Having had quite enough of trying to coerce the plebs on the one hand and persuading the senate to adopt a milder course on the other, the consuls at last said: ‘Senators, that you may not say you have not been forewarned, we tell you that a very serious disturbance is at hand. We demand that those who are the loudest in charging us with cowardice shall support us whilst we conduct the levy.
We will act as the most resolute may wish, since such is your pleasure.’ They returned to the tribunal and purposely ordered one of those who were in view to be called up by name.
As he stood silent, and a number of men had closed round him to prevent his being seized, the consuls sent a lictor to him. The lictor was pushed away, and those senators who were with the consuls exclaimed that it was an outrageous insult and rushed down from the tribunal to assist the lictor.
The hostility of the crowd was diverted from the lictor, who had simply been prevented from making the arrest, to the senators. The interposition of the consuls finally allayed the conflict. There had, however, been no stones thrown or weapons used, it had resulted in more noise and angry words than personal injury.
The senate was summoned and assembled in disorder; its proceedings were still more disorderly. Those who had been roughly handled demanded an inquiry, and all the more violent members supported the demand by shouting and uproar quite as much as by their votes.
When at last the excitement had subsided, the consuls censured them for showing as little calm judgment in the senate as there was in the Forum. Then the debate proceeded in order.
Three different policies were advocated. P. Valerius did not think the general question ought to be raised; he thought they ought only to consider the case of those who, in reliance on the promise of the consul P. Servilius, had served in the Volscian, Auruncan, and Sabine
Titus Larcius considered that the time had passed for rewarding only men who had served, the whole plebs was overwhelmed with debt, the evil could not be arrested unless there was a measure for universal relief. Any attempt to differentiate between the various classes would only kindle fresh discord instead of allaying it.
Appius Claudius, harsh by nature, and now maddened by the hatred of the plebs on the one hand and the praises of the senate on the other, asserted that these riotous gatherings were not the result of misery but of licence, the plebeians were actuated by wantonness more than by anger.
This was the mischief which had sprung from the right of appeal, for the consuls could only threaten without the power to execute their threats as long as a criminal was allowed to appeal to his fellow criminals.
‘Come,’ said he, ‘let us create a Dictator from whom there is no appeal, then this madness which is setting everything on fire will soon die down.
Let me see any one strike a lictor then, when he knows that his back and even his life are in the sole power of the man whose authority he attacks.’