Sacred Mount

The leaving of the City ... or what happens when the proles and plebes finally get feed up

36. 450 BCE. The new decemvirs behave like tyrants, terrifying
the people by exhibiting the symbols of power and by harsh and
arbitrary judgments of the lower classes.
That was the end of Appius’ wearing an alien mask. From then on he began
to live according to his own nature and mold his new colleagues after his
own character, even before they entered office. Daily they met without witnesses.
There they were instructed in tyrannical plans that they cooked up
in secret. Because they no longer concealed their arrogance, they were rarely
approachable and difficult to address. Such was their conduct through May
15, which, at that time, was the date for beginning a term of office.84
On entering office, they marked the first day of their administration with
a demonstration of terror. For whereas the earlier decemvirs had observed
the rule that only one man should have the fasces and that this emblem of
royalty should circulate and pass from one to another, these decemvirs all
suddenly appeared, each with twelve fasces. One hundred and twenty lictors
filled the forum, carrying before them the axes bound up with the rods. They
explained that there was no point in removing the axes, since they had been
elected without the right of appeal.85 They looked like ten kings, increasing
the terror of not only the low-born but also the leaders of the senate, who
thought that the decemvirs were seeking a pretext to begin a bloodbath. If
anyone should utter a word that was reminiscent of liberty, either in the senate
or before the people, the rods and axes were immediately at the ready, if
only to frighten the rest. In addition to the fact that the people had no protection
now that the right of appeal had been taken away, the new decemvirs
had agreed to remove the right of vetoing each other, whereas their predecessors
had allowed their judgments to be amended on appeal to one of their
colleagues, and they had referred to the people certain matters that might
seem to be within their own competence.86
For a while the terror affected everyone equally, but gradually it began to
focus entirely on the plebs. The patricians were left untouched, but the lower
orders were dealt with in an arbitrary and cruel way. It was entirely a matter
of who a person was, not the merit of his case, since political influence had
the force of justice. They made up their judgments in private and announced
them in the forum. If anyone appealed to a colleague, he came away regretting
that he had not stood by the earlier decision. An unsubstantiated report
had come out that they had conspired to commit these outrages not just for
the present; they had made a secret agreement and sworn not to hold elections
but, by means of a perpetual decemvirate, to continue to exercise power
now that they had acquired it.
37. The patricians are unwilling to oppose the decemvirs’
treatment of the plebs, and some younger nobles even profit from
the injustices. There is no sign of an election.
Then the plebeians began to look at the expressions on the faces of the patricians,
catching a breath of freedom from the very people that they had
feared would subject them to slavery—a fear that had resulted in the state
being reduced to its present plight. The leading senators hated the decemvirs
and hated the plebs. They did not approve of what was happening, but they
thought that the plebs had gotten what they deserved. They were pleased
that they had fallen into slavery as a result of their greedy rush for liberty,
but at the same time they were reluctant to pile on maltreatment as well.
Their aim was that the plebeians would tire of the present situation and
yearn for a return to consular government and the former constitution.
Already the greater part of the year had passed and two tables of laws had
been added to the ten of the previous year; no reason remained for the republic
to need the decemvirate, once the new statutes had also been passed
by the Comitia Centuriata. People were waiting to see how soon the assembly
for the election of consuls would be announced. Only one thing bothered
the plebs: how would they restore tribunician power, the bulwark of
their liberty, which had been suspended? Meanwhile there was no mention
of an election. And the decemvirs, who at first had made a show to the plebs
of being surrounded by former tribunes as a way of courting popularity, now
had a retinue of young patricians protecting them. Their squads besieged the
tribunals, bullying and robbing the plebs of their possessions and property,
as if the stronger had the right to take whatever he coveted. And now they
did not even refrain from physical abuse; there were beatings and some were
beheaded. And so that this cruelty might not be unrewarded, execution was
followed by the award of the victim’s property to his executioner. Corrupted
by these rewards, the young nobles not only did not resist such injustice but
openly preferred license for themselves, rather than liberty for everyone.87
38. 449 BCE. There is no election, and the decemvirs continue in
power but find themselves increasingly hated and isolated. War
on two fronts causes them to summon the senate, but at first the
senators do not respond. The plebs resent the senators’ eventual
May 15 arrived. No magistrates had been elected. Now private citizens, not
decemvirs, they appeared in public, their intention undiminished—to hold
on to power and the insignia that was their claim to office. This indeed was
blatant tyranny. Liberty was mourned as gone forever. There was no avenger,
nor did it seem likely that one would appear. Not only were the people despondent,
but they began to be held in contempt by the neighboring
peoples, who were resentful of being ruled by men who had lost their liberty.
88 The Sabines invaded Roman territory with a large band, causing
widespread devastation. With impunity they drove off booty, both men and
beasts, and withdrew their army to Eretum after ranging far and wide.89
There they pitched camp, putting their hopes in the discord at Rome, which,
they thought, would prevent the levying of troops. Not only the news but
also the flight of the countryfolk who threw the Romans into trepidation
throughout the city. The decemvirs discussed what they needed to do; they
felt abandoned amid the hatred of both senators and plebeians. Then fortune
sent an additional terror: on another front the Aequi pitched camp on
Algidus, from which they made plundering raids into Tusculan territory. Envoys
from Tusculum arrived with the news, begging for help.
This panic drove the decemvirs to consult the senate, since the city was
surrounded by two wars at the same time. They ordered the senators to be
summoned to the senate house, although they were not unaware of the
great storm of unpopularity that threatened them. They realized that
everyone would heap on them the blame for the devastation of their territory
and the imminent dangers. There would be an attempt to abolish their
office unless they united and suppressed the efforts of the rest by ruthlessly
exercising their power against a few overly bold critics. When the herald’s
voice was heard in the forum summoning the senators to meet the decemvirs
in the senate house, it was like a novelty because for so long they
had suspended the custom of consulting the senate. The plebs wondered
what had happened and why they were reviving an obsolete custom after
so long an interval. They felt they ought to thank the enemy and the war,
because at least something that was usual in a free state was happening.
