Having routed the Aurunci, and having been, within a few days, victorious in so many wars, the Romans were looking for the help which the consul had promised and the senate guaranteed, when Appius, partly out of native arrogance, partly to discredit his colleague, began to pronounce judgment with the utmost rigour in suits to recover debts. In consequence, not only were those who had been bound over before delivered up to their creditors, but others were bound over.
Whenever this happened to a soldier he would appeal to the other consul. The people flocked to the house of Servilius: it was he who had made them promises; it was he whom they reproached, as each rehearsed his services in the wars and displayed the scars he had received. They demanded that he should either lay the matter before the senate or lend his aid as consul to his fellow-citizens, as general to his soldiers.
They moved the consul by this plea, but the situation forced him to temporize, so vehemently was the other side supported, not only by his colleague, but by the entire party of the nobles. And so he steered a middle course, and neither avoided the dislike of the plebs nor gained the goodwill of the Fathers.
These considered him a pusillanimous consul and an agitator, while the commons held him to be dishonest; and it was soon apparent that he was as cordially hated as Appius.
The consuls had got into a dispute as to which should dedicate the temple to Mercury. The senate referred the case to the people for decision. Whichever consul should, by command of the people, be entrusted with the dedication was to have charge [p. 305]
of the corn-supply, to establish a guild of merchants,1 2
and perform the solemn rites in the presence of the
pontifex. The people assigned the dedication to Marcus Laetorius, a centurion of the first rank —a choice which would readily be understood as intended not so much to honour Laetorius, to whom a commission had been given which was too exalted for his station in life, as to humiliate the
consuls. Appius and the Fathers were furious then, if they had not been before; but the plebeians had plucked up heart and threw themselves into the struggle with far more spirit than they had shown at
first. For, despairing of help from consuls and senate, they no sooner beheld a debtor being haled away than they flew to his assistance from every
side. It was impossible for the consul's decree to be heard above the din and shouting, and when it had been pronounced nobody obeyed it. Violence was the order of the day, and fear and danger had quite shifted from the debtors to the creditors, who were singled out and maltreated by large numbers in full sight of the
consul. To crown these troubles came the fear of a Sabine invasion. A levy was decreed, but no one enlisted. Appius stormed and railed at the insidious arts of his colleague, who, he said, to make himself popular, was betraying the state by his inactivity; and to his refusal to give judgment for debt was adding a fresh offence in refusing to hold the levy as the senate had
directed. Nevertheless the welfare of the state was not wholly forgotten, nor the authority of the consulate abandoned; he would himself, single-handed, assert both his own and the senate's
majesty. When the usual daily throng of lawless men was standing about him, he gave orders [p. 307]
to seize one who was a conspicuous leader in their3
disturbances. The lictors were already dragging the man away, when he appealed; nor would the consul have granted the appeal, for there was no question what the decision of the people would be, had not his obstinacy been with difficulty overcome, more by the advice and influence of the nobles than by the popular outcry, so steeled was he to endure men's
hate. From that moment the trouble grew worse each day, and not only were there open disturbances, but what was far more pernicious, secret gatherings and conferences. At last the consuls whom the plebeians so hated went out of office. Servilius had the goodwill of neither party, but Appius was in high esteem with the senators.