius first marched for Circeii, expelled the Roman settlers, liberated the town, and handed it over to Volscian control; he captured Satricum, Longula, Polusca, and Corioli, all places recently acquired by Rome; then, after taking over Lavinium, he marched across country into the Latin Way and took Corbio, Vitellia, Trebium, Labici, and Pedum. Finally he marched on Rome and took up a position by the Cluilian Trenches five miles outside the walls. From here he sent out raiding parties to do what damage they could to the farms and crops – attaching, however, a special officer to each party with instructions to see that no damage was done to property owned by patricians. Dislike of the populace may have prompted this move; or it may be that he hoped by means of it to sow fresh dissension between them and the Senatorial party. The Roman populace was already out of hand, and the tribunes, by their accusations, were rousing them against their leaders so successfully that a new quarrel would undoubtedly have broken out, had not the common fear of invasion temporarily held things together. Shared danger is the strongest of bonds; it will keep men united in spite of mutual dislike and suspicion.
Upon one point, however, the two parties could not agree: the Senate and the consuls were convinced that the only hope was to meet the threat to the city by force; the commons stood out for any measures rather than a resort to arms, and soon revealed their intention of forcing the Senate to their way of thinking. The consuls, Nautius and Furius, were engaged in reviewing troops and posting garrisons and pickets at defensible spots along the walls and elsewhere, when to their consternation they were mobbed by hundreds of men all shouting for peace; not only was the mob in no mood to obey orders, but the angry men who composed it went on to compel the consuls to convene the Senate and formally propose to send envoys to Marcius. The Senate, seeing that the commons were in no mood to fight, accepted the proposal, and the envoys were dispatched to treat for peace. The answer they brought back was an uncompromising one: if, Marcius declared, all their lost territory were restored to the Volscians, then peace terms might be discussed; if, on the contrary, Rome hoped to enjoy her conquests without having to fight to preserve them, she had better realize that he had not forgotten either the insults of his fellow–citizens or the kindness of his present hosts, and would do all in his power to prove that exile, far from crushing his spirit, had strengthened his determination. After their first failure the same envoys were sent to try again. This time they were refused admission to the Volscian lines. Even priests, we are told, wearing the emblems of their office, went to beg for a hearing, but were no more able than the envoys to turn Marcius’s inflexible resolve.
In these circumstances the women of Rome flocked to the house of Coriolanus’s mother, Veturia, and of his wife, Volumnia. Whatever their motive – whether it was fear of impending disaster or a piece of state policy – they succeeded in persuading the aged Veturia and Volumnia, accompanied by Marcius’s two little sons, to go into the enemy’s lines and make their plea for peace. Men, it seemed, could not defend the city with their swords; women might better succeed with tears and entreaties. The first effect upon Coriolanus when he was told that a number of women had arrived was a hardening of his resolution; and indeed it is not to be expected that women’s tears would move a man who had remained inflexible before ambassadors and priests – before the majesty of a national deputation and the awful influence of religion upon eyes and heart. One of his friends, however, recognized Veturia, marked by her look of deep distress, as she stood between Volumnia and the two boys. ‘Unless my eyes deceive me,’ he said, ‘your mother is here, with your wife and children.’ Coriolanus was profoundly moved; almost beside himself, he started from his seat and, running to his mother, would have embraced her had he not been checked by her sudden turn to anger. ‘I would know,’ she said, ‘before I accept your kiss, whether I have come to an enemy or to a son, whether I am here as your mother or as a prisoner of war. Have my long life and unhappy old age brought me to this, that I should see you first an exile, then the enemy of your country? Had you the heart to ravage the earth which bore and bred you? When you set foot upon it, did not your anger fall away, however fierce your hatred and lust for revenge? When Rome was before your eyes, did not the thought come to you, “within those walls is my home, with the gods that watch over it – and my mother and my wife and my children”? Ah, had I never borne a child, Rome would not now be menaced; if I had no son, I could have died free in a free country! But now there is nothing left for me to endure, nothing which can bring to me more pain, and to you a deeper dishonour, than this. I am indeed an unhappy woman – but it will not be for long; think of these others who, if you cannot relent, must hope for nothing but an untimely death or life–long slavery.’
His wife and children flung their arms round him; the other women all burst into tears of anguish for themselves and their country, until at last Coriolanus could bear no more. He kissed his wife and the two boys, sent them home, and withdrew his army. There are various accounts of his ultimate fate: he is said by some to have sunk under the burden of resentment which his behaviour brought upon him, though the manner of his death is not known. I have read in Fabius, our oldest authority, that he survived to old age: Fabius states, at least, that he used often to say towards the end of his life that exile was a more bitter thing when one was old.
Rome in those days was free from petty jealousy of others’ success, and the men of Rome did not grudge the women their triumph. To preserve the memory of it for ever the temple of Fortuna Muliebris was built and consecrated.
Later the Volscians again invaded Roman territory, this time in alliance with the Aequians. There came a moment, however, when the Aequians were unwilling to continue serving under Attius Tullius, and there was a quarrel about who should command the allied armies. The quarrel led to a bloody battle, in which the good luck of Rome destroyed for her two hostile armies in a bitter and disastrous struggle.
Of the next consuls to enter upon office, Titus Sicinius got the Volscian war for his sphere of action, and Gaius Aquilius the war with the Hernici, who were also up in arms. In the course of the year the Hernici were defeated. The campaign against the Volscians was indecisive.
The following year, in the consulship of Spurius Cassius and Proculus Verginius, peace was made with the Hernici, the surrender of two–thirds of their territory being included in the terms of settlement. Of this land the consul Cassius proposed to make over half to the Latins and half to the Roman commons, and he was anxious, if he could, to increase the gift by the distribution of certain other parcels of state–owned land which he declared were being illegally kept in private hands. The men who held it – a considerable number – were alarmed by this threat to their private interests, while the nobility as a whole were uneasy on political grounds, feeling that Cassius’s proposal might lead in the end to a threat to liberty. This was the first occasion on which a proposal for agrarian reform was brought forward in the Senate, and it has never been done since without serious disturbances. The other consul, Verginius, opposed the land–grants, and the Senate supported him; there was some support, too, even from the commons, who resented the fact that the proposed bounty had been extended to include allied communities as well as citizens of Rome; moreover, they had often heard Verginius prophesy in his public utterances that Cassius’s bounty would turn out to be a disaster, and that the gifts of land would bring slavery to their recipients. The way, he declared, was being opened to monarchy – for why had the Latins been included, or why was it proposed to restore a third of their territory to the Hernici, who only the other day were the enemies of Rome, if it were not to make Cassius their master in place of Coriolanus? Popular support now began to swing to Verginius, the opponent of Cassius’s proposed legislation, with the result that both consuls competed with one another in angling for favour, Verginius declaring that he would allow grants of land to private owners provided that those owners were Roman citizens. Cassius took a different line – and fared worse: by his proposed distribution of land he had hoped to ingratiate himself with Rome’s allies, and had thereby destroyed his credit at home; in order, therefore, to recover his lost favour, he put forward another measure which he hoped would prove popular, the repayment, namely, of the money received from the sale of grain imported from Sicily. The commons, however, scornfully rejected this offer, which they looked upon as a direct attempt to purchase power. Fear of the return of the monarchy was deep–seated, and it was this fear which led them to refuse all Cassius’s apparently generous offers with as much contempt as if they already had more than they wanted. Immediately Cassius’s year of office was over, he was tried, condemned, and executed. According to one story it was his own father who punished him, putting him on trial in his own house, causing him to be first scourged, then put to death, and finally making a gift of his property to the goddess Ceres. A statue was made out of the proceeds of his estate, inscribed with the words: ‘the gift of the Cassian family’. Other writers have stated what is probably nearer the truth, namely that he was brought to trial for treason by the quaestors Caeso Fabius and Lucius Valerius; he was found guilty by popular verdict and his house was pulled down by order of the state. The site of the house is the open space in front of the temple of Tellus. But though accounts differ about the circumstances of his trial, there is no doubt of the date: it took place in the consulship of Servius Cornelius and Quintus Fabius.
