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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book III Chapter 55: New Laws proposed by the Consuls.[449 BC]
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The election of consuls took place under the presidency of an interrex. Those elected were Lucius Valerius and Marcus Horatius, and they at once assumed office. Their consulship was a popular one, and inflicted no injustice upon the patricians, though they regarded it with suspicion, for whatever was done to safeguard the liberties of the plebs they looked upon as an infringement of their own powers. |
First of all, as it was a doubtful legal point whether the patricians were bound by the ordinances of the plebs, they carried a law in the Assembly of Centuries that what the plebs had passed in their tribes should be binding on the whole people (1). By this law a very effective weapon was placed in the hands of the tribunes. Then another consular law, confirming the right of appeal, as the one defence of liberty, which had been annulled by the decemvirs, was not only restored but strengthened for the future by a fresh enactment. This forbade the appointment of any magistrate from whom there was no right of appeal, and provided that any one who did so appoint might be rightly and lawfully put to death, nor should the man who put him to death be held guilty of murder.
When they had sufficiently strengthened the plebs by the right of appeal on the one hand and the protection afforded by the tribunes on the other, they proceeded to secure the personal inviolability of the tribunes themselves. The memory of this had almost perished, so they renewed it with certain sacred rites revived from a distant past, and in addition to securing their inviolability by the sanctions of religion, they enacted a law that whoever offered violence to the magistrates of the plebs, whether tribunes, plebeian aediles, or decemviral judges his person should be devoted to Jupiter, his possessions sold and the proceeds assigned to the temple of Ceres, the temple of Liber, and the temple of Libera. Jurists say that by this law no one was actually sacrosanct," but that when injury was offered to any of those mentioned above the offender was sacer". If an aedile, therefore, were arrested and sent to prison by superior magistrates, though this could not be done by law -- for by this law it would not be lawful for him to be injured -- yet it is a proof that an aedile is not held to be "sacrosanct" whereas the tribunes of the plebs were "sacrosanct" by the ancient oath taken by the plebeians when that office was first created. There were some who interpreted the law as including even the consuls in its provisions, and the praetors, because they were elected under the same auspices as the consuls, for a consul was called a " judge." This interpretation is refuted by the fact that in those times it was the custom for a judge to be called not " consul" but praetor."
These were the laws proposed enacted by the consuls. They ordered that the decrees of the senate, which used formerly to be suppressed and tampered with at the pleasure of the consuls should henceforth be taken to the aediles at the temple of Ceres. Marcus Duillius, the tribune, then proposed a resolution which the plebs adopted, that any one who should leave the plebs without tribunes, or who should create a magistrate from whom there was no appeal; should be scourged and beheaded. All these transactions were distasteful to the patricians, but they did not actively oppose them, as none of them had yet been marked out for vindictive proceedings.
(1): On the relation between the Assembly of Tribes and the Assembly of Centuries, see Mommsen, Vol. I. p. 272.