They looked everywhere in the forum for a senator but hardly recognized
one anywhere. Then they saw the senate house with the decemvirs sitting
there, alone. The decemvirs explained the senators’ failure to convene as
being due to the universal hatred of their power, but the plebeians thought
it was because private citizens did not have the right to summon the senate.
A head start was already being made toward the recovery of their freedom,
if only the plebs allied with the senate and refused the levy, just as
the senators, when summoned, had not convened. Such were the murmurs
among the plebs.
Of senators, there was hardly a single one in the forum and but few in
the city. In anger at the situation, they had withdrawn to their farms and
were concerning themselves with their private affairs and neglecting those of
the state. For they felt that the farther they removed themselves from contact
and association with their despotic masters, the safer they would be from
being harmed. When they did not convene after their summons, officers
were sent around their houses, both to exact fines and to find out whether
their refusal was deliberate. They reported that the senate was in the countryside.
This news was more pleasing to the decemvirs than if the senators
had rejected their authority while still in town. The decemvirs ordered them
all to be summoned and proclaimed a meeting of the senate for the following
day. This session was considerably better attended than they had expected.
When this happened, the plebeians thought that freedom had been
betrayed by the senators, since the senate had obeyed men who had already
gone out of office and were thus private citizens who, except for their use of
force, employed compulsion as if it were theirs by right.
39. The senators convene and Marcus Horatius Barbatus
makes a vehement speech against the decemvirs and their abuse
of power.
But we hear that the senators’ obedience in coming to the senate house was
greater than their submissiveness in expressing their views. Tradition has it
that, after Appius Claudius had proposed a motion but before opinions were
called for in order of precedence, Lucius Valerius Potitus demanded leave to
speak about the state of the nation.90 When the decemvirs tried to block him
with threats, he created an uproar by announcing that he would go before
the plebs. No less fiercely, Marcus Horatius Barbatus then entered the fray,
calling them “ten Tarquins” and warning that the Valerii and Horatii had led
the expulsion of the kings. It was not the name of “king” that had nauseated
men—after all, it was right to call Jupiter by this name; also Romulus, the
founder of the city, and the subsequent kings; and it had also been kept for
religious rites as a solemn title.91 No, what they had hated was the arrogance
and violent behavior of a king. And if these characteristics were intolerable
in a single king and the king’s son, who was going to tolerate them in the
case of so many private citizens?92
Let them beware, lest their ban on free speech in the senate house stir up
talk outside that house as well. He could not see, Horatius continued, how
it was less permissible for him as a private citizen to summon the people to
an assembly than for them to convene the senate. Let them find out, by experience,
whenever they wanted, how much stronger a man’s anger was in
defending his freedom than was their eagerness to defend unjust despotism.
The decemvirs were talking about war against the Sabines as if it were a
greater war for the Roman people than was their war against men who,
though elected to propose laws, had left no law in the state—men who had
done away with elections, annual magistracies, changes of command from
one to another—the one means of equalizing liberty. And yet here were these
men, though private citizens, holding the rods of office and kingly power!
After the expulsion of the kings, patrician magistrates had been elected; then,
after the secession of the plebs, plebeian magistrates. To what party, he repeatedly
asked, did they belong? The people’s? What had they done through
the people? Did they belong to the aristocrats?93 For almost a year they had
not held a meeting of the senate, but now that they had, were they preventing
discussion of the state of the nation? Let them not put too much trust
in other men’s fears. What men were now enduring seemed more oppressive
than any fear they might have.
40. Gaius Claudius speaks, indicating his opinion that the
decemvirs were no longer magistrates. The brother of another
decemvir recommends shelving the question until they have dealt
with the wars.
While Horatius was holding forth, the decemvirs did not know what measure
of anger or forbearance to show, nor could they see how the situation
would turn out. Then Gaius Claudius, the uncle of Appius the decemvir,
gave a speech that was more of an entreaty than a reproach, as he begged him
by the shade of his own brother, Appius’ father, to remember the citizen society
into which he had been born, rather than the pact that he had impiously
made with his colleagues.94 He begged this more for Appius’ own sake
than for that of the state. Indeed, the state would seek justice from them
whether the decemvirs were willing to grant it or not. Great passions, he said,
were almost always aroused as a result of a great struggle, and he shuddered
at what might come out of this. Although the decemvirs were trying to prevent
discussion of any proposal other than theirs, a sense of shame stopped
them from interrupting Claudius. He concluded by proposing that no decree
of the senate should be issued. Everyone took this to mean that Claudius
judged the decemvirs to be private citizens. Many of the ex-consuls simply
gave their assent. Another proposal, which was ostensibly harsher but actually
somewhat less forceful, directed the senators to assemble to proclaim an
interrex.95 For, by passing any sort of decree, they were judging those who
convened the senate to be magistrates, whereas the man who had proposed
that there be no senatorial decree had deemed them private citizens.
As the decemvirs’ cause began to collapse, Lucius Cornelius Maluginensis,
brother of the decemvir Marcus Cornelius, who had deliberately been reserved
as the last speaker of the ex-consuls, protected his brother and his
brother’s colleagues by pretending to be concerned about the war. He wondered,
he said, by what destiny it had come about that the decemvirs were
being attacked by those who, either solely or especially, had themselves
sought the office of decemvir. Why, he asked, was it that, during the many
months that the state was at peace, no one had brought up the question of
whether proper magistrates were in charge of the state; whereas now, with the
enemy almost at their gates, they were sowing civil discord? They evidently
thought that in turbulent times it would not be as easy to see what was going
on. Furthermore, it was not right to prejudge such an important matter
at a time when men’s minds were preoccupied with a greater concern.96
Regarding the charge by Valerius and Horatius that the decemvirs’ office
had expired on May 15, he proposed that this question be brought before
the senate for settlement once the impending wars were over and the state
had been restored to tranquility. As for Appius Claudius, he should be prepared
to realize that he had to give an explanation of the assembly that he,
as decemvir, had held for the election of decemvirs: whether these men had
been elected for one year or until the laws that were still missing should be
passed. For the present, he thought that everything except the war should be
disregarded. If they thought that the rumor of war had been spread falsely
and that not only the messengers but also the envoys from Tusculum had
brought empty rumors, he suggested that they ought to send out scouts to
bring back more definite information. But if they trusted both messengers
and envoys, a levy should be held as early as possible and the decemvirs
should lead the armies wherever it seemed best to them, giving precedence
to no other business.
