Immediately following this pernicious victory1
a levy was proclaimed, which the timorousness of the tribunes allowed the consuls to push through without ever a veto.
But this time the commons were fairly roused to anger, more by the silence of the tribunes than by the consuls' power. They declared that it was all up with their liberty; that men had gone back to their old ways; that with Genucius the tribunician power had suffered death and burial.
They must adopt another course and other plans to resist the patricians; but the only way was this: that the plebs should undertake their own defence, since they had no one else to help them. Twenty-four lictors were all the retinue of the consuls, and even these were plebeians. Nothing was more contemptible or weaker, if there were any to contemn; it was every man's own imagination that made them great and awe-inspiring.
They had incited one another with arguments of this sort when the consuls sent a lictor to arrest Volero Publilius, a plebeian, who, on the ground that he had been a centurion, denied their right to make him a common soldier.2
Volero called upon the tribunes.
When no one came to aid him, the consuls gave orders to strip the man and get out the rods. “I appeal,” cried Volero, “to the people, since the tribunes would rather a Roman citizen should be scourged with rods before their eyes than themselves be murdered in their beds by you.” But the more boldly he shouted the more roughly the lictor fell to tearing off his clothes and stripping him.
Then Volero, who was himself a powerful man and was helped by those he had called to his assistance, beat off the lictor and, choosing the place where the uproar of his sympathisers [p. 407]
was the angriest, plunged into the thick of the crowd,3
calling out, “I appeal, and implore the protection of the plebs; help, citizens!
help, fellow-soldiers! It is useless for you to wait for the tribunes, who themselves stand in need of aid from you.”
In their excitement men made ready as if to fight a battle, and it was evident that anything might happen, that nobody would respect any right, whether public or private. The consuls, exposed to this furious tempest, were quickly convinced of the insecurity of majesty when unaccompanied with force.
The lictors were roughly handled and their rods were broken, while the consuls themselves were driven out of the Forum into the Curia, with no means of knowing how far Volero might use his victory.
Afterwards, when the uproar began to die away, they summoned the Fathers into the senate-house and complained of the insults they had suffered, the violence of the plebs, and Volero's outrageous conduct.
Though many daring opinions were expressed, the wishes of the older men prevailed, who had no mind to a conflict between an angry senate and a reckless plebs.