Spurius Cassius and Proculus Verginius were1
then made consuls. A treaty was struck with the Hernici, and two-thirds of their land was taken from them. Of this the consul Cassius proposed to divide one half amongst the Latins and the other half amongst the plebeians.
To this gift he wished to add some part of that land which, he charged, was held by individuals, although it belonged to the state. Whereupon many of the Fathers, being themselves in possession of the land, took fright at the danger which threatened their interests. But the senators were also concerned on public grounds, namely, that the consul by his largesses should be building up an influence perilous to liberty.
This was the first proposal for agrarian legislation, and from that day to within living memory it has never been brought up without occasioning the most serious disturbances.
The other consul resisted the largess, and the Fathers supported him; nor were the commons solidly against him, for to begin with, they had taken offence that the bounty had been made general, being extended to include allies as well as citizens;
and again, they often heard the consul Verginius declare in his speeches, as though he read the future, that destruction lurked in the gift proposed by his colleague; that those lands would bring servitude to the men who should receive them, and were being made a road to monarchy.
For what reason had there been, he asked, in including the allies and the Latin name, and in restoring to the Hernici, who had been enemies a short time before, a third of the land which had been taken from them, if it were not that these tribes might have Cassius in the room of Coriolanus for their captain?
Popular [p. 355]
favour now began to go over to the opponent and2
vetoer of the land-legislation. Each consul then began, as if vying with the other, to pamper the plebs. Verginius said that he would permit lands to be assigned, provided they were assigned to none but Roman citizens.
Cassius, having by his proposed agrarian grants made a bid for the support of the allies and thereby lowered himself in the eyes of the Romans, desired to regain the affection of his fellow-citizens by another donation, and proposed that the money received from the Sicilian corn should be paid back to the people.
But this the people spurned, as a downright attempt to purchase regal power; to such an extent did their instinctive suspicion of monarchy render them scornful of his gifts, as if they had possessed a superfluity of everything; and Cassius had no sooner laid down his office than he was condemned and executed, as all authorities agree.
There are those who say that his father was responsible for his punishment: that he tried the case in his house, and that, after causing his son to be scourged and put to death, he consecrated to Ceres his personal property, from the proceeds of which a statue was made and inscribed “the gift of the Cassian family.”
I find in certain authors, and this is the more credible account, that the quaestors Caeso Fabius and Lucius Valerius brought him to trial for treason, and that he was found guilty by judgment of the people and his house pulled down by popular decree. Its site is now the open space in front of the temple of Tellus.
But whether it was a domestic or a state trial, he was condemned in the consulship of Servius Cornelius and Quintus Fabius.