The Plans of a Traitor
For some time the Roman state had been growing weaker; and as the quarrels at home increased, the Volscians and Æquians grew bolder and bolder. The patricians and plebeians were still at feud, and the Roman soldiers allowed themselves to be beaten rather than fight with all their might for a state which treated them so ill.
The tribunes, hoping to mend matters a little, now asked that the plebeians should have the right to marry outside of their class, and to hold the office of consul. The first request was soon granted, but the second was for a long time denied.
Both consuls were still elected from among the patricians, and the senate also said that two new officers, called Censors, should be of the same class. The duty of the censors was to count the people, to distribute the public lands fairly, to decide who should be senators, and to suppress all vice and wrongdoing of every kind.
The plebeians, however, were given the right to hold some minor offices; and this, together with the law about marriages, satisfied them for the time being. They fought with a will, and conquered the Volscians. Everybody now hoped that the peace would be lasting, but the quarreling soon began again. The main cause of this new outbreak was a famine; for when the hungry plebeians saw that the patricians were well supplied with food, they were naturally envious and dissatisfied.
One of the rich patricians of Rome, Spurius Mælius, thought that this would be a good chance to win the affections of the people; and, in hopes of doing so, he began to give grain to them. He kept open house, invited everybody to come in and sit at table with him, and spent his money freely.
Of course all this seemed very generous; but Spurius Mælius had no real love for the people, and was treating them so kindly only because he wanted them to help him overthrow the government and become king of Rome.
Many of the plebeians now ceased to work, as they preferred to live in idleness and on charity. People who do nothing are never very happy, and before long these plebeians were more discontented than ever, even though they now had plenty to eat.
Spurius fancied that the right time had come; so he armed his followers, and prepared to take possession of Rome. Fortunately for the city, the plot was discovered by the senate, who again chose Cincinnatus as dictator, to save the country from this new danger.
This great patriot was then eighty years old, but he was as brave and decided as ever, and did not for a moment hesitate to do his duty. His first act was to send for Spurius Mælius; but, as he refused to obey the summons, the messenger of Cincinnatus stabbed him to death.
The plebeians were now for more than seventy years obliged to content themselves with the rights they had already won. In time, however, they were allowed to hold any office in the state, and it was made a law that at least one consul and one censor should always be of their class.
Not long after the death of Spurius Mælius, war broke out with Veii again, and lasted for a number of years. The Romans finally decided that their city would never be safe till Veii was destroyed.
This decision was received with enthusiasm, and the Roman army began the siege. They soon found, however, that it was no easy matter to make themselves masters of the town. Ten years were spent in vain attempts to break through the walls, and it was only when Camillus was made dictator that the Romans were able to take the city.
Camillus made his men dig an underground passage right into the heart of the enemy's citadel. Having thus gained an entrance, he captured or slew all the inhabitants, and then razed the walls that had so long defended them. When he returned to Rome, he was rewarded by a magnificent triumph.