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The first election under the new order resulted in the choice of Licinius and

Brutus as tribunes of the people.

The duty of the new officers was, as the name implied, to manage the local

affairs of the tribes. The office was intended, primarily, as a check upon the

overgrown-almost regal- power of the consuls. The tribunes exercised only civil

authority. No military force was placed at their disposal; but, so far as

official dignity and sacredness of purpose were concerned, the new magistrates

were in no wise inferior to the consuls themselves. They were regarded as under

the special protection of the gods, inasmuch that whoever offered them insult or

violence might be killed with impunity.

Any plebeian had the right to appeal to the tribunes against consular authority;

and to the end that, at all times and under all circumstances, the appeal might

not be obstructed or delayed, the law required that the tribunes should never go

to a greater distance than a mile from the city wall, and that the doors of their

houses should stand open day and night. From the exercise and extension of their

power, the tribunes came to have a veto upon the execution of any law regarded as

dangerous to the interests of the people. To assist them in the discharge of

their duties, two subordinate officers, known as Aediles, were chosen under the

same statute which created the tribunal office.

It frequently happened that the tribunes must call the plebeians together to

consult with them on affairs of state. In these meetings, the popular officers

spoke with entire freedom on the weightiest questions which agitated the

Republic. These popular assemblies had the right of petition, but no legislative

authority. On such occasions, resolutions were adopted which were carried by the

tribunes to the comitia centuriata; but such resolutions, like those of a modern

public assembly, were merely expressions of the public wish, and had no binding

force as law. The plebeians themselves, however, were disposed to claim for their

resolutions a certain regal sanction, and this view of their import was favored

by the adoption of the Icilian Law proposed by the. tribune Icilius, in the year

B. C. 493, wherein it was enacted that any one interrupting a tribune while

addressing the people should be punished with death.

As was to be expected under such conditions, the powers of these officers of the

people were rapidly extended. They soon usurped authority which did not

originally belong to them. They even went so far as to claim the right of

summoning patricians before them, and of punishing them with fines, imprisonment,

or death. The first instance in which this stretch of power was brought to the

test was in the case of Caius Marcius Coriolanus. There was a famine in Rome. The

poor were starving. Corn was brought from Etruria to relieve the destitute. This

being insufficient, Gelon, king of Syracuse, sent shiploads of supplies as

presents to the Roman people. Coriolanus, a patrician and soldier, who had won a

civic crown by his bravery at the battle of Lake Regillus, proposed that none of

these provisions should be distributed to the plebeians until they consented to

give up their tribunes.

For this he was impeached by the people's officers. He was accused before the

comitia centuriata of having broken the peace between the two classes of Roman

citizens, as well as having violated the sacred laws of humanity. The patricians

were unable to protect him from popular indignation, and fleeing from Rome he

sought refuge among the Volscians. Once safe in Antium, the capital town of that

tribe, he persuaded the king to join him in making war on Rome. With a large army

Coriolanus invaded the Roman territory, and made his way within five miles of the

city. He wasted the country and spread terror on every hand until the Romans were

glad to sue for peace; but Coriolanus imposed harsh terms. He demanded that all

the towns hitherto taken from the Volscians should be unconditionally restored.

The people sent out a second embassy to beg for more favorable conditions, but

the envoys were turned away with disdain. Finally a procession of Roman matrons,

headed by Veturia and Volumnia, the mother and wife of Coriolanus, came to

beseech him to spare his country from further persecution. It is related that the

haughty patrician, addressing his mother with a sort of indignant loyalty, cried