At this epoch, however, the censorship by no means possessed the great importance and moral supremacy which afterwards were associated with it.


But the important change made in the year 333 in respect to the quaestorship amply compensated for this success of the patrician party. The patricio-plebeian assembly of the tribes--perhaps taking up the ground that at least the two military paymasters were in fact officers rather than civil functionaries, and that so far the plebeian appeared as well entitled to the quaestorship as to the military tribuneship--carried the point that plebeian candidates also were admitted for the quaestorial elections, and thereby acquired for the first time the privilege of eligibility as well as the right of election for one of the ordinary magistracies. With justice it was felt on the one side as a great victory, on the other as a severe defeat, that thenceforth patrician and plebeian were equally capable of electing and being elected to the military as well as to the urban quaestorship.

Attempts At Counterrevolution

The nobility, in spite of the most obstinate resistance, only sustained loss after loss; and their exasperation increased as their power decreased. Attempts were doubtless still made directly to assail the rights secured by agreement to the commons; but such attempts were not so much the well-calculated manoeuvres of party as the acts of an impotent thirst for vengeance. Such in particular was the process against Maelius as reported by the tradition--certainly not very trustworthy--that has come down to us. Spurius Maelius, a wealthy plebeian, during a severe dearth (315) sold corn at such prices as to put to shame and annoy the patrician store-president (-praefectus annonae-) Gaius Minucius. The latter accused him of aspiring to kingly power; with what amount of reason we cannot decide, but it is scarcely credible that a man who had not even filled the tribunate should have seriously thought of sovereignty. Nevertheless the authorities took up the matter in earnest, and the cry of "King" always produced on the multitude in Rome an effect similar to that of the cry of "Pope" on the masses in England. Titus Quinctius Capitolinus, who was for the sixth time consul, nominated Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, who was eighty years of age, as dictator without appeal, in open violation of the solemnly sworn laws.(5) Maelius, summoned before him, seemed disposed to disregard the summons; and the dictator's master of the horse, Gaius Servilius Ahala, slew him with his own hand. The house of the murdered man was pulled down, the corn from his granaries was distributed gratuitously to the people, and those who threatened to avenge his death were secretly made away with. This disgraceful judicial murder--a disgrace even more to the credulous and blind people than to the malignant party of young patricians--passed unpunished; but if that party had hoped by such means to undermine the right of appeal, it violated the laws and shed innocent blood in vain.

Intrigues Of The Nobility

Electioneering intrigues and priestly trickery proved in the hands of the nobility more efficient than any other weapons. The extent to which the former must have prevailed is best seen in the fact that in 322 it appeared necessary to issue a special law against electioneering practices, which of course was of little avail. When the voters could not be influenced by corruption or threatening, the presiding magistrates stretched their powers--admitting, for example, so many plebeian candidates that the votes of the opposition were thrown away amongst them, or omitting from the list of candidates those whom the majority were disposed to choose. If in spite of all this an obnoxious election was carried, the priests were consulted whether no vitiating circumstance had occurred in the auspices or other religious ceremonies on the occasion; and some such flaw they seldom failed to discover. Taking no thought as to the consequences and unmindful of the wise example of their ancestors, the people allowed the principle to be established that the opinion of the skilled colleges of priests as to omens of birds, portents, and the like was legally binding on the magistrate, and thus put it into their power to cancel any state-act--whether the consecration of a temple or any other act of administration, whether law or election--on the ground of religious informality. In this way it became possible that, although the eligibility of plebeians had been established by law already in 333 for the quaestorship and thenceforward continued to be legally recognized, it was only in 345 that the first plebeian attained the quaestorship; in like manner patricians almost exclusively held the military tribunate with consular powers down to 354. It was apparent that the legal abolition of the privileges of the nobles had by no means really and practically placed the plebeian aristocracy on a footing of equality with the clan-nobility. Many causes contributed to this result: the tenacious opposition of the nobility far more easily allowed itself to be theoretically superseded in a moment of excitement, than to be permanently kept down in the annually recurring elections; but the main cause was the inward disunion between the chiefs of the plebeian aristocracy and the mass of the farmers. The middle class, whose votes were decisive in the comitia, did not feel itself specially called on to advance the interests of genteel non-patricians, so long as its own demands were disregarded by the plebeian no less than by the patrician aristocracy.

The Suffering Farmers

During these political struggles social questions had lain on the whole dormant, or were discussed at any rate with less energy. After the plebeian aristocracy had gained possession of the tribunate for its own ends, no serious notice was taken either of the question of the domains or of a reform in the system of credit; although there was no lack either of newly acquired lands or of impoverished or decaying farmers.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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