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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book IV Chapter 24: Limitation of the Censorship.[434 BC]
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The occasion passed off more quietly than anybody expected. Information was brought by traders that help had been refused to the Veientines; they were told to prosecute with their own resources a war which they had commenced on their own initiative, and not, now that they were in difficulties, to look for allies amongst those whom in their prosperity they refused to take into their confidence. The dictator was now deprived of any opportunity of acquiring fame in war, but he was anxious to achieve some work which might be a memorial of his dictatorship and prevent it from appearing an unnecessary appointment, so he made preparations for abridging the censorship, either because he considered its power excessive, or because he objected not so much to the greatness as the length of duration of the office. |
Accordingly he convened the Assembly and said that as the gods had undertaken the conduct of the State in external affairs and made everything safe, he would do what required to be done within the walls, and take counsel for the liberties of the Roman people. Those liberties were most securely guarded when those who held great powers did not hold them long, and when offices which could not be limited in their jurisdiction were limited in their tenure. Whilst the other magistracies were annual, the censorship was a quinquennial one. It was a distinct grievance to have to live at the mercy of the same men for so many years, in fact for a considerable part of one's life. He was going to bring in a law that the censorship should not last longer than eighteen months. He carried the law the next day amidst the enthusiastic approval of the people, and then made the following announcement: "That you may really know, Quirites, how much I disapprove of prolonged rule, I now lay down my dictatorship." After thus resigning his own magistracy and limiting the other one, he was escorted home amidst the hearty good-will and congratulations of the people.
The censors were extremely angry with Mamercus for having limited the power of a Roman magistrate, they struck him out of his tribe, increased his assessment eightfold, and disfranchised him. It is recorded that he bore this most magnanimously, thinking more of the cause which led to the ignominy being inflicted upon him than of the ignominy itself. The leading men amongst the patricians, though disapproving of the limitation imposed on the censorial jurisdiction, were shocked at this instance of the harsh exercise of its power, for each recognised that he would be subject to the censors more frequently and for a longer time than he would be censor himself. At all events the people, it is said, felt so indignant that no one but Mamercus possessed sufficient authority to protect the censors from violence.
Event: War with Etruria