An audience having been granted, the eldest of them thus spoke: "I know, conscript fathers, that the importance you will attach to the complaints we make before you must depend, in a very great degree, upon your accurately knowing the manner in which Locri was betrayed to Hannibal, and placed again under your dominion after the expulsion of his garrison.
Inasmuch as if the guilt of defection does not rest upon the public, and it is made apparent that our restoration to your dominion was effected, not only in concurrence with our wishes, but by our own co-operation and valour, you will be the more indignant that such atrocious and shameful injuries should have been inflicted upon good and faithful allies by your lieutenant-general and soldiers.
But I think it proper that the subject of our changing sides, in both instances, should be deferred to another time, on two accounts:
first, that it may be discussed in the presence of Publius Scipio, who retook Locri, and who witnessed all our acts, both good and bad; and secondly, because, whatever we are, we ought not to have suffered what we have.
We cannot conceal, conscript fathers, that when we had a Carthaginian garrison in our citadel we were exposed to many sufferings, of a shocking and shameful kind, from Hamilcar, the captain of the garrison, and the Numidians and Africans. But what are they compared with what we endure this day? I request, conscript fathers, that you will hear without offence what I am reluctant to mention.
All mankind are now in a state of anxious suspense, whether they are to see you or the Carthaginians lords [p. 1254]
of the world. If an estimate is to be formed of the Roman and Carthaginian governments from what we Locrians have suffered from the Carthaginians on the one hand, or on the other, from what we are suffering, at the present time especially, from your garrison;
there is no one who would not wish the Carthaginians to be his masters rather than the Romans. And yet observe what are the feelings which the Locrians have entertained towards you.
When we were suffering injuries of much less magnitude from the Carthaginians, we fled for protection to your general; now we are suffering more than hostile indignities from your garrison, we have carried our complaints to no others than yourselves. Conscript fathers! either you will consider our forlorn condition, or there is no other resource left us for which we can even pray to the immortal gods.
Quintus Pleminius, the lieutenant-general, was sent with a body of troops to recover Locri from the Carthaginians, and was left there in command of the same as a garrison.
In this your lieutenant-general there is neither any thing of a man, conscript fathers, but the figure and
outward appearance, (for the extremity of our misery prompts me to speak freely,) nor of a Roman citizen, but the attire and dress, and the sound of the Latin language. He is a pest and savage monster, such as are fabled to have beset the strait by which we are separated from Sicily, for the destruction of mariners.
And yet if he had been content to be the only person to vent his villany, his
lust, and rapacity upon your allies, that one gulf, deep as it was, we would however have filled up by our patience.
But the case is, he has made every one of your centurions and soldiers a Pleminius, so indiscriminately has he willed that licentiousness and wickedness should be practised.
All plunder, spoil, beat, wound, and slay; all defile matrons, virgins, and free-born youths torn from the embraces of their parents. Our city is captured daily, plundered daily.
Day and night, every place indiscriminately rings with the lamentations of women and children, seized and carried away. Any one, acquainted with our sufferings, might be astonished how it is that we are capable of bearing them, or that the authors of them are not yet satiated with inflicting such enormous cruelties.
Neither am I able to go through with them, nor is it worth your while to listen to the particulars of our sufferings. I will embrace [p. 1255]
them all in a general description.
I declare that there is not a house or a man at Locri exempt from injury. I say that there cannot be found any species of villany, lust, or rapacity which has not been exercised on every one capable of being the object of them.
It would be difficult to determine in which case the city was visited with the more horrible calamity, whether when it was captured by an enemy, or when a sanguinary tyrant crushed it by violence and arms.
Every evil, conscript fathers, which captured cities suffer, we have suffered, and do now as much as ever suffer. All the enormities which the most cruel and savage tyrants are wont to perpetrate upon their oppressed subjects, Pleminius has perpetrated upon ourselves, our children, and our wives.