During this year the Roman garrison at Luceria was treacherously betrayed, and the Samnites became masters of the place.
The traitors did not go long unpunished. A Roman army was not far away, and the city, which lay in a plain, was taken at the first assault.
The Lucerines and Samnites were put to death, no quarter being given, and such deep indignation was felt at Rome that when the question of sending fresh colonists to Luceria was under discussion in the senate many voted for the complete destruction of the city.
Not only the bitter feeling towards a people who had been twice subdued but also the distance from Rome made them shrink from banishing their countrymen so far from home.
However, the proposal to despatch colonists was adopted; 2500 were sent.
disloyalty was thus manifesting itself everywhere, Capua also became the centre of intrigues amongst some of her principal men.
When the matter came up in the senate, there was a general feeling that it ought to he dealt with at once.
A decree was passed authorising the immediate opening of a court of inquiry, and C. Maenius was nominated Dictator to conduct the proceedings. M. Foslius was appointed Master of the Horse. The greatest alarm was created by this step, and the Calavii, Ovius, Novius, who had been the ringleaders, did not wait to be denounced to the Dictator, but placed themselves beyond the reach of prosecution by what was undoubtedly a self-inflicted death.
As there was no longer any matter for investigation at Capua, the inquiry was directed to those who were suspected in Rome.
The decree was interpreted as authorising an inquiry, not in regard to Capua especially, but generally in respect of all who had formed cabals and conspiracies against the republic, including the secret leagues entered into by candidates for office. The inquiry began to embrace a wider scope both with respect to the nature of the alleged offences and the persons affected, and the Dictator insisted that
the authority vested in him as criminal judge was unlimited.
Men of high family were indicted, and no one was allowed to appeal to the tribunes to arrest proceedings. When matters had gone thus far, the nobility — not only those against whom information was being laid, but the order as a whole —protested
that the charge did not lie on the patricians, to whom the path to honours always lay open, unless it was obstructed by intrigue, but on the novi homines
They even asserted that the Dictator and the Master of the Horse were more fit to be put upon their trial than to act as inquisitors in cases where this charge was brought, and they would find that out as soon as they had vacated their office.
Under these circumstances, Maenius, more anxious to clear his reputation than to retain his office, came forward in the Assembly and addressed it in the following terms: ‘You are all cognisant, Quirites, of what my life has been in the past, and this very office which has been conferred upon me is a testimony to my innocence.
There are men amongst the nobility —as to their motives it is better that you should form your own opinion than that I, holding the office I do, should say anything without proof —who tried their utmost to stifle this inquiry.
When they found themselves powerless to do this they sought to shelter themselves, patricians though they were, behind the stronghold of their opponents, the tribunician veto, so as to escape from trial.
At last, driven from that position, and thinking my course safer than that of trying to prove their innocence, they have directed their assaults against us, and private citizens have not been ashamed to demand the impeachment of the Dictator.
Now, that gods and men alike may know that in trying to avoid giving an account of themselves these men are attempting the impossible, and that I am prepared to answer any charge and meet my accusers face to face, I at once resign my Dictatorship.
And if the senate should assign the task to you, consuls, I beg that you will begin with M. Foslius and myself, so that it may be conclusively shown that we are protected from such charges, not by our official position, but by our innocence.’
He then at once laid down his office, followed by the Master of the Horse.
They were the first to be tried before the consuls, for so the senate ordered, and as the evidence given by the nobles against them completely broke down, they were triumphantly acquitted.
Even Publilius Philo, a man who had repeatedly filled the highest offices as a reward for his services at home and in the field, but who was disliked by the nobility, was put on his trial and acquitted.
As usual, however, it was only whilst this inquisition was a novelty that it had strength enough to attack illustrious names; it soon began to stoop to humbler victims, until it was at length stifled by the very cabals and factions which it had been instituted to suppress.