Ancient History

Full Texts Legal Texts Search Help

Studying History Human Origins Mesopotamia/Syria Egypt Persia Israel Greece Hellenistic World Rome Late Antiquity Christian Origins
IHSP Credits

Ancient History Sourcebook


History of Rome, selections from Books 6 and 7, 385-343 BCE

6. 11 (385 BCE)

    The consular tribunes who succeeded were A. Manlius, P. Cornelius, T. and L. Quinctius Capitolinus, L. Papirius Cursor (for the second time), and C. Sergius (for the second time). In this year a serious war broke out, and a still more serious disturbance at home. The war was begun by the Volscians, aided by the revolted Latins and Hernici. The domestic trouble arose in a quarter where it was least to be apprehended, from a man of patrician birth and brilliant reputation -- M. Manlius Capitolinus.
Full of pride and presumption, he looked down upon the fore-most men with scorn; one in particular he regarded with envious eyes, a man conspicuous for his distinctions and his merits -- M. Furius Camillus. He bitterly resented this man's unique position amongst the magistrates and in the affections of the army, and declared that he was now such a superior person that he treated those who had been appointed under the same auspices as himself, not as his colleagues, but as his servants, and yet if any one would form a just judgment he would see that M. Furius could not possibly have rescued his country. When it was beleaguered by the enemy had not he, Manlius, saved the Capitol and the Citadel? Camillus attacked the Gauls while they were off their guard, their minds pre-occupied with obtaining the gold and securing peace; he, on the other hand, had driven them off when they were armed for battle and actually capturing the Citadel. Camillus' glory was shared by every man who conquered with him, whereas no mortal man could obviously claim any part in his victory.

With his head full of these notions and being unfortunately a man of headstrong and passionate nature, he found that his influence was not so powerful with the patricians as he thought it ought to be, so he went over to the plebs -- the first patrician to do so -- and adopted the political methods of their magistrates. He abused the senate and courted the populace and, impelled by the breeze of popular favour more than by conviction or judgment, preferred notoriety to respectability. Not content with the agrarian laws which had hitherto always served the tribunes of the plebs as the material for their agitation, he began to undermine the whole system of credit, for he saw that the laws of debt caused more irritation than the others; they not only threatened poverty and disgrace, but they terrified the freeman with the prospect of fetters and imprisonment. And, as a matter of fact, a vast amount of debt had been contracted owing to the expense of building, an expense most ruinous even to the rich.

It became, therefore, a question of arming the government with stronger powers, and the Volscian war, serious in itself but made much more so by the defection of the Latins and Hernici, was put forward as the ostensible reason. It was, however, the revolutionary designs of Manlius that mainly decided the senate to nominate a Dictator. A. Cornelius Cossus was nominated and he named T. Quinctius Capitolinus as his Master of the Horse.

 6. 14

The Dictator kept his army permanently encamped, fully expecting that the senate would declare war against those peoples. A much greater trouble at home, however, necessitated his recall. The sedition which, owing to its ringleader's work, was exceptionally alarming, was gaining strength from day to day. For to any one who looked at his motives, not only the speeches, but still more the conduct of M. Manlius, though ostensibly in the interest of the people, would have appeared revolutionary and dangerous.
When he saw a centurion, a distinguished soldier, led away as an adjudged debtor, he ran into the middle of the Forum with his crowd of supporters and laid his hand on him. After declaiming against the tyranny of patricians and the brutality of usurers and the wretched condition of the plebs he said: "It was then in vain that I with this right hand saved the Capitol and Citadel if I have to see a fellow-citizen and a comrade in arms carried off to chains and slavery just as though he had been captured by the victorious Gauls." Then, before all the people, he paid the sum due to the creditors, and after thus freeing the man by "copper and scales," sent him home. The released debtor appealed to gods and men to reward Manlius, his deliverer and the beneficial protector of the Roman plebs. A noisy crowd immediately surrounded him, and he increased the excitement by displaying the scars left by wounds he had received in the wars against Veii and the Gauls and in recent campaigns. "Whilst," he cried, I was serving in the field and whilst I was trying to restore my desolated home, I paid in interest an amount equal to many times the principal, but as the fresh interest always exceeded my capital, I was buried beneath the load of debt. It is owing to M. Manlius that I can now look upon the light of day, the Forum, the faces of my fellow-citizens; from him I have received all the kindness which a parent can show to a child; to him I devote all that remains of my bodily powers, my blood, my life. In that one man is centred everything that binds me to my home, my country, and my country's gods."

The plebs, wrought upon by this language, had now completely espoused this one man's cause, when another circumstance occurred, still more calculated to create universal confusion. Manlius brought under the auctioneer's hammer an estate in the Veientine territory which comprised the principal part of his patrimony -- In order," he said, "that as long as any of my property remains, I may prevent any of you Quirites from being delivered up to your creditors as judgment debtors." This roused them to such a pitch that it was quite clear that they would follow the champion of their liberties through anything, right or wrong.

To add to the mischief, he delivered speeches in his own house, as though he were haranguing the Assembly, full of calumnious abuse of the senate. Indifferent to the truth or falsehood of what he said, he declared, among other things, that the stores of gold collected for the Gauls were being hidden away by the patricians; they were no longer content with appropriating the public lands unless they could also embezzle the public funds; if that affair were brought to light, the debts of the plebs could be wiped off. With this hope held out to them, they thought it a most shameful proceeding that whilst the gold got together to ransom the City from the Gauls had been raised by general taxation, this very gold when recovered from the enemy had become the plunder of a few. They insisted, therefore, on finding out where this vast stolen booty was concealed, and as Manlius kept putting them off and announcing that he would choose his own time for the disclosure, the universal interest became absorbed in this question to the exclusion of everything else. There would clearly be no limit to their gratitude if his information proved correct, or to their displeasure if it turned out to be false.

