Text #9788

Livy. History of Rome. Vol. 1
  1. But not only was war with the Volsci imminent; the citizens were at loggerheads among themselves, and internal dissensions between the Fathers and the plebs had burst into a blaze of hatred, chiefly on account of those who had been bound over to service for their debts. [2] These men complained loudly that while they were abroad [p. 291]fighting for liberty and dominion they had been enslaved2 and oppressed at home by fellow-citizens, and that the freedom of the plebeians was more secure in war than in peace, amongst enemies than amongst citizens.

This bitter feeling, which was growing spontaneously, the notable calamity of one man fanned into a flame. [3] Old, and bearing the marks of all his misfortunes, the man rushed into the Forum. His dress was covered with filth, and the condition of his body was even worse, for he was pale and half dead with emaciation. [4] Besides this, his straggling beard and hair had given a savage look to his countenance. He was recognized nevertheless, despite the hideousness of his appearance, and the word went round that he had commanded companies; yet other military honours were openly ascribed to him by the compassionate bystanders, and the man himself displayed the scars on his breast which bore testimony to his honourable service in various battles. [5] When they asked the reason of his condition and his squalor, he replied, while the crowd gathered about him much as though it were an assembly, that during his service in the Sabine war not only had the enemy’s depredations deprived him of his crops, but his cottage had been burnt, all his belongings plundered, and his flocks driven off. [6] Then the taxes had been levied, in an untoward moment for him, and he had contracted debts. When these had been swelled by usury, they had first stripped him of the farm which had been his father’s and his grandfather’s, then of the remnants of his property, and finally like an infection they had attacked his person, and he had been carried off by his creditor, not to slavery, but to the prison and the torturechamber. [7] He then showed them his back, disfigured3 with the wales of recent scourging.

The sight of these things and the man’s recital produced a mighty uproar. [8] The disturbance was no longer confined to the Forum, but spread in all directions through the entire City. Those who had been bound over, whether in chains or not, broke out into the streets from every side, and implored the Quirites to protect them. [9] At no point was there any lack of volunteers to join the rising; everywhere crowds were streaming through the different streets and shouting as they hurried to the Forum. [10] Great was the peril of those senators who happened to be in the Forum and fell in with the mob, which would not indeed have stopped short of violence had not the consuls, Publius Servilius and Appius Claudius, hurriedly intervened to put down the insurrection.

But the crowd turned on them and displayed their chains and other hideous tokens. [11] These, they cried, were the rewards they had earned, and they bitterly rehearsed the campaigns they had each served in various places. They demanded, in a manner much more threatening than suppliant, that the consuls should convene the senate; and they surrounded the Curia, that they might them. [12] selves witness and control the deliberations of the state. The consuls succeeded in collecting only a few of the senators whom chance had thrown in their way. [13] The rest were afraid to enter not only the Curia but even the Forum, and nothing could be done because those present were too few. Whereat the people concluded they were being flouted and put off, and that the missing senators were absent not from accident, nor fear, but with the intent to hinder action, and that the consuls themselves were paltering; nor did they doubt that their misery was made a4 jest. [14] A little more and not even the majesty of the consuls could have held in check the angry crowd, when the absent Fathers, uncertain whether they should incur more danger by holding back or by coming forward, finally came into the senate, and the required number being at length assembled, not only the senators, but even the consuls themselves were unable to agree. [15] Appius, a headstrong man, was for settling the matter by the exercise of consular authority; when one or two men had been arrested, the others, he said, would calm down. Servilius, more inclined to gentle measures, believed that it was safer, as well as easier, to assuage their fury than to quell it.

