Livius 3.15-18

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[3.15] The new consuls, C. Claudius, the son of Appius, and P. Valerius Publicola, took over the State in a quieter condition than usual. The new year brought nothing new. Political interest centered in the fate of the Law. The more the younger senators ingratiated themselves with the plebeians, the fiercer became the opposition of the tribunes. They tried to arouse suspicion against them by alleging that a conspiracy had been formed; Caeso was in Rome, and plans were laid for the assassination of the tribunes and the wholesale massacre of the plebeians, and further that the senior senators had assigned to the younger members of the order the task of abolishing the tribunitian authority so that the political conditions might be the same as they were before the occupation of the Sacred Hill. War with the Volscians and Aequi had become now a regular thing of almost annual recurrence, and was looked forward to with apprehension. A fresh misfortune happened nearer home. The political refugees and a number of slaves, some 2500 in all, under the leadership of Appius Herdonius the Sabine, seized the Capitol and Citadel by night. Those who refused to join the conspirators were instantly massacred, others in the confusion rushed in wild terror down to the Forum; various shouts were heard: "To arms!" "The enemy is in the City." The consuls were afraid either to arm the plebeians or to leave them without arms. Uncertain as to the nature of the trouble which had overtaken the City, whether it was caused by citizens or by foreigners, whether due to the embittered feelings of the plebs or to the treachery of slaves, they tried to allay the tumult, but their efforts only increased it; in their terrified and distracted state the population could not be controlled. Arms were, however, distributed, not indiscriminately, but only, as it was an unknown foe, to secure protection sufficient for all emergencies. The rest of the night they spent in posting men in all the convenient situations in the City, while their uncertainty as to the nature and numbers of the enemy kept them in anxious suspense. Daylight at length disclosed the enemy and their leader. Appius Herdonius was calling from the Capitol to the slaves to win their liberty, saying that he had espoused the cause of all the wretched in order to restore the exiles who had been wrongfully banished and remove the heavy yoke from the necks of the slaves. He would rather that this be done at the bidding of the Roman people, but if that were hopeless, he would run all risks and rouse the Volscians and Aequi.

[3.16] The state of affairs became clearer to the senators and consuls. They were, however, apprehensive lest behind these openly declared aims there should be some design of the Veientines or Sabines, and whilst there was this large hostile force within the City the Etruscan and Sabine legions should appear, and then the Volscians and Aequi, their standing foes, should come, not into their territory to ravage, but into the City itself, already partly captured. Many and various were their fears. What they most dreaded was a rising of the slaves, when every man would have an enemy in his own house, whom it would be alike unsafe to trust and not to trust, since by withdrawing confidence he might be made a more determined enemy. Such threatening and overwhelming dangers could only be surmounted by unity and concord, and no fears were felt as to the tribunes or the plebs. That evil was mitigated, for as it only broke out when there was a respite from other evils, it was believed to have subsided now in the dread of foreign aggression. Yet it, more than almost anything else, helped to further depress the fortunes of the sinking State. For such madness seized the tribunes that they maintained that it was not war but an empty phantom of war which had settled in the Capitol, in order to divert the thoughts of the people from the Law. Those friends, they said, and clients of the patricians would depart more silently than they had come if they found their noisy demonstration frustrated by the passing of the Law. They then summoned the people to lay aside their arms and form an Assembly for the purpose of carrying the Law. Meantime the consuls, more alarmed at the action of the tribunes than at the nocturnal enemy, convened a meeting of the senate.

