This is our short scripted summary of what the ancient sources tell us about the events of the 440s BCE. If you would like more detail and analysis, be sure to check out our regular episodes from the Foundation of Rome series.
The Partial Recap for the 440s BCE
To 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 decade of the 440s that you simply wouldn’t want to miss it!
Image of the Forum courtesy of Benson Kua via Flickr.
Transcript for the 440s BCE
FR – Welcome to the Partial Recap for the 440s BCE!
PG – I’m Dr G
FR – and I’m Dr Rad
PG – and this is our highlights edition of the 440s in Rome. We’ll take you through from 449 to 440 in an epitome of our normal episodes.
FR – Perfect for those mornings when you don’t want some lengthy rhetoric with your coffee – but please be warned – this episode contains references to murder, violence and sexual assault.
PG – Get ready for a recappuccino.
- It’s hard to believe, but when the 440s dawned, Rome was still in the grip of the second decemvirate. Quelle horreur!
- 449 BCE was simply jam-packed with developments – it’s almost too much to believe… so we have no time to waste!
- The days of the decemvirate were numbered. On top of the threat of external enemies, these guys really know how to get their fellow Romans offside.
- The decemvirs arrange the murder of the highly popular plebeian, Lucius Siccius Dentatus. He’s been speaking out against them far too much, but he’s too highly regarded to kill outright. His death is staged carefully, so that it does not arouse suspicion.
- Pretty awful stuff, but that’s nothing compared to their next act.
- One of the most prominent decemvirs, the uber-patrician Appius Claudius, is seized with a desire for a plebeian maiden, Verginia.
- He tries all sorts of legal tricks to get his paws on her, and it seems like he might succeed, in spite of strenuous opposition from her family.
- In desperation to protect his daughter’s virginity, and by extension his family’s honour, her father ends up seizing a nearby knife and stabbing her to death in the Forum.
- Verginia’s body is displayed to the crowd, a horrible symbol of the excesses of the Second Decemvirate
- The plebeians are outraged – and this time, they are not alone. Some of the patricians aren’t that impressed with this tyrannical regime either.
- Patricians Valerius and Horatius start standing up to Appius Claudius and his gang of decemvirs.
- Meanwhile, Verginius has fled Rome after murdering his daughter. He makes contact with some of Rome’s armed forces and convinces them to revolt against the decemvirs.
- A secession of the plebs quickly follows. The plebeians gave the senate an ultimatum – it’s the decemvirs or us!
- Thanks to some skilful negotiation between Valerius and Horatius, the plebs return to the state and the decemvirs resign.
- The consulship is restored and given to Varlius and Horatius.
- This dynamic duo pass the Valerio-Horatian Laws, which restored the sacrosanctity of the tribune of the plebs, restored the right of citizens to appeal, and made the decisions of plebeians binding on all Romans.
- And there’s some vengeance to be sought against the decemvirs now that they are back on the same level as everyone else.
- The biggest fish to fry? Well, that would be Appius Claudius, who is pursued by the new tribune of the plebs, Verginius. But before he is officially condemned, he dies in custody under extremely shady circumstances.
- It seems like some of the tribunes might be getting big ideas
- From the incredible detail of 449 BCE, we turn to the blankness of 448 BCE
- In 448 BCE the consuls were Lars (or Sp.) Herminius Cortinesanus and Titus Verginius Tricostus Caeliomontanus
- Weirdly, some of the plebeian tribunes were patrician ex-consuls.
- Understandably, not everyone is thrilled by this development, and so a fellow tribune, Lucius Trebonius, fights to preserve the integrity of tribune elections.
- In 447 BCE the consuls were Marcus Geganius Macerinus and Caius Iulius
- They appeased the plebs by suspending a levy for a war against the Volscians and Aequians
- Unfortunately, the young patricians start acting out again and committing acts of violence against the plebs, and even the tribunes themselves.
- No one seemed to be able to keep them in check… or to at least, no one with power was that invested in keeping them in check.
- In 446 BCE the consuls were Titus Quinctius Capitolinus Barbatus and Agrippa Furius
- The Romans were facing a combined force of Aequians and the Volscians who could smell their internal issues from just a few miles away… because they were pretty close.
- Riding high on their recent victory, the Romans are called in to settle a border dispute between the cities of Aricia and Ardea.
- The people make the terrible decision to take the land for themselves
- And in 445 BCE, their greed is causing problems in Ardea, where a revolt has broken out
- The consuls for the year were Marcus Genucius Augurinus and Caius Curtius Philo
- Not only were these men facing revolt in Ardea, but attack from the Veientes, Aequians and Volscians
- However, the plebeians, led by the tribune Caius Canuleius, refused to fight unless one of the laws passed by the second decemvirate was overturned. This law had forbidden intermarriage between patricians and plebeians.
- They also demanded a share in the consulship.
- The horror felt by the patricians at this suggestion cannot be described.
- After a lot of angst, a compromise is reached – the marriage law will be overturned and a new position was introduced – military tribunes with consular power.
- In 444 BCE the military tribunes with consular power were Aulus Sempronius Atratinus, Lucius Atilius Luscus and Titus Cloelius Sicilus
- Unfortunately, it seems there were some issues with the auspices surrounding their inauguration and so an interrex was called in to sort the situation – Titus Quinctius Barbatus
- They were soon replaced with actual consuls – Lucius Papirius Mugillanus and Lucius Sempronius Atratinus
- Ardean ambassadors arrived, needing to discuss the ramifications of Rome’s decision to take their land
- In 443 BCE the consuls were Marcus Geganius Macerinus and Titus Quinctius Capitolinus Barbatus
- It was time for a census… except the consuls were less than thrilled with the prospect of paperwork and administration.
- This led to the creation of the office of the censor, and the selection of Lucius Papirius Mugillanus and Lucius Sempronius Atratinus to oversee the work.
- Their bureaucratic glory was overshadowed by the eruption of civil war in Ardea.
- A family disagreement over the marriage of a hot plebeian girl quickly exploded into a hot Ardean mess. Only Rome could save them now!
- Hello, sweet atonement.
- In 442 BCE the consuls were Marcus Fabius Vibulanus and Postumus Aebutius Helva Cornicen
- Still trying to atone for their greed over the Ardean land grab, the ROmans send out a triumviri coloniae deducendae – or three guys to set up a colony.
- The sneaky plan is to give land in this colony back to the native people, before any Romans received a blade of grass.
- Peace, peace at last!
- In 441 BCE the consuls were Gaius Furius Pacilus Fusus and Marcus Papirius Crassus
- What better way to finish off the decade than with some games… that were promised a decade ago by the decemvirs.
- Poetelius, one of the tribunes of the plebs, tried his darndest to get the plebeians some land or something, but he had no luck.
- In 440 BCE the consuls were Proculus Geganius and Lucius Menenius Lanatus
- And sadly, the decade did not finish well for Rome.
- A terrible famine hit, and the patricians and plebs quickly turned on each other
- Lucius Minucius was elected prefect of the corn-supply but did not have a huge amount of success. It seems like the situation got real dark, real quick
- Desperate times called for desperate measures – an equestrian named Spurius Maelius used his personal fortune to buy corn from Etruria and distributed it for nothing, making him very popular with the plebs.
- Maelius let this all go to his head and started plotting to become king.
- How weird to begin and end the decade with schemes for the ultimate domination of Rome?
FR – And that was the 440s 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!
Sound Credits for the 440s BCE
Music courtesy of the amazing Bettina Joy de Guzman.