41. Despite further efforts by Valerius and Horatius, the
decemvirs prevail. A levy is held, and Appius Claudius is left
in charge of the city.
The younger senators were on the point of forcing a division on this proposal
when Valerius and Horatius again arose, more impassioned than before,
shouting that they be permitted to speak about the state of the nation.
They would speak before the people if a factional group did not permit them
to do so in the senate. Private citizens could not prevent them, whether in
the senate house or in an assembly, nor would they yield to phony fasces.
Then Appius thought that it was close to the point at which his power would
be defeated unless he resisted their vehemence with equal boldness. “The
better course,” he exclaimed, “is not to utter a word that does not pertain to
the subject under debate.” But Valerius said that he would not be silenced
by a private citizen, and so Appius ordered a lictor to seize him. Valerius,
from the threshold of the senate house, was imploring his fellow citizens outside
for their support, when Lucius Cornelius threw his arms around Appius
and stopped the quarrel, thus helping the latter and not, as he pretended,
Valerius.97 Thanks to Cornelius, Valerius was granted the favor of saying
what he wanted. But freedom went no further than his words. The decemvirs
held to their purpose. The ex-consuls and older senators still hated tribunician
power, thinking that the plebeians missed it more keenly than they
missed the power of the consuls. And so they almost preferred that the decemvirs
should voluntarily resign from their office at some later date, rather
than that hatred for the decemvirs should cause another uprising of the
plebs. They thought that if they handled the situation more gently and restored
consular power without a popular outcry, the intervention of wars or
the consuls’ moderation in the exercise of their power could induce the plebs
to forget the tribunes.
The senators were silent as the levy was announced. The younger men answered
to their names, since there was no right of appeal. After the legions
were enrolled, the decemvirs arranged among themselves who should go to
war and who should command the armies. The leaders among the ten were
Appius Claudius and Quintus Fabius. The war at home was clearly greater
than the one abroad. Appius’ violent nature, it was thought, was more suited
to suppressing city disturbances, whereas Fabius’ character was not so much
actively bad as lacking in steadfastness. The decemvirate and his colleagues
had so changed Fabius, a man once distinguished in civic and military affairs,
that he preferred to be more like Appius than his former self. He was assigned
the war with the Sabines and given Manius Rabuleius and Quintus Poetelius
as colleagues. Marcus Cornelius was sent to Algidus with Lucius Minucius,
Titus Antonius, Caeso Duilius, and Marcus Sergius. They decided that
Spurius Oppius should assist Appius Claudius in protecting the city and that
these two should have the same powers as the entire decemvirate.
42. In their hatred of the decemvirs, the Roman armies allow
themselves to be defeated.
The state was served no better in the field than at home. The fault of the
generals was merely that they had made themselves detested by the citizens.
The rest of the blame lay with the soldiers, who resolved that nothing should
succeed under the command and auspices of the decemvirs; and so they allowed
themselves to be defeated, to their own disgrace and that of their com-
manders. Their armies were routed, both by the Sabines near Eretum and
on Algidus by the Aequi. From Eretum they fled in the silence of the night
and built a camp nearer the city, on an elevation between Fidenae and Crustumeria.
When the enemy followed up on them, they nowhere entrusted
themselves to fight in open battle but protected themselves by their position
and rampart, not by the valor of their arms. The disgrace on Algidus was
greater, and an even greater disaster was sustained. The camp was lost and
the soldiers, stripped of all their supplies, fled to Tusculum to live off the loyalty
and pity of the inhabitants, who did not fail them.
Such great horror stories were brought to Rome that the senators now
laid aside their hatred of the decemvirs and voted to establish watches in the
city. They ordered that all those who were of an age to bear arms should
guard the walls and do sentry duty in front of the gates. They also decreed
that arms and reinforcements be sent to Tusculum, and that the decemvirs
come down from the citadel of Tusculum and keep the soldiers in camp. The
other camp should be moved from Fidenae into Sabine territory; they should
then take the offensive and deter the enemy from attacking the city.
43. 449 BCE. The decemvirs have a disgruntled soldier
assassinated, causing their reputation to plummet.
To the disaster sustained at the hands of the enemy, the decemvirs added two
unspeakable crimes: one in the field, the other at home. Lucius Siccius was
serving on the Sabine campaign. Because of the hatred of the decemvirs, he
was scattering hints in secret conversations among the common soldiers
about an election of tribunes and a secession. So, the decemvirs sent him to
scout out a place for a camp. The soldiers whom they sent to accompany
him were charged with the business of attacking and killing him once they
reached a suitable place. But the murder was not unavenged. Several assassins
fell around him as he fought back, for he was very strong and, though
surrounded, defended himself with a spirit that matched his strength. The
survivors returned to the camp and reported that they had fallen into an ambush:
Siccius had put up an outstanding fight, and several soldiers had been
lost with him. At first the messengers were believed; but then, with the decemvirs’
permission, a cohort was sent out to bury those who had fallen.
They saw that none of the bodies had been stripped of their arms and that
Siccius lay in their midst with all the bodies facing toward him, with no
corpse of an enemy or signs of a withdrawal. And so they brought back his
body and reported that he had undoubtedly been slain by his own men. The
camp was filled with indignation: there was a resolution to take Siccius to
Rome immediately, but the decemvirs hurried to give him a military funeral
at public expense. Great was the soldiers’ grief at his burial, and the decemvirs’
reputation among the rank and file was at its lowest.
44. Appius Claudius lusts after a plebeian virgin and has one
of his clients claim her as his slave.
