The new consuls, C. Claudius, the son of Appius, and P. Valerius Publicola, took over the State in a quieter condition than usual. The new year brought nothing new. Political interest centred in the fate of the Law.
The more the younger senators ingratiated themselves with the plebeians, the fiercer became the opposition of the tribunes.
They tried to arouse suspicion against them by alleging that a conspiracy had been formed; Caeso was in Rome
, and plans were laid for the assassination of the tribunes and the wholesale massacre of the plebeians, and further that the senior senators had assigned to the younger members of the order the task of abolishing the tribunitian authority so that the political conditions might be the same as they were before the occupation of the Sacred Hill.
War with the Volscians and Aequi had become now a regular thing of almost annual recurrence, and was looked forward to with apprehension. 1
A fresh misfortune happened nearer home.
The political refugees and a number of slaves, some 2500 in all, under the leadership of Appius Herdonius the Sabine
, seized the Capitol and Citadel by night.
Those who refused to join the conspirators were instantly massacred, others in the confusion rushed in wild terror down to the Forum; various shouts were heard: ‘To arms!’ ‘The enemy is in the City.’ The consuls were afraid either to arm the plebeians or to leave them without arms.
Uncertain as to the nature of the trouble which had overtaken the City, whether it was caused by citizens or by foreigners, whether due to the embittered feelings of the plebs or to the treachery of slaves, they tried to allay the tumult, but their efforts only increased it; in their terrified and distracted state the population could not be controlled.
Arms were, however, distributed, not indiscriminately, but only, as it was an unknown foe, to secure protection sufficient for all emergencies. The rest of the night they spent in posting men in all the convenient situations in the City, while their uncertainty as to the nature and numbers of the enemy kept them in anxious suspense.
Daylight at length disclosed the enemy and their leader. Appius Herdonius was calling from the Capitol to the slaves to win their liberty, saying that he had espoused the cause of all the wretched in order to restore the exiles who had been wrongfully banished and remove the heavy yoke from the necks of the slaves. He would rather that this be done at the bidding of the Roman people, but if that were hopeless, he would run all risks and rouse the Volscians and Aequi.