CHAPTER VIII. THE CONTEST OF THE PLEBEIANS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS.

The plebeians were now (about 475) as numerous as the patricians, if not more so. Their organization had become perfected, and many of their leaders were persistent in their efforts to better the condition of their followers. Their especial aim was to raise their civil and political rights to an equality with those of the patricians. The struggle finally culminated in the murder of one of the Tribunes, Gnarus Genucius, for attempting to veto some of the acts of the Consuls.

VALERO PUBLILIUS, a Tribune, now (471) proposed and carried, notwithstanding violent opposition by the patricians, a measure to the effect that the Tribunes should hereafter be chosen in the Comitia Tribúta, instead of the Comitia Centuriáta. Thus the plebeians gained a very important step. This bill is called the PUBLILIAN LAW (Plebiscítum Publilium). [Footnote: All bills passed in the Comitia Tribúta were called Plebiscíta, and until 286 were not necessarily binding upon the people at large; but this bill seems to have been recognized as a law.]

For the next twenty years the struggle continued unabated. The plebeians demanded a WRITTEN CODE OF LAWS.

We find among all early peoples that the laws are at first the unwritten ones of custom and precedent. The laws at Rome, thus far, had been interpreted according to the wishes and traditions of the patricians only. A change was demanded. This was obtained by the TERENTILIAN ROGATION, a proposal made in 461 by Gaius Terentilius Harsa, a Tribune, to the effect that the laws thereafter be written. The patrician families, led by one Kaeso Quinctius, made bitter opposition. Kaeso himself, son of the famous Cincinnátus, was impeached by the Tribune and fled from the city.

Finally it was arranged that the Comitia Centuriáta should select from the people at large ten men, called the DECEMVIRATE, to hold office for one year, to direct the government and supersede all other magistrates, and especially to draw up a code of laws to be submitted to the people for approval. A commission of three patricians was sent to Athens to examine the laws of that city, which was now (454) at the height of its prosperity. Two years were spent by this commission, and upon their return in 452 the above mentioned Decemvirate was appointed.

The laws drawn up by this board were approved, engraved on ten tables of copper, and placed in the Forum in front of the Senate-House. Two more tables were added the next year. These TWELVE TABLES were the only Roman code.

The DECEMVIRI should have resigned as soon as these laws were approved, but they neglected to do so, and began to act in a cruel and tyrannical manner. The people, growing uneasy under their injustice, finally rebelled when one of the Decemviri, Appius Claudius, passed a sentence that brought an innocent maiden, Virginia, into his power. Her father, Virginius, saved his daughter's honor by stabbing her to the heart, and fleeing to the camp called upon the soldiers to put down such wicked government.

A second time the army deserted its leaders, and seceded to the SACRED MOUNT, where they nominated their own Tribunes. Then, marching into the city, they compelled the Decemviri to resign.

The TWELVE TABLES have not been preserved, except in fragments, and we know but little of their exact contents. The position of the debtor was apparently made more endurable. The absolute control of the pater familias over his family was abolished. The close connection heretofore existing between the clients and patrons was gradually relaxed, the former became less dependent upon the latter, and finally were absorbed into the body of the plebeians. Gentes among the plebeians now began to be recognized; previously only the patricians had been divided into gentes.

Thus we see, socially, the two orders were approaching nearer and nearer.

In 449 Valerius and Horatius were elected Consuls, and were instrumental in passing the so called VALERIO-HORATIAN laws, the substance of which was as follows: -

I. Every Roman citizen could appeal to the Comitia Centuriáta against the sentence of any magistrate.

II. All the decisions of the Comitia Tribúta (plebiscita), if sanctioned by the Senate and Comitia Centuriáta, were made binding upon patricians and plebeians alike. This assembly now became of equal importance with the other two.

III. The persons of the Tribunes, Aediles, and other plebeian officers, were to be considered sacred.

IV. The Tribunes could take part in the debates of the Senate, and veto any of its decisions.

Two years later (447), the election of the Quaestors, who must still be patricians, was intrusted to the Comitia Tribúta. Heretofore they had been appointed by the Consuls.

In 445 the Tribune Canuleius proposed a bill which was passed, and called the CANULEIAN LAW, giving to the plebeians the right of intermarriage (connubium) with the patricians, and enacting that all issue of such marriages should have the rank of the father.