UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE ANCIENT WORLD.
expiration of his consulship, Cassius was charged before the Senate with aspiring
to kingly power, and after a trial was condemned to death.
With the fall of the people's friend, the patricians became more haughty and
severe than ever. In B. C. 485, the Fabian Gens obtained the consulship by
usurpation, and, contrary to the Valerian Law, held it for ten years. During this
interval the plebeians suffered the heaviest oppressions. In order to compel
service in the army, the officers of the government adopted the plan of enlisting
recruits beyond the limits of the pomerium, where the authority of the tribunes
could not avail to save the poor man who was arrested. Another method adopted by
the authorities was to suborn one of the tribunes, and induce him in any
particular case to veto the acts of his colleagues.
Meanwhile the Fabii continued to be nominated for the consulship year after year.
This course produced its natural effect, and a certain Caeso Fabius, himself a
patrician, brought forward a proposition to enforce the Agrarian Law. This was
done for the purpose of winning over the plebeians to his support. The government
became alarmed at the prospect of a usurpation, and the whole Fabian Gens, now
numbering three hundred and six citizens and more than four thousand clients, was
compelled to retire from the city. They marched to the river Cremera, and
established a fortified camp near the town of Veii. Here they sustained
themselves for two years, but in B.C. 477 were enticed into an ambush, and slain
to a man. Only one boy belonging to the Gens remained at Rome to preserve the
name of the great family which had recently controlled the state.
A crisis was now reached in the long struggle between the two political classes
of Roman citizens. After the banishment of the Fabii, the contest over the
execution of the Agrarian Law became hotter than ever. In B. C. 473, the tribune
Genucius brought forward an accusation against the consuls, charging them with
neglecting to make the promised distribution of lands. The day of trial was set,
but on the night before the opening of the cause the tribune was murdered in his
own house. His colleagues were terrified into silence, and the trial of the
consuls came to naught.
The murder of their favorite representative enraged the plebeians more than ever,
and they demanded that henceforth the tribunal elections should be conducted
exclusively by themselves without patrician or senatorial interference. The
tribune Volero Publilius was the leader in this movement, while the patricians
were headed by Appius Claudius. The latter entered the plebeian assembly, and for
a while delayed the adoption of the measure proposed by Volero; but the popular
leader rallied his adherents, secured his reelection as tribune, and succeeded in
forcing the measure through the assembly. The law required that henceforth the
tribunes of the people should be chosen by a comitia composed exclusively of
plebeians. It was a great victory for popular rights. From the first step which
was taken by the adoption of the Icilian Law there had been a constant progress
in the direction of emancipating the Roman commons from the thralldom in which
they had been held by the patrician order.
For ten years after the passage of the Publilian Law there was a time of
comparative quiet; but the plebeians, now partially freed from servitude, began
to make still further demands for the enlargement of their rights in the state.
Their aim was to secure an unequivocal recognition in the constitution of their
position as an independent element of political society. The great obstacle in
the way of a further development of popular liberty was the consular prerogative.
This, though many times assailed, still stood in stubborn opposition to any
advance on the side of the people. The new demands now found expression in a
measure proposed in B. C. 462, by the tribune Caius Terentilius Assa, to the
effect that a commission of five members should be appointed to draw up a code of
laws limiting the judicial powers of the consuls.
Until the present the knowledge and practice of the law had been restricted to
the patrician order. The Senate and nobles had purposely prevented the reduction
of the laws to writing to the end that even the tribunes should remain dependent
upon others for an