THE WRONGS OF THE POOR
NOW that the war against Tarquin was over, the Romans
fancied that they would be able to enjoy a little
peace. They were greatly mistaken, however; for as soon
as peace was made abroad, trouble began at home.
There were, as you have already heard, two large
classes of Roman citizens: the patricians, or nobles,
and the plebeians, or common people. They remained
distinct, generation after generation, because no one
was allowed to marry outside his own class.
The patricians alone had the right to be consuls and
senators; they enjoyed many other privileges, and they
owned most of the land.
The plebeians, on the other hand, were given only a
small share in the government, although they were
called upon to pay a large part of the taxes. They
suffered much from the patricians, who considered them
not much better than slaves. Of course this state of
 not pleasant for the plebeians; still they
remained very quiet until matters grew much worse.
As the plebeians were obliged to pay taxes, they had to
have money; and, when their farms did not yield enough,
they were forced to borrow from the patricians. The
patricians were always ready to lend money, because the
laws were in their favor. Thus if a plebeian could not
pay his debts, the lender could seize the poor man's
farm, and even sell the man himself as a slave.
The patricians were very cruel; they often kept the
poor debtors in prison, and beat and illtreated them
constantly. The plebeians were so indignant at all this
that they finally rebelled, and, when war broke out
with the Volscians, they refused to go and fight.
The consuls coaxed and threatened, but the plebeians
would not stir. When asked why they would no longer go
with the army, they answered that since the patricians
claimed all the spoil taken in war, they might do all
To pacify the plebeians, the magistrates promised to
make laws in their favor as soon as the war was over,
if they would only fight as usual; so the men took up
their arms and went to battle. But, when the war was
ended, the magistrates made no changes in favor of the
plebeians, and allowed the patricians to illtreat them
as much as ever.
The discontent had reached such a pitch that it was
very evident some outbreak would soon take place. One
day an unhappy debtor escaped from prison, and, rushing
out into the Forum, showed his bruises to the people,
and began to tell them his pitiful tale.
He said that he was a plebeian, and that he had run
 into debt because, instead of cultivating his farm, he
had been obliged to leave home and go with the army.
Scarcely was one war over than another began, and at
that time the Roman soldiers received no pay. Although
he fought hard, and could show the scars of twenty
battles, he had gained nothing for it all except a
Then, upon returning home, a patrician
put him in prison, because he could not pay the money
he owed. The debtor had been treated with the most
horrible cruelty, and would probably have died there
had he not succeeded in making his escape.
Now there had been several cases like this, even before
the war with the Volscians. This time, however, the
plebeians were so indignant at the sight of the man's
bruises, and at the hearing of his wrongs, that they
all marched out of the city, vowing that they would
never come back until they were sure of fair treatment.
After leaving Rome, the plebeians camped upon a
neighboring hill, which was afterwards known as Sacred
Mountain. When they were gone, the patricians, who had
so illtreated them, began to feel their absence. As
the patricians scorned all work, and never did anything
but fight, they were sorely taken aback when there were
no farmers left to till their ground, no market men to
supply their tables, and no merchants from whom they
could buy the articles they needed.
The senate saw that it was impossible to get along
without the plebeians. One message after another was
sent, imploring them to return; but the people said
that they had suffered enough, and would never again
trust in promises, since they would not be kept.