  1. In the midst of the debate a greater alarm arose from a new quarter, for some Latin horsemen galloped up with the disquieting news that a Volscian army was advancing to attack the City. This report awoke very different feelings —so completely had their dissensions divided the state into two —in the Fathers and the plebs. [2] The commons were jubilant; they said that the gods were taking a hand in punishing the arrogance of the senators. They encouraged one another not to give in their names; it would be better to perish all together than alone. Let the Fathers serve, let the Fathers take up arms, that those might incur the hazards of war who received its rewards. [3]

The Curia, on the other hand, was downcast and dismayed. In their twofold fear —of their fellow-citizens and of the enemy —they begged Servilius the consul, whose character appealed more to the people than did that of his colleague, that he would extricate the state from the fearful perils with which it was beset.1 [4] Thereupon the consul adjourned the senate and went before the people. There he declared that the Fathers were anxious to consult the interests of the plebs, but that their deliberations concerning that very important part —but only a part after all —of the state had been broken off by their fears for the entire nation. [5] It was impossible, when the enemy was almost at the city gates, to consider anything before the war; and even if there should be some slight respite in that regard, it was neither to the credit of the plebs to refuse to arm for their country, unless they should first receive a recompense, nor honourable to the Fathers to be driven by fear into passing measures for the relief of their fellow-citizens which they would have passed later of their own free will. [6] He then confirmed his speech by a proclamation in which he commanded that no one should hold a Roman citizen in chains or durance so that he should not be able to give in his name to the consuls, and that none should seize or sell a soldier’s property so long as he was in camp, or interfere with his children or his grandchildren. [7] When this edict had been published, the debtors who were present at once enlisted, and from every quarter, all over the City, they hastened from the houses where their creditors no longer had the right to detain them, and rushed into the Forum to take the military oath. [8] It was a great throng, nor were there any soldiers whose courage and usefulness in the Volscian war were more conspicuous. The consul led his troops against the enemy, and pitched his camp at a short distance from theirs.

  1. The next night the Volsci, relying on the1 lack of harmony among the Romans, attacked their camp on the chance that the darkness might encourage desertions or treachery. But the sentries perceived them, the army was roused, and, the signal being given, rushed to arms. [2] Thus the design of the Volsci came to naught, and the remainder of the night was devoted by both armies to sleeping. On the following day at dawn the Volsci filled up the trenches and assaulted the rampart, and soon they were everywhere pulling down the palisades. [3] On every side the consul’s men were clamouring for the signal —none more loudly than the debtors. He waited a moment, to test the temper of the soldiers. When there could no longer be any doubt of their great ardour, he finally gave the command for a sortie and released them, eager for the fray. At the very first onset the enemy were routed. [4] While they ran, the foot-soldiers struck at them from behind as long as they could keep up the pursuit; then the horsemen drove them panic-stricken clear to their camp. Soon the camp itself had been surrounded by the legions, and when the Volsci had fled from it in terror, it was taken and plundered. [5] Next day Servilius led his forces to Suessa Pometia, where the enemy had taken refuge, and within a few days took the town and gave it up to be sacked.2 This yielded some slight relief to the soldiers, who needed it [6] badly. The consul led his army back to Rome, with great honour to himself. As he was setting out on his return thither ambassadors approached him from the Volsci of Ecetra, who were alarmed at their own3 prospects, in view of the capture of Pometia. A decree of the senate granted them peace, but took away their land.

  2. Directly after this the Sabines also caused an alarm at Rome —for it was indeed a turmoil rather than war. One night the City got word that a Sabine army bent on pillage had come as near as the river Anio, and was there plundering and burning farmhouses right and left. [2] The Romans at once dispatched in that direction all their cavalry, under Aulus Postumius, who had been dictator in the Latin war. He was followed by the consul Servilius with a picked body of foot-soldiers. [3] Many stragglers were cut off by the cavalry and, when the column of infantry drew near, no resistance was offered by the Sabine troops. Exhausted not only by their march but by their night of pillage as well, a great part of them had gorged themselves in the farmhouses with food and wine, and had scarcely vigour enough to run away.