Popular feeling against Cassius was not of long duration. The idea of agrarian legislation was in itself an attractive one, and once Cassius was out of the way, the commons found it difficult to resist; moreover, their hope of benefiting from it was increased by the action of the Senate, who – meanly, as they thought – had prevented the troops from enriching themselves on the spoils of war taken during the course of the year from the defeated Volscians and Aequians. All the captured material had been sold by the consul Fabius and the proceeds put into the public funds. The family of Fabius was highly unpopular in consequence; nevertheless the senatorial party procured the election in the following year of another member of the family, Caeso Fabius, who assumed office with Lucius Aemilius. This further exacerbated the commons, whose rebellious spirit, with the civil discord it occasioned, encouraged Rome’s enemies to take action. Hostilities followed, and for the time being political differences were forgotten; the two parties were united in face of the common danger, and the Roman armies, led by Aemilius, dealt successfully with the Volscians and Aequians who had risen against them. The broken enemy forces were pursued relentlessly, and suffered heavier losses during their retreat than in the actual fighting.
In the same year, on 15 July, the temple of Castor was dedicated. It had been vowed during the Latin war by Postumius, when he held the office of dictator; his son was appointed as one of the two commissioners to perform the ceremony of dedication.
Again during the course of the year the delightful prospect of agrarian legislation brought restlessness and dissatisfaction. The tribunes did what they could to bolster a popular office by urging a popular measure; but the Senate, feeling that quite enough had been ceded already to the mob, shrank from offering further gifts which might well prove a stimulus to still further unreasonable demands. The most vigorous supporters of the senatorial interest were the two consuls, and under their leadership the senatorial party emerged victorious, not only in the immediate dispute but also by their success in procuring the election of the next consulship of Fabius’s brother Caeso, and of Lucius Valerius, a man who by his prosecution of Cassius had made himself even more bitterly hated by the commons. The year was a difficult one also for the tribunes: the legislation had fallen through, and their much talk about it combined with little performance brought them into contempt. From this time the reputation of the Fabii was very high; the consulship had been in the family for three years in succession and throughout those years they had been in almost continual conflict with the tribunes. It had been, so to speak, a good investment, and the office was allowed in consequence to remain in the family some time longer.
War with Veii soon broke out, and the Volscians resumed hostilities. Roman resources for waging war were more than sufficient, but they were largely wasted by internal dissensions; the state of things was far from healthy, and to increase the general malaise there was a constant succession in the city and the countryside of odd and inexplicable occurrences which seemed to threaten disaster. The soothsayers made their usual investigations (consulting beasts’ entrails and birds’ flight), both on their own initiative and by official order, and declared as a result of them that the wrath of heaven was due to the improper observance of religious ceremonies. In consequence of these alarms a Vestal Virgin named Oppia was condemned on a charge of unchastity and put to death.
Next year, the consulship of Quintus Fabius and Gaius Julius, the political troubles were as bad as ever, and the pressure from foreign enemies more severe. The Aequians took up arms; the men of Veii actually ventured a raid into Roman territory. Anxiety increased, and was still increasing when the next consuls, Caeso Fabius and Spurius Furius, entered upon office. The Aequians were attacking the Latin town of Ortona, and the Veientes, who had had enough of casual raiding, were now threatening a move on Rome. Such dangers might have been expected to bring the commons to heel: in fact, they merely made them more intractable. They resorted once more to their old device of refusing military service; on this occasion they were urged to it by the tribune Spurius Licinius, who in the belief that the moment had come for forcing agrarian legislation on the Senate by sheer necessity had been laying his plans to obstruct the preparations for war. The attempt, however, was a failure; for he soon found directed upon himself all the ill–feeling which attached to the tribunate as a whole, and he was attacked hardly more bitterly by the consuls than by the other tribunes, with whose cooperation the consuls were able to proceed with the recruiting.
Troops were enrolled for the two simultaneous campaigns, against the Veientes and the Aequians. In the division of duties, Fabius took charge of the former, Furius of the latter. In the operations against the Aequians there was nothing worth recording. As for Fabius, he had more trouble with his own men than with the enemy; alone, as consul and commander, he upheld the honour of Rome which his disloyal troops were doing their best to betray. He was a skilful commander, and had shown his skill on many occasions both in the preparation and the conduct of the campaign; on the occasion of which I am writing he had made his dispositions so effectively that one unsupported cavalry charge broke the enemy’s resistance, who retreated in disorder. The infantry refused to press their advantage. Nothing their hated commander could say was able to move them; nor even their own conscience or their country’s shame – not even the danger they would be faced with if the enemy found courage for further resistance – could make them bestir themselves, or even, at the worst, to stand their ground. In contempt of orders they withdrew, and marched back to their camp like beaten dogs, muttering abuse of their commander and of the good service done by the mounted troops. Fabius was unable to find any remedy for this disastrous piece of work, which was proof, if proof were needed, that men of outstanding ability are more likely to lack the power of controlling their own people than of defeating an enemy in battle.
The consul returned to Rome. The bitter hostility of his own men outweighed any enhancement of his military reputation; none the less the Senate managed to keep the consulship in the Fabian family: Marcus Fabius was elected, with Gnaeus Manlius as his colleague.
This year another tribune, Tiberius Pontificius, brought forward a measure for the distribution of land. In spite of the failure of his predeccessor Licinius, he too attempted to sabotage recruitment. For a while he succeeded, to the acute embarrassment of the Senate. Appius Claudius, however, saved the situation by declaring in the House that the power of the tribunes was, in fact, already done for: the previous year it had been actually overridden, and potentially it was for ever ineffective now that a way had been found to turn it against itself. There would always, he argued, be one tribune who was willing to score a personal victory over a colleague and join the patriots for the good of the country. Several tribunes, should that be necessary, would undoubtedly support the consuls, and even a single one, in opposition to all his colleagues, would suffice. All that the consuls and the leaders of the Senate had to do was to win the support of some of them – if they could not of all. Appius’s advice was approved, and the senatorial party began, in consequence, as a general policy to use courteous and friendly language in addressing the tribunes, while those of consular rank who happened to have any personal matter of dispute with one or other of them managed, by a judicious use of private or political influence, to induce them to employ their powers in a wholesome and patriotic manner. In this way, with the support of four tribunes, as against one who was trying to obstruct the necessary measures for public safety, the consuls were enabled to proceed with recruiting.
Roman troops then marched against the Veientes who had been reinforced by contingents from most of the Etrurian towns. These reinforcements had been sent less from any love of Veii than from the hope, which had already begun to crystallize, that Rome might be destroyed by her internal dissensions. In all the councils of Etruria leading men were insisting that Rome was torn apart by political discord, without which her power might well endure for ever; but internal dissension was the poisonous disease of wealthy and powerful communities, the one destructive influence which brought mighty empires low. For a long time, they declared, that evil influence had been kept at bay by wise government action and the willingness of the populace to endure, but now at last it had come to a head: Rome was split in two; each faction had its own representatives, its own laws. Once, though the common people used to obstruct recruiting, they nevertheless obeyed their officers in the field, and, whatever the condition of affairs at home, it was at least possible to have some sort of security, so long as military discipline was maintained; but now the habit of disobeying their superiors had followed the Roman soldiery into the camp as well; during the last war Roman troops, in the middle of a battle, had with one accord handed victory on a plate to their already half–beaten enemy; they had deserted their standards, abandoned their commander in the line, and walked off the field against orders. In short, with a little determination Rome could be defeated by means of her own soldiers; it would be enough merely to declare war, to make them fancy they were about to be attacked, and Fate and the gods would do the rest. Such were the hopes which, after many years of varying fortune in their struggle with Rome, induced the Etruscans to prepare once more for war.
