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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book VII Chapter 21: Financial Reforms.[352 BC]
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At the close of the year the consular elections were put off owing to the quarrel between the two orders -- the tribunes declared that they would not permit the elections to be held unless they were conducted in accordance with the Licinian Law, whilst the dictator [Note 1] was determined to abolish the consulship altogether rather than make it the common property of plebeians and patricians. The elections were still postponed when the dictator resigned office; so matters reverted to an interregnum. The interreges declined to hold the elections in consequence of the hostile attitude of the plebs, and the contest went on till the eleventh interregnum. Whilst the tribunes were sheltering themselves behind the Licinian Law and fighting the political battle, the plebs felt their most pressing grievance to be the steadily growing burden of debt; the personal question quite overshadowed the political controversy. |
Wearied out with the prolonged agitation the senate ordered Lucius Cornelius Scipio, the interrex, to restore harmony to the State by conducting the consular elections in accordance with the Licinian Law. Publius Valerius Publicola was elected and Gaius Marcius Rutilus was his plebeian colleague.
Now that there was a general desire for concord, the new consuls took up the financial question which was the one hindrance to union. The State assumed the responsibility for the liquidation of the debts, and five commissioners were appointed, who were charged with the management of the money and were hence called mensarii (="bankers"). The impartiality and diligence with which these commissioners discharged their functions make them worthy of an honourable place in every historical record. Their names were: Gaius Duilius, Publius Decius Mus, Marcus Papirius, Quintus Publilius, and Titus Aemilius.
The task they undertook was a difficult one, and involved hardship generally to both sides; on one side, at any rate, it always pressed heavily; but they carried it out with great consideration for all parties, and whilst incurring a large outlay on the part of the State they did not involve it in loss. Seated at tables in the Forum, they dealt with long-standing debts due to the slackness of the debtor more than to his want of means, either by advancing public money on proper security, or by making a fair valuation of his property. In this way an immense amount of debt was cleared off without any injustice or even complaints on either side.
Owing to a report that the twelve cities of Etruria had formed a hostile league, a good deal of alarm was felt, which subsequently proved to be groundless, and it was thought necessary that a dictator should be nominated. This took place in camp, for it was there that the consuls received the senatorial decree. Gaius Julius was nominated and Lucius Aemilius was assigned to him as Master of the Horse.
(1): "It appears that one cause of the prevailing distress was the scarcity of the circulating medium. A debtor, therefore, even though he possessed property in land, might yet be practically insolvent, inasmuch as he could not, except at an enormous loss, convert his land into money. Here therefore the five commissioners interposed; they furnished the debtor with ready money, when he had any property to offer as a security, or any friend who would be security for him: and they ordered that land and cattle should be received in payment at a certain valuation. In this manner much property which had hitherto been unavailable was brought into circulation, land and cattle became legal tender at a certain fixed rate of value; and thus a great amount of debt was liquidated, and, as Livy adds, to the satisfaction of the creditor as well as of the debtor." -- Arnold, ibid. p. 73.