UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE ANCIENT WORLD.
the new. Two additional statutes were prepared, and the whole given to the public
as the Twelve Tables of Laws; and these became the basis of all subsequent
legislation in both the Republic and the Empire. The new code was plainly written
and affixed to the rostra in front of the Curia Hostilia, that all the people
might scrutinize the work of their commissioners. It became customary to
transcribe them and to learn them by heart, so that the citizen of Rome, even
from his school-boy days, might have the laws of his country at his tongue's end.
The code of the Twelve Tables was noted less for revolutionary enactments than
for the succinct statement which it gave of the existing laws. The law of debt
remained as before, except that the rate of interest was limited to ten per cent.
The marriage statute still interdicted the union of patricians and plebeians; and
the discrimination against the proletarii, or those whose property was assessed
at less than eleven thousand asses, was retained as it had been since the days of
Servius. So also the old laws relative to fines, imprisonment, and the punishment
of death were allowed to stand with little modification. The great benefit
conferred on the state by the new code was that it gave a fixed and indisputable
form to that which had previously been the subject of endless disputes, and gave
publicity to the whole, so that every citizen might know the laws of his country.
The popularity won by the decemvirs soon led to haughtiness and usurpation.
Before the end of their second year in the government their conduct was such as
to effect a complete estrangement of the people. They appeared in the Forum
accompanied by lictors, who carried the fasces with axes-an assumption of
authority which not even the consuls would have ventured to make. They neglected
to observe the forms of law, and when the term of their office expired refused to
A revolt was already imminent when two acts of infamy precipitated a crisis.
Learning the condition of affairs in Rome, the Sabines and AEquians took up arms
and began to pillage and devastate the country. They advanced into the heart of
Latium, and gained possession of Mount Algidus. Appius Claudius and his
colleagues of the decemviri now became alarmed, and convened the Senate. War was
declared, and a levy of troops made to fill the army. But the soldiers permitted
themselves to be defeated, and the capture of the city seemed imminent. In the
legion opposing the Sabines was a brave soldier named Lucius Licius Dentatus, who
had held the office of tribune, and who now denounced Appius Claudius and the
decemvirs as unworthy of confidence. For this he was murdered by the connivance
of the authorities.
Soon a second outrage occurred, which roused the indignation of the people to a
still higher pitch. Virginius, a man of plebeian rank, but of the highest
character, was the happy father of a beautiful daughter, Virginia. On her way to
school she was seen by Appius Claudius, who determined to gain possession of her
person. He therefore directed one of his clients to claim her as his slave. The
maiden was seized and brought before Appius, who sat as Judge to try the cause
between the father and the client. The foregone decision was rendered that
Virginia was the slave's daughter, and the decemvir ordered that Virginius should
give her up. The father in despair turned aside into a butcher's stall near the
Forum, and concealing a knife under his cloak, returned to bid his child
farewell. First embracing her tenderly he suddenly raised the knife and smote her
dead on the spot. Waving the bloody blade above him, he broke through the lictors
and escaped to the army.
When the soldiers heard the story their suppressed. wrath broke forth in fury. It
was as if the tragedy of Sextus and Lucretia had been again enacted. The army
mutinied and marched on the city. Having taken the Aventine, it was joined by
other forces, and the whole withdrew to the Sacred Mount. The decemvirs were
driven to resign. The moderate party, headed by Horatius and Valerius, entered
into negotiations with the insurgents, and a reconciliation was soon effected.
Amnesty was agreed to for all except the decemvirs. The tribunes were restored
and the right of appeal again granted to the people.
Appius Claudius and Oppius, his chief