T. Geganius and P. Minutius were next elected consuls. In this year, when every thing was quiet from war abroad, and the dissensions were healed at home, another much more serious evil fell upon the state;
first a scarcity of provisions, in consequence of the lands lying untilled during the secession of the commons; then a famine such as befals those who are besieged.
And it would have ended in the destruction of the slaves at least, and indeed some of the commons also, had not the consuls adopted precautionary measures, by sending persons in every direction to buy up corn, not only into Etruria on the coast to the right of Ostia, and through the Volscians along the coast on the left as far as Cumae, but into Sicily also, in quest of it. So far had the hatred of their neighbours obliged them to stand in need of aid from distant countries. When corn had been bought up at Cumae, the ships were detained in lieu of the property of the Tarquinii by the tyrant Aristodemus, who was their heir.
Among the Volsci and in the Pomptine territory it could not even be purchased. The corn dealers themselves incurred danger from the violence of the inhabitants. Corn came from Etruria by the Tiber: by means of this the people were supported. Amid [p. 120]
this distressing scarcity they would have been harassed by a very inconvenient war, had not a dreadful pestilence attacked the Volsci when about to commence hostilities.
The minds of the enemy being alarmed by this calamity, so that they were influenced by some terror, even after it had abated, the Romans both augmented the number of their colonists at Velitrae, and despatched a new colony to the mountains of Norba, to serve as a barrier in the Pomptine district.
Then in the consulship of M. Minucius, and A. Sempronius, a great quantity of corn was imported from Sicily, and it was debated in the senate at what rate it should be given to the commons.
Many were of opinion, that the time was come for putting down the commons, and for recovering those rights which had been wrested from the senators by secession and violence. In particular, Marcius Coriolanus, an enemy to tribunitian power, says, “If they desire the former rate of provisions, let them restore to the senators their former rights.
Why do I, after being sent under the yoke, after being, as it were, ransomed from robbers, behold plebeian magistrates, and Sicinius invested with power? Shall I submit to these indignities longer than is necessary? Shall I, who would not have endured King Tarquin, tolerate Sicinius.
Let him now secede, let him call away the commons. The road lies open to the sacred mount and to other hills. Let them carry off the corn from our lands, as they did three years since.
Let them have the benefit of that scarcity which in their frenzy they have occasioned. I will venture to say, that, brought to their senses by these sufferings, they will themselves become tillers of the lands, rather than, taking up arms and seceding, they would prevent them from being tilled.”
It is not so easy to say whether it should have been done, as I think that it might have been practicable for the senators, on the condition of lowering the price of provisions, to have rid themselves of both the tribunitian power, and all the restraints imposed on them against their will.1 [p. 121]