Appius Claudius Sabinus Inregillensis or Regillensis (c. 500 BC) was the semi-legendary founder of the Roman gens Claudia.
He was born Attius Clausus, Atta Claudius, Titus Claudius or a lost original name from which the other versions derive. To the Romans he was known as Appius Claudius. He was a Sabine from a now unknown town called Inregillum.
In 505 BC the Romans successfully waged war against the Sabines, and in the following year, the Sabines were divided as to whether to retaliate or to make peace with the Romans. Claudius favoured peace with the Romans, and as the faction favouring war became more powerful, he fled to Rome with a large group of his clients. The followers were made citizens and were allowed to settle on the far side of the Anio river, and along with some other Sabines became known as the “Old Claudian” tribe. Claudius was made a senator and quickly became one of the leading men.
He became consul of Rome in 495 BC.
According to Livy, he was “harsh by nature” and “loved tyranny”, and his harsh position on debt laws, and conflict with his colleague Publius Servilius Priscus Structus contributed to a secession of the plebs in 494 BC.
At the beginning of the crisis, when the plebs first complained about the position with respect to debt, the senate was convened by the consuls. Appius argued for the issue to be dealt with by consular authority, by arresting some of the complainants thereby encouraging the others to desist. A military threat from the Volsci diverted the senate from deciding between Appius’ suggestions and the more moderate arguments of Servilius.
After that and some other military matters were addressed, the plebeians expected their complaints about debt to be dealt with. However Appius issued decrees imposing even harsher measures in relation to debt, so that further persons were imprisoned, and others were given over to the moneylenders. This led to the positions of the plebeians and the patricians becoming polarised, and violence flared. The people used violence to restrain a man from being arrested, and Appius’ decrees were ignored. Appius was enraged at the people, and also at his colleague Servilius who he accused of failing to take the necessary measures to control the populace. According to Livy, Appius claimed:
The republic is not entirely abandoned, nor the authority of the consuls altogether devalued. By myself, I shall uphold both my own dignity and that of the senators.
– Appius Claudius Sabinus Inregillensis, Livy, Ab urbe condita, 2.27
Appius then ordered his lictors to arrest one of the ringleaders of the people, however the man appealed to the popular assembly, and the patricians convinced Appius not to pursue the arrest.
Meanwhile, the consuls were unable to decide upon which of them should dedicate a new temple to Mercury. The senate referred the decision to the popular assembly, and also decreed that whichever consul was chosen should also exercise additional duties, including presiding over the markets, establish a merchants’ guild, and exercise the functions of the pontifex maximus. The people, in order to spite the senate and the consuls, instead awarded the honour to the senior military officer of one of the legions named Marcus Laetorius. This enraged the senate and Appius in particular.
The stalemate between the senate and the people continued for the balance of Appius’ consulate, and into the following year. Foreign military threats required the enrolment of the army levies, and the people resisted, and riots followed, and the new consuls called for the matter to be debated in the senate. Appius, now seen as the most outspoken of the conservative senators, spoke against any relief for the people’s debt concerns. He spoke in the senate, imploring them to appoint a dictator who would also be tasked with meeting the threat of foreign aggression:
These riots have come about not from hardship, but from licentiousness; the people are unprincipled, not violent. This terrible mischief has arisen from the right of appeal to the assembly; since threats, not authority, was all that belonged to the consuls, while permission was given to appeal to those who were accomplices in the crime. Come, let us create a dictator from whom there can be no appeal; this madness, which has set everything aflame will immediately subside. Let any one dare then to strike a lictor, for he shall then know that his back, and even his life, are in the power of that person whose authority he has insulted.
– Appius Claudius Sabinus Inregillensis, Livy, Ab urbe condita, 2.29
The senate agreed, and Appius himself was almost chosen, however the senate decided on a more mild character in Manius Valerius Maximus.