Another unspeakable happening occurred in the city as a result of lust; this
was as abominable in its outcome as was the rape and death of Lucretia that
had driven the Tarquins from the city and kingship. And so, not only did
the same end befall the decemvirs as befell the kings, but the same cause also
deprived them of power.98 A lust to violate a plebeian virgin seized hold of
Appius. The maiden’s father, Lucius Verginius, was a high-ranking soldier
on Algidus, an exemplary character both at home and in the field. His wife
had been brought up in the same principles, and his children were being
trained in the same way. He had promised his daughter to Lucius Icilius, a
former tribune, who was energetic and of proven courage in the plebeian
cause.99 Crazed with passion, Appius tried to entice this beautiful and nubile
maiden with presents and promises, but when he realized that her modesty
was proof against all advances, he turned his mind to cruel and
tyrannical force. He charged his client, Marcus Claudius, to claim the
maiden as his slave and not to yield to those who would lay legal claim to
her until the question of her free status was decided. He thought that the
absence of the girl’s father gave him an opportunity to wrong her.100
As Verginia was coming into the forum (there were schools in the market
area nearby), the servant of the decemvir’s lust laid his hand upon her, called
her the daughter of his own slave woman and a slave herself, and ordered her
to follow him.101 If she hesitated, he said, he would drag her off by force. The
panic-stricken girl was dumbfounded, but a crowd rushed up as her nurse
cried out, imploring the help of her fellow citizens. Since the name of her father
Verginius and fiancé Icilius were well known among the people, their
political reputation won their supporters over to the girl’s side, and the crowd
was won over by the outrage of her situation. She had already been protected
from violence, and so the claimant said that there was no need for the crowd
to become excited: he was acting lawfully, not by force. He then summoned
the girl to court, and the bystanders advised her to follow.102
And so, they came before Appius’ tribunal. The prosecutor Marcus
Claudius acted out the play that was familiar to the judge, since he was the
author of the plot.103 The girl had been born in his house and had been secretly
taken from there to Verginius’ house and passed off to him as his child.
He had good proof of this and would prove it even to Verginius, were the
latter the judge. For Verginius was the one who had suffered the greater part
of the wrong. Meanwhile it was just that the slave girl follow her master. The
girl’s supporters said that Verginius was absent and was in the service of his
country, but would come in two days if he were given notice. It was unjust
to fight over a man’s children in his absence. They therefore requested Appius
to leave the matter alone until the father arrived, since the law that he
himself had passed gave interim possession of the girl to those who defended
her freedom. He should not allow a grown maiden to endanger her reputation
before her free status had been decided.
45. Icilius makes a vehement protest when Appius refuses to
release Verginia from the custody of his client, Marcus Claudius.
Before making a decision, Appius said that the law that Verginius’ friends
offered in support of their claim made it clear how much he favored freedom.
But, he said, it would only offer firm support for freedom if there were
no variation in its application to cases or persons. In the case of those who
were claimed to be free, the request was legal, since anyone could bring
an action. But in the case of a woman who was under the legal control of
her father, there was no other person to whom the master could yield the
custody. He therefore resolved that the father be summoned and that
meanwhile the claimant should not lose his right of taking the girl and
producing her when her alleged father arrived.
Against the injustice of the decree, though many were seething, there was
no one individual who dared protest until the girl’s grandfather Publius Numitorius
and her fiancé Icilius intervened. A path was made through the
throng, since the crowd believed that Icilius’ intervention would be particularly
effective in resisting Appius. But then the lictor cried that the decision
had been made and pushed Icilius aside as he began to protest. Such a
savage wrong would have inflamed even a placid disposition. “Appius,” cried
Icilius, “you will have to use a sword to remove me if you want to avoid an
outcry as you carry out what you wish to conceal. I am going to marry this
maiden, and I intend that my bride be chaste. Go ahead and summon all
your colleagues’ lictors as well. Order the rods and axes to be made ready.
Icilius’ future bride will not remain outside her father’s house. No! Even if
you have deprived the Roman plebs of the help of the tribunes and the right
of appeal, the two bastions that protect liberty, you have not been granted
the power of a king to satisfy your lust and force yourself on our wives and
children. Vent your rage on our backs and necks. But at least let their chastity
be safe. If that be violated, I will invoke the loyalty of the citizens here present
to protect my bride; Verginius will call upon the soldiers to protect his
only daughter; and we will all invoke the protection of gods and men. You
will never carry out that decree without shedding my blood. I bid you, Appius,
consider over again and again where you are heading. Let Verginius see
what he will do about his daughter when he comes. But he should just know
this: if he gives in to this man’s claim, he will need to seek another marriage
for his daughter. As for me, I shall sooner die in defense of my bride’s free
status than prove disloyal.
46. Appius backs down for the moment, and Verginia is sent
back to Verginius’ house after bail is given by the people. Appius
fails to prevent Verginius’ return from camp.
The crowd was aroused and conflict seemed imminent. The lictors had surrounded
Icilius, but they had not yet gone beyond threats. Appius kept on
saying that Icilius was not acting in defense of Verginia but rather behaving
like the tribune he once had been, making trouble and looking for an opportunity
to stir up strife. He would give him no excuse for strife at present;
he would neither pronounce judgment that day nor enforce his decree. Icilius,
however, should realize that he was not yielding to his impudence, but
rather in deference to the absent Verginius, a father’s name, and the claim of
liberty. He would not pronounce judgment on that day nor give a decision.
He would ask Marcus Claudius to withdraw his right and allow his claim on
the girl to be decided the next day. But if the father were not present then,
he gave notice to Icilius and the likes of Icilius that the proposer of his law
would not fail to support it, nor would the decemvir be lacking in firmness.
He would not, in any event, summon his colleagues’ lictors to restrain the
leaders of sedition but would be content with his own.
