The next consuls were Marcus Genucius and Gaius Curtius. War and political dissension made the year a difficult one. Hardly had it begun, when the tribune Canuleius introduced a bill for legalizing intermarriage between the nobility and the commons. The senatorial party objected strongly on the grounds not only that the patrician blood would thereby be contaminated but also that the hereditary rights and privileges of the gentes, or families, would be lost. Further, a suggestion, at first cautiously advanced by the tribunes, that a law should be passed enabling one of the two consuls to be a plebeian, subsequently hardened into the promulgation, by nine tribunes, of a bill by which the people should be empowered to elect to the consulship such men as they thought fit, from either of the two parties. The senatorial party felt that if such a bill were to become law, it would mean not only that the highest office of state would have to be shared with the dregs of society but that it would, in effect, be lost to the nobility and transferred to the commons. It was with great satisfaction, therefore, that the Senate received a report, first that Ardea had thrown off her allegiance to Rome in resentment at the crooked practice which had deprived her of her territory; secondly, that troops from Veii had raided the Roman frontier, and, thirdly, that the Volscians and Aequians were showing uneasiness at the fortification of Verrugo. In the circumstances it was good news, for the nobility could look forward even to an unsuccessful war with greater complacency than to an ignominious peace. Accordingly they made the most of the situation; the Senate ordered an immediate raising of troops and a general mobilization on the largest possible scale and with even greater urgency than in the previous year, in the hope that the revolutionary proposals which the tribunes were bringing forward might be forgotten in the bustle and excitement of three imminent campaigns. Canuleius replied with a brief but forceful statement in the Senate to the effect that it was useless for the consuls to try to scare the commons from taking an interest in the new proposals, and, declaring that they should never, while he lived, hold a levy until the commons had voted on the reforms which he and his colleagues had introduced, immediately convened an Assembly. The battle was on: the consuls and the Senate on the one side, Canuleius and the populace on the other, were in the full flood of mutual recriminations. The consuls swore that the lunatic excesses of the tribunes were past endurance, that it was the end of all things, that war was being deliberately provoked far more deadly than any with a foreign enemy. ‘The present situation’, they said, ‘is not, we admit, the fault of one party only: the Senate is not less guilty than the people, or the consuls than the tribunes. In all communities the qualities or tendencies which carry the highest reward are bound to be most in evidence and to be most industriously cultivated – indeed it is precisely that which produces good statesmen and good soldiers; unhappily here in Rome the greatest rewards come from political upheavals and revolt against the government, which have always, in consequence, won applause from all and sundry. Only recall the aura of majesty which surrounded the Senate in our fathers’ day, and then think what it will be like when we bequeath it to our children! Think how the labouring class will be able to brag of the increase in its power and influence! There can never be an end to this unhappy process so long as the promoters of sedition against the government are honoured in proportion to their success. Do you realize, gentlemen, the appalling consequences of what Canuleius is trying to do? If he succeeds, bent, as he is, upon leaving nothing in its original soundless and purity, he will contaminate the blood of our ancient and noble families and make chaos of the hereditary patrician privilege of “taking the auspices” to determine, in the public or private interest, what heaven may will – and with what result? that, when all distinctions are obliterated, no one will know who he is or where he came from! Mixed marriages forsooth! What do they mean but that men and women from all ranks of society will be permitted to start copulating like animals? A child of such intercourse will never know what blood runs in his veins or what form of worship he is entitled to practise; he will be nothing – or six of one and half a dozen of the other, a very monster!
‘But even this is not enough: having made hay of the dictates of religion and the traditions of our country, these revolutionary fire–eaters are now out for the consulship. They began merely by suggesting that one of the two consuls might be a plebeian, but now they have brought in a bill which would enable the people to elect consuls as it pleased, from either party – plebeian or patrician. And whom are they likely to elect? Obviously, men of their own class, and the most turbulent demagogues at that. We shall have men like Canuleius and Icilius in the highest office of state. God forbid that an office invested with an almost kingly majesty should fall so low! We should rather die a thousand times than allow such a shameful thing to happen. We are very sure that our forefathers too, had they guessed that by wholesale concessions they would exacerbate, rather than appease, the hostility of the commons and lead them to make further demands each more exaggerated than the last, would have faced at the outset any struggle, however fierce and embittered, rather than permit such laws to be imposed upon them. The concession in the matter of tribunes only led to another, and so it goes on. It is impossible to have tribunes side by side with a governing class in the same community; either the nobility or the tribunate must go. Now – better late than never – we must make a firm stand against their reckless and unprincipled conduct. Are we to take no action when they first deliberately embroil us, thus inviting a foreign invasion, and then prevent us from arming for defence against the danger for which they were themselves responsible? Or when, having more or less invited an enemy to attack us, they refuse to allow us to raise troops – nay, worse, when Canuleius has the audacity to declare in the Senate that unless the members of the House permit his proposals to be accepted as law, as if he were a conquering hero, he will rescind the order for mobilization? What is such a statement but a threat to betray his country, to submit passively to the storming and capture of Rome? It is indeed a timely word of encouragement to the Volscians, to the Aequians, to the men of Veii – but hardly to the common people of Rome. The enemy may well be confident in their ability to climb, with Canuleius in command, to the Citadel on the heights of the Capitol! Gentlemen, unless the tribunes, when they robbed you of your dignity and privilege, robbed you of your courage too, we are ready to put first things first: we will lead you against criminal citizens of Rome before we lead you against an enemy in arms.’
While opinions of this sort were being vented in the Senate, Canuleius was defending his proposed reforms and attacking the consuls elsewhere. ‘Men of Rome,’ he said, ‘the violence with which the Senate has been opposing our programme of reform has made me realize more vividly than ever before the depth of the contempt in which you are held by the aristocracy. I have often suspected it, but now I know: they think you are unworthy of living with them within the walls of the same town. Yet what is the object of our proposals? It is merely to point out that we are their fellow–citizens – that we have the same country as they, even though we have less money. We seek the right of intermarriage, a right commonly granted to other nations on our borders – indeed, before now Rome has granted citizenship, which is more than intermarriage, even to a defeated enemy. By our other proposal we intend no innovation, but merely seek the recovery and enjoyment of the popular right to elect whom we will to positions of authority. What is there in this to make them think that chaos is come again? Is this enough to justify what came near to being a personal assault upon me in the Senate, or their threat to use violence against the sacrosanct office of the tribunes? If the people of Rome are allowed to vote freely for the election to the consulship of whom they please – if even a man of their own class, provided that he is worthy of it, may hope to rise to this high honour – does that mean that our country’s stability and power are necessarily done for? We propose that a man of the people may have the right to be elected to the consulship: is that the same as saying some rogue who was, or is, a slave? Such is their contempt for you that they would rob you, if they could, of the very light you see by; they grudge you the air you breathe, the words you speak, the very fact that you have the shape of men. They declare – if I may say so without irreverence – that a plebeian consul would be a sin in the sight of heaven.
‘We common folk may not be allowed, as our betters are, to consult the Calendar of work days and holidays or the Pontiff’s records, but – I ask you – don’t we know what is familiar to everyone, even to foreigners, namely that here in Rome consuls succeeded kings and possess no dignity or privilege which did not belong to the kings before them? Come, come! One might fancy that nobody knew the story of how Numa Pompilius, who was not only not of noble birth but not even a Roman citizen, was invited, on the authority of the people and with the Senate’s consent, to leave the country of the Sabines and assume the crown in Rome. And what of Lucius Tarquinius? He was no Roman – he was not even an Italian, but the son of Demaratus of Corinth; yet coming here as an immigrant from Tarquinii he was made king. Then Servius Tullius, son of a prisoner of war from Corniculum – a man with nobody for his father and a slave for his mother – reigned over us simply by his native ability and manly virtues. Need I go on? What of Titus Tatius the Sabine, whom our founder Romulus himself took to share his throne? History speaks, my friends: so long as nobody who had conspicuous ability was despised, whatever his origin might be, Rome’s power grew. Would you hesitate today to have a consul of humble birth, when in the past no one raised an objection to having foreigners on the throne, and when even after the expulsion of the kings we never closed our doors against any foreigner with ability? Take the Claudian family: after the abolition of the monarchy we not only gave its members citizen rights, strangers though they were from the Sabine country; we even admitted them to the patriciate. If a foreign immigrant can become first a patrician, then consul, what sort of justice is it to preclude a native–born Roman from all hope of the consulship simply because he is of humble birth? Perhaps we find it hard to believe that people like Numa, or Tarquin, or Servius Tullius, men of vigour and determination, good statesmen and soldiers, could ever spring from an obscure family – or perhaps, even if the miracle happened, we should refuse to let such a person lay his hand upon the helm of the ship of state, and look forward instead to having consuls like the decemvirs – who were all blue–blooded, let me remind you, and all monsters – in preference to such as resemble the best of our kings, self–made men though they were. A likely supposition indeed! However, you may take a different line, and point out that there has never, in fact, been a plebeian consul since the abolition of the monarchy. But haven’t you heard of progress? Are we never to make changes? Because a thing has not been done before – and in a young country there are lots of things which have not been done before – is that a reason for never doing it, however great the benefits it may bring? In Romulus’s reign there were no priests and no augurs: Numa Pompilius created both. Before Servius Tullius introduced it, the census had never been heard of, nor the registration of centuries and classes. There were no consuls till the kings were expelled and the consulate created; it was only recently that the office of dictator came into being – previously the very word was unknown; tribunes, aediles, quaestors were all new once; barely ten years ago we appointed decemvirs to codify the laws – and then gave them the sack. In a city built to last for ever, a city whose future expansion is beyond all reckoning, changes must inevitably come: new powers, new priesthoods, new privileges for families or individuals must at some time or other be introduced. This very measure we are discussing – the ban on intermarriage between the nobility and commons – was brought in only a few years ago by the decemvirs, with the worst effect upon the community and the gravest injustice to the commons. One could hardly offer a more signal insult to one section of the community than to consider it unfit to marry with, as if it were too dirty to touch: it is like condemning it to exile and banishment within the city walls. They take every precaution against the dreadful risk of becoming related by blood to us poor scum. Come, come, my noble lords – if such a connection is a blot on your fine escutcheon – though I would mention that many of you were originally Albans or Sabines, not of noble birth at all, and got your present rank as a reward for services either at the hands of the kings or, later, of the people – could you not keep your precious blood pure simply by determining, on your own initiative, not to marry plebeian wives and not to let your sisters and daughters marry out of the patriciate? No patrician girl need, I assure you, fear for her virtue so far as any of us are concerned: rape is a patrician habit. No one would have forced a marriage contract upon an unwilling party – but to set up a legal ban upon the right of intermarriage, that, I repeat, is the final insult to the commons. Why not go further and propose a ban on marriages between rich and poor? Marriages have always been a matter of private arrangements between families, and now you propose to subject them to the restraint of a law which is the very reflection of your own arrogant conceit, for the purpose, I presume, of splitting society in two and of turning united Rome into two separate communities. I wonder you do not pass a law to stop a plebeian living next door to a nobleman, or walking in the same street, or going to the same party, or standing by his side in the Forum. What difference does it make if a patrician marries a plebeian wife; or a plebeian a patrician one? There is no loss of privilege whatever, as children admittedly take the rank of the father; we expect to gain nothing from marrying into your class except to be considered as human beings and citizens of Rome; and your opposition is wholly unreasonable – unless you take pleasure merely in humiliating and insulting us.
‘Finally tell me this: does the ultimate power in the state belong to you or to the Roman people? When we finished with the monarchy, was it to put supreme authority into your hands or to bring political liberty to all alike? Have the people, or have they not, the right to enact a law, if such is their will? Or are you to quash every proposal of ours by proclaiming a levy of troops immediately it is brought up, and as soon as I, in my capacity as tribune, begin to call upon the tribes to vote, is the consul to reply by administering the military oath and ordering mobilization, with threats against me and my office and the commons in general? Do not forget that twice already you have learned by experience the value of your threats in face of our united resolution – do you wish to pretend that on those occasions you abstained from actual physical conflict purely out of tender feelings towards us? or was the reason, perhaps, that the stronger party happened to be the one to exercise restraint?
‘My friends and citizens, there will be no swords drawn this time either; your opponents will continue to try your resolution but they will never put the strength of your right arms to the proof. Here, then, is my last word – and I speak it for the consuls to hear: The commons are ready for the campaigns which – truly or falsely – you talk so much about, if by restoring their right of intermarriage you unify the country at last; if you enable them by entering into private and domestic alliances to become one people with yourselves; if the hope of political advancement is held out impartially to vigorous and courageous men; if, finally, we are granted a share in the government with the opportunity, inherent in free institutions which are founded upon the principle of annual magistracies, to govern and to be governed in turn. But should anyone deny these conditions and prevent these reforms, you may tell us of a hundred imminent wars and not a man of us will register for service or take up arms: not one of us will fight for the benefit of arrogant masters with whom we have nothing in common either in domestic relationships or in the rewards of public life.’
The consuls finally left the Senate House and went before the assembled populace. Further speeches were, in the circumstances, out of the question, and violent altercation began; and when a tribune demanded a reason for keeping plebeians out of the consulship, Curtius, on the spur of the moment, said it was because only the nobility enjoyed the privilege of ‘taking the auspices’ – or ascertaining, by certain ceremonies, the will of heaven; the children of mixed marriages would be of somewhat equivocal status, and this might adversely affect this important aspect of religious observance. To prevent this was what the decemvirs intended when they forbade intermarriage. Now this was probably true enough, but as things were it was both irrelevant and unfortunate: the commons were furious at what they took to be the worst possible insult – the suggestion, namely, that they were so hateful to the gods that they were unfit to take the auspices. And so the controversy continued to rage – the populace rivalling with their own determination the passionate advocacy of Canuleius – until at last the patricians were forced to yield, and permitted the removal of the ban on intermarriage to pass into law. By this concession they hoped to bring the tribunes either to abandon altogether their other contention – for plebeian consuls – or at least to shelve it until after the war, while the people, satisfied for the time being with what they had actually achieved, would, they thought, be prepared to register for service.
By this triumph over the patricians and his consequent popularity Canuleius now found himself a great man. This fired the other tribunes to continue their struggle, and they fought tooth and nail for their proposed reform, preventing mobilization in spite of the fact that the rumours of war grew every day more insistent. The consuls, rendered powerless by the tribunes’ veto to get anything done through the normal procedure in the Senate, held private meetings for discussion at the houses of leading senators. It was clear that they must admit defeat either by the enemy or by the popular party. The only ex–consuls not present at these discussions were Valerius and Horatius; Claudius expressed the opinion that the consuls should prepare to use force, but the Quinctii – Cincinnatus and Capitolinus – opposed this policy, maintaining that blood must not be shed or any violence employed against the tribunes, whose sacrosanctity had been accepted after a solemn covenant had been made to that effect with the people. The discussions ended in a resolution to permit the appointment of ‘military tribunes’ – senior military officers – with consular authority, to be chosen from either party indifferently. The matter of the consuls they left as it was. This satisfied both people and tribunes.
The day was announced for the election of the new officers – three in number – and at once all the ex–tribunes and anybody else who had spoken or acted against the government set about canvassing for votes; in the white togas of candidates they were here, there, and everywhere in the Forum, to the acute annoyance of the patricians who at first despaired of obtaining office in the present exacerbated state of popular feeling and then, in sheer disgust at the thought of working in harness with such intolerable colleagues, threw in their hands altogether. However, their leaders finally compelled them to stand, in order to avoid the appearance of having surrendered control of the government to their opponents. Men fighting for their own liberty and prestige are very different creatures from men who are called upon to use their judgement, unclouded by passion, when the fight is over. The result of the election was a signal proof of this, for the three candidates returned by the people’s votes were all patricians: the fact that plebeians had been allowed to stand was enough to satisfy them. Such decency of feeling, such fairness and magnanimity characterized, on that occasion, the whole body of the Roman commons – where would you find it today in one single man?
Thus 310 years after the foundation of Rome military tribunes with consular power first entered upon office. The three men were Aulus Sempronius Atratinus, Lucius Atilius, and Titus Cloelius. During their term there was no political dissension and – consequently – no threat of foreign invasion.
According to some writers the creation of military tribunes was not connected with the proposal to throw open the consulship to plebeians. These writers say that the appointment of the three new officers of state with the insignia and authority of consuls was due to the inability of the two consuls to cope with three simultaneous campaigns, a quarrel with Veii having arisen in addition to the war with the Volscians and Aequians and the revolt of Ardea. In any case the new magistracy was still only a tentative arrangement, as after three months it was temporarily suspended in consequence of a decree of the augurs that there had been a technical flaw in the election: the magistrate who presided at the election, Gaius Curtius, had, it was said, incorrectly sited the tent from which the sky had to be watched for the traditional signs from heaven.
