At the close of the year, amidst the growing agitation headed by Manlius, the elections were held. The new consular tribunes were: Servius Cornelius Maluginensis and Publius Valerius Potitus (each for the second time), Marcus Furius Camillus (for the fifth time), . Servius Sulpicius Rufus (for the second time), Gaius Papirius Crassus and Titus Quinctius Cincinnatus (for the second time). |
The year opened in peace, which was most opportune for both patricians and plebeians -- for the plebs, because as they were not called away to serve in the ranks, they hoped to secure relief from the burden of debt, especially now that they had such a strong leader; for the patricians, as no external alarms would distract their minds from dealing with their domestic troubles. As each side was more prepared for the struggle it could not long be delayed. Manlius, too, was inviting the plebeians to his house and discussing night and day revolutionary plans with their leaders in a much more aggressive and resentful spirit than formerly. His resentment was kindled by the recent humiliation inflicted on a spirit unaccustomed to disgrace; his aggressiveness was encouraged by his belief that the dictator had not ventured to treat him as Quinctius Cincinnatus had treated Spurius Maelius, for not only had the dictator avoided the odium created by his imprisonment through resignation, but even the senate had not been able to face it.
Emboldened and embittered by these considerations, he roused the passions of the plebs, who were already incensed enough, to a higher pitch by his harangues. "How long, pray," he asked, "are you going to remain in ignorance of your strength, an ignorance which nature forbids even to beasts? Do at least reckon up your numbers and those of your opponents. Even if you were going to attack them on equal terms, man for man, I believe that you would fight more desperately for freedom than they for power. But you are much more numerous, for all you who have been in attendance on your patrols as clients will now confront them as adversaries. You have only to make a show of war and you will have peace. Let them see you are prepared to use force, they will abate their claims. You must dare something as a body or you will have to suffer everything as individuals. How long will you look to me? I certainly shall not fail you, see to it that Fortune does not fail me. I, your avenger, when your enemies thought fit was suddenly reduced to nothing, and you watched the man carried off to prison who had warded off imprisonment from so many of you. What have I to hope for, if my enemies dare to do more to me? Am I to look for the fate of Cassius and Maelius? It is all very well to cry in horror, "The gods will prevent that," but they will never come down from heaven on my account. You must prevent it; they must give you the courage to do so, as they gave me courage to defend you as a soldier from the barbarian enemy and as a civilian from your tyrannical fellow-citizens. Is the spirit of this great nation so small that you will always remain contented with the aid which your tribunes now afford you against your enemies, and never know any subject of dispute with the patricians, except as to how far you allow them to lord it over you? This is not your natural instinct, you are the slaves of habit. For why is it that you display such spirit towards foreign nations as to think it fair and just that you should rule over them? Because with them you have been wont to contend for dominion,while against these domestic enemies it has been a contest for liberty, which you have mostly attempted rather than maintained. Still, whatever leaders you have had, whatever qualities you yourselves have shown, you have so far, either by your strength or your good fortune, achieved every object, however great, on which you have set your hearts. Now it is time to attempt greater things. If you will only put your own good fortune to the test, if you will only put me to the test, who have already been tested fortunately, I hope, for you, you will have less trouble in setting up some one to lord it over the patricians than you have had in setting up men to resist their lording it over you. dictatorships and consulships must be levelled to the ground in order that the Roman plebs may lift up its head. Take your places, then, in the Forum; prevent any judgment for debt from being pronounced. I profess myself the patron of the plebs, a title with which my care and fidelity have invested me; if you prefer to designate your leader by any other title(1) of honour or command, you will find in him a more powerful instrument for attaining the objects you desire."
It is said that this was the first step in his attempt to secure kingly power, but there is no clear tradition as to his fellow- conspirators or the extent to which his plans were developed.
(1): Manlius hints at the title of "consul", in which capacity he could render them much more efficient service.
Event: The Treason of Marcus Manlius Capitolinus