Episode 118 – The Death of Appius Claudius

Appius Claudius: what a man, what a couple of decemvirates! But while the title of this episode might have given some things away, it’s all about how it happens.

If our sources are to be believed, 449 BCE was one hell of a year. In our previous episode, we witnessed the end of the tyrannical Second Decemvirate and the Second Secession of the Plebeians. Two patricians, Valerius and Horatius, had managed to coax the plebeians back to Rome and their protest helped to oust the decemvirs from power. This episode, we will delve into the aftermath of these dramatic events, and we finally get to kill off that much-hated decemvir, Appius Claudius.

Episode 118 – The Death of Appius Claudius

Is Justice blind? We’ll find out in the case of Appius Claudius!
Image Source: Salvis Juribus

Review the Career of Appius Claudius

Looking to catch up to speed before heading into this episode?

Appius Claudius’ story starts at Episode 109 – The First Decemvirate.

The Consulship of Valerius and Horatius

With the office of the tribune of the plebs restored, it is time to secure some new consuls as well. Who better than the patricians who defied the decemvirs, Lucius Valerius Potitus and Marcus Horatius Barbatus? And isn’t an interesting coincidence that these two men were chosen to mop up the mess when their ancestors, P. Valerius Volusi Publicola and M. Horatius Pulvillus, were consuls back when the Republic was first established in 509 BCE? 

The Romans are known for associating particular gens with certain characteristics and policies, but it also may be the case that Romans followed paths that would uphold their family legacy.

The Valerio-Horatian Laws

In spite of their patrician backgrounds, the consulship of Valerius and Horatius was particularly beneficial for the Roman people. This is largely due to some new laws that were introduced, now known as the Valerio-Horatian Laws. According to our sources, the legislation:

  1. restored the sacrosanctity to the tribune of the plebs and instituted harsh penalties for anyone who violated this law
  2. restored the consular law about the right of citizens to appeal. They also ensured that all future magistracies that were created would include the right to appeal.
  3. the decisions of plebeians (plebiscites) would now be considered binding for all Roman people, and not just the plebeians.

These laws are clearly a direct response to what had transpired under the Second Decemvirate and restored a lot of power to the people.

We’ll explore some of the ramifications of these laws, the scholarly controversy over the dating, and what some of the more conservative patricians thought about them.

The Death of Verginia by Doyen (1756-8). Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Death of Appius Claudius

With these new laws in place, the people feel confident enough to seek vengeance. Appius Claudius, the most despised decemvir, is the first to be targeted. His attempted abduction of the free Roman maiden, Verginia, comes back to haunt him as her father is now a tribune of the plebs.

In both Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Verginius pursues Appius Claudius and has him arrested, seemingly with the intention of bringing him to trial. But while he awaits justice in prison, Appius Claudius ends up dead. At this point the accounts of Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus diverge. You won’t want to miss all the twists and turns that accompany his demise!

Our Players

The Decemvirs

  • Appius Claudius. Ap. f. M. n. Crassus Inregillensis Sabinus Pat – Cos. 471, 451

The Senators

  • Lucius Valerius Potitus
  • Marcus Horatius Barbatus

The Verginii and Supporters

  • Verginia – a Roman maiden, murdered by her father in order to protect her from the lust of Appius Claudius
  • Verginius – father of Verginia and newly elected tribune of the plebs
  • Publius Numitorius – Verginia’s maternal uncle and newly elected tribune of the plebs
  • Lucius(?) Icilius – Verginia’s betrothedand newly elected tribune of the plebs

Tribunes of the Plebs, 449 BCE

  • Lucius Verginius
  • Lucius Icilius (who had served as a tribune previously)
  • Publius Numitorius
  • Gaius Sicinius – son of the man who was first tribune chosen on Sacred Mount (L?.Sicinius)
  • Marcus Duillius (who had served as a tribune previously)
  • Marcus Titinius
  • Marcus Pomponius
  • Gaius Apronius
  • Appius Villius
  • Gaius Oppius

Other Notables

  • Gaius Claudius – uncle of Appius Claudius


Sounds Credits

Thanks to Orange Free Sounds, BBC Sounds, and Sound Bible for sound effects and the incomparable Bettina Joy de Guzman for our music.

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

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