The Roman commanders felt about their men much as the Etruscans did; indeed it was their own troops, and they only, who gave them cause for anxiety. The thought of their shameful conduct in the previous campaign made them shrink from the severe risk of engaging two enemy armies simultaneously; accordingly, to avoid it, they remained within the fortifications of their camp, hoping that time and circumstances would make the men less refractory and bring them to their senses. This made the Veientes and their allies all the more eager to act: their mounted troops rode up to the Roman position, deliberately challenging them to fight; then, when there was no answering movement, they began shouting insults at the soldiers, jeering at the two consuls, and calling out that the Roman army was trying to hide its fear of battle by pretending that it was political difficulties which held it back, and that what the consuls were really afraid of was not that their men were disloyal but that they were cowards. In fact, dead silence and a refusal to budge were, for an army on active service, an odd kind of political demonstration. To all this they added other unpleasant remarks (partly true) to the effect that the Romans were an upstart nation with no roots in the land.
The consuls endured this abuse, shouted at them though it was from right under the wall of the camp, with comparative equanimity; but not so the rank and file: they, more impulsive than their commanders, were overwhelmed with rage and shame, so that they almost forgot their other troubles. Passion was uppermost, and it tore them two ways: they could not bear the thought that the insolent enemy should escape the punishment he deserved, or that the consuls, and the patricians whom they represented, should score a success. At last, however, the mockery and insufferable self–confidence of the enemy proved too much for them: a number of them went to headquarters and demanded instant action.
The consuls thereupon sat for a long time in conference, pretending that it was a matter of strategy which could not be settled off–hand. They wanted to fight, but knew they must check their eagerness to do so, and even conceal it; their men were already roused, but continued opposition to their zeal for action would give it greater punch when the time came. Accordingly the men were told that they must wait; no move would be made yet, as an immediate engagement would be premature. The consuls then issued an order that any man who attempted to fight without orders from an officer would be punished by death. The men were dismissed, their passion for action increased in proportion to the apparent unwillingness of the consuls to let them indulge it. Fuel, moreover, was added to the flames by the behaviour of the enemy, who once it was known that the consuls had decided not to retaliate became even more provocative, certain, as they now were, that they could hurl their insults with impunity; nothing, they supposed, could be clearer than that Roman troops were not to be trusted with arms and that a mutiny was imminent which would mean the end of Roman power. Convinced that this interpretation was correct, they came riding, wave after wave right to the gates of the Roman camp, shouting gibes at the sentries as they came, and barely refraining from a general assault. This proved too much for the Roman rank and file, who could endure such insolence no longer; not a man of them but joined the rush to headquarters. Previously they had put their request cautiously, through the senior centurions; this time it was a very different thing – a noisy and spontaneous demonstration by the whole army. The time to strike had come.
The consuls, nevertheless, continued to temporize, until Fabius realized that his colleague Manlius, afraid that the growing uproar would end in a mutiny, was about to give way. At once, therefore, he ordered his trumpeter to blow a call for silence, and said: ‘I know, Manlius, that these men are capable of victory, but I do not know if they are willing to fight. They are themselves to blame for my ignorance. For this reason I am determined not to give the order for action, unless they solemnly swear to return victorious from this battle. On one occasion Roman soldiers betrayed their commander on the field; they will never betray the gods.’ A centurion named Flavoleius, who had been as peremptory as any in demanding action, stepped forward. ‘Marcus Fabius,’ he cried, ‘I will return victorious, and if I break my vow, may the anger of Jupiter and Mars and the other gods fall upon my head!’ Flavoleius was followed by the entire army in turn, every man swearing the same oath and invoking the same penalty should he break it. The order for action was given; sword in hand, with hot blood and high hopes, they advanced to battle. ‘Now gibe and jeer if you dare!’ was the thought in every heart; ‘here is my sword! Let me find that enemy whose only courage is in his tongue!’
All fought on that day with brilliant courage, whatever their rank, the Fabii with special distinction. The family of Fabius had alienated the commons in the course of many political struggles; in that battle they were resolved to regain their favour and admiration. When the hostile armies faced one another, the enemy showed no sign of weakness or lack of confidence, as they were convinced that the Roman troops meant business no more than on the previous occasion, when they had walked off the field in the campaign against the Aequians; indeed, they felt it was not impossible that the common soldiers might go to even further lengths, the situation being what it was and their attitude being – supposedly – so bitterly hostile to their masters. Events, however, proved otherwise, and every man in the Roman army, roused to fury by the enemy’s insults and their own commanders’ judicious procrastination, entered the fight with a keener appetite for blood than in any previous campaign.
The Etruscans were given no time even to deploy, before the Romans were upon them. Little use was made of missile weapons; they were got rid of as mere incumbrances in the first swift rush, and in less time than it takes to tell the armies were locked in a struggle of the deadliest kind, sword against sword. The conduct of the Fabii was a thing to envy and admire: one of them, Quintus Fabius, who had been consul three years before, was heading an attack on a massed formation of the enemy, when a big Etruscan, a powerful and practised swordsman, came at him through the press. Fabius was not aware of his danger in time, and the Etruscan stabbed him through the heart. The wound was mortal, and when the blade was withdrawn, he was dead. It was only one man down, but it had its effect upon both armies; the Roman troops would, indeed, have given ground at that point, had not Marcus Fabius leapt astride his brother’s body and passionately appealed to them. Covering himself with his shield, ‘What of your oath?’ he cried. ‘Was it as beaten men that you swore to leave the field? Are you more afraid of a cowardly enemy than of Mars and Jupiter by whose names you swore? I swore no oath; but I will either return victorious or die fighting here, Quintus, by your side.’ His other brother, Caeso, the consul of the previous year, was near him as he spoke; ‘Brother,’ he said, ‘is it words that will make them fight? No – but the gods by whom they have sworn. Come, let us give them courage for it not by words but by deeds – like leaders, like men who bear the name of Fabius!’ No more was said; the gallant pair pressed forward with levelled spears, carried the whole line with them, and, in that quarter of the field, saved the day.
Manlius on the other wing was showing qualities of leadership no less vigorous and effective, when a similar misfortune almost brought disaster. Like Quintus Fabius, he was personally leading the attack; the enemy line was about to break under the powerful pressure of his men, who were supporting him with great gallantry, when he was dangerously wounded and forced to retire from the line. His men thought he had been killed and began to give ground; the moment was critical, and they might have surrendered their advantage altogether had not Marcus Fabius galloped up with some troops of cavalry in the nick of time and restored the situation by calling out that Manlius was still alive and that he himself had come to support them after a decisive victory in his own sector of the field. Further to hearten his men, Manlius also managed to show himself, so that the welcome sight of both their commanders provided just the stimulus that was required. By this time the enemy line had, moreover, been somewhat thinned, as their original superiority in numbers had induced them to detach their reserves and send them to attempt the capture of the Roman camp. They met with little resistance, and forced an entry; for a while they occupied themselves with taking what they could find, on the supposition that their battle was over. But they were mistaken; for the Roman reserves, who had failed to prevent their entry, got a message through to the consuls, marched in close order to camp headquarters, and on their own initiative resumed hostilities. Meanwhile Manlius had arrived, and immediately stationed troops at all the gates to prevent the enemy from getting out. The effect of this was to fill the Etruscans, penned in as they were, with the recklessness of despair; they attempted at various points to burst a way out, but to no purpose, until finally a party of men recognized the Roman commander by his equipment and made a direct assault upon him. Their first volley of missiles fell amongst the troops in the consul’s immediate vicinity, but it was followed by a determined and overpowering rush. The consul was mortally wounded and all the men with him took to their heels. This success spurred the Etruscans to greater recklessness, but for the Romans it was a disaster; everywhere in the camp discipline broke down and panic reigned, and things would have been desperate indeed but for the timely action of the staff officers, who hurriedly removed Manlius’s body and cleared one of the gates to give the enemy a way out. They took the opportunity promptly, and as they were making their escape in a disorderly rabble were intercepted by the troops of the victorious Fabius. They were cut to pieces, the survivors making off where and how they could.