When the time of the injustice had been postponed, the girl’s supporters
went off by themselves and decided first that Icilius’ brother and Numitorius’
son, energetic young men, should go straight to the city gate and summon
Verginius from the camp as quickly as possible: the girl’s safety turned
on his presence the next day in time to defend her from injustice. Once ordered,
they set out, galloping their horses, and brought the message to her
father. Meanwhile, when the girl’s claimant pressed him to give securities to
guarantee her appearance, Icilius said that he was doing just that (he was
carefully spinning out the time until the messengers who had been sent to
the camp should get a head start on their journey). On all sides the crowd
raised their hands, each person showing Icilius his readiness to guarantee the
money. In tears, Icilius said, “Thank you. Tomorrow I shall use your help; I
have enough securities for now.” On the security of her relatives, Verginia
was released. Appius delayed a short time so that he did not appear to have
sat just for this case. But nobody came up to him, since all other matters had
been forgotten in their concern for this one thing. So, he went home and
wrote to his colleagues in the camp, telling them not to grant leave to
Verginius and also to detain him under guard. His wicked plan was too late,
as it should have been. Verginius already had his leave and had set out in the
first night watch. The letter to detain him was delivered in the morning of
the following day, to no effect.
47. Despite Verginius’ pleas, Appius rules against him.
In the city at dawn, as the citizens were standing in the forum in eager anticipation,
Verginius came down into the forum, wearing the ragged garb of
mourning and escorting his daughter, who was dressed in a shabby garment
and attended by a number of matrons.104 Accompanied by a large group of
supporters, he began to circulate and canvass people, not only begging for
their help as a favor, but also seeking it as his due. Daily, he said, he stood
in the battle line in defense of their children and their wives. No other man
was on record for performing so bravely and energetically in war. But what
good was it if, though the city was unharmed, their children had to endure
the frightful things that followed a city’s capture? So he went around, speaking
as if he were addressing a public assembly. Similar remarks were addressed
to them by Icilius. But the silent weeping of the women attendants
was more moving than any words.
Confronted by all this but with his purpose stubbornly fixed—so great
was the force of the madness (a more truthful definition than passion) that
had disturbed his mind—Appius mounted the tribunal. The plaintiff Marcus
Claudius was actually making a few complaints that his rights had not
been granted the day before because of the wrangling when, before he could
finish his demand or Verginius was given the opportunity to reply, Appius
interrupted him. The ancient sources have perhaps preserved something of
the true speech with which Appius prefaced his decision. However, since I
have nowhere found one that is plausible in view of the enormity of his decision,
it seems necessary to set forth the bare fact that he decided in favor
of the plaintiff: the girl was his slave.
At first everyone was stunned with amazement at such an outrage. For a
while, silence gripped them. Then, as Marcus Claudius was going to seize the
maiden from the group of matrons surrounding her, the women received him
with wailing and lamentation. Verginius shook his fist at Appius, exclaiming,
It was to Icilius, not you, Appius, that I promised my daughter. I raised her
to be married, not debauched. Animals and wild beasts fornicate indiscriminately.
Is this what you want? I do not know whether these people here will
tolerate this. But I don’t expect that those who have arms will do so.”
As the claimant to the girl was being driven back by the ring of women
and supporters surrounding her, silence was commanded by a herald.
48. Appius is preparing to use armed men to enforce his decision
when Verginius kills his daughter and flees, protected by the
crowd. Icilius expresses his outrage.
The decemvir, out of his mind with lust, declared that he knew, not only from
Icilius’ abuse the day before and Verginius’ violent behavior that the Roman
people had witnessed, but also from definite information, that meetings had
been held throughout the night to promote sedition. Aware of the impending
fight, he had come to the forum with armed men, not to do violence to
any peaceable citizen, but to exercise the dignity of his office and restrain
those who were disturbing the peace. “It will be better,” he said, “if you are
peaceable. Go, lictor, remove the mob and make a path for the master to seize
his slave.” Filled with rage, he thundered these words and the crowd parted
of its own accord, leaving the girl standing there, a prey to injustice.
Then Verginius, seeing no help anywhere, cried, “I ask you, Appius, first
to pardon a father’s grief, if I spoke too harshly against you. Allow me, in the
presence of my daughter, to ask the nurse what this is all about. If I have
falsely been named as the girl’s father, then I will go away with more equanimity.”
Permission was granted. He led his daughter and her nurse aside,
near the shrine of Cloacina by the shops that are now called the New
Shops.105 Seizing a knife from a butcher, he cried, “Daughter, I am claiming
your freedom in the only way that I can.” He then stabbed the girl to
the heart and looked back at the tribunal, saying, “With this blood, Appius,
I declare you and your life accursed.”
An uproar broke out at this terrible deed. Appius jumped up and ordered
Verginius to be arrested. But with his weapon Verginius made a path for himself
wherever he went until, under the protection of a crowd of followers, he
reached the gate. Icilius and Numitorius lifted the lifeless body and showed
it to the people, lamenting Appius’ crime, the girl’s unfortunate beauty, and
the necessity that had driven her father to such a deed. Following them, the
matrons cried out, “Is this what it means to have children? Are these the rewards
of chastity?”—and the rest of the pitiful complaints that women’s grief
drives them to utter in such a situation, a grief that is all the more sad because
of their emotional nature, and the more pitiable as they readily give
way to lamentation. The men’s talk, especially that of Icilius, was entirely

about tribunician power, the right of appeal to the people that had been
wrested from them, and the state’s sense of outrage.
49. With the support of the crowd, Lucius Valerius and Marcus
Horatius challenge Appius, who is trying to arrest Icilius. Appius
flees. Realizing defeat, a colleague, Spurius Oppius, summons
the senate.
The crowd was stirred up partly because of the atrocity of the crime, and
partly in the hope of using the opportunity to regain their freedom. Appius
first ordered that Icilius be summoned; then, on his refusal, that he be arrested.
Finally, since the attendants could not get near him, Appius himself
marched through the crowd with a band of patrician youths and ordered
Icilius to be put in chains. By this time, there was not only a crowd around
Icilius but also the crowd’s leaders, Lucius Valerius and Marcus Horatius.
They drove the lictor back, saying that if he were acting according to the law,
they were protecting Icilius from prosecution by a private citizen.106 But if
he was resorting to violence, they were a match for that, too.
