Episode 109 – The First Decemvirate

The Roman republic is in full swing and it’s time for the first decemvirate! The growing discontent amongst the population is reaching breaking point according to our narrative sources.

Episode 109 – The First Decemvirate

This conflict is often referred to as the Struggle of the Orders. It’s predicated on the idea that there is an ongoing tension between the patricians and the plebeians, two groups of Roman citizens at odds with each other. The patricians are the ‘haves’ and the plebeians are the ‘have nots’, but there are plenty of reasons to be wary of this division, since we’re not quite sure what qualities firmly exclude someone from patrician status in this early period.

While modern scholars tend to see this division of the Roman population as a retrojection of our narrative and annalistic sources, this is nevertheless the lens through which Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus are navigating the early history of the republic. And where they lead, we shall follow.

In terms of chronology, it’s 452 BCE, which means Rome is now over 300 years old! From here we begin to delve into the details of how the first decemvirate emerged.

Ten Men!

To alleviate the concerns of the people, we see the rise of the decemvirs. The decemviri consulari imperio legibus scribundis ‘the ten men with consular imperium for the writing down of the laws’ have a very specific task. It is considered of such importance that normal governance is suspended while the decemvirs do their things. The task is to put down the best laws of Rome and Greece into a document that can be placed in public for use in perpetuity.

There are some concerns about what this decemvirate is designed to achieve from the out set. Livy suggests that there may have been legitimate concerns about this being a grab for power by the privileged patricians.

This is supported by the requests for the Icilian law and the land allotment on the Aventine that it provided to be kept in place (Interested in the details of the Lex Icilia de Aventino Publicndo? We explore all the details in Episode 104 – Aventine, Aventine).

There are also concerns that the decemvirate may attempt to dissolve the tribune of plebs, a magistracy that was hard won and often a thorn in the side of the patrician senate.

Appius “Building Unity” Claudius

When the consul for 452 BCE Menenius falls ill and is unable to fulfil his duties as consul, Appius Claudius (consul designate for 451 BCE) offers to support the remaining consul, Publius Sestius, by organising the decemvirate which is due to begin the next year.

He works closely with the tribunes and other inserted senators and seems very invested in harmony, peace, and ensuring the unity of the state as they embark upon the codification of the laws.

Things to listen out for:

  • The way the decemvirs share power
  • A day in the life of the decemvirs
  • The charisma of Appius Claudius
  • The Ten Tables!
  • Ager publicus (or the absence thereof)
  • Suppression of tribunician power

Our Players

Consuls of 452 BCE

  • Publius Sestius Q. f. Vibi n. Capitolinus(?) Vaticanus (Pat)
  • Lucius / Titus Menenius Agripp. f. Agripp. n. Lanatus (Pat)

The First Decemvirate of 451 BCE

Meet your decemvirs!

The decemvirs are led by the consul designates for the year 451 BCE

  • Appius Claudius Ap. f. M. n. Crassus Inrigillensis Sabinus
  • Titus Genucius L. f. L. n. Augurinus

They are joined by

  • Publius Sestius
  • Lucius Veturius (Livy) / Titus Veturius (Dionysius of Halicarnassus)
  • Gaius Iulius
  • Aulus Manlius
  • Publius Sulpicius (Livy) / Servius Sulpicius (Dionysius of Halicarnassus)
  • Publius Curiatius (Livy) / Publius Horatius (Dionysius of Halicarnassus)
  • Titus Romilius
  • Spurius Postumius

The Second Decemvirate of 450 BCE

This episode also features an introduction to the second decemvirate! Welcome back to our Appius with the mostest:

  • Appius Claudius Ap. f. M. n. Crassus Inrigillensis Sabinus

This time joined by

  • Quintus Fabius Vibulanus M. f. M. n. (Pat) (cos. 467, 565, 459 BCE)
  • Marcus Cornelius – f. Ser. n. Maluginensis (Pat)
  • Marcus Sergius – f. – n, Esquilinus (Pat)
  • Lucius Minucius P. f. M. n. Esquilinus Augurinus (Pat) (cos. 458 BCE)
  • Titus Antonius – f. – n. Merenda (Pat)
  • Manius Rabuleius – f. – n. (Pat, according to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, but thought now to be a plebeian name)
  • Quintus Poetelius – f. – n. Lino Visolus (plebeian)
  • Kaeso Duilius – f- n- Longus(?) (plebeian)
  • Spurius Oppius – f. – n. Cornicen (plebeian)

Sound Credits

  • Musical interlude and final credits: Bettina Joy de Guzman
  • Additional sound effects: BBC Sound Effects (Beta)
The First Decemvirate

A day in ancient Rome; being a revision of Lohr’s “Aus dem alten Rom”, with numerous illustrations, by Edgar S. Shumway (1885). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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Drs R and G laugh and spar their way through the ancient Roman world!


  1. […] pick up our detailed episodes for this period, we recommend starting with Episode 109 – The First Decemvirate. Although the decemvirs come to power in c. 451 BCE, their story has so much influence on the […]

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