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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book IV Chapter 13: The Treason and Death of Spurius Maelius.[440-39 BC]
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It was at that time that Spurius Maelius, a member of the equestrian order and a very wealthy man for those days, entered upon an undertaking, serviceable in itself, but forming a very bad precedent and dictated by still worse motives. Through the instrumentality of his clients and foreign friends he purchased corn in Etruria, and this very circumstance, I believe, hampered the Government in their efforts to cheapen the market. He distributed this corn gratis, and so won the hearts of the plebeians by this generosity that wherever he moved, conspicuous and consequential beyond an ordinary mortal, they followed him, and this popularity seemed to his hopes a sure earnest of a consulship. But the minds of men are never satisfied with Fortune's promises, and he began to entertain loftier and unattainable aims; he knew the consulship would have to be won in the teeth of the patricians, so he began to dream of royalty. After all his grand schemes and efforts he looked upon that as the only fitting reward which owing to its greatness must be won by the greatest exertions. |
The consular elections were now close at hand, and as his plans were not yet matured, this circumstance proved his ruin. Titus Quinctius Capitolinus, a very awkward man for any one meditating a revolution, was chosen consul for the sixth time, and Agrippa Menenius, surnamed Lanatus, was assigned to him as his colleague. Lucius Minucius was either reappointed prefect of the corn-market, or his original appointment was for an indefinite period as long as circumstances required; there is nothing definitely stated beyond the fact that the name of the prefect was entered on the " Linen Rolls" among the magistrates for both years. Minucius was discharging the same function as a State official which Maelius had undertaken as a private citizen, and the same class of people frequented both their houses. He made a discovery which he brought to the notice of the senate, viz., that arms were being collected in Maelius' house, and that he was holding secret meetings at which plans were being undoubtedly formed to establish a monarchy. The moment for action was not yet fixed, but everything else had been settled; the tribunes had been bought over to betray the liberties of the people, and these leaders of the populace had had their various parts assigned to them. He had, he said, delayed making his report till it was almost too late for the public safety, lest he should appear to be the author of vague and groundless suspicions.
On hearing this the leaders of the senate censured the consuls of the previous year for having allowed those free distributions of corn and secret meetings to go on, and they were equally severe on the new consuls for having waited till the prefect of the corn-market had made his report, for the matter was of such importance that the consuls ought not only to have reported it, but also dealt with it.
In reply, Quinctius said that the censure on the consuls was undeserved, for, hampered as they were by the laws giving the right of appeal, which were passed to weaken their authority, they were far from possessing as much power as will to punish the atrocious attempt with the severity it deserved. What was wanted was not only a strong man, but one who was free to act, unshackled by the laws. He should therefore nominate Lucius Quinctius as dictator, for he had the courage and resolution which such great powers demanded. This met with universal approval. Quinctius at first refused and asked them what they meant by exposing him at the close of his life to such a bitter struggle. At last, after well-merited commendations were showered upon him from all parts of the House and he was assured that "in that aged mind there was not only more wisdom but more courage than in all the rest," whilst the consul adhered to his decision, he yielded. After a prayer to heaven that in such a time of danger his old age might not prove a source of harm or discredit to the republic, Cincinnatus was made dictator. He appointed Gaius Servilius Ahala as his Master of the Horse.
Event: Treason of Spurius Maelius
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Linen Rolls:The lists of magistrates preserved in the temple of Moneta.