Fortunately, with one exception, there was a respite from foreign war. The colonists of Velitrae, becoming wanton in a time of peace and in the absence of any Roman army, made various incursions into Roman territory and began an attack on Tusculum.
The citizens, allies of old, and now citizens, implored help, and their situation moved not only the senate, but the plebs as well, with a sense of shame.
The tribunes of the plebs gave way and the elections were conducted by an interrex. The consular tribunes elected were: L. Furius, A. Manlius, Ser. Sulpicius, Ser. Cornelius, P. and C. Valerius.
They did not find the plebeians nearly so amenable in the enlistment as they had been in the elections; it was only after a very great struggle that an army was raised. They not only dislodged the enemy from before Tusculum, but forced him to take refuge behind his walls.
The siege of Velitrae was carried on with far greater vigour than that of Tusculum had been. Those commanders who had commenced the investment did not, however, effect its capture.
The new consular tribunes were: Q. Servilius, C. Veturius, A. and M. Cornelius, Q. Quinctius, and M. Fabius. Even under these tribunes nothing worth mention took place at Velitrae.
At home affairs were becoming more critical.
Sextius and Licinius, the original proposers of the laws, who had been re-elected tribunes of the plebs for the eighth time, were now supported by Fabius Ambustus, Licinius Stolo's father-in-law. He came forward as the decided advocate of the measures which he had initiated, and whereas there had at first been eight members of the college of tribunes who had vetoed the proposals, there were now only five.
These five, as usually happens with men who desert their party, were embarrassed and dismayed, and defended their opposition by borrowed arguments privately suggested to them by the patricians. They urged that as a large number of plebeians were in the army at Velitrae the Assembly ought to be adjourned till the return of the soldiers, to allow of the entire body of the plebs voting on matters affecting their interests.
Sextius and Licinius, experts after so many years' practice in the art of handling the plebs, in conjunction with some of their
colleagues and the consular tribune, Fabius Ambustus, brought forward the leaders of the patrician party and worried them with questions on each of the measures they were referring to the people.
‘Have you,’ they asked, ‘the audacity to demand that whilst two jugera
are allotted to each plebeian, you yourselves should each occupy more than five hundred jugera
, so that while a singe patrician can occupy the land of nearly three hundred citizens, the holding of a plebeian is hardly extensive enough for the roof he needs to shelter him, or the place where he is to be buried?
Is it your pleasure that the plebeians, crushed by debt, should surrender their persons to fetters and punishments sooner than that they should discharge their debts by repaying the principal? That, they should be led off in crowds from the Forum as the property of their creditors? That the houses of the nobility should be filled with prisoners, and wherever a patrician lives there should be a private dungeon?’