But not only was war with the Volsci imminent; the citizens were at loggerheads among themselves, and internal dissensions between the Fathers and the plebs had burst into a blaze of hatred, chiefly on account of those who had been bound over to service for their debts.1
These men complained loudly that while they were abroad [p. 291]
fighting for liberty and dominion they had been enslaved2
and oppressed at home by fellow-citizens, and that the freedom of the plebeians was more secure in war than in peace, amongst enemies than amongst citizens. This bitter feeling, which was growing spontaneously, the notable calamity of one man fanned into a flame.
Old, and bearing the marks of all his misfortunes, the man rushed into the Forum. His dress was covered with filth, and the condition of his body was even worse, for he was pale and half dead with emaciation.
Besides this, his straggling beard and hair had given a savage look to his countenance. He was recognized nevertheless, despite the hideousness of his appearance, and the word went round that he had commanded companies; yet other military honours were openly ascribed to him by the compassionate bystanders, and the man himself displayed the scars on his breast which bore testimony to his honourable service in various battles.
When they asked the reason of his condition and his squalor, he replied, while the crowd gathered about him much as though it were an assembly, that during his service in the Sabine war not only had the enemy's depredations deprived him of his crops, but his cottage had been burnt, all his belongings plundered, and his flocks driven off.
Then the taxes had been levied, in an untoward moment for him, and he had contracted debts. When these had been swelled by usury, they had first stripped him of the farm which had been his father's and his grandfather's, then of the remnants of his property, and finally like an infection they had attacked his person, and he had been carried off by his creditor, not to slavery, but to the prison and the [p. 293]
He then showed them his back, disfigured3
with the wales of recent scourging. The sight of these things and the man's recital produced a mighty uproar.
The disturbance was no longer confined to the Forum, but spread in all directions through the entire City. Those who had been bound over, whether in chains or not, broke out into the streets from every side, and implored the Quirites to protect them.
At no point was there any lack of volunteers to join the rising; everywhere crowds were streaming through the different streets and shouting as they hurried to the Forum.
Great was the peril of those senators who happened to be in the Forum and fell in with the mob, which would not indeed have stopped short of violence had not the consuls, Publius Servilius and Appius Claudius, hurriedly intervened to put down the insurrection. But the crowd turned on them and displayed their chains and other hideous tokens.
These, they cried, were the rewards they had earned, and they bitterly rehearsed the campaigns they had each served in various places. They demanded, in a manner much more threatening than suppliant, that the consuls should convene the senate; and they surrounded the Curia, that they might them.
selves witness and control the deliberations of the state. The consuls succeeded in collecting only a few of the senators whom chance had thrown in their way.
The rest were afraid to enter not only the Curia but even the Forum, and nothing could be done because those present were too few. Whereat the people concluded they were being flouted and put off, and that the missing senators were absent not from accident, nor fear, but with the intent to hinder action, and that the consuls themselves were paltering; [p. 295]
nor did they doubt that their misery was made a4
A little more and not even the majesty of the consuls could have held in check the angry crowd, when the absent Fathers, uncertain whether they should incur more danger by holding back or by coming forward, finally came into the senate, and the required number being at length assembled, not only the senators, but even the consuls themselves were unable to agree.
Appius, a headstrong man, was for settling the matter by the exercise of consular authority; when one or two men had been arrested, the others, he said, would calm down. Servilius, more inclined to gentle measures, believed that it was safer, as well as easier, to assuage their fury than to quell it.