Whilst matters were in this state of suspense the Dictator had been summoned from the army and arrived in the City. After satisfying himself as to the state of public feeling he called a meeting of the senate for the following day and ordered them to remain in constant attendance upon him. He then ordered his chair of office to be placed on the tribunal in the Comitium and, surrounded by the senators as a bodyguard, sent his officer to M. Manlius. On receiving the Dictator's summons, Manlius gave his party a signal that a conflict was imminent, and appeared before the tribunal with an immense crowd round him.
On the one side the senate, on the other side the plebs,, each with their eyes fixed on their respective leaders, stood facing one another as though drawn up for battle.
After silence was obtained, the Dictator said: ‘I wish the senate and myself could come to an understanding with the plebs on all other matters as easily as, I am convinced, we shall about you and the subject on which I am about to examine you.
I see that you have led your fellow-Citizens to expect that all debts can be paid without any loss to the creditors out of the treasure recovered from the Gauls, which you say the leading patricians are secreting. I am so far from wishing to hinder this project that, on the contrary, I challenge M. Manlius, to take off from their hidden hordes those who, like sitting hens, are brooding over treasures which belong to the State.
If you fail to do this, either because you yourself have your part in the spoils or because your charge is unfounded, I shall order you to be thrown into prison and will not suffer the people to be excited by the false hopes which you have raised.’
Manlius said in reply that he had not been mistaken in his suspicions; it was not against the Volscians who were treated as enemies whenever it was in the interest of the patricians so to treat them, nor against the Latins and Hernici whom they were driving to arms by false charges, that a Dictator had been appointed, but against him and the Roman plebs.
They had dropped their pretended war and were now attacking him; the Dictator was openly declaring himself the protector of the usurers against the plebeians; the gratitude and affection which the people were showing towards himself were being made the ground for charges against him which would ruin him. He proceeded: ‘The crowd which I have round me is an offence in your eyes, A. Cornelius, and in yours, senators. Then why do you not each of you withdraw it from me by acts of kindness by offering security, by releasing your fellow-citizens from the stocks, by preventing them from being adjudged to their creditors, by supporting others in their necessity out of the superabundance of your own wealth?
But why should I urge you to spend your own money? Be content with a moderate capital, deduct from the principal what has already been paid in interest, then the crowd round me will be no more noticeable than that round any one else.’
‘But do I alone show this anxiety for my fellow-citizens? I can only answer that question as I should answer anotherWhy did I alone save the Capitol and the Citadel?
Then I did what I could to save the body of citizens as a whole, now I am doing what I can to help individuals. As to the gold of the Gauls, your question throws difficulties round a thing which is simple enough in itself. For why do you ask me about a matter which is within your own knowledge? Why do you order what is in your purse to be shaken out from it rather than surrender it voluntarily, unless there is some dishonesty at bottom?
The more you order your conjuring tricks to be detected, the more, I fear, will you hoodwink those who are watching you. It is not I who ought to be compelled to discover your plunder for you, it is you who ought to be compelled to publicly produce it.’
The Dictator ordered him to drop all subterfuge, and insisted upon his either adducing trustworthy evidence or admitting that he had been guilty of concocting false accusations against the senate and exposing them to odium on a baseless charge of theft.
He refused, and said he would not speak at the bidding of his enemies, whereupon the Dictator ordered him to be taken to prison. When apprehended by the officer he exclaimed: ‘Jupiter Optimus Maximus, Queen Juno, Minerva, all ye gods and goddesses who dwell in the Capitol, do ye suffer your soldier and defender to be thus persecuted by his enemies? Shall this right hand with which I drove the Gauls from your shrines be manacled and fettered?’
None could endure to see or hear the indignity offered him, but the State, in its absolute submission to lawful authority, had imposed upon itself limits which could not be passed; neither the tribunes of the plebs nor the plebeians themselves ventured to cast an angry look or breathe a syllable against the action of the Dictator. It seems pretty certain that after Manlius was thrown into prison, a great number of plebeians went into mourning; many let their hair grow, and the vestibule of the prison was beset by a depressed and sorrowful crowd.
The Dictator celebrated his triumph over the Volscians, but his triumph increased his unpopularity; men complained that the victory was won at home, not in the field, over a citizen, not over an enemy. One thing alone was lacking in the pageant of tyranny, Manlius was not led in procession before the victor's chariot.
Matters were rapidly drifting towards sedition, and the senate took the initiative in endeavouring to cause the prevailing unrest. Before any demand had been put forward they ordered that 2000 Roman citizens should be settled as colonists at Satricum, and each receive two and a half jugera
This was regarded as too small a grant, distributed amongst too small a number; it was looked upon, in fact, as a bribe for the betrayal of Manlius, and the proposed remedy only inflamed the disease.
By this time the crowd of Manlian sympathisers had become conspicuous for their dirty garments 1
and dejected looks. It was not till the Dictator laid down his office after his triumph and so removed the terror which he inspired that the tongues and spirits of men were once more free.