It’s our second episode in The Partial Recap series. This is a short, sharp, scripted overview of all the big events that defined the 450s BCE. If you’re inspired to delve into more details, all the episodes from this decade can be found in our Foundation of Rome series.
Let’s jump into the refresher! It’s the Partial Recap of the 450s BCE!
The Partial Recap – the 450s BCE
A view to the East over the Roman Forum with the Temple of Saturn on the left and the Palatine Hill on the right, showing the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the Arch of Titus, Santa Francesca Romana, and the Colosseum. Detail from the photograph by Nicholas Hartmann, June 1976. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons. Used under license.
FR – Welcome to the Partial Recap for the 450s BC!
PG – I’m Dr G
FR – and I’m Dr Rad
PG – and this is our highlights edition of the 450s in Rome. We’ll take you through from 459 to 450 in an epitome of our normal episodes.
FR – Perfect for those mornings when you don’t want some lengthy rhetoric with your coffee
PG – Get ready for a recappuccino.
In 459 BCE, the consuls were Lucius Cornelius Maluginensus Uritnus and Quinctus Fabius Vibulanus, an old-hand in his third consulship.
- Rome is picking up the pieces after the recent invasion. A census is carried out. Rome has 117 319 citizens. Lustral sacrifices are needed to cleanse the city.
- Livy and Dionysius don’t really agree on the exact course of events. Perhaps Rome is trying to restore its rep after the military humiliation of the previous year?
- What seems clear from both accounts is that the Volscians and Aequians are up to something and the Romans set off to deal with it.
- They are particularly keen to help out the Tusculans who are under attack from the Aequains – or is this just a method for the Romans to restore their reputation after the invasion.
- Under Fabius, the Romans defeat the Aequians decisively.
- The consuls meet up and target the lands of both the Volscians and the Aequians.
- Antium, in Volscian territory, is a particular hotspot. It seems like there is a revolt going on in this territory, only recently captured by the Romans. After a messy battle, Antium is retaken and some locals and colonists are publicly scourged and beheaded. Now there’s an example no one will want to follow.
- Back at home, there is agitation for the law about the laws, but the Prefect of the City, Lucius Lucretius Tricipitinus, says that nothing can take place when consuls are away.
- The quaestors, Aulus Cornelius & Quintus Servilius, try to pursue Volscius for the charge of committing perjury about Caeso Quinctius being responsible for his brother’s murder – and it seems like they have a genuine case. The tribunes hold them off – after all, the consuls are away, right?
- Once the consuls return, it’s triumph time! Almost as though the invasion of 460 never happened…
In 458 BCE, the consuls were Lucius Minucius Esquilinus Augurinus and Caius Nautius was consul for the second time.
- Rome is facing war on many fronts, so both of the consuls are need out in the field.
- Ex-consul, Quinctius Fabius Vibulanus, is made Prefect of the City – probably to keep an eye on the tribunes as well as the enemies of Rome.
- The exact order of events is different in Livy and Dionysius, but external wars constitute the main events of the year.
- The Aequians are back in action in spite of making peace the year before. The Aequians feel that they are not violating the deal as they are attacking the Latins – Rome’s allies, not Rome itself.
- The Romans send an embassy to talk to the Aequian’s leader, Cloelius Gracchus, Quinctius Fabius Vibulanus, Publius Volumnius Amintinus Gallus and Aulus Postumius Albus Regillensis
- Cloelius tells the distinguished ROmans to talk to the tree, because he ain’t listening
- And it’s on like Donkey Kong
- Minucius does not take a bold approach against the Aequian forces, which gives them confidence. Nautius has to be sent for as back-up.
- The tribunes pull their classic move of trying to prevent the levy of forces, and they almost won, but the Sabines then attack ROman territory, terrifying everyone.
- Nautius enjoys success against the Sabines, before being summoned by Minucius.
- However, they are going to need more help. What they need is a silver fox with enough virtus to choke an elephant. They need a dictator and they need Cincinnatus, father of the exiled Caeso.
- At least, the patricians do – they plebs aren’t thrilled at first.
- Cincinnatus whips the citizens into action and devises a strategy that wins the day against the Aequians. Cincinnatus demands the city of Corbio and Gracchus is brought to him in chains – YOU talk to the tree, smart-ass!
