1. SP. MAELIUS, the richest of the plebeian knights, employed his fortune in buying up corn in Etruria in the great famine at Rome in B. C. 440.
This corn he sold to the poor at a small price, or distributed it gratuitously. Such liberality gained him the favour of the plebeians, but at the same time exposed him to the hatred of the ruling class. Accordingly, in the following year, B. C. 439, soon after the consuls had entered upon their office, L. Minucius Augurinus, who had been appointed praefectus annonae [AUGURINUS, No. 5], revealed to the senate a conspiracy which Maelius was said to have formed for the purpose of seizing the kingly power.
He declared that the tribunes had been bribed by Maelius, that secret assemblies had been held in his house, and that arms had been collected there. Thereupon the aged Quintius Cincinnatus was immediately appointed dictator, and C. Servilius Ahala, the master of the horse. During the night the capitol and other strong places were garrisoned, and in the morning the dictator appeared in the forum with an armed force. Maelius was summoned to appear before his tribunal; but as he saw the fate which awaited him, he refused to go, seized a butcher's knife to ward off the officer (apparitor
), who was preparing to drag him along, and took refuge among the crowd. Straightway Ahala, with an armed band of patrician youths, rushed into the crowd, and slew Miaelius. His property was confiscated, and his house pulled down; its vacant site, which was called the Aequimaelium,
continued to subsequent ages a memorial of his fate. Niebuhr says that it lay at the foot of the capitol, not far from the prison.
Later ages, following the traditions of the Quintian and Servilian houses, fully believed the story of Maelius's conspiracy. Thus Cicero speaks of him as " omnibus exosus " (de Amic.
8), and repeatedly praises the glorious deed of Ahala.
But his guilt is very doubtful, and his death was clearly an act of murder, since the dictator himself had no right to put him to death, but only to bring him to trial before the comitia centuriata.
The fact that he was thus violently and illegally slain, is a strong proof that no crime could be proved against him. Niebuhr thinks it not improbable that the real design of Maelius was to obtain the consulship for himself, and to compel the patricians to divide it between the two orders. None of the alleged accomplices of Maelius was punished; but Ahala was brought to trial, and only escaped condemnation by a voluntary exile. [AHALA, No. 2.] (Liv. 4.13
; Zonar. 7.20
; Dionys. Exc. Vat.
in Mai, Nov. Collect.
ii. p. 466; Cic. de Senect.
16, in Cat.
1.1, de Rep.
2.44, pro Mil.
17, pro Dom.
38; V. Max. 6.3.1
; Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome,
vol. ii. p. 418, &c.)