Episode 117 – The Death of the Decemvirate

We have been trapped under the tyrannical rule of the Second Decemvirate for too long!

But never fear, listeners. Their day has finally come. In this episode, we finally see the decemvirs overthrown and the office of tribune of the plebs restored. It is a time of non-stop drama!

Episode 117 – The Death of the Decemvirate

All About the Aventine

With Dionysius of Halicarnassus’ account getting very patchy, and Diodorus Siculus considered unreliable, Livy provides the bulk of the detail for this episode. The movements of the plebeians are a little confusing, but two locations are mentioned, the Mons Sacer (or Sacred Mount) and the Aventine. Both of these locations were also mentioned in the accounts of the First Secession of the Plebs in 494 BCE, but the Sacred Mount is definitely most associated with this event.

In 449 BCE, the Aventine seems to play more of a role. Cicero’s references to the Second Secession in his pro Cornelio and de re Publica indicate that the plebs seceded to the Mons Sacer before heading to the Aventine Hill, whereas Livy’s plebs move from the hill to the Sacred Mount when it becomes clear that the senate was not making any decisions in a hurry. Diodorus Siculus only mentions the Aventine. With such a spotlight on this location, Dr Rad started reading the excellent work of Lisa Marie Mignone (2016). She has investigated the Aventine as it has developed a reputation as being particularly plebeian – but why?

The Significance of the Aventine

Mignone explains that the link between the Aventine and the plebs was firmly established by Alfred Merlin’s L’Aventin dans l’antiquité (1906), and Mignone is not so sure that we should be labelling any region of the city this way. However, there are a few notable reasons for this association, outside of the secessions:

  • the lex Icilia de Aventino publicando from 456 BCE (which seems to have led to the distribution of land on the Aventine to plebeian families) and
  • it was the locale of the temple of Ceres, and Gaius Gracchus (a troublesome tribune of the plebs) fled to the Aventine in 121 BCE when his career took sour turn. Indeed, Gracchus was zeroing in on the temple of Diana Aventiniensis, which Dionysius claimed was the plebs place of retreat during the Second Secession.

However, hundreds years separate these instances, and since the majority of Rome’s populace were plebeian, is that enough to claim the Aventine had a distinctly plebeian character? This will be something we shall continue to explore as we progress through the Republic.

The Ultimatum

As Livy provides the most extensive narrative for this part of the tale, we pursue his version of events. The Senate continues to dither, despite the threat posed by a group of armed men on the outer edge of the city. Tired of waiting, the rebel army decide to leave the Aventine for the Mons Sacer (or Sacred Mount), and are followed by many Roman citizens, united in their determination to show the patricians that they mean business. It’s either the plebeians or the decemvirs, and the senators need to choose! The days of the decemvirate might be numbered!

It Takes Two, Baby

With the city of Rome practically deserted, Valerius and Horatius are finally able to persuade their fellow senators that the decemvirate needs to end. Rome needs her plebeians back! The dynamic duo set off to negotiate an end to the second secession and the plebs manage to secure the return of the tribune of the plebs. According to Dr G’s account, they may even have secured an upgrade in status for the decisions made by the tribal assembly. From now on, the tribal assembly would be on equal footing with the centuriate assembly and the decisions of the plebeians would apply to everyone in the city.

With the reassurance that there would be no punishments for the secession, the plebs agree to return to Rome… just in time to witness the official resignation of the decemvirate. Appius is not happy about it, but most of his fellow Roman have ceased to care about his feelings by now.

Our Players

The Decemvirs

  • Appius Claudius. Ap. f. M. n. Crassus Inregillensis Sabinus Pat – Cos. 471, 451
  • Spurius Oppius Cornicen
  • Quintus Fabius M. f. M. n. Vibulanus Pat – Cos. 467, 465, 459
  • Quintus Poetelius Libo Visolus
  • Manius Rabuleius
  • Marcus Cornelius – f. Ser. n. Maluginenesis Pat
  • Lucius Minucius P. f. M. n. Esquilinus Augurinus Pat – Cos. 458
  • Marcus? Sergius Esquilinus Pat
  • Titus Antonius Merenda
  • Caeso Duillius Longus?

The Senators

  • Lucius Valerius Potitus
  • Marcus Horatius Barbatus

The Verginii and Supporters

  • Verginia
  • Verginius – father of Verginia
  • Publius Numitorius – Verginia’s maternal uncle
  • Lucius(?) Icilius – former tribune of the plebs and Verginia’s betrothed

Other Notables

  • Marcus Duillius (a former plebeian tribune)

Sources

  • Dr G reads Dionysius of Halicarnassus Roman Antiquities 11.44 and Diodorus Siculus Bibliotheca Historica 12.25
  • Dr Rad reads Livy ab Urbe Condita 3.52-54

Music and Sound Effects

Additional music and sound in this episode includes an original composition for our podcast by the glorious Bettina Joy de Guzman. Sound Effects courtesy of BBC Sound Effects.

If you are interested in reading one of the major scholarly works we consulted for the episode, Mignone’s volume contains a lot of fascinating detail about the Aventine Hill!

Enjoyed this episode? We`d love your support!

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

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