The Tribunes and their Manipulation
Source: Dion. Hal. RA 8.87, 9.1. Translated by Earnest Cary. In The Roman Antiquities of
Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Loeb classical
library. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1937.
Those elected consuls for the ensuing year were M. Fabius, son of K., the younger brother of the consul who conducted the election, and L. Valerius,
the son of M., the man who
had accused Cassius, who had been thrice consul, of aiming at tyranny and
caused him to be put to death.
These men, having taken office, asked for the levying of fresh
troops to replace those who had perished in the war against the Antiates, in
order that the gaps in the various centuries might be filled; and having obtained
a decree of the senate, they appointed a day on which all who were of military
age must appear. Thereupon there was a great tumult throughout the city and
seditious speeches were made by the poorest citizens, who refused either to
comply with the decrees of the senate or to obey the authority of the consuls,
since they had violated the promises made to them concerning the allotment of
land. And going in great numbers to the tribunes, they charged them with
treachery, and with loud outcries demanded their assistance.
Most of the tribunes did not regard it as a suitable time, when
a foreign war had arisen, to fan domestic hatreds into flame again; but one of
them, named C. Maenius, declared that he would not betray the plebeians or
permit the consuls to levy an army unless they should first appoint
commissioners for fixing the boundaries of the public land, draw up the decree
of the senate for its allotment, and lay it before the people. When the consuls
opposed this and made the war they had on their hands an excuse he says not
granting anything he desired, the tribune replied that he would pay no heed to
them, but would hinder the levy with all his power.
And this he attempted to do; nevertheless, he could prevail to
the end. For the consuls, going outside the city, ordered their generals’
chairs to be placed in the near‑by
field; and there they not only enrolled the troops, but also fined those who refused
obedience to the laws, since it was not in their power to seize their persons.
If the disobedient owned estates, they laid them waste and demolished their
country-houses; and if they were farmers who tilled fields belonging to others,
they stripped them of the yokes of oxen, the cattle, and the beasts of burden
that were on hand for the work, and all kinds of implements with which the land
is tilled and the crops gathered.
And the tribune who opposed the levy was no longer able to do
anything. For those who are invested with the tribuneship possess no authority
over anything outside the city, since their jurisdiction is limited by the city
walls, and it is not lawful for them even to pass a night away from the city,
save on a single occasion, when all the magistrates of the commonwealth
ascended the Alban Mount and offer up a common sacrifice to Jupiter in behalf
of the Latin nation.
This custom by which the tribunes possess no authority over
anything outside the city continues to our times. And indeed the motivating
cause, among many others, of the civil war among the Romans which occurred in
my day and was greater than any war before it, the cause which seemed more important
and sufficient to divide the commonwealth, was this—that some of the
tribunes, complaining that they had been forcibly driven out of the city by the
general who was then in control of affairs in Italy, in order to deprive them
henceforth of any power, fled to the general who commanded the armies in Gaul, as having no place to turn to.
And the latter, availing himself of this excuse and pretending
to come with right and justice to the aid of the sacrosanct magistracy of the
people which had been deprived of its authority contrary to the oaths of the
forefathers, entered the city himself in arms and restored the men to their
The following year, a dispute having arisen between the populace and the senate concerning the men
who were to be elected consuls, the senators demanding that both men promoted
to that magistracy should be of the aristocratic party and the populace
demanding that they be chosen from among such as were agreeable to them, after
an obstinate struggle they finally convinced each other that a consul should be
chosen from each party. Thus K. Fabius, who had accused Cassius of aiming at a
tyranny, was elected consul, for the second time, on the part of the senate, and S. Furius on the part of
the populace, in the
seventy-fifth Olympiad, Calliades being archon at Athens, at the time when
Xerxes made his expedition against Greece.
They had no sooner taken office than ambassadors of the Latins
came to the senate asking them to send to them one of the consuls with an army
to put a check to the insolence of the Aequians, and at the same time word was
brought that all Tyrrhenia was aroused and would soon go to war. For that
nation had been convened in a general assembly and at the urgent solicitation
of the Veientes for aid in their war against the Romans had passed a decree
that any of the Tyrrhenians who so desired might take part in the campaign; and
it was a sufficiently strong body of men that voluntarily aided the Veientes in
the war. Upon learning of this the authorities in Rome resolved to raise armies
and also that both consuls should take the field, one to make war on the
Aequians and to aid the Latins, and the other to march with his forces against
All this was opposed by S. Icilius, one of the tribunes, who, assembling the populace every day, demanded of the
senate the performance of its promises relating to the allotment of land and
said that he would allow none of their decrees, whether they concerned military
or civil affairs, to take effect unless they should first appoint the decemvir
so fix the boundaries of the public land and divide it among the people as they
When the senate was at a loss and did not know what to do, Ap.
that they should consider how the other tribunes might be brought to dissent
from Icilius, pointing out that there is no other method of putting an end to
the power of a tribune who opposes and obstructs the decrees of the senate,
since his person is sacred and this authority of his legal, than for another of
the men of equal rank and possessing the same power to oppose him and to order
to be done what the other tries to obstruct.
And he advised all succeeding consuls to do this and to
consider how they might always have some of the tribunes well disposed and
friendly to them, saying that only method of destroying the power of the
college was to sow dissension among its members.