The consuls next chosen were Titus1
Geganius and Publius Minucius. This year, though there was no war to occasion trouble from without and the breach at home had been healed, another and a much more serious misfortune befell the nation;
for first the price of corn went up, from men's failure to cultivate the fields during the withdrawal of the plebs; and this was followed by a famine, such as comes to a beleaguered city.
It would have meant starvation for the slaves, at least, and the plebeians, had not the consuls met the situation by sending [p. 331]
agents far and wide to buy up corn, not only to2
Etruria, northwards along the coast from Ostia, and south past the Volsci by sea, all the way to Cumae, but even to Sicily —so far afield had the enmity of Rome's neighbours driven her to seek for help.
When grain had been purchased at Cumae the ships were held back by Aristodemus, the tyrant, in satisfaction for the property of the Tarquinii, whose heir he was. Among the Volsci and Pomptini the agents could not even make any purchases, and they were actually in danger from the violence of the people.
From the Tuscans corn came in by way of the Tiber, and with this the plebs were kept alive. A disastrous war would have been added to the distresses arising from the scarcity of provisions, had not a grievous pestilence descended upon the Volsci just as they were beginning hostilities.
Its ravages so terrified the enemy that even after the worst of it was over they did not fully recover from their fear, and the Romans increased the number of colonists at Velitrae and sent out a new colony to Norba, in the mountains, as a stronghold for the Pomptine country.
Next year, in the consulship of Marcus Minucius and Aulus Sempronius, a large quantity of grain was imported from Sicily, and the senate debated at what price it should be sold to the plebeians.
Many thought the time had come for repressing the commons, and resuming the rights which they had violently extorted from the Fathers by secession. Conspicuous among these was Marcius Coriolanus, an enemy to the tribunician power, who said: “If they want corn at the old price let them restore to the senate its ancient rights.
Why do I see plebeian magistrates, why do I, after being sent beneath [p. 333]
the yoke and ransomed, as it were, from brigands,3
behold Sicinius in power?
Shall I endure these humiliations any longer than I must? When I would not brook Tarquinius as king, must I brook Sicinius? Let him secede now and call out the plebs; the way lies open to the Sacred Mount and the other hills. Let them seize grain from our fields as they did two years ago. Let them enjoy the corn-prices they have brought about by their own madness.
I make bold to say that this evil plight will so tame them that they will sooner till the land themselves than withdraw under arms and prevent its cultivation by others.”
It is not so easy to say whether it would have been right to do this, as it is clear, I think, that it lay within the Fathers' power to have made such conditions for reducing the price of corn as to have freed themselves from the tribunician authority and all the terms which they had unwillingly agreed to.