Page 0767

767

ROME-EARLY ANNALS,

he does not appear, take witnesses, arrest him; if he hesitates, lay hands on

him; if age or sickness hinder him from appearing, furnish a horse, but not a

carriage."

"Let the rich answer for the rich; for the poor, whoever will. The debt

acknowledged, the affair adjudicated, let there be thirty days delay. Then hands

may be laid upon him and he may be taken before the judge. At sunset the tribunal

closes. If he do not satisfy the judgment, or if no one answers for him, the

creditor shall take him away and attach him with cords or with chains, which

shall weigh fifteen pounds-less than fifteen if the creditor so like. Let the

prisoner live on his own means. If he have none, he is to have a pound of flour

or more at the will of the creditor."

"If he does not arrange, detain him in custody for sixty days; however, he is to

be brought into court three market-days, and there the amount of his debt shall

be proclaimed. On the third market-day, if there are many creditors, they may cut

him in pieces. Should they cut more or less they are not responsible. If they

wish, they may sell him to strangers beyond the Tiber."

Such were the merciful statutes of primitive Rome. The government was of the

moneylender, for the moneylender, and by the moneylender.

In this condition of affairs it not infrequently happened that an imprisoned

debtor would escape from his dungeon and, flying to the Forum, exhibit himself to

the people. Such scenes were more than human nature could bear. The

insurrectionary spirit was ready to burst into a flame. On one occasion a

centurion of the Roman army, a man of honorable scars, showed his rags and

squalor, begrimed with the prison mold, to his enraged countrymen. At that moment

an invasion was threatened by the Volscians. The consuls, Appius Claudius and

Servilius, called the people to arms, but the call was in vain. The plebeians

refused to enlist until their wrongs were redressed and their friends liberated

from prison. The emergency admitted of no delay, and the Senate gave a pledge

that when the Volscians were subdued the demands of the people should be complied

with. But the pledge was broken, and the plebeians were threatened with a

dictatorship under Appius.

In the following year (B. C. 494), when the spirit of sedition was still rife,

the threat was carried out; but the choice fell upon Valerius Volscus, a man of

pacific disposition. Meantime, the plebeians had gathered in a body and withdrawn

to an eminence called the Monssacer, about three miles from the city. Having

obtained this vantage ground, they were emboldened to seize the Aventine, within

the corporate limits. While holding this position, the Senate sent to them as an

envoy Menenius Agrippa. In his address to the insurgents he likened the divisions

of Roman society to the different members of the body. He showed the mutual

dependence of the various classes, and by fair promises and careful dealing

induced the people to return to their homes. This time the Senate kept its faith;

the imprisoned debtors were liberated, and the insolvent relieved from their

obligations.

It is thought that this first break between the two classes of Roman society was

rather between the rich and the poor than between the two great permanent

divisions of the people. Most of the poor, however, were plebeians, and nearly

all of the rich were patricians. In the case of the next insurrection the lines

were strictly drawn, according to the political classification. Until now the

plebeians had been excluded from the consulship, and were thus without the

protection of a magistrate belonging to their own ranks. They therefore insisted

on such a change in the constitution as should admit them to a share in the

government.

This crisis was one of the most important in the early history of Rome. In the

struggle between the classes the plebeians were successful, and it was enacted

that henceforth two officers, to be known as Tribunes, should be chosen from the

commons; that they should be granted personal inviolability; and that any one who

assailed them while in office should have his property confiscated and himself

pronounced accursed. There was thus established in the constitution of Rome a

counterpoise to the power of the consuls.