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THE HATED DECEMVIRS
 THE tribunes, you remember, were appointed to protect the
people from the cruelty of the patricians.
As they were chosen from among the plebeians
themselves, they did not understand the laws of their
country as well as did the nobles, who had ever guarded
them as they might have guarded a mystery.
So when the tribunes tried to gain justice for those
who appealed to them, they often found their plans
thwarted by the patricians, because of their superior
knowledge of the law.
Thus, in spite of all that the tribunes could do, the
people still suffered under the oppressions of the
So restless and discontented did the plebeians become,
that in 451 B.C. three patricians were
sent by the Senate to Greece to find out how the people
were governed in Athens.
The nobles of Greece were wiser and more cultured than
those of Rome, and may have been supposed to have
discovered how best to rule those under them.
Whether the three ambassadors drank deep of the wisdom
of the Greeks or no, they returned to Rome with a new
plan for the government of the country.
It would be well, said the ambassadors, if, for a time,
there should be neither Consuls nor tribunes. In their
place ten men or decemvirs (decemvirs being the Latin
for ten men) should be chosen from among patricians and
plebeians alike, to rule the country and reform her
 Until now the laws had been unknown to the people. But
the ambassadors said that the reformed laws should be
written on tables of brass and be hung up in the place
of assembly, so that the people might read and
The new laws were called the Laws of the Twelve Tables,
and for many long years they were obeyed. In the time
of Cicero, schoolboys had to learn these laws as part
of their regular lessons, while they were, as we would
say, in the lower forms.
Like the Consuls, the decemvirs were elected only for
one year, each of them during the year having in turn
At first the decemvirs tried to please the people.
They worked hard to reform the laws, and before their
year of office came to an end, ten of the twelve tables
had been revised.
It was determined that the decemvirs should be
re-elected for the following year that they might
finish the code of laws which they had begun.
But Appius Claudius, who had been the chief among the
first year's decemvirs, was not satisfied that this
should be so, and he saw to it that more plebeians
should be elected among the second year's decemvirs.
He hoped by doing this to persuade the people that he
was their friend, but before long it appeared that he
was a true friend to neither patrician nor plebeian.
The new decemvirs, with Appius Claudius at their head,
soon struck dismay into the hearts of the people by
going to the Forum, with a band of one hundred and
twenty lictors. The lictors carried with them not only
rods, but, as in earlier days, axes were concealed
among the rods, which was a sign that the decemvirs had
power over life and death.
Nor did the decemvirs scruple to use their power,
banishing or putting to death those who displeased or
opposed them, and seizing their property for
themselves. When their
 year of office was nearly ended, the decemvirs had not
finished the code of laws as they were expected to have
It was soon plain why they had seen no reason for
haste, for, when the year came to an end, the decemvirs
refused to resign.
Both patricians and plebeians were indignant, while the
Senate, angry that the decemvirs did not consult it,
had already, for the most part, left Rome.
To add to the confusion in the country, war now broke
out with the Sabines and the Æquians.
One of the Roman armies was to be led by a plebeian
tribune, who was loved by the people, for he had fought
for his country in one hundred and twenty battles. On
his way to join his army, this brave soldier was
murdered, it was said by the order of Appius Claudius.
The soldiers were furious at the loss of their leader,
and the hatred against the chief of the decemvirs
increased each day.