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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book IV Chapter 48: Agrarian Proposals.[416 BC]
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The fomenters of the disturbance were Spurius Maecilius, who was tribune of the plebs for the fourth time, and Marcus Metilius, tribune for the third time; both had been elected in their absence. They brought forward a measure providing that the territory taken from an enemy should be assigned to individual owners. If this were passed the fortunes of a large number of the nobility would be confiscated. For as the City itself was founded upon foreign soil, it possessed hardly any territory which had not been won by arms, or which had become private property by sale or assignment beyond what the plebeians possessed. (1) |
There seemed every prospect of a bitter conflict between the plebs and the patricians. The consular tribunes after discussing the matter in the senate and in private gatherings of patricians, were at a loss what to do, when Appius Claudius, the grandson of the old decemvir and the youngest senator present, rose to speak. He is represented as saying that he was bringing from home an old device well known to his house. His grandfather, Appius Claudius, had pointed out to the senate the only way of breaking down the power of the tribunes, namely, through the interposition of their colleagues' veto. Men who had risen from the masses were easily induced to change their opinions by the personal authority of the leaders of the State if only they were addressed in language suitable to the occasion rather than to the rank of the speaker. Their feelings changed with their fortunes. When they saw that those of their colleagues who were the first to propose any measure took the whole credit of it with the plebs and left no place for them, they would feel no hesitation in coming over to the cause of the senate, and so win the favour not only of the leaders but of the whole order.
The next day, in accordance with a previous understanding, the attention of the senate was drawn to the agitation which Maecilius and Metilius were causing by proposing a bribe of the worst possible type. Speeches were delivered by the leaders of the senate, each in turn declaring that he was unable to suggest any course of action, and saw no other resource but the assistance of the tribunes. To the protection of that power the State in its embarrassment, like a private citizen in his helplessness, fled for succour. It was the glory of the tribunes and of the authority they wielded that they possessed as much strength to withstand evil-minded colleagues as to harass the senate and create dissension between the two orders. Cheers arose from the whole senate and the tribunes were appealed to from every quarter of the House. When silence was restored, those tribunes who had been won over made it clear that since the senate was of opinion that the proposed measure tended to the break-up of the republic, they should interpose their veto on it. They were formally thanked by the senate.
The proposers of the measure convened a meeting in which they showered abuse on their colleagues, calling them traitors to the interests of the plebs" and slaves of the consulars," with other insulting epithets. Then they dropped all further proceedings.
(1): Only land fit for garden tillage or fruit trees was assigned to individual owners, i. e., plebeians. The forests, wastes, and pastures were State lands, i. e., occupied (not owned) by the patricians. As only land for tillage was allotted, a common pasture was absolutely necessary.
Consulars:Men who had been a consul. Consulars were in a position to restrain an acting consul.