Text #9639"Ab urbe condita" .
[Bk. 2 ]
During the consulship of M. Minucius and A. Sempronius, a large quantity of corn was brought from Sicily, and the question was discussed in the senate at what price it should be given to the plebs. Many were of opinion that the moment had come for putting pressure on the plebeians, and recovering the rights which had been wrested from the senate through the secession and the violence which accompanied it. Foremost among these was Marcius Coriolanus, a determined foe to the tribunitian power. “If,” he argued, “they want their corn at the old price, let them restore to the senate its old powers. Why, then, do I, after being sent under the yoke, ransomed as it were from brigands, see plebeian magistrates, why do I see a Sicinius in power? Am I to endure these indignities a moment longer than I can help? Am I, who could not put up with a Tarquin as king, to put up with a Sicinius? Let him secede now! let him call out his plebeians, the way lies open to the Sacred Hill and to other hills. Let them carry off the corn from our fields as they did two years ago; let them enjoy the scarcity which in their madness they have produced! I will venture to say that after they have been tamed by these sufferings, they will rather work as labourers themselves in the fields than prevent their being cultivated by an armed secession.” It is not so easy to say whether they ought to have done this as it is to express one’s belief that it could have been done, and the senators might have made it a condition of lowering the price of the corn that they should abrogate the tribunitian power and all the legal restrictions imposed upon them against their will.
The senate considered these sentiments too bitter, the plebeians in their exasperation almost flew to arms. Famine, they said, was being used as a weapon against them, as though they were enemies; they were being cheated out of food and sustenance; the foreign corn, which fortune had unexpectedly given them as their sole means of support, was to be snatched from their mouths unless their tribunes were given up in chains to Cn. Marcius, unless he could work his will on the backs of the Roman plebeians. In him a new executioner had sprung up, who ordered them either to die or live as slaves.
He would have been attacked on leaving the Senate-house had not the tribunes most opportunely fixed a day for his impeachment. This allayed the excitement, every man saw himself a judge with the power of life and death over his enemy. At first Marcius treated the threats of the tribunes with contempt; they had the right of protecting not of punishing, they were the tribunes of the plebs not of the patricians. But the anger of the plebeians was so thoroughly roused that the patricians could only save themselves by the punishment of one of their order.
They resisted, however, in spite of the odium: they incurred, and exercised all the powers they possessed both collectively and individually. At first they attempted to thwart proceedings by posting pickets of their clients to deter individuals from frequenting meetings and conclaves. Then they proceeded in a body-you might suppose that every patrician was impeached-and implored the plebeians, if they refused to acquit a man who was innocent, at least to give up to them, as guilty, one citizen, one senator. As he did not put in an appearance on the day of trial, their resentment remained unabated, and he was condemned in his absence.
**He went into exile amongst the Volscians, uttering threats against his country, and even then entertaining hostile designs against it. **The Volscians welcomed his arrival, and he became more popular as his resentment against his countrymen became more bitter, and his complaints and threats were more frequently heard. He enjoyed the hospitality of Attius Tullius, who was by far the most important man at that time amongst the Volscians and a life-long enemy of the Romans. Impelled each by similar motives, the one by old-standing hatred, the other by newly-provoked resentment, they formed joint plans for war with Rome. They were under the impression that the people could not easily be induced, after so many defeats, to take up arms again, and that after their losses in their numerous wars and recently through the pestilence, their spirits were broken. The hostility had now had time to die down; it was necessary, therefore, to adopt some artifice by which fresh irritation might be produced.