After the defeat of the Auruncans, the Romans, who had, within a few days, fought so many successful wars, were expecting the fulfillment of the promises which the consul had made on the authority of the senate. Appius, partly from his innate love of tyranny and partly to undermine confidence felt in his colleague, gave the harshest sentences he could when debtors were brought before him.
One after another those who had before pledged their persons as security were now handed over to their creditors, and others were compelled to give such security.
A soldier to whom this happened appealed to the colleague of Appius. A crowd gathered round Servilius, they reminded him of his promises, upbraided him with their services in war and the scars they had received, and demanded that he should either get an ordinance passed by the senate, or, as consul, protect his people; as commander, his soldiers.
The consul sympathised with them, but under the circumstances he was compelled to temporise; the opposite policy was so recklessly insisted on not only by his colleague but by the entire party of the nobility. By taking a middle course he did not escape the odium of the plebs nor did he win the favour of the patricians.
These regarded him as a weak popularity-hunting consul, the plebeians considered him false, and it soon became apparent that he was as much detested as Appius.
A dispute had arisen between the consuls as to which of them should dedicate the temple of Mercury. The senate referred the question to the people, and issued orders that the one to whom the dedication was assigned by the people should preside over the corn-market and form a guild of merchants1
and discharge functions in the presence of the Pontifex Maximus.
The people assigned the dedication of the temple to M. Laetorius, the first centurion of the legion, a choice obviously made not so much to honour the man, by conferring upon him an office so far above his station, as to bring discredit on the consuls.
One of them, at all events, was excessively angry, as were the senate, but the courage of the plebs had risen, and they went to work in a very different method from that which they had adopted at first.
For as any prospect of help from the consuls or the senate was hopeless, they took matters into their own hands, and whenever they saw a debtor brought before the court, they rushed there from all sides, and by their shouts and uproar prevented the consul's sentence from being heard, and when it was pronounced no one obeyed it.
They resorted to violence, and all the fear and danger to personal liberty was transferred from the debtors to the creditors, who were roughly handled before the eyes of the consul.
In addition to all this there were growing apprehensions of a Sabine
war. A levy was decreed, but no one gave in his name. Appius was furious; he accused his colleague of courting the favour of the people, denounced him as a traitor to the common-wealth because he refused to give sentence where debtors were brought before him, and moreover he refused to raise troops after the senate had ordered a levy.
Still, he declared, the ship of State was not entirely deserted nor the consular authority thrown to the winds; he, single-handed, would vindicate his own dignity and that of the senate.
Whilst the usual daily crowd were standing round him, growing ever bolder in licence, he ordered one conspicuous leader of the agitation to be arrested. As he was being dragged away by the lictors, he appealed. There was no doubt as to what judgment the people would give, and he would not have allowed the appeal had not his obstinacy been with great difficulty overcome more by the prudence and authority of the senate than by the clamour of the people, so determined was he to brave the popular odium.
From that time the mischief became more serious every day, not only through open clamour but, what was far more dangerous, through secession and secret meetings.
At length the consuls, detested as they were by the plebs, went out of office —Servilius equally hated by both orders, Appius in wonderful favour with the patricians.