The authority of the consuls was extended for a year. To be interrex the Fathers named Gaius Claudius Cento, the son of Appius, and after him Publius Cornelius Asina. The latter conducted an election, which was marked by a bitter struggle between patricians and plebeians.
Gaius Terentius Varro had endeared himself to the plebeians —the class to which he himself belonged —by invectives against the leading men and the usual tricks of the demagogue. The blow he had struck at the influence and dictatorial authority of Fabius brought him the glory which is won by defaming others, and the rabble was now striving to raise him to the consulship, while the patricians opposed the attempt with all their might, lest men should acquire the custom of assailing them [p. 315]
as a means of rising to their level.
Quintus Baebius B.C. 217 Herennius, a tribune of the plebs and kinsman of Gaius Terentius, railed not only at the senate but at the augurs too, because they had forbidden the dictator to accomplish the election, and by placing them in an unfavourable light, strengthened the candidacy of his friend.
The nobles, he said, had been seeking war for many years, and it was they who had brought Hannibal into Italy. It was their machinations, too, that were spinning out the war, when it might be brought to a victorious conclusion.1
That four legions if united were able to hold their own in a general engagement had been shown in a successful battle fought by Marcus Minucius, when Fabius was absent.
Notwithstanding this, two legions had just been exposed to be massacred by the enemy and subsequently rescued from the massacre, to the end that the names of Father and Patron might be conferred on one who had kept the Romans from conquering before keeping them from being conquered.
After that the consuls had employed the arts of Fabius to prolong the war, when they were able to have ended it.
The nobles had all made a compact to this effect; nor would his hearers see an end of the war until they had elected a true plebeian, a new man,2
to the consulship; for the plebeian nobles had already been admitted to the same rites as the others and had begun to look down on the plebs from the moment when they themselves had ceased to be looked down on by the patricians.
Who could fail to see that their end and purpose in resorting to an interregnum had been to keep the election in the hands of the [p. 317]
To this end both consuls had remained3
with their army in the field; to this end, later on, because a dictator had been named, against their wishes, for the purpose of holding an election, they had succeeded in having the augurs declare that there had been a flaw in his appointment.
They had therefore the interregnum they desired. But at least one consulship belonged to the Roman plebs; and the people meant to keep it free, and bestow it on him who would rather win an early victory than remain long in command.