- Cincinnatus is now free to rescue the Tusculans.
- Minunius steps down from the consulship but remains in Cincinnatus’ service – he’s just so amazing! The army is in the best shape ever and all because of him. He is awarded an elaborate gift and a triumph.
- Because he is Cincinnatus, he is prepared to give up his power now that the external threat has passed…. But only after he finishes the case against his son’s accuser, the tribune Volscius.
- Between Cincinnatus and the Quaestors Marcus Valerius Volusi Maximus and Titus Quintius Capitolinus Barbatus, Volscius is found guilty and exiled.
- Cincinnatus can now return to his life as a private citizen on his farm.
In 457 BCE, the consuls were Quintus Minucius Esquilinus and Marcus Horatius Pulvilius in his second consulship.
- In this year, the Sabines become a problem once more, attacking ROman territory.
- The tribunes are undeterred, demanding the codification of the laws. Give us the law!
- The consuls want to ignore this issue and conduct the levy.
- Cincinnatus shames people into enlisting by making appeals to ROman masculinity and pride – if no one fights, the ROmans will lose their empire! The patricians will fight – but will the plebs?
- An assembly is called, and the consul Horatius openly admits that the patricians will not give up their privileges. He brings out the old patricians to shame the plebeians and again questions their masculinity.
- The tribune Verginius counters as he can see the crowd is being affected by these theatrics. No one is betraying anyone here – they just want some concessions.
- Horatius will entertain any reasonable requests, so the tribunes ask for their number to be doubled.
- Cincinnatus and Claudius are in favour of making this deal – more tribunes means a greater possibility for them to be divided into factions.
- The tribune election takes place immediately – the plebs know they need to get the money up front now!
- The levy can now proceed and Minucius is sent to deal with the Sabines, who retreat and allow their lands to be pillaged.
- Horatius defeats the Aequians and razes Corbio to the ground.
In 456 BCE, the consuls were Marcus Valerius Volusi Maxumus Lactuca and Spurius Verginius Tricosus Caeliomontanus.
- The tribunes for the year were Lucius Icilius and Lucius Alienus.
- Icilius is keen to meet with consuls, but they are ghosting him. When he tries to force the issue, Icilius’ attendants are driven away by the consuls’ lictors.
- In retaliation, the tribunes seize one of the lictors and decide to throw him off the Tarpeain Rock.
- The consuls are distressed, but helpless to fight off the tribunes. Luckily for them, the tribunes decide to release the hapless lictor.
- Icilius instead pursues a law about the use of public land. This law would mean that land that has been taken by force or fraud would be given over to the populace, the occupiers reimbursed and the rest to be divided up amongst the public
- The Senate agreed, except for Gaius Claudius, and this law was unusually named after Icilius.
In 455 BCE, the consuls were Titus Romilius Rocus Vaticanus and Gaius Veturius Cicurinus.
- Once again, two of the tribunes were Lucius Icilius and Lucius Alienus.
- This is a tricky year, as the accounts of Livy and Dionysius diverged.
- In Livy, the tribunes were all feeling very ashamed as they felt they had not accomplished much – especially with ten of them working for the people. They are pushing hard to get the law about the laws through.
- Unfortunately for them, the Aequians were on the loose and attacking the Tusculans. No Roman can resist an adorable Tusculan in distress!
- The consuls were despatched and killed 7000 Aequians in battle. The remainder of the Aequians fled, leaving lots of booty behind for the Romans. The consuls decided to sell the spoils as the treasury needed to be replenished.
- The army is furious and the tribunes see their opportunity to impeach the consuls once they are out of office.
- In Dionysius, the consuls decide on war as they need to distract people from the law about the laws. Some of the people are reluctant to enlist, so the consuls start arresting the culprits.
- The tribunes denounce the consuls, especially as they are arresting people who are appealing to their protection. The tribunes claim that they are able to release people from the levy, and when that didn’t work, they try to physically stop the levy.
- A fight breaks out between the young patricians and the tribunes and their supporters. The patricians win the day, but the tribunes put out the call for more plebeians to join them, and soon the patricians were outnumbered.
- The tribunes demand that the consuls join their assembly and they don’t show up, the tribunes head to the senate. They confront the consuls about their behaviour, but the consuls think the tribunes are the problem. The Senate reaches no decision about how to act.