It was a resounding victory for Roman arms, but the death of two men of such distinction overshadowed the general rejoicing. The Senate decreed an official Triumph, and Fabius, the surviving consul, replied to the Senate that if an army could celebrate a triumph without its commanders, then he would have no hesitation in allowing it to do so in recognition of its magnificent services; but he personally, since his family was in mourning for the death of his brother Quintus, and the country half orphaned by the loss of his colleague Manlius, would be unable to accept a laurel which was blighted both by a national and by a private sorrow. An honour wisely refused may well return with greater lustre to him who refuses it. So it was with Marcus Fabius: no triumph ever celebrated has been more famous in history than this which he rejected.
The funerals of Fabius’s brother and colleague followed, and at both Fabius himself spoke the funeral oration. By giving the dead men the chief credit for the victorious campaign he won the admiration of all and the honour he himself richly deserved; nor did he forget his original purpose of attempting to heal the breach between nobility and commons, and with this in view billeted the wounded in various patrician houses to be properly cared for. More were taken by members of the Fabian family than by any other, and nowhere were they better looked after. The name of Fabius began, in consequence, to grow in popular esteem, won – it should be added – by methods wholly consistent with the health and harmony of the country as a whole.
For these reasons the election in the following year of Caeso Fabius to the consulship, with Titus Verginius as his colleague, had as much support from the commons as from the senatorial party. His first concern on taking office was to let slip no opportunity of further cementing that national unity, some hopes of which had already begun to appear. He therefore lost no time in proposing that the Senate should anticipate the tribunes in initiating legislation for the distribution of land. One or other of the tribunes, he suggested, was bound to bring the matter forward, and the Senate would be well advised to get in first and make it their own concern, dividing as fairly as possible amongst the commons all land which had been taken from the enemy in the recent campaigns. It was only right, in his view, that the land should belong to the men who had won it by their own sweat and blood. The proposal was received with anger and contempt; some senators, indeed, remarked that Caeso’s wits were going – his mind had been lively enough once, but too much glory had evidently softened it. However, any serious political quarrel was this time avoided. Caeso was commissioned to deal with the situation in Latium, where raids by Aequians were causing trouble. He marched thither with a body of troops, and then crossed into Aequian territory to carry out reprisals. The Aequians withdrew inside the defences of their various towns, and no action of any note was fought.
On another front Rome was less fortunate, for lack of proper caution on the part of Verginius brought about a serious defeat at the hands of the Veientes. His army would have been completely destroyed, had not Caeso come to his assistance in time. Thenceforward Rome’s relations with Veii were of a sort of undefined hostility, neither peace nor war. The Veientes continued to carry on a series of plundering raids, retreating within their fortifications at the approach of Roman troops and coming out again upon their withdrawal. One could call the situation neither regular warfare nor settled peace, as their conduct made a mockery of both; it remained, in consequence, necessarily fluid and indecisive.
Trouble was imminent from other quarters as well: the Volscians and Aequians, for instance, were sure to be up in arms as soon as they had recovered from their recent defeat, and it was clear that the Sabines, Rome’s inveterate enemies, and all Etruria would before long be on the march. It was Veii, however, which was causing anxiety; Veii’s hostility, ever present though not in itself particularly dangerous, and expressed in acts of petty provocation rather than in any serious military threat, could never be ignored, and for that reason prevented Rome from turning her attention elsewhere. It was in view of this situation that the Fabian clan made their proposal to the Senate: ‘As you know, gentlemen,’ said the consul, who was spokesman for the clan, ‘in our dealings with Veii what we need is a regular, permanent force, not necessarily a large one. Our suggestion therefore is that you put the task of controlling Veii into our hands, while you attend to other wars elsewhere. We guarantee that the majesty of the Roman name will be safe in the keeping of our clan, and our purpose is to wage this war at our own expense, as if it concerned our family only. We wish the state to be free of the burden of contributing either money or men.’
The Senate expressed its gratitude for the offer in the warmest terms. The consul then left the House and returned home escorted by a troop of men in marching order, all of them members of the Fabian clan, who had been waiting outside for the Senate’s decision. Having received instructions to be present in full military equipment on the following day outside the consul’s house, they dispersed to their own homes.
News of what had occurred spread swiftly through the city; the Fabii were lauded to the skies. There was talk everywhere of how a single family had shouldered a burden which by right was the country’s as a whole, and how the war with Veii was no longer the responsibility of the state but had passed into private hands. If only, people exclaimed, there were two other families of such gallantry, one might take on the Volscians, the other the Aequians, and the people of Rome enjoy perpetual peace, while all neighbouring nations were being subjected to her rule!
The morrow came, and the Fabii, equipped for service, met at the appointed place. The consul, in the crimson cloak of a commander, stepped from his house; there before his eyes, drawn up in column, stood every male member of the Fabian clan. He took his place amongst them, and gave the word to march. Never before had an army so small and so glorious marched through the streets of Rome: 306 men, all of patrician blood, all kinsmen – men who would have made a fine Senate in any period, and not one of them but was fit for high military command – were on their way to war, resolved to destroy Veii with their own unaided hands. Crowds followed them; many were relatives or friends, their thoughts ranging far beyond the present, with its hopes and fears, to an imagined future big with destiny; the rest exalted by patriotic fervour and almost off their heads with admiration and enthusiasm. ‘Brave lads!’ they shouted; ‘good luck to you all, and success attend your enterprise! Look to us when you are home to reward you well – civic honours, military honours, everything your hearts can desire!’ As the column marched past the Capitol and the Citadel and the temples in the streets, the crowd with one accord prayed to all the gods these sacred places brought into their thoughts to bless the heroic band and soon to restore every man of it to his home and country. But alas their prayers were vain.
The little army left the city by the right–hand arch of the Carmental Gate – afterwards named the Unlucky Way – and proceeded to the river Cremera, where they decided to erect a fort. The new consuls, Lucius Aemilius and Gaius Servilius, now entered upon office.
For a while the enemy confined himself to occasional raids, and in these circumstances the Fabii were perfectly competent both to maintain their stronghold and, by patrolling the boundary between Roman and Etruscan territory, to annoy the enemy while giving complete protection to their own people; soon, however, these incursions were temporarily suspended while the Veientes, with reinforcements from the rest of Etruria, attacked the post of the Cremera and were engaged in a pitched battle – if that is the word – by a Roman force under the consul Aemilius. In point of fact, Aemilius hardly gave them time to deploy; for at the first alarm, while their men were falling–in behind the standards and their supporters were being posted, an unexpected charge by a squadron of Roman cavalry on their flank robbed them of the initiative and threw them into complete confusion. They fell back as best they could upon the Red Rocks, where their camp was situated, and sued for peace. Peace was granted. These folk, however, never knew their own minds for ten minutes together, and, before the garrison was withdrawn from the Cremera, they were sorry they had asked for it.