6. 15

Whilst matters were in this state of suspense the Dictator had been summoned from the army and arrived in the City. After satisfying himself as to the state of public feeling he called a meeting of the senate for the following day and ordered them to remain in constant attendance upon him. He then ordered his chair of office to be placed on the tribunal in the Comitium and, surrounded by the senators as a bodyguard, sent his officer to M. Manlius. On receiving the Dictator's summons, Manlius gave his party a signal that a conflict was imminent, and appeared before the tribunal with an immense crowd round him. On the one side the senate, on the other side the plebs each with their eyes fixed on their respective leaders, stood facing one another as though drawn up for battle.

After silence was obtained, the Dictator said: " I wish the senate and myself could come to an understanding with the plebs on all other matters as easily as, I am convinced, we shall about you and the subject on which I am about to examine you. I see that you have led your fellow-citizens to expect that all debts can be paid without any loss to the creditors out of the treasure recovered from the Gauls, which you say the leading patricians are secreting. I am so far from wishing to hinder this project that, on the contrary, I challenge you, M. Manlius, to take off from their hidden hordes those who, like sitting hens, are brooding over treasures which belong to the State. If you fail to do this, either because you yourself have your part in the spoils or because your charge is unfounded, I shall order you to be thrown into prison and will not suffer the people to be excited by the false hopes which you have raised."

Manlius said in reply that he had not been mistaken in his suspicions; it was not against the Volscians who were treated as enemies whenever it was in the interest of the patricians so to treat them, nor against the Latins and Hernici whom they were driving to arms by false charges, that a Dictator had been appointed, but against him and the Roman plebs. They had dropped their pretended war and were now attacking him; the Dictator was openly declaring himself the protector of the usurers against the plebeians; the gratitude and affection which the people were showing towards himself were being made the ground for charges against him which would ruin him. He proceeded: "The crowd which I have round me is an offence in your eyes, A. Cornelius, and in yours, senators. Then why do you not each of you withdraw it from me by acts of kindness, by offering security, by releasing your fellow-citizens from the stocks, by preventing them from being adjudged to their creditors, by supporting others in their necessity out of the superabundance of your own wealth? But why should I urge you to spend your own money? Be content with a moderate capital, deduct from the principal what has already been paid in interest, then the crowd round me will be no more noticeable than that round any one else.

"But do I alone show this anxiety for my fellow-citizens? I can only answer that question as I should answer another -- Why did I alone save the Capitol and the Citadel? Then I did what I could to save the body of citizens as a whole, now I am doing what I can to help individuals. As to the gold of the Gauls, your question throws difficulties round a thing which is simple enough in itself. For why do you ask me about a matter which is within your own knowledge? Why do you order what is in your purse to be shaken out from it rather than surrender it voluntarily, unless there is some dishonesty at bottom ? The more you order your conjuring tricks to be detected, the more, I fear, will you hoodwink those who are watching you. It is not I who ought to be compelled to discover your plunder for you, it is you who ought to be compelled to publicly produce it."

The Dictator ordered him to drop all subterfuge, and insisted upon his either adducing trustworthy evidence or admitting that he had been guilty of concocting false accusations against the senate and exposing them to odium on a baseless charge of theft. He refused, and said he would not speak at the bidding of his enemies, whereupon the Dictator ordered him to be taken to prison. When apprehended by the officer he exclaimed: "Jupiter Optimus Maximus, Queen Juno, Minerva, all ye gods and goddesses who dwell in the Capitol, do ye suffer your soldier and defender to be thus persecuted by his enemies? Shall this right hand with which I drove the Gauls from your shrines be manacled and fettered ?" None could endure to see or hear the indignity offered him, but the State, in its absolute submission to lawful authority, had imposed upon itself limits which could not be passed; neither the tribunes of the plebs nor the plebeians themselves ventured to cast an angry look or breathe a syllable against the action of the Dictator. It seems pretty certain that after Manlius was thrown into prison, a great number of plebeians went into mourning; many let their hairgrow, and the vestibule of the prison was beset by a depressed and sorrowful crowd.

The Dictator celebrated his triumph over the Volscians, but his triumph increased his unpopularity; men complained that the victory was won at home, not in the field, over a citizen, not over an enemy. One thing alone was lacking in the pageant of tyranny, Manlius was not led in procession before the victor's chariot.

Matters were rapidly drifting towards sedition, and the senate took the initiative in endeavouring to calm the prevailing unrest. Before any demand had been put forward they ordered that 2000 Roman citizens should be settled as colonists at Satricum, and each receive two and a half jugera of land. This was regarded as too small a grant, distributed amongst too small a number; it was looked upon, in fact, as a bribe for the betrayal of Manlius, and the proposed remedy only inflamed the disease.

By this time the crowd of Manlian sympathisers had become conspicuous for their dirty garments and dejected looks. It was not till the Dictator laid down his office after his triumph and so removed the terror which he inspired that the tongues and spirits of men were once more free.


Men were heard openly reproaching the populace for always encouraging their defenders till they led them to the brink of the precipice and deserting them when the moment of danger actually came. It was in this way, they said, that Sp. Cassius, while seeking to get the plebs on to the land, and Sp. Maelius, whilst staving off famine at his own cost from the mouths of his fellow-citizens, had both been crushed; it was in this way that M. Manlius was betrayed to his foes, whilst rescuing a part of the community who were overwhelmed and submerged by usurious extortion and bringing them back to light and liberty. The plebs fattened up their own defenders for slaughter. Was it not to be permitted that a man of consular rank should refuse to answer at the beck and call of a Dictator? Assuming that he had previously been speaking falsely, and had therefore no reply ready at the time, was there ever a slave who had been thrown into prison as a punishment for lying? Had they forgotten that night which was all but a final and eternal night for Rome? Could they not recall the sight of the troop of Gauls climbing up over the Tarpeian rock, or that of Manlius himself as they had actually seen him, covered with blood and sweat, after rescuing, one might almost say, Jupiter himself from the hands of the enemy. Had they discharged their obligation to the saviour of their country by giving him half a pound of corn each? Was the man whom they almost regarded as a god, whom they at all events placed on a level with Jupiter of the Capitol by giving him the epithet of Capitolinus -- was that man to be allowed to drag out his life in chains and darkness at the mercy of the executioner? Had the help of one man sufficed to save all, and was there amongst them all no help to be found for that one man?