[3.17] When it was reported that arms were being laid aside and men were deserting their posts, P. Valerius left his colleague to keep the senate together and hurried to the tribunes at the templum. "What," he asked, "is the meaning of this, tribunes? Are you going to overthrow the State under the leadership of Appius Herdonius? Has the man whose appeals failed to rouse a single slave been so successful as to corrupt you? Is it when the enemy is over our heads that you decide that men shall lay down their arms and discuss laws?" Then turning to the Assembly he said, "If, Quirites, you feel no concern for the City, no anxiety for yourselves, still show reverence for your gods who have been taken captive by an enemy! Jupiter Optimus Maximus, Queen Juno and Minerva, with other gods and goddesses, are being besieged; a camp of slaves holds the tutelary deities of your country in its power. Is this the appearance which you think a State in its senses ought to present - a large hostile force not only within the walls, but in the Citadel, above the Forum, above the Senate-house, whilst meantime the Assembly is being held in the Forum, the senate are in the Senate-house, and as though peace and quiet prevailed, a senator is addressing the House, whilst the Quirites in the Assembly are proceeding to vote? Would it not be more becoming for every man, patrician and plebeian alike, for the consuls and tribunes, for gods and men, to come, one and all, to the rescue with their arms, to run to the Capitol and restore liberty and calm to that most venerable abode of Jupiter Optimus Maximus? O, Father Romulus, grant to shine offspring that spirit in which thou didst once win back from these same Sabines the Citadel which had been captured with gold! Bid them take the road on which thou didst lead shine army. Behold, I, the consul, will be the first to follow thee and thy footsteps as far as mortal man can follow a god." He ended his speech by saying that he was taking up arms, and he summoned all the Quirites to arms. If any one tried to obstruct, he should now ignore the limits set to his consular authority, the power of the tribunes, and the laws which made them inviolable, and whoever or wherever he might be, whether in the Capitol or the Forum, he should treat him as a public enemy. The tribunes had better order arms to be taken up against P. Valerius the consul, as they forbade them to be used against Appius Herdonius. He would dare to do in the case of the tribunes what the head of his family had dared to do in the case of the kings. There was every prospect of an appeal to force, and of the enemy enjoying the spectacle of a riot in Rome. However, the Law could not be voted upon, nor could the consul go to the Capitol, for night put an end to the threatened conflict. As night came on the tribunes retired, afraid of the consul's arms. When the authors of the disturbance were out of the way, the senators went about amongst the plebeians, and mingling with different groups pointed out the seriousness of the crisis, and warned them to reflect into what a dangerous position they were bringing the State. It was not a contest between patricians and plebeians; patricians and plebeians alike, the stronghold of the City, the temples of the gods, the guardian deities of the State and of every home, were being surrendered to the enemy. While these steps were being taken to lay the spirit of discord in the Forum, the consuls had gone away to inspect the gates and walls, in case of any movement on the part of the Sabines or Veientines.

[3.18] The same night messengers reached Tusculum with tidings of the capture of the Citadel, the seizure of the Capitol, and the generally disturbed state of the City. L. Mamilius was at that time Dictator of Tusculum. After hurriedly convening the senate and introducing the messengers, he strongly urged the senators not to wait until envoys arrived from Rome begging for help; the fact of the danger and the seriousness of the crisis, the gods who watched over alliances, and loyalty to treaties, all demanded instant action. Never again would the gods vouchsafe so favourable an opportunity for conferring an obligation on so powerful a State or one so close to their own doors. They decided that help should be sent, the men of military age were enrolled, arms were distributed. As they approached Rome in the early dawn, they presented in the distance the appearance of enemies; it seemed as though Aequi or Volscians were coming. When this groundless alarm was removed they were admitted into the City and marched in order into the Forum, where P. Valerius, who had left his colleague to direct the troops on guard at the gates, was forming his army for battle. It was his authority that had achieved this result; he declared that if, when the Capitol was recovered and the City pacified they would allow the covert dishonesty of the Law which the tribunes supported to be explained to them, he would not oppose the holding of a plebeian Assembly, for he was not unmindful of his ancestors or of the name he bore, which made the protection of the plebs, so to speak, a hereditary care. Following his leadership, amid the futile protests of the tribunes, they marched in order of battle up the Capitoline hill, the legion from Tusculum marching with them. The Romans and their allies were striving which should have the glory of recapturing the Citadel. Each of the commanders were encouraging his men. Then the enemy lost heart, their only confidence was in the strength of their position; whilst thus demoralised the Romans and allies advanced to the charge. They had already forced their way into the vestibule of the temple, when P. Valerius, who was in the front, cheering on his men, was killed. P. Volumnius, a man of consular rank, saw him fall. Directing his men to protect the body, he ran to the front and took the consul's place. In the heat of their charge the soldiers were not aware of the loss they had sustained; they gained the victory before they knew that they were fighting without a general. Many of the exiles defiled the temple with their blood, many were taken prisoners, Herdonius was killed. So the Capitol was recovered. Punishment was inflicted on the prisoners according to their condition whether slave or freeman; a vote of thanks was accorded to the Tusculans; the Capitol was cleansed and solemnly purified It is stated that the plebeians threw quadrantes into the consul's house that he might have a more splendid funeral.

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