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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book III Chapter 9: The Terentilian Law.[462 BC]
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Matters at home drifted back to their old state; the successes in the war forthwith evoked disorders in the City. Gaius Terentilius Harsa was a tribune of the plebs that year. Thinking that the absence of the consuls afforded a good opportunity for tribunitian agitation he spent several days in haranguing the plebeians on the overbearing arrogance of the patricians. In particular he inveighed against the authority of the consuls as excessive and intolerable in a free common-wealth, for whilst in name it was less invidious, in reality it was almost more harsh and oppressive than that of the kings had been, for now, he said, they had two masters instead of one, with uncontrolled, unlimited powers, who, with nothing to curb their licence, directed all the threats and penalties of the laws against the plebeians. To prevent this unfettered tyranny from lasting for ever, he said he would propose an enactment that a commission of five should be appointed to draw up in writing the laws which regulated the power of the consuls. Whatever jurisdiction over themselves the people gave the consul, that and that only was he to exercise; he was not to regard his own licence and caprice as law. |
When this measure was promulgated, the patricians were apprehensive lest in the absence of the consuls they might have to accept the yoke. A meeting of the senate was convened by Quintus Fabius, the prefect of the City. He made such a violent attack upon the proposed law and its author, that the threats and intimidation could not have been greater even if the two consuls had been standing by the tribune, threatening his life. He accused him of plotting treason, of seizing a favourable moment for compassing the ruin of the common-wealth. "Had the gods," he continued, "given us a tribune like him last year, during the pestilence and the war, nothing could have stopped him. After the death of the two consuls, whilst the State was lying prostrate, he would have passed laws, amid the universal confusion, to deprive the common-wealth of the power of the consuls, he would have led the Volscians and Aequi in an attack on the City. Why, surely it is open to him to impeach the consuls for whatever tyranny or cruelty they may have been guilty of towards any citizen, to bring them to trial before those very judges, one of whom had been their victim. His action was making -- not the authority of the consuls, but -- the power of the tribunes odious and intolerable, and after being exercised peaceably and in harmony with the patricians, that power was now reverting to its old evil practices." As to Terentilius, he would not dissuade him from continuing as he began. "As to you," said Fabius, "the other tribunes, we beg you to reflect that in the first instance your power was conferred upon you for the assistance of individual citizens, not for the ruin of all; you have been elected as the tribunes of the plebs, not as the enemies of the patricians. To us it is distressing, to you it is a source of odium that the common-wealth should be thus attacked while it is without its head. You will not impair your rights, but you will lessen the odium felt against you if you arrange with your colleague to have the whole matter adjourned till the arrival of the consuls. Even the Aequi and Volscians, after the consuls had been carried off by the epidemic last year, did not harass us with a cruel and ruthless war."
The tribunes came to an understanding with Terentilius and the proceedings were ostensibly adjourned, but, as a matter of fact, abandoned. The consuls were immediately summoned home.
|Sic res Romana in antiquum statum rediit, secundaeque belli res extemplo urbanos motus excitauerunt. C. Terentilius Harsa tribunus plebis eo anno fuit. Is consulibus absentibus ratus locum tribuniciis actionibus datum, per aliquot dies patrum superbiam ad plebem criminatus, maxime in consulare imperium tamquam nimium nec tolerabile liberae ciuitati inuehebatur: nomine enim tantum minus inuidiosum, re ipsa prope atrocius quam regium esse; quippe duos pro uno dominos acceptos, immoderata, infinita potestate, qui soluti atque effrenati ipsi omnes metus legum omniaque supplicia uerterent in plebem. Quae ne aeterna illis licentia sit, legem se promulgaturum ut quinque uiri creentur legibus de imperio consulari scribendis; quod populus in se ius dederit, eo consulem usurum, non ipsos libidinem ac licentiam suam pro lege habituros. Qua promulgata lege cum timerent patres ne absentibus consulibus iugum acciperent, senatus a praefecto urbis Q. Fabio uocatur, qui adeo atrociter in rogationem latoremque ipsum est inuectus ut nihil, si ambo consules infesti circumstarent tribunum, relictum minarum atque terroris sit: insidiatum eum et tempore capto adortum rem publicam. Si quem similem eius priore anno inter morbum bellumque irati di tribunum dedissent, non potuisse sisti. Mortuis duobus consulibus, iacente aegra ciuitate, in conluuione omnium rerum, ad tollendum rei publicae consulare imperium laturum leges fuisse, ducem Volscis Aequisque ad oppugnandam urbem futurum. Quid tandem? Illi non licere, si quid consules superbe in aliquem ciuium aut crudeliter fecerint, diem dicere, accusare iis ipsis iudicibus quorum in aliquem saeuitum sit? Non illum consulare imperium sed tribuniciam potestatem inuisam intolerandamque facere; quam placatam reconciliatamque patribus de integro in antiqua redigi mala. Neque illum se deprecari quo minus pergat ut coeperit. 'Vos' inquit Fabius, 'ceteri tribuni, oramus, ut primum omnium cogitetis potestatem istam ad singulorum auxilium, non ad perniciem uniuersorum comparatam esse; tribunos plebis uos creatos, non hostes patribus. Nobis miserum, inuidiosum uobis est, desertam rem publicam inuadi. Non ius uestrum, sed inuidiam minueritis. Agite cum collega ut rem integram in aduentum consulum differat. Ne Aequi quidem ac Volsci, morbo absumptis priore anno consulibus, crudeli superboque nobis bello institere.' Agunt cum Terentilio tribuni, dilataque in speciem actione, re ipsa sublata, consules extemplo arcessiti.|