When the Roman generals conceived greater hopes from a blockade than from an assault, winter huts also, a thing quite new to the Roman soldier, began to be built; and their determination was to continue the war by wintering there.
After an account of this was brought to Rome to the tribunes of the people, who for a long time past
had found no pretext for exciting disturbances, they run forward into the assembly, stir up the minds of the commons, saying that “this was the motive for which pay had been established for the soldiers, nor had it escaped their knowledge, that such a present from the enemies was tainted with poison.
That the liberty of the commons had been sold; that their youth removed for ever, and exiled from the city and the republic, did not now even yield to the winter and to the season of the year, and visit their homes and private affairs.
What could they suppose was the cause for continuing the service without intermission? That undoubtedly they should find none other than [the fear] lest any thing might be done in furtherance of their interests by [p. 324]
the attendance of those youths in whom the entire strength of the commons lay.
Besides that they were harassed and worked much more severely than the Veientians.
For the latter spent the winter beneath their own roofs, defending their city by strong walls and its natural situation, whilst the Roman soldier, in the midst of toil and hardship, continued beneath the covering of skins, overwhelmed with snow and frost, not laying aside his arms even during the period of winter, which is a respite from all wars by land and sea.
Neither kings, nor those consuls, tyrannical as they were before the institution of the tribunitian office, nor the stern authority of the dictator, nor the overbearing decemvirs, ever imposed such slavery as that they should perform unremitting military service, which degree of regal power the military tribunes now exercised over the Roman commons.
What would these men have done as consuls or dictators, who have exhibited the picture of the proconsular office so implacable and menacing? but that all this happened justly. Among eight military tribunes there was no room even for one plebeian.
Formerly the patricians filled up three places with the utmost difficulty; now they went in file eight deep to take possession of the various offices; and not even in such a crowd is any plebeian intermixed;
who, if he did no other good, might remind his colleagues, that it was freemen and fellow citizens, and not slaves, that constituted the army, who ought to be brought back during winter at least to their homes and roofs;
and to come and see at some part of the year their parents, children, and wives, and to exercise the rights of freedom, and to take part in electing magistrates.”
While they exclaimed in these and such terms, they found in Appius Claudius an opponent not unequal to them, who had been left behind by his colleagues to check the turbulence of the tribunes; a man trained even from his youth in contests with the plebeians;
who several years before, as has been mentioned, recommended the dissolution of the tribunitian power by means of the protests of their colleagues.