By this time the crowd refused to leave the spot even at night, and were threatening to break open the prison when the senate conceded what they were going to extort by violence, and passed a resolution that Manlius should be released. This did not put an end to the seditious agitation, it simply provided it with a leader.

During this time the Latins and Hernici, together with the colonists from Circeii and Velitrae, sent to Rome to clear themelves from the charge of being concerned in the Volscian war and to ask for the surrender of their countrymen who had been made prisoners, that they might proceed against them under their own laws. An unfavourable reply was given to the Latins d Hernici, a still more unfavourable one to the colonists, because they had entertained the impious project of attacking their mother country. Not only was the surrender of the prisoners refused, but they received a stern warning from the senate, which was withheld from the Latins and Hernici, to make their way speedily from the City out of the sight of the Roman people; otherwise they would be no longer protected by the rights of ambassadors, rights which were established for foreigners, not for citizens.


At the close of the year, amidst the growing agitation headed by Manlius, the elections were held. The new consular tribunes were: Ser. Cornelius Maluginensis and P. Valerius Potitus (each for the second time), M. Furius Camillus (for the fifth time), Ser. Sulpicius Rufus (for the second time), C. Papirius Crassus and T. Quinctius Cincinnatus (for the second time).

The year opened in peace, which was most opportune for both patricians and plebeians -- for the plebs, because as they were not called away to serve in the ranks, they hoped to secure relief from the burden of debt, especially now that they had such a strong leader; for the patricians, as no external alarms would distract their minds from dealing with their domestic troubles. As each side was more prepared for the struggle it could not long be delayed. Manlius, too, was inviting the plebeians to his house and discussing night and day revolutionary plans with their leaders in a much more aggressive and resentful spirit than formerly. His resentment was kindled by the recent humiliation inflicted on a spirit unaccustomed to disgrace; his aggressiveness was encouraged by his belief that the Dictator had not ventured to treat him as Quinctius Cincinnatus had treated Sp. Maelius, for not only had the Dictator avoided the odium created by his imprisonment through resignation, but even the senate had not been able to face it.

Emboldened and embittered by these considerations, he roused the passions of the plebs, who were already incensed enough, to a higher pitch by his harangues. "How long, pray," he asked, "are you going to remain in ignorance of your strength, an ignorance which nature forbids even to beasts ? Do at least reckon up your numbers and those of your opponents. Even if you were going to attack them on equal terms, man for man, I believe that you would fight more desperately for freedom than they for power. But you are much more numerous, for all you who have been in attendance on your patrons as clients will now confront them as adversaries. You have only to make a show of war and you will have peace. Let them see you are prepared to use force, they will abate their claims. You must dare something as a body or you will have to suffer everything as individuals. How long will you look to me? I certainly shall not fail you, see to it that Fortune does not fail me. I, your avenger, when your enemies thought fit was suddenly reduced to nothing, and you watched the man carried off to prison who had warded off imprisonment from so many of you. What have I to hope for, if my enemies dare to do more to me? Am I to look for the fate of Cassius and Maelius? It is all very well to cry in horror, 'The gods will prevent that,' but they will never come down from heaven on my account. You must prevent it; they must give you the courage to do so, as they gave me courage to defend you as a soldier from the barbarian enemy and as a civilian from your tyrannical fellow-citizens. Is the spirit of this great nation so small that you will always remain contented with the aid which your tribunes now afford you against your enemies, and never know any subject of dispute with the patricians, except as to how far you allow them to lord it over you ? This is not your natural instinct, you are the slaves of habit. For why is it that you display such spirit towards foreign nations as to think it fair and just that you should rule over them? Because with them you have been wont to contend for dominion, while against these domestic enemies it has been a contest for liberty, which you have mostly attempted rather than maintained. Still, whatever leaders you have had, whatever qualities you yourselves have shown, you have so far, either by your strength or your good fortune, achieved every object, however great, on which vou have set your hearts. Now it is time to attempt greater things. If you will only put your own good fortune to the test, if you will only put me to the test, who have already been tested fortunately, I hope, for you, you will have less trouble in setting up some one to lord it over the patricians than you have had in setting up men to resist their lording it over you. Dictatorships and consulships must be levelled to the ground in order that the Roman plebs may lift up its head. Take your places, then, in the Forum; prevent any judgment for debt from being pronounced. I profess myself the Patron of the plebs, a title with which my care and fidelity have invested me; if you prefer to designate your leader by any other title of honour or command, you will find in him a more powerful instrument for attaining the objects you desire."

It is said that this was the first step in his attempt to secure kingly power, but there is no clear tradition as to his fellow conspirators or the extent to which his plans were developed.


On the other side, however, the senate were discussing this secession of the plebs to a private house, which happened to be situated on the Capitol, and the great danger with which liberty was menaced. A great many exclaimed that what was wanted was a Servilius Ahala, who would not simply irritate an enemy to the State by ordering him to be sent to prison, but would put an end to the intestine war by the sacrifice of a single citizen. They finally took refuge in a resolution which was milder in its terms but possessed equal force, viz., that "the magistrates should see to it that the republic received no hurt from the mischievous designs of M. Manlius."

