Cautionary Chronicle#2: What you can learn from Camillus’ example III

Continuing my account of Marcus Furius Camillus, derived from Plutarch…..

~~The tribunes introduced a measure dividing the people and the Senate into two parts, one to remain and dwell there, and the one on which the lot fell to remove into the city they had captured, on the ground that they would thus be more commodiously bestowed, and with two large and fair cities could better protect their territory as well as their prosperity in general.  Accordingly the people, which was now become numerous and poor, welcomed the measure with delight, and was for ever thronging tumultuously about the rostra with demands that it be put to vote. But the Senate and the most influential of the other citizens considered that the measure proposed by the tribunes meant not division but destruction for Rome, and in their aversion to it went to Camillus for aid and succour.

He, dreading the struggle, always contrived to keep the people busy with other matters, and so staved off the passage of the bill. For this reason, then, they were vexed with him.

But the strongest and most apparent reason why the multitude hated him was based on the matter of the tenth of the spoil of Veii, and herein they had a plausible, though not a very just ground of complaint. He had vowed, as it seems, on setting out against Veii, that if he should take the city, he would consecrate the tenth of its booty to the Delphian god. But after the city had been taken and sacked, he allowed his soldiers full enjoyment of their plunder, either because he shrank from annoying them, or because, in the multitude of his activities, he as good as forgot his vow. At a later time, when he had laid down his command, he referred the matter to the Senate, and the seers announced tokens in their sacrifices that the gods were angry, and must be propitiated with due offerings.

The Senate voted, not that the booty should be redistributed, for that would have been a difficult matter, but that those who had got it should, in person and under oath, bring the tenth thereof to the public treasury. This subjected the soldiers to many vexations and constraints. They were poor men, who had toiled hard, and yet were now forced to contribute a large share of what they had gained, yes, and spent already. 

Beset by their tumultuous complaints, and at loss for a better excuse, Camillus had recourse to the absurdest of all explanations, and admitted that he had forgotten his vow. The soldiers were filled with indignation at the thought that it was the goods of the enemy of which he had once vowed a tithe, but the goods of his fellow citizens from which he was now paying the tithe. However, all of them brought in the necessary portion, and it was decided to make a bowl of massive gold and send it to Delphi….

…..Once more the tribunes of the people urged the passage of the law for the division of the city, but the war with the Faliscans came on opportunely and gave the leading men occasion to hold such elective assemblies as they wished, and to appoint Camillus military tribune, with five others. The emergency was thought to demand a leader with the dignity and reputation which experience alone could give. 

After the people had ratified the election, Camillus, at the head of his army, invaded the territory of the Faliscans and laid siege to Falerii, a strong city, and well equipped with all the munitions of war. It was not that he thought its capture would demand slight effort or short time, but he wished to turn the thoughts of the citizens to other matters and keep them busy therein, that they might not be able to stay at home and become the prey of seditious leaders. This was a fitting and sovereign remedy which the Romans used, like good physicians, thereby expelling from the body politic its troublesome distempers.

To be continued….


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