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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book IX Chapter 34: Speech of Sempronius.[310 BC]
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This quibble on the part of Appius convinced no one. Sempronius then addressed the Assembly in the following language: Quirites, here you have the progeny of that Appius who, after being appointed decemvir for one year, appointed himself for a second year, and then, without going through any form of appointment either at his own hands or at any one elses, retained the fasces and the supreme authority for a third year, and persisted in retaining them until the power which he gained by foul means, exercised by foul means, and retained by foul means, proved his ruin. This is the family, Quirites, by whose violence and lawlessness you were driven out of your City and compelled to occupy the Sacred Mount; the family against which you won the protection of your tribunes; the family on whose account you took up your position, in two armies, on the Aventine. It is this family which has always opposed the laws against usury and the agrarian laws; which interfered with the right of intermarriage between patricians and plebeians; which blocked the path of the plebs to curule offices. This name is much more deadly to your liberties than the name of the Tarquins. Is it really the case, Appius Claudius, that though it is a hundred years since Mamercus Aemilius was dictator, and there have been all those censors since, men of the highest rank and strength of character, not one of them ever read the Twelve Tables, not one of them knew that the last order of the people is the law for the time being? Of course they all knew it, and because they knew it they preferred to obey the Aemilian Law rather than that older one by which the censors were originally appointed, simply because the former was the last passed by order of the people and also because when two laws contradict each other the later one repeals the earlier. Do you maintain, Appius, that the people are not bound by the Aemilian Law, or do you claim, if they are bound by it, that you alone are exempt from its provisions? That law availed to bind those arbitrary censors Gaius Furius and Marcus Geganius, who gave us a proof of the mischief which that office could work in the republic when, in revenge for the limitation of their power, they placed among the aerarii the foremost soldier and statesman of his time, Mamercus Aemilius. It bound all the succeeding censors for a hundred years, it binds your colleague Gaius Plautius, who was appointed under the same auspices, with the same powers as yourself. Did not the people appoint him "with all the customary powers and privileges" that a censor can possess? Or are you the solitary exception in whom all these powers and privileges reside? Whom then can you appoint as king for sacrifices"? He will cling to the name of "king" and say that he was appointed with all the powers that the kings of Rome possessed. Who do you suppose would be contented with a six months' dictatorship or a five days' interregnum? Whom would you venture to nominate as dictator for the purpose of driving in the nail or presiding at the Games? How stupid and spiritless, Quirites, you must consider those men to have been who after their magnificent achievements resigned their dictatorship in twenty days, or vacated their office owing to some flaw in their appointment! But why should I recall instances of old time? It is not ten years since Gaius Maenius as dictator was conducting a criminal process with a rigour which some powerful people considered dangerous to themselves, and in consequence his enemies charged him with being tainted with the very crime he was investigating. He at once resigned his dictatorship in order to meet, as a private citizen, the charges brought against him. I am far from wishing to see such moderation in you, Appius . Do not show yourself a degenerate scion of your house; do not fall short of your ancestors in their craving for power, their love of tyranny; do not vacate your office a day or an hour sooner than you are obliged, only see that you do not exceed the fixed term. Perhaps you will he satisfied with an additional day or an additional month ? "No," he says, "I shall hold my censorship for three years and a half beyond the period fixed by the Aemilian Law and I shall hold it alone." This sounds very much like an absolute monarch. Or will you co-opt a colleague, a proceeding forbidden by divine laws even where one has been lost by death?" |
"There is a sacred function function going back to the very earliest times, the only one actually initiated by the deity in whose honour it is performed, which has always been discharged by men of the highest rank and most blameless character. You, conscientious censor that you are, have transferred this ministry to servants, and a House older than this City, hallowed by the hospitality they showed to immortal gods has become extinct in one short year owing to you and your censorship. But this is not enough for you, you will not rest till you have involved the whole common-wealth in a sacrilege the consequences of which I dare not contemplate. The capture of this City occurred in that lustrum in which the censor, Lucius Papirius Cursor, after the death of his colleague, Gaius Julius, co-opted as his colleague Marcus Cornelius Maluginensis sooner than abdicate his office. And yet how much more moderation did he show even then than you Appius; he did not continue to hold his censorship alone nor beyond the legal term. Lucius Papirius did not, however, find any one to follow his example, all succeeding censors resigned office on the death of their colleague. But nothing restrains you, neither the expiry of your term of office nor the resignation of your colleague nor the Law nor any feeling of self-respect. You consider it a merit to show arrogance, effrontery, contempt of gods and men. When I consider the majesty and reverence which surround the office that you have held, Appius Claudius, I am most reluctant to subject you to personal restraint or even to address you in severe terms. But your obstinacy and arrogance have compelled me to speak as I have done, and now I warn you that if you do not comply with the Aemilian Law I shall order you to be taken to prison. Our ancestors made it a rule that if at the election of censors two candidates did not get the requisite majority of votes one should not be returned alone, but the election should be adjourned. Under this rule, as you cannot be appointed sole censor, I will not allow you to remain in office alone."
He then ordered the censor to be arrested and taken to prison. Appius formally appealed to the protection of the tribunes, and though Sempronius was supported by six of his colleagues, the other three vetoed any further proceedings. Appius continued to hold his office alone amidst universal indignation and disgust.