Thereupon the consular tribunes and the tribunes of the plebs -- for these latter recognised that the end of liberty would also be the end of their power, and had, therefore, placed themselves under the authority of the senate -- all consulted together as to what were the necessary steps to take. As no one could suggest anything but the employment of force and its inevitable bloodshed, while this would obviously lead to a frightful struggle, M. Menenius and Q. Publilius, tribunes of the plebs, spoke as follows: "Why are we making that which ought to be a contest between the State and one pestilent citzen into a conflict between patricians and plebeians? Why do we attack the plebs through him when it is so much safer to attack him through the plebs, so that he may sink into ruin under the weight of his own strength ? It is our intention to fix a day for his trial. Nothing is less desired by the people than kingly power. As soon as that body of plebeians become aware that the quarrel is not with them, and find that from being his supporters they have become his judges; as soon as they see a patrician on his trial, and learn that the charge before them is one of aiming at monarchy, they will not show favour to any man more than to their own liberty."

 6. 20

Amidst universal approval they fixed a day for the trial of Manlius. There was at first much perturbation amongst the plebs, especially when they saw him going about in mourning garb without a single patrician, or any of his relatives or connections and, strangest of all, neither of his brothers, Aulus and Titus Manlius, being similarly attired. For up to that day such a thing had never been known, that at such a crisis in a man's fate even those nearest to him did not put on mourning. They remembered that when Appius Claudius was thrown into prison his personal enemy, Caius Claudius, and the whole house of the Claudii, wore mourning. They regarded it as a conspiracy to crush a popular hero, because he was the first man to go over from the patricians to the plebs.

What evidence strictly bearing out the charge of treason was adduced by the prosecution at the actual trial, beyond the gatherings at his house, his seditious utterances, and his false statement about the gold, I do not find stated by any authority. But I have no doubt that it was anything but slight, for the hesitation shown by the people in finding him guilty was not due to the merits of the case, but to the locality where the trial took place. This is a thing to be noted in order that men may see how great and glorious deeds are not only deprived of all merit, but made positively hateful by a loathesome hankering after kingly power.

He is said to have produced nearly four hundred people to whom he had advanced money without interest, whom he had prevented from being sold up and having their persons adjudged to their creditors. It is stated that besides this he not only enumerated his military distinctions, but brought them forward for inspection; the spoils of as many as thirty enemies whom he had slain, gifts from commanders-in-chief to the number of forty, amongst them two mural crowns and eight civil ones. In addition to these, he produced citizens whom he had rescued from the enemy, and named C. Servilius, Master of the Horse who was not present, as one of them. After he had recalled his warlike achievements in a great speech corresponding to the loftiness of his theme, his language rising to the level of his exploits, he bared his breast, ennobled by the scars of battle and looking towards the Capitol repeatedly invoked Jupiter and the other deities to come to the aid of his shattered fortunes. He prayed that they would, in this crisis of his fate, inspire the Roman people with the same feeling with which they inspired him when he was protecting the Citadel and the Capitol and so saving Rome. Then turning to his judges, he implored them one and all to judge his cause with their eyes fixed on the Capitol, looking towards the immortal gods.

As it was in the Campus Martius that the people were to vote in their centuries, and the defendant, stretching forth his hands towards the Capitol, had turned from men to the gods in his prayers, it became evident to the tribunes that unless they could release men's spell-bound eyes from the visible reminder of his glorious deed, their minds, wholly possessed with the sense of the service he had done them, would find no place for charges against him, however true.

So the proceedings were adjourned to another day, and the people were summoned to an Assembly in the Peteline Grove outside the Flumentan Gate, from which the Capitol was not visible. Here the charge was established, and with hearts steeled against his appeals, they passed a dreadful sentence, abhorrent even to the judges. Some authorities assert that he was sentenced by the duumvirs, who were appointed to try cases of treason. The tribunes hurled him from the Tarpeian rock, and the place which was the monument of his exceptional glory became also the scene of his final punishment. After his death two stigmas were affixed to his memory. One by the State: his house stood where now the temple and mint of Juno Moneta stand; a measure was consequently brought before the people that no patrician should occupy a dwelling within the Citadel or on the Capitoline. The other by the members of his house, who made a decree forbidding any one henceforth to assume the names of Marcus Manlius. Such was the end of a man who, had he not been born in a free State, would have attained distinction.

When danger was no longer to be feared from him the people, remembering only his virtues, soon began to regret his loss. A pestilence which followed shortly after and inflicted great mortality, for which no cause could be assigned, was thought by a great many people to be due to the execution of Manlius. They imagined that the Capitol had been polluted by the blood of its deliverer, and that the gods had been displeased at a punishment having been inflicted almost before their eyes on the man by whom their temples had been wrested from an enemy's hands.

 6. 27 (380 BCE)

After thus distinguishing himself by his skill and courage in the Volscian war and bringing the expedition against Tusculum to such a happy termination, and on both occasions treating his colleague with singular consideration and forbearance, Camillus went out of office. The consular tribunes for the next year were: Lucius Valerius (for the fifth time) and Publius (for the third time), C. Sergius (also for the third time), L. Menenius (for the second time), P. Papirius, and Ser. Cornelius Maluginensis.

This year it was found necessary to appoint censors, mainly owing to the vague rumours which were afloat about the burden of debt. The plebeian tribunes, in order to stir up ill-feeling, exaggerated the amount, while it was underestimated by those whose interest it was to represent the difficulty as due to the unwillingness rather than the inability of the debtor to pay. The censors appointed were C. Sulpicius Camerinius and Sp. Postumius Regillensis.

They commenced a fresh assessment, but the work was interrupted by the death of Postumius, because it was doubtful whether the co-optation of a colleague, in the case of the censors, was permissible. Sulpicius accordingly resigned, and fresh magistrates were appointed, but owing to some flaw in their election did not act. Religious fears deterred them from proceeding to a third election; it seemed as though the gods would not allow a censorship for that year.

