Text #9635

Halicarnassus. "Roman Antiquities"
[Bk. 9 Ch. 37 ]

These consuls were succeeded by Lucius Aemilius Mamercus (elected for the third time) and Vopiscus Julius, in the seventy-seventh Olympiad (the one at which Dandes of Argos won the foot-race), [EN: 471 BC] when Chares was archon at Athens. The administration of the new consuls was very difficult and turbulent; they enjoyed peace, it is true, from foreign wars for all their quarrels were in a state of quiet but through the dissensions at home they were not only themselves exposed to dangers, but came near destroying the commonwealth as well.

For as soon as the populace had a respite from military expeditions, they at once became eager for a distribution of the public lands. It seems there was among the tribunes a certain bold man, not wanting in eloquence, Gnaeus Genucius, who whetted the passions of the poor. This man, by assembling the populace on every occasion and cajoling the needy, was endeavouring to force the consuls to carry out the decree of the senate concerning the allotment of lands. But the consuls kept refusing to do, alleging that this duty had been assigned by the senate, not to them, but to the consuls who immediately followed Cassius and Verginius, with reference to whom the preliminary decree had been drawn up. At the same time they pointed out that decrees of the senate were not laws continuing in force forever, but measures designed to meet temporary needs and having validity for one year only.

When the consuls put forward these excuses, Genucius, finding himself unable to employ compulsion against them, since they were invested with a superior authority, took a bold course. He brought a public suit against Manlius and Lucius, the consuls of the preceding year, and summoned them to appear before the populace and make their defence, specifying openly the ground for the action, which was that they had wronged the populace in not appointing the decemvirs directed by the senate to distribute the allotments of land. And he advanced plausible reasons for not bringing to trial some of the other consuls, though there had been twelve consulships in the interval since the senate had drawn up this decree, and for accusing only these men of violating the promise. He ended by saying that the only way the present consuls could be compelled to allot the land would be for them to see some others punished by the populace and thus be reminded that it would be their fate to meet with the same treatment.

9.38 After he had said this and exhorted them all to be present at the trial and had solemnly sworn over the victims that he would persist in his resolution and prosecute the men with all possible vigour, he appointed a day for holding the trial. The patricians, upon learning of this, felt great fear and concern, wondering what course they ought to take to secure the men’s acquittal of the charge and also to put a stop to the boldness of the demagogue. And they resolved, in case the populace should pass any vote to the prejudice of the consular power, to prevent them from carrying it out, by opposing them with all their power and even resorting to arms if that should be necessary.

But they had no need to use any violent means, as the danger was dispelled in a sudden and unexpected manner. For when only one day remained till the trial, Genucius was found dead on his bed without the least sign of stabbing, strangling, poisoning, or any of the other means of killing as the result of a plot. As soon as this unhappy occurrence was known and the body had been brought into the Forum, the event was looked upon as a kind of providential obstacle to the trial, which was straightway dismissed. For none of the other tribunes dared to revive the sedition, but they even looked upon Genucius as having been guilty of great madness.

Now if the consuls had not committed any further act of officiousness, but had let the dissension, as Heaven had put it to sleep, remain so, no further danger would have beset them; but as it was, by turning to arrogance and contempt for the plebeians and by desiring to display the extent of their power, they brought about great mischiefs. For, having appointed a day for levying troops and endeavouring to coerce the disobedient by various punishments, including even scourging with rods, they drove the greater part of the plebeians to desperation. This was caused particularly by the incident I shall now relate.

9.39 A certain man of the plebeians, famous for his exploits in war, Volero Publius, who had commanded centuries in the late campaigns, was now listed by the consuls as a common soldier instead of a centurion. Upon his objecting to this and refusing to take a lower rank when he had been guilty of no misconduct in the former campaigns, the consuls, offended at his frankness, ordered the lictors to strip him and lash his body with their rods. The young man called upon the tribunes for assistance, and asked, if he were guilty of any crime, to stand trial before the plebeians. When the consuls paid no heed to him but repeated their orders to the lictors to take him away and flog him, he regarded the insult as intolerable and took justice into his own hands. The first lictor who approached him he struck squarely in the face with his fists, and being a young man and vigorous, he knocked him down; and the next one likewise. When the consuls in their anger ordered all their attendants to approach him at the same time, the plebeians who were present thought it an outrageous thing. And immediately gathering together in a body and shouting the cry used to incite one another’s resentment, they snatched the young man away and repulsed the lictors with blows, and at last made a rush against the consuls; and if those magistrates had not left the Forum and fled, the mob would have done some irreparable mischief.

As a result of this incident the whole city was divided, and those tribunes who till then had remained quiet grew wild with rage and inveighed against the consuls. Thus the dissensions over the land-allotment had turned into another quarrel of greater consequence because of the contest concerning the form of government. On the one hand the patricians, believing that the power of the consuls was being destroyed, shared their indignation and demanded that the man who had dared to lay hands on their attendants should be hurled down from the precipice. On the other hand the plebeians, assembling together, raised a loud clamour and exhorted one another not to betray their liberty, but to carry the matter before the senate, to accuse the consuls and to endeavour to obtain some justice from them because they had refused to permit a man who had invoked the assistance of the tribunes and asked to be tried before the populace, in case he were guilty of any wrongdoing, to obtain either of these rights, but had treated him like a slave, though he was free born and a citizen, when they ordered him to be beaten. The two parties being thus arrayed against one another and neither being willing to yield to the other, all the remaining time of this consulship was consumed without being marked either by any glorious exploits in war or by achievements at home worthy of mention.

Roman antiquities 9.40 The election of magistrates being at hand, Lucius Pinarius and Publius Furius were chosen consuls. At the very beginning of this year the city was filled with a kind of religious awe and fear of the gods owing to the occurrence of many prodigies and omens. All the augurs and the pontiffs declared that these occurrences were indications of divine anger, aroused because of some rites were not being performed in a pure and holy manner. And not long afterwards the disease known as the pestilence attacked the women, particularly such as were with child, and more of them died than ever before; for as they miscarried and brought forth dead children, they died together with their infants. And neither supplications made at the statues and altars of the gods nor expiatory sacrifices performed on behalf of the state and of private households gave the women any respite from their ills.

While the commonwealth was suffering from such a calamity, information was given to the pontiffs by a slave that one of the Vestal virgins who have the care of the perpetual fire, Urbinia by name, had lost her virginity and, though unchaste, was performing the public sacrifices. The pontiffs removed her from her sacred offices, brought her to trial, and after her guilt had been clearly established, they ordered her to be scourged with rods, to be carried through the city in solemn procession and then to be buried alive. One of the two men who had perpetrated the impious defilement killed himself; the other was seized by the pontiffs, who ordered him to be scourged in the Forum like a slave and then put to death. After this action the pestilence which had attacked women and caused so great a mortality among them promptly ceased.

Text #9636

Editorial comment by Laura Knight-Jadczyk

I’ve retained the context of land reform for this event of expiation to demonstrate that this appears to be a pattern. There are even elements in this tale of the Gracchi, such as the mysterious death of Scipio Africanus the Younger compared to the death of Gnaeus Genucius.

What seems to be probable is that such things as portents and expiations were recorded on the “Linen Rolls” and utilized as a skeleton framework for the manufacturing of a history. The Linen Rolls were records which, according to Gaius Licinius Macer, were preserved in the temple of Juno Moneta.

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