|The Story of Rome|
|by Mary Macgregor|
|A vivid account of the story of Rome from the earliest times to the death of Augustus, retold for children, chronicling the birth of a city and its growth through storm and struggle to become a great world empire. Gives short accounts of battles and campaigns, and of the men who expanded the borders of the Roman empire to include all lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Ages 10-14 |
THE FRIEND OF THE PEOPLE
 TEN years after the decemvirs had been banished, there was
a severe famine in Rome. The misery was
terrible—men, women, and little children were
dying in hundreds for lack of bread.
Faint and stricken, those who still managed to exist
looked to the Senate for help.
So Minucius was appointed Master of the Markets, and
did his utmost to succour the people, buying large
supplies of corn from foreign countries and selling it
to them for a small sum.
Should a family be found to have in its possession more
corn than it needed for a month, Minucius ordered the
surplus to be sold to those who were starving. Slaves
were put on the smallest possible allowance of food.
But, in spite of the efforts of Minucius, the misery in
the city was but little less than before. The poor
still suffered the awful pangs of hunger, and many
threw themselves into the river Tiber to escape from
their desperate plight.
When the famine was at its height, Mælius, a rich
plebeian, full of pity for the suffering he saw on
every side, sent to Etruria for large quantities of
corn and divided it among the ravenous folk.
Sometimes he gave his bounty freely, at other times he
took a small sum of money for his goods.
The patricians, who, needless to say, were not
starving, were not pleased to hear of the generous
gifts of Mælius. Instead of being glad that the
poor hungry people were
 being fed, they murmured that he was doing what
Minucius had been appointed to do. The truth was, that
the patricians were seized with an ugly passion called
jealousy, and the more the people showed their
gratitude to their benefactor, the angrier, the more
jealous grew the patricians.
It was certain that Mælius was trying to win the
favour of the people for his own ends, said his enemies
one to the other. What was his ambition, they
wondered, and how could they thwart it?
Minucius, who was more suspicious of the good plebeian
than any one else, informed the Senate that Mælius
held secret meetings in his house, where he had
concealed a large number of arms. Moreover, he
declared that Mælius had bribed the tribunes, and
soon the Republic would be overturned, while the
traitor would reign as king.
The Senate, alarmed by such a report, did not stay to
find out if it were true or false, but at once
determined to elect a Dictator.
Cincinnatus was once again entreated to leave his
plough, to come to Rome and save his country.
So, lest his country should be betrayed by the honest
plebeian, Cincinnatus hastened to the city, and
appointing one named Ahala master of the horse, bade
him summon Mælius to the Forum. Here the Dictator
awaited the traitor, sitting on his tribunal.
Mælius knew all that had been said against him, and
not wishing to be accused of treason, he refused to go
with Ahala, and appealed to the people he had helped to
But Ahala, furious that the plebeian dared to ignore
his summons, drew a dagger and stabbed Mælius to
The people, horrified at the fate of their friend,
rushed to the Forum and demanded that the Dictator
should punish Ahala.
But this Cincinnatus refused to do, saying that even if
 Mælius had not been guilty of treason, yet he had
deserved death for disobeying the command of the
Too weak from want of food to persist that their
benefactor should be avenged, the people, so some
stories tell, soon grew quiet, for Minucius promised
that the corn still stored at the house of Mælius
should be sold to them at a low price.
But other stories say that the people refused to be
satisfied until they had driven Ahala from the city.
It was in such selfish, wicked ways that the patricians
sought to ruin the plebeians when they saw them gaining
power and influence in the State.
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