Appius Claudius and P. Decius are said to have been the leaders in this controversy, the former as the opponent, the latter as the supporter of the proposed measure.
The arguments they advanced were practically the same as those employed for and against the Licinian Laws when the demand was made for the consulship to be thrown open to the plebeians. After going over much of the old ground, Decius made a final appeal on behalf of the proposals.
He began by recalling the scene which many of those present had witnessed, when the elder Decius, his father, vested in the Gabine cincture1
and standing upon a spear, solemnly devoted himself on behalf of the legions and people of Rome.
He proceeded, ‘The offering which the consul Decius made on that occasion was in the eyes of the immortal gods as pure and holy as that of his colleague, T. Manlius, would have been if he had devoted himself. Could not that Decius also have been fitly chosen to exercise priestly functions on behalf of the Roman people?
And for me, are you afraid that the gods will not listen to my prayers as they do to those of Appius Claudius? Does he perform his private devotions with a purer mind or worship the gods in a more religious spirit than I do?
Who has ever had occasion to regret the vows which have been made on behalf of the commonwealth by so many plebeian consuls, so many plebeian Dictators, when they were going to take command of their armies, or when they were actually engaged in battle?
Count up the commanders in all the years since war was for the first time waged under the leadership and auspices of plebeians, you will find as many triumphs as commanders. The plebeians, too, have their nobility and have no cause to be dissatisfied with them.
You may be quite certain that, if a war were suddenly to break out now, the senate and people of Rome would not put more confidence in a general because he was a patrician than in one who happened to be a plebeian.
Now, if this is the case, who in heaven or earth could regard it as an indignity that the men whom you have honoured with curule chairs, with the toga praetexta
, the tunica palmata
, and the toga picta
with the triumphal crown and the laurel wreath, the men upon whose houses you have conferred special distinction by affixing to them the spoils taken from the enemy —that these men, I say, should have in addition to their other marks of rank the insignia of the pontiffs and
the augurs? A triumphing general drives through the City in a gilded chariot, apparelled in the splendid vestments of Jupiter Optimus Maximus After this he goes up to the Capitol; is he not to be seen there with capis
? Is it to be regarded as an indignity, if he with veiled head slay a victim, or from his place on the citadel take
an augury? And if in the inscription on his bust the words ‘consulship,’ ‘censorship,’ ‘triumph’ are read without arousing any indignation, in what mood will the reader regard the words which you are going to add, ‘augurship’
and ‘pontificate’? I do indeed hope, please heaven, that, thanks to the good will of the Roman people, we now possess sufficient dignity to be capable of conferring as much honour on the priesthood as we shall receive. For the sake of the gods as much as for ourselves let us insist that as we worship them now as private individuals so we may worship them for the future as officials of the State.’