[4] A single night having sufficed for hearing of the Sabine war and ending it, men’s hopes next day ran high that peace was now assured in every quarter, when legates from the Aurunci appeared before the senate to say that unless the territory of the Volsci were evacuated they should declare war. [5] The Auruncan army had set out from home at the same time with the legates, and the report that it had already been seen not far from Aricia threw Rome into such a state of confusion that it was impossible to bring the matter regularly before the senate, or to return a peaceful answer to a people who had already drawn the sword, while they themselves were also arming. [6] They marched on Aricia in fighting order, joined battle with the Aurunci not far from the town, and1 in a single engagement finished the war.

  1. Having routed the Aurunci, and having been, within a few days, victorious in so many wars, the Romans were looking for the help which the consul had promised and the senate guaranteed, when Appius, partly out of native arrogance, partly to discredit his colleague, began to pronounce judgment with the utmost rigour in suits to recover debts. In consequence, not only were those who had been bound over before delivered up to their creditors, but others were bound over. [2] Whenever this happened to a soldier he would appeal to the other consul. The people flocked to the house of Servilius: it was he who had made them promises; it was he whom they reproached, as each rehearsed his services in the wars and displayed the scars he had received. They demanded that he should either lay the matter before the senate or lend his aid as consul to his fellow-citizens, as general to his soldiers. [3] They moved the consul by this plea, but the situation forced him to temporize, so vehemently was the other side supported, not only by his colleague, but by the entire party of the nobles. And so he steered a middle course, and neither avoided the dislike of the plebs nor gained the goodwill of the Fathers. [4] These considered him a pusillanimous consul and an agitator, while the commons held him to be dishonest; and it was soon apparent that he was as cordially hated as Appius.

[5] The consuls had got into a dispute as to which should dedicate the temple to Mercury. The senate referred the case to the people for decision. Whichever consul should, by command of the people, be entrusted with the dedication was to have charge of the corn-supply, to establish a guild of merchants,1 2 and perform the solemn rites in the presence of the [6] pontifex. The people assigned the dedication to Marcus Laetorius, a centurion of the first rank —a choice which would readily be understood as intended not so much to honour Laetorius, to whom a commission had been given which was too exalted for his station in life, as to humiliate the [7] consuls. Appius and the Fathers were furious then, if they had not been before; but the plebeians had plucked up heart and threw themselves into the struggle with far more spirit than they had shown at [8] first. For, despairing of help from consuls and senate, they no sooner beheld a debtor being haled away than they flew to his assistance from every [9] side. It was impossible for the consul’s decree to be heard above the din and shouting, and when it had been pronounced nobody obeyed it. Violence was the order of the day, and fear and danger had quite shifted from the debtors to the creditors, who were singled out and maltreated by large numbers in full sight of the [10] consul. To crown these troubles came the fear of a Sabine invasion.

A levy was decreed, but no one enlisted. Appius stormed and railed at the insidious arts of his colleague, who, he said, to make himself popular, was betraying the state by his inactivity; and to his refusal to give judgment for debt was adding a fresh offence in refusing to hold the levy as the senate had [11] directed. Nevertheless the welfare of the state was not wholly forgotten, nor the authority of the consulate abandoned; he would himself, single-handed, assert both his own and the senate’s [12] majesty. When the usual daily throng of lawless men was standing about him, he gave orders [p. 307]to seize one who was a conspicuous leader in their3 disturbances. The lictors were already dragging the man away, when he appealed; nor would the consul have granted the appeal, for there was no question what the decision of the people would be, had not his obstinacy been with difficulty overcome, more by the advice and influence of the nobles than by the popular outcry, so steeled was he to endure men’s [13] hate. From that moment the trouble grew worse each day, and not only were there open disturbances, but what was far more pernicious, secret gatherings and conferences. At last the consuls whom the plebeians so hated went out of office. Servilius had the goodwill of neither party, but Appius was in high esteem with the senators.

Please view our Legal Notice before you make use of this Database.

See also our Credits page for info on data we are building upon.