The tribunes of the plebs by persistent1
opposition prevented the consular elections from taking place. At last, when matters had been brought almost to an interregnum, they succeeded in their contention that military tribunes with consular powers should be chosen.
Though they hoped their victory would be rewarded by the choice of a plebeian, they were disappointed: all those who were elected were patricians, Marcus Fabius Vibulanus, Marcus Folius, Lucius Sergius Fidenas.
An epidemic that year afforded a respite from other troubles. A temple was vowed to Apollo in behalf of the people's health. The duumviri did many things by direction of the Books2
for the [p. 337]
purpose of appeasing the angry gods and averting3
the plague from the people.
Nevertheless the losses were severe, both in the City and the country, and men and cattle were stricken without distinction. They even feared that famine would succeed the epidemic, since the farmers were down with the disease. They therefore sent to Etruria and the Pomptine district, and to Cumae, and finally to Sicily itself, for, corn.
Nothing was said about consular elections; military tribunes with consular authority were chosen as follows: Lucius Pinarius Mamercus, Lucius Furius Medullinus, Spurius Postumius Albus —all patricians.
This year the violence of the disease was mitigated, and there was no risk of a dearth of corn, since precautions had been taken in advance.
Schemes for instigating war were discussed in the councils of the Volsci and Aequi, and in Etruria at the shrine of Voltumna.
There the enterprise was put over for a year, and it was decreed that no council should convene before that date, though the Veientes complained —without effect —that Veii was threatened with the same destruction as had overtaken Fidenae.
Meanwhile in Rome the leaders of the plebs, who had now for a long time, while there was peace with other nations, been thwarted in their hopes of attaining to greater honours, began to appoint meetings at the houses of the plebeian tribunes.
There they considered their plans in secret; they complained that they were held in such contempt by the plebs that although military tribunes with consular powers had been elected for so many years, no plebeian had ever been admitted to that office.
Their ancestors had shown great foresight in [p. 339]
providing that no patrician should be eligible for the4
plebeian magistracies; otherwise they would have been obliged to have patricians as tribunes of the plebs, so contemptible did they appear, even to their own class, being no less despised by the commons than by the nobles.
Others exonerated the plebs and threw the blame upon the patricians: it was owing to their artful canvassing that the plebeians found the road to office blocked; if the plebs might have a breathing-spell from the mingled prayers and menaces of the nobles, they would think of their friends when they went to vote, and to the protection they had already won would add authority.5
It was resolved in order to do away with canvassing, that the tribunes6
should propose a law forbidding anyone to whiten his toga, for the purpose of announcing himself a candidate.7
This may now appear a trivial thing and one scarcely to be considered seriously, but at that time it kindled a furious struggle between the patricians and the plebs.
Yet the tribunes prevailed and carried their law; and it was clear that the plebeians in their irritated mood would support the men of their own order. That they might not be at liberty to do so, the senate decreed that consuls should be elected.