The dictator kept his army in the standing camp, not at all doubting that the senate would order war with these states; when a more momentous difficulty having occurred at home, rendered it necessary that he should be sent for to Rome, the sedition gaining strength every day, which the fomenter was now rendering more than ordinarily formidable.
For now it was easy to see from what motives proceeded not only the discourses of Manlius, but his actions also, apparently suggested by popular zeal, but at the same time tending to create disturbance.
When he saw a centurion, illustrious for his military exploits, leading off to prison by reason of a judgment for debt, he ran up with his attendants in the middle of the forum and laid hands on him; and exclaiming aloud against the insolence of the patricians, the cruelty of the usurers, and the grievances of the commons, and the deserts and misfortunes of the man.
“Then indeed,” said he, “in vain have I preserved the Capitol and citadel by this right hand, if I am to see my fellow-citizen and fellow-soldier, as if captured by the victorious Gauls, dragged into slavery and chains.”
He then paid the debt to the creditor openly before the people, and having purchased his freedom with the scales and brass, he sets the man at liberty, whilst the latter implored both gods and men, that they would grant a recompence to Marcus [p. 408]
Manlius, his liberator, the parent of the Roman commons;
and being immediately received into the tumultuous crowd, he himself also increased the tumult, displaying the scars received in the Veientian, Gallic, and other succeeding wars:
“that he, whilst serving in the field, and rebuilding his dwelling which had been demolished, though he had paid off the principal many times over, the interest always keeping down the principal, had been overwhelmed with interest: that through the kind interference of Marcus Manlius, he now beheld the light, the forum, and the faces of his fellow-citizens:
that he received from him all the kind services usually conferred by parents; that to him therefore he devoted whatever remained of his person, of his life, and of his blood; whatever ties subsisted between him and his country, public and private guardian deities, were all centred in that one man.”
When the commons, worked upon by these expressions, were now wholly in the interest of the one individual, another circumstance was added, emanating from a scheme still more effectually calculated to create general confusion.
A farm in the Veientian territory, the principal part of his estate, he subjected to public sale: “that I may not,” says he, “suffer any of you, Romans, as long as any of my property shall remain, to be dragged off to prison, after judgment has been given against him, and he has been consigned to a creditor.” That circumstance, indeed, so inflamed their minds, that they seemed determined on following the assertor of their freedom through every thing, right and wrong.
Besides this, speeches [were made] at his house, as if he were delivering an harangue, full of imputations against the patricians; among which he threw out, waving all distinction whether he said what was true or false, that treasures of the Gallic gold were concealed by the patricians; that “they were now no longer content with possessing the public lands, unless they appropriated the public money also; if that were made public, that the commons might be freed from their debt.”
When this hope was presented to them, then indeed it seemed a scandalous proceeding, that when gold was to be contributed to ransom the state from the Gauls, the collection was made by a public tribute; that the same gold, when taken from the Gauls, had become the plunder of a few.
Accordingly they followed up the inquiry, where the furtive possession of so [p. 409]
enormous a treasure could be kept; and when he deferred, and told them that he would inform them at the proper time, all other objects being given up, the attention of all was directed to this point; and it became evident that neither their gratitude, if the information were true, nor their displeasure if it proved false, would know any bounds.