The tribunes declared that such mockery was intolerable. "The senate," according to them, "dreaded the publication of the assessment lists, which supplied information as to every man's property, because they did not wish the amount of the debtor to be brought to light, for it would show how one half of the community was being ruined by the other half, while the debt- burdened plebs were all the time being exposed to one enemy after another. Excuses for war were being sought indiscriminately in every direction; the legions were marched from Antium to Satricum, from Satricum to Velitrae, from there to Tusculum. And now the Latins, the Hernici, and the Praenestines were being threatened with hostilities in order that the patricians might wreak their vengeance on their fellow-citizens more even than upon the enemy. They were wearing out the plebs by keeping them under arms and not allowing them any breathing time in the City or any leisure for thoughts of liberty, or any possibility for taking their place in the Assembly, where they might listen to the voice of a tribune urging the reduction of interest and the redress of other grievances. Why, if the plebs had spirit enough to recall to mind the liberties which their fathers won, they would never suffer a Roman citizen to be made over to his creditors, nor would they permit an army to be raised until an account was taken of the existing debt and some method of reducing it discovered, so that each man might know what he actually owed, and what was left for himself -- whether his person was free or whether that, too, was due to the stocks."

The premium thus put upon sedition made it at once more active. Many cases were occurring of men being made over to their creditors, and in view of a war with Praeneste, the senate had resolved that fresh legions should be enrolled, but both these proceedings were arrested by the intervention of the tribunes, supported by the whole body of the plebs. The tribunes refused to allow the judgment debtors to be carried off; the men whose names were called for enrolment refused to answer. The senate was less concerned to insist upon the rights of creditors than to carry out the enlistment, for information had been received that the enemy had advanced from Praeneste and were encamped in the district of Gabii. This intelligence, however, instead of deterring the plebeian tribunes from opposition, only made them more determined, and nothing availed to quiet the agitation in the City but the approach of war to its very walls.

 6. 31 (378 BCE)

The new consular tribunes were: Sp. Furius, Q. Servilius (for the second time), L. Menenius (for the third time), P. Cloelius, M. Horatius, and L. Geganius. No sooner had their year begun than the flames of a violent disturbance broke out, for which the distress caused by the debts supplied both cause and motive. Sp. Servilius Priscus and Q. Cloelius Siculus were appointed censors to go into the matter, but they were prevented from doing so by the outbreak of war. The Volscian legions invaded the Roman territory and were committing ravages in all directions. The first intimation came through panic-stricken messengers followed by a general flight from the country districts. So far was the alarm thus created from repressing the domestic dissensions that the tribunes showed all the greater determination to obstruct the enrolment of troops. They succeeded at last in imposing two conditions on the patricians: that none should pay the war-tax until the war was over, and that no suits for debt should be brought into court.

After the plebs had obtained this relief there was no longer any delay in the enrolment. When the fresh troops had been raised they were formed into two armies, both of which were marched into the Volscian territory. Sp. Furius and M. Horatius turned to the right in the direction of Antium and the coast; Q. Servilius and L. Geganius proceeded to the left towards Ecetra and the mountain district. In neither direction did the enemy meet them. So they commenced to ravage the country in a very different method from that which the Volscians had practised. These, emboldened by the dissensions but afraid of the courage of their enemy, had made hasty depredations like freebooters dreading a surprise, but the Romans acting as a regular army wreaked their just anger in ravages which were all the more destructive because they were continuous. The Volscians, fearing lest an army might come from Rome, confined their ravages to the extreme frontier; the Romans, on the other hand, lingered in the enemy's country to provoke him to battle. After burning all the scattered houses and several of the villages and leaving not a single fruit tree or any hope of harvest for the year, and carrying off as booty all the men and cattle that remained outside the walled towns, the two armies returned to Rome.

6. 32

A short breathing space had been allowed to the debtors, but as soon as hostilities ceased and quiet was restored large numbers of them were again being adjudged to their creditors, and so completely had all hopes of lightening the old load of debt vanished that new debts were being contracted to meet a tax imposed for the construction of a stone wall for which the censors had made a contract. The plebs were compelled to submit to this burden because there was no enrolment which their tribunes could obstruct. They were even forced by the influence of the nobility to elect only patricians as consular tribunes; their names were: L. Aemilius, P. Valerius (for the fourth time), C. Veturius, Ser. Sulpicius, L. and C. Quinctius Cincinnatus.

The patricians were also strong enough to effect the enrolment of three armies to act against the Latins and Volscians, who had united their forces and were encamped at Satricum. All those who were liable for active service were made to take the military oath; none ventured to obstruct. One of these armies was to protect the City; another was to be in readiness to be despatched wherever any sudden hostile movement might be attempted; the third and by far the strongest, was led by P. Valerius and L. Aemilius to Satricum.......

6. 34 (377 BCE)

The greater the tranquillity which prevailed everywhere abroad after these successful operations so much the greater became the violence of the patricians and the miseries of the plebeians, since the ability to pay their debts was frustrated by the very fact that payment had become necessary. They had no means left on which to draw, and after judgment had been given against them they satisfied their creditors by surrendering their good name and their personal liberty; punishment took the place of payment. To such a state of depression had not only the humbler classes but even the leading men amongst the plebeians been reduced, that there was no energetic or enterprising individual amongst them who had the spirit to take up or become a candidate even for the plebeian magistracies, still less to win a place amongst the patricians as consular tribune, an honour which they had previously done their utmost to secure. It seemed as though the patricians had for all time won back from the plebs the sole enjoyment of a dignity which for the last few years had been shared with them.

As a check to any undue exaltation on the part of the patricians, an incident occurred which was slight in itself, but, as is often the case, led to important results. M. Fabius Ambustus, a patrician, possessed great influence amongst the men of his own order and also with the plebeians, because they felt that he did not in any way look down on them. His two daughters were married, the elder one to Ser. Sulpicius, the younger to C. Licinius Stolo, a distinguished man, but a plebeian. The fact that Fabius did not regard this alliance as beneath him had made him very popular with the masses. The two sisters happened to be one day at Ser. Sulpicius' house, passing the time in conversation, when on his return from the Forum the tribune's apparitor gave the customary knocks on the door with his rod. The younger Fabia was startled at what was to her an unfamiliar custom, and her sister laughed at her and expressed surprise that she was ignorant of it. That laugh, however, left its sting in the mind of a woman easily excited by trifles. I think, too, that the crowd of attendants coming to ask for orders awoke in her that spirit of jealousy which makes every one anxious to be surpassed as little as possible by one's neighbours. It made her regard her sister's marriage as a fortunate one and her own as a mistake.