A fierce brawl broke out. The decemvir’s lictor made a rush at Valerius
and Horatius, and the fasces were broken by the crowd. Appius mounted the
platform to address the people, followed by Horatius and Valerius. The assembled
crowd listened to them but shouted the decemvir down. Already
acting as if he were a magistrate, Valerius ordered the lictors to stop serving
a man who was a private citizen; whereupon Appius, his spirit broken and
fearing for his life, covered his head and fled to a house near the forum, unnoticed
by his adversaries. Spurius Oppius burst into the forum from another
direction to help his colleague. He saw that force had prevailed over
his authority as a magistrate. An agitated discussion followed. In trepidation,
Oppius agreed now with one and then with another of his many advisers on
every side. Finally he ordered the senate to be summoned. This move calmed
the crowd, because the majority of the patricians seemed to disapprove of
the decemvirs’ actions. The hope was that the senate would put an end to
their power. The senate decided that the plebs should not be provoked, realizing
that it was much more important to

50. After hearing Verginius’ story, the soldiers leave their camp
and seize the Aventine, telling the senate that they will talk with
Valerius and Horatius.
And so, some younger senators were sent to the camp, which was then on
Mount Vecilius; they announced to the decemvirs that they should make
every effort to restrain their soldiers from mutiny.107 There Verginius stirred
up greater commotion than he had left in the city. As he approached, not
only was he seen to be accompanied by almost 400 men from the city, who
had joined him in their anger at the outrage he had suffered, but his unsheathed
weapon and the blood with which he was spattered drew the attention
of the whole camp. The sight of togas all over the camp had
produced the appearance of a considerably larger crowd of civilians than it
actually was.108 When asked what the problem was, Verginius wept and for
a long time did not utter a word. At last, when the bustle and confusion of
the gathering had settled and there was silence, he explained everything in
the order that it had happened.
Then with palms upraised, he called on them as fellow soldiers, praying
that they would not consider him responsible for Appius Claudius’ crime
nor regard him as one who had murdered his child. His daughter’s life would
have been dearer to him than his own if she had been allowed to live in freedom
and chastity. But when he saw her being hurried off like a slave to be
debauched, he had thought it better to lose a child to death than to outrage.
The pity he felt had occasioned him to commit an act of apparent cruelty.
Nor would he have outlived his daughter had he not hoped to avenge her
death by getting the help of his fellow soldiers. For they too had daughters,
sisters, and wives. Appius Claudius’ lust had not died with Verginia, but the
longer it went unpunished, the more unbridled it would become. The
calamity that had befallen another gave them a warning to guard against a
similar outrage. As far as he, Verginius, was concerned, fate had robbed him
of his wife; now his daughter had died a pitiful but honorable death, since
she would have no longer lived in chastity. Now there was no opportunity
in his house for Appius’ lust. He would defend his own body from Appius’
further violence with the same spirit that he had defended his daughter. The
rest should look out for their own interests and those of their children.

As Verginius shouted these words, the crowd cried out in support that
they would not fail to avenge his grief and vindicate their own freedom. The
civilians mingled with the crowd of soldiers, making the same laments and
telling them how much more outrageous the events would have appeared if
they had seen them rather than simply heard about them. At the same time
they announced that the government in Rome was already overthrown.
Others arrived, saying that Appius had almost been killed and had gone into
exile. All this drove the soldiers to proclaim the call to arms, tear up the standards,
and set out for Rome. The decemvirs, thrown into confusion by what
they were seeing and by what they heard had happened in Rome, rushed in
different directions throughout the camp, trying to quell the mutiny. Mild
talk got no response from the soldiers. If one of them tried to impose his authority,
he got the reply that they were men and were armed. They marched
to the city in a column and took possession of the Aventine, urging the plebeians
they encountered to regain their freedom and elect tribunes of the
plebs. No other violent proposals were heard.
Spurius Oppius convened the senate, and it was decided to take no harsh
measures, since they themselves had provided the opportunity for sedition.
Three ex-consuls were sent as envoys to ask, in the name of the senators, who
had ordered them to abandon the camp, what their aim was in seizing the
Aventine with arms and capturing their native land after abandoning a war
with the enemy. The men did not lack a response, but they did lack someone
to give that response since they had no definite leader, nor as individuals
were they sufficiently daring to risk such an invidious position. The
crowd simply cried out in unison that the senators should send Lucius Valerius
and Marcus Horatius; to them they would give a reply.
51. The army on the Aventine elects its own officials, tribunes of
the soldiers; Icilius has the other army do the same. Valerius and
Horatius refuse to go and negotiate with the armies until the
decemvirs resign. The decemvirs, however, refuse to resign until
their laws are passed.
When the envoys were dismissed, Verginius warned the soldiers that they had
been thrown into confusion a few moments before over an unimportant matter
because, as a group, they lacked a leader. Their answer, though a good one,
was the result of a fortuitous consensus rather than a concerted plan. He rec-

ommended that ten men be appointed as leaders and that they be given a military
title, “tribunes of the soldiers.” When this honor was offered to him as
the first appointee, he said, “Keep your judgment about me until the situation
has improved both for you and for me. No official honor can be pleasing
to me as long as my daughter is unavenged. Nor, while the state is in such
confusion, is it helpful for you to have in office men who are exposed to political
hatred. If I am of service to you, that service will be no less if it comes
from a private citizen.” And so they chose ten tribunes of the soldiers.
Nor was the army on the Sabine front quiet. There too, at the instigation
of Icilius and Numitorius, there was a mutiny against the decemvirs. Men’s
feelings were stirred anew by the memory of Siccius’ murder no less than
they were kindled by the news of the girl who had been so shamefully sought
to gratify a man’s lust. Icilius, when he heard that tribunes of the soldiers had
been appointed on the Aventine, was afraid that the assembly in the city
might follow the precedent of the military assembly by making these same
men tribunes of the plebs. Since he was experienced in popular politics and
had designs on the office for himself, he had his soldiers elect the same number
with equal power before they went to the city. Under their standards,
they entered the city by the Colline Gate, proceeding in a column right
through the middle of the city to the Aventine. There they joined the other
army and charged the twenty tribunes of the soldiers to appoint two of their
number to the supreme command. The tribunes appointed Marcus Oppius
and Sextus Manilius.
