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THE PLEBEIAN CONSULATE.
All the old enemies of Rome attacked her again when she was weak and
rising out of her ruins, but Camillus had wisely persuaded the Romans to
add the people of Veii, Capena, and Falerii to the number of their
citizens, making four more tribes; and this addition to their numbers
helped them beat off their foes.
But this enlarged the number of the plebeians, and enabled them to make
their claims more heard. Moreover, the old quarrel between poor and
rich, debtor and creditor, broke out again. Those who had saved their
treasure in the time of the sack had made loans to those who had lost to
enable them to build their houses and stock their farms again, and
after a time they called loudly for payment, and when it was not
forthcoming had the debtors seized to be sold as slaves. Camillus
himself was one of the hardest creditors of all, and the barracks where
slaves were placed to be sold were full of citizens.
Marcus Manlius Capitolinus was full of pity, and raised money to redeem
four hundred of them, trying with all his might to get the law changed
and to save the rest; but the rich men and the patricians thought he
acted only out of jealousy of Camillus, and to get up a party for
himself. They said he was raising a sedition, and Publius Cornelius
Cossus was named Dictator to put it down. Manlius was seized and put
into chains, but released again. At last the rich men bought over two of
the tribunes to accuse him of wanting to make himself a king, and this
hated title turned all the people against their friend, so that the
general cry sentenced him to be cast down from the top of the Tarpeian
rock; his house on the Capitol was overthrown, and his family declared
that no son of their house should ever again bear the name of Manlius.
Yet the plebeians were making their way, and at last succeeded in
gaining the plebeian magistracies and equal honors with the patricians.
A curious story is told of the cause of the last effort which gained the
day. A patrician named Fabius Ambustus had two daughters, one of whom he
gave in marriage to Servius Sulpicius, a patrician and military tribune,
the other to Licinius Stolo. One day, when Stolo's wife was visiting her
sister, there was a great noise and thundering at the gates which
frightened her, until the other Fabii said it was only her husband
coming home from the Forum attended by his lictors and clients, laughing
at her ignorance and alarm, until a whole troop of the clients came in
to pay their court to the tribune's wife.
Stolo's wife went home angry and vexed, and reproached her husband and
her father for not having made her equal with her sister, and so wrought
on them that they put themselves at the head of the movement in favor of
the plebeians; and Licinius and another young plebeian named Lucius
Sextius, being elected year after year tribunes of the people, went on
every time saying Veto to whatever was proposed by anybody, and giving
out that they should go on doing so till three measures were
carried—viz., that interest on debt should not be demanded; that no
citizen should possess more than three hundred and twenty acres of the
public land, or feed more than a certain quantity of cattle on the
public pastures; and, lastly, that one of the two consuls should always
be a plebeian.
They went on for eight years, always elected by the people and always
stopping everything. At last there was another inroad of the Gauls
expected, and Camillus, though eighty years old, was for the fifth time
chosen Dictator, and gained a great victory upon the banks of the Anio.
The Senate begged him to continue Dictator till he could set their
affairs to rights, and he vowed to build a temple to Concord if he could
succeed. He saw indeed that it was time to yield, and persuaded the
Senate to think so; so that at last, in the year 367, Sextius was
elected consul, together with a patrician, Æmilius. Even then the Senate
would not receive Sextius till he was introduced by Camillus. From this
time the patricians and plebeians were on an equal footing as far as
regarded the magistracies, but the priesthood could belong only to the
patricians. Camillus lived to a great age, and was honored as having
three times saved his country. He died at last of a terrible pestilence
which raged in Rome in the year 365.
The priests recommended that they should invite the players from Etruria
to perform a drama in honor of the feats of the gods, and this was the
beginning of play-acting in Rome.
Not long after there yawned a terrible chasm in the Forum, most likely
from an earthquake, but nothing seemed to fill it up, and the priests
and augurs consulted their oracles about it. These made answer that it
would only close on receiving of what was most precious. Gold and
jewels were thrown in, but it still seemed bottomless, and at last the
augurs declared that it was courage that was the most precious thing in
Rome. Thereupon a patrician youth named Marcus Curtius decked himself in
his choicest robes, put on his armor, took his shield, sword, and spear,
mounted his horse, and leapt headlong into the gulf, thus giving it the
most precious of all things, courage and self-devotion. After this one
story says it closed of itself, another that it became easy to fill it
up with earth.
The Romans thought that such a sacrifice must please the gods and bring
them success in their battles; but in the war with the Hernici that was
now being waged the plebeian consul was killed, and no doubt there was
much difficulty in getting the patricians to obey a plebeian properly,
for in the course of the next twenty years it was necessary fourteen
times to appoint a Dictator for the defence of the state, so that it is
plain there must have been many alarms and much difficulty in enforcing
discipline; but, on the whole, success was with Rome, and the
neighboring tribes grew weaker.
CURTIUS LEAPING INTO THE GULF. (From a Bas-Relief.)