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THE NEW LAWS
IT is much to be regretted that all the Romans were not as
good and simple and unselfish as Cincinnatus; but the
fact remains that there were many among them who
thought only of themselves, and did not care what
happened to the rest. The patricians, in particular,
much inclined to pride themselves upon their position
and wealth, and to show themselves both haughty and
As they oppressed their poorer neighbors, the plebeians
grew more and more discontented, until the senate saw
 that they would again rebel if something were not
quickly done to pacify them. There was now no Menenius
to plead with the plebeians, and the senators
remembered only too clearly how useless all their long
speeches had been.
To avoid an open outbreak, the senators therefore
proposed to change the laws. In the first place, they
sent three men to Athens, which was also a republic;
here they were to study the government, and to get a
copy of the laws of Solon, which were the most famous
in all the
When the three men came home, they brought with them
the laws of the Athenians, and of many other
nations. Ten men were then elected to read them all,
and choose the best for the new Roman code of laws.
When adopted, the new laws were to be written upon
brazen tablets, and set up in the Forum, so that all
the people could read them whenever they pleased.
The ten men, or Decemvirs as they were called, were
granted full power for a year. They were very careful
to be just in judging between the patricians and
plebeians, and they soon won the people's confidence
The authority which they thus held pleased them so much
that they wanted to keep it. At the end of the year,
the laws were written on the brazen tablets, and set up
in the Forum; but the men pretended that their work was
not yet done, and asked that decemvirs should be
elected for a second year.
The people believed them, and the election took place;
but only one of the ten men, Appius Claudius, was
chosen again. The new rulers were not as careful as the
 first; in fact, they were very proud and wicked, and
soon began to act like tyrants.
Strange to say, Appius Claudius was more unpleasant
than all the rest. While he severely punished all the
Romans who did not mind the laws, he paid no attention
to these laws himself. He took whatever suited him, did
anything that he liked, and treated the people with
One day, while sitting in the Forum, he saw a beautiful
girl, called Virginia, pass by on her way to school.
She was so pretty that Appius took a fancy to her, and
made up his mind to have her for his slave, although
she was the daughter of a free Roman citizen.
After making a few inquiries, he found that
Virginius, the girl's father, was away at war.
Thinking that Virginia would have no one to protect
her, he called one of his clients, said that he wanted
the girl, and gave the man the necessary directions to
Now the clients at Rome were a kind of plebeians who
belonged to certain families of patricians, and always
worked for them. The client of Appius Claudius,
therefore, promised to do exactly as he was told. When
Virginia crossed the Forum, on the next day, he caught
her and claimed her as one of his slaves.
The girl's uncle, however, sprang forward, and said
that his niece was not a slave. He appealed to the law,
and finally succeeded in having the girl set free, on
condition that she should appear before Appius
Claudius on the next day, when the matter would be
decided in court.
Virginia's uncle knew that there was some plot to get
possession of the beautiful girl intrusted to his care.
With-  out losing a moment, therefore, he sent a messenger to
her father, imploring him to come home and save his
daughter from falling into the hands of wicked men.