Those who stirred up the people were Spurius Maecilius, tribune of the plebs for the fourth time, and Marcus Metilius, for the third, both having been elected in their absence.
On their proposing a law that the land which had been captured from enemies should be divided up among the citizens, a plebiscite which would mean the confiscation of the [p. 413]
fortunes of a great part of the nobles —for
was scarcely any land, as might be expected in the case of a city situated on alien soil, which had not been gained by force of arms;
nor was much, if any, of that which had been sold or assigned by the state held by other than plebeians, —it appeared that a desperate struggle was at hand between the plebs and the patricians.
The military tribunes had hit upon no plan of action either in the senate or in the private conferences which they held with the leading men, when Appius Claudius, grandson of him who had been decemvir for drawing up the laws, himself the youngest of the council of senators, announced —so
the story goes —that he was bringing them from his house an old family device;
for it had been his great-grandfather2
Appius Claudius who had pointed out to the senators that the only way to break the power of the tribunes lay through the veto of their colleagues.
It was not difficult for the leading men of the state to induce upstart politicians3
to change their minds, if they would but suit their discourse meantime rather to the exigencies of the crisis than to their lofty station.
The sentiments of such fellows varied with their fortunes: when they saw that their colleagues, by taking the lead in the management of affairs, had appropriated all the favour of the populace in advance and had left no room there for themselves, they would incline without reluctance to the cause of the senate, by supporting which they might gain the goodwill not only of the order as a whole, but also of the foremost senators.
When they had all expressed their approval, and especially Quintus Servilius Priscus, who praised the young man as [p. 415]
one who had not degenerated from the Claudian4
stock, everybody was given the task of inducing such of the tribunician college as he could to interpose their vetoes.
The senate adjourned and the leading members began to canvass the tribunes.
By arguments in which they mingled warnings with the promise that their action would earn the tribunes the personal gratitude of individuals, as well as that of the senate as a body, they got six men to promise their opposition.
Next day when the senate, in accordance with a preconcerted plan, had taken up the question of the sedition which Maecilius and Metilius were beginning by proposing a donation of the most objectionable type, the principal senators made speeches in which each took occasion to say that he could think of nothing to suggest and saw no help for the situation anywhere save in the assistance of the tribunes;
this was the power to whose protection the harassed republic, like a private citizen in distress, now fled for succour; it was a, glorious thing both for the men themselves and for their office that the tribunate possessed no less strength for the resistance of its wicked colleagues than for troubling the senate and promoting discord between the orders.
Loud shouts were then heard from the entire senate and appeals were addressed to the tribunes from every part of the Curia. Then, after silence had been obtained, those who had been won over by the favour of the chief senators declared their readiness to veto the measure which their colleagues had proposed but the senate deemed subversive of the republic.
The thanks of the senate were voted the protesters. The authors of the bill convened an assembly, and accusing their [p. 417]
colleagues of being traitors to the interests of the5
plebs and slaves of the consulars, and in other ways bitterly denouncing them, withdrew their measure.