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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book III Chapter 50: Secession of the Plebs. Fall of the Decemvirs.[450 BC]
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Accordingly, some of the younger senators were sent to the camp, which was then on Mount Vecilius. They informed the three decemvirs who were in command that by every possible means they were to prevent the soldiers from mutinying. Verginius caused a greater commotion in the camp than the one he had left behind in the City. The sight of his arrival with a body of nearly 400 men from the City, who, fired with indignation, had enlisted themselves as his comrades, still more the weapon still clenched in his hand and his blood-besprinkled clothes, attracted the attention of the whole camp. The civilian garb seen in all directions in the camp made the number of the citizens who had accompanied him seem greater than it was. |
Questioned as to what had happened, Verginius for a long time could not speak for weeping; at length when those who had run up stood quietly round him and there was silence, he explained everything in order just as it happened. Then lifting up his hands to heaven he appealed to them as his fellow-soldiers and implored them not to attribute to him what was really the crime of Appius, nor to look upon him with abhorrence as the murderer of his children. His daughter's [Note 1] life was dearer to him than his own, had she been allowed to live in liberty and purity; when he saw her dragged off as a slave-girl to be outraged, he thought it better to lose his child by death than by dishonour. It was through compassion for her that he had fallen into what looked like cruelty, nor would he have survived her had he not entertained the hope of avenging her death by the aid of his fellow-soldiers. For they, too, had daughters and sisters and wives; the lust of Appius was not quenched with his daughter's life, nay rather, the more impunity it met with the more unbridled would it be. Through the sufferings of another they had received a warning how to guard themselves against a like wrong. As for him, his wife had been snatched from him by Fate, his daughter, because she could no longer live in chastity, had met a piteous but an honourable death. There was no longer in his house any opportunity for Appius to gratify his lust, from any other violence on that man's part he would defend himself with the same resolution with which he had defended his child; others must look out for themselves and for their children.
To this impassioned appeal of Verginius the crowd replied with a shout that they would not fail him in his grief or in the defence of his liberty. The civilians mingling in the throng of soldiers told the same tragic story, and how much more shocking this incident was to behold than to hear about; at the same time they announced that affairs were in fatal confusion at Rome and that some had followed them into camp with the tidings that Appius after being almost killed had gone into exile. The result was a general call to arms, they plucked up the standards and started for Rome. The decemvirs, thoroughly alarmed at what they saw and at what they heard of the state of things in Rome, went to different parts of the camp to try and allay the excitement. Where they tried persuasion no answer was returned, but where they attempted to exercise authority, the reply was, "We are men and have arms."
They marched in military order to the City and occupied the Aventine. Every one whom they met was urged to recover the liberties of the plebs and appoint tribunes; apart from this no appeals to violence were heard.
The meeting of the senate was presided over by Spurius Oppius. They decided not to adopt any harsh measures, as it was through their own lack of energy that the sedition had arisen. Three envoys of consular rank were sent to the army to demand in the name of the senate by whose orders they had abandoned their camp, and what they meant by occupying the Aventine in arms, and diverting the war from foreign foes to their own country, which they had taken forcible possession of. They were at no loss for an answer, but they were at a loss for some one to give it, since they had as yet no regular leader, all individual officers did not venture to expose themselves to the dangers of such a position. The only reply was a loud and general demand that Lucius Valerius and Marcus Horatius should be sent to them, to these men they would give a formal reply.
Note 1: daughter = Verginia