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Ancient texts

Liv. (2.28)

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War against Volsci

Plebeian secession


After 10 years of wars, the plebeians left the city in what is called the plebeian secession. This does not mean they were tired of waging wars, on the contrary, but being legionnaire wasn't their profession. Most of them were farmers and during the time they were fighting they couldn't work in their fields. Form time to time these fields were ravaged by enemy armies. This meant no income and they had to lend money in order to survive. This money, of course, didn't come for free. There had to be paid usury. For other professions this worked in a similar way.

Debt slavery
Who couldn't pay his debts could be punished or sold as a slave. All this would lead to dissatisfaction of the people. Of course they complained about this, but the consuls nor the senate would offer any help. Especially Appius Claudius, consul in 495 bc would punish debtors very harshly and wasn't willing to make any concession. His colleague P. Servilius tried to please the people and the senate, which made him unpopular with both parties.

Appeal to the people
When the enemy neared the city, the plebeians first refused to be enrolled, with promises they were persuaded and soon after the armies marched out. After having defeated the enemies they returned in the city, where the promises were promptly broken. After this happened a couple of times the they really refused to be enlisted. This was a crime, but when a person was convicted by the consul, he would successfully appeal to the people.

Dictator. Against the decisions of a dictator would be no appeal possible Though Livius contradicts himself in the next chapter. The senate appointed Marcus Valerius, the brother of Publius Valerius Publicola, who was trusted by the plebs and made promises again. Again the armies marched out to war.

Plebeian secession
When returned after a successful campaign the dictator really pledged for the laws he had promised, but again the senate refused. The dictator resigned as a form of protest. Now the people was really fed up and the plebs marched out to either the Aventine or to the holy mountain three miles away on the other side of the Anio, leaving the senate in complete confusion. This is now known as the first plebeian secession.

According Dionysius
Dionysius, who looses himself in a lot of lengthy speeches, tells this last part of the story about the plebeian secession a little different. Here they deserted from the army after it had left the city and went to the holy mountain. The senate was desperate to get them back.

Enemy aproaching
There were reported scouts of the other cities and it was very likely they would take advantage of the situation and attack or at least try to plunder and ravage the farms. Even greater was the fear the plebeians would join the enemy forces. The enemy troops appeared but the plebs didn't move.

Of course the hardliner Appius Claudius pledged for bringing them back with force but he found himself alone in that opinion. The other senators realized they had to negotiate with the plebs and decided to send a number of envoys to the Sacred mountain.

Among the envoys was Agrippa Menenius, according to Livius(2.32) he was the only one but Dionysius mentions more names. Livius claims Agrippa told them a fable and granted them their wishes.
Dionysius has him tell the same fable , but not before a plebeian Junius Brutus had made a length speech with the plebeian complaints. Then Agrippa told them the proposition of the senate.

Plebeian tribunes
The plebs however wanted more protection and asked for magistrates from and for the plebeians only. In order to protect this magistrate he had to be inviolable. Menenius was empowered to agree, but wanted the senate's agreement first, which they gave. The name of this new office would be Plebeian tribune. Immediately they choose two tribunes: Gaius Licinius and Lucius Albinus. They appointed 3 more.

    Plebeian sitting on a rock    

Plebeian sitting on a rock

Abguss Museum München (GE)    

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