This year also had a tribune who advocated1
a land-law, Tiberius Pontificius. He set out on the same path that Spurius Licinius had trodden, as though Licinius had been successful, and for a time obstructed the levy.
The senators were again thrown into consternation, but Appius Claudius told them that the tribunician power had been overcome the year before, actually for the time being, and potentially [p. 365]
for ever, since a way had been discovered for2
employing its resources to its own undoing.
For there would always be some tribune who would be willing to gain a personal victory over his colleague, and obtain the favour of the better element, while doing the nation a service. There would be a number of tribunes, if a number should be needed, who would be ready to help the consuls; and a single one was enough, though opposed to all the rest.
Only let the consuls, and the leading senators as well, make a point of winning over, if not all, at any rate some of the tribunes to the state and the senate.
Acting on the instructions of Appius, the Fathers began as a class to address the tribunes in a courteous and kindly manner; and those who were of consular rank, when it happened that any of them had any private claim upon an individual tribune, brought it about, in part by personal influence, in part by political, that those officials were disposed to use their powers for the good of the state; and four of them, as against one who would have hindered the general good, assisted the consuls to hold the muster.
The army then set out for a war with the Veientes,
to whose help forces had rallied from every quarter of Etruria, not so much roused by goodwill towards the men of Veii as by hopes that civil discord might effect the downfall of the Roman state.
And indeed the leading men in the councils of all the Etrurian peoples were wrathfully complaining that there would be no end to the power of the Romans unless factional quarrels should set them to fighting amongst themselves. They asserted that this was the only poison, the only decay which had been found to work upon [p. 367]
opulent states, so as to make great empires transitory.3
For a long time the Romans had withstood this evil, thanks partly to the prudence of the senate, partly to the patience of the plebs; but they had now come to a crisis. Two states had been created out of one: each faction had its own magistrates, its own laws.
At first, though they had a way of fiercely opposing the levies, yet when war began they had obeyed their generals. No matter what the condition of things in the City, so long as military discipline held it had been possible to make a stand; but now the fashion of disobeying magistrates was following the Roman soldier even to his camp.
In their latest war, when the army was already drawn up for battle, and at the very instant of conflict, they had with one accord actually handed over the victory to the conquered Aequi, had deserted their standards, had left their general on the field, and had returned, against his orders, to their camp.
Assuredly if her enemies pressed forward they could vanquish Rome by means of her own soldiers. There needed nothing more than to make a declaration and a show of war; Fate and the gods would of their own will do the rest. Such were the hopes which had led the Etruscans to take up arms, after many a shifting hazard of defeat and victory.