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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book VI Chapter 38: The Licinian Laws (Cont.)[368 BC]
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The year passed away before the legions were brought back. Thus the new measures were hung up and left for the new consular tribunes to deal with. They were Titus Quinctius, Servius Cornelius, Servius Sulpicius, Spurius Servilius, Lucius Papirius, and Lucius Veturius. The plebs re-elected their tribunes, at all events the same two who had brought forward the new measures. |
At the very beginning of the year the final stage in the struggle was reached. When the tribes were summoned and the proposers refused to be thwarted by the veto of their colleagues, the patricians, now thoroughly alarmed, took refuge in their last line of defence -- supreme power, and a supreme citizen to wield it. They resolved upon the nomination of a dictator, and Marcus Furius Camillus was nominated; he chose Lucius Aemilius as his Master of the Horse. Against such formidable preparations on the part of their opponents, the proposers on their side prepared to defend the cause of the plebs with the weapons of courage and resolution. They gave notice of a meeting of the Assembly and summoned the tribes to vote.
Full of anger and menace, the dictator, surrounded by a compact body of patricians, took his seat, and the proceedings commenced as usual with a struggle between those who were bringing in the bills and those who were interposing their veto against them. The latter were in the stronger position legally but they were overborne by the popularity of the measures and the men who were proposing them. The first tribes were already voting "Aye," when Camillus said, " Since, Quirites, it is not the authority of your tribunes but their defiance of authority that you are ruled by now, and their right of veto, which was once secured by the secession of the plebs, is now being rendered nugatory by the same violent conduct by which you obtained; if, I, as dictator, acting in your own interests quite as much as in that of the State, shall support the right of veto and protect, by my authority the safeguard which you are destroying. If therefore, Gaius Licinius and Lucius Sextius give way before the opposition of their colleagues, I will not intrude the powers of a patrician magistrate into the councils of the plebs; if, however, in spite of that opposition they are bent on imposing their measures on the State, as though it had been subjugated in war, I will not allow the tribunitian power to work its own destruction."
The tribunes of the plebs treated this pronouncement with contempt, and persisted in their course with unshaken resolution. Thereupon Camillus, excessively angry, sent lictors to disperse the plebeians and threatened, if they went on, to bind the fighting men by their military oath and march them out of the City. The plebs were greatly alarmed, but their leaders were exasperated rather than intimidated by his opposition.
But while the contest was still undecided he resigned office, either owing to some irregularity in his nomination, as certain writers maintain, or because the tribunes proposed a resolution, which the plebs adopted, to the effect that if Camillus took any action as dictator a fine of 500,000 asses should be imposed upon him. That his resignation was due to some defect in the auspices rather than to the effect of such an unprecedented proposal I am led to believe by the following considerations: the well-known character of the man himself; the fact that Publius Manlius immediately succeeded him as dictator -- for what influence could he have exerted in a contest in which Camillus had been worsted? the further fact that Camillus was again dictator, the following year, for surely he would have been ashamed to reassume an authority which had been successfully defied the year before. Besides, at the time when, according to the tradition, the resolution imposing a fine on him was passed, either he had as dictator the power to negative a measure which he saw was meant to circumscribe his authority, or else he was powerless to resist even those other measures on account of which this one was carried. But amidst all the conflicts in which tribunes and consuls have been engaged, the dictator's powers have always been above controversy.