In the latter part of the year the consular1
election was broken off by a quarrel between the patricians and the plebs: the tribunes refused to permit the assembly to be held unless it were held agreeably to the Licinian law, and the dictator was obstinately determined rather to remove the consulship root and branch out of the state than to throw it open to patricians and plebs without distinction.
The assembly was therefore repeatedly adjourned, until the dictator's term had expired, and the state reverted to an interregnum. The interreges found the commons hostile to the patricians, and the factional struggle continued until there had been eleven interreges.
The tribunes continually vaunted their backing of the Licinian law: the plebs were more concerned with the distress they suffered from the increasing weight of usury, and their private worries broke out into public quarrels.
Worn out with these, the senate ordered Lucius Cornelius Scipio, the interrex, for harmony's sake to observe the Licinian law at the consular election. Publius Valerius Publicola2
was elected, with a plebeian colleague named Gaius Marcius Rutulus.
Now that the minds of men were once inclined to concord, the new consuls set themselves to obtain relief in the matter of usury also, which appeared to be the sole [p. 429]
obstacle to harmony. They made the discharge of3
debts a concern of the state, appointing five commissioners, whom they called bankers, from their having the disposition of the money.
These men by their impartiality and diligence fairly earned the distinction which attaches, in all the histories, to the names of Gaius Duillius, Publius Decius Mus, Marcus Papirius, Quintus Publilius, and Titus Aemilius.
In the discharge of a very difficult duty, involving always a hardship for one of the parties, and in most instances for both, they managed matters wisely in other respects, and, in particular, they expended without throwing away the public funds.
For with long-standing accounts, embarrassed more by the debtors' neglect than by their lack of means, they dealt in one of the following ways: either they paid them out of the treasury —taking security for the people first —at the banking tables they had set up in the Forum; or they settled them upon a valuation, at fair prices, of the debtor's effects. And so, not only without injustice, but even without complaint from either side, a vast amount of indebtedness was cleared off.
A groundless fear of war with Etruria, on a report that the twelve nations had conspired, compelled the appointment of a dictator. The appointment was made in camp —for thither had the resolution of the senate been sent to the consuls —and Gaius Julius became dictator, with Lucius Aemilius for master of the horse. But abroad all was serene,