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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

THE CITY IS REBUILT

[105] WHEN the Dictator had cut the Gallic host to pieces, he returned to Rome. The brave defenders of the Capitol went out to meet their deliverer, tears of joy streaming down their gaunt, hungry-looking faces. Scarcely yet could they believe that they were saved.

But when they saw the vestal virgins returning to their temple, bearing with them the fire they tended, still undimmed, and the priests also coming back to the city, they grew quiet and unafraid, for were not the ministers of the gods again in their midst?

Before aught else, the sacred places that had been pulled down must be restored. It was difficult amid the ruins of the city to find the very spot on which the temples had stood, but they were rebuilt as nearly as could be in the places where the people had been used to see them.

As the touch of the barbarian had made the sites unholy, they were dedicated anew to the gods, with solemn rites and sacrifices.

Under the buildings which had been destroyed some relics were found, as by a miracle unharmed. One of these was the staff or crook used by Romulus when he dwelt upon Mount Palatine, a careless shepherd lad, while another was the Laws of the Twelve Tables.

But the ancient records of the history of the seven kings were never found, and this is why the story of the early days of Rome is so full of fancy as well as of fact.

When the sacred places were restored, many of the poorer [106] citizens felt that they had done all that was needful. They shrank from the labour of rebuilding the city. Many of them, too, had houses of their own in Veii, which they had built while the Gauls were in Rome. They wished to return to their new homes and found a new city.

Camillus was grieved that the people should wish to desert Rome, the city of their birth, and he appealed to them by the things they held most sacred to remain.

Was it not in Rome that their beautiful temples stood? Was it not here that they had ofttimes heard the sacred voices of the gods? The people, touched by the words of Camillus, wavered. At that moment a band of soldiers halted without the Comitium or place of Assembly, the centurion calling to his standard-bearer: "Pitch thy standard here, for this is the best place to stop at."

Surely such words were not spoken by chance, thought the citizens. Surely they were words sent by the gods, bidding them to stay in Rome.

In this strange way the die was cast, and the people, throwing aside their indolence, began to build, pulling down the houses at Veii and bringing the stones to Rome to complete the rebuilding of the city.

Even with the help of material from Veii, the plebeians were forced to borrow money from the patricians before their houses were finished, and their shops and farms replenished.

As in earlier days, the patricians showed no mercy to their debtors, and when they could not pay, threw them into prison or sold them as bondsmen.

Now Manlius, who had saved the Capitol from the Gauls, was a rich man, and the troubles of the poor folk made him sad.

One day he saw a famous centurion, who had fought by his side in many a battle, being dragged from the Forum to prison, because he was unable at once to pay some haughty patrician what he owed.

[107] Manlius could not look on at such cruelty and do nothing. He hastened to the spot, paid his old comrade's debt, and set him free. This was only one of the kindnesses by which he won from the grateful people the title, "Father of the Commons."

The patricians soon heard that Manlius was winning the hearts of the people. Jealous as ever, they determined to crush him.

On one pretext or another he was arrested, and when he stood before the assembly of the people he was accused of treason, for he had, so his enemies said, tried to make himself king.

Manlius was standing in the Forum when he was accused, and looking up he could see the Capitol.

Pointing to the temple, Manlius appealed to the gods and to the gratitude of the Romans to save him. And the people, remembering all that he had done, refused to condemn him, in spite of the anger of the patricians.

But the patricians were still determined to destroy the Father of the Commons. The very name was an offence to them.

They succeeded in once more bringing Manlius to trial; but this time they arranged that it should take place in a grove, from which no glimpse of the Capitol could be caught.

Here he was sentenced to death, and as his crime was treason, it was decreed that he should be thrown down the Tarpeian Rock.

The struggle between the patricians and the plebeians lasted for nearly half a century after the death of Manlius.

But in the year 376 B.C., and for ten years afterwards, a wise man named Licinius did all that he could to make better laws for the people. The laws of this tribune were called the Licinian Laws.

Let me tell you three of the laws by which Licinius tried to gain fair treatment for the plebians.

He made it unlawful for the patricians to take an unjust [108] rate of interest from the poor. As the patricians had grown rich with the money that they had extorted from the plebeians, they disliked this Licinian law. But to the poor it was of the greatest use.

Public land, which belonged to the poor as much as to the rich, had in the past been seized by the powerful and already wealthy patricians. This, said the tribune, should no longer be allowed. The land should henceforth be divided justly.

And of all these new laws, perhaps the most important was this, that one Consul should be chosen from among the plebeians. The patricians did their utmost to prevent this law from being passed, and when they were forced to yield, they did so with a bad grace.

To make it clear that they still had privileges which were not shared by the people, they decreed that certain new magistrates should be elected. These new magistrates were called prætors, and only patricians could be chosen for this new office.

Yet even so, the Licinian Laws improved the position of the plebeians, and were considered by them to be both wise and just.


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