Meanwhile a deputation arrived in Rome from Ardea to complain about the recent judgement in the matter of the disputed territory; at the same time they made it clear that if the land were restored to them – its rightful owners – they were prepared to abide by their treaty and remain on friendly terms. The Senate replied that they were unable to rescind a judgement given by the people as a whole: there was neither authority nor precedent for such a thing, and were they to do it now it would imperil the relations between the two parties in the state; none the less, if the Ardeates were willing to wait a little and allow the Senate to decide upon a way of compensating them for what they had suffered, the time would come when they would be glad of their self–control and would know that the Senate had been as much concerned to prevent the original injury as they now were to limit the duration of its effects. The deputation promised to refer the whole question to the government at home, and was then courteously dismissed.
As the country had now no senior magistrate – none, that is, entitled to sit in the Chair of State – the patricians met to appoint an interrex, and his appointment continued for a number of days in consequence of a dispute as to whether the new government should be entrusted to military tribunes or consuls. The interrex himself with the support of the Senate was in favour of consuls, while the tribunes and commons as a whole held out for military tribunes – the recently created office. The dispute ended in a victory for the Senate, because the commons, feeling that there was little to choose between one office and the other as it would in either case be held by a patrician, gave up their opposition; moreover, their leaders preferred an election in which they were not qualified to stand as candidates to one in which they might fail to secure a majority. The tribunes too saw that further opposition was useless, and gave way in favour of the patrician leaders. Under the presidency, therefore, of the interrex, Titus Quinctius Barbatus, Lucius Papirius Mugilanus, and Lucius Sempronius Atratinus were elected to the consulship. During their term the treaty with Ardea was renewed, which proves that these men did hold the consulship that year, though their names do not appear in the ancient annals or in the official lists. Presumably the omission was due to the fact that the military tribunes were treated as if they had been in office throughout the year, though actually their tenure lasted for only three months. Licinius Macer is our authority for the statement that the names of these consuls appeared both in the treaty with Ardea and in the Linen Rolls in the temple of Moneta. The year was a quiet one both at home and abroad, in spite of the numerous threats from neighbouring states.
There are no such doubts about the nature of the chief officers of state for the following year: it is on record without question that the consuls were Marcus Geganius Macerinus (for the second time) and Titus Quinctius Capitolinus (for the fifth). This year also saw the beginning of the censorship, that important magistracy which from a trivial origin subsequently grew to exercise jurisdiction over the whole range of our social proprieties, to determine membership of the classes of Senators or Knights according to property and desert and to have complete control over the regular state revenue and the location of public and private buildings. The office originated in the fact that a census of the population had not been taken for many years and could no longer be postponed, while the consuls were too busy with threats of war from a number of directions to be able to undertake to organize it. The subject was brought up in the Senate, where the opinion was expressed that the service, which was a laborious one and beneath the dignity of a consul, required a special magistrate of its own with a staff of secretaries, who should take custody of the records and determine the form of the census. It was a small matter, but the Senate welcomed the suggestion as it would mean an increase in the number of patrician magistrates – and also, I fancy, because they already foresaw that the distinction of the men who held the office would soon add lustre and significance to the office itself. Even from the tribunes there was no opposition, for they looked upon the new magistracy – rightly enough, as it then was – as merely fulfilling a need rather than as conferring any particular lustre on the holder of it, and they had no wish to be tiresomely provocative in matters of minor importance. The leading men in the country, though invited to stand, considered the post beneath them, and the task of administering the census was given by popular vote to Papirius and Sempronius (the men whose consulship is questioned) to enable them to make up by this appointment for their uncompleted year as consuls. The object of the appointment being what it was, they were given the title of censors.
Meanwhile a deputation arrived from Ardea. The town was threatened with irretrievable disaster, and its people in the name of their ancient alliance with Rome, cemented afresh by the recent renewal of the treaty, were sending an urgent appeal for help. They could no longer enjoy the peaceful relations they had maintained with Rome owing to civil war, which arose, we read, out of political rivalry – the perennial curse of nations and destroyer of more peoples than foreign wars, famine, pestilence, or any other scourge men fancy that the angry gods have sent to ruin them. A young girl of humble birth and well known for her beauty had two rivals for her affections: one belonged to her own class and counted on the approval of her guardians, who were of the same social standing; the other was a young nobleman, attracted solely by her physical charms. The latter had the support in his suit of the aristocratic interest, and the result was that the clash of political faction penetrated into the girl’s own household. Her mother, who would have liked as splendid a match as possible for her daughter, preferred the nobleman; her guardians, who could not keep politics even out of match–making, held out, so to speak, for their own candidate. The dispute continued and when it could not be settled within doors it was taken into court, where, the disputants having put forward their respective pleas, the magistrates gave judgement for the girl’s mother, permitting her to arrange her daughter’s marriage as she pleased. Might, however, was stronger than right, and the angry guardians, after holding forth in the streets to their political sympathizers on the injustice of the verdict, collected a party and carried the girl off from her mother’s house. The noble lover was outraged; under his leadership an army of young aristocrats, out for blood, marched to confront the robbers. There was a savage battle, in which the popular party had the worst of it, and then – unlike the Roman commons on a famous occasion – having withdrawn from the town, sword in hand, and entrenched themselves on a hill outside the walls, proceeded to make destructive raids on the outlying farms of their aristocratic opponents; nor was this all, for having induced by the hope of plunder the whole body of artisans, who had previously been unconcerned in the quarrel, to come to their aid, they actually threatened to lay siege to the town. It was war indeed, with all its horrors, and the whole community seemed to have caught the plague and to be as rabid for blood as the two young men, each of whom was determined to get his girl though it meant the ruin of his country.
Before long neither side found its own resources adequate, and each applied for external aid, the aristocrats appealing to Rome for help in raising the siege, the popular party to the Volscians for reinforcements for the assault. The Volscians were the first to answer the call, and a detachment of them under the command of the Aequian Cluilius ringed the town with a trench and wall to prevent sorties. The consul Geganius, immediately the report of this reached Rome, marched with his troops to a position three miles from the Volscian force, where, as dusk was already swiftly falling, he ordered the men to rest; then at the beginning of the fourth watch he moved forward again and began the construction of a ring of earthworks around the enemy’s position. So rapidly was the work done that by dawn the Volscians found themselves more securely pinned in by the Romans than was the town by themselves – for in point of fact the circumvallation of the town was incomplete, and Geganius was able to construct a fortified ‘arm’ or passage–way, leading from the town–wall, to enable his friends inside to pass in or out.
Cluilius, who had arranged no regular supplies for his men but had fed them hitherto on what he could get from the countryside, now suddenly found himself destitute of any sort of provision, and in this desperate situation invited Geganius to a parley, at which he said that, if the Romans had come with the object of raising the siege, he was willing to withdraw. Geganius replied that it was not the part of a defeated army to propose terms but to accept them: the Volscian force had come of its own free will to attack an ally of Rome – but its departure would be a very different matter. He then gave orders that the beaten men should surrender their commander, lay down their arms, and obey his instructions with a full admission of defeat; if they refused, he would, he said, continue hostilities whether they went or stayed, as he preferred to return to Rome with a victory to his credit, instead of a truce in which nobody would have any confidence. The Volscians, cut off from all outside aid, had no hope but in their swords – and that was not much; to add to their difficulties, the ground where they had to fight was all against them, while retreat was impossible. Surrounded as they were, they were cut to pieces and soon gave up the struggle and begged for quarter. Cluilius was handed over as a prisoner, their weapons were surrendered, and every man, stripped to his tunic, was sent ‘under the yoke’. The remnants of the force, crushed and humiliated, were then allowed to go, but when they had got as far as the neighbourhood of Tusculum they were set upon in their defenceless condition by their old enemies of that town and so terribly punished that hardly a man was left to tell the tale.
Geganius restored peace to the distracted town of Ardea by executing the ringleaders of the recent troubles and turning over their property to the public funds. Though the inhabitants of the place felt that the generous help they had received amply compensated for the territory they had been so unjustly deprived of, the Senate was still convinced that not enough had been done to efface the memory of that notorious act of national avarice.
The consul returned to Rome in triumph, Cluilius the Volscian captain walking before his chariot, while in the procession were displayed the spoils of war, taken from the enemy after his surrender. Quinctius achieved the rare and difficult distinction of performing at home service as notable as his colleague had performed in the field; acting with perfect equity and discretion towards all classes of society, he was so successful in preserving good relations between the political parties that the Senate found in him a strict disciplinarian and the commons a kindly friend. Even in his dealings with the tribunes he avoided contention and got his way by the force of his personality. Quinctius was indeed a remarkable character: five consulships, all inspired by the same high principles, and a life lived throughout with the dignity of a high officer of state won him the awed respect of all not merely as a consul, but still more as a man. That year, with two such consuls, there was no mention of military tribunes.
The consuls for the following year were Marcus Fabius Vibulanus and Postumus Aebutius Cornicen. The year just closed had been remarkable for its fine achievements both in war and in the political arena, and had been rendered memorable abroad, to both friends and enemies, by nothing so much as by the wholehearted assistance given to Ardea in the crisis of her fortunes; the realization of this was an additional spur to the new consuls to blot out, once for all, from men’s minds the memory of the infamous decision of the Roman populace in the matter of the disputed territory. For this purpose they issued a decree authorizing the enrolment of settlers who, as Ardea had been sadly depopulated by the civil war, would help to defend the town against the Volscians. This was the form in which the decree was published, as a blind to the tribunes and the populace who would otherwise have known that a plan was afoot to upset the judgement about the disputed territory; privately, however, the consuls had agreed, first, that the great majority of the settlers should be Rutulians (Ardea was a Rutulian town), secondly, that there should be no grants of land except from the sequestrated territory, and, thirdly, that no Roman should be given a single clod until all the Rutulians had been provided for. In this way the sequestrated territory reverted to Ardea. The commissioners for organizing the new settlement were Menenius Agrippa, Titus Cloelius Siculus, and Marcus Aebutius Helva; they had a most unpopular duty to perform, and not only angered the commons by distributing to an allied state grants of land which the Roman people had by a considered judgement declared to be their own, but also by a strict avoidance of any sort of favouritism failed to satisfy the great nobles; they were summoned by the tribunes to stand their trial before the people, but managed to avoid trouble by remaining in the settlement and thereby giving sufficient evidence of the justice and integrity of their administration.
Both in this year and the following – when the consuls were Gaius Furius Pacilus and Marcus Papirius Crassus – there was peace at home and abroad. The Games which the decemvirs had promised in accordance with a decree of the Senate during the secession of the commons were celebrated. One Poetilius tried to stir up trouble, but without success: he had got himself elected tribune for the second time by promising to force the consuls to bring before the Senate a proposal for the distribution of land to the commons; but he failed to do so, and when, after a great struggle, he managed to get the Senate to vote on whether consuls or military tribunes should be appointed for the succeeding year, the vote was in favour of consuls. He then threatened to obstruct recruiting, which amused people considerably as there was no prospect of war and no call for mobilization.
The next year, when Proculus Geganius Macerinus and Lucius Menenius Lanatus were consuls, was far from continuing the tranquillity of the last. On the contrary, it was a black one in almost every respect – a year of death and danger, of famine and sedition, while starving men were so grateful for gifts of food – given with an ulterior motive – that they almost fell to the lure and bowed their necks to the yoke of sovereignty. Had war been added to the list of miseries, scarcely by the help of all the gods in heaven could the country have survived. It began with famine caused, it may be, by a bad season or – as some say – by the pleasures of city life and the excitement of politics which had kept people from attending to their farms. The nobles accused the working population of idleness, the tribunes blamed the consuls for dishonesty and negligence. Finally, with no opposition from the Senate, they induced the commons to procure the appointment of Lucius Minucius as Controller of Supplies, a man who was to prove during his tenure of office less successful in actual administration than as a guardian of public liberties, in spite of the fact that he did finally succeed in relieving the situation and was deservedly popular and respected in consequence. He began by sending missions all round the neighbouring states in the hope of purchasing grain, but except for a little he was able to obtain from Etruria his hopes were disappointed and he found the position as bad as ever; he accordingly fell back upon an attempt to distribute more evenly the burden of the shortage by various devices, such as forcing people to declare their stocks and, if they possessed more than a month’s supply, to sell the surplus, cutting the slaves’ daily ration and, finally, accusing the dealers of sharp practice and rousing popular fury against them. In effect however these inquisitorial methods did less to relieve the scarcity than to reveal its extent, and many of the poorer people, their last hope gone, covered their heads and drowned themselves in the Tiber to escape the anguish of prolonging their miserable lives.
Things had reached this pass, when a man named Spurius Maelius, who was rated as a cavalryman and was, for those days, exceedingly rich, undertook what should have been a useful service had it not set a very bad precedent and originated in motives which were even worse. At his own expense he bought grain in Etruria through the agency of friends and dependants in that country – a proceeding which in itself, I believe, had adversely affected government efforts to bring prices down – and then started to distribute it free amongst the poor. Such generosity won their hearts, and crowds of them followed him wherever he went, giving him an air of dignity and importance far beyond what was due to a man who held no official position. Their devoted support seemed to promise him the consulship at least, but – so rarely are the fair promises of fortune enough to satisfy the human heart – he was soon nursing a loftier – and a criminal – ambition. Even the consulship he would have had to fight for against the united opposition of the nobility; but it was no longer the consulship he wanted: it was the throne. Nothing less, he felt, would pay him adequately for all his elaborate plans and for the dust and heat of the great struggle which lay before him.
The consular elections took Maelius by surprise, as his plans were not yet fully matured; he was unfortunate, moreover, in the fact that Titus Quinctius Capitolinus, a difficult man for a revolutionary to deal with, was returned for the sixth time, with Menenius Agrippa, surnamed Lanatus, as his colleague. Lucius Minucius was reappointed Controller of Supplies– or perhaps given that position for an indefinite period, as circumstances should demand; for apart from the appearance of his name in the Linen Rolls amongst the magistrates for both years there is no definite agreement on that point. But however that may be, he was, in fact, officially concerned with the same task as Maelius had undertaken in a private capacity, with the natural result that the same type of men – corn–merchants and so on – were constantly in and out of both their houses. This led to the discovery of what was afoot, and Minucius reported to the Senate that Maelius was building up a store of arms in his house and secretly talking to certain groups of people. There was no doubt in Minucius’s mind that plans were going on to set up a monarchy, and that though the time to strike had not yet been fixed everything else had been arranged – the tribunes bribed to betray the country’s liberty and the mob leaders all assigned their tasks. He had, he said, put off giving this information rather longer than public safety required; but he had been anxious to wait until rumours became certainties.
The Senate was both angry and alarmed by this revelation. The leaders of the House blamed the consuls of the previous year for allowing the free distribution of grain and for not stopping suspicious assemblies of the commons in a private house, while at the same time they were no less critical of the new consuls for having waited for a revelation of such importance, which required a consul at least not only to report it but also to take action upon it, to be made to the Senate by a mere Controller of Supplies. Quinctius, on the other hand, maintained that the consuls were not to blame, for, fettered as they were by the Appeal laws, deliberately designed to break their authority, they had less power than will to punish an offence of that sort in the summary fashion it deserved. What was needed, was not merely a resolute man, but a man who was also free from the net of legal controls. Such being the circumstances, Quinctius declared that he would nominate Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus as Dictator, convinced that in him were courage and resolution equal to the majestic authority of that office. The proposal was unanimously approved, but Cincinnatus, hesitating to accept the burden of responsibility, asked what the Senate was thinking of to wish to expose an old man like him to what must prove the sternest of struggles; but hesitation was vain, for when from every corner of the House came the cry that in that aged heart there was more wisdom – yes, and courage too – than in all the rest put together, and when praises, well deserved, were heaped upon him and the consul refused to budge an inch from his purpose, Cincinnatus gave way and, with a prayer to God to save his old age from bringing loss or dishonour upon his country in her trouble, was named Dictator by the consul. Having appointed Gaius Servilius Ahala as his Master of Horse, on the following day he picketed the city and made his appearance in the Forum, where the unusual and surprising sight turned all eyes upon him. Maelius and his fellow conspirators knew well enough that it was against themselves that the powers of that exalted office were directed, but all who were not in the plot asked in bewilderment what sudden rising or unexpected threat of attack could have rendered necessary so drastic a step – a Dictator in all his majesty, the aged Cincinnatus (he was over eighty) in supreme control of the country’s fortunes. On Cincinnatus’s orders Servilius then addressed to Maelius the ominous words: ‘The Dictator requires your presence’. Maelius, turning pale, asked what he wanted, and was told in reply that he would have to answer in a court of law to a certain charge which Minucius had brought against him in the Senate. The wretched man shrank back amongst his friends, looking desperately around for some way of escape, and when Servilius’s sergeant attempted to arrest him he was dragged away by some of the bystanders and fled, calling for help from the common people he had befriended. ‘Save me!’ he cried. ‘The nobles have united to put me down because I was your friend. Help me now in my deadly peril – do not let me be butchered before your eyes!’ His cries availed nothing. Servilius caught him and cut him down, then, spattered with his blood and guarded by a group of young patricians, went back to report to the dictator: Maelius, he said, on a summons to attend him had forcibly eluded the sergeant and was trying to raise a popular revolt. He had been punished as he deserved. ‘Sir,’ the dictator replied, ‘I congratulate you. You have saved the country from tyranny.’
