The senators meanwhile were engaged in a struggle for the coveted kingship. So far it had not come to a question of any one person, for nobody stood out with special prominence in the new nation; instead, a strife of factions was waging between the two stocks.
Those of Sabine origin, having had no king on their side since the death of Tatius, feared that despite their equal rights they might lose their hold upon the sovereign power, and hence desired that the king should be chosen from their own body.
The original Romans spurned the idea of an alien king. Various, however, as were men's inclinations, to be ruled by a king was their universal wish, for they had not yet tasted the sweetness of liberty.
Then the senators became alarmed, lest the state wanting a ruler and the army a leader, and many neighbouring states being disaffected, some violence might be offered from without.
All therefore were agreed that there should be some head, but nobody could make up his mind to yield to his fellow. And so the hundred senators shared the power among themselves, establishing ten decuries and appointing one man for each decury to preside over the administration.
Ten men exercised authority; only one had its insignia and lictors. Five days was the period of his power, which passed in rotation to all; and for a year the monarchy lapsed. This interval was called, as it was, an interregnum, a name which even yet obtains.
Murmurs then arose among the plebs that their servitude had been multiplied; that a hundred masters had been given them instead of [p. 63]
one. No longer, it seemed, would they endure1
anything short of a king, and a king, too, of their own choosing.
Perceiving that such ideas were in the wind, the senators thought it would be well to proffer spontaneously a thing which they were on the verge of losing, and obtained the favour of the people by granting them supreme power on such terms as to part with no greater prerogative than they retained.
For they decreed that when the people should have named a king, their act should only be valid in case the senators ratified it. Even now, in voting for laws and magistrates, the same right is exercised, but is robbed of its significance; before the people can begin to vote, and when the result of the election is undetermined, the Fathers ratify it.
On the present occasion the interrex summoned the assembly and spoke as follows: “May prosperity, favour, and fortune attend our action! Quirites, choose your king. Such is the pleasure of the Fathers, who, in their turn, if your choice fall upon one worthy to be called Romulus' successor, will confirm your election.”
This so pleased the plebs, that, unwilling to appear outdone in generosity, they merely resolved and ordered that the senate should decree who should be king in Rome.