THE REVOLT OF THE PEOPLE
 THE overthrow of the kings of Rome did not relieve the
people from all their oppression. The inhabitants of
that city had long been divided into two great classes,
the Patricians, or nobles, and the Plebeians, or common
people, and the former held in their hand nearly all
the wealth and power of the state. The senate, the
law-making body, were all Patricians; the consuls, the
executors of the law, were chosen from their ranks; and
the Plebeians were left with few rights and little
It was through the avarice of money-lending nobles that
the people were chiefly oppressed. There were no laws
limiting the rate of interest, and the rich lent to the
poor at extravagant rates of usury. The interest, when
not paid, was added to the debt, so that in time it
became impossible for many debtors to pay.
And the laws against debtors had become terribly
severe. They might, with all their families, be held as
slaves. Or if the debtor refused to sell himself to his
creditor, and still could not pay his debt, he might be
imprisoned in fetters for sixty days. At the end of
that time, if no friend had paid his debt, he could be
put to death, or sold as a slave into a foreign state.
If there were several creditors, they
 could actually cut his body to pieces, each taking a
piece proportional in size to his claim.
This cruel severity was more than any people could long
endure. It led to a revolution in Rome. In the year 495
B.C., fifteen years after the Tarquins had been
expelled, a poor debtor, who had fought valiantly in
the wars, broke from his prison, and—with his clothes
in tatters and chains clanking upon his limbs—appealed
eloquently to the people in the Forum, and showed them
on his emaciated body the scars of the many battles in
which he had fought.
His tale was a sad one. While he served in the Sabine
war, the enemy had pillaged and burned his house; and
when he returned home, it was to find his cattle stolen
and his farm heavily taxed. Forced to borrow money, the
interest had brought him deeply into debt. Finally he
had been attacked by pestilence, and being unable to
work for his creditor, he had been thrown into prison
and cruelly scourged, the marks of the lash being still
evident upon his bleeding back.
This piteous story roused its hearers to fury. The
whole city broke into tumult, as the woeful tale passed
from lip to lip. Many debtors escaped from their
prisons and begged protection from the incensed
multitude. The consuls found themselves powerless to
restore order; and in the midst of the uproar horsemen
came riding hotly through the gates, crying out that a
hostile army was near at hand, marching to besiege the
Here was a splendid opportunity for the Plebeians. When
called upon to enroll their names and take
 arms for the city's defence, they refused. The
Patricians, they said, might fight their own battles.
As for them, they had rather die together at home than
perish separate upon the battle-field.
This refusal left the Patricians in a quandary. With
riot in the streets and war beyond the walls they were
at the mercy of the commons. They were forced to
promise a mitigation of the laws, declaring that no one
should henceforth seize the goods of a soldier while he
was in camp, or hinder a citizen from enlisting by
keeping him in prison. This promise satisfied the
people. The debtors' prisons were emptied, and their
late tenants crowded with enthusiasm into the ranks.
Through the gates the army marched, met the foe, and
drove him in defeat from the soil of the Roman state.
Victory gained, the Plebeians looked for laws to
sustain the promises under which they had fought. They
looked in vain; the senate took no action for their
redress. But they had learned their power, and were not
again to be enslaved. Their action was deliberate but
decided. Taking measures to protect their homes on the
Aventine Hill, they left the city the next year in a
body, and sought a hill beyond the Anio, about three
miles beyond the walls of Rome. Here they encamped,
built fortifications, and sent word to their lordly
rulers that they were done with empty promises, and
would fight no more for the state until the state kept
its faith. All the good of their fighting came to the
Patricians, they said, and these might now defend
themselves and their wealth.
 The senate was thrown into a panic by this decided
action. When the hostile cities without should learn of
it, they might send armies in haste to undefended Rome.
The people left in the city feared the Patricians, and
the Patricians feared them. All was doubt and anxiety.
At length the senate, driven to desperation, sent an
embassy to the rebels to treat for peace, being in
deadly fear that some enemy might assail and capture
the city in the absence of the bulk of its inhabitants.
The messenger sent, Menenius Agrippa Lanatus, was a man
famed for eloquence, and a popular favorite. In his
address to the people in their camp he repeated to them
the following significant fable;
"At a time when all the parts of the body did not agree
together, as they do now, but each had its own method
and language, the other parts rebelled against the
belly. They said that it lay quietly enjoying itself in
the centre, while they, by care, labor, and service,
kept it in luxury. They therefore conspired that the
hands should not convey food to the mouth, the mouth
receive it, nor 'the teeth chew it. They thus hoped to
subdue the belly by famine; but they found that they
and all the other parts of the body suffered as much.
Then they saw that the belly by no means rested in
sloth; that it supplied instead of receiving
nourishment, sending to all parts of the body the blood
that gave life and strength to the whole system."
It was the same, he said, with the body of the state.
All must work in unity, if all would prosper. This
homely argument hit the popular fancy. The
 people consented to treat for their return if their
liberties could be properly secured. But they must now
have deeds instead of words. It was not political power
they sought, but protection, and protection they would
Their demands were as follows: All debts should be
cancelled, and all debtors held by their creditors
should be released. And hereafter the Plebeians should
have as their protectors two officials, who should have
power to veto all oppressive laws, while their persons
should be held as sacred and inviolable as those of the
messengers of the gods. These officials were to be
called Tribunes, and to be the chief officers of the
commons as the consuls were of the nobles.
This proposition was accepted by the senate, and a
treaty signed between the contesting parties, as
solemnly as if they had been two separate nations. It
was an occasion as important to the liberties of Romans
as the treaty signed many centuries afterwards on the
field of Runnymede, between King John and his barons,
was to the liberties of Englishmen, and was held by the
Romans in like high regard. The hill on which the
treaty had been made was ever after known as the Sacred
Mount. Its top was consecrated and an altar built upon
it, on which sacrifices were made to Jupiter, the god
who strikes men with terror and then delivers them from
fear; for the people had fled thither in dread, and
were now to return home in safety.
Thus ended the great revolt of the people, who had
gained in the Tribunes defenders of more power
 and importance than they or the senate knew. They were
never again to suffer from the bitter oppression to
which they had been subjected in preceding years. As
for Lanatus, to whose pleadings they had yielded, he
died before the year ended, and was found to have not
left enough to pay for his funeral. Therefore the
Plebeians collected funds to give him a splendid
burial; but the senate having decreed that the state
should bear this expense, the money raised by the
grateful people was formed into a fund for the benefit
of his children.
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