- The tribunes call a meeting and propose that the plebs secede, but not everyone is ready for this dramatic a step. It doesn’t help that some of the tribunes have been won over the senate!
- After much discussion, the tribunes decide to fine the consuls.
- They call an assembly and tell the people that they are going to fight for land allotment and equality before the law. It’s time to get more than just part of the Aventine Hill. The tribunes call on plebs in the audience to come forward and speak about their experiences.
- The crowd goes wild, but they haven’t seen anything yet. Lucius Siccius Dentatus steps up the rostra. He is an eloquent solider with extensive military experience and too many honours to name. Who deserves land more Siccius? How can someone who has given so much have so little?
- Everyone goes nuts for Siccius, but Icilius says they need to hear from others.
- The consuls are desperate to block the tribune’s plans, so they make sure that they stake out the forum early. When people arrive to speak, they make their approval or disapproval known.
- The tension rises between the tribunes and consuls.
- When it is time for the vote to take place regarding the law, the patricians disrupt the process and push people off the bridge they need to cross to cast their vote. Needless to say the law does not get passed, largely thanks to the work of three patrician families – the Postumii, the Cloelii and the Sempronii.
- The tribunes will not take this offence lying down. They decide to go after the patrician families responsible – after all, this is an offence against the gods.
- The patrician estates are confiscated and dedicated to Ceres – except that their friends buy their estates back for them. At least the tribunes made some money out of the deal!
- It is at this point that the Tusculans arrive with news of an Aequian attack, and both consuls are sent to the rescue – very unusual, but that is how special the Tusculans are.
- Although the tribunes object to the levy, the consuls have a secret weapon – an appeal to the gods. They declare that those who sign up for the campaign will please the gods – and you know what will happen to those who don’t. Most people are too scared to refuse.
- Siccius, always one to do his duty, arrives with his own legion of veterans.
- When the Romans engage with the Aequains in battle. Limited progress is made because both armies are so evenly matched.
- Romilius devises a plan for Siccius and his men to try and attack the Aequians from behind whilst the attacks from the front. Siccius knows that this is a suicide mission, but Romilius refuses to back down.
- No one gets rid of Siccius that easily. He comes up with a cunning plan to find a different path to reach the Aequians. His men capture a local farmer and he informs them that there is just such a path.
- The Aequains are defeated and Siccius’ men love him more than ever for saving their lives whilst securing a victory.
- Now it’s time for revenge on Romilius. Siccius and his men destroy all the spoils in the Aequian camp before marching directly to Rome and telling everyone that the consuls forced him to do this.
- The consuls are in serious trouble – no triumphs for you!
In 454 BCE, the consuls were Spurius Tarpeius Montanus and Aulus Terminius or Aternius Varus Fontinalis.
- Once more, there was quite a lot of difference between Livy and Dionysius.
- Dionysius is still following the career of the Roman Achilles – Siccius.
- Lucius Siccius Dentatus, now a tribune, pursued a trial against Romilius for injuring the state.
- Siccius brought out numerous witnesses about Romilius’ callous attitude to himself and his men. The tears shed by the audience don’t bode well for Romilius.
- Romilius remained a haughty patrician to the last, claiming that he did what he had to do as commander. Every tribe voted to condemn him and Romilius was fined 10 000 asses.
- Meanwhile, former tribune and now Aedile of the plebs, Lucius Alienus, prosecuted the other former consul, Veturius, and he was fined 15 000 asses.
- With this unpleasantness out of the way, once again the law about the laws comes up for discussion.
- Romilius surprisingly was in support of the codification. Although he was a staunch patrician and had always despised the plebs, his recent trial taught him a valuable lesson. The patricians were not powerful enough to protect him and all those other persecuted patricians (cough cough) like Caeso, so something needed to change.
- Romilius suggested seeking advice from other states that are running smoothly – like somewhere in Greece! This connection to Greece has been seen as an attempt to associate Rome with the fame of Athens and the law code of Solon. After all, if the Romans wanted to learn about Greek laws, they could have have just headed south.
- The consuls supported Romilius’ proposal and Siccius praised him for placing the public good first. In tribute to Romilius, Siccius suggested cancelling the fine.
- All of this information about the fines issued to the ex-consuls seems to be related to the Lex Aternia Tarpeia, which set a maximum penalty on the fines that could be applied for offences involving illegal attempts to gain authority and disrespect.
