Aulus Verginius and Titus Vetusius then1
entered upon the consulship. Whereat the plebs, uncertain what sort of consuls they would prove to be, held nightly gatherings, some on the Esquiline and other son the Aventine, lest if they met in the Forum they might be frightened into adopting ill-considered measures, and manage all their business rashly and at haphazard.
This seemed to the consuls, as indeed it was, a mischievous practice. They laid the matter before the Fathers, but their report could not be discussed in an orderly fashion, so tumultuously was it received, with shouts from every part of the house and expressions of indignation from the senators, that a thing which ought to have been settled by an exercise of consular authority should be invidiously referred by the consuls to the senate.
It was evident that if only there were magistrates in the nation there would have been no assembly in Rome but the assembly of the people; as it was, the [p. 309]
government was broken up into a thousand separate2
curias and meetings. One single man
—a more significant word than consul
—of the type of Appius Claudius, would have dispersed those assemblages in a moment.
When the consuls, thus upbraided, asked the Fathers what then they desired them to do, and
promised that their conduct of the matter should be no whit less strenuous and stern than the senate wished, it was resolved that they should hold a levy with the utmost severity: it was idleness that made the plebeians lawless.
Having adjourned the senate, the consuls mounted the tribunal and cited the young men by name. When no one answered to his name, the crowd, which surrounded the speaker as in a public meeting, declared that it was impossible to deceive the commons any longer;
the consuls would never have a single soldier unless a public guarantee were given: liberty must first be restored to every man before arms were given him, that he might fight for his country and his fellow-citizens, not for a master.
It was clear to the consuls what the senate had bidden them do; but of all those who had uttered truculent speeches within the walls of the curia they found not one at their side to share their odium, and they saw before them a terrible struggle with the people.
Accordingly they thought it best, before proceeding to extremities, to consult the senate a second time. When it met, the youngest senators all rushed up in hot haste to the seats of the consuls, bidding them to abdicate their office and to lay down an authority which they lacked the spirit to support.