Once again the Fabii found themselves the opponents of the Veientes. Their little army was neither prepared nor equipped for a major war; nevertheless, in addition to raids on agricultural land and swift punitive measures against enemy depredations, they did, on occasion, try the fortunes of the day in a straight fight, and were more than once victorious – a remarkable achievement for a single Roman family against the most powerful community (as power was reckoned in those days) of Etruria. The Veientes at first bitterly resented their success as a reflection upon their military prestige, but at last those very successes suggested a way of catching their audacious enemy in a trap. Observing, not without satisfaction, that the Fabii were growing more and more reckless with success, they began, every now and again, to see to it that cattle should stray, with every appearance of accident, in the path of the raiding parties; farmers would abandon their farms, and troops sent out to repel raiders would feign cowardice and take to their heels. The result of these tactics was that the Fabii felt such contempt for their enemy that they came to believe themselves always and everywhere invincible. One day, however, over–confidence brought disaster: a long way from the Cremera, far over the intervening plain, they saw a herd of cattle. At once they started out to take them, in spite of the fact that a few parties of enemy troops were visible here and there in the neighbourhood. The idea of danger had not occurred to them, and they went hurrying, in no sort of order, right past an ambush which had been laid for them on both sides of the track; they were beginning to rope in the scattered and terrified animals, when, the concealed enemy troops suddenly emerging, they found themselves surrounded. In consternation they heard the battle–cry burst from the Etruscans’ throats, and the javelins began to fly. The enemy closed in. All round the little band was an unbroken wall of armed men, and under its increasing pressure they were forced inward into an ever–lessening circle, which revealed only too clearly the smallness of their numbers and the fearful superiority of the Etruscans, rank behind rank in that narrow space. For a while they endeavoured to force back at all points the enclosing ring, but to no purpose; then, concentrating in wedge formation upon a single point, by a tremendous effort they succeeded in breaking through. Making their way to the top of some rising ground, they turned and stood on the defensive. It was a good position; it gave them a breathing–space and a chance to recover from the shattering effect of the peril from which they had escaped. Confidence returned; they repelled the Etruscan troops who were coming up to dislodge them, and for a time it looked as if, with the aid of a strong position, that mere handful of men would be victorious. But it was not to be: an enemy force had already been dispatched with orders to work round to the further side of the hill, and now suddenly appeared on the summit in their rear. The advantage the Fabii had gained was gone; they were all killed, and their fort taken. Authorities agree that 306 men perished, one only escaping with his life – he was hardly more than a boy, and survived to keep alive the Fabian name and to render high service to Rome in times of need, both in politics and war.
At the time of the defeat of the Fabii Gaius Horatius and Titus Menenius had already begun their term as consuls. Menenius was promptly dispatched to deal with the victorious Etruscans. A further defeat followed. The Etruscans occupied the Janiculum, and Rome, which in addition to the war was suffering from shortage of supplies, as the enemy had crossed the Tiber, would have been reduced to a state of siege, had not the other consul, Horatius, been recalled from operations against the Volscians. None the less, war, on this occasion, came so close to the actual walls of Rome that a battle – an indecisive one – was fought at the temple of Hope, and another at the Colline Gate, where the advantage, slight though it was, which was won by Roman troops, was nevertheless enough to restore their confidence for the future.
The following year saw Verginius and Servilius as consuls. Discouraged by their recent defeat, the Veientes turned to minor operations, raiding Roman territory on a fairly large scale from their fortified base on the Janiculum. For a time neither cattle nor farmers were safe from them, but they were finally caught in the same trap as that which they had laid for the Fabii: cattle had been driven out to graze in various places deliberately to attract them, and, like the Fabii, they fell into an ambush. As there were more of them, their losses were proportionately greater. Anger at the humiliation of this reverse led directly to another, even more serious: having crossed the Tiber under cover of darkness they attempted an assault upon the camp of the consul Servilius, but were repelled with heavy losses and struggled back with difficulty to the Janiculum. Without hesitation Servilius followed them across the river and fortified a position at the base of the hill. Next day at dawn he was eager for action; the previous day’s success had given him confidence, and, as supplies were short, he was bent upon moving quickly – even recklessly. For both reasons, therefore – for the latter particularly – he led, without adequate preparation, an assault upon the entrenched position of the enemy on the top of the hill. The assault was a more shattering failure than that of the Etruscans on the previous day, and he and his men were saved only by the timely arrival of his colleague. The Etruscans thus found themselves caught between two fires; in trying to escape first one contingent and then the other, they were severely mangled. A reckless move had had a happy ending, and the threat from Veii was over.
With the ending of hostilities the position in Rome with regard to supplies became easier. Grain was imported from Campania and most people, now that the threat of famine had passed, brought out what they had hoarded. Peace and plenty were accompanied, however, by a return of popular discontent, and, troubles abroad having ceased, fresh causes for them were sought at home. Once more the tribunes injected the familiar poison of agrarian legislation into the body politic; the Senate resisted and again the tribunes did all they could to rouse the commons against them. This time, moreover, their attacks were directed against individuals as well as the senatorial party as a whole. The two tribunes, Considius and Genucius, who had brought forward the proposal for land reform, issued a summons against Titus Menenius. What told against him with the commons was the loss of the position on the Cremera when he had himself been in command of troops in permanent quarters within easy striking distance; and this, in fact, was his undoing, though his father Agrippa was still popular and the Senate exerted itself on his behalf as strenuously as it had done for Coriolanus. In the matter of his punishment, however, the tribunes showed some restraint; for though the charge was a capital one, he got off with a fine of 2000 asses. None the less, the affair cost him his life; unable to endure the bitter humiliation, he is said to have fallen into sickness which proved fatal. There was another persecution early next year, when Nautius and Valerius were consuls. This time it was Spurius Servilius, and he was brought to trial by the tribunes Caedicius and Statius immediately he retired from office. His behaviour in court was very different from that of Menenius: instead of defending himself by prayers for mercy – his own or the Senate’s – he met the allegations of the tribunes with high confidence in his innocence and popularity. Like Menenius, he too was accused of military incompetence, in his case during the action at the Janiculum. Throughout the trial he showed the same hot courage as he had shown when the country was in danger; in a bold speech he rebutted the charges of the populace and of the tribunes, and poured upon both his anger and contempt for the part they had played in the condemnation and subsequent death of Menenius, reminding them that it was by the good offices of Menenius’s father that the commons, not so long ago, had been restored to Rome and now enjoyed the benefit of having their own representative magistrates – a privilege they were using to such savage purpose. His boldness saved him, though he was helped by his colleague Verginius who, when called as a witness, generously gave him a share of his own credit. The trial of Menenius, so strongly had the feelings of the court been swayed, had an even greater influence in his favour.
Political troubles were, for the time being, over; but war broke out again with the Veientes, now in alliance with the Sabines. The consul Valerius was dispatched to Veii with an army reinforced by contingents from the Latins and the Hernici, and with no time wasted led an assault upon the Sabines, who had taken up a position just beyond the walls of the town. The attack was a surprise and completely disorganized the defence; and while small scattered groups were trying ineffectually to deal with it, Valerius got possession of the gate which had been his first objective. Once Roman troops were within the fortifications, what followed can hardly be called a fight; it was a massacre. The noise could be heard as far as Veii, where panic ensued, as if the town were already in enemy hands. There was a rush to arms; some went to the help of the Sabines, others attacked the Roman troops who, at the moment, had no other thoughts than the work in hand and were temporarily thrown off their balance; but they quickly rallied, and successfully resisted the pressure both on their front and rear, until the cavalry were sent into action and carried all before them. The armies of the two most powerful neighbours of Rome had been simultaneously defeated.
Meanwhile the Volscians and Aequians had invaded Latin territory and caused damage to property there. Acting on their own initiative without waiting for troops or officers from Rome, the Latins, assisted by the Hernici, repelled the invaders and got possession of their camp, thereby not only recovering their stolen property but taking a great mass of valuable material abandoned by the enemy. But in spite of this success the consul Nautius was ordered out against the Volscians: it was, I suppose, a matter of precedent, the Senate being unwilling to allow allied states to wage war independently, unsupported by Roman forces and without a Roman general in command. The Volscians were insulted and provoked in every possible way, but nothing would induce them to risk an action in the field.
