The glory of defeating the enemy was sullied by a shameful judgment given by the people in Rome regarding the boundaries of her allies.
The men of Aricia and those of Ardea had often gone to war over a territory which both cities claimed. Exhausted by the many defeats which each had experienced, they referred their quarrel to the Roman People for decision.
When they had come to plead their cause, and a popular assembly had been granted them by the magistrates, they argued their respective claims with great vehemence. The testimony had already been taken, and the time had come for the tribes to be summoned and the people to give their votes, when Publius Scaptius, an aged plebeian, arose and said: “If I am permitted, consuls, to speak concerning the nation's interests, I will not suffer the people to go wrong in this matter.”
The consuls declared that he was an untrustworthy fellow and ought not to be listened to, and when he protested noisily that the public cause was being betrayed, they ordered him to be removed; whereat he appealed to the tribunes.
The tribunes, as almost always [p. 245]
happens, were swayed by the crowd, instead of1
swaying it, and, to please the greedy ears of the plebs, gave Scaptius leave to say what he wished.
He therefore began, and said that he was eighty-two years old and had fought in the army, in that district which was under discussion, not as a youth, but as one already in his twentieth year of service at the time of the campaign before Corioli.
Hence it came that he was telling them of a matter forgotten with the lapse of years, but fixed in his own memory, namely that the disputed land had been a part of the territory of Corioli, and had consequently, on the capture of that town, become, by right of conquest, the property of the Roman People. He marvelled, he said, at the effrontery with which the men of Ardea and Aricia hoped to deprive the Roman People —whom they had made the judge, in place of being the owner —of a territory over which they had never exercised any authority so long as the state of Corioli was intact.
He had himself but a little while to live; yet he had not been able to convince himself that, having as a soldier done his part to conquer the land, he should not defend it, even in his old age, with the only weapon left him, to wit his voice. He earnestly counselled the people not to condemn their own cause from an unreasonable motive of propriety.