Her father happened to see her whilst she was still upset by this mortifying incident and asked her if she was well. She tried to conceal the real reason, as showing but little affection for her sister and not much respect for her own husband. He kindly but firmly insisted upon finding out, and she confessed the real cause of her distress; she was united to one who was her inferior in birth, married into a house where neither honour nor political influence could enter. Ambustus consoled his daughter and bade her keep up her spirits; she would very soon see in her own house the same honours which she saw at her sister's. From that time he began to concert plans with his son-in-law; they took into their counsels L. Sextius, a pushing young man who regarded nothing as beyond his ambition except patrician blood.

6. 35 (375-371 BCE)

A favourable opportunity for making innovations presented itself in the terrible pressure of debt, a burden from which the plebs did not hope for any alleviation until they had raised men of their own order to the highest authority in the State. This, they thought, was the aim which they must devote their utmost efforts to reach, and they believed that they had already, by dint of effort, secured a foothold from which, if they pushed forward, they could secure the highest positions, and so become the equals of the patricians in dignity as they now were in courage.

For the time being, C. Licinius and L. Sextius decided to become tribunes of the plebs; once in this office they could clear for themselves the way to all the other distinctions. All the measures which they brought forward after they were elected were directed against the power and influence of the patricians and calculated to promote the interests of the plebs. One dealt with the debts, and provided that the amount paid in interest should be deducted from the principal and the balance repaid in three equal yearly instalrnents. The second restricted the occupation of land and prohibited anv one from holding more than five hundred jugera. The third provided that there shoul be no more consular tribunes elected, and that one consul should be elected from each order. They were all questions of immense importance, which could not be settled without a tremendous struggle.

The prospect of a fight over those things which excite the keenest desires of men -- land, money, honours -- produced consternation among the patricians. After excited discussions in the senate and in private houses, they found no better remedy than the one they had adopted in previous contests, namely, the tribunitian veto. So they won over some of the tribunes to interpose their veto against these proposals. When they saw the tribes summoned by Licinius and Sextius to give their votes, these men, surrounded by a bodyguard of patricians, refused to allow either the reading of the bills or any other procedure which the plebs usually adopted when they came to vote. For many weeks the Assembly was regularly summoned without any business being done, and the bills were looked upon as dead. "Very good," said Sextius, "since it is your pleasure that the veto shall possess so much power, we will use this same weapon for the protection of the plebs. Come then, patricians, give notice of an Assembly for the election of consular tribunes, I will take care that the word which our colleagues are now uttering in concert to your great delight, the word 'I FORBID, shall not give you much pleasure."

These were not idle threats. No elections were held beyond those of the tribunes and sediles of the plebs. Licinius and Sextius, when re-elected, would not allow any curule magistrates to be appointed, and as the plebs constantly re-elected them, and as they constantly stopped the election of consular tribunes this dearth of magistrates lasted in the City for five years.

6. 36 (371-369 BCE)

Fortunately, with one exception, there was a respite from foreign war. The colonists of Velitrae, becoming wanton in a time of peace and in the absence of any Roman army, made various incursions into Roman territory and began an attack on Tusculum. The citizens, allies of old, and now citizens, implored help, and their situation moved not only the senate, but the plebs as well, with a sense of shame. The tribunes of the plebs gave way and the elections were conducted by an interrex. The consular tribunes elected were: L. Furius, A. Manlius, Ser. Sulpicius, Ser. Cornelius, P. and C Valerius. They did not find the plebeians nearly so amenable in the enlistment as they had been in the elections; it was only after a very great struggle that an army was raised. They not only dislodged the enemy from before Tusculum, but forced him to take refuge behind his walls. The siege of Velitrae was carried on with far greater vigour than that of Tusculum had been. Those commanders who had commenced the investment did not, however, effect its capture. The new consular tribunes were: Q. Servilius, C. Veturius, A. and M. Cornelius, Q. Quinctius, and M. Fabius. Even under these tribunes nothing worth mention took place at Velitrae.

At home affairs were becoming more critical. Sextius and Licinius, the original proposers of the laws, who had been re-elected tribunes of the plebs for the eighth time, were now supported by Fabius Ambustus, Licinius Stolo's father-in-law. He came forward as the decided advocate of the measures which he had initiated, and whereas there had at first been eight members of the college of tribunes who had vetoed the proposals, there were now only five. These five, as usually happens with men who desert their party, were embarrassed and dismayed, and defended their opposition by borrowed arguments privately suggested to them by the patricians. They urged that as a large number of plebeians were in the army at Velitrae the Assembly ought to be adjourned till the return of the soldiers, to allow of the entire body of the plebs voting on matters affecting their interests. Sextius and Licinius, experts after so many years' practice in the art of handling the plebs, in conjunction with some of their colleagues and the consular tribune, Fabius Ambustus, brought forward the leaders of the patrician party and worried them with questions on each of the measures they were referring to the people. "Have you," they asked, "the audacity to demand that whilst two jugera are allotted to each plebeian, you yourselves should each occupy more than five hundred jugera, so that while a single patrician can occupy the land of nearly three hundred citizens, the holding of a plebeian is hardly extensive enough for the roof he needs to shelter him, or the place where he is to be buried? Is it your pleasure that the plebeians, crushed by debt, should surrender their persons to fetters and punishments sooner than that they should discharge their debts by repaying the principal? That they should be led off in crowds from the Forum as the property of their creditors? That the houses of the nobility should be filled with prisoners, and wherever a patrician lives there should be a private dungeon?"

