Ancient Rome


Rome Established As A Republic, Part Two

Gary Edward Forsythe: Assistant Professor of Classical Languages and Literatures, University of Chicago. Author of The Historian L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi and the Roman Annalistic Tradition.  Robert A. Guisepi:  Author of Ancient Voices

(Re-printed by permission)


"Remember, Roman, that it is for thee to rule the nations. This shall be thy task, to impose the ways of peace, to spare the vanquished, and to tame the proud by war." 


Author:      Liddell, Henry George

Part I.

The Institution Of Tribunes: B.C. 510-494

In the next year Valerius was again made consul, with T. Lucretius; and

Tarquinius, despairing now of aid from his friends at Veii and Tarquinii, went

to Lars Porsenna of Clusium, a city on the river Clanis, which falls into the

Tiber.  Porsenna was at this time acknowledged as chief of the twelve Etruscan

cities; and he assembled a powerful army and came to Rome. He came so quickly

that he reached the Tiber and was near the Sublician Bridge before there was

time to destroy it; and if he had crossed it the city would have been lost.

Then a noble Roman, called Horatius Cocles, of the Lucerian tribe, with two

friends - Sp. Lartius, a Ramnian, and T. Herminius, a Titian - posted

themselves at the far end of the bridge, and defended the passage against all

the Etruscan host, while the Romans were cutting it off behind them.  When it

was all but destroyed, his two friends retreated across the bridge, and

Horatius was left alone to bear the whole attack of the enemy.  Well he kept

his ground, standing unmoved amid the darts which were showered upon his

shield, till the last beams of the bridge fell crashing into the river.  Then

he prayed, saying, "Father Tiber, receive me and bear me up, I pray thee." So

he plunged in, and reached the other side safely; and the Romans honored him

greatly: they put up his statue in the Comitium, and gave him as much land as

he could plough round in a day, and every man at Rome subscribed the cost of

one day's food to reward him.


     Then Porsenna, disappointed in his attempt to surprise the city, occupied

the Hill Janiculum, and besieged the city, so that the people were greatly

distressed by hunger.  But C. Mucius, a noble youth, resolved to deliver his

country by the death of the king.  So he armed himself with a dagger, and went

to the place where the king was used to sit in judgment.  It chanced that the

soldiers were receiving their pay from the king's secretary, who sat at his

right hand splendidly apparelled; and as this man seemed to be chief in

authority, Mucius thought that this must be the king; so he stabbed him to the

heart.  Then the guards seized him and dragged him before the king, who was

greatly enraged, and ordered them to burn him alive if he would not confess

the whole affair.  Then Mucius stood before the king and said: "See how little

thy tortures can avail to make a brave man tell the secrets committed to him";

and so saying, he thrust his right hand into the fire of the altar, and held

it in the flame with unmoved countenance.  Then the king marvelled at his

courage, and ordered him to be spared, and sent away in safety: "for," said

he, "thou art a brave man, and hast done more harm to thyself than to me."

Then Mucius replied: "Thy generosity, O king, prevails more with me than thy

threats.  Know that three hundred Roman youths have sworn thy death: my lot

came first.  But all the rest remain, prepared to do and suffer like myself."

So he was let go, and returned home, and was called "Scaevola," or "The

Left-handed," because his right hand had been burnt off.


     King Porsenna was greatly moved by the danger he had escaped, and

perceiving the obstinate determination of the Romans, he offered to make

peace.  The Romans gladly gave ear to his words, for they were hard pressed,

and they consented to give back all the land which they had won from the

Etruscans beyond the Tiber.  And they gave hostages to the king in pledge that

they would obey him as they had promised, ten youths and ten maidens. But one

of the maidens, named Cloelia, had a man's heart, and she persuaded all her

fellows to escape from the king's camp and swim across the Tiber.  At first

King Porsenna was wroth; but then he was much amazed, even more than at the

deeds of Horatius and Mucius.  So when the Romans sent back Cloelia and her

fellow-maidens - for they would not break faith with the king - he bade her

return home again, and told her she might take whom she pleased of the youths

who were hostages; and she chose those who were yet boys, and restored them to

their parents.


