He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it—namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to obtain. — Mark Twain

Story of the Romans - Helene Guerber




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 affairs was 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 the fighting.

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 little praise.

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.



Contents

Front Matter
Review

The First Settlers
Escape from the Burning City
The Clever Trick
The Boards Are Eaten
The Wolf and the Twins
Romulus Builds Rome
The Maidens Carried Off
Union of Sabines and Romans
Death of Romulus
Strange Signs of the Romans
The Quarrel with Alba
The Horatii and Curiatii
Tarquin and the Eagle
The Roman Youths
The King Outwitted
The Murder of Tarquin
The Ungrateful Children
The Mysterious Books
Tarquin's Poppies
The Oracle of Delphi
The Death of Lucretia
The Stern Father
A Roman Triumph
A Roman Triumph (Cont.)
Defense of the Bridge
The Burnt Hand
The Twin Gods
The Wrongs of the Poor
Fable of the Stomach
The Story of Coriolanus
The Farmer Hero
The New Laws
Death of Virginia
Plans of a Traitor
A School-Teacher Punished
Invasion of the Gauls
The Sacred Geese
Two Heroes of Rome
Disaster at Caudine Forks
Pyrrhus and His Elephants
The Elephants Routed
Ancient Ships
Regulus and the Snake
Hannibal Crosses the Alps
The Romans Defeated
The Inventor Archimedes
The Roman Conquests
Destruction of Carthage
Roman Amusements
The Jewels of Cornelia
Death of Tiberius Gracchus
Caius Gracchus
Jugurtha, King of Numidia
The Barbarians
The Social War
The Flight of Marius
The Proscription Lists
Sertorius and His Doe
Revolt of the Slaves
Pompey's Conquests
Conspiracy of Catiline
Caesar's Conquests
Crossing of the Rubicon
Battle of Pharsalia
The Death of Caesar
The Second Triumvirate
The Vision of Brutus
Antony and Cleopatra
The Poisonous Snake
The Augustan Age
Death of Augustus
Varus Avenged
Death of Germanicus
Tiberius Smothered
The Wild Caligula
Wicked Wives of Claudius
Nero's First Crimes
Christians Persecuted
Nero's Cruelty
Two Short Reigns
The Siege of Jerusalem
The Buried Cities
The Terrible Banquet
The Emperor's Tablets
The Good Trajan
Trajan's Column
The Great Wall
Hadrian's Death
Antoninus Pius
The Model Pagan
Another Cruel Emperor
An Unnatural Son
The Senate of Women
The Gigantic Emperor
Invasion of the Goths
Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra
A Prophecy Fulfulled
First Christian Emperor
Roman Empire Divided
An Emperor's Penance
Sieges of Rome
End of the Western Empire