Uncertain of the significance of what had happened, the crowd was in a state of great excitement, when Cincinnatus called for silence and addressed them. ‘Maelius,’ he declared ‘has been justly killed, even if he was not guilty of aiming at the throne; he was summoned by the Master of the Horse to present himself before the dictator, and refused: that in itself was a capital offence. I had taken my seat to hear his cause, and he would have been treated in accordance with the verdict, had the trial proceeded; but having used force in an attempt to avoid trial, by force he has been dealt with. How could we treat such a man as one of ourselves? He was born here amongst a free people protected by just laws; he knew, as we do, that the kings were expelled; he knew that in the same year Tarquin’s nephews, sons of the consul who set our country free, were executed for a plot to restore the monarchy; he knew that the consul Tarquinius Collatinus was forced to resign office and leave Rome simply because he bore the hated name of a king, and that a few years later Spurius Cassius suffered the supreme penalty for conspiring to seize the throne; he knew that only the other day the decemvirs were punished with confiscation, exile, and death for arrogating to themselves the air and authority of kings; all this Maelius knew, yet in this same city of ours he himself dared hoped to reign. And what was he? To be sure, noble blood, high office, distinguished services are not, in Rome, the means of smoothing the path to tyranny; yet we must admit that men like Appius Claudius or Cassius had some reason, at least, to aspire to forbidden heights – they had splendid estates, and family traditions of public service; they had been consuls or decemvirs. But Spurius Maelius! a fellow who might have hoped – and hoped in vain – to be made a tribune – a rich corn–dealer of humble birth – this was the man who thought he could buy our liberty with a bag of flour, and that Rome, the mistress of Italy, could be lured into servitude by tossing her a biscuit! He fondly imagined that we, who could hardly think of him as a senator without a pain in the belly, would endure him as a king with the power and insignia of our founder Romulus – of Romulus, descended from the gods and now returned to their blessed company! Why, the thing is not a crime merely, it is a monstrosity – nor is his blood enough to pay for it: the house where he lived, where he first conceived this piece of criminal lunacy, must be utterly demolished and the fortune he tainted in the attempt to buy a throne must be confiscated. It is my order, therefore, that the quaestors sell everything he possessed and turn over the proceeds to the public funds.’
Cincinnatus then issued instructions for the immediate demolition of the house, the site, which came to be called Aequimaelium, to be left empty as a permanent reminder of the plot that failed.
Minucius was presented with an ox with gilded horns; the presentation took place outside the Porta Trigemina, and the common people made no objection as he let them have for a penny a bushel all the grain which had been bought up by Maelius. I find in some records that Minucius changed his standing to that of a plebeian, was co–opted as tribune in addition to the statutory number of ten, and stopped an incipient riot arising out of Maelius’s death. But it is hardly credible that the senatorial party would have permitted an increase in the number of tribunes, and still less that such a precedent should have been set by a man of patrician birth; and the commons, once they had got the concession, would surely have held on to it, or at least tried to do so. But the strongest argument for the inaccuracy of the inscription on his portrait–bust is the fact that a few years previously a law had been passed forbidding the tribunes to co–opt a colleague.
Quintus Caecilius, Quintus Junius, and Sextus Titinius were the only tribunes who had not supported the proposal to honour Minucius, and ever since they had been constantly bringing charges against both him and Servilius on the grounds that Maelius had been illegally executed, and by this means they succeeded in forcing through a measure providing for the election the following year of military tribunes instead of consuls, convinced as they were that some at any rate of the six elected (six now being the statutory number) would be plebeians, provided that they declared their purpose of avenging Maelius’s death. The commons, however, in spite of all their troubles during the past year, elected only three military tribunes, one of whom was Lucius Quinctius, son of the very man whose dictatorship people were trying to use as a cause of resentment, to stir up further trouble. Aemilius Mamercus, a man of high distinction, headed the poll, with Quinctius second and Lucius Julius third.
During their year of office the Roman colony of Fidenae threw off its allegiance and went over to Lars Tolumnius, king of Veii. Worse than the defection was the crime which followed – the murder of four envoys from Rome. These men – Gaius Fulcinius, Cloelius Tullus, Spurius Antius, and Lucius Roscius – had visited the town with instructions from the Roman government to demand a reason for the change of policy, and were all murdered by Tolumnius’s orders. An attempt has been made to whitewash the crime: Tolumnius (it is maintained) was playing at dice and, upon a lucky throw, made some remark or other which was taken by the Fidenates as an order to kill the envoys, and that this mistake was the cause of their death. But it is incredible that Tolumnius should not have had his attention distracted from a game of dice by the arrival of a mission from Fidenae – new allies come to consult him about a murder which would violate the law of nations. The idea of attributing the crime to a mere mistake must surely have come later. It is far more likely that Tolumnius wanted to involve the people of Fidenae in the guilt of the murder, and so to render their break with Rome final and absolute. Statues of the murdered envoys were set up on the Rostra in the Forum.
The struggle, now about to begin, with Fidenae and Veii was bound to be a desperate one, not only because they were close neighbours of Rome but also, and especially, because of the unspeakable brutality of the occasion for it which they had themselves provided; in view of this neither commons nor tribunes attempted to raise any dispute about the supreme command, and the two consuls elected were Marcus Geganius Macerinus (for the third time) and Lucius Sergius, later surnamed Fidenas – presumably for his services in the campaign, for he was the first commander to fight a successful battle with the king of Veii south of the Anio. The victory was a costly one and caused more grief for Roman lives lost than joy for the enemy’s defeat, and the Senate, following the usual practice in times of crisis, decreed the appointment of Mamercus Aemilius as Dictator, who, in his turn, named as Master of the Horse a man who had been military tribune with him the previous year – Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, a fine young soldier worthy of his eminent father. The troops raised by the consuls were stiffened by the addition of centurions with long experience of active service, and the casualties of the last battle were made good. As his senior officers, or seconds in command, the Dictator appointed Quinctius Capitolinus and Marcus Fabius Vibulanus.
The majestic authority of the dictatorship in the hands of a man fully capable of exercising it was enough to make the enemy withdraw from Roman territory and re–cross the Anio, after which they took up a position on the hills between the river and Fidenae, not venturing down until they were reinforced by troops from Falerii, when they moved to a fresh position before the walls of Fidenae. The Roman Dictator fortified a position a few miles south at the confluence of the Anio and the Tiber, throwing up an earthwork from bank to bank, at a point where the distance was not too great, between himself and the enemy; then, on the following day, he marched out into battle position. The enemy were not agreed upon the best tactics to adopt: the contingent from Falerii was for immediate action, as the men were confident and inclined to grumble at the prospect of a long campaign so far from home, while their allies from Veii and Fidenae both thought success more likely if they felt their way cautiously and waited on events. Tolumnius himself shared this latter view, but preferred, nevertheless, to humour the men of Falerii lest they should find the conditions of a campaign so far away intolerable; he accordingly said that he would fight next day. Mamercus and his troops were encouraged by the fact that the enemy had not at once accepted their challenge, and on the following day the rank and file swore to assault the enemy’s camp and the town of Fidenae if he still refused to fight it out in the open. However, he left his defences, and both armies marched in battle order to their stations between the two camps. The Veientes, who were numerically strong, sent a detachment round the back of the hills to attack the Roman camp during the coming engagement, the main body of their force holding the right of the allied armies, with the contingent from Falerii on the left and that from Fidenae in the centre; on the Roman side, the Dictator commanded the right, and Capitolinus the left, while the Master of the Horse led out his squadrons in front of the centre.
For some minutes there was neither sound nor movement. The Etruscans had no intention of attacking unless they were forced to it, and the Dictator kept glancing behind him at the citadel in Rome, waiting for the agreed signal from the augurs which they were to send him as soon as the omens were favourable. The instant he saw it he ordered his cavalry to charge; off they went, shouting their battle–cry, and the infantry followed. The weight of both attacks was tremendous and in no part of their line could the Etruscans stand against them; the Etruscan horse offered the stiffest resistance, and of all their mounted troops none fought with such courage as Tolumnius the king, who kept the fight going by repeated individual attacks upon Roman cavalrymen as they galloped in loose order in pursuit of the fugitives.
The conduct of Aulus Cornelius Cossus must here have special mention. Cossus was a cavalry officer of high rank, a magnificent figure of a man, strong as an ox and as brave as he was strong; proud of his distinguished name, he left it to his descendants with an added lustre. This officer had observed the effect of Tolumnius’s attacks upon the Roman squadrons, which everywhere reeled and hesitated under them, and his regal dress and equipment as he rode, wheeling and swooping swift as a bird, now here, now there, soon revealed his identity. At once Cossus made up his mind. ‘So this is he,’ he cried, ‘who broke the compact of man with man and violated the law of nations! If it is God’s will that there should be anything sacred in this world, I will appease with his blood the ghosts of the men he murdered!’ Putting spurs to his horse he rode at his enemy with levelled spear. The blow struck home and Tolumnius fell; instantly, Cossus dismounted and as Tolumnius struggled to rise struck him down again with the boss of his shield and with repeated thrusts of his spear finally pinned him to the ground. Then he stripped the lifeless body of its armour, cut off its head and, sticking it on the point of a lance, returned to the fight with his spoils. At the sight of their dead king the enemy broke and fled. That ended the resistance of the Etruscan cavalry, which had been the only arm to keep the issue in doubt. The Dictator pressed on in pursuit of the routed legionaries, drove them to the walls of their camp, and cut them to pieces; though a large part of the contingent from Fidenae, fighting as it was on familiar ground, managed to escape into the hills. Cossus crossed the Tiber with his cavalry and brought back to Rome immense quantities of valuable material from the territory of Veii. Tolumnius, it will be remembered, had sent a brigade round the back of the hills to the Roman camp, so here, too, there was fighting while the main action was in progress. Fabius Vibulanus manned the rampart with a thin line – ‘crowned’ it, as the phrase is – and then, when the enemy were fully engaged in their efforts to storm it, marched his veteran reserves out of the main gate on the right and delivered a surprise attack. The effect was devastating: fewer were killed than in the main action as fewer were engaged, but the rout was no less complete.
In recognition of all these victories the Senate with the support of the whole population granted the Dictator a Triumph. On his return to Rome the finest sight in all the procession was Cossus carrying the ‘spoils of honour’ – the arms and equipment of King Tolumnius, slain by his hand – while the troops roared out impromptu songs comparing him to Romulus. He afterwards solemnly dedicated the spoils in the temple of Jupiter Feretrius, hanging them on the temple wall near those which Romulus had taken – the first, and, up to that time, the only ones to be known as ‘spoils of honour’. During the procession the Dictator’s chariot had been almost ignored – it was Cossus who was the cynosure of every eye, and the honours of the festival and the plaudits of the crowds were, to all intents and purposes, his alone. The Dictator at the people’s request offered to Jupiter on the Capitol a golden crown, a pound in weight, paid for out of public funds.
I have followed all previous chroniclers in saying that Aulus Cornelius Cossus was a senior officer – ‘army tribune’– when he deposited the ‘spoils of honour’ in the temple of Jupiter Feretrius; but there is a difficulty here, for in addition to the fact that the expression ‘spoils of honour’ is properly applicable only when they are taken by the supreme commander from the supreme commander of the enemy, and that we recognize no supreme commander apart from the man under whose auspices the campaign is fought, the actual inscription on the spoils proves that Cossus was consul when he took them. I have heard that Augustus Caesar, founder and restorer of all our temples, entered the shrine of Jupiter Feretrius, which he had caused to be rebuilt after many years of neglect and dilapidation, and himself read the inscription on the linen corslet, and I have felt, in consequence, that it would be almost sacrilege to deprive Cossus of so great a witness to his spoils as Caesar, the restorer of that very shrine. By what error the ancient annals and the Linen Rolls of magistrates in the temple of Moneta, cited again and again as his authority by Licinius Macer, only record Cossus as having shared the consulship seven years later with Titus Quinctius Pennus, is anybody’s guess. Again, it is impossible to shift the date of such a famous battle to this subsequent year, because Cossus’s consulship (to assume the later date) fell within a three–year period during which, owing to famine and epidemics, there were no wars at all – indeed certain annals of the time, as dismal as death–registers, give us nothing beyond the names of the consuls. In the third year after his consulship Cossus is mentioned as Military Tribune with consular powers, and in the same year as Master of the Horse, in which capacity he fought another distinguished cavalry action. In all this there is room for conjecture, though in my own view it is unnecessary; for one need hardly attend to other people’s guesses when the man himself who fought the battle, having laid his newly won spoils in their sacred resting–place, in the visible presence, if one may say so, of Romulus and of Jupiter to whom he dedicated them – awful witnesses whom no forger would take lightly – inscribed his name and title as Aulus Cornelius Cossus, consul.1
Next year – in the consulship of Marcus Cornelius Maluginensis and Lucius Papirius Crassus – there were expeditions against the territory of Veii and Falerii, resulting in a number of prisoners and some captured cattle. There was no fighting, as enemy troops were nowhere encountered, and no attempt was made upon the towns, as an epidemic had started in Rome. The tribune Spurius Maelius tried, but without success, to stir up political trouble; he knew his name was popular with his own class, and hoping it might be enough to start something he issued a summons against Minucius and at the same time put forward a proposal to confiscate the property of Servilius Ahala, on the grounds that his namesake Maelius, the corn–merchant, had been falsely accused by Minucius, while Servilius was guilty of the crime of killing a citizen who had not been condemned in the courts. However, nobody paid any attention to him – and even less to his charges; there were other and more important causes of concern. The virulence of the epidemic was on the increase; odd and frightening things were happening – most notably frequent earth–tremors which, the reports said, had been causing the collapse of buildings in the countryside – and a day of public prayer was held under the direction of the duumvirs, the two officials in charge of the Sibylline Books.
The following year, when Gaius Julius (for the second time) and Lucius Verginius were consuls, the epidemic was worse still. Fears of its ultimate effects in both town and country destroyed all enterprise: no raids were undertaken, no thought of aggressive operations entered anyone’s mind in any class of society; and – even more sinister – the men of Fidenae, who had previously kept to their mountains or within their walls, now ventured down into Roman territory, eager to take what they could find. Presently they got reinforcements from Veii (as for Falerii, neither the distresses of Rome nor the entreaties of her friends could induce her to resume hostilities) and the combined armies crossed the Anio and advanced almost as far as the Colline Gate. The alarm in the outlying districts was now felt no less acutely in the city itself; the consul Julius manned the walls and the outer defences; his colleague Verginius convened the Senate in the temple of Quirinus, and a resolution was passed to appoint Aulus Servilius Dictator (authorities differ about Servilius’s surname; it was either Priscus or Structus). Verginius waited to consult his colleague and then, with his permission, that night named the Dictator, who thereupon took Postumus Aebutius Helva as his Master of the Horse. Servilius’s first order was that all available men should report at dawn outside the Colline Gate, and it was promptly obeyed by everyone in a fit state to bear arms. The standards were then fetched from the treasury and brought to him.
Such evidence of activity induced the enemy to withdraw to higher ground, and without delay Servilius was on their tracks. Near Nomentum he caught them, beat them soundly and forced them to take refuge in Fidenae, which he then proceeded to ring with an earthwork. Fidenae was a fortified hill–town and could not be taken by means of scaling–ladders, nor, as it happened, could anything have been done by blockading it, as it was full of supplies which had been collected some time before – far more than enough for its immediate needs. Servilius, however, knew the locality well, as Fidenae was quite near Rome, and on this knowledge he based his plan of campaign. Realizing the impossibility either of taking the place by storm or of starving it into surrender, he had a sap constructed on the far side, where the conformation of the ground made a natural defence, so that few, if any, in that quarter would be on the look–out for danger. To distract attention from the work he split his remaining force into four divisions which he sent successively to threaten the walls of the town at widely separated points, keeping the enemy continuously engaged night and day, until the sap was completed and a passage–way opened right up into the citadel. The Etruscans meanwhile, intent upon dealing with what were merely feints, were quite unaware of the real danger, until the triumphant cheer of the Romans, far above them in the citadel, told them that the town was captured.
During that year the censors Gaius Furius Pacilus and Marcus Geganius Macerinus approved the erection of a building at the public expense in the Campus Martius, and the census was held there for the first time.
According to the historian Licinius Macer the same consuls were elected for the year which followed: Julius for the third time and Verginius for the second. Valerius Antias and Quintus Tubero, on the contrary, state that the consuls for that year were Marcus Manlius and Quintus Sulpicius. In spite of the discrepancy both Tubero and Macer quote the authority of the Linen Rolls, and neither of them conceals the fact that previous chroniclers had recorded that there were military tribunes that year, not consuls at all; Lucinius chooses unhesitatingly to follow the Linen Rolls, Tubero admits to uncertainty. So we must leave it in doubt – the mists of antiquity cannot always be pierced.
