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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book VIII Chapter 18: Roman Matrons Guilty of Poisoning.[331 BC]
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Marcus Claudius Marcellus and Titus Valerius were the new consuls. I find in the annals Flaccus and Potitus variously given as the consul's cognomen, but the question is of small importance. |
This year gained an evil notoriety, either through the unhealthy weather or through human guilt. I would gladly believe -- and the authorities are not unanimous on the point -- that it is a false story which states that those whose deaths made the year notorious for pestilence were really carried off by poison. I shall, however, relate the matter as it has been handed down to avoid any appearance of impugning the credit of our authorities.
The foremost men in the State were being attacked by the same malady, and in almost every case with the same fatal results. A maid-servant went to Quintus Fabius Maximus, one of the curule aediles and promised to reveal the cause of the public mischief if the government would guarantee her against any danger in which her discovery might involve her. Fabius at once brought the matter to the notice of the consuls and they referred it to the senate, who authorised the promise of immunity to be given. She then disclosed the fact that the State was suffering through the crimes of certain women; those poisons were concocted by Roman matrons, and if they would follow her at once she promised that they should catch the poisoners in the act. They followed their informant and actually found some women compounding poisonous drugs and some poisons already made up. These latter were brought into the Forum, and as many as twenty matrons, at whose houses they had been seized, were brought up by the magistrates' officers. Two of them, Cornelia and Sergia, both members of patrician houses, contended that the drugs were medicinal preparations. The maid-servant, when confronted with them, told them to drink some that they might prove she had given false evidence. They were allowed time to consult as to what they would do, and the bystanders were ordered to retire that they might take counsel with the other matrons. They all consented to drink the drugs, and after doing so fell victims to their own criminal designs. Their attendants were instantly arrested, and denounced a large number of matrons as being guilty of the same offence, out of whom a hundred and seventy were found guilty. Up to that time there had never been a charge of poison investigated in Rome. The whole incident was regarded as a portent, and thought to be an act of madness rather than deliberate wickedness. In consequence of the universal alarm created, it was decided to follow the precedent recorded in the annals. During the secessions of the plebs in the old days a nail had been driven in by the dictator, and by this act of expiation men's minds, disordered by civil strife, had been restored to sanity. A resolution was passed accordingly, that a dictator should be appointed to drive in the nail. Gnaeus Quinctilius was appointed and named Lucius Valerius as his Master of the Horse. After the nail was driven in they resigned office.
|Foedus insequens annus seu intemperie caeli seu humana fraude fuit, M. Claudio Marcello C. Valerio consulibus. + Flaccum Potitumque uarie in annalibus cognomen consulis inuenio; ceterum in eo parui refert quid ueri sit +. illud peruelim + nec omnes auctores sunt + proditum falso esse uenenis absumptos quorum mors infamem annum pestilentia fecerit; sicut proditur tamen res, ne cui auctorum fidem abrogauerim, exponenda est. cum primores ciuitatis similibus morbis eodemque ferme omnes euentu morerentur, ancilla quaedam ad Q. Fabium Maximum aedilem curulem indicaturam se causam publicae pestis professa est, si ab eo fides sibi data esset haud futurum noxae indicium. Fabius confestim rem ad consules, consules ad senatum referunt consensusque ordinis fides indici data. tum patefactum muliebri fraude ciuitatem premi matronasque ea uenena coquere et, si sequi extemplo uelint, manifesto deprehendi posse. secuti indicem et coquentes quasdam medicamenta et recondita alia inuenerunt; quibus in forum delatis et ad uiginti matronis, apud quas deprehensa erant, per uiatorem accitis duae ex eis, Cornelia ac Sergia, patriciae utraque gentis, cum ea medicamenta salubria esse contenderent, ab confutante indice bibere iussae ut se falsum commentam arguerent, spatio ad conloquendum sumpto, cum submoto populo [in conspectu omnium] rem ad ceteras rettulissent, haud abnuentibus et illis bibere, epoto [in conspectu omnium] medicamento suamet ipsae fraude omnes interierunt. comprehensae extemplo earum comites magnum numerum matronarum indicauerunt; ex quibus ad centum septuaginta damnatae; neque de ueneficiis ante eam diem Romae quaesitum est. prodigii ea res loco habita captisque magis mentibus quam consceleratis similis uisa; itaque memoria ex annalibus repetita in secessionibus quondam plebis clauum ab dictatore fixum alienatas[que] discordia mentes hominum eo piaculo compotes sui fecisse, dictatorem claui figendi causa creari placuit. creatus Cn. Quinctilius magistrum equitum L. Valerium dixit, qui fixo clauo magistratu se abdicauerunt.|