The senators were alarmed about the state of the nation. But, although
they were meeting every day, they were spending more time in recriminations
than in deliberation. They blamed the decemvirs for the murder of Siccius,
Appius’ lust, and the disgraces in the military sphere. It was resolved
that Valerius and Horatius should go to the Aventine. But they said that they
would only go if the decemvirs would lay down the symbols of office that
had expired a year ago. The decemvirs, complaining that they were being
forced to return to the ranks, said that they would not lay down their power
until the laws for which they had been appointed were passed.
52. Given the stalemate, the plebs move to the Sacred Mount,
and cries for the senate to take action increase.
The plebs were told by Marcus Duilius, a former tribune of the plebs, that
nothing was being achieved by the senate’s continual bickering. So, they

moved from the Aventine to the Sacred Mount, since Duilius assured them
that the senate would not feel any concern until they saw the city deserted.
The Sacred Mount would warn them of the plebs’ steadfastness; the patricians
would find out whether it was possible to restore the harmony of the
state without reinstating tribunician power. They set out by the Via Nomentana,
which was then called Ficolensis, and pitched camp on the Sacred
Mount, copying the restraint of their fathers who had done no pillaging. The
plebs followed the army, with no one who was physically able refusing to go.
They were attended for some distance by wives and children who asked pitifully
who was going to protect them, abandoned in a city where neither
chastity nor liberty was sacred.109
An unaccustomed emptiness had made all of Rome desolate. There was
no one in the forum except a few older men; when the senators were in the
senate house, the forum seemed deserted. Then more than just Horatius and
Valerius began to make their voices heard. “What will you wait for, senators?”
they asked. “If the decemvirs won’t put an end to their obstinacy, are
you going to allow everything to be ruined and go up in flames? What is this
power, decemvirs, that you are clinging to so tenaciously? Are you going to
give laws to roofs and walls? Aren’t you ashamed that an almost greater number
of your lictors are to be seen in the forum than the rest of the citizens?
What are you going to do if the enemy should come to the city? What if the
plebs were to come soon and in arms, while we are unmoved by their secession?
Do you want your power to end with the downfall of the city? And
yet, either we must have no plebeians or we must have plebeian tribunes. We
will be deprived of patrician magistracies more quickly than they will lack
plebeian offices. They wrested from our fathers a new and untested power.
But now that they are captivated by its charm, they would not bear its loss,
especially since we are not so moderate in the exercise of our power that they
need no help.” Assailed by these taunts from all sides and defeated by the
consensus, the decemvirs agreed that they would submit, since it seemed
best, to the power of the senators. They only asked, giving a warning, that
they be protected from hatred and that their blood not be the means of accustoming
the plebs to punishing senators.

53. Valerius and Horatius negotiate with the plebs on the senate’s
behalf. Icilius acts as spokesman for the plebs.
Then Valerius and Horatius were sent to the plebs to negotiate conditions
for their return and make a settlement. They were also ordered to safeguard
the decemvirs from the anger and violence of the people. They set out and
were received into the camp to the plebeians’ great joy, as the undisputed
champions of freedom both at the beginning of the disturbance and in its
outcome. On their arrival they were thanked, and Icilius made a speech on
behalf of the crowd. And, when the conditions were being discussed and the
envoys were asking what the plebs demanded, Icilius presented their demands
in accordance with a plan that had been made before the envoys’ arrival.
He made it clear that their hopes lay in an equitable settlement rather
than the use of arms; the recovery of tribunician power and the right of appeal
were what they sought—those things that had been the plebs’ safeguards
before the election of the decemvirs. The plebeians also wanted a guarantee
that it would not be held against anyone that he had roused either soldiers
or plebs to regain their freedom by seceding. Their only harsh demand was
for the punishment of the decemvirs. They thought it just that the decemvirs
be handed over to them and threatened to burn them alive.
In response to these proposals, the envoys said, “The demands are the
product of deliberation and are so fair that they should have been granted
to you voluntarily. You are seeking them as guarantees of liberty, not as license
to make attacks on others. But your anger is to be excused rather than
indulged. Your hatred of cruelty is driving you headlong into cruelty, and,
almost before you are free yourselves, you are wanting to lord it over your
foes. Will our state never have a rest from senators punishing plebeians, or
plebeians punishing senators? You need a shield rather than a sword. It is
enough and more than enough for a low-born citizen to enjoy equal rights
in the state and neither inflict nor suffer injustice. Even if, at some future
date, you show that you are to be feared, it will be after you have recovered
your magistrates and laws when you have jurisdiction over our lives and fortunes;
110 then you will make a decision as each case comes before you. Meanwhile
it is enough to regain your freedom.”

54. 449 BCE. The settlement of Valerius and Horatius is
accepted and the decemvirs resign. The plebs return, elect
tribunes, and pass a bill restoring the consulship, subject to the
right of appeal.
When the people all agreed that Valerius and Horatius should do as they saw
fit, the envoys assured them that they would return when they had completed
the settlement. They set out, and, when they had explained the plebs’
demands to the senators, the other decemvirs made no objection since, contrary
to their expectation, there was no mention of punishment for them.
But Appius, because of his savage temperament and his extraordinary unpopularity,
measured other men’s hatred of him by his own hatred of them,
exclaiming, “I am not unaware of the fortune that threatens me. I see that
the struggle against us is being postponed until weapons are handed to our
adversaries. Their antagonism demands the offering of blood. I have no hesitation
in resigning from the decemvirate.” The senate decreed that the decemvirs
should abdicate their office as soon as possible; that Quintus Furius,
the pontifex maximus; should conduct an election for tribunes of the plebs;
and that the secession of the soldiers and the plebs should not be held against
When the senatorial decrees had been passed and the senate dismissed,
the decemvirs went before the people and abdicated their office, to everyone’s
great joy. These happenings were announced to the plebs. Whatever
people were left in the city followed the envoys. This throng was met by another
joyful crowd running out from the camp. They congratulated each
other on the restoration of freedom and harmony to the state. The envoys
addressed the people: “May this be favorable, fortunate, and happy for you
and for the republic. Return to your native city, to your household gods, to
your wives and children. But as you go, take into the city that same restraint
that you have shown here, where no man’s land was violated, though so many
things were useful and necessary for so great a throng. Go to the Aventine,
from where you set out. There, in the auspicious place where you made the
first beginnings of liberty, you will elect tribunes of the plebs. The pontifex
maximus will be there to hold the election.”
