But both the Volscian war was threatening, and the state, being disturbed within itself, glowed with intestine animosity between the senate and people, chiefly on account of those confined for debt.
They complained loudly, that whilst fighting abroad for liberty and dominion, they were captured and oppressed at home by their fellow citizens; and that the liberty of the people was more secure in war than in peace, among enemies than among their fellow citizens; and this feeling of discontent, increasing of itself, the striking sufferings of an individual still further aggravated. A certain person advanced in years threw himself into the forum with all the badges of his miseries on him.
His clothes were all over squalid, the figure of his body still more shocking, being pale and emaciated.
In addition, a long beard and hair had impressed a savage wildness on his countenance; in such wretchedness he was known notwithstanding, and they said that he had been a centurion, and compassionating him they mentioned openly other distinctions (obtained) in the service: he himself exhibited scars on his breast, testimonies of honourable battles in several places.
To persons repeatedly inquiring, whence that garb, whence that ghastly appearance of body, (the multitude having now assembled around him almost like a popular assembly,) he says “that whilst serving in the Sabine war, because he had not only been deprived of the produce of his land in consequence of the depredations of the enemy, but also his residence had been burned down, all his effects pillaged, his cattle driven off, a tax imposed on him at a time very distressing to him, he had incurred debt; that this debt, aggravated by usury, had [p. 106]
stripped him first of his father's and grandfather's farm, then of his other property; lastly that a pestilence, as it were, had reached his person.
That he was taken by his creditor, not into servitude, but into a house of correction and a place of execution.” He then showed his back disfigured with the marks of stripes still recent. At the hearing and seeing of this a great uproar takes place.
The tumult is now no longer confined to the forum, but spreads through the entire city. Those who were confined for debt, and those who were now at their liberty, hurry into the streets from all quarters and implore the protection of the people.
In no place is there wanting a voluntary associate of sedition. They run through all the streets in crowds to the forum with loud shouts.
Such of the senators as happened to be in the forum, fell in with this mob with great peril to themselves; nor would they have refrained from violence, had not the consuls, P. Servilius and Ap. Claudius, hastily interfered to quell the disturbance.
The multitude turning towards them, and showing their chains and other marks of wretchedness, said that they deserved all this, taunting them (the consuls) each with the military services performed by himself, one in one place, and another in another.
They require them with menaces, rather than as suppliants, to assemble the senate, and stand round the senate-house in a body, determined themselves to be witnesses and directors of the public counsels. Very few of the senators, whom chance had thrown in the way, were forced to attend the consuls; fear prevented the rest from coming not only to the house, but even to the forum.
Nor could any thing be done by reason of the thinness of the senate. Then indeed the people began to think their demand was eluded, and the redress of their grievances delayed; that such of the senators as had absented themselves did so not through chance or fear, but on purpose to obstruct the business.
That the consuls themselves trifled with them, that their miseries were now a mere subject of mockery. By this time the sedition was come to such a height, that the majesty of the consuls could hardly restrain the violence of the people.
Wherefore, uncertain whether they incurred greater danger by staying at home, or venturing abroad, they came at length to the senate; but though the house was at length full, a want of agreement manifested itself, not only among the fathers, but even between the consuls [p. 107]
Appius, a man of violent temper, thought the matter was to be done by the authority of the consuls, and that if one or two were seized, the rest would be quiet Servilius, more inclined to moderate measures, thought that while their minds were in this ferment, it would be both more safe and more easy to bend than to break them. Amidst these debates, another terror of a more serious nature presented itself.