Rome was thus restored to her former condition, and the success of the campaign at once occasioned disturbances in the City.
Gaius Terentilius Harsa was tribune of the plebs that year. Thinking that the absence of the consuls afforded the tribunes an opportunity for action, he employed some days in complaining to the people of the pride of the patricians, and inveighed especially against the authority of the consuls, as a thing excessive and intolerable in a free state.
For it was only in name, he said, that it was less hateful than that of a king;
in reality it was almost crueler, since in place of one master they had now got two, who possessed an unregulated and unlimited power, and while free themselves and without restraint, brought to bear all the terrors of the law and all its punishments upon the plebs.
That they might not for ever have this licence, he was about to propose a law providing for the appointment of five men to write out the statutes pertaining to the consular power;1
such authority over them as the people had granted the consuls they should enjoy, but they should not make a law of their own whims and caprices.
When this measure had been promulgated, the Fathers were alarmed lest they might be humbled, in the absence of the consuls; the prefect of the City, Quintus Fabius, convened the senate, and attacked the measure and its author himself with [p. 33]
such bitterness that if both the consuls had been2
present to outface the tribune there was nothing they could have added to his threats and denunciations.
Terentilius, he said, had laid an ambush and watching his opportunity had attacked the state. If the angry gods had given them a tribune like him the year before, when they were suffering from war and disease, it would have been impossible to save the situation.
Finding both consuls dead, the citizens plague-stricken, and confusion everywhere, he would have proposed a law to do away with consular government, and would have led the Volsci and the Aequi to besiege the City. Pray what did he desire?
Was he not at liberty, if the consuls had committed any act of pride or cruelty against a citizen, to call them into court and accuse them where the judges would be the very men against one of whom the injury had been done?
It was not the authority of the consul but the power of the tribune that he was making hateful and intolerable; this power had been reconciled and brought into harmony with the senate, but was now being degraded again to its former evil state. Yet he would not supplicate Terentilius to abandon the course on which he had embarked.
“It is you other tribunes,” he cried, “whom we beg to reflect, as a matter of the last importance, that your power was obtained for the purpose of assisting individuals, not for the destruction of us all; that you were elected tribunes of the plebs, not enemies of the senate.
To us it is a source of sorrow, to you of odium, that the state should be attacked in the absence of its defenders. You will be diminishing, not your authority, but your unpopularity, if you plead with your colleague [p. 35]
to postpone the question, as it stands, until the3
arrival of the consuls. Even the Aequi and the Volsci, when disease last year had carried off the consuls, refrained from pressing a cruel and pitiless war against us.”
The tribunes pleaded with Terentilius, and the measure having been ostensibly postponed, but in reality killed, the consuls were immediately summoned.