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History of Rome (Ab Urbe Condita) by Livy
Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book IV Chapter 25: Pestilence in Rome -- Plebeian Grievances.[433-2 BC]
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The tribunes of the plebs held constant meetings of the Assembly with a view to preventing the election of consuls, and after bringing matters almost to the appointment of an interrex, they succeeded in getting consular tribunes elected. They looked for plebeians to be elected as a reward for their exertions, but not a single one came in; all who were elected were patricians. Their names were Marcus Fabius Vibulanus, Marcus Folius, and Lucius Sergius Fidenas.

The pestilence that year kept everything quiet. The duumvirs did many things prescribed by the sacred books to appease the wrath of the gods and remove the pestilence from the people. The mortality, notwithstanding, was heavy both in the City and in the country districts; men and beasts alike perished. Owing to the losses amongst the cultivators of the soil, a famine was feared as the result of the pestilence, and agents were despatched to Etruria and the Pomptine territory and Cumae, and at last even to Sicily, to procure corn.

No mention was made of the election of consuls; consular tribunes were appointed, all patricians. Their names were Lucius Pinarius Mamercus, Lucius Furius Medullinus, and Spurius Postumius Albus. In this year the violence of the epidemic abated and there was no scarcity of corn, owing to the provision that had been made. Projects of war were discussed in the national councils of the Volscians and Aequi, and in Etruria at the temple of Voltumna. There the question was adjourned for a year and a decree was passed that no council should be held till the year had elapsed, in spite of the protests of the Veientines, who declared that the same fate which had overtaken Fidenae was threatening them.

At Rome, meantime, the leaders of the plebs, finding that their cherished hopes of higher dignity were futile whilst there was peace abroad, got up meetings in the houses of the tribunes, where they discussed their plans in secret. They complained that they had been treated with such contempt by the plebs, that though consular tribunes had now been elected for many years, not a single plebeian had ever found his way to that office. Their ancestors had shown much foresight in taking care that the plebeian magistracies should not be open to patricians, otherwise they must have had patricians as tribunes of the plebs, for so insignificant were they in the eyes of their own order that they were looked down upon by plebeians quite as much as by the patricians.

Others threw the blame on the patricians, it was owing to their unscrupulous cleverness in pushing their canvassing that the path to honour was closed to the plebeians. If the plebs were allowed a respite from their menaces and entreaties, they would think of their own party when they went to vote, and by their united efforts would win office and power.

It was decided that, with a view to doing away with the abuses of canvassing, the tribunes should bring in a law forbidding any one to whiten his toga (1), when he appeared as a candidate. To us now the matter may appear trivial and hardly worth serious discussion, but it kindled a tremendous conflict between patricians and plebeians. The tribunes, however, succeeded in carrying their law, and it was clear that, irritated as they were, the plebeians would support their own men. That they might not be free to do so, a resolution was passed in the senate that the forthcoming elections should be held for the appointment of consuls.

(1): The toga was the natural color of the wool of which it was made; those who sought election whitened their togas with chalk or some similar substance, and hence were called A Href="../../../Subjects_L.asp?Icode=2513" Target=_top>candidati ("dressed in white robes").

Event: Pestilence in Rome