Text #9630

Livius. "Ab urbe condita"
[Bk. 2 Ch. 42 ]

The popular anger against Cassius did not last long. The attractiveness of the Agrarian Law, though its author was removed, was in itself sufficient to make the plebeians desire it, and their eagerness for it was intensified by the unscrupulousness of the senate, who cheated the soldiers out of their share of the spoil which they had won that year from the Volscians and Aequi. Everything taken from the enemy was sold by the consul Fabius and the amount realised paid into the treasury. In spite of the hatred which this produced in the plebs against the whole Fabian house, the patricians succeeded in getting Caeso Fabius elected with L. Aemilius as consuls for the next year. This still further embittered the plebeians, and domestic disturbances brought on a foreign war. For the time civic quarrels were suspended, patricians and plebeians were of one mind in resisting the Aequi and Volscians, and a victorious action was fought under Aemilius. The enemy lost more in the retreat than in the battle, so hotly did the cavalry pursue their routed foe.

In the same year the temple of Castor was dedicated on the 15th of July. It had been vowed by the Dictator Postumius in the Latin war; his son was appointed “duumvir” for its dedication. In this year, too, the minds of the plebeians were much exercised by the attractions which the Agrarian Law held out for them, and the tribunes made their office more popular by constantly dwelling on this popular measure. The patricians, believing that there was enough and more than enough madness in the multitude as it was, viewed with horror these bribes and incentives to recklessness. The consuls led the way in offering a most determined resistance, and the senate won the day. Nor was the victory only a momentary one, for they elected as consuls for the following year M. Fabius, the brother of Caeso, and L. Valerius, who was an object of special hatred on the part of the plebs through his prosecution of Sp. Cassius. The contest with the tribunes went on through the year; the Law remained a dead letter, and the tribunes, with their fruitless promises, turned out to be idle boasters. The Fabian house gained an immense reputation through the three successive consulships of its members, all of whom had been uniformly successful in their resistance to the tribunes. The office remained like a safe investment, for some time in the family.

War now began with Veii, and the Volscians rose again. The people possessed more than sufficient strength for their foreign wars, but they wasted it in domestic strife. The universal anxiety was aggravated by supernatural portents, menacing almost daily City and country alike. The soothsayers, who were consulted by the State and by private persons, declared that the divine wrath was due to nothing else but the profanation of sacred functions. These alarms resulted in the punishment of Oppia, a Vestal virgin who was convicted of unchastity.

Text #9631

Editorial comment by Laura Knight-Jadczyk

It is striking though that supernatural portents are said to have been occurring in the background in conjunction with times of tension and disaster. The Romans really believed in these portents, so there is no doubt that they were convinced that a Vestal had polluted the rites and thus had angered the gods. However, occurring at a time when agrarian laws were being talked about, during conflicts between the plebs and patricians, one wonders if the Vestal in question merely had the wrong political ideas or affiliations?

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