The next consuls to take office were Lucius Furius and Gaius Manlius; the latter had Veii as his sphere of action, but there were no hostilities as a forty years’ truce was granted at Veii’s request, on condition of their paying a cash indemnity and supplying Rome with grain. The peace was promptly followed by renewed political strife, the tribunes applying their old goad of agrarian reform until the commons were, as usual, completely out of hand. The consuls resisted the proposed measures with all the force they could muster, undeterred by the conviction of Menenius or by what might have been the conviction of Servilius. As soon as their term was over, they were arrested by the tribune Gnaeus Genucius. They were succeeded by Lucius Aemilius and Opiter Verginius – or possibly Vopiscus Julius, according to some records, in place of the latter; but that does not affect my story, which concerns, at the moment, the ex–consuls Furius and Manlius. These two men, summoned, as they were, to appear in court, walked the streets of Rome wearing mourning and addressing themselves not only to the commons but to the younger members of the nobility. The latter they urged with the utmost solemnity to have nothing to do with advancement to political office, but to realize the unpleasant truth that the consular rods, the purple–bordered toga, and the chair of state were, in effect, nothing other than the trappings of a funeral: the insignia of power were like the fillets on an animal destined for the sacrifice – they doomed the wearer to death. Anyone who still longed for the sweets of office, had better recognize at once that the consular authority had become enslaved to the power of the tribunes; a consul was no better than the tribunes’ flunkey, able to act only at his masters’ nod; should he venture an independent move, or dare to consider the class to which he belonged – if he were fool enough to suppose that anyone except the commons existed in the body politic, let him take warning by Coriolanus’s exile and Menenius’s condemnation and death. Propaganda of this sort was highly successful, and members of the Senate at once began to hold secret meetings to discuss what steps should be taken. In all their discussions one thing was never in doubt, namely that Manlius and Furius must somehow, by fair means or foul, be saved from the necessity of appearing in the courts. The more savage the measures suggested, the more they were applauded, and when, finally, a proposal was put forward to attain their end by criminal violence, an agent was found to do the deed.
On the day of the trial excited crowds gathered in the Forum, awaiting the arrival of the tribune. He did not come. At first people were merely puzzled, but soon, when there was still no sign of him and the delay began to look suspicious, they supposed he had been scared off by the nobles and proceeded to complain of his cowardly desertion of the popular cause. Finally some men who had been to the tribune’s house brought the news that he had been found dead in his room. The news was soon all over the Forum, and the crowd melted away like an army on the death of its commander. The other tribunes were more alarmed than anybody else, as the death of their colleague proved only too clearly the inefficacy of the law which was supposed to guarantee the sanctity of their persons. The senatorial party was delighted – more so, perhaps, than was seemly. Not one of them felt any regret for the crime; indeed, even those who had not been implicated wished to assume their share of responsibility, and it was openly said that the power of the tribunes being a bad thing must be put down by bad means.
Under the shadow of this discreditable victory the edict was issued for raising troops; the tribunes were too much alarmed by recent events to venture a veto, and the consuls put the matter through. This time, the fury of the commons was directed less upon the consuls for exercising their power than upon the tribunes for failing to oppose them; they declared that their liberty was gone for ever, that the bad old days were back again and that the authority of the tribunes was dead and buried in Genucius’s grave. Other means must be found of resisting the patricians, and their only hope, as they had nobody to help them, was to help themselves. Of what did the consuls’ official retinue consist? Of twenty–four lictors, all of plebeian birth! What could be feebler or more contemptible to anyone who had the spirit to see it in its true colours, and not to magnify it in his fancy to something tremendous and awe–inspiring?
As a result of this sort of talk the commons were in a dangerous mood, when, in the course of the recruiting, a man named Publilius Volero refused to be enlisted in the ranks on the ground that he had previously been a centurion. The consuls sent a lictor to arrest him. Volero appealed to the tribunes; none came to his assistance, and the consuls ordered him to be stripped and the rods made ready.
‘I appeal to the People,’ he shouted, ‘since the tribunes would rather see a citizen of Rome flogged than be murdered by you in their beds.’ The bolder his defiance, the more roughly the lictor handled him, tearing the clothes from his back. Volero was a powerful fellow, and he had friends to help him; he broke from the lictor’s grasp and thrust his way into the thick of the crowd where the uproar was loudest in his support. ‘I appeal,’ he cried; ‘I beg for the protection of the commons. Come, friends! Come, fellow–soldiers! Why wait for the tribunes – it is they who need help from you!’ There was wild excitement. With the mob apparently preparing to fight, it was clear that a crisis of extreme gravity had come. In another moment all respect for the law of the land or the rights of individuals would be gone.
Faced by this storm the consuls quickly realized the insecurity of high position unsupported by force. The lictors had been manhandled, their rods broken, and they themselves were hustled out of the Forum and compelled to take refuge in the Senate House, still in the dark as to how far Volero would use his victory. At last the uproar in the streets died down, and a meeting of the Senate was called at which many bitter things were said about the insults they had endured from the outrageous conduct of Volero and the violence of the mob. A number of bold and uncompromising proposals were put forward, but the voting went with the older members of the House, who shrank from the idea of a class conflict with nothing but anger on one side and recklessness on the other.
Volero, after this, was in high favour with the commons, and was made tribune at the next election, to serve during the year in which Lucius Pinarius and Publius Furius were consuls. It had been generally supposed that he would use his office to damage in every way he could the out–going consuls, but he did nothing of the kind; putting national welfare before personal grievances and without even a word against the consuls, he brought a bill before the commons to provide that plebeian magistrates should be elected at the Tribal Assembly. At first sight the proposal seemed harmless enough, but in fact it was of great importance, as it would deprive the patricians of the power of using the votes of their personal dependants to secure the election to the tribunate of their own nominees. To the commons, naturally enough, it was entirely welcome, while the Senate put up as vigorous a resistance as it could; it lacked, however, the one means to make the resistance really effective, the veto, namely, of one of the college of tribunes. This neither the consuls nor the nobility had sufficient influence to command. None the less party disputes on the proposal, which was of great intrinsic gravity, continued throughout the year.
Volero was re–elected tribune by the popular vote, and the Senate, convinced that a real trial of strength was about to come, returned Appius Claudius to the consulship. He was the son of the other Appius, and the mutual hatred between him and the commons was the legacy of the struggles of the previous generation. Titus Quinctius was elected as his colleague.
Immediately the new consuls were in office, discussion of Volero’s proposal became the first concern of government. The measure found fresh and even more uncompromising support in Volero’s colleague Laetorius, another of the tribunes and a man of unparalleled military reputation. No doubt his success as a soldier – there was no finer then living – made him less cautious as a politician; for while Volero confined himself to the merits of the measure as such, and refrained from personal attack upon the consuls, Laetorius launched out into savage abuse of Appius and his family, whom he stigmatized as tyrants and the bitterest persecutors of the people of Rome. He was, however, no orator, and in the middle of a speech in which he was trying to declare that the Senate had elected not a consul but a hangman to bully and murder the working men of Rome, he suddenly broke down. The passion for liberty was in his breast, but his unpractised tongue could not find words to express it. ‘Citizens!’ he ended, ‘I am no speechmaker, but what I have said I can make good. Be here tomorrow; in sight of you all I will get the measure through, or die in the attempt!’
Next day the tribunes were the first to arrive and occupied the speakers’ platform. The consuls and the nobility took their places, bent upon stopping the passage of the measure. Laetorius ordered all who were not to vote to be removed. The younger nobles stood their ground and refused to budge. Laetorius ordered some of them to be arrested, and Appius countered by declaring that a tribune had no jurisdiction over anyone who was not a member of the commons, as his office was not a national one but restricted to the affairs of his own class; moreover, even were this not true, ancient precedent would prevent him from forcibly removing anyone at all, the proper formula being, ‘Citizens, depart, if such is your pleasure’. Legal arguments of this kind, advanced with the contemptuous ease of a master, infuriated Laetorius, who in a blaze of anger sent his runner to lay hands upon the consul, while Appius in reply ordered a lictor to arrest Laetorius, crying out for all to hear that he was a mere private citizen with no official authority of any kind whatever. The tribune would have been roughly handled but for the universal and determined support of the mob and the rapid filling of the Forum by excited men who ran from every part of the city to swell the crowd. Appius stuck to his guns, ugly though the situation was, and serious bloodshed was avoided only by the action of the other consul, Quinctius, who prevailed upon the senators of consular rank to get Appius out of the Forum, if necessary by force. Quinctius himself then addressed the angry mob in words as conciliatory as he could make them, and begged the tribunes to dismiss the meeting. He urged all to give their passions time to cool; a little time for thought would not, he declared, rob them of their power; on the contrary it would give it the backing of wisdom, and they would find that the consul had become the servant of the Senate, just as the Senate was the servant of the people.