     So the Roman people gave certain lands to young Mucius, and they set up

an equestrian statue to the bold Cloelia at the top of the Sacred Way.  And

King Porsenna returned home; and thus the third and most formidable attempt to

bring back Tarquin failed.


     When Tarquin now found that he had no hopes of further assistance from

Porsenna and his Etruscan friends, he went and dwelt at Tusculum, where

Mamilius Octavius, his son-in-law, was still chief.  Then the thirty Latin

cities combined together and made this Octavius their dictator, and bound

themselves to restore their old friend and ally, King Tarquin, to the

sovereignty of Rome.


     P. Valerius, who was called "Poplicola," was now dead, and the Romans

looked about for some chief worthy to lead them against the army of the

Latins.  Poplicola had been made consul four times, and his compeers

acknowledged him as their chief, and all men submitted to him as to a king.

But now the two consuls were jealous of each other; nor had they power of life

and death within the city, for Valerius (as we saw) had taken away the axes

from the fasces.  Now this was one of the reasons why Brutus and the rest made

two consuls instead of one king: for they said that neither one would allow

the other to become tyrant; and since they only held office for one year at a

time, they might be called on to give account of their government when their

year was at an end.


     Yet though this was a safeguard of liberty in times of peace, it was

hurtful in time of war, for the consuls chosen by the people in their great

assemblies were not always skilful generals; or if they were so, they were

obliged to lay down their command at the year's end.


     So the senate determined, in cases of great danger, to call upon one of

the consuls to appoint a single chief, who should be called "dictator," or

master of the people.  He had sovereign power (Imperium) both in the city and

out of the city, and the fasces were always carried before him with the axes

in them, as they had been before the king.  He could only be appointed for six

months, but at the end of the time he had to give no account.  So that he was

free to act according to his own judgment, having no colleague to interfere

with him at the present, and no accusations to fear at a future time.  The

dictator was general-in-chief, and he appointed a chief officer to command the

knights under him, who was called "master of the horse."


     And now it appeared to be a fit time to appoint such a chief, to take the

command of the army against the Latins.  So the first dictator was T. Lartius,

and he made Spurius Cassius his master of the horse.  This was in the year

B.C. 499, eight years after the expulsion of Tarquin.


     But the Latins did not declare war for two years after.  Then the senate

again ordered the consul to name a master of the people, or dictator; and he

named Aul. Postumius, who appointed T. Aebutius (one of the consuls of that

year) to be his master of the horse.  So they led out the Roman army against

the Latins, and they met at the Lake Regillus, in the land of the Tusculans.

King Tarquin and all his family were in the host of the Latins; and that day

it was to be determined whether Rome should be again subject to the tyrant and

whether or not she was to be chief of the Latin cities.


     King Tarquin himself, old as he was, rode in front of the Latins in full

armor; and when he descried the Roman dictator marshalling his men, he rode at

him; but Postumius wounded him in the side, and he was rescued by the Latins.

Then also Aebutius, the master of the horse, and Oct. Mamilius, the dictator

of the Latins, charged one another, and Aebutius was pierced through the arm,

and Mamilius wounded in the breast.  But the Latin chief, nothing daunted,

returned to battle, followed by Titus, the king's son, with his band of

exiles.  These charged the Romans furiously, so that they gave way; but when

M. Valerius, brother of the great Poplicola, saw this, he spurred his horse

against Titus, and rode at him with spear in rest; and when Titus turned away

and fled, Valerius rode furiously after him into the midst of the Latin host,

and a certain Latin smote him in the side as he was riding past, so that he

fell dead, and his horse galloped on without a rider.  So the band of exiles

pressed still more fiercely upon the Romans, and they began to flee.


     Then Postumius the dictator lifted up his voice and vowed a temple to

Castor and Pollux, the great twin heroes of the Greeks, if they would aid him;

and behold there appeared on his right two horsemen, taller and fairer than

the sons of men, and their horses were as white as snow.  And they led the

dictator and his guard against the exiles and the Latins, and the Romans

prevailed against them; and T. Herminius the Titian, the friend of Horatius

Cocles, ran Mamilius, the dictator of the Latins, through the body, so that he

died; but when he was stripping the arms from his foe, another ran him

through, and he was carried back to the camp, and he also died. Then also

Titus, the king's son, was slain, and the Latins fled, and the Romans pursued

them with great slaughter, and took their camp and all that was in it.  Now

Postumius had promised great rewards to those who first broke into the camp of

the Latins, and the first who broke in were the two horsemen on white horses;

but after the battle they were nowhere to be seen or found, nor was there any

sign of them left, save on the hard rock there was the mark of a horse's hoof,

which men said was made by the horse of one of those horsemen.