6. 39 (368 BCE)

Between Camillus' resignation of office and Manlius' entrance on his Dictatorship, the tribunes held a council of the plebs as though an interregnum had occurred. Here it was evident which of the proposed measures were preferred by the plebs and which their tribunes were most eager about. The measures dealing with usury and the allotment of State land were being adopted, that providing that one consul should always be a plebeian was rejected; both the former would probably have been carried into law if the tribunes had not said that they were putting them en bloc.

P. Manlius, on his nomination as Dictator, strengthened the cause of the plebs by appointing a plebeian, C. Licinius, who had been a consular tribune, as his Master of the Horse. I gather that the patricians were much annoyed; the Dictator generally defended his action on the ground of relationship; he pointed out also that the authority of a Master of the Horse was no greater than that of a consular tribune. When notice was given for the election of tribunes of the plebs, Licinius and Sextius declared their unwillingness to be re-elected, but they put it in a way which made the plebeians all the more eager to secure the end which they secretly had in view. For nine years, they said, they had been standing in battle array, as it were, against the patricians, at the greatest risk to themselves and with no advantage to the people. The measures they had brought forward and the whole power of the tribunes had, like themselves, become enfeebled by age. Their proposed legislation had been frustrated first by the veto of their colleagues, then by the withdrawal of their fighting men to the district of Velitrae, and last of all the Dictator had launched his thunders at them. At the present time there was no obstacle either from their colleagues or from war or from the Dictator, for he had given them an earnest of the future election of plebeian consuls by appointing a plebeian as Master of the Horse. It was the plebs who stood in the way of their tribunes and their own interests. If they chose they could have a City and a Forum free from creditors, and fields rescued from their unlawful occupiers. When were they ever going to show sufficient gratitude for these boons, if while accepting these beneficial measures they cut off from those who proposed them all hope of attaining the highest honours? It was not consistent with the self-respect of the Roman people for them to demand to be relieved of the burden of usury and placed on the land which is now wrongfully held by the magnates, and then to leave the tribunes, through whom they won these reforms, without honourable distinction in their old age or any hope of attaining it. They must first make up their minds as to what they really wanted and then declare their will by their votes at the election. If they wanted the proposed measures carried as a whole, there was some reason for their re-electing the same tribunes, because they would carry their own measures through; if, however, they only wished that to be passed which each man happened to want for himself, there was no need for them to incur odium by prolonging their term of office; they would not have the tribuneship themselves, nor would the people obtain the proposed reforms.

7. 19 (354 BCE)

..... The plebs did not enjoy the same good fortune at home which they had met with in the field. In spite of the reduction in the rate of interest, which was now fixed at 8 1/3 per cent., the poor were unable to repay the capital, and were being made over to their creditors. Their personal distress left them little thought for public affairs and political struggles, elections, and patrician consuls; both consulships accordingly remained with the patricians. .....

7. 21 (353-351 BCE)

At the close of the year the consular elections were put off owing to the quarrel between the two orders -- the tribunes declared that they would not permit the elections to be held unless they were conducted in accordance with the Licinian Law, whilst the Dictator was determined to abolish the consulship altogether rather than make it the common property of plebeians and patricians. The elections were still postponed when the Dictator resigned office; so matters reverted to an interregnum. The interreges declined to hold the elections in consequence of the hostile attitude of the plebs, and the contest went on till the eleventh interregnum. Whilst the tribunes were sheltering themselves behind the Licinian Law and fighting the political battle, the plebs felt their most pressing grievance to be the steadily growing burden of debt; the personal question quite overshadowed the political controversy. Wearied out with the prolonged agitation the senate ordered L. Cornelius Scipio, the interrex, to restore harmony to the State by conducting the consular elections in accordance with the Licinian Law. P. Valerius Publicola was elected and C. Marcius Rutilus was his plebeian colleague.

Now that there was a general desire for concord, the new consuls took up the financial question which was the one hindrance to union. The State assumed the responsibility for the liquidation of the debts, and five commissioners were appointed, who were charged with the management of the money and were hence called mensarii (="bankers"). The impartiality and diligence with which these commissioners discharged their functions make them worthy of an honourable place in every historical record. Their names were: C. Duilius, Publius Decius Mus, M. Papirius, Q. Publilius, and T. Aemilius. The task they undertook was a difficult one, and involved hardship generally to both sides; on one side, at any rate, it always pressed heavily; but they carried it out with great consideration for all parties, and whilst incurring a large outlay on the part of the State they did not involve it in loss. Seated at tables in the Forum, they dealt with long-standing debts due to the slackness of the debtor more than to his want of means, either by advancing public money on proper security, or by making a fair valuation of his property. In this way an immense amount of debt was cleared off without any injustice or even complaints on either side.

Owing to a report that the twelve cities of Etruria had formeda hostile league, a good deal of alarm was felt, which subsequently proved to be groundless, and it was thought necessary that a Dictator should be nominated. This took place in camp, for it was there that the consuls received the senatorial decree. C. Julius was nominated and L. Aemilius was assigned to him as Master of the Horse.

7. 22

Abroad, however, everything was tranquil. At home, owing to the Dictator's attempt to secure the election of patricians to both consulships, matters were brought to an interregnum. There were two interreges, C. Sulpicius and M. Fabius, and they succeeded where the Dictator had failed, as the plebs, owing to the pecuniary relief recently granted them, were in a less aggressive mood. Both consuls elected were patricians -- C. Sulpicius Peticus, who had been the first of the two interreges, and T. Quinctius Pennus, some give as his third name Caeso, others Galus. They both proceeded to war; Quinctius against Falerii, Sulpicius against Tarquinii. The enemy nowhere faced them in open battle; the war was carried on against fields rather than against men; burning and destroying went on everywhere. This waste and decay, like that of a slow decline, wore down the resolution of the two peoples, and they asked for a truce first from the consuls then by their permission from the senate. They obtained one for forty years.

