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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book VII Chapter 18: Contest over the Consulship.[355-4 BC]
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So in the 400th year from the foundation of the City and the 35th after its capture by the Gauls, the second consulship was wrested from the plebs, for the first time since the passing of the Licinian Law seven years previously. |
Empulum was taken this year from the from the Tiburtines without any serious fighting. It seems uncertain whether both consuls held joint command in this campaign, as some writers assert, or whether the fields of the Tarquinians were ravaged by Sulpicius at the same time that Valerius was leading his legions against the Tiburtines.
The consuls had a more serious conflict at home with the plebs and their tribunes. They considered it as a question not only of courage but of honour and loyalty to their order that as two patricians had received the consulship so they should hand it on to two patricians. They felt that they must either renounce all claims to it, if it became a plebeian magistracy or they must keep it in its entirety as a possession which they had received in its entirety from their fathers.
The plebs protested: "What were they living for? Why were they enrolled as citizens if they could not with their united strength maintain the right to what had been won for them by the courage of those two men, Lucius Sextius and Gaius Licinius? It were better to put up with kings or decemvirs or any other form of absolutism, even though with a worse name, than to see both consuls patricians, the other side not alternately governing and being governed but regarding itself as placed in perpetual authority, and looking upon the plebs as simply born to be their slaves."
There was no lack of tribunes to lead the agitation, but in such a state of universal excitement everybody was his own leader. After many fruitless journeys to the Campus Martius, where numerous election days had been wasted in disturbances, the plebs was at last worsted by the steady persistence of the consuls. There was such a feeling of despair that the tribunes, followed by a gloomy and sullen plebs, exclaimed as they left the Campus that there was an end to all liberty, and that they must not only quit the Campus but must even abandon the City now that it was crushed and enslaved by the tyranny of the patricians. The consuls, though deserted by the majority of the people, only a few voters remaining behind, proceeded none the less determinedly with the election. Both the consuls elected were patricians, Marcus Fabius Ambustus (for the third time) and Titus Quinctius. In some of the annalists I find Marcus Popilius given as consul instead of Titus Quinctius.