The capture of Fidenae caused great alarm in Etruria, especially in the towns of Veii and Falerii – the former from dread of a similar fate, and the latter from the uneasy consciousness of having supported Fidenae when the war started, even though in the second outbreak she had stood aside. Accordingly when these two communities obtained the consent of the Twelve Towns for a general council of all Etruria to meet at the temple of Voltumna, the Senate in Rome expected a serious rising and, to meet it, decreed that Mamercus Aemilius should again be appointed Dictator. Mamercus named Aulus Postumius Tubertus Master of the Horse, and the danger from a united Etruria being so much greater than last time, when only Veii and Fidenae were involved, mobilization began on a proportionately greater scale. However the whole affair ended more peacefully than anyone expected; traders came back with news that Veii had failed to secure support: having started the war on her own initiative she must carry it on with her own resources, and not expect friends to share her troubles when they had not been offered a share in the prospect of success. Mamercus, in this changed situation, was nevertheless unwilling to allow his dictatorship to lapse with nothing accomplished, even though the opportunity of military fame was gone; hoping, therefore, to render his office memorable by some service in the political field, he planned to curtail the power of the censorship, either because he thought it excessive or, perhaps, merely because he felt it to be a mistake that the censors’ term of office should be such a long one. With this in view he declared before an assembly that, the gods having evidently undertaken to protect the interests of the country in foreign affairs, he himself proposed to turn his attention to domestic matters and to do what he could to ensure the liberties of the People. The greatest safeguard, he said, of those liberties was to see that great powers should never remain long in the same hands: positions of political eminence could not be limited in the scope of their jurisdiction, but they could be limited in duration. The censorship was tenable for five years, other magistracies only for one, and it was not an acceptable thing to have the same people in control for so long over so many aspects of one’s life. He intended, therefore, to introduce a bill limiting the censorship to a period of a year and a half. The bill was carried through next day with enthusiastic popular support, whereupon Mamercus instantly resigned the dictatorship – ‘to give’, as he put it in a speech to the people, ‘concrete evidence of my disapproval of the extended tenure of power’. The commons were delighted; the new law and Mamercus’s resignation had alike won their warm approval, and crowds escorted him like a public hero to his residence.
The censors, on the other hand, were furious at what Mamercus had done; they struck his name from the register of his tribe, octupled his assessment for tax and reduced him to the lowest class of citizens, thus disfranchising him and making him ineligible for any public office. This vindictive punishment he is said to have borne with remarkable fortitude, which allowed the degradation he had suffered to sink into insignificance beside the memory of the act which led to it; the leaders of the patrician party, though they had not approved the weakening of the censorship, nevertheless greatly disliked this example of its ruthlessness in action – aware, no doubt, of the obvious fact that individually they would all have to suffer the jurisdiction of the censors much more often and for much longer periods than they would have a chance of exercising it. As for the populace, they were so fiercely indignant that nothing could have saved the censors from their fury except the restraining influence of Mamercus himself.
The tribunes steadily opposed the holding of consular elections for the succeeding year; a little longer and it would have been necessary to appoint an interrex, but, just in time, they carried their point and procured the election of military tribunes with consular power; they did not, however, get what they hoped for from their victory, namely the election of a plebeian: the successful candidates – Marcus Fabius Vibulanus, Marcus Foslius, and Lucius Sergius Fidenas – were all patricians.
During the year more sickness distracted men’s minds from political agitations. On behalf of the public health a temple was vowed to Apollo; by direction of the Sibylline Books, the officials in charge of those documents did much to attempt to placate the wrath of the gods and avert the curse of the epidemic, but in spite of all both men and cattle died and there were terrible losses in town and country. The farmers, too, were falling sick, and in fear of famine delegations were sent to buy grain in Etruria and the Pomptine, and finally as far as Sicily. No mention was made of consular elections; again military tribunes with consular power were appointed, and again they were all patricians – Lucius Pinarius Mamercus, Lucius Furius Medullinus, and Spurius Postumius Albus. Then at last the virulence of the epidemic began to abate, and that year there was no fear of famine, steps having been taken to lay in supplies. War plans were discussed in the councils of the Volscians and Aequians, and also in Etruria at the shrine of Voltumna, where a decision was postponed for a year and a decree issued forbidding any further meeting until the year was over, in spite of the urgent and bitter representations of Veii that she was threatened with the same disaster as that which had brought destruction to Fidenae.
In Rome meanwhile the leaders of the popular movement, continually disappointed of their hopes of further political advancement so long as the country was not at war, began to arrange secret meetings in the tribunes’ houses to discuss their plans. The attitude they took was one of indignation against their own party for the apparent contempt in which they, the leaders, were held: year after year military tribunes had been appointed, yet never once had a plebeian candidate been returned. The original precaution that patricians should not be eligible for plebeian magistracies was indeed a wise one, for had it not been taken they would, no doubt, have had to put up with patricians in the tribunate – such, at least, was the natural inference from the attitude towards them of their own class, which despised them as heartily as the patricians did. Another line of argument tried to fix the blame on their patrician opponents: according to this, plebeian candidates found their road to office blocked by the skilful canvassing of their noble rivals, and if only the common people could get a respite from those veiled menaces masquerading as a humble request for votes, they might remember their own friends when they went to the polls and so have representatives with real power as well as the right, which they already possessed, of helping them in trouble. They therefore proposed to abolish canvassing, and for this purpose urged that the tribunes should bring forward a bill prohibiting candidates for office from whitening their togas.2 This may hardly seem a serious matter nowadays, but it was a burning question at the time and caused the fiercest of struggles between the opposing parties. In the end the tribunes got their proposal passed into law, and it was soon evident that the commons in their present exacerbated mood would rally to the support of their own candidates. To prevent them from doing so, the Senate, on the strength of a report from the Latins and the Hernici of an Aequian and Volscian rising, issued a decree for the election of consuls. The men elected were Titus Quinctius Cincinnatus, son of Lucius and also surnamed Poenus, and Cnaeus Julius Mento.
War was obviously imminent. Both the Volscians and Aequians had been raising troops by their surest method – under the sanction, that is, of a law which carried the penalty of outlawry; the forces of each were in consequence numerically strong, and, having proceeded to Algidus, they took up separate positions, constructed elaborate defences, and began a more intensive period of training than ever before. Reports of these activities increased the alarm in Rome, and the Senate resolved on the appointment of a Dictator; there were three reasons for this step, first that the enemy, though often previously defeated, was this time planning aggression on a greater scale than ever before; secondly, the drain on Roman military strength owing to the epidemic; thirdly, and most particularly, the general anxiety caused by the incompetence of the consuls who were perpetually at loggerheads and could never agree in any of their plans. Some historians have put forward the view that they lost a battle on Algidus, and that that was the reason why a Dictator was appointed; but however that may be, it is certain that in one point at least the two men were in agreement, namely in their opposition to the Senate over the appointment of a Dictator. Finally when the news became more and more alarming and the consuls refused altogether to submit to the Senate’s direction, a distinguished public servant named Quintus Servilius Priscus turned to the tribunes for a way out of the impasse. ‘We are at the end of our tether;’ he declared, ‘so the Senate calls upon you to use your powers in this crisis to compel the consuls to name a Dictator.’ The tribunes saw in this appeal an opportunity of increasing their power, and after a private conference announced their unanimous resolution that the consuls should obey the Senate, adding that if they continued to flout the united will of that honourable body they would order them to prison. The consuls found it less unpleasant to have to yield to the tribunes than to the Senate; so they gave way, not without the angry comment that the supreme office of the state had been betrayed and that through the weakness of the Senate the consulship had been forced to capitulate to the power of the tribunes; for what other meaning could be attached to the fact that consuls could be subjected to the compulsion of a tribune and even suffer the intolerable indignity of being sent to gaol?
The duty of naming a Dictator fell by lot to Titus Quinctius – for the two ‘colleagues’ (if one may so call them without irony) could not agree even on this small matter. Quinctius named his father–in–law, Aulus Postumius Tubertus, a well–known disciplinarian and martinet. Lucius Julius was made his Master of the Horse. Immediately the order went out for the raising of troops, and at the same time all legal business was suspended and all activities forbidden which might in any way hamper mobilization; the hearing of claims for exemption was postponed till the war was over, which had the effect of inducing possible malingerers, or those whose claims were doubtful, to register. The Latins and Hernici were also instructed to raise troops, and the Dictator’s orders were in both cases eagerly obeyed. All this was done with the utmost dispatch; the consul Cnaeus Julius was left to guard the city, with Lucius Julius, Master of the Horse, in charge of emergency supplies so that the troops on service might not be held up by shortages. The Dictator then vowed – repeating the formula after the Pontifex Maximus – to celebrate votive games by way of thanks to heaven in the event of victory, and, putting the consul Quinctius in command of one–half of the army, marched from Rome.
Seeing on their approach that the enemy had fortified two positions a little way apart, the Roman commanders followed suit and encamped separately, about a mile away, the consul in a position south of the Dictator’s; there was thus space between the four armies and their respective entrenchments for irregular skirmishing – and indeed for full deployment in a pitched battle. As for skirmishing, it went on continuously from the moment the Roman positions were established over against their adversaries, for the Dictator was more than willing to let his men try out what they could do and by success in minor engagements come gradually to have confidence in a major victory. The enemy, for their part, soon lost hope of succeeding in a straight fight, and had recourse to the very risky procedure of a night attack on the consul’s camp. The sudden noise put the sentries on the alert, and a moment later the whole army was awake. The Dictator, too, had heard it. Instant action was necessary, and the consul was equal to it both in judgement and in resolution, losing no time in strengthening the guards at the gates and ‘crowning’ his defences with armed men. In the Dictator’s camp, where things were naturally quieter, it was easier to determine precisely what steps were necessary to meet the emergency, and reinforcements were promptly sent under the command of Postumius Albus, while the Dictator himself took a party of men round to a spot well away from the main action, from which he would be able to deliver a surprise attack in the enemy’s rear. Sulpicius was put in command of the camp, and the other lieutenant, Marcus Fabius, was given charge of the cavalry with strict orders not to move before daylight, to avoid the confusion in which mounted troops are so easily involved during night fighting. The Dictator, in fact, took all the necessary steps and precautions which any forceful and prudent commander would take in similar circumstances; but he went further than mere normal efficiency, and proved his really original tactical enterprise by sending Geganius with picked troops to storm the enemy camp from which, as his scouts had ascertained, most of the men had already gone. Geganius and his party found the remainder intent upon the issue of the enterprise in which their friends were engaged and with no thought for any peril which might threaten themselves; they had consequently neglected all ordinary precautions against surprise, and their camp was in Roman hands almost before they knew that the assault had begun. The instant the Dictator saw the prearranged smoke–signal he had the news of the success announced to every man under his command.
The coming of daylight soon revealed how things were going: Fabius had delivered a cavalry charge; the consul had made a sortie from the camp against the enemy who were already showing signs of distress, and the Dictator had come in on their rear with an attack on their supporting troops in the second line. The din of battle was everywhere in their ears, and desperately they tried to meet the sudden simultaneous threats from so many points at once, but all to no purpose; they were surrounded, and every man of them would have paid the penalty of rebellion had it not been for the courageous act of the Volscian soldier, Vettius Messius, a man of obscure birth but a great fighter. Seeing his comrades forming a circle for their final hopeless stand, he raised his voice above the din and roared out his challenge. ‘Do you mean,’ he cried, ‘to offer your throats to the Romans’ steel without a blow struck in your own defence? What are your swords for? Why did you start this war, if you can do no better than this? Shame on you for peace–time soldiers, who shrink from action when it comes! What hope while you stand cowering here? Do you think some god will help you and let you out of this trap? Come, hack your way out – follow my lead, if you ever hope to see your homes and wives and parents and children again. There is no wall of earth or stone to stop you – but armed men like yourselves; in courage you are as good as they – in the ultimate and most powerful weapon of all – desperation – you have the advantage!’
Messius was as good as his word: his comrades raised the battle–cry once more and followed his lead, flinging themselves against the Roman cohorts under Postumius Albus with such effect that they forced them to give ground until the Dictator arrived upon the scene. All the fighting was now concentrated upon this one sector, and the fate of the enemy hung upon one man – Messius. Many fell on both sides, wounded or dead; even the Roman commanders bled as they fought. The Dictator was wounded in the shoulder, Fabius’s thigh was pinned to his horse by a lance, the consul had an arm shorn off, but the fight was critical and all three fought on. Only Postumius left the field, his skull fractured by a stone. Messius with a gallant company thrust his way over the bodies of the dead and dying to the Volscian camp, which was not yet in Roman hands, and upon that point all the fighting converged: the consul began his assault upon the outer defences, quickly followed in another section by the Dictator. The assault was no less vigorous than the preceding struggle; the consul is said to have spurred his men to fiercer efforts by throwing his standard inside the rampart: it was in their determination to recover it that the first onslaught was made, almost at the moment when the Dictator breached the defences and carried his troops through into the camp itself. That was the end: resistance was over and the enemy began on all hands to lay down their arms and give themselves up. With the capture of the camp every man in the enemy army, with the exception of senators, was sold into slavery. Of the material taken, that portion which the Latins and Hernici identified as their own was restored to them, and the rest was sold by auction on the instructions of the Dictator, who then, having left the consul in charge, drove back in triumph to Rome and resigned his dictatorship.
The memory of these splendid achievements is darkened by a story that the dictator’s son, who, seeing a chance of distinguishing himself, had left his post without orders, was executed for insubordination in the very moment of success. One hesitates to believe this tale, and as opinions differ about it one may, I suppose, take it or leave it as one pleases; an argument against it is the existence of the phrase ‘Manlian discipline’: we do not speak of ‘Postumian discipline’, and it is surely most probable that a phrase expressive of extreme severity would be derived from the person who, of the two, was the first to give a notable example of it. Again, it was Manlius who was given the sobriquet of ‘the Martinet’, while Postumius was never distinguished by any mark or title of disagreeable significance.
The consul Julius dedicated the temple of Apollo in the absence of his colleague. The formality of drawing lots was omitted, to the annoyance of Quinctius who after disbanding his forces returned to Rome and laid a complaint before the Senate, but to no purpose. One other thing happened in the course of this eventful year: the Carthaginians – destined one day to be our bitterest enemies – crossed for the first time into Sicily to take sides in a local dispute. This seemed at the time to have no significance for Rome!
Next year Lucius Papirius Crassus and Lucius Julius were elected to the consulship in spite of attempts by the tribunes to procure the appointment of military tribunes with consular powers. The Aequians sent a delegation to the Senate to ask for a treaty between the two states; the Senate began by suggesting unconditional surrender but finally granted them an armistice for eight years; the Volscians fared worse, for in addition to their defeat on Algidus they found themselves involved in violent internal quarrels between the peace–party and the war–party. In Rome all was tranquil. The consuls got information, which one of the college of tribunes allowed to slip out, that the tribunes were contemplating a very popular bill to regulate the assessment of fines, and took the opportunity thus offered to anticipate their opponents by introducing the measure themselves.
The next year, the consulship of Lucius Sergius Fidenas and Hostius Lucretius Tricipitinus, saw no events of importance and was followed by the election to office of Aulus Cornelius Cossus and Titus Quinctius Pennus (for the second time). Raiding parties from Veii entered Roman territory and it was said that a number of people from Fidenae participated in the raids; three men, Sergius, Servilius, and Aemilius, were commissioned to look into the truth of this rumour and as a result certain people were banished to Ostia, as no satisfactory reason could be found for their absence from Fidenae at the time in question. Fresh settlers were sent to the settlement and were given land which had belonged to men killed in the war. The year was marked by a serious drought; not only was the rainfall inadequate, but there was barely sufficient moisture in the earth to supply the perennial streams; in some places it was so bad that cattle lay dying of thirst near the dried–up springs and along the banks of the parched brooks; others died of scab and the infection was passed on by contact to human beings, the country–folk and slaves being the first to go down, after which the city was infected. Men’s minds fell sick as well as their bodies; they became possessed by all sorts of superstitions, mostly of foreign origin, and the sort of people who can turn other men’s superstitious terrors to their own advantage set up as seers and introduced strange rites and ceremonies into private houses, until the debased state of the national conscience came to the notice of the leaders of society, who could not but be aware in every street and chapel of the weird and outlandish forms of prayer by which their hag–ridden compatriots sought to appease the wrath of heaven. Then the government stepped in, and the aediles were instructed to see that only Roman gods were worshipped and only in the traditional way.