     But at this very time two youths on white horses rode into the Forum at

Rome.  They were covered with dust and sweat and blood, like men who had

fought long and hard, and their horses also were bathed in sweat and foam: and

they alighted near the Temple of Vesta, and washed themselves in a spring that

gushes out hard by, and told all the people in the Forum how the battle by the

Lake Regillus had been fought and won.  Then they mounted their horses and

rode away, and were seen no more.


     But Postumius, when he heard it, knew that these were Castor and Pollux,

the great twin brethren of the Greeks, and that it was they who fought so well

for Rome at the Lake Regillus.  So he built them a temple, according to his

vow, over the place where they had alighted in the Forum.  And their effigies

were displayed on Roman coins to the latest ages of the city.


[See Roman Coins]


     This was the fourth and last attempt to restore King Tarquin.  After the

great defeat of Lake Regillus, the Latin cities made peace with Rome, and

agreed to refuse harborage to the old king.  He had lost all his sons, and,

accompanied by a few faithful friends, who shared his exile, he sought a last

asylum at the Greek city of Cumae in the Bay of Naples, at the court of the

tyrant Aristodemus.  Here he died in the course of a year, fourteen years

after his expulsion.


     We shall now record, not only the slow steps by which the Romans

recovered dominion over their neighbors, but also the long-continued struggle

by which the plebeians raised themselves to a level with the patricians, who

had again become the dominant caste at Rome.  Mixed up with legendary tales as

the history still is, enough is nevertheless preserved to excite the

admiration of all who love to look upon a brave people pursuing a worthy

object with patient but earnest resolution, never flinching, yet seldom

injuring their good cause by reckless violence.  To an Englishman this history

ought to be especially dear, for more than any other in the annals of the

world does it resemble the long-enduring constancy and sturdy determination,

the temperate will and noble self-control, with which the Commons of his own

country secured their rights.  It was by a struggle of this nature, pursued

through a century and a half, that the character of the Roman people was

molded into that form of strength and energy, which threw back Hannibal to the

coasts of Africa, and in half a century more made them masters of the

Mediterranean shore.


     There can be no doubt that the wars that followed the expulsion of the

Tarquins, with the loss of territory that accompanied them, must have reduced

all orders of men at Rome to great distress.  But those who most suffered were

the plebeians.  The plebeians at that time consisted entirely of landholders,

great and small, and husbandmen, for in those times the practice of trades and

mechanical arts was considered unworthy of a freeborn man. Some of the

plebeian families were as wealthy as any among the patricians; but the mass of

them were petty yeoman, who lived on the produce of their small farm, and were

solely dependent for a living on their own limbs, their own thrift and

industry.  Most of them lived in the villages and small towns, which in those

times were thickly sprinkled over the slopes of the Campagna.


     The patricians, on the other hand, resided chiefly within the city.  If

slaves were few as yet, they had the labor of their clients available to till

their farms; and through their clients also they were enabled to derive a

profit from the practice of trading and crafts, which personally neither they

nor the plebeians would stoop to pursue.  Besides these sources of profit,

they had at this time the exclusive use of the public land, a subject on which

we shall have to speak more at length hereafter.  At present, it will be

sufficient to say, that the public land now spoken of had been the crown land

or regal domain, which on the expulsion of the kings had been forfeited to the

state.  The patricians being in possession of all actual power, engrossed

possession of it, and seem to have paid a very small quit-rent to the treasury

for this great advantage.


