Roman Empire > Roman Empire History > From The Decemvirate To The Capture Of Rome By The Gauls - b.C. 448-390

From The Decemvirate To The Capture Of Rome By The Gauls - b.C. 448-390

The efforts of the leaders of the Plebeians were now directed to two subjects, the removal of the prohibition of intermarriage between the two orders, and the opening of the Consulship to their own order. They attained the first object four years after the Decemvirate by the Lex Canuleia, proposed by Canuleius, one of the Tribunes (B.C. 445). But they did not carry this law without a third secession, in which they occupied the Janiculum. At the same time a compromise was effected with respect to the Consulship. The Patricians agreed that the supreme power in the state should be intrusted to new officers bearing the title of Military Tribunes with Consular Power, who might be chosen equally from Patricians and Plebeians. Their number varied in different years from three to six. In B.C. 444 three Military Tribunes were nominated for the first time. In the following year (443) two new magistrates, called Censors, were appointed. They were always to be chosen from the Patricians; and the reason of the institution clearly was to deprive the Military Tribunes of some of the most important functions, which had been formerly discharged by the Consuls. The Censors originally held office for a period of five years, which was called a lustrum; but their tenure was limited to eighteen months, as early as ten years after its institution (B.C. 443), by a law of the Dictator Mamercus Æmilius, though they continued to be appointed only once in five years.

Though the Military Tribunes could from their first institution be chosen from either order, yet such was the influence of the Patricians in the Comitia of the Centuries that it was not till B.C. 400, or nearly forty years afterward, that any Plebeians were actually elected. In B.C. 421 the Quæstorship was also thrown open to them. The Quæstors were the paymasters of the state; and as the Censors had to fill up vacancies in the Senate from those who had held the office of Quæstor, the Plebeians thus became eligible for the Senate.

During these struggles between the two orders an event took place which is frequently referred to by later writers. In the year 440 B.C. there was a great famine at Rome. Sp. Mælius, one of the richest of the Plebeian knights, expended his fortune in buying up corn, which he sold to the poor at a small price, or distributed among them gratuitously. The Patricians thought, or pretended to think, that he was aiming at kingly power: and in the following year (439) the aged Quintius Cincinnatus, who had saved the Roman army on Mount Algidus, was appointed Dictator. He nominated C. Servilius Ahala his Master of the Horse. During the night the Capitol and all the strong posts were garrisoned by the Patricians, and in the morning Cincinnatus appeared in the forum with a strong force, and summoned Mælius to appear before his tribunal. But seeing the fate which awaited him, he refused to go, whereupon Ahala rushed into the crowd and struck him dead upon the spot. His property was confiscated, and his house was leveled to the ground. The deed of Ahala is frequently mentioned by Cicero and other writers in terms of the highest admiration, but it was regarded by the Plebeians at the time as an act of murder. Ahala was brought to trial, and only escaped condemnation by a voluntary exile.

In their foreign wars the Romans continued to be successful, and, aided by their allies the Latins and Hernicans, they made steady progress in driving back their old enemies the Volscians and Æquians. About this time they planted several colonies in the districts which they conquered. These Roman colonies differed widely from those of ancient Greece and of modern Europe. They were of the nature of garrisons established in conquered towns, and served both to strengthen and extend the power of Rome. The colonists received a portion of the conquered territory, and lived as a ruling class among the old inhabitants, who retained the use of the land.

The Romans now renewed their wars with the Etruscans; and the capture of the important city of Veii was the first decisive advantage gained by the Republic. The hero of this period was Camillus, who stands out prominently as the greatest general of the infant Republic, who saved Rome from the Gauls, and whom later ages honored as a second Romulus.

Veii, however, was only taken after a long and severe struggle. It was closely allied with Fidenæ, a town of Latium, not more than five or six miles from Rome. The two cities frequently united their arms against Rome, and in one of these wars Lars Tolumnius, the king of Veii, was slain in single combat by A. Cornelius Cossus, one of the Military Tribunes, and his arms dedicated to Jupiter, the second of the three instances in which the Spolia Opima were won (B.C. 437). A few years afterward Fidenæ was taken and destroyed (B.C. 426), and at the same time a truce was granted to the Veientines for twenty years. At the expiration of this truce the war was renewed, and the Romans resolved to subdue Veii as they had done Fidenæ. The siege of Veii, like that of Troy, lasted ten years, and the means of its capture was almost as marvelous as the wooden horse by which Troy was taken. The waters of the Alban Lake rose to such a height as to deluge the neighboring country. An oracle declared that Veii could not be taken until the waters of the lake found a passage to the sea. This reached the ears of the Romans, who thereupon constructed a tunnel to carry off its superfluous waters. The formation of this tunnel is said to have suggested to the Romans the means of taking Veii. M. Furius Camillus, who was appointed Dictator, commenced digging a mine beneath the city, which was to have its outlet in the citadel, in the temple of Juno, the guardian deity of Veii. When the mine was finished, the attention of the inhabitants was diverted by feigned assaults against the walls. Camillus led the way into the mine at the head of a picked body of troops. As he stood beneath the temple of Juno, he heard the soothsayer declare to the king of the Veientines that whoever should complete the sacrifice he was offering would be the conqueror. Thereupon the Romans burst forth and seized the flesh of the victim, which Camillus offered up. The soldiers who guarded the walls were thus taken in the rear, the gates were thrown open, and the city soon filled with Romans. The booty was immense, and the few citizens who escaped the sword were sold as slaves. The image of Juno was carried to Rome, and installed with great pomp on Mount Aventine, where a temple was erected to her. Camillus entered Rome in a chariot drawn by four white horses. Rome had never yet seen so magnificent a triumph (B.C. 396).

One circumstance, which occurred during the siege of Veii, deserves notice. As the Roman soldiers were obliged to pass the whole year under arms, in order to invest the city during the winter as well as the summer, they now, for the first time, received pay.

Veii was a more beautiful city than Rome, and, as it was now without inhabitants, many of the Roman people wished to remove thither. At the persuasion of Camillus the project was abandoned; but the territory of Veii was divided among the Plebeians.

Falerii was almost the only one of the Etruscan cities which had assisted Veii, and she was now exposed single-handed to the vengeance of the Romans. It is related that, when Camillus appeared before Falerii, a schoolmaster of the town treacherously conducted the sons of the noblest families into the Roman camp, but that Camillus, scorning the baseness of the man, ordered his arms to be tied behind him, and the boys to flog him back into the town; whereupon the inhabitants, overcome by such generosity, gave up their arms, and surrendered to the Romans (B.C. 394).

Camillus was one of the proudest of the Patricians; and he now incurred the hatred of the Plebeians by calling upon every man to refund a tenth of the booty taken at Veii; because he had made a vow to consecrate to Apollo a tithe of the spoil. He was accused of having appropriated the great bronze gates at Veii, and was impeached by one of the Tribunes. Seeing that his condemnation was certain, he went into exile, praying as he left the walls that the Republic might soon have cause to regret him (B.C. 491). His prayer was heard, for the Gauls had already crossed the Apennines, and next year Rome was in ashes.

Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus restored
Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus restored
Roman Empire History

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