Quinctius succeeded in calming the crowd, but it was a hard task; the Senate had even greater trouble with Appius. At last, however, the meeting was broken up, and the Senate was convened. In the House various opinions were expressed, all dictated either by fear or anger; gradually, however, feeling grew calmer, and a revulsion from continuing the struggle became more marked the more coolly members were able to discuss the situation – so much so, in fact, that Quinctius received a vote of thanks for the part he had played in mitigating the violence of the dispute. Appius was asked to consent to the restriction of consular authority within limits compatible with political harmony, on the grounds that in present circumstances the nation as a whole was left helpless between the tribunes on the one hand and the consuls on the other, each of whom were attempting to acquire complete control; the country was being torn two ways, and in the struggle for domination national security was lost sight of. Appius in reply swore by everything he held sacred that, in his view, sheer cowardice was betraying the country and abandoning her to her fate; he as consul was doing his duty and the Senate was failing to support him as it should, while the terms it was prepared to accept were more oppressive and humiliating than those it had assented to on the Sacred Mount. But the Senate was unanimous against him and he was forced to give way. The measure was passed into law without further opposition, and for the first time tribunes were elected in the Tribal Assembly. According to Piso, their number was increased by three, as if there had previously been only two. He also gives their names: Gnaeus Siccius, Lucius Numitorius, Marcus Duellius, Spurius Icilius, and Lucius Maecilius.
While these troubles were still in progress, war broke out with the Volscians and Aequians. They had invaded Roman territory in the hope that the commons might take refuge with them should they decide once again to secede, but they withdrew as soon as they heard that Rome had settled her differences. Of the two consuls, Claudius was given command against the Volscians, Quinctius against the Aequians. In his conduct of the campaign Appius showed the same savage temper as he had shown in political controversy, and it had the freer rein as there were no tribunes to hamper it. His loathing of the commons surpassed even his father’s in bitterness; it was intolerable to think that he had been beaten by them, and that when he had been elected to office as the one man capable of standing up to the power of the tribunes, a law had been passed which previous consuls had successfully withstood, with less expenditure of effort and far less hope of success in the senatorial party. He was a proud man at the best of times, and in his rage and indignation at what had occurred he was driven to exercise his authority over his men in the most savage and brutal way. But they were drunk with insubordination, and nothing he did could bring them to heel. They remained unremittingly idle, negligent, and obstinate; neither shame nor fear could reduce them to obedience. Ordered on the march to quicken their pace, they deliberately dragged their feet; working hard, on their own initiative, at whatever the task might be, they promptly downed tools when their commander appeared on the scene to keep them at it; they refused to look him in the face, they muttered curses as he passed, until even he, who had cared so little for the hatred of the commons, was sometimes shaken. Finally, when all disciplinary measures, however severe, had proved useless, he gave up the men in despair and turned his wrath on the centurions who, he declared, had corrupted them, and whom he contemptuously referred to as his tribunes and Voleros.
All this was well known to the Volscians, who accordingly increased their pressure in the hope that Appius would have to face organized insubordination of the same scale as Fabius had had to face on a previous occasion. In fact it went much further: Fabius’s men had refused to conquer; Appius’s men actually desired defeat. Ordered into the line, they quite shamelessly turned tail and made for their camp, offering no resistance whatever until the enemy was inflicting severe casualties on the rearguard and obviously preparing to assault the camp’s fortifications. The threat of this at last aroused their pugnacity and the Volscians were robbed of their victory and forced to retire; none the less it was all too clear that the loss of the camp was the only thing the Roman soldiers were unwilling to submit to; otherwise they gloated over their ignominious defeat. The conduct of his men in no way diminished Appius’s determination to assert his authority; he had every intention of proceeding to the severest measures and was about to order the men to parade, when his officers came to him in a body and warned him on no account to bring his authority to a test, as the whole weight of it necessarily lay in the goodwill of his subordinates. They told him that the men were saying that they would refuse to parade; there were demands throughout the army for a withdrawal from Volscian territory; the victorious enemy had forced his way to the gates of the camp and come within an ace of storming its fortifications, and a disaster of the first magnitude was no longer a mere matter of apprehension but a hideous certainty. Appius allowed himself, for the moment, to be persuaded. After all, the men would gain nothing beyond a postponement of their punishment, so he gave up the idea of an immediate parade and issued orders for the army to move on the following day. At dawn the bugles sounded and the march began. Directly the column was clear of the camp the Volscians attacked its rear – the signal to march might well have been their own. The confusion in the Roman rear quickly spread to the leading columns, till the whole army was in hopeless disorder. Commands were inaudible and there was no chance of forming a line for effective resistance. In every man’s head the one thought was to save his own skin; all order abandoned, there was a scramble for safety over piles of dead bodies and discarded weapons, continued even after the enemy had ceased his pursuit. The consul, who had followed the rout in a vain attempt to rally his men, did finally succeed in getting what was left of them together; he then moved to a new position in friendly territory, ordered a parade, and addressed the troops, calling them, with full justification, an army who had betrayed military discipline and deserted its standards. He then asked them individually where their weapons were, or their standards, as the case might be, and gave orders that every soldier who had lost his equipment, every standard–bearer who had lost his standard, every centurion, too, and distinguished–service man who had abandoned his post, should be first flogged and then beheaded. The remainder were decimated.
The campaign against the Aequians was conducted in a very different spirit: here the consul and his men vied with one another in goodwill on the one side and generous consideration on the other. Quinctius was a kindlier man than his colleague, and that he was so was the greater satisfaction to him when he saw the results of Appius’s ill–starred severity. As a consequence of this close cooperation between the army and its commander, the Aequians would not risk an action, but allowed the enemy to raid their territory where and when he pleased. More valuable material, including cattle, was consequently taken than in any previous campaign against that people. The whole of it was distributed amongst the troops. Nor did Quinctius omit to commend the army’s conduct – a thing hardly less gratifying to a soldier than more tangible rewards. The cordial relationship between the army and its commander rendered the men, on their return to Rome, less hostile towards the Senate, which, they declared, had given to the other army a tyrannical master, but to themselves a father.
What with victory and defeat in war and bitter class conflict both at home and abroad, the year had been an eventful one; but what made it most memorable was the new measure about the Tribal Assembly, the importance of which lay less in its practical results than in the victory it represented in the class struggle. In point of fact, the loss of dignity caused by the exclusion of the patricians from the Assembly outweighed any actual shift in the balance of power between the two classes.