These words quickly drew huge applause, as the crowds gave their approval
to everything. They tore up the standards and set out for Rome, their

joy vying with that of those who came to meet them. Armed, they went in
silence through the city to the Aventine. There Quintus Furius, the pontifex
maximus, immediately held an assembly, and they elected tribunes of the
plebs: first of all Lucius Verginius; then Lucius Icilius and Publius Numitorius
(Verginia’s maternal uncle), the instigators of the secession;112 then
Gaius Sicinius, the son of the man who is said to have been the first tribune
elected on the Sacred Mount; and Marcus Duilius, who had distinguished
himself in the tribunate before the election of the decemvirs and who had
not failed the plebs in their struggle with the decemvirs. Elected more for
their promise than their service were Marcus Titinius, Marcus Pomponius,
Gaius Apronius, Appius Villius, and Gaius Oppius. As soon as they had
taken office, Lucius Icilius proposed to the plebs, and they approved, that
secession from the decemvirs should not be held against anyone. Immediately
Marcus Duilius carried a resolution to elect consuls with the right of
appeal. All this was enacted by the Council of the Plebs in the Flaminian
Meadows, which they now call the Circus Flaminius.113
55. After the rapprochement between senators and plebeians,
the new consuls, Valerius and Horatius, pass laws regarding
plebiscites, the right of appeal, and sacrosanctity.
Then, through an interrex, Lucius Valerius and Marcus Horatius were elected
to the consulship and took up office immediately [449 BCE]. Their term of
office favored the people without wronging the patricians, but not without
offending them; for they believed that whatever was done to protect the plebs
diminished their own power. First of all, since it was virtually an undecided
point of law whether patricians were legally bound by decisions of the plebs,
they carried a law in the Comitia Centuriata that what the plebs should
pass when voting by tribes should be binding on the people, a bill that
gave tribunician proposals a very sharp weapon.114 Then the consuls not only

restored another consular law about the right of appeal, the sole defense of
liberty, that had been overturned by the power of the decemvirs, but they also
strengthened it for the future by the solemn enactment of a new law that no
one should declare the election of a magistrate without right of appeal.115
Anyone who did so could be killed according to both human and divine law,
and such a homicide would not be considered a capital offense.
When they had given sufficient safeguards to the plebs, through the right
of appeal on the one hand and tribunician help on the other, in the interests
of the tribunes they restored the principle of sacrosanctity, a thing that
had almost been forgotten.116 They revived long-neglected ceremonies and
renewed them. They made tribunes inviolate, not only on the principle of
religion but also by a statute that stipulated that anyone who harmed tribunes
of the plebs, aediles, or the ten-man panel of judges should forfeit his
life to Jupiter, and his possessions should be sold at the temple of Ceres,
Liber, and Libera.117 Legal experts say that this statute does not make someone
sacrosanct but marks anyone who has harmed one of these officials as
accursed.118 Thus an aedile may be arrested and imprisoned by the higher
magistrates—an act that, though it may be illegal (since harm is being done
to a man who, under this statute, should not be harmed), is nevertheless
proof that an aedile is not considered to be sacrosanct. The tribunes, on the
other hand, are sacrosanct by virtue of an ancient oath taken by the plebs

when their power was first established. There were those who interpreted this
Horatian law as also applying to consuls and likewise to praetors, because
they were elected under the same auspices as the consuls: the consul, they
said, was called “judge.” But this interpretation is refuted by the fact that, in
those days, it was not yet the custom to call the consul “judge,” but rather
praetor.” These were the laws enacted by the consuls.
Also instituted by these consuls was the practice of taking senatorial decrees
down to the aediles at the temple of Ceres. Previously these decrees
were suppressed or falsified at the discretion of the consuls. Marcus Duilius,
a tribune of the plebs, then proposed a bill to the plebs, which the plebs
passed, that whoever left the plebs without tribunes and whoever declared
the election of a magistrate without appeal should be scourged and beheaded.
All these measures were passed against the will of the patricians,
though they did not oppose them because their harshness was not yet directed
at any one person.
56. Verginius begins the prosecution of Appius Claudius,
who demands the right to appeal as he is arrested and led off
to prison.
Once the tribunician power and the freedom of the plebs had been firmly
established, the tribunes thought it safe and timely to attack individuals.119
So, they chose Verginius to bring the first accusation and Appius to be the
defendant. On being indicted by Verginius, Appius came down into the forum
surrounded by a throng of young patricians. Immediately everyone recalled
his appalling power as they saw the man himself and his satellites.
Then Verginius said, “Oratory was invented for dubious matters. Therefore
I shall not waste your time by making a formal accusation of a man from
whose cruelty you have freed yourselves with arms, nor will I allow him to
add to his other crimes the effrontery of making a defense.120 Appius
Claudius, I am overlooking all the impious and wicked deeds that you dared
to commit, one after another, over the last two years. On one charge only
will I give the order for your imprisonment—unless you agree to go before
a judge and prove that you did not illegally award the ownership of a free
person to a man who claimed her as his slave.”
Appius had no hope that the tribunes would help him, nor that the
people would decide in his favor. Nevertheless he called on the tribunes and,
when none of them would stay for the proceedings and he had been arrested
by an attendant, he cried, “I appeal.” The sound of this cry, the sole safeguard
of liberty, coming from the same lips that had recently denied a claim
to freedom produced silence. The people muttered, each man to himself,
that after all the gods did exist and were not indifferent to human affairs;
punishment for arrogance and cruelty was coming, late but in no small measure.
They realized that the man who had annulled the right of appeal was
himself making an appeal; the one who had trampled on all the rights of the
people was now imploring the people’s protection; the one who had consigned
a free person to slavery was being dragged off to prison, in need of
his own right to freedom!
The voice of Appius was

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