     Besides this, the necessity of service in the army, or militia - as it

might more justly be called - acted very differently on the rich landholder

and the small yeoman.  The latter, being called out with sword and spear for

the summer's campaign, as his turn came round, was obliged to leave his farm

uncared for, and his crop could only be reaped by the kind aid of neighbors;

whereas the rich proprietor, by his clients or his hired laborers, could

render the required military service without robbing his land of his own

labor.  Moreover, the territory of Rome was so narrow, and the enemy's borders

so close at hand, that any night the stout yeoman might find himself reduced

to beggary, by seeing his crops destroyed, his cattle driven away, and his

homestead burnt in a sudden foray.  The patricians and rich plebeians were, it

is true, exposed to the same contingencies.  But wealth will always provide

some defence; and it is reasonable to think that the larger proprietors

provided places of refuge, into which they could drive their cattle and secure

much of their property, such as the peel-towers common in our own border

counties.  Thus the patricians and their clients might escape the storm which

destroyed the isolated yeoman.


     To this must be added that the public land seems to have been mostly in

pasturage, and therefore the property of the patricians must have chiefly

consisted in cattle, which was more easily saved from depredation than the

crops of the plebeian.  Lastly, the profit derived from the trades and

business of their clients, being secured by the walls of the city, gave to the

patricians the command of all the capital that could exist in a state of

society so simple and crude, and afforded at once a means of repairing their

own losses, and also of obtaining a dominion over the poor yeoman.


     For some time after the expulsion of the Tarquins it was necessary for

the patricians to treat the plebeians with liberality.  The institutions of

"the Commons' King," King Servius, suspended by Tarquin, were, partially at

least, restored: it is said even that one of the first consuls was a plebeian,

and that he chose several of the leading plebeians into the senate. But after

the death of Porsenna, and when the fear of the Tarquins ceased, all these

flattering signs disappeared.  The consuls seem still to have been elected by

the Centuriate Assembly, but the Curiate Assembly retained in their own hands

the right of conferring the Emperium, which amounted to a positive veto on the

election by the larger body.  All the names of the early consuls, except in

the first year of the Republic, are patrician.  But if by chance a consul

displayed popular tendencies, it was in the power of the senate and patricians

to suspend his power by the appointment of a dictator. Thus, practically, the

patrician burgesses again became the Populus, or body politic of Rome.


     It must not here be forgotten that this dominant body was an exclusive

caste; that is, it consisted of a limited number of noble families, who

allowed none of their members to marry with persons born out of the pale of

their own order.  The child of a patrician and a plebeian, or of a patrician

and a client, was not considered as born in lawful wedlock; and however proud

the blood which it derived from one parent, the child sank to the condition of

the parent of lower rank.  This was expressed in Roman language by saying,

that there was no "Right of Connubium" between patricians and any inferior

classes of men.  Nothing can be more impolitic than such restrictions; nothing

more hurtful even to those who count it their privilege.  In all exclusive or

oligarchical pales, families become extinct, and the breed decays both in

bodily strength and mental vigor.  Happily for Rome, the patricians were

unable long to maintain themselves as a separate caste.


     Yet the plebeians might long have submitted to this state of social and

political inferiority, had not their personal distress and the severe laws of

Rome driven them to seek relief by claiming to be recognized as members of the

body politic.


     The severe laws of which we speak were those of debtor and creditor.  If

a Roman borrowed money, he was expected to enter into a contract with his

creditor to pay the debt by a certain day; and if on that day he was unable to

discharge his obligation, he was summoned before the patrician judge, who was

authorized by the law to assign the defaulter as a bondsman to his creditor -

that is, the debtor was obliged to pay by his own labor the debt which he was

unable to pay in money.  Or if a man incurred a debt without such formal

contract, the rule was still more imperious, for in that case the law itself

fixed the day of payment; and if after a lapse of thirty days from that date

the debt was not discharged, the creditor was empowered to arrest the person

of his debtor, to load him with chains, and feed him on bread and water for

another thirty days; and then, if the money still remained unpaid, he might

put him to death, or sell him as a slave to the highest bidder; or, if there

were several creditors, they might hew his body in pieces and divide it.  And

in this last case the law provided with scrupulous providence against the

evasion by which the Merchant of Venice escaped the cruelty of the Jew; for

the Roman law said that "whether a man cut more or less [than his due], he

should incur no penalty." These atrocious provisions, however, defeated their

own object, for there was no more unprofitable way in which the body of a

debtor could be disposed of.


