Appius now threw off the mask he had1
been wearing, and began from that moment to live as his true nature prompted him. His new colleagues too he commenced, even before they entered upon office, to fashion after his own character.
Every day they met together without witnesses. The tyrannical designs which they there adopted they matured in secret. They now no longer sought to conceal their pride; they were difficult of access, and surly towards those who sought to speak with them.
Thus they carried matters until the Ides of [p. 119]
at that time the traditional date for3
beginning a term of office. So then, when they had taken up their duties, they signalized the first day of their administration by a terrible threat. For whereas the former decemvirs had kept to the rule that only one should have the fasces, and that this regal emblem should pass from one to another in rotation, so that each should have his turn, they suddenly appeared in public, every man with his twelve fasces.
A hundred and twenty lictors crowded the Forum, and before them, bound up in the rods, they carried axes. And indeed the decemvirs explained that there had been no reason for removing the axe, since the office to which they had been chosen was without appeal.
They seemed like ten kings; and the terror they inspired, not only in the humblest citizens but in the leaders of the senate, was intensified by the belief that the decemvirs were merely seeking a pretext and an opening for bloodshed, so that if anybody should pronounce a word in praise of liberty, either in the senate or before the people, the rods and axes might instantly be made ready, were it only to frighten the rest.
For besides that there was no help in the people, the right of appeal having been taken away, they had further agreed not to interfere with each other's decisions; whereas their predecessors had allowed their judgments to be revised upon appeal to one of their colleagues; and certain cases which might have been held to be within their own competence they had referred to the people.
For a brief period the terror was shared equally by all; but little by little its full force began to fall upon the plebs. The patricians were left unmolested; humbler folk were dealt with [p. 121]
arbitrarily and cruelly.
It was all a question of persons,4
not of causes, with the decemvirs, since influence held with them the place of right. They concocted their judgments in private, and pronounced them in the Forum. If anybody sought redress from another decemvir, he came away regretting that he had not accepted the decision of the first.
Moreover a report had got out, though it was not vouched for, that they had not only conspired for present wrongdoing but had ratified with an oath a secret agreement amongst themselves not to call an election, but by means of a perpetual decemvirate to hold the power they had once for all acquired.