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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book VI Chapter 14: The Acts of Manlius.[385 BC]
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The dictator [Note 1] kept his army permanently encamped, fully expecting that the senate would declare war against those peoples. A much greater trouble at home, however, necessitated his recall. The sedition which, owing to its ringleader's work, was exceptionally alarming, was gaining strength from day to day. For to any one who looked at his motives, not only the speeches, but still more the conduct of Marcus Manlius, though ostensibly in the interest of the people, would have appeared revolutionary and dangerous. |
When he saw a centurion, a distinguished soldier, led away as an adjudged debtor, he ran into the middle of the Forum with his crowd of supporters and laid his hand on him. After declaiming against the tyranny of patricians and the brutality of usurers and the wretched condition of the plebs he said: "It was then in vain that I with this right hand saved the Capitol and Citadel I have to see a fellow-citizen and a comrade in arms carried off to chains and slavery just as though he had been captured by the victorious Gauls." Then, before all the people, he paid the sum due to the creditors, and after thus freeing the man by copper and scales," sent him home. The released debtor appealed to gods and men to reward Manlius, his deliverer and the beneficial protector of the Roman plebs. A noisy crowd immediately surrounded him, and he increased the excitement by displaying the scars left by wounds he had received in the wars against Veii and the Gauls and in recent campaigns. "Whilst," he cried, " I was serving in the field and whilst I was trying to restore my desolated home, I paid in interest an amount equal to many times the principal, but as the fresh interest always exceeded my capital, I was buried beneath the load of debt. It is owing to Marcus Manlius that I can now look upon the light of day, the Forum, the faces of my fellow-citizens; from him I have received all the kindness which a parent can show to a child; to him I devote all that remains of my bodily powers, my blood, my life. In that one man is centred everything that binds me to my home, my country, and my country's gods."
The plebs, wrought upon by this language, had now completely espoused this one man's cause, when another circumstance occurred, still more calculated to create universal confusion. Manlius brought under the auctioneer's hammer an estate in the Veientine territory which comprised the principal part of his patrimony -- "In order," he said, "that as long as any of my property remains, I may prevent any of you Quirites from being delivered up to your creditors as judgment debtors." This roused them to such a pitch that it was quite clear that they would follow the champion of their liberties through anything, right or wrong.
To add to the mischief, he delivered speeches in his own house, as though he were haranguing the Assembly, full of calumnious abuse of the senate. Indifferent to the truth or falsehood of what he said, he declared, among other things, that the stores of gold collected for the Gauls were being hidden away by the patricians; they were no longer content with appropriating the public lands unless they could also embezzle the public funds; if that affair were brought to light, the debts of the plebs could be wiped off. With this hope held out to them, they thought it a most shameful proceeding that whilst the gold got together to ransom the City from the Gauls had been raised by general taxation this very gold when recovered from the enemy had become the plunder of a few. They insisted, therefore, on finding out where this vast stolen booty was concealed, and as Manlius kept putting them off and announcing that he would choose his own time for the disclosure, the universal interest became absorbed in this question to the exclusion of everything else. There would clearly be no limit to their gratitude if his information proved correct, or to their displeasure if it turned out to be false.
Note 1: dictator = Aulus Cornelius