During this year, Luceria fell into the hands of the Samnites, the Roman garrison being betrayed to the enemy.
This matter did not long go unpunished with the traitors: the Roman army was not far off, by whom the city, which lay in a plain, was taken at the first onset.
The Lucerians and Samnites were to a man put to the sword; and to such a length was resentment carried, that at Rome, on the senate being consulted about sending a colony to Luceria, many voted for the demolition of it.
Besides, their hatred was of the bitterest kind, against a people whom they had been obliged twice to subdue by arms; the great distance, also, made them averse from sending away their citizens among nations so ill-affected towards them.
However the resolution was carried, that the colonists should be sent; and accordingly two thousand five hundred were transported thither. This year, when all places were becoming disaffected to the Romans, secret conspiracies were formed among the leading men at Capua, as well as at other places;
a motion concerning which being laid before the senate, the matter was by no means neglected.
Inquiries were decreed, and it was resolved that a dictator should be appointed to enforce these inquiries. Caius Maenius was accordingly nominated, and he appointed Marcus Foslius master of the horse. People's dread of that office was very great, insomuch that the Calavii, Ovius and Novius, who were the heads of the conspiracy, either through fear of the dictator's power, or the consciousness of guilt, previous to the charge against them being laid in form before him, avoided, as appeared beyond doubt, trial by a voluntary death.
As the subject of the inquiry in Campania was thus removed, the proceedings were then directed towards Rome:
by construing the order of the senate to have meant, that inquiry should be made, not specially who at Capua, but generally who at any place had caballed or conspired against the state; for that cabals, for the attaining of honours, were [p. 596]
contrary to the edicts of the state.
The inquiry was extended to a greater latitude, with respect both to the matter, and to the kind of persons concerned, the dictator scrupling not to avow, that his power of research was unlimited:
in consequence, some of the nobility were called to account; and though they applied to the tribunes for protection, no one interposed in their behalf, or to prevent the charges from being received.
On this the nobles, not those only against whom the charge was levelled, but the whole body jointly insisted that such an imputation lay not against the nobles, to whom the way to honours lay open if not obstructed by fraud, but against the new men:
so that even the dictator and master of the horse, with respect to that question, would appear more properly as culprits than suitable inquisitors; and this they should know as soon as they went out of office.
Then indeed Maenius, who was more solicitous about his character than his office, advanced into the assembly and spoke to this effect: “Romans, both of my past life ye are all witnesses; and this honourable office, which ye conferred on me, is in itself a testimony of my innocence. For the dictator, proper to be chosen for holding these inquiries, was not, as on many other occasions, where the exigencies of the state so required, the man who was most renowned in war; but him whose course of life was most remote from such cabals.
But certain of the nobility (for what reason it is more proper that ye should judge, than that I, as a magistrate, should, without proof, insinuate) have laboured to stifle entirely the inquiries;
and then, finding their strength unequal to it, rather than stand a trial have fled for refuge to the stronghold of their adversaries, an appeal, and the support of the tribunes;
and on being there also repulsed, (so fully were they persuaded that every other measure was safer than the attempt to clear themselves,) have made an attack upon us; and, though in private characters, have not been ashamed of instituting a criminal process against a dictator.
Now, that gods and men may perceive that they, to avoid a scrutiny as to their own conduct, attempt even things which are impossible, and that I willingly meet the charge, and face the accusations of my enemies, I divest myself of the dictatorship.
And, consuls, I beseech you, that, if this business is put into your hands by the senate, ye will make me and Marcus Foslius the first objects of your ex- [p. 597]
aminations; that it may be manifested that we are safe from such imputations by our own innocence, not by the dignity of office.”
He then abdicated the dictatorship, as did Marcus Foslius, immediately after, his office of master of the horse; and being the first brought to trial before the consuls, for to them the senate had committed the business, they were most honourably acquitted of all the charges brought by the nobles.
Even Publilius Philo, who had so often been invested with the highest honours, and had performed so many eminent services, both at home and abroad, being disagreeable to the nobility, was brought to trial, and acquitted.
Nor did the inquiry continue respectable on account of the illustrious names of the accused, longer than while it was new, which is usually the case; it then began to descend to persons of inferior rank; and, at length, was suppressed, by means of those factions and cabals against which it had been instituted.