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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book IX Chapter 33: Appius Claudius prolongs his Censorship in defiance of the Law.[310 BC]
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The consuls for the following year were Quintus Fabius and Gaius Marcius Rutilus. Fabius took over the command at Sutrium, and brought reinforcements from Rome. A fresh army was also raised in Etruria and sent to support the besiegers.
Very many years had elapsed since there had been any contests between the patrician magistrates and the tribunes of the plebs. Now, however, a dispute arose through that family which seemed marked out by destiny to be the cause of quarrels with the plebs and its tribunes. Appius Claudius had now been censor eighteen months, the period fixed by the Aemilian Law for the duration of that office. In spite of the fact that his colleague, Gaius Plautius, had resigned, he could under no circumstances whatever be induced to vacate his office. Publius Sempronius was the tribune of the plebs who commenced an action for limiting his censorship in to the legal period. In taking this step he was acting in the interests of justice quite as much as in the interests of the people, and he carried the sympathies of the aristocracy no less than he had the support of the masses. He recited the several provisions of the Aemilian Law and extolled its author, Mamercus Aemilius, the dictator, for having shortened the censorship. Formerly, he reminded his hearers, it was held for five years, a time long enough to make it tyrannical and despotic, Aemilius limited it to eighteen months. Then turning to Appius he asked him: Pray tell me, Appius, what would you have done had you been censor at the time that Gaius Furius and Marcus Geganius were censors?" Appius Claudius replied that the tribune's question had not much bearing on his case. He argued that though the law might be binding in the case of those censors during whose period of office it was passed, because it was after they had been appointed that the people ordered the measure to become law, and the last order of the people was law for the time being, nevertheless, neither he nor any of the censors subsequently appointed could be bound by it because all succeeding censors had been appointed by the order of the people and the last order of the people was the law for the time being.(1)
(1): Appius' argument is this: The Aemilian Law only restricted the censorship of Furius and Geganius, because whilst their election was tantamount to one "order of the people" the Aemilian Law was a second "order of the people" superseding the first. But in all subsequent elections there was only one "order of the people," viz. the election itself, and therefore the original law which fixed the duration of the office at five years resumed its validity.