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Display Latin text
Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book VI Chapter 39: The Licinian Laws. Cont.[368 BC]
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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. |
Publius Manlius, on his nomination as dictator, strengthened the cause of the plebs by appointing a plebeian, Gaius 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.