Up to that time the Volscian commander had not laid in any stock of provisions, as he had been able to maintain his army upon the corn carried off each day from the surrounding country. Now, however, that he was suddenly shut in by the Roman lines, he found himself destitute of everything. He invited the consul to a conference, and said that if the object for which the Romans had come was to raise the siege, he would withdraw the Volscians. The consul replied that it was for the defeated side to submit to terms, not to impose them, and as the Volscians had come at their own pleasure to attack the allies of Rome, they should not depart on the same terms. He required them to lay down their arms, surrender their general, and make acknowledgment of their defeat by placing themselves under his orders; otherwise, whether they remained or departed, he would prove a relentless foe, and would rather carry back to Rome a victory over them than a faithless peace.
The only hope of the Volscians lay in their arms, and slight as it was they risked it.
The ground was unfavourable to them for fighting, still more so for flight. As they were being cut down in all directions, they begged for quarter, but they were only allowed to get away after their general had been surrendered, their arms given up, and they themselves sent under the yoke. Covered with disgrace and disaster, they departed with only one garment apiece. They halted not far from the city of Tusculum, and owing to an old grudge which that city had against them, they were suddenly attacked, and defenceless as they were, suffered severe punishment, few being left to carry the news of the disaster.
The consul settled the troubles in Ardea by beheading the ringleaders of the disturbance and confiscating their property to the treasury of the city.
The citizens considered that the injustice of the recent decision was removed by the great service that Rome had rendered, but the senate thought that something ought still to be done to wipe out the record of national avarice.
The consul Quinctius achieved the difficult task of rivalling in his civil administration the military renown of his colleague. He showed such care to maintain peace and concord by tempering justice equally for the highest and the lowest, that whilst the senate looked upon him as a stern consul, the plebeians regarded him as a lenient one.
He held his ground against the tribunes more by personal authority than by active opposition. Five consulships marked by the same even tenor of conduct, a whole lifetime passed in a manner worthy of a consul, invested the man himself with almost more reverence than the office he filled. Whilst these two men were consuls there was no talk of military tribunes.
The new consuls were Marcus Fabius Vibulanus and Postumius Aebutius Cornicinen. The previous year was regarded by the neighbouring peoples, whether friendly or hostile, as chiefly memorable because of the trouble taken to help Ardea in its peril. The new consuls, aware that they were succeeding men distinguished both at home and abroad, were all the more anxious to obliterate from men's minds the infamous judgment.1
Accordingly, they obtained a senatorial decree ordering that as the population of Ardea had been seriously reduced through the internal disturbances, a body of colonists should be sent there as a protection against the Volscians. This was the reason alleged in the text of the decree, to prevent their intention of rescinding the judgment from being suspected by the plebs and tribunes.
They had, however, privately agreed that the majority of the colonists should consist of Rutulians, that no land should be allotted other than what had been appropriated under the infamous judgment, and that not a single sod should be assigned to a Roman till all the Rutulians had received their share. So the land went back to the Ardeates. Agrippa Menenius, T. Cluilius Siculus, and M. Aebutius Helva were the triumvirs appointed to superintend the settlement of the colony. Their office was not only extremely unpopular, but they gave great offence to the plebs by assigning to allies land which the Roman people had formally adjudged to be their own.
Even with the leaders of the patricians they were out of favour, because they had refused to allow themselves to be influenced by any of them. The tribunes impeached them, but they avoided all further vexatious proceedings by enrolling themselves amongst the settlers and remaining in the colony which they now possessed as a testimony to their justice and integrity.
XII.There was peace abroad and at home during this and the following year when C. Furius Pacilus and M. Papirius Crassus were consuls. The Sacred Games, which in accordance with a decree of the senate had been vowed by the decemvirs on the occasion of the secession of the plebs, were celebrated this year. Poetilius, who had again raised the question of the division of territory, was made tribune. He made fruitless efforts to create sedition, and was unable to prevail upon the consuls to bring the question before the senate.
After a great struggle he succeeded so far that the senate should be consulted as to whether the next elections should be held for consuls or for consular tribunes. They ordered consuls to be elected. The tribune's menaces were laughed at when he threatened to obstruct the levy at a time when all the neighbouring States were quiet and there was no necessity for war or for any preparations for war.
Geganius Macerinus and Lucius Menenius Lanatus were the consuls for the year which followed this state of tranquillity; a year remarkable for a multiplicity of disasters and dangers, seditions, famine, and the imminent risk of the people being bribed to bow their necks to despotic power.
A foreign war alone was wanting. Had this come to aggravate the universal distress, resistance would hardly have been possible even with the help of all the gods.
The misfortunes began with a famine, owing either to the year being unfavourable to the crops, or to the cultivation of the land being abandoned for the attractions of political meetings and city life; both causes are assigned. The senate blamed the idleness of the plebeians, the tribunes charged the consuls at one time with dishonesty, at another with negligence. At last they induced the plebs, with the acquiescence of the senate, to appoint as Prefect of the Corn-market L. Minucius.
In that capacity he was more successful in guarding liberty than in the discharge of his office, though in the end he deservedly won gratitude and reputation for having relieved the scarcity. He despatched numerous agents by sea and land to visit the surrounding nations, but as, with the sole exception of Etruria, who furnished a small supply, their mission was fruitless, he made no impression on the market. He then devoted himself to the careful adjustment of the scarcity, and obliged all who possessed any corn to declare the amount, and after retaining a month's supply for themselves, sell the rest to the Government. By cutting down the daily rations of the slaves to one half, by holding up the corn-merchants to public execration, by rigorous and inquisitorial methods, he revealed the prevailing distress more than he relieved it. Many of the plebs lost all hope, and rather than drag on a life of misery muffled their heads3
and threw themselves into the Tiber.