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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book II Chapter 55: Volero[473 BC]
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Whilst the impression produced by this frightful instance of triumphant crime was still fresh, orders were issued for a levy, and as the tribunes were thoroughly intimidated, the consuls carried it out without any interruption from them. But now the plebeians were more angry at the silence of the tribunes than at the exercise of authority on the part of the consuls. They said that it was all over with their liberty, they had gone back to the old state of things, the tribunitian power was dead and buried with Genucius. Some other method must be thought out and adopted by which they could resist the patricians, and the only possible course was for the commons to defend themselves, as they had no other help. Four-and-twenty lictors attended on the consuls, and these very men were drawn from the plebs. Nothing was more contemptible and feeble than they were, if there were any that would treat them with contempt, but every one imagined them to be great and awful things.|
After they had excited one another by these speeches, Volero Publilius appealed, a plebeian, said that he ought not to be made a common soldier after serving as a centurion. The consuls sent a lictor to him. Volero appealed to the tribunes. None came to his assistance, so the consuls ordered him to be stripped and the rods got ready. "I appeal to the people," he said, "since the tribunes would rather see a Roman citizen scourged before their eyes than be murdered in their beds by you." The more excitedly he called out, the more violently did the lictor tear off his toga, to strip him. Then Volero, himself a man of unusual strength, and helped by those to whom he called, drove the lictor off, and amidst the indignant remonstrances of his supporters, retreated into the thickest part of the crowd crying out, "I appeal to the plebs for protection. Help fellow citizens! help fellow soldiers! You have nothing to expect from the tribunes, they themselves need your aid." The men greatly excited got ready as if for battle and a most critical struggle was evidently impending, where no one would show the slightest respect for either public or private rights The consuls tried to check the fury of the storm, but they soon found that there is little safety for authority without strength. The lictors were mobbed, the fasces broken, and the consuls driven from the Forum into the Senate-house, uncertain how far Volero would push his victory. As the tumult was subsiding they ordered the senate to be convened, and when it was assembled they complained of the outrage done to them, the violence of the plebeians, the audacious insolence of Volero. After many violent speeches had been made, the opinion of the older senators prevailed; they disapproved of the intemperance of the plebs being met by angry resentment on the part of the patricians.
Fasces:Rods of wood tied by a red thong into a bundle from which an axe projected. Symbol of regal and later magesterial authority.