The punishment of Veii was postponed to the following year, when the consulship was held by Gaius Servilius Ahala and Lucius Papirius Mugilanus. Even then, however, a certain difficulty connected with religious observance prevented the prompt declaration of war and the dispatch of troops, and the decision was taken to precede hostilities by sending the fetials to demand compensation for all property taken in the recent raids. Not long before there had been a clash with Veii at Nomentum, and also at Fidenae, after which only an armistice, not a peace, had been signed; the period of the armistice had already expired and, moreover, the Veientes had renewed hostilities before the date when it was due to end; none the less the fetials were sent on their mission, but without effect, for their demand for compensation, duly made after the traditional oath, was ignored. In Rome the question then arose whether war could be properly declared by a decree of the Senate or whether it would be necessary to obtain the consent of the people as a whole; there was some controversy on this point, ending in a victory for the tribunes who, by declaring their intention to stop recruiting, succeeded in forcing the consul to bring the question before the people. All the centuries voted for war. In addition to this the commons scored a second success in preventing the election of consuls for the ensuing year, and military tribunes were appointed, four in number: Titus Quinctius Pennus, Gaius Furius, Marcus Postumius, and Aulus Cornelius Cossus. The last named was made City Prefect, while the other three marched with their forces to Veii, where they gave signal proof of the inefficacy of a divided command. Unable ever to agree with his colleagues, each man persisted in following his own judgement, to the obvious advantage of the enemy who chose his time well: when he attacked, the Roman force was all at sixes and sevens, and hopelessly confused by conflicting orders, with the result that it turned tail and retreated in disorder to its camp which, luckily, was not far distant. The losses were not, indeed, heavy – but it was a shameful performance. The distress throughout the country, unaccustomed as it was to defeat, was great. Feeling against the military tribunes rose high and there was a general demand for a Dictator, who seemed in the circumstances to offer the only hope of national recovery. But the augurs had first to be consulted, for there was a solemn tradition, backed by religious sanctions, that a Dictator could be named only by a consul and there was no consul in office. The augurs, however, put the matter upon a proper footing, and Aulus Cornelius named Mamercus Aemilius for the dictatorship, being himself appointed Master of the Horse. This goes to show that the moment the country had need of a truly great man, other considerations were forgotten: the fact that the censors had humiliated – and undeservedly humiliated – Mamercus in the past was now no obstacle to his appointment as supreme head of the state.
The Veientes were proud of their success and sent representatives to the various Etruscan communities with the boast that three Roman commanders had been beaten in a single battle; nevertheless they failed to win any general support from the league and had to content themselves with such volunteers as were attracted to their cause by hopes of loot. The only town to decide upon a renewal of hostilities was Fidenae; the people of the place butchered the new settlers before joining Veii, just as on a previous occasion they had murdered the envoys from Rome – almost as if they felt in duty bound to take the field only when their hands were already stained with blood.
The leaders of the two states, discussing which town to make their base, decided upon Fidenae as the more convenient, and that involved the crossing of the Tiber by the Veientine army. In Rome there was something like panic; troops were hurriedly recalled from Veii – troops already badly shaken from their recent defeat – and went into camp outside the Colline Gate; guards were stationed on the city walls, legal business was suspended, and all shops closed, and the city itself rapidly assumed the appearance of an armed camp. The Dictator, aware of the bad state of public morale, sent criers along every street to call a mass meeting of the population, which he proceeded to address in no very complimentary terms: ‘It seems to take very little,’ he said, ‘to make you lose your presence of mind. What! After one minor reverse, which was in no way due either to the enemy’s courage or to the cowardice of our own troops, but solely to the fact that our commanders could not agree upon tactics, are you scared of the Veientines, whom we have already thrashed half a dozen times, or of Fidenae, which we have captured – if I may so put it – twice for every once we have tried to do so? We and our enemies are the same as we have always been, for years and years – the same hearts, the same hands, the same swords. Nor have I changed either: I am still Mamercus Aemilius, the Dictator who crushed the combined armies of Veii, Fidenae, and Falerii at Nomentum, and Aulus Cornelius, our Master of Horse, will fight again as he fought before, when as a senior officer in our armies he killed Lars Tolumnius, the king of Veii, in sight of all and brought the spoils of honour to the temple of Jupiter Feretrius. Remember, when you draw your swords, that yours have been the triumphs, yours the spoils, and yours the victory, while the men you fight are burdened with the misery of guilt – our envoys murdered in violation of the law of nations, our settlers at Fidenae in peace–time savagely butchered, a treaty broken and a solemn compact foolishly flouted for the seventh time. Remember this, and take courage. Only let us get within striking distance, and I am very sure that our guilty foe will not long enjoy the pleasure of having humiliated a Roman army, while you, on the other hand, will soon see that the men who made me Dictator for the third time were better patriots than those who allowed my second dictatorship to end in dishonour, because I had stripped the censors of the excessive power they then enjoyed.’
Then, having prayed to heaven for success, Mamercus marched and took up a position a mile and a half south of Fidenae, protected on the right by the hills and on the left by the Tiber. Titus Quinctius Pennus, a brigade officer, was ordered to secure the hills and to occupy a ridge to the enemy’s rear, behind which his men would be effectually screened. Next morning the Etruscans took the field in all the confidence of their previous exploit – which had been, in truth, more a matter of luck than of military prowess; Mamercus waited till the report came in from his scouts that Quinctius was firmly established on the ridge near Fidenae, and then gave the order for his infantry to advance in battle formation at the double, at the same time forbidding his Master of Horse to engage until he received instructions to do so, which instructions would be given as soon as cavalry support was needed; then – the Dictator added – when the moment came, let him fight as he fought with king Tolumnius, inspired by the memory of his glorious gift of the spoils of honour to Romulus and Jupiter Feretrius.
The legionaries of the opposing armies met, and the shock was terrific. The rage in the Romans’ hearts found its satisfaction in their swords, and in the taunts they hurled at the godless brutes of Fidenae, and the brigands of Veii – treaty–breakers with the stain of murder still on their hands, dripping with the blood of slaughtered settlers – treacherous friends, cowardly foes.
The Etruscans were already reeling under the weight of the Roman attack, when suddenly through the open gates of Fidenae came pouring a stream of men armed with fire. It was like an army from another world – something never seen or imagined before that moment. There were thousands of them, all lit by the glare of their blazing torches, and like madmen, or devils, they came rushing into the fray. For a brief moment the sheer unfamiliarity of this mode of attack made the Romans waver, but the Dictator’s prompt action saved the situation: sending orders to the Master of Horse to join him with the cavalry and to Quinctius to bring his men from the hills, he galloped across to the left wing, where the scene was like a city on fire and his troops were already giving ground before the terrifying onset of the flames. Raising his voice above the din, ‘What,’ he shouted, ‘will you let yourselves be smoked out like a swarm of bees? The enemy is unarmed, and you have swords – use them, and put out their fire! Or if we must fight with fire instead of steel, can you not wrest their torches from them and attack them with their own weapon? Remember the name of Rome – remember your fathers’ valour and your own – turn this conflagration to its proper use and destroy Fidenae with her own flames, since generous kindness could not make her your friend! It is not I who urge you to this revenge: it is your devastated fields – it is the blood of your envoys and of your comrades who sought there a new home.’
Throughout the army there was immediate response; men sprang forward to tear the burning brands from their adversaries, or to snatch them up from where they smouldered on the ground. Soon both armies were armed with fire. The Master of Horse, not to be outdone, and employing a new tactic of his own, took off his horse’s bridle and ordered his troopers to do the same; then he put himself at their head and with a touch of the spur and nothing to check the headlong speed of his mount galloped into the thick of the flames, followed by his men. Clouds of smoke and dust almost blinded both men and beasts, but the sight which had shaken the soldiers had little effect upon the horses, and the charging squadrons everywhere left ruin and destruction in their path.
Suddenly, from another quarter, the battle–cry rang out – what could it mean? For a moment both armies paused to wonder; then the Dictator called out that it was Quinctius and his men, who were attacking the enemy in their rear; from his own troops a cheer went up and with greater vigour than ever he pressed his advantage. The Etruscans were now surrounded – caught in the pincers and hard pressed both front and rear; no way of escape remained open, either back to their camp, or into the hills where Quinctius was blocking their path, and their mounted troops had scattered, out of control; in this desperate situation most of the Veientes made for the Tiber as best they could, while such of their allies as survived tried to reach Fidenae. The Veientes, far from saving their skins, ran into the very jaws of death; some were cut down on the river bank, some driven into the water and swept away, even the swimmers, wounded as most of them were and exhausted and terrified, being dragged under and drowned. Few got across in safety. The Fidenates reached the town by way of their camp, whither the Romans swept on in pursuit of them, Quinctius in the van doing the hottest work, as the contingent he had brought down from the hills was still fresh, having been engaged only towards the end of the battle; they forced their way through the town gate side by side with the fugitives, mounted the wall, and signalled to their comrades that the town was taken. The Dictator had already entered their abandoned camp, but at the sight of Quinctius’s signal he checked his men’s natural desire to loot it and marched them out again to the town gate, consoling them with the assurance that they would find more and better loot in the town itself; then, once within the walls, he made for the central fortress, where he could see that the mob of fugitives were hoping to find refuge. Heavy as the enemy’s losses had been in the battle, hardly fewer were killed inside the town, until at last the end came: they threw down their arms and surrendered, asking for nothing but their lives. The town and the camp were both sacked; next day every cavalry trooper and every centurion drew lots for a prisoner apiece – two prisoners being granted as a reward for specially distinguished service – and the remainder were sold by auction. The Dictator marched his victorious army, enriched with its plunder, back to Rome, where he celebrated his triumph, formally dismissed his Master of Horse as the need for his services was over, and himself resigned from office. He had served for sixteen days, and was able to surrender in peace the supreme power which, amidst the alarms and anxieties of war, he had undertaken to wield.
Some historians have stated that ships were also engaged near Fidenae in the fight with the Veientes. This, however, would have been difficult – and surely no one could believe it really happened, for even today the river there is not wide enough and at that time, according to our older authorities, it was narrower still. Possibly a few boats were assembled to help stop the Veientes from getting across the water, and this circumstance was exaggerated (as often happens) into the claim for a naval victory when the inscription under the portrait–bust of Mamercus was composed.
For the following year four military tribunes with consular powers were appointed, Aulus Sempronius Atratinus, Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, Lucius Furius Medullinus, and Lucius Horatius Barbatus. Veii was granted a truce for twenty years and the Aequians for three years, though they tried to obtain an extension. In Rome there were no political disturbances. The year after that was also an uneventful one so far as war and politics were concerned, but is nevertheless to be remembered for the celebration of the Games which had been vowed at the outset of the previous war; the Games were magnificently staged by the army generals and attended by large crowds from neighbouring communities. The military tribunes for the year were Claudius Crassus, Spurius Nautius Rutilus, Lucius Sergius Fidenas, and Sextus Julius Julus. The Games were much appreciated by the foreign visitors, not least because of the courtesy which their hosts had agreed to extend to them. On their conclusion the tribunes started their usual sort of troublemaking, addressing meetings at which they abused the mob for allowing their absurd admiration of their political enemies to keep them in perpetual servitude, too craven–spirited either to aspire to a share in the consulship or even to spare a thought for themselves or their friends at the election of military tribunes, in spite of the fact that candidates from either party were eligible. ‘Do not be surprised,’ they went on to say, ‘if nobody bothers to consult your interests; a man will work hard and face risks when he can hope for profit and place as a result, and he will shrink from nothing if only he knows that the reward is likely to be worthy of the attempt; but you can neither ask nor expect a tribune to shut his eyes and go charging, with great peril and no profit, into a struggle which will inevitably subject him to the remorseless persecution of the senatorial party, while you yourselves, for whom he risks all, do not lift a finger to add to his honours. No, no: ambition cannot live upon air – aspiration must have something to aspire to. No plebeian will despise himself, once you, as a class, get proper recognition. It is high time we proved in a practical way whether some plebeian is fit for high office – or whether we are to assume that vigour or ability in men of our class is a sort of monstrosity only fit to make people gasp with astonishment.
‘We did storm the fortress of privilege in procuring the legalization of our candidature for the office of military tribune with consular powers, and we did put forward candidates with fine military and political records; but with what result? They were kicked around, rejected and jeered at by the patricians, so that as time went on they stopped exposing themselves to such insulting treatment. It seems to us that one might as well abrogate a law, if its sole purpose is to legalize something which can never happen; surely there would be less shame in submitting to injustice and in accepting inequality than in being passed over because nobody thinks we are worth their notice.’
Speeches of this sort, and the approval with which they were received, inspired a few plebeian candidates to offer themselves for the military tribuneship, and various promises were made of what they would do for the popular cause if they were elected: hopes, for instance, were held out of distributions of public land, of planting new settlements and of taxing the nobles who at present occupied the public land, in order to raise money for the payment of men on military service. The military tribunes, however, had their answer ready: waiting until people were out of town, they secretly recalled the senators and got a decree passed in the absence of the people’s tribunes authorizing an investigation of a report that the Volscians had invaded the territory of the Hernici, and the holding of consular elections. The military tribunes accordingly started on their mission, leaving as City Prefect Appius Claudius, the decemvir’s son, a young man of great natural force and imbued from the cradle with passionate hatred of the mob and its representatives, who, now that the matter was a fait accompli, found that they had no grounds of dispute either with the absent commissioners who had got the decree passed, or with Appius. Gaius Sempronius Atratinus and Quintus Fabius Vibulanus were accordingly elected consuls.
During this year an incident is said to have taken place, which, though not connected with Roman history, is nevertheless of interest. The Etruscan town of Volturnum was seized by the Samnites, who gave it its modern name of Capua. The name is supposed to have been derived from their leader, Capys; but it is more likely to have been descriptive of the region in which it lies – campus, or ‘plain’ country. The seizure of the town took place in peculiarly horrible circumstances: the Samnites had been allowed by the Etruscans, whose strength had been drained by war, to share in the amenities of the town and in the working of the land belonging to it, and one night, after a public holiday, when the native Etruscans were sleeping off the effects, they set upon them and butchered them.
But to return to my story: the consuls I mentioned took up their duties on 13 December, to be faced not only with the report from the commissioners that war with the Volscians was imminent, but also with the arrival of envoys from the Latins and Hernici, who brought the alarming information that never before had the Volscians been making their preparations with such single–minded intensity. They were all saying, apparently, that the crisis of their destiny had come: either they must submit to the permanent domination of Rome and give up for ever all thought of military enterprise, or make themselves a match – now – for their great rivals in the soldierly qualities of courage, discipline, and endurance.
All this was perfectly true: it was a dangerous situation, but the Senate took it in a strangely casual way. Sempronius, who was appointed by lot to the command, was inclined simply to trust to luck; having led Roman troops to victory against the Volscians on a previous occasion, and supposing, it seems, that his luck would hold, he made his preparations with such absurd negligence that the traditional Roman discipline was more in evidence in the Volscian army than in his own. The natural result followed, and success went to the men who deserved it. The very first battle was typical of Sempronius’s carelessness and neglect of all reasonable precautions: no reserves had been posted to support the front line, no trouble taken to place the cavalry where it would be most effective. The first indication of how things were likely to go was in the quality of the respective battle–cries: loud and confident rose the cheer, again and again, from the Volscian throats, but the Romans’ wavering morale was all too obvious in their reply – in that ragged shout, ill–sustained, and with each repetition feebler. The inevitable result was to increase the enemies’ confidence; on they came, shields thrusting and swords flashing, in terrible contrast to their undisciplined adversaries whose helmets could be seen feebly bobbing as heads turned this way and that in bewilderment and alarm, and isolated groups, seeking safety in numbers, made for wherever they saw any sign of cohesion amongst their comrades; sometimes the standards were advanced with a show of fight, only to be abandoned by the shock–troops falling back; often they were hurriedly withdrawn. So it went on, a half–hearted business, not yet either a Roman defeat or a Volscian victory; on the Roman side the offensive spirit was wholly absent: it was the Volscian troops who attacked – and attacked with vigour – but, though they inflicted heavy casualties, they failed, for a time, to break completely such resistance as the Romans offered. But only for a time: for soon a general withdrawal began, and Sempronius could do nothing to check it either by exhortation or abuse; not even the inherent and majestic authority of the supreme commander availed to stop the rot, and in another moment the Romans would have been on the run but for the prompt and courageous intervention of a cavalry decurion named Sextus Tempanius. Seeing that things were pretty well desperate, Tempanius on his own initiative roared out an order to every cavalryman who had the safety of his country at heart to dismount immediately. The troopers of every squadron jumped to the order as if it had come from the consul himself, whereupon Tempanius called upon the men to follow him. ‘Unless you,’ he cried, ‘with those little round shields of yours, hold up the attack, Rome’s dominion is done for. Look, here is my lance: take it for your standard and follow where it goes. Show the enemy – and our comrades too – that mounted you are a match for any cavalry in the world, and that dismounted no mere footsloggers can touch you!’ His words were greeted with a cheer and he plunged forward, holding his lance high above his head; his men followed; nothing could stop them, and wherever the Roman battalions were hardest pressed, there those little round cavalry shields could be seen thrusting forward. At every point where they struck, Rome’s tottering cause was on its feet again, and if only that small band had been endowed with the gift of ubiquity, the Volscians would certainly have turned tail and fled.
The Volscian commander, seeing that the round shields (Rome’s new weapon, as it were) were invincible, changed his tactics and ordered his men to cease resistance and let them through, in order to cut them off from their friends. This was done, and the gallant little company found themselves isolated and unable to force their way back through the massed Volscian infantry which had closed in behind them. A moment before the whole Roman army had owed them their lives – now they had vanished. Desperately the consul and his legionaries pressed forward in the attempt to save, at any cost, their heroic comrades from annihilation, and the Volscians, endeavouring to check this fresh attack, found themselves fighting on two fronts, as they were forced at the same time to exert what pressure they could on Tempanius and his troopers in their rear. Tempanius had repeatedly tried to break through and rejoin Sempronius, and when all his attempts failed he had withdrawn to a low hill, where his men, in circular formation, now stood on the defensive – though their aggressive spirit was by no means broken.
