Thence he turned his course to Capua, which was wantoning under a long course of prosperity, and the indulgence of fortune: amid the general corruption, however, the most conspicuous feature was the extravagance of the commons, who exercised their liberty without limit.
Pacuvius Calavius had rendered the senate subservient to himself and the commons, at once a noble and popular man, but who had acquired his influence by dishonourable intrigues.
Happening to hold the chief magistracy during the year in which the defeat at the Trasimenus occurred, and thinking that the commons, who had long felt the most violent hostility to the senate, would attempt some desperate measure, should an opportunity for effecting a change present itself; and if Hannibal should come into that quarter with his victorious army, would murder the senators and deliver Capua to the Carthaginians;
as he desired to rule in a state preserved rather than subverted (for though depraved he was not utterly abandoned); and as he felt convinced that no state could be preserved if bereaved of its public council, he adopted a plan by which he might preserve the senate and render it subject to himself and the commons.
Having assembled the senate, he prefaced his remarks by observing, “that nothing would induce him to acquiesce in a plan of defection from the Romans, were it not absolutely necessary;
since he had children by the daughter [p. 837]
of Appius Claudius, and had a daughter at Rome married to Livius: but that a much more serious and alarming matter threatened them, than any consequences which could result from such a measure.
For that the intention of the commons was not to abolish the senate by revolting to the Carthaginians, but to murder the senators, and deliver the state thus destitute to Hannibal and the Carthaginians.
That it was in his power to rescue them from this danger, if they would resign themselves to his care, and, forgetting their political dissensions, confide in him.”
When, overpowered with fear, they all put themselves under his protection, he proceeded: “I will shut you up in the senate-house, and pretending myself to be an accomplice in the meditated crime, I will, by approving measures which I should in vain oppose, find out a way for your safety. For the performance of this take whatever pledge you please.”
Having given his honour, he went out; and having ordered the house to be closed, placed a guard in the lobby that no one might enter or leave it without his leave.