     Such being the law of debtor and creditor, it remains to say that the

creditors were chiefly of the patrician caste, and the debtors almost

exclusively of the poorer sort among the plebeians.  The patricians were the

creditors, because from their occupancy of the public land, and from their

engrossing the profits to be derived from trade and crafts, they alone had

spare capital to lend.  The plebeian yeomen were the debtors, because their

independent position made them, at that time, helpless. Vassals, clients,

serfs, or by whatever name dependents are called, do not suffer from the

ravages of a predatory war like free landholders, because the loss falls on

their lords or patrons.  But when the independent yeoman's crops are

destroyed, his cattle "lifted," and his homestead in ashes, he must himself

repair the loss.  This was, as we have said, the condition of many Roman

plebeians.  To rebuild their houses and restock their farms they borrowed; the

patricians were their creditors; and the law, instead of protecting the small

holders, like the law of the Hebrews, delivered them over into serfdom or



     Thus the free plebeian population might have been reduced to a state of

mere dependency, and the history of Rome might have presented a repetition of

monotonous severity, like that of Sparta or of Venice. ^1 But it was ordained

otherwise.  The distress and oppression of the plebeians led them to demand

and to obtain political protectors, by whose means they were slowly but surely

raised to equality of rights and privileges with their rulers and oppressors.

These protectors were the famous Tribunes of the Plebs.  We will now repeat

the no less famous legends by which their first creation was accounted for.


[Footnote 1: A well-known German historian calls the Spartans by the name of

"stunted Romans." There is much resemblance to be traced.]


     It was, by the common reckoning, fifteen years after the expulsion of the

Tarquins (B.C. 494), that the plebeians were roused to take the first step in

the assertion of their rights.  After the battle of Lake Regillus, the

plebeians had reason to expect some relaxation of the law of debt, in

consideration of the great services they had rendered in the war.  But none

was granted.  The patrician creditors began to avail themselves of the

severity of the law against their plebeian debtors.  The discontent that

followed was great, and the consuls prepared to meet the storm.  These were

Appius Claudius, the proud Sabine nobleman who had lately become a Roman, and

who now led the high patrician party with all the unbending energy of a

chieftain whose will had never been disputed by his obedient clansmen; and P.

Servilius, who represented the milder and more liberal party of the Fathers.


     It chanced that an aged man rushed into the Forum on a market-day, loaded

with chains, clothed with a few scanty rags, his hair and beard long and

squalid; his whole appearance ghastly, as of one oppressed by long want of

food and air.  He was recognized as a brave soldier, the old comrade of many

who thronged the Forum.  He told his story, how that in the late wars the

enemy had burned his house and plundered his little farm; that to replace his

losses he had borrowed money of a patrician, that his cruel creditor (in

default of payment) had thrown him into prison, ^2 and tormented him with

chains and scourges.  At this sad tale, the passions of the people rose

high.Appius was obliged to conceal himself, while Servilius undertook to plead

the cause of the plebeians with the senate.


[Footnote 2: Such prisons were called ergastula, and afterward became the

places for keeping slaves in.]


     Meantime news came to the city that the Roman territory was invaded by

the Volscian foe.  The consuls proclaimed a levy; but the stout yeomen, one

and all, refused to give in their names and take the military oath. Servilius

now came forward and proclaimed by edict that no citizen should be imprisoned

for debt so long as the war lasted, and that at the close of the war he would

propose an alteration of the law.  The plebeians trusted him, and the enemy

was driven back.  But when the popular consul returned with his victorius

soldiers, he was denied a triumph, and the senate, led by Appius, refused to

make any concession in favor of the debtors.


     The anger of the plebeians rose higher and higher, when again news came

that the enemy was ravaging the lands of Rome.  The senate, well knowing that

the power of the consuls would avail nothing, since Appius was regarded as a

tyrant, and Servilius would not choose again to become an instrument for

deceiving the people, appointed a dictator to lead the citizens into the

field.  But to make the act as popular as might be, they named M. Valerius, a

descendant of the great Poplicola.  The same scene was repeated over again.

Valerius protected the plebeians against their creditors while they were at

war, and promised them relief when war was over.  But when the danger was gone

by, Appius again prevailed; the senate refused to listen to Valerius, and the

dictator laid down his office, calling gods and men to witness that he was not

responsible for his breach of faith.