The battle did not end before dark, Sempronius relaxing no effort to hold the enemy as long as any daylight remained. When night fell, there was still no decision, and both armies found their nerves so frayed by the general uncertainty of the position that first one and then the other assumed defeat and, abandoning its wounded and most of its gear, sought safety in the nearest hills. The elevation, however, on which Tempanius and his troopers were holding out, remained surrounded by enemy forces till after midnight, when a message came through to them that their camp had been abandoned; they supposed, by this, that the main body of their army had been defeated, and accordingly made their own escape, each man slipping away through the darkness in whatever direction his fears suggested. Tempanius, suspecting a trap, stayed where he was till dawn, and then, with one or two others, went cautiously off to investigate; he soon discovered by questioning enemy wounded that the Volscian camp was abandoned, whereupon he returned with the good news to his comrades on the rise and marched them off to the camp of the Romans. He found it in precisely the same state as the other – empty and abandoned, and everything in a mess. In which direction the consul had gone he had no idea, so before the Volscians could learn of their mistake and return he set off with as many of the wounded prisoners of war as he could manage, by the shortest route for Rome.
Bad news had preceded him and there were already rumours in the city that the army had been beaten and the camp abandoned, but nothing caused more general distress, apart from any personal bereavement which was involved, than the supposed loss of Tempanius and his gallant troopers. The city itself was in a state of acute alarm and the consul Fabius was on guard at the gates, when suddenly in the distance a troop of cavalry was seen; at first, as nobody knew who they were, fears were intensified, but as the strange horsemen drew nearer and were recognized, the relief was so great that a shout of joy echoed through the city as people everywhere thanked their lucky stars for the safe return of their victorious troopers. From houses which but a moment before had been mourning their men folk for dead, women came pouring into the streets, and wives and mothers, almost afraid to believe their eyes and in utter forgetfulness of self, ran to meet the advancing column and flung themselves, in complete abandonment and almost mad for joy, into the arms of their husbands and their sons.
The tribunes had already issued a summons against Marcus Postumius and Titus Quinctius for their failure at Veii three years previously, and they saw a good chance of reviving public feeling against them in the bad name which the consul Sempronius had brought upon himself by his conduct in the recent campaign. At a mass meeting they declared, with all the eloquence at their command, that at Veii the country had been betrayed by its generals and, as a direct consequence of the fact that the guilty generals had not been brought to justice, the army had been betrayed by the consul in the Volscian campaign, the heroic cavalry abandoned to their fate, and the camp basely deserted. One of the tribunes, Gaius Julius, had Tempanius called as a witness and proceeded to interrogate him. ‘Is it your opinion,’ he asked, ‘that the consul Gaius Sempronius timed his attack skilfully, or posted his reserves in a proper manner, or carried out any of the duties to be expected of a competent commander? Did you on your own initiative, when our legionaries were hard pressed, order the cavalry to dismount, thus preventing the total disintegration of our forces? When you and your party were cut off, did the consul come to your aid, or send troops to attempt your rescue? Had you any assistance whatever on the following day, or did you and your men get through to the camp solely by your own efforts, and, when you got there, did you find either the consul or his army, or was the camp deserted except for the wounded, who had been left to their fate? I appeal to your honour as a soldier – which alone in this unhappy affair prevented a national disaster – to answer these questions here and now. Where are Sempronius and our legions? Has it been a case of your deserting them, or of their deserting you? In short, have we been defeated, or have we not?’
Tempanius was no orator, but he is said to have replied in a soldierly and impressive manner, making no attempt to blame other people and scrupulously avoiding self–praise. ‘As for Sempronius’s military qualifications,’ he declared, ‘it is not for a private soldier to sit in judgement on his commander’s abilities – that is the responsibility of the nation, when it elects him to his post. You must not look to me for the wisdom of a commander–in–chief or for the knowledge and skill proper to a consul, all of which call for mental and moral capacities of a high order merely to assess; what I actually witnessed I can, however, tell you: before we were cut off, I saw the consul fighting in the front line; he was inspiring his men to do their best, and I saw him with the standards and under fire. Then when I could no longer see what the position was, I could tell by the noise and shouting that the fight was continued till dark, and I am convinced that the enemy’s superior numbers precluded the possibility of a break–through to the hill I was holding. Where the army now is, I do not know: I should imagine, however, that for his men’s sake the consul has found some safer spot to camp in, just as I myself, when things began to get awkward, looked for a place where I could better defend both myself and my comrades.
‘Nor, in my belief, have the Volscians come out of it any better than we have; what with the darkness, and the luck of the game, there was pretty general error and confusion on both sides.’
Tempanius asked not to be any longer detained, as he was tired, and his wounds were troublesome, whereupon he was allowed to go, not without expressions from everyone present of the highest admiration for his soldierly conduct, and especially for his generous refusal to involve his commanding officer in trouble.
Meanwhile the consul Sempronius had reached the temple of Peace on the Labici road. As soon as his whereabouts was known, wagons and pack–animals were sent from the city to aid in the transport of the men, exhausted as they were by fighting and by marching all night, and after a short interval Sempronius himself entered Rome, where he gave Tempanius his full due of praise and made comparatively little effort to exculpate himself.
While the country was still mourning over the recent defeat and popular resentment against the generals still ran high, Marcus Postumius, who had been one of the military tribunes concerned with the affair at Veii, was brought to trial and fined 10,000 asses – in the old ‘heavy’ currency. His colleague Titus Quinctius, in view of the fact that he had fought successfully first against the Volscians under the dictator Tubertus and then again at Fidenae as lieutenant of the other dictator Mamercus, managed to shift the blame for the campaign in question on to Postumius, who had already been condemned, and was acquitted by the votes of all the tribes. It is said that a powerful factor in his acquittal was the honoured memory of his father Cincin–natus, and also the earnest entreaties of Quinctius Capitolinus, then a very old man, to be spared, in the few hours he had left to live, the duty of carrying to Cincinnatus such cruel news.
The commons chose for their tribunes Sextus Tempanius, Aulus Sellius, Sextus Antistius, and Spurius Icilius; they were not in Rome when they were appointed, and they were the same men whom the cavalry, at Tempanius’s suggestion, had asked to act as their centurions in the recent battle, after they had dismounted and were serving as infantrymen. The Senate, feeling that the odium against Sempronius had brought the consulship into disrepute, decreed the election for the coming year of military tribunes with consular powers, and those elected were Lucius Manlius Capitolinus, Quintus Antonius Merenda, and Lucius Papirius Mugilanus.
The new year had hardly begun when the tribune Hortensius brought an action against Sempronius for his misconduct of the previous year’s campaign. At a full assembly of the people Hortensius’s four colleagues begged him to drop his prosecution of their commanding officer – a man, they declared, who could be blamed for nothing but ill luck. Hortensius, however, refused to listen, and took their plea as a test of his own determination; moreover he was convinced that the defendant was really relying upon the other tribunes’ veto, not upon their entreaties which they made only to cover their purpose of using it. So turning to Sempronius, ‘What,’ he said, ‘has become of the famous patrician pride? Where is that noble spirit which trusts to its own innocence? Can it be that a former consul is hiding under the protecting shadow of the tribunate?’ Then to his colleagues, ‘And as for you,’ he went on, ‘what do you mean to do if I persist? Will you rob the people of their rights and undermine the authority of our office?’ The tribunes replied that supreme authority over every member of the community, Sempronius included, was indeed in the people’s hands, and that they themselves had neither the wish nor the power to override any decision the people might make; nevertheless, should the prayers they offered on behalf of their commander, whom they regarded as a father, prove unavailing, then, like him – and like all men standing their trial – they would go into mourning. Such evidence of feeling touched Hortensius; ‘The people of Rome,’ he said, ‘shall never see their tribunes in mourning. I will not detain Sempronius, since in the course of his command he won from his soldiers such affection.’ People of all classes were as much pleased with Hortensius’s generosity in submitting where submission was due as with the loyalty of the four tribunes to their commanding officer.
The Aequians, who had taken the Volscians’ dubious success as a victory for their own cause, had had a run of luck; but it was not to last, as the following year – which was by no means a notable one – saw their ignominious defeat. The consuls for the year were Cnaeus Fabius Vibulanus and Titus Quinctius Capitolinus, the former of whom was in command of the operations, which fizzled out in the complete collapse of the Aequian force almost before it had begun to fight. Fabius got little credit and was refused a triumph, though he was granted an ‘ovation’ as he had at least done something to mitigate the disgrace of Sempronius’s defeat.
In contrast to this campaign which was so much more easily settled than people feared it might be, a short period of political tranquillity at home was unexpectedly broken by a number of serious disputes originating in a proposal to double the number of quaestors. The proposal – to add to the two city quaestors two more who should be responsible to the consuls for supplies in time of war – was introduced by the consuls and strongly supported by the Senate, but the people’s tribunes fought hard for an amendment to provide that two of the quaestors should be plebeians, instead of all patricians, as the law then stood. The Senate, headed by the consuls, began by offering the strongest possible opposition to the amendment, but moved later towards a compromise and were willing to concede that the voting should be free, and without regard to which class the candidate belonged to, as in the case of the military tribunes. However, the offer did not prove acceptable, and they dropped the whole question, whereupon the tribunes promptly took it up again and followed it by various other anti–government proposals, including one for the distribution of publicly owned land. In view of these disturbances the Senate would have preferred to appoint consuls for the ensuing year rather than military tribunes, but successive vetoes by the people’s tribunes made it impossible to get a resolution passed, so there was nothing for it but to allow the government to pass into the hands of an interrex – though even that solution was reached only after a violent struggle, as the tribunes tried to prevent the patricians from meeting.
There were new tribunes for the next year, and most of it was marked by incessant bickerings; the tribunes were continually preventing the patricians from meeting to appoint an interrex – there were several of them during the course of the year – or else pronouncing their veto on the one who happened to be in office, in order to stop the Senate passing a resolution to hold consular elections. Finally an interrex was appointed who had the courage to face the situation squarely – Lucius Papirius Mugilanus; he showed no tenderness to either party, and boldly declared that patriotism was dead, and that without God’s providence and the lucky accident of the truce with Veii and the unadventurous policy of the Aequians the country would long ago have been done for. ‘But suppose,’ he said, ‘a threat should come from that quarter – would you want us to be caught without any patrician in a position of authority? Or without an army – or a general to raise one? Civil war is hardly a good weapon for repelling an invader; and were we to be faced with both at once, God himself would hardly be able to avert our total destruction. Why cannot each party yield a point and agree upon a compromise – the Senate allowing the appointment of military tribunes instead of consuls, and the people’s tribunes refraining from putting their veto on the proposal for free elections of four quaestors without regard to which class they belong to?’
The appeal had its effect: the elections for the military tribuneship were held first, and the successful candidates were all patricians – Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (for the third time), Lucius Furius Medullinus (for the second time), Marcus Manlius, and Aulus Sempronius Atratinus. The last–named presided over the election of quaestors, at which there were several plebeian candidates, amongst them a son of the tribune Antistius and a brother of another tribune, Sextus Pompilius; but the support of these men was not of sufficient influence to procure their protégés’ election, and only aristocratic candidates, men whose fathers and grandfathers had been consuls, secured a majority of votes. All the tribunes were furious, but especially Pompilius and Antistius, whose relatives had been defeated at the polls. That their own services, they declared, to the popular cause, and the equally great disservices of the nobility, not to mention the natural desire of exercising a right to which a change in the law had recently entitled them, should have failed to procure the election of a single plebeian quaestor – far less a military tribune – simply did not make sense. What could it mean? Here were two men – two tribunes, holders of a sacrosanct office created for the protection of liberty – of whom one begged votes for a brother and the other for his son. And what was the result? Both were ignored! No, no: it could only mean that there was dirty work somewhere and that Sempronius had rigged the election; it was his dishonesty which was responsible for their relatives’ defeat. Sempronius was, of course, innocent, and the office he held protected him from direct attack, so the two irate tribunes diverted their attentions to his uncle, Gaius Sempronius, whom with the support of their colleague Cannuleius they summoned to appear in court to answer for the disgraceful campaign against the Volscians. The same two men brought up in the Senate the question of distributing the publicly–owned land, a measure which Gaius Sempronius had always vigorously opposed, as they thought – rightly – that he would either withdraw his opposition and thus weaken his case in the eyes of the senatorial party, or by continuing to maintain it up to the time of his trial give offence to the popular party. The latter, however, was of little account to him and he preferred to injure his own chances of acquittal rather than prove false to his political principles, refusing to abandon the position that there should be no gifts of public land –which would merely, in his view, be a feather in the cap of three tribunes, as what they wanted was not really land for the people at all, but simply a chance to arouse resentment against himself. Personally; he declared, he was quite ready to face that storm without shrinking, and no individual citizen, either himself or anybody else, ought to be so highly valued by the Senate that its efforts to protect him involved damage to the interests of the country as a whole. When the day of his trial came, he faced it with the same confidence and the same pride; he pleaded his own cause, and the Senate did everything in its power to mollify the feelings of the commons against him, but no effect. The verdict went against him and he was fined 15,000 asses.
It was during this year that a Vestal Virgin named Postumia was put on trial for a sexual offence. Actually she was innocent, but the fact that she dressed well and talked rather more freely and wittily than a young girl should, up to a point justified the suspicion against her. She was remanded, and afterwards acquitted, with a warning from the Pontifex Maximus, in the name of the college of priests, to stop making jokes and to dress in future with more regard to sanctity and less to elegance.
This year also saw the capture by the Campanians of the Greek settlement of Cumae.
Next year military tribunes were appointed: they were Agrippa Menenius Lanatus, Publius Lucretius Tricipitinus, and Spurius Nautius Rutulus. It was a year made memorable by an appalling danger which threatened the country, but was – by the good fortune of Rome – averted. A plot was hatched by the slaves to start fires at widely separated points in the city and to seize the Citadel and Capitol while people were everywhere occupied in saving the burning buildings. Jupiter himself intervened to prevent the abominable crime; two slaves turned informer, and the guilty ones were arrested and executed. The informers were rewarded with their liberty and a gift from public funds of 10,000 asses (old currency) each, in those days a very considerable sum.
The Aequians began once more to prepare for war, and a report reached Rome on reliable authority that a new enemy, the town of Labici, had joined up with the old ones. The Aequians had by now grown to expect a war every year; they sent representatives to Labici, but got little satisfaction as the answer they brought back seemed to indicate that, though there were at present no actual preparations for war, peace was none the less unlikely to continue long; accordingly they asked the people of Tusculum to watch on their behalf to see that no unusual disturbances arose in Labici. Early the following year a delegation from Tusculum visited the military tribunes in Rome and reported that Labici was in arms and in conjunction with an Aequian force had raided Tusculan territory and was now encamped on Algidus. The military tribunes for the year were Lucius Sergius Fidenas, Marcus Papirius Mugilanus, and Gaius Servilius – son of the Priscus who had been Dictator when Fidenae was captured – and as soon as the report from Tusculum was received war was declared on Labici and a decree issued by the Senate to the effect that two of the military tribunes should proceed to the scene of operations while the third should remain behind in charge of affairs in Rome. The decree at once started a quarrel, each of the tribunes being convinced that he was the right man to command the army in the field, while the charge of home affairs was an ungrateful and ignoble task and far beneath his dignity. The quarrel, to say the least, was an unseemly one, and in the Senate eyebrows were raised. Quintus Servilius, however, quickly settled it: ‘Since,’ he remarked, ‘there seems to be no respect either for the dignity of this institution or for the welfare of the country, a father’s authority will have to put an end to this dispute: my son shall remain in control here – that is my will, and the customary drawing of lots shall not take place. I can only hope that the other two who are so eager for active service will conduct themselves in the field with more consideration and mutual deference than they are displaying at the moment.’
It was decided to raise troops not from the whole population indiscriminately but from ten tribes only, selected by lot; from these ten all men of military age were conscripted. Once active service had begun, the relationship between the two tribunes was by no means improved; on the contrary, the same passion in each of them for supremacy only intensified the quarrel: they agreed in nothing and neither would budge an inch from his own opinion: each, determined upon the sole validity of his own strategy and orders, regarded the other with contempt, until the very proper complaints of their junior officers forced them to adopt an arrangement by which they should exercise supreme command on alternate days. When the story of these goings–on reached Rome, the aged and experienced Quintus Servilius is said to have prayed solemnly that history might not repeat itself – that discord in the command might not prove even more disastrous than it had proved at Veii – and then, as if certain defeat were imminent, to have urged his son to enrol troops and make all preparations for the defence of the city. He was a true prophet: it was Sergius’s day to command, and the enemy, by way of a feint, had withdrawn to the rampart of their camp. The ruse succeeded, and the Roman troops, following them up in the vain hope of taking the camp by storm, found themselves in an exceedingly awkward position. The Aequians attacked, caught them off their guard, and drove them in a headlong flight down a steep gully, where, falling over one another in their desperate attempt to get away, large numbers of them were overtaken and killed. The Roman camp was only just saved, and on the next day it was shamefully abandoned, the men slipping out through the gate in the rear after it had been nearly surrounded. The two commanders with their officers and such men as remained with the standards made for Tusculum, the rest scattering all over the countryside and finding their way somehow or other back to Rome, where they reported an even worse defeat than had actually been sustained.