A more turbulent year followed, when Lucius Valerius and Titus Aemilius entered upon the consulship. The causes of the trouble were, first, the continuance of the conflict over the distribution of land, and, second, the trial of Appius Claudius. Appius was the most determined opponent of the proposed legislation, and he was engaged in pushing the cause of the present owners of the land under dispute with as much confidence as if he had still been in office when a summons was issued against him by the tribunes Duellius and Siccius. Never had a man more bitterly hated by the commons, both for his own and for his father’s offences, faced his trial before the people; nor had the senatorial party ever made such efforts in defence of any other of their order, feeling, as they did, that a champion of the Senate and vindicator of their own dignity, who, albeit with somewhat excessive zeal, had steadfastly opposed every attempt by the tribunes or the people to stir up political trouble, was being offered as a sacrifice to the angry mob. The only senator to remain wholly unperturbed by the whole business was Appius himself: neither the threats of his enemies nor the entreaties of his friends had the smallest effect upon him. Other men in such circumstances might have been induced to wear mourning or to humble themselves by making personal appeals for mercy; but not Appius. Though he had to plead his cause before the people, even so he refused in any way to mitigate or soften his accustomed asperity of speech; his old proud look, his well–known contemptuous glance, the familiar fire and vigour of his words made not a few of the commons as much afraid of him in the dock as they had been when he was consul. He made one speech only in his own defence, and the tone of it was wholly characteristic: one might have thought that he was prosecuting his accusers rather than defending himself against them. Nothing could shake him, and both the tribunes and the commons were so paralysed by his confidence that they voluntarily adjourned the trial without fixing a definite date for its resumption. After a short interval, and before the day finally agreed upon arrived, he fell ill and died. The tribunes tried to stop the eulogy pronounced in his honour, but the people insisted upon giving him his due. He had been a great man, and they refused to rob his dying day of the traditional tribute, listening to the words spoken in his praise now that he was dead with as good a will as they had listened before to his accusers. Thousands of them attended his funeral.
In the course of this year Valerius led an expedition against the Aequians. They refused battle, so he ordered an assault upon their camp, but was prevented from taking it by a sudden and violent storm with hail and thunder. This was quite unexpected, but the men were even more surprised when, the order for withdrawal having been given, the storm was succeeded, no less suddenly, by perfect calm and clear skies, so that it was difficult not to feel that supernatural powers were defending the camp and that it would be impious to attempt a second assault. Operations were therefore diverted to the destruction of crops. The other consul, Aemilius, conducted a campaign against the Sabines, and there, too, operations were confined to the devastation of farmlands, as the enemy refused to leave his defences. Later, thickly populated villages, as well as farms, were burned, and this roused the Sabines to offer some resistance; there was an indecisive engagement, and on the following day they moved back into a safer position. Aemilius felt that this was tantamount to a victory, and left the area though in fact the campaign had hardly begun.
The new consuls, Titus Numicius Priscus and Aulus Verginius, began their term of office while these operations were still in progress. In Rome, political strife continued, and it was beginning to look as if the commons were in no mood to put up any longer with a postponement of agrarian legislation. The storm was on the point of breaking, when the smoke from burning farmsteads and the arrival in the city of farmers and their families fleeing for their lives brought the news that the Volscians were on the march. The threat to national safety checked the outbreak of mob violence just in time. The consuls had prompt instructions from the Senate to take the field with all men of military age, and this had a calming effect on the rest of the commons left in the city. In point of fact the threat proved nothing more than a false alarm; the enemy hastily withdrew, and Numicius proceeded against Antium, while Verginius took control of operations against the Aequians. In the latter campaign the Roman force was ambushed, with results which might well have been calamitous; but it was saved by the valour of the rank and file from a situation of extreme peril into which it had been led by the negligence of its commander. Numicius, at Antium, did better: the enemy was routed in the first engagement and forced to take refuge in the town – a place, for those days, of some wealth and power. Numicius did not risk an assault but contented himself with the capture of the much less important town of Caeno. Meanwhile the Sabines took advantage of the fact that Roman troops were occupied by these two campaigns to send a raiding force right to the gates of Rome. A few days later, however, they had to pay for it; both consuls, by way of reprisal, invaded their territory simultaneously, with the result that the Sabines suffered greater losses than they had inflicted.
The last months of the year brought a period of peace though disturbed, as usual, by the political conflict. The angry commons refused to take part in the consular elections, at which by the votes of the patricians and their dependants Titus Quinctius and Quintus Servilius were returned to office. The new year resembled the old, beginning with internal dissension and ending with foreign war and the patching up of political quarrels. The Sabines swept across the Crustuminan plains bringing fire and sword to the country around the Anio; when almost at the walls of Rome near the Colline Gate they were checked and forced to retreat, taking with them, however, many prisoners and large numbers of cattle. Servilius marched in pursuit; failing to catch the retreating column anywhere where a regular engagement could be fought, he turned his troops over to pillaging; this was carried out over so wide an area and on such a devastating scale that he returned to Rome with a quantity of plunder many times as great as what had previously been lost. Operations against the Volscians, too, were highly successful, through the combined efforts of the troops and their commander: in a hand–to–hand struggle, in which on both sides there were very heavy losses in killed and wounded, the Romans, who were outnumbered and consequently felt their losses more keenly, would have fallen back if the consul had not saved the situation by calling out that on the other wing the enemy were in retreat. This was not true, but the falsehood worked well and put new heart into the men. They resumed the offensive, believing that victory was within their grasp, and the belief was soon a reality. Quinctius, however, was afraid that too vigorous a push might lead to a renewal of fighting all along the line, so he gave the order for withdrawal. For the next day or two all operations were suspended, almost as if by mutual consent, and the enemy employed the interval in very greatly increasing their numbers; large reinforcements drawn from all the Volscian and Aequian communities joined the army in the field, and as all were convinced that the Roman force would, if it knew of their arrival, slip away under cover of darkness they determined to forestall its escape. Accordingly, a few hours before dawn, they moved forward to the attack. There was some confusion in the Roman camp at the unexpected alarm, but Quinctius quickly restored order and then issued instructions for the men to stop in their tents while he took a company of the Hernici to a position outside the defences, and further instructed buglers and trumpeters to get on horseback and by sounding the instruments to keep the enemy on tenterhooks until daybreak. Inside the camp everything remained perfectly quiet for the rest of the night and the men were even able to get some sleep. The Volscians, on the other hand, were kept guessing: the sight of infantry troops equipped for battle, whom they supposed to be Roman and whose numbers they fancied, in the darkness, to be larger than they were, the shrill neighing of horses rendered restless and nervous by riders they were unfamiliar with and by the continuous noise of the bugles, all seemed to point to an imminent attack. Dawn came, and the Roman troops moved out into line of battle; they were fresh and lively after their night’s rest, while the Volscians, who had stood to arms throughout the night, were already tired. At the first thrust they were badly shaken; they were not, however, by any means overwhelmed, for there were hills in their rear into which, screened by their front line, the remainder of their men were able to withdraw safely and in good order. Quinctius, following up their retreat, halted his column at the foot of the rising ground, but he had difficulty in restraining his men, who vociferously demanded to be allowed to press their advantage. Most urgent of all were the cavalry: they positively mobbed their commander, shouting their determination to press on in front of the standards. Quinctius was in two minds: on the one hand, his troops could be trusted; on the other, the terrain was against him. While he hesitated, the men with one accord declared their resolution to advance, and promptly did so. Sticking their spears into the ground, to have less to carry up the steep ascent, they moved forward at the double; the Volscians expended their missile weapons in the first few minutes of the fight, but there were rocks and stones lying handy and these they hurled down with great effect upon the Romans as they came on up the slope. The Romans were thrown into disorder and forced back down the hill, and their left wing was nearly overwhelmed; but Quinctius by reproaching his men first for rashness and then for cowardice succeeded in checking their retreat and shaming them into facing their dangerous situation with confidence. They stood their ground firmly, then, resuming the offensive, and raising once more the battle–cry, pressed forward to the attack. One more rush and they were over the worst, with the steep and broken ground behind them, and they were about to gain the summit of the hill when the enemy fled. Pursuers and pursued were hardly separated as, moving with all the speed they could muster, they reached the Volscian camp which, in the resulting panic and confusion, was captured. The Volscian survivors made for Antium, and the Roman army followed. After a few days’ siege the town surrendered without any further operations having been undertaken against it. From the moment of their recent defeat and the loss of their camp the enemy had no heart for continuing their resistance.