The new consuls were T. Geganius and P. Minucius. In this year, whilst all abroad was undisturbed by war and the civic dissensions at home were healed, the commonwealth was attacked by another much more serious evil:
first, dearness of food, owing to the fields remaining uncultivated during the secession, and following on this a famine such as visits a besieged city.
It would have led to the perishing of the slaves in any case, and probably the plebeians would have died, had not the consuls provided for the emergency by sending men in various directions to buy corn. They penetrated not only along the coast to the right of Ostia
into Etruria, but also along the sea to the left past the Volscian country as far as Cumae
. Their search extended even as far as Sicily
; to such an extent did the hostility of their neighbours compel them to seek distant help.
When corn had been bought at Cumae
, the ships were detained by the tyrant Aristodemus, in lieu of the property of Tarquin, to whom he was heir. Amongst the Volscians and in the Pomptine district it was even impossible to purchase corn, the corn merchants were in danger of being attacked by the population. Some corn came from Etruria up the Tiber
; this served for the support of the plebeians.
They would have been harassed by a war, doubly unwelcome when provisions were so scarce, if the Volscians, who were already on the march, had not been attacked by a frightful pestilence.
This disaster cowed the enemy so effectually that even when it had abated its violence they remained to some extent in a state of terror; the Romans increased the number of colonists at Velitrae
and sent a new colony to Norba
, up in the mountains, to serve as a strong-hold in the Pomptine district.
the consulship of M. Minucius and A. Sempronius, a large quantity of corn was brought from Sicily
, and the question was discussed in the senate at what price it should be given to the plebs. Many were of opinion that the moment had come for putting pressure on the plebeians, and recovering the rights which had been wrested from the senate through the secession and the violence which accompanied it.
Foremost among these was Marcius Coriolanus, a determined foe to the tribunitian power. ‘If,’ he argued, ‘they want their corn at the old price, let them restore to the senate its old powers.
Why, then, do I, after being sent under the yoke, ransomed as it were from brigands, see plebeian magistrates, why do I see a Sicinius in power? Am I to endure these indignities a moment longer than I can help?
Am I, who could not put up with a Tarquin as king, to put up with a Sicinius? Let him secede now! let him call out his plebeians, the way lies open to the Sacred Hill and to other hills. Let them carry off the corn from our fields as they did two years ago; let them enjoy the scarcity which in their madness they have produced!
I will venture to say that after they have been tamed by these sufferings, they will rather work as labourers themselves in the fields than prevent their being cultivated by an armed secession.’
It is not so easy to say whether they ought to have done this as it is to express one's belief that it could have been done, and the senators might have made it a condition of lowering the price of the corn that they should abrogate the tribunitian power and all the legal restrictions imposed upon them against their will.