     The plebeians whom Valerius had led forth were still under arms, still

bound by their military oath, and Appius, with the violent patricians, refused

to disband them.  The army, therefore, having lost Valerius, their proper

general chose two of themselves, L. Junius Brutus and L. Sicinius Bellutus by

name, and under their command they marched northward and occupied the hill

which commands the junction of the Tiber and the Anio.  Here, at a distance of

about two miles from Rome, they determined to settle and form a new city,

leaving Rome to the patricians and their clients.  But the latter were not

willing to lose the best of their soldiery, the cultivators of the greater

part of the Roman territory, and they sent repeated embassies to persuade the

seceders to return.  They, however,turned a deaf ear to all promises, for they

had too often been deceived.  Appius now urged the senate and patricians to

leave the plebeians to themselves.  The nobles and their clients, he said,

could well maintain themselves in the city without such base aid.


     But wiser sentiments prevailed.  T.Lartius, and M.Valerius, both of whom

had been dictators, with Menenius Agrippa, an old patrician of popular

character, were empowered to treat with the people.  Still their leaders were

unwilling to listen, till old Menenius addressed them in the famous fable of

the "Belly and the Members":


     "In times of old," said he, "when every member of the body could think

for itself, and each had a separate will of its own, they all, with one

consent, resolved to revolt against the belly.  They knew no reason, they

said, why they should toil from morning till night in its service, while the

belly lay at its ease in the midst of all, and indolently grew fat upon their

labors.  Accordingly they agreed to support it no more.  The feet vowed they

would carry it no longer; the hands that they would do no more work; the teeth

that they would not chew a morsel of meat, even were it placed between them.

Thus resolved, the members for a time showed their spirit and kept their

resolution; but soon they found that instead of mortifying the belly they only

undid themselves: they languished for a while, and perceived too late that it

was owing to the belly that they had strength to work and courage to mutiny."


     The moral of this fable was plain.  The people readily applied it to the

patricians and themselves, and their leaders proposed terms of agreement to

the patrician messengers.  They required that the debtors who could not pay

should have their debts cancelled, and that those who had been given up into

slavery should be restored to freedom. This for the past.  And as a security

for the future, they demanded that two of themselves should be appointed for

the sole purpose of protecting the plebeians against the patrician

magistrates, if they acted cruelly or unjustly toward the debtors.  The two

officers thus to be appointed were called "Tribunes of the Plebs." Their

persons were to be sacred and inviolable during their year of office, whence

their office is called sacrosancta Potestas.  They were never to leave the

city during that time, and their houses were to be open day and night, that

all who needed their aid might demand it without delay.


     This concession, apparently great, was much modified by the fact that the

patricians insisted on the election of the tribunes being made at the Comitia

of the Centuries, in which they themselves and their wealthy clients could

usually command a majority.  In later times, the number of the tribunes was

increased to five, and afterward to ten.  They were elected at the Comitia of

the tribes.  They had the privilege of attending all sittings of the senate,

though they were not considered members of that famous body. Above all, they

acquired the great and perilous power of the veto, by which any one of their

number might stop any law, or annul any decree of the senate without cause or

reason assigned.  This right of veto was called the "Right of Intercession."


     On the spot where this treaty was made, an altar was built to Jupiter,

the causer and banisher of fear, for the plebeians had gone thither in fear

and returned from it in safety.  The place was called Mons Sacer, or the

Sacred Hill, forever after, and the laws by which the sanctity of the

tribunitian office was secured were called the Leges Sacratae.


     The tribunes were not properly magistrates or officers, for they had no

express functions of official duties to discharge.  They were simply

representatives and protectors of the plebs.  At the same time, however, with

the institution of these protective officers, the plebeians were allowed the

right of having two aediles chosen from their own body, whose business it was

to preserve order and decency in the streets, to provide for the repair of all

buildings and roads there, with other functions partly belonging to police

officers, and partly to commissioners of public works.

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* Because we believe primary sources of history far surpass secondary sources, most of the lives of the following individuals are taken from ancient historians such as Plutarch, Pliny, Suetonius and Tacitus