1. The daughter of L. Virginius, a brave centurion, the attempt made upon whose chastity by App. Claudius was the immediate cause of the downfall of the Decemvirs, who had in violation of law continued in possession of their power at the beginning of B. C. 449.
The story ran that Virginia was a beautiful and innocent girl, betrothed to L. Icilius, who had rendered his tribuneship memorable by his law which assigned the Aventine to the plebeians.
The maiden had attracted the notice of the decemvir App. Claudius.
He at first tried bribes and allurements ; but when these failed, he had recourse to an outrageous act of tyranny, which he could perpetrate with all the greater ease, as her father was absent from Rome, serving with the Roman amy on Mount Algidus. One morning, as Virginia, attended by her nurse, was on her way to her school, which was in one of the booths round the forum, M. Claudius, a client of Appius, laid hold of the damsel and claimed her as his slave.
The cry of the nurse for help brought a crowd around them; but M. Claudius said that he did not mean to use violence, and that he would bring the case before App. Claudius for decision. All parties went accordingly before the decemvir.
In his presence Marcus repeated the tale he had learnt, asserting, that Virginia was the child of one of his female slaves, and had been imposed upon the reputed father by his wife, who was childless.
He further stated that he would prove this to Virginius, as soon as he returned to Rome, and he demanded that the girl should meantime be handed over to his custody as his slave.
The friends of the maiden, on the other hand, pleaded that by the old law, which had been re-enacted in the Twelve Tables, it was provided that every person who was reputed to be free, and whom another claimed as his slave, was to continue in possession of his rights, till the judge declared him to be a slave, though he was bound to give security for his appearance in court. They therefore offered to give security for the maiden, and begged the decemvir to postpone his judgment till her father could be fetched front the camp. Appius, however, replied that the girl could not in any case be free ; that she must belong either to her father or her master, and that as her father was absent, he adjudged her to the custody of M. Claudius, who was to give sureties to bring her before his judgment-seat when the case should be tried.
At this unjust sentence the crowd exhibited signs of the greatest indignation. P. Numitorius, the maiden's nude, and Icilius, to whom she was betrothed, spoke so loudly against the sentence, that the multitude began to be roused. Appius, fearing a riot, said that he would let the cause stand over till the next day; but that then, whether her father appeared or not, he should know how to maintain the laws and to give judgment according to justice.
The greatest exertions, however, were necessary to bring Virginius to the city, lest Appius should have detained him in the camp. Accordingly, while Appius was kept in court receiving bail for the appearance of Virginia on the following day, two of the friends of the family made all haste to the camp. They reached the camp the same evening. Virginius immediately obtained leave of absence, and was already on his way to Rome, when the messenger of Appius arrived, instructing his colleagues to detain him.
Early next morning Virginius and his daughter came into the forum with their garments rent, The father appealed to the people for aid, warning them that all were involved in a like calamity. Icilius spoke still more vehemently; and the women in their company sobbed aloud.
But, intent upon the gratification of his lust, Appius cared nought for the misery of the father and the girl.
He came into the forum attended by a great train of clients, and took his seat upon the tribunal. M. Claudius renewed his claim. Appius hastened to give sentence, by which he consigned the maiden to the party who claimed her as his slave, until a judge should decide the matter. M. Claudius stept forward to take possession of the maiden, but was driven back by the people. Thereupon Appius, who had brought with him to the forum a large body of armed patricians and their clients, ordered his lictors to disperse the mob.
The people drew back in affright, leaving Virginius and his daughter alone before the judgment-seat. All help was gone.
The unhappy father then prayed the decemvir to be allowed to speak one word to the nurse in his daughter's hearing, in order to ascertain whether she was really his daughter.
The request was granted; Virginius drew them both aside, and snatching up a butcher's knife from one of the stalls, plunged it in his daughter's breast, exclaiming, "There is no way but this to keep thee free."
In vain did Appius call out to stop him.
The crowd made way for him, and holding his bloody knife on high, he rushed to the gate of the city, and hastened to the Roman camp.
The result is known. Both camp and city rose against the decemvirs, who were deprived of their power, and the old form of government was restored. L. Virginius was the first who was elected tribune, and he hastened to take revenge upon his cruel enemy.
By his orders Appius was dragged to prison to await his trial, and he there put an end to his own life in order to avoid a more ignominious death. M. Claudius, who had claimed the maiden as his slave, was condemned to death, but Virginius himself did not allow the last sentence of the law to be carried into effect, but permitted him to go into exile. (Liv. 3.44
; Dionys. A. R. 11.28
; V. Max. 6.1.2
.) Cicero in one passage calls the father Decimus
Virginius (de Rep.
2.37), but in another passage he gives him the praenomen Lucius,
in conformity with the other ancient writers (de Fin.