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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book IV Chapter 12: Famine[440 BC]
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There was peace abroad and at home during this and the following year when Gaius Furius Pacilus and Marcus Papirius Crassus were consuls. The Sacred Games, which in accordance with a decree of the senate had been vowed by the decemvirs on the occasion of the secession of the plebs, were celebrated this year. Poetilius, who had again raised the question of the division of territory, was made tribune. He made fruitless efforts to create sedition, and was unable to prevail upon the consuls to bring the question before the senate. After a great struggle he succeeded so far that the senate should be consulted as to whether the next elections should be held for consuls or for consular tribunes. They ordered consuls to be elected. The tribune's menaces were laughed at when he threatened to obstruct the levy at a time when all the neighbouring States were quiet and there was no necessity for war or for any preparations for war. |
Proculus Geganius Macerinus and Lucius Menenius Lanatus were the consuls for the year which followed this state of tranquillity; a year remarkable for a multiplicity of disasters and dangers, seditions, Famine, and the imminent risk of the people being bribed to bow their necks to despotic power. A foreign war alone was wanting. Had this come to aggravate the universal distress, resistance would hardly have been possible even with the help of all the gods.
The misfortunes began with a famine, owing either to the year being unfavourable to the crops, or to the cultivation of the land being abandoned for the attractions of political meetings and city life; both causes are assigned. The senate blamed the idleness of the plebeians, the tribunes charged the consuls at one time with dishonesty, at another with negligence. At last they induced the plebs, with the acquiescence of the senate, to appoint as Prefect of the corn-market Lucius Minucius. In that capacity he was more successful in guarding liberty than in the discharge of his office, though in the end he deservedly won gratitude and reputation for having relieved the scarcity. He despatched numerous agents by sea and land to visit the surrounding nations, but as, with the sole exception of Etruria, who furnished a small supply, their mission was fruitless, he made no impression on the market. He then devoted himself to the careful adjustment of the scarcity, and obliged all who possessed any corn to declare the amount, and after retaining a month's supply for themselves, sell the rest to the Government. By cutting down the daily rations of the slaves to one half, by holding up the corn-merchants to public execration, by rigorous and inquisitorial methods, he revealed the prevailing distress more than he relieved it. Many of the plebs lost all hope, and rather than drag on a life of misery muffled their heads (1) and threw themselves into the Tiber
(1): Veiling the head by throwing a part of the toga over it was an act of reverence on the part of all who sought to approach the gods in prayer or sacrifice, and also before death, which was the passage to the gods of the under world. So Plato tells us that Socrates veiled his head after he had drunk the poison. So Suetonius tells us that when Julius Caesar "found himself attacked on all sides with naked daggers he muffled his head in his toga and with his left hand let the rest drop to his feet that he might fall the more decorously."
Event: Famine of 440 BC
|Pax domi forisque fuit et hoc et insequente anno, C. Furio Paculo et M. Papirio Crasso consulibus. Ludi ab decemviris per secessionem plebis a patribus ex senatus consulto uoti eo anno facti sunt. Causa seditionum nequiquam a Poetelio quaesita, qui tribunus plebis iterum ea ipsa denuntiando factus, neque ut de agris dividendis plebi referrent consules ad senatum peruincere potuit, et cum magno certamine obtinuisset ut consulerentur patres, consulum an tribunorum placeret comitia haberi, consules creari iussi sunt; ludibrioque erant minae tribuni denuntiantis se dilectum impediturum, cum quietis finitimis neque bello neque belli apparatu opus esset. Sequitur hanc tranquillitatem rerum annus Proculo Geganio Macerino L. Menenio Lanato consulibus multiplici clade ac periculo insignis, seditionibus, fame, regno prope per largitionis dulcedinem in ceruices accepto; unum afuit bellum externum; quo si adgrauatae res essent, vix ope deorum omnium resisti potuisset. Coepere a fame mala, seu adversus annus frugibus fuit, seu dulcedine contionum et urbis deserto agrorum cultu; nam utrumque traditur. Et patres plebem desidem et tribuni plebis nunc fraudem, nunc neglegentiam consulum accusabant. Postremo perpulere plebem, haud adversante senatu, ut L. Minucius praefectus annonae crearetur, felicior in eo magistratu ad custodiam libertatis futurus quam ad curationem ministerii sui, quamquam postremo annonae quoque leuatae haud immeritam et gratiam et gloriam tulit. Qui cum multis circa finitimos populos legationibus terra marique nequiquam missis, nisi quod ex Etruria haud ita multum frumenti advectum est, nullum momentum annonae fecisset, et revolutus ad dispensationem inopiae, profiteri cogendo frumentum et vendere quod usui menstruo superesset, fraudandoque parte diurni cibi seruitia, criminando inde et obiciendo irae populi frumentarios, acerba inquisitione aperiret magis quam leuaret inopiam, multi ex plebe, spe amissa, potius quam ut cruciarentur trahendo animam, capitibus obuolutis se in Tiberim praecipitauerunt.|