A favourable opportunity for making innovations presented itself in the terrible pressure of debt, a burden from which the plebs did not hope for any alleviation until they had raised men of their own order to the highest authority in the State . This, they thought, was
the aim which they must devote their utmost efforts to reach, and they believed that they had already, by dint of effort, secured a foothold from which, if they pushed forward, they could secure the
highest positions, and so become the equals of the patricians in dignity as they now were in courage.
For the time being, C. Licinius and L. Sextius decided to become tribunes of the plebs; once in this office they could clear for themselves the way to all the other distinctions. All the measures which they brought forward after they were elected were directed against the power and influence of the patricians and calculated to promote the interests of the plebs One dealt with the debts, and provided that the amount paid in interest should be deducted from the
principal and the balance repaid in three equal yearly instalments, The second restricted the occupation of land and prohibited any one from holding more than five hundred jugera
. The third provided that there should be no more consular tribunes elected, and that one consul should be elected from each order.
They were all questions of immense importance, which could not be settled without a tremendous struggle.
The prospect of a fight over those things which excite the keenest desires of men —land, money, honours —produced consternation among the patricians. After excited discussions in the senate and in private houses, they found no better remedy than the one they had adopted in previous contests, name]y, the tribunitian veto, So they won over some of the tribunes to interpose their veto against these proposals.
When they saw the tribes summoned by Licinius and Sextius to give their votes, these men, surrounded by a bodyguard of patricians, refused to allow either the reading of the bills or any other procedure which the plebs usually adopted when they came to vote.
For many weeks the Assembly was regularly summoned without any business being done, and the bills were looked upon as dead. ‘Very good,’ said Sextius, ‘since it is your pleasure that the veto shall possess so much power, we will use this same weapon for the protection of the plebs.
Come then, patricians, give notice of an Assembly for the election of consular tribunes, I will take care that the word which our colleagues are now uttering in concert to your great delight, the word ‘I FORBID,’ shall not give you much pleasure.’
These were not idle threats. No elections were held beyond those of the tribunes and aediles of the plebs. Licinius and Sextius, when re-elected, would not allow any curule magistrates to be appointed, and as the plebs constantly re-elected them, and as they constantly stopped the election of consular tribunes, this dearth of magistrates lasted in the City for five years.