There was peace at home and abroad during1
this and the following year, when Gaius Furius Paculus and Marcus Papirius Crassus were consuls.
The games which the decemvirs had vowed in pursuance of a decree of the senate, during the secession of the plebs from the patricians, were that year celebrated.
Occasion for dissension was sought in vain by Poetelius, who though he had got himself elected plebeian tribune for the second time, by proclaiming that he would carry through these very measures, was unsuccessful in forcing the consuls to lay before the senate a proposal for assigning land to the plebs;
and when, after a hard struggle, he obtained a vote of the senate to determine whether consuls or tribunes should be elected, the decision was for consuls.
Men only laughed when the tribune threatened to hold up the levy, for the neighbouring peoples were quiet, and war and warlike preparations were alike uncalled for.
To this tranquil period succeeded the consulship of Proculus Geganius Macerinus and Lucius Menenius Lanatus, a year conspicuous for numerous deaths and dangers, for seditions, famine, and for the yoke of sovereignty, to which, won over by largesses, men almost bowed their necks.
The one thing lacking was foreign war, and if that had been added to their burden they could hardly have held out, though all [p. 299]
the gods had aided them. The troubles began with2
a dreadful famine, whether because the season was unfavourable for crops, or that the attraction of assemblies and city-life had left the fields uncultivated; for both explanations have been given. The patricians accused the plebeians of idleness, and the tribunes of the plebs accused the consuls now of dishonesty, now of carelessness.
In the end they brought the plebs, with no opposition on the senate's part, to elect Lucius Minucius prefect of the corn-supply. He was destined, while filling this magistracy, to be more successful in safe-guarding liberty than in discharging the duties of his office, although in the end he also earned and received both gratitude and glory for relieving the scarcity.
For although he had dispatched to neighbouring peoples many embassies by land and sea without result —save that a little corn was brought in from Etruria —he found that he had not materially improved the supply. He then fell back upon the plan of distributing the shortage.
He forced men to declare their stocks of corn and to sell the surplus above the requirements of a month; he deprived the slaves of a portion of their daily ration; he brought charges against the dealers and exposed them to the anger of the people;
and by this bitter inquisition rather revealed than alleviated the scarcity, so that many of the plebeians lost hope, and sooner than suffer torment by prolonging their existence, covered up their heads3
and threw themselves into the Tiber.