Thus far the tribunes. The consuls at the other end of the Forum, however, placed their chairs in full view of the tribunes and proceeded with the levy. The tribunes ran to the spot, carrying the Assembly with them. A few were cited, apparently as an experiment, and a tumult arose at once.
As soon as any one was seized by the consuls' orders, a tribune ordered him to be released. None of them confined himself to his legal rights; trusting to their strength they were bent upon getting what they set their minds upon by main force.
The methods of the tribunes in preventing the enrolment were followed by the patricians in obstructing the Law, which was brought forward every day that the Assembly met.
The trouble began when the tribunes had ordered the people to proceed to vote —the patricians refused to withdraw.2
The older members of the order were generally absent from proceedings which were certain not to be controlled by reason, but given over to recklessness and licence;
the consuls, too, for the most part kept away, lest in the general disorder the dignity of their office might be exposed to insult.
Caeso was a member of the Quinctian house, and his noble descent and great bodily strength and stature made him a daring and intrepid young man. To these gifts of the gods he added brilliant military qualities and eloquence as a public speaker, so that no one in the State was held to surpass him either in speech or action.
When he took his stand in the middle of a group of patricians, conspicuous amongst them all, carrying as it were in his voice and personal strength all dictatorships and consulships combined, he was the one to withstand the attacks of the tribunes and the storms of popular indignation.
Under his leadership the tribunes were often driven from the Forum, the plebeians routed and chased away, anybody who stood in his way went off stripped and beaten. It became quite clear that if this sort of thing were allowed to go on, the Law would be defeated.
When the other tribunes were now almost in despair, Aulus Verginius, one of the college, impeached Caeso on a capital charge. This procedure inflamed more than it intimidated his violent temper; he opposed the Law and harassed the plebeians more fiercely than ever, and declared regular war against the tribunes.
His accuser allowed him to rush to his ruin and fan the flame of popular hatred, and so supply fresh material for the charges to be brought against him. Meantime he continued to press the Law, not so much in the hope of carrying it as in order to provoke Caeso to greater recklessness.
Many wild speeches and exploits of the younger patricians were fastened on Caeso to strengthen the suspicions against him.
Still the opposition to the Law was kept up. A. Verginius frequently said to the plebeians, ‘Are you now aware, Quirites, that you cannot have the Law which you desire, and Caeso as a citizen, together? Yet, why do I talk of the Law?
He is a foe to liberty, he surpasses all the Tarquins in tyranny. Wait till you see the man who now, in private station, acts the king in audacity and violence —wait till you see him made consul, or dictator.’ His words were endorsed by many who complained of having been beaten, and the tribune was urged to bring the matter to a decision.