Story of Rome - Mary Macgregor

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 nobles.

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 laws.

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 understand them.

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 full authority.

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 done.

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.


Front Matter

The Lady Roma
The She-Wolf
The Twin Boys
Numitor's Grandson
The Sacred Birds
The Founding of Rome
The Sabine Maidens
The Tarpeian Rock
The Mysterious Gate
The King Disappears
The Peace-Loving King
Horatius Slays His Sister
Pride of Tullus Hostilius
King Who Fought and Prayed
The Faithless Friend
A Slave Becomes a King
Cruel Deed of Tullia
Fate of the Town of Gabii
Books of the Sibyl
Industry of Lucretia
Death of Lucretia
Sons of Brutus
Horatius Cocles
Mucius Burns Right Hand
The Divine Twins
The Tribunes
Coriolanus and His Mother
The Roman Army in a Trap
The Hated Decemvirs
The Death of Verginia
The Friend of the People
Camillus Captures Veii
The Statue of the Goddess
Schoolmaster Traitor
Battle of Allia
The Sacred Geese
The City Is Rebuilt
Volscians on Fire
Battle on the Anio
The Curtian Lake
Dream of the Two Consuls
The Caudine Forks
Caudine Forks Avenged
Fabius among the Hills
Battle of Sentinum
Son of Fabius Loses Battle
Pyrrhus King of the Epirots
Elephants at Heraclea
Pyrrthus and Fabricius
Pyrrhus is Defeated
Romans Build a Fleet
Battle of Ecnomus
Roman Legions in Africa
Regulus Taken Prisoner
Romans Conquer the Gauls
The Boy Hannibal
Hannibal Invades Italy
Hannibal Crosses the Alps
Battle of Trebia
Battle of Lake Trasimenus
Hannibal Outwits Fabius
Fabius Wins Two Victories
Battle of Cannae
Despair of Rome
Defeat of Hasdrubal
Claudius Enjoy a Triumph
Capture of New Carthage
Scipio Sails to Africa
Romans Set Fire to Camp
Hannibal Leaves Italy
The Battle of Zama
Scipio Receives a Triumph
Flamininus in Garlands
Death of Hannibal
Hatred of Cato for Carthage
The Stern Decree
Carthaginians Defend City
Destruction of Carthage
Cornelia, Mother of Gracchi
Tiberius and Octavius
Death of Tiberius Gracchus
Death of Gaius Gracchus
The Gold of Jugurtha
Marius Wins Notice of Scipio
Marius Becomes Commander
Capture of Treasure Towns
Capture of Jugurtha
Jugurtha Brought to Rome
Marius Conquers Teutones
Marius Mocks the Ambassadors
Metellus Driven from Rome
Sulla Enters Rome
The Flight of Marius
Gaul Dares Not Kill Marius
Marius Returns to Rome
The Orator Aristion
Sulla Besieges Athens
Sulla Fights the Samnites
The Proscriptions of Sulla
The Gladiators' Revolt
The Pirates
Pompey Defeats Mithridates
Cicero Discovers Conspiracy
Death of the Conspirators
Caesar Captured by Pirates
Caesar Gives up Triumph
Caesar Praises Tenth Legion
Caesar Wins a Great Victory
Caesar Invades Britain
Caesar Crosses Rubicon
Caesar and the Pilot
The Flight of Pompey
Cato Dies Rather than Yieldr
Caesar is Loaded with Honours
Nobles Plot against Caesar
The Assassination of Caesar
Brutus Speaks to Citizens
Antony Speaks to Citizens
The Second Triumvirate
Battle of Philippi
Death of Brutus
Antony and Cleopatra
Battle of Actium
Antony and Cleopatra Die
Emperor Augustus