After the anxiety created by these two threatening wars was in this way allayed, there was a respite for a time from arms. The liquidation of the debts had in the case of many properties led to a change of ownership, and it was decided that a fresh assessment should be made. When, however, notice was given of the election of censors, C. Marcius Rutilus, who had been the first Dictator nominated from the plebs, announced that he was a candidate for the censorship. This upset the good feeling between the two orders. He took this step at what looked like an unfavourable moment because both consuls happened to be patricians, and they declared that they would allow no votes for him. But he resolutely held to his purpose, and the tribunes, anxious to recover the rights of the plebs which were lost in the consular elections, assisted him to the utmost of their power. There was no dignity which the greatness of his character was unequal to supporting, and the plebs were desirous of being called to share the censorship by the same man who had opened up the path to the dictatorship. There was no division of opinion shown in the elections, Marcius was unanimously elected censor, together with Manlius Gnaeus.

This year also saw M. Fabius as Dictator, not from any apprehension of war but to prevent the Licinian Law from being observed in the consular elections. The Dictatorship, however, did not make the combined efforts of the senate more influential in the election of consuls than it had been in the election of censors.

7. 27 (347 BCE)

After the armies were disbanded there was an interval of peace abroad and harmony between the two orders at home. To prevent things, however, from becoming too pleasant, a pestilence attacked the citizens, and the senate found themselves under the necessity of issuing an order to the decemvirs requiring them to consult the Sibylline Books. On their advice a lectisternium was held. In this year colonists from Antium rebuilt Satricum, which had been destroyed by the Latins, and settled there. A treaty was concluded between Rome and Carthage; the latter city had sent envoys to ask for a friendly alliance. As long as the succeeding consuls -- T. Manlius Torquatus and C. Plautius -- held office the same peaceful conditions prevailed. The rate of interest was reduced by one half and payment of the principal was to be made in four equal instalments, the first at once, the remainder in three successive years. Though many plebeians were still in distress, the senate looked upon the maintenance of public credit as more important than the removal of individual hardships. What afforded the greatest relief was the suspension of military service and the war-tax. .....

7. 29 (343 BCE)

The history will now be occupied with wars greater than any previously recorded; greater whether we consider the forces engaged in them or the length of time they lasted, or the extent of country over which they were waged. For it was in this year that hostilities commenced with the SAMNITES, a people strong in material resources and military power. Our war with the Samnites, with its varying fortunes, was followed by the war with Pyrrhus, and that again by the war with Carthage. What a chapter of great events! How often had we to pass through the very extremity of danger in order that our dominion might be exalted to its present greatness, a greatness which is with difficulty maintained! .....


Soon after this an audience was granted to deputations from Capua and from Suessa, and at their request it was arranged that a force should be sent to winter in those two cities to act as a check upon the Samnites. Even in those days a residence in Capua was by no means conducive to military discipline; having pleasures of every kind at their command, the troops became enervated and their patriotism was undermined. They began to hatch plans for seizing Capua by the same criminal means by which its present holders had taken it from its ancient possessors." They richly deserved," it was said, "to have the precedent which they had set turned against themselves. Why should people like the Campanians who were incapable of defending either their possessions or themselves enjoy the most fertile territory in Italy, and a city well worthy of its territory, in preference to a victorious army who had driven off the Samnites from it by their sweat and blood? Was it just that these people who had surrendered themselves into their power should be enjoying that fertile and delightful country while they, wearied with warfare, were struggling with the arid and pestilential soil round the City [of Rome], or suffering the ruinous consequences of an evergrowing interest which were awaiting them in Rome?"

This agitation which was being conducted in secret only a few being yet taken into the conspirators' confidence, was discovered by the new consul, Caius Marcius Rutilus, to whom Campania had been allotted as his province, his colleague, Q. Servilius, being left in the City. Taught by years and experience -- he had been four times consul as well as Dictator and censor -- he thought his best course would be, after he was in possession of the facts as ascertained through the tribunes, to frustrate any chance of the soldiers carrying out their design by encouraging them in the hope of executing it whenever they pleased. The troops had been distributed amongst the cities of Campania, and the contemplated plan had been propagated from Capua throughout the entire force. The consul caused a rumour, therefore, to be spread that they were to occupy the same winter quarters the following year. As there appeared to be no necessity for their carrying out their design immediately,the agitation quieted down for the present.

7. 42

In addition to these measures I find the following recorded by various authorities. L. Genucius, a tribune of the plebs, brought before them a measure declaring usury illegal, whilst other resolutions were adopted forbidding any one to accept re-election to the same office in less than ten years or fill two offices in the same year, and also that both consuls might legally be elected from the plebs. If all these concessions were really made it is quite clear that the revolt possessed considerable strength. In other annalists it is stated that Valerius was not nominated Dictator, but the matter was entirely arranged by the consuls; also that it was not before they came to Rome but in Rome itself that the body of conspirators broke out into armed revolt; also that it was not to T. Quinctius' farm but to the house of C. Manlius that the nocturnal visit was paid, and that it was Manlius who was seized by the conspirators and made their leader, after which they marched out to a distance of four miles and entrenched themselves; also that it was not their leaders who made the first suggestions of concord, but what happened was that as the two armies advanced towards each other prepared for action the soldiers exchanged mutual greetings, and as they drew nearer grasped each other's hands and embraced one another, and the consuls, seeing how averse the soldiers were from fighting, yielded to circumstances and made proposals to the senate for reconciliation and concord. Thus the ancient authorities agree in nothing but the simple fact that there was a mutiny and that it was suppressed. ......


This text is part of the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to ancient history. Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

Paul Halsall, February 2023

The Internet History Sourcebooks Project is located at the History Department of  Fordham University, New York. The Internet Medieval Sourcebook, and other medieval components of the project, are located at the Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies.The IHSP recognizes the contribution of Fordham University, the Fordham University History Department, and the Fordham Center for Medieval Studies in providing web space and server support for the project. The IHSP is a project independent of Fordham University.  Although the IHSP seeks to follow all applicable copyright law, Fordham University is not the institutional owner, and is not liable as the result of any legal action.

© Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall, created 26 Jan 1996: latest revision 31 May 2024 [CV]