- In Livy, the trip to Athens comes up after the tribunes pursue the law about the laws with the new consuls. The tribunes assure the consuls that they are prepared to be reasonable.
- They suggest that patricians and plebeians should just get together and chat about their priorities and how to devise a law code. They agree, but only if the chat is patricians only – no plebs allowed!
- The tribunes just want some progress, so they agree. It is after this that the educational foray to Greece is planned.
In 453 BCE, the consuls were Publius Curiatus Fistus Trigeminius and Sextus Quinctilius
- The suffect consul Spurius Furius Medullinus Fusus
- This was one of the lowest points of the decade. A terrible pestilence broke out and caused a huge amount of suffering and death in all social classes and even the animals.
- We cannot be sure of the numbers, but it seems that half of the citizen population were wiped out and most of the slaves.
- One of the consuls was struck down, and tragically, so was his replacement – Spurius Furius.
- So many people were affected that the fields were neglected and famine ensued, adding to the misery of the Romans.
- The Aequians considered taking advantage of Rome’s weakness, but they became infected by the pestilence when they tried to attack and had to retreat.
In 452 BCE, the consuls were Menenius Agrippa (his praenomen could have been Gaius, Lucius, or Titus) and Publius Sestius
- The pestilence has passed, but there are still food shortages in Rome and the consuls need to buy corn to address the grain crisis.
- The delegation that had been sent to Athens to study the laws of Solon return, full of ideas for the Roman law code.
- The Romans are getting serious about the codification of their laws and start to discuss the best way to proceed.
- The idea for a decemvirate, a group of ten magistrates, is suggested. These men would take the place of all the normal offices and there would be no right of appeal. This could not take place immediately, as there were already consuls in office who needed to serve their full term.
- Whilst having a mixture of plebeian and patrician magistrates is discussed, the patricians are quick to squash those dreams – it will be patricians only or nothing.
- This sends up some red flags for the plebeians, who are only willing to agree to this system if they are assured that the tribunes and land allocation on the Aventine will be protected and restored once the decemvirate is over.
- A slight hitch is that there are already some consul-designates who have been chosen to serve in 451 – Titus Genucius and Appius Claudius.
- Appius addresses the senate about the importance of the law code and volunteers to give up his chance to be consul so that the decemvirate can go ahead. What a guy! No wonder he is chosen to serve as decemvir.
- The first decemvirate begins, and it is a big success.
- The decemvirs get along remarkably well and they aren’t flaunting their power or status.
- They produce the Ten Tables, which are approved after consultation with the populace.
- Confusingly, the laws do not seem to address many issues that have been concerning the plebeians, but they do provide some insight into life in Rome at this time.
- Whilst everyone is satisfied, there is general agreement that a few more laws are needed and it is decided that the Romans need a second decemvirate.
- Elections are set, and Appius Claudius campaigns hard. He is determined to hang on to his position, so he starts getting friendly with the plebs and tribunes – even badmouthing the patricians.
- His colleagues are suspicious of his behaviour but they refrain from calling him out on his behaviour.
- Appius manages to get re-elected, along with some of his friends.
- Unusually, some plebeians seem to be chosen as well. What is going on?
- As soon as he has secured his position, Appius reveals his true self. He becomes cruel and arrogant, and encourages his other decemvirs to aim for tyranny.
- They start meeting in secret and vow never to give up their power.
- Each man has his own fasces and is attended by lictors in public.
- Everyone, patrician and plebeian, is dismayed by their behaviour, but their power is absolute and there seems to be little that anyone can do.
- The decemvirs add two tables to the law code, making it The Twelve Tables, including a controversial ban on intermarriage between the plebeians and patricians.
- True to their secret evil plan, the decemvirs remain in office, even though their business is seemingly now complete.
- As we slide into the 440s, the situation in Rome continues to deteriorate. The decemvirs start using the young patricians to bully the populace. Citizens are scourged with rods, their property can be confiscated and some are even murdered.
FR – And that was the 450s in Ancient Rome… or was it?
PG – Remember, this has just been the highlights from the ancient sources, so if you want to delve into the complexities of the different evidence from this period, check out our narrative episodes.
FR – Thanks for joining us for this Partial Recap!