An opportunity for innovation was1
presented by the enormous load of debt, which the plebs could have no hope of lightening but by placing their representatives in the highest offices.2
They therefore argued that they must gird themselves to think of this: with toil and effort the plebeians had already advanced so far that it was in their power, if they continued to exert themselves, to reach the highest ground, and to equal the patricians in honours as well as in worth.
For the present it was resolved that Gaius Licinius and [p. 317]
Lucius Sextius should be elected tribunes of the3
plebs, a magistracy in which they might open for themselves a way to the other distinctions.
Once elected, they proposed only such measures as abated the influence of the patricians, while forwarding the interests of the plebs. One of these had to do with debt, providing that what had been paid as interest should be deducted from the original sum, and the remainder discharged in three annual instalments of equal size.
A second set a limit on lands, prohibiting anyone from holding more than five hundred iugera.4
A third did away with the election of military tribunes, and prescribed that of the consuls one, at any rate, should be chosen from the plebs. These were all matters of great moment, and it would not be possible to carry them without a tremendous struggle.
Now when all the things that men immoderately covet, lands, money, and promotion, were jeopardized at once, the patricians became thoroughly alarmed; and failing, after frightened conference in public and private gatherings, to devise any other remedy than that veto which they had already tried before in many struggles, provided themselves with friends amongst the colleagues of the tribunes, to oppose their measures.
These men, seeing Licinius and Sextius summon the tribes to vote, came up in the midst of a body-guard of patricians, and refused to permit the bills to be recited or anything else to be done that was usual in passing a resolution of the plebs.
And now the assembly had been summoned repeatedly without avail, and the rogations were as though they had been voted down, when Sextius cried out, “So be it! Since it is your pleasure that [p. 319]
the intercession should be so powerful, we will use5
that very weapon for the protection of the plebs.
Come now, senators, and proclaim an assembly for the choice of military tribunes; I warrant you shall have no joy of that word veto,
which you now hear with such satisfaction from the chorus of our colleagues.”
His threats were no idle ones: except for the aediles and tribunes of the plebs, there was not an election held. Licinius and Sextius were chosen again, and suffered no curule magistrates to be elected; and this dearth of magistrates continued in the City for five years, while the plebs continued to re-elect the two men tribunes, and they to prevent the election of military tribunes.