The alarm at this news was less than it might have been, as it could hardly have been called a surprise; moreover, a reserve force which could be looked to in an emergency had already been mobilized by Gaius Servilius, who also, after restoring a semblance of order through the agency of his subordinate officials, had lost no time in sending scouts to ascertain the true position, and had received from them the report that the army and its commanders were in Tusculum and that the enemy had not moved from his original position. But what more than all this increased confidence in the city was a decree of the Senate appointing Quintus Servilius Priscus Dictator – a man whose clear–sightedness in public affairs had already on many occasions been proved to his countrymen, and had been proved yet again in the present instance as he was the one man to have anticipated disaster from the failure of the military tribunes to work together in harmony. As Master of Horse he nominated his son, who in his capacity of military tribune had named him Dictator – though another tradition asserts that the Master of Horse that year was Servilius Ahala. Then, with fresh troops, he marched from Rome, sent orders to the force at Tusculum to join him, and took up a position two miles from the enemy.
Success had so far spoiled the Aequians that they were now no less careless and arrogant than the Roman commanders had been before their defeat. Nor was it long before they paid for their folly: in the very first clash the dictator completely disorganized their front line by a cavalry charge promptly followed by a massed infantry attack – a standard–bearer who hesitated to obey the order to advance being summarily executed. So high was the spirit of the Roman troops that the Aequians were unable to hold them; they broke and retreated in disorder to their camp, which was assaulted and taken in even less time and with even less effort. The camp was sacked and the soldiers permitted to keep whatever of value it contained, and immediately afterwards the cavalry returned from its pursuit of the fleeing enemy with the news that the whole force from Labici had been defeated and that many of the surviving Aequians had taken refuge there; on the next day, therefore, the Dictator ordered an advance to Labici which was promptly surrounded, entered by scaling–ladders, and sacked. Thus a week after his appointment the dictator brought his victorious army back to Rome, and resigned. The Senate, at a full meeting, passed a resolution to send settlers to Labici, and 1,500 people left Rome to settle there, with a grant of about one and a half acres of land each. The resolution was a timely one, as it forestalled any attempt on the part of the tribunes to propose a distribution of the territory belonging to Labici, and thus to start serious trouble over the whole question of land reform.
Next year opened with the election to the military tribuneship of AgrippaMenenius Lanatus, Lucius Servilius Structus, Publius Lucretius, Tricipitinus (all for the third time) and Spurius Veturius Cassius; they were succeeded the year after by Quintus Fabius Vibulanus, Aulus Sempronius Atratinus (for the third time), Marcus Papirius Mugilanus and Spurius Nautius Rutulus – the two last both for the second time. Throughout these two years there was peace abroad, though domestic politics were embittered by the old struggle for land reform. The leaders of the popular agitation were the two tribunes Spurius Mecilius and Metilius (both elected in their absence, and the former serving his fourth term, the latter his third). These men proposed a measure for the distribution amongst the population of all land which had been acquired by force of arms, which measure, if passed by plebiscite, would have meant the confiscation of the fortunes of a great part of the nobility; for Rome having been originally founded upon alien soil had hardly any territory but what had been acquired in war, while the little which had been sold or assigned by the state was held only by plebeians. This being the position, it looked as if a desperate struggle between the two parties were imminent. Debates in the Senate and private discussions between the military tribunes and the leading senators led to no decision upon what policy to adopt; the government was at its wits’ end, until the youngest member of the House, Appius Claudius – grandson of the decemvir –came forward with an ingenious solution. ‘I have brought you a plan,’ he said, ‘which is a sort of heirloom in my family. My grandfather, as you know, pointed out to the Senate that there was one way, and one way only, of breaking the power of the tribunes: namely, by getting some of them to veto the proposals of their colleagues. Men who are enjoying their first taste of political power can easily be led to change their minds if someone from one of our great political families approaches them in the right way: all he need do is to forget for a moment the dignity of his position, and speak to the purpose. These fellows are all weathercocks and time–servers: let them see that some of their number, by taking a bold initiative, have stolen the favour of the mob, while they themselves are left out in the cold, and they will readily enough turn their coats and support the senatorial cause, in the hope of ingratiating themselves with our party as a whole and with its leaders in particular.’
Young Appius’s suggestion met with universal approval, not least from Quintus Servilius Priscus, who warmly congratulated him on being a worthy scion of the Claudian stock, and it was acted upon without delay. The first step was to induce as many of the tribunes as possible to veto the bill; so as soon as the Senate adjourned, the leading members started operations: each button–holing his man, they succeeded, by mingled flattery and threats and the promise of the gratitude of the Senate, both individually and collectively, in getting six of them to undertake to use their veto. Next day, according to plan, a question was asked in the Senate about the attempt of the two tribunes Mecilius and Metilius to stir up sedition by their monstrous scheme of agrarian reform, and the leading members of the House, in their speeches on the subject, indicated their inability to see any way out of the danger except through the assistance of the tribunes. The beleaguered country, they declared, had now no resource but to do what individuals did in cases of distress, and turn for succour to the tribunate; the tribunes could be justly proud of their office, and of themselves as holders of it, in that they knew it possessed no less power to resist their colleagues’ wicked attempts at subversion than to harry the senatorial party and stir up political strife.
Sentiments of this sort were met with cheers from every part of the House, while appeals to the tribunes made themselves heard through the hubbub. At last order was restored, and those of the tribunes who had been won over to the opposition declared their intention of vetoing their colleagues’ bill, as they themselves, like the Senate, considered it subversive. The House then tendered them its formal thanks, and the proposers of the bill, having vented their rage by convening an assembly and calling the renegades betrayers of the people’s welfare, toadies of the governing class, and any other abusive names they could think of, allowed the measure to drop.
Next year Publius Cornelius Cossus, Gaius Valerius Potitus, Quintus Quinctius Cincinnatus and Marcus Fabius Vibulanus were appointed military tribunes with consular powers. There would have been two campaigns this year, had not operations against Veii been delayed by the superstitious fears of the Veientine nobility, whose estates had been flooded by the Tiber with serious damage to farm–buildings; at the same time the Aequians were deterred by the defeat they had suffered three years before from going to the assistance of their kinsmen of Bolae. These people in a raid on the territory of Labici had attacked the new settlers there, and hoped to save themselves from the consequences by the support of the Aequians generally; but they were disappointed: no support came, and after a campaign almost too trivial to mention, consisting as it did of a siege and one small battle, they lost both town and lands. An attempt was made by the plebeian tribune Lucius Sextius to pass a measure for sending settlers to Bolae, just as they had been sent to Labici; but the proposal was vetoed by his colleagues, who declared their unwillingness to allow any plebiscite to pass without the backing of the Senate.
Bolae was retaken in the following year and the Aequians sent fresh settlers to occupy it, so it was considerably stronger than it had been. At Rome this year the government was in the hands of four military tribunes – Cnaeus Cornelius Cossus, Lucius Valerius Potitus, Quintus Fabius Vibulanus (for the second time), and Marcus Postumius Regilensis. The last named – Postumius – was given the command against the Aequians. He was in some ways a bad man, though the defects in his character did not become apparent until the campaign had been brought to a successful end. In raising troops, and proceeding at once to Bolae, he showed great energy; a few minor engagements were enough to break the spirit of the enemy, and he soon forced an entrance into the town. That done, however, he turned against his own men and broke the promise, made at the time of the assault, that all plunder taken in the town should be the property of the troops. I, at least, am inclined to believe that that was the reason of the soldiers’ anger, though it has been suggested that it was caused merely by the fact that, as the town had been sacked not long before and was now occupied by new settlers, fewer valuables were found in it than the men had been led by their commander to expect. But angry they were – and they were soon to be angrier still; for when Postumius had been recalled by his colleagues to Rome to help deal with certain anti–government proposals which were being brought forward by the people’s tribunes, he made a remark, at a public assembly, which was surely unworthy of any reasonable or intelligent person. The tribune Sextius, introducing a proposal for land reform, declared that he would further propose that settlers be sent to Bolae, as it was only right, in his view, that the town and territory should belong to the men who took them by force of arms; whereupon Postumius was heard to say: ‘Unless my men keep their mouths shut on that matter, they had better look out!’ Everyone in the assembly was shocked, as indeed was the Senate when they came to hear of it soon after. Sextius, the tribune, who was an effective speaker and not the man to let an opportunity slip, was quick to see how he could make political capital out of an opponent like Postumius; for clearly such a man, haughty in temper and hasty in speech, could be irritated and provoked into saying things which would rouse resentment not only against himself but against the senatorial order as a whole and the cause for which it stood; accordingly he made a point of drawing Postumius into an argument as often as he could. On the present occasion, after the heartless and brutal remark I have mentioned, ‘Men of Rome,’ he cried, ‘do you hear how he threatens his soldiers as if they were slaves? What, will you think a swine like him better deserves the high position he holds than the men who would settle you on brand–new farms of your own – men who are anxious to provide a home for your old age, and fight for your welfare against your cruel and haughty enemies? You may well begin to wonder why it is that so few are willing to shoulder the burden of your cause: for what can they expect of you? Not, assuredly, the honours which you hand out to your political adversaries instead of to your champions and protectors! What this fellow said just now drew from you, to be sure, a gasp of horror; but what of that? If at this moment you were asked for your votes, you would give them not to those friends whose one desire is to secure your fortunes and give you farms to live on, but to the man who swears he will take the whip to your backs!’
It was not long before Postumius’s unfortunate remark was known in the army too, where it caused even greater indignation at the thought that the commander, not content with cheating his men out of their spoils, actually threatened them with punishment as well. There was no attempt to conceal the resentment which was universally felt, and the quaestor, Publius Sestius, thinking that the mutiny, started by trickery and the threat of violence, could best be quelled by similar methods, picked on a man who was bawling his head off and sent a lictor to arrest him. Yells and imprecations broke out, and a stone was thrown at Sestius, who withdrew from the scuffle, the soldier who had thrown it shouting after him that the quaestor had got what the general had threatened to give his men. Postumius was sent for and made everything worse by his remorseless inquiries and savage punishments, and at last, when a crowd had gathered at the cries of some wretched victims whom he had ordered to be crushed to death under a hurdle, he lost control of himself altogether, left the tribunal, and ran like a madman to where the attempt was being made to stop the executions. The lictors and centurions were doing what they could to disperse the mob of enraged soldiery, but to no effect: such was the fury of the troops that Postumius was stoned to death – a commander–in–chief murdered by his own men.
When the report of this dreadful crime reached Rome, the other military tribunes wished to institute a senatorial inquiry into the death of their colleague, but the proposal was vetoed by the people’s tribunes. The conflict which thus arose was also connected with the Senate’s anxiety lest the populace in its present mood, exacerbated as it was by fear of investigations, should elect men from its own class as military tribunes for the coming year, and with the consequent efforts of the senatorial party to procure the election of consuls. The upshot was that the people’s tribunes blocked the Senate’s decree ordering an investigation and also vetoed the election of consuls, so that the government reverted to an interregnum. After that the senatorial party got its way, consular elections were held under the presidency of the interrex, Quintus Fabius Vibulanus, and the successful candidates were Aulus Cornelius Cossus and Furius Medullinus.
The new year had hardly begun when the Senate passed a resolution that the tribunes should bring the inquiry into Postumius’s death to the notice of the people at the earliest possible opportunity and that the people should themselves select whomever they thought a suitable person to conduct it. By a unanimous resolution the matter was referred to the consuls, who then proceeded to carry out their task with great leniency. Only a handful of the mutineers were condemned to death – and even those few were generally believed to have committed suicide. Nevertheless the consuls, for all their moderation, failed to satisfy the populace, who continued bitterly to resent the whole transaction and to complain that while nobody bothered for years about such reforms as would improve their lot, a law which involved their capital punishment was promptly and effectively carried out. It would have been an excellent opportunity, now that the mutiny had been dealt with, to bring up the question of distributing the territory of Bolae; this would have been an effective sop to the angry populace and would have made them less anxious for the agrarian reform which was intended to disappropriate the nobility from what was felt to be their illegal occupation of the public lands. As things were, however, the sense of anger and frustration continued, not only because the nobility persisted in hanging on to the domain lands, which they held by force, but also because they refused even to distribute such land as had been recently acquired by conquest – land which, they knew, would soon, like all the rest, go to enrich the few.
During this year the consul Furius led a force against the Volscians who were raiding the territory of the Hernici. Failing to make contact with the enemy, he took the town of Ferentinum to which considerable numbers of the Volscians had retired – though they had gone before he got there, for, having little hope of defending the place, they had slipped away under cover of darkness, taking their gear and valuables with them. So there was less plunder for Furius’s men than they had hoped. The town was taken next day, almost empty. It and the land belonging to it were given to the Hernici.
After a year of comparative tranquillity owing to the restraint of the tribunes, Quintus Fabius Ambustus and Gaius Furius Pacilus entered upon the consulship. This year Lucius Icilius became tribune and proved true to his name by at once arousing strong anti–government feelings with various proposals for agrarian reform; but the occurrence of an epidemic, which threatened to be worse than it actually proved, diverted people’s thoughts from politics and concentrated them upon the more intimate problem of how to keep alive. Probably the epidemic caused less damage to the country than would serious political troubles, had they arisen. As it happened, though a great many caught the disease, the number of deaths was very small, a piece of luck which was, however, counterbalanced by the usual result of a year of pestilence, namely a bad harvest, due to the inadequate cultivation of the land. The new consuls were Marcus Papirius Atratinus and Gaius Nautius Rutilus, and from the beginning of their term of office lack of supplies would have been more serious than the epidemic, if the situation had not been remedied by foreign purchases of grain, for which delegations were dispatched over a wide area along the Tiber and the Etruscan seaboard. The Samnites in Capua and Cumae insolently refused to trade, unlike the lords of the Sicilian communities, who gave generous assistance; but the largest supplies were brought down the Tiber, with the goodwill of the Etruscans. In these difficult circumstances there were so few people left in the city that the consuls could not find more than a single senator for each delegation, and were compelled in every case to make up the number by adding two knights. Apart from the epidemic and the subsequent shortage of food there were no annoyances, domestic or foreign, during those two years; but no sooner were those difficulties overcome than the country was involved again in its old troubles – political strife and foreign war.
In the consulship of Marcus Aemilius and Gaius Valerius Potitus the Aequians mobilized for war with the unofficial support of the Volscians, who joined them as a volunteer mercenary force. News of their preparations reached Rome after they had already penetrated into Latin and Hernican territory, and promptly, to meet the threat, the consul Valerius proceeded to raise troops; Menenius, however, one of the tribunes and a staunch advocate of agrarian reform, blocked the levy, so that every man who wished to avoid service availed himself of the tribune’s protection to refuse to take the oath. It was at this juncture that the alarming news suddenly arrived of the fall of Carventum. The humiliating defeat was a double blow at the machinations of Menenius, for it not only gave the Senate a handle for bringing him into disrepute, but also provided the other tribunes, who had already been induced to veto the proposed land reforms, with a better reason for opposing their colleague. The dispute was nevertheless a long one: the consuls swore by heaven and earth that Menenius, and Menenius alone, was responsible by his action in blocking the levy for any humiliation or defeat already sustained or likely to be sustained in the future, while Menenius, on his side, loudly protested that he was willing to withdraw his opposition provided that the patricians surrendered their illegal occupancy of the public domains. The end came when nine of the tribunes interposed a resolution, declaring in the name of their college that they would support the consul in the event of his fining or otherwise coercing all who refused to serve, in spite of Menenius’s veto. On the strength of this resolution Valerius had the few who appealed hauled up before him, and the rest were scared into taking the oath.
The army then proceeded to Carventum, and though the relationship between the consul and his troops was about as bad as could be, there was no lack of vigour in the way operations were carried out; the fact that some of the garrison had been allowed to leave their posts in search of plunder opened the way to attack, and the Roman force easily drove out the remainder and liberated the stronghold. A considerable amount of plunder was taken, as the enemy had been engaged in constant raids and all the stuff he had collected had been stored in the stronghold for safe keeping; the consul ordered the quaestors to sell it by auction and pay the proceeds into the treasury, announcing that the troops would have their share only when they did not refuse service. This action exacerbated the ill feeling of the soldiers, and of the commons generally, towards Valerius, so that when he entered Rome in the ovation which the Senate had granted him in honour of his success, the substance of the somewhat indecorous songs which are expected from the rank and file on such occasions consisted in abuse of the consul and praise of Menenius, while at every mention of the tribune’s name the crowds of spectators applauded and shouted their approbation with such enthusiasm that the soldiers’ voices were almost drowned in the noise they made. This all too obvious support of Menenius was more disturbing to the senatorial party than the men’s impertinence to their commander – for that, after all, was a more or less traditional licence – as it seemed to indicate that if Menenius stood for the military tribuneship, he would certainly be elected. However, consular elections were held, and Menenius was kept out.
