For the second time —in the 301st year from the foundation of Rome —was the form of government changed; the supreme authority was transferred from consuls to decemvirs, just as it had previously passed from kings to consuls.
The change was the less owing to its short duration, for the happy beginnings of that government developed into too luxuriant a growth; hence its early failure and the return to the old practice of entrusting to two men the name and authority of consul.
The decemvirs were Appius Claudius, T. Genucius, P. Sestius, L. Veturius, C. Julius, A. Manlius, P. Sulpicius, P. Curiatius, T. Romilius, and Sp. Postumius.
As Claudius and Genucius were the consuls designate, they received the honour in place of the honour of which they were deprived. Sestius, one of the consuls the year before, was honoured because he had, against his colleague, brought that subject before the senate.
Next to them were placed the three commissioners who had gone to Athens
, as a reward for their undertaking so distant an embassage, and also because it was thought that those who were familiar with the laws of foreign States would be useful in the compilation of new ones.
It is said that in the final voting for the four required to complete the number, the electors chose aged men, to prevent any violent opposition to the decisions of the others.
The presidency of the whole body was, in accordance with the wishes of the plebs, entrusted to Appius. He had assumed such a new character that from being a stern and bitter enemy of the people he suddenly appeared as their advocate, and trimmed his sails to catch every breath of popular favour.
They administered justice each in turn, the one who was presiding judge for the day was attended by the twelve lictors, the others had only a single usher each. Notwithstanding the singular harmony which prevailed amongst them —a harmony which under other circumstances might be dangerous to individuals —the most perfect equity was shown to others.
It will be sufficient to adduce a single instance as proof of the moderation with which they acted. A dead body had been discovered and dug up in the house of Sestius, a member of a patrician family.
It was brought into the Assembly. As it was clear that an atrocious crime had been committed, Caius Julius, a decemvir, indicted Sestius, and appeared before the people to prosecute in person, though he had the right to act as sole judge in the case. He waived his right in order that the liberties of the people might gain what he surrendered of his power.