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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book IV Chapter 44: Trial of Gaius Sempronius.[420 BC]
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The election of consular tribunes was the first to be held. They were all patricians; Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, for the third time, Lucius Furius Medullinus, for the second, Marcus Manlius, and Aulus Sempronius Atratinus. The last-named conducted the election of the quaestors. Amongst other plebeian candidates were the son of Antistius, tribune of the plebs, and a brother of Sextus Pompilius, another tribune. Their authority and interest were not, however, strong enough to prevent the voters from preferring on the ground of their high birth those whose fathers and grandfathers they had seen in the consul's chair. All the tribunes of the plebs were furious, Pompilius and Antistius, more especially, were incensed at the defeat of their relations. "What," they angrily exclaimed, "is the meaning of all this? In spite of our good offices, in spite of the wrongs done by the patricians, with all the freedom you now enjoy of exercising powers you did not possess before, not a single member of the plebs has been raised to the quaestorship, to say nothing of the consular tribuneship! The appeals of a father on behalf of a son, of a brother on behalf of a brother, have been unavailing, though they are tribunes, invested with an inviolable authority to protect your liberties. There has certainly been dishonesty somewhere; Aulus Sempronius has shown more adroitness than straightforwardness." They accused him of having kept their men out of office by illegal means. As they could not attack him directly, protected as he was by his innocence and his official position, they turned their resentment against Gaius Sempronius, the uncle of Atratinus, and having obtained the support of their colleague, Marcus Canuleius, they impeached him upon the ground of the disgrace incurred in the Volscian war |
These same tribunes frequently mooted the question in the senate of a distribution of the public domain, a proposal which Gaius Sempronius always stoutly resisted. They thought, and rightly as the event proved, that when the day of trial came, he would either abandon his opposition and so lose influence with the patricians, or by persisting in it give offence to the plebeians. He chose the latter, and preferred to incur the odium of his opponents and injure his own cause than prove false to the cause of the State. He insisted that "there should be no grants of land, which would only increase the influence of the three tribunes; what they wanted now was not land for the plebs, but to wreak their spite upon him. He, like others, would meet the storm with a stout heart; neither he nor any other citizen ought to stand so high with the senate that any leniency shown to an individual might be disastrous to the common-wealth." When the day of trial came there was no lowering of his tone, he undertook his own defence, and though the patricians tried every means to soften the plebeians, he was condemned to pay a fine of 15,000 ases."
In this same year Postumia, a Vestal Virgin, had to answer a charge of unchastity. Though innocent, she had given grounds for suspicion through her gay attire and unmaidenly freedom of manner. After she had been remanded and finally acquitted, the Pontifex Maximus, in the name of the whole college of priests, ordered her to abstain from frivolity and to study sanctity rather than smartness in her appearance.