The new consuls were Cnaeus Cornelius Cossus and Lucius Furius Medullinus (for the second time). Never had the popular party been so angry; they showed their anger at the subsequent election of quaestors – and also had their revenge, for plebeian candidates were returned for the first time in history. Amongst the four successful candidates room was found for only one patrician, Gaius Fabius Ambustus, the three plebeians – returned above the heads of men of the very best families – being Quintus Silius, Publius Aelius, and Publius Pupius. I have read that it was the influence of the Icilii which was responsible for this highly democratic voting; three members of that notoriously anti–patrician family were tribunes that year, a success which they owed to the extravagant promises of reform which they poured into the eager ears of the populace; they had declared, moreover, that unless the masses themselves at the coming quaestorial election – the only one which the Senate had left open to both parties – had enough spirit to get what they long had wanted and which was now legally open to them to acquire, they would not lift a finger in their behalf. It was a great victory for the popular party, or so they thought; that the office of quaestor carried only limited powers was, for the moment, of little consequence; the important thing was that a beginning had been made: new men could at last see their way clear to the highest office of state and the most splendid military honours. The patricians, on the contrary, were as angry as if they had lost their right to office altogether, instead of merely being forced to share it with their opponents; what, they asked, if the world were coming to such a pass, would be the use of rearing children only to have them robbed of their proper inheritance, seeing others in possession of their rightful honours, and themselves, without position or power, left with nothing but the humble duty of sacrificing on the people’s behalf in the capacity of Leaping Priests or Fire–kindlers at the altar? Feelings, in fact, ran high in both parties; and since the commons were elated by their success and had three extremely distinguished men to lead them, the patricians, who naturally felt that every election in which a candidate from either party was allowed to stand would go the same way as the election for the quaestorship, did all they could to prevent an election for military tribunes, and stood out for consular elections, which were not yet open to plebeian candidates. The Icilii, equally of course, opposed them, declaring that the time had come for the commons to have their share of real power.
The popular leaders were, however, in a difficulty, as they had no means of enforcing their demand. They might, indeed, have wrung a concession from their opponents by blocking some consular bill, had there been any, at the moment, before the Senate; but there was none, so it was a stroke of luck for them when a report came in that Volscian and Aequian forces were raiding Latin and Hernican territory. Promptly they seized their chance and strained every nerve to stop the levy which the Senate had authorized to meet the danger; fortune, they declared, had played into their hands and into the hands of their party. All three of them were men of great driving power, and men of family too, in spite of their plebeian origin, and they went to work methodically, two of them assuming the task of keeping continuous and careful watch upon the consuls, while the third was given the role of propagandist amongst the commons, holding meetings to rouse them to action or keep them in check as circumstances dictated. For a time there was deadlock: the consuls failed to hold their levy, the tribunes got no nearer to the elections they desired; then, when the fortunes of the struggle were beginning to favour the popular cause, news came that the Aequians had seized the fortress of Carventum: the garrison had left their post to pick up what they could in the countryside, the few remaining guards had been killed, and the rest of the garrison had been cut down piecemeal either in the open or as they were trying to hurry back to their posts. This reverse gave the tribunes a fresh weapon; every effort was made to induce them, in these circumstances, to withdraw their opposition to preparations for war, but in vain; they refused to yield either in consideration of the national danger or of their own reputation, and finally succeeded in forcing the Senate to issue a decree for the election of military tribunes, though the conditions were added that no one who had been people’s tribune that year should be allowed to stand, and that no people’s tribune should be re–elected for a further term. These conditions were obviously aimed at the Icilii, whom the Senate accused of seeking from the people the highest office of state as a reward for the violently anti–aristocratic measures which they had sponsored as tribunes.
Recruiting and general mobilization now began without opposition. Whether both consuls proceeded to Carventum, or whether one of them remained in Rome to preside at the elections is not determined, as our authorities differ; all, however, agree that the siege of Carventum was long and fruitless and that after it was abandoned the same troops as had been employed in it liberated Verrugo, a town in Volscian territory, and that raids on a large scale both there and in Aequian territory secured for the Romans a great mass of plunder of all kinds.
In Rome the popular party had scored a victory in forcing the election of military tribunes, but the result of the election was no less of a victory for their opponents, for contrary to everyone’s expectation all three successful candidates were patricians – Gaius Julius Julus, Publius Cornelius Cossus, and Gaius Servilius Ahala. The rumour went round that the patricians had rigged the elections: the story was (the Icilii accused them of it at the time) that they had included in the list of genuine candidates a number of preposterously unsuitable plebeians, thereby causing the mass of voters to reject the plebeian candidates as a whole from their disgust at the notorious vices of a few.
An unconfirmed report then reached Rome that the Volscians and Aequians, encouraged, perhaps, by their successful defence of Carventum, or angered by the loss of their garrison at Verrugo, were preparing for war with all the resources at their command. The fountain–head of the rising was Antium: representatives from that town had visited the various communities of both peoples, upbraiding them for cowardice in having lurked behind their walls during the previous year while Roman troops devastated their farmlands with impunity and the garrison at Verrugo was surprised and overwhelmed. They went on to prophesy that worse was to come: soon not merely raiding–parties but settlers would come from Rome to establish themselves in their domains; and already the Romans, not content with dividing their possessions amongst themselves, had taken Ferentinum from them and made a present of it to their friends the Hernici. Inflammatory remarks of this kind had their effect, and in the various townships which the envoys visited recruiting began, and at last their whole military potential was concentrated at Antium, where they fortified a camp and awaited the approach of the enemy.
In Rome the news of these movements caused more excitement than the actual situation warranted, and the Senate lost no time in ordering the appointment of a Dictator, always the last resource in a crisis. The two military tribunes, Julius and Cornelius, are said to have resented this order, and a bitter argument ensued; in vain the leaders of the Senate complained that the military tribunes were not subject to the Senate’s authority, and even appealed to the people’s tribunes, reminding them that on a similar occasion they had brought pressure to bear on the consuls. The people’s tribunes were, of course, delighted with this split in the ranks of their opponents, and said they had no intention of helping those who refused to treat them as free citizens – or even as human beings; but if ever office were thrown open to both parties and government fairly shared between them, they would only too gladly take steps to stop magistrates from getting above themselves and thwarting the Senate’s decrees. All they could suggest meanwhile was that the patricians should continue their disregard for law and the constitution, while they, the people’s tribunes, got on with their job as they saw fit.
This quarrel, coming at a moment when a major campaign was on hand, was a most unfortunate one; everyone’s attention was absorbed by it; day after day Julius and Cornelius took turns in complaining that, as they were perfectly capable of taking command, it was unjustifiable to deprive them of the position with which the nation as a whole had entrusted them. And so the wrangle continued until at last the other military tribune, Servilius Ahala, intervened. The reason, he declared, why he had kept silent so long was not inability to make up his mind – for what good citizen ever separated his own from the national interest? – but his hope that his two colleagues would consent to submit to the Senate instead of allowing the authority of the people’s tribunes to be invoked against them. ‘Even now,’ he went on, ‘if circumstances permitted, I should have gladly given them time to modify the inconvenient obstinacy of their views; but since war is a harsh master and does not wait upon the deliberations of men, I shall put the good of the country above my colleagues’ favour, and, if the Senate still adheres to its opinion, I shall name a Dictator tonight. Should anyone veto the Senate’s resolution, I shall content myself with the expression of its wishes.’
Ahala’s intervention was universally commended, as it deserved to be; Publius Cornelius was named Dictator, and Ahala himself appointed as his Master of Horse. Evidently there are occasions, as this story shows, when favour and promotion fall most readily into the lap of the man who does not seek them.
About the ensuing campaign there was nothing memorable. In a single engagement, and that an easy one, the enemy forces at Antium were destroyed; Roman troops laid waste the Volscian farmlands, and stormed a fortress at lake Fucinus, where 3,000 prisoners were taken. The rest of the Volscians were driven to take refuge within their walls, leaving their farms undefended. The Dictator had done what fortune demanded of him, little though that was; he returned to Rome successful, indeed, but hardly covered with glory, and resigned his office.
The military tribunes had not forgotten their resentment at the appointment of a Dictator, and it was for that reason, I fancy, that without saying anything about a consular election they announced that military tribunes should be elected again for the following year, a betrayal of the patrician cause which, coming as it did from within the party, caused greater concern than ever. The patricians reversed their tactics of the previous year; then, it will be remembered, they had succeeded in bringing all the plebeian candidates into contempt by including a number of scallywags in the list; this time they put up leading senators of the highest distinction and popularity and were thus able to secure all the places. No plebeian had a chance at all. Four men were elected, all of whom had held the office before: Lucius Furius Medullinus, Gaius Valerius Potitus, Cnaeus Fabius Vibulanus, and Gaius Servilius Ahala. Ahala obtained this second consecutive term by reason of the popularity he had won through his wise restraint in the recent crisis, though his other qualities as well undoubtedly entitled him to it.
This year the truce with Veii ended and steps were taken to obtain a settlement for previous damages. The representatives from Rome who, accompanied by the fetials, were dispatched for the purpose were met on the frontier by a deputation from the town and asked not to proceed until they themselves had had an audience of the Senate. The request was granted, and the Senate agreed not to demand a settlement, as Veii was, at the moment, distracted by party strife and Rome had no desire to take advantage of other people’s difficulties.
Shortly afterwards the garrison at Verrugo was lost. The cause of the disaster was the all–important factor of time: the besieged garrison asked for assistance, and might have been saved if it had been promptly given; but the force dispatched for the purpose found the enemy dispersed about the countryside in search of plunder – and every man in the garrison had already been killed. The military tribunes were as much responsible for the delay as the Senate; reports had come in that the garrison was making a strong resistance, but the tribunes failed to realize that there are limits to human strength and that no valour, however great, can go beyond them. But the brave soldiers, dead or alive, were not to be unavenged.
Next year the military tribunes were Publius and Cnaeus Cornelius Cossus, Cnaeus Fabius Ambustus, and Lucius Valerius Potitus. War was declared with Veii, and the occasion of it was an insulting remark made by the Veientine Senate: representatives had been sent from Rome to demand reparations, and the answer they received was that unless they cleared out of the country instantly Veii would see that they got what Lars Tolumnius had given their predecessors. This was not to be tolerated and the Roman Senate instructed the military tribunes to ask the people’s consent at the earliest possible moment to a declaration of war. The result was a spate of sullen protests: the Volscian war, it was said, was not yet over; two garrisons had recently been wiped out and the rest were being held only at great risk; never a year passed without a major engagement somewhere, and now, as if they had not troubles enough, a fresh campaign was on foot against an exceedingly powerful neighbour, who would probably raise all Etruria against them. The people’s tribunes took care to fan the flames of the general discontent, taking the line that the real enemy which the Senate was fighting was not Veii or any other foreign state but the commons of Rome. The Senate, they declared, deliberately tormented the commons with military service and got their throats cut whenever they could, keeping them employed in foreign parts for fear lest, if they enjoyed a quiet life at home, they might begin to think of forbidden things – liberty, farms of their own to cultivate, the division of the public domains, the right of voting as their consciences dictated. They got hold of old campaigners, counted their years of service, their wounds and scars, and asked with pious indignation if there was still on their poor bodies a whole spot to receive another gash, or what blood they had left in their veins to shed for their country. By remarks of this sort – and similar arguments were repeated in public speeches – the tribunes succeeded in arousing strong popular opposition to the declaration of war with Veii, whereupon the matter was temporarily dropped, as it was clear that it stood no chance of getting through in face of the resentment it had caused.
Meanwhile the decision was taken to send a force under the military tribunes against the Volscians; one of them only, Cnaeus Cornelius, was left in Rome, and the other three, after finding no sign of organized resistance, split the force into three divisions and went off individually to do what damage they could. Valerius made for Antium, Cornelius for Ecetra, both of them destroying farmlands and farm buildings over a wide area with the object of preventing any concentration of the enemy’s forces. Fabius marched direct to Anxur (the modern Tarracinae), which was his principal objective, and threatened an assault on the side of the town where it slopes down to the marshes; at the same time four cohorts under Servilius Ahala occupied a ridge of high ground behind the town, whence they made a sudden attack upon a sector of its walls which was undefended. The small force attacked with all the noise and racket it could possibly raise, which had the desired effect of distracting the enemy troops who were defending the lower part of the town against Fabius and enabling scaling–ladders to be brought into position. A moment later Roman soldiers were all over the town – to stand or to flee made no matter; soldiers and civilians alike were mercilessly butchered. The slaughter went on till at last the helpless townsmen, seeing they would get no quarter if they surrendered, were compelled to fight, when the Roman commander suddenly gave the order to hurt no one who was not carrying arms, with the result that every single soldier immediately laid down his sword. Some 2,500 prisoners were taken. Fabius did not allow his men to touch anything of value in the place until his colleagues arrived, on the ground that the troops under their command had contributed to the capture of Anxur by keeping other Volscian forces from coming to the defence of it. When they did arrive, the three contingents were allowed to sack the town; a long period of prosperity had made it rich, and this act of generosity on the part of the three commanders was a first step towards a better feeling between the commons and the patricians. It was followed by the most seasonable favour which has ever been conferred on the populace by the chiefs of state: the Senate, without any suggestion from the people or their tribunes, issued a decree for the payment of soldiers on service out of public funds. Hitherto every man had served at his own private expense.
The joy at this innovation was unprecedented. Men mobbed the Senate House, wrung the hands of members as they came out, called them Fathers indeed, in every sense of the word, and declared that thence forward not a man, while any strength remained, would spare his body or blood in defence of so munificent a country. Indeed, the gift was doubly welcome: it was a good thing for the poor soldier to know that while he was bound in law to give his body in the national service his little property would at least grow no less; but better even than that was the fact that the offer was spontaneous and owed nothing to anything that had ever been said either by their tribunes or by themselves – it was that which added so much both to their satisfaction and to their gratitude.
The only people who did not share the general pleasure and mutual good feeling were the plebeian tribunes, who prophesied that the new measure would prove less universally agreeable and less successful than was imagined. Admirable though it seemed at first sight, experience would soon reveal its deficiencies. Where, for instance, was the money to come from? If it came, as presumably it must, from a tax on the people, then the Senate would merely have been generous at others’ expense. Moreover, however the rest might feel, veteran soldiers who had earned their discharge would never endure to see younger men enjoying better conditions of service than they themselves had been forced to accept, or submit to the injustice of contributing to other men’s expenses when they had also, of necessity, defrayed their own.
Arguments of this sort were not without influence on a section of the commons; finally a tax was imposed and the tribunes publicly announced that they would protect anybody who refused to pay it. The patricians, however, would not let their promising innovation be so easily defeated; they were themselves the first to contribute and, as there was not yet a silver coinage, some of them made quite a spectacle by driving to the treasury with wagonfuls of bronze bars. That started the ball rolling, and when the senators had all faithfully paid the amount at which they were assessed, the leading men of plebeian rank, who were friends of the nobility, began, as they had agreed to do, to pay up; then, when the riff–raff saw these men applauded by the patricians and honoured as good citizens by all who were liable to military service, they, too, rushed forward to pay and thought no more of the promised protection of the tribunes. After that, the proposal to declare war on Veii was passed and new military tribunes proceeded to the scene of action with an army composed mostly of volunteers.
The military tribunes were Titus Quinctius Capitolinus, Quintus Quinctius Cincinnatus, Gaius Julius Julus (for the second time), Aulus Manlius, Lucius Furius Medullinus (for the third time), and Manlius Aemilius Mamercus. They were the first commanders of a Roman army to besiege Veii. Soon after the siege began the Etruscan communities at a full council at the shrine of Voltumna failed to agree upon whether or not the whole nation should unite in defence of Veii.
The following year some of the Roman commanders were called away with a part of the army to carry on the Volscian campaign, so the siege of Veii was somewhat relaxed. The new military tribunes were Gaius Valerius Potitus (for the third time), Manlius Sergius Fidenas, Publius Cornelius Maluginensis, Cnaeus Cornelius Cossus, Gaius Fabius Ambustus, and Spurius Nautius Rutilus (for the third time). The Volscians were successfully engaged between Ferentinum and Ecetra, after which the siege of the Volscian town of Artena was begun. During an attempted break–out the enemy were driven back within the walls and Roman troops, in the confusion, were able to force an entrance. The town was taken, except for the central fortress, which was a natural stronghold; a few men managed to establish themselves within it, while in the town below a great many were either killed or captured. The stronghold itself was then surrounded. For its size it was adequately defended, and could not be taken by assault; nor was there hope of starving it into surrender, as all the publicly owned grain had been stored there before the town fell; indeed, the besieging force would have wearied of the hopeless task, had not a slave betrayed the place into their hands. The traitor guided some Roman soldiers up a precipitous ascent and admitted them to the fortress; they killed the sentries on duty, and the rest of the garrison, caught unawares, was terrified into surrender. The fortress and the town itself were demolished, Volscian territory was evacuated and the whole strength of Roman arms was concentrated against Veii. The traitor was rewarded with his liberty and with the gift of the property of two families, and was re–named Servius Romanus. Some suppose– wrongly–that Artena was not a Volscian town but belonged to Veii; the source of the error is the fact that there was another town of the same name between Caere and Veii, a place which was a dependency of the former and was destroyed in the time of the Roman kings. The Artena, the destruction of which I have just related, was in Volscian territory.