Livy (Titus Livius 59 B.C. - 17 A.D.), History of Rome.


The History of Appius and Virginia (B.C. 447)

  XLIV. There followed, in the city, another atrocious proceeding, which took its rise from lust, and was not less tragical in its consequences than that which, through the injured chastity and violent death of Lucretia, had occasioned the expulsion of the Tarquinii from the throne and the city; so that the government of the decemvirs not only ended in the same manner as that of the kings, but was lost through the same cause.

Appius Claudius was inflamed with a criminal passion towards a young woman of plebeian rank. The father of this young woman, Lucius Virginius, held an honourable rank among the centurions, in the camp near Algidum, a man of exemplary good conduct, both as a soldier and a citizen, and by the same principles were the behaviour of his wife, and the education of his family regulated. He had betrothed his daughter to Lucius Icilius, who had been tribune, a man of spirit, and of approved zeal in the cause of the commons. This maiden, in the bloom of youth, and of extraordinary beauty, Appius, burning with desire, had attempted to seduce by bribes and promises; but finding every avenue to his hopes barred by modesty, he resolved to have recourse to violence.

He gave instructions to Marcus Claudius, one of his dependents, that he should claim the young woman as his slave, and not submit to any demand which should be made, of her being left at liberty until the decision of the suit, thinking that the absence of the damsel's father afforded the fittest opportunity for the injury which be meditated. As Virginia came into the Forum, (for the schools of learning were held there in sheds,) this minister of the decemvir's lust laid his hand on her, and affirming that "she was a slave, and born of a woman who was his slave," ordered her to follow him; threatening, in case of refusal, to drag her away by force.

While the girl stood motionless through fright and astonishment, a crowd was collected by the cries of her nurse, who implored the protection of the citizens. The popular names of her father Virginius, and her spouse Icilius, were heard on every side. Their acquaintances were engaged in favour of the maiden by their regard for them; and the multitude in general, by the heinousness of the proceeding. She was now secured from violence, when the claimant said "there was no occasion for raising a mob, he was proceeding by law, not by force," and summoned the maiden to a court of justice. She being advised, by those who appeared in her favour, to follow him, they arrived at the tribunal of Appius. The claimant rehearsed the concerted farce before the judge, alleged that "the girl was born in his house, and had been clandestinely removed from thence to that of Virginius, her supposed father; that of this he had sufficient evidence, and would prove it even to the satisfaction of Virginius himself, the principal sufferer in the case; and it was reasonable," he added, "that in the meantime, the servant should remain in the custody of her master."

The advocates for Virginia, pleading that Virginius was absent on business of the state, and would, were notice sent him, attend in two days' time, and that it was unreasonable that a suit concerning his child should be carried on in his absence, demanded of Appius to adjourn all proceedings in the cause, until the father's arrival; that, in conformity to the law which he himself had framed, he should leave her in the meantime in the enjoyment of her liberty; and not suffer a young woman of ripe age to encounter the hazard of her reputation, before the case of her freedom was determined.

XLV. Appius prefaced his decree with observing that the very law, which Virginius's friends held out as the foundation of their demand, was a proof how much he was inclined to favour liberty: however, that law could afford no firm security to liberty, if it were not invariable in the tenor of its operation, without regard either to causes or persons. In the case of those who, from servitude, claimed a right to freedom, the privilege mentioned was allowed, because any citizen can act in their behalf; but in the case of her, who was in the hands of her father, there was no other person to whom the owner should yield the custody of her. It was, therefore, his determination, that the father should be sent for; that, in the meantime, the claimant should suffer no loss of his right, but should take the maiden into his custody, and give security for her appearance, on the arrival of him who was alleged to be her father."

Whilst all murmured against the injustice of this decree, though not one had courage to oppose it, Publius Numitorius, the maiden's uncle, and Icilius, her bethrothed spouse, arrived at the spot. The crowd having readily made way for them, because they were of opinion, that if any thing could stop the proceedings of Appius, it would be, the interference of Icilius, the lictor called out, that "sentence was passed;" and, on Icilius making loud remonstrances, ordered him to retire.

Even a cool temper would have been inflamed by such gross ill treatment; Icilius said, "Appius, you must drive me hence with the sword, before you shall accomplish, in silence, what you wish to be concealed. This young woman I intend to wed, and expect to find in her a lawful and a chaste wife. Call together then even all the lictors of your colleagues, order the rods and axes to be got ready: the spouse of Icilius shall not remain in any other place than her father's house. Though you have taken from us the protection of tribunes, and an appeal to the Roman people, the two bulwarks which secured our liberty, yet there has been no grant made, to your lust of absolute dominion over our wives and daughters. Vent your fury on our persons and our lives; let chastity, at least, find safety. If any violence is offered to her, I shall appeal for succour to the citizens now present, in behalf of my spouse; Virginius will appeal to the soldiers in behalf of his only daughter; and all of us to the gods, and to all mankind: nor shall you ever carry that sentence into effect, while we have life to prevent it. I charge you, Appius, consider again and again to what lengths you are proceeding: let Virginius, when he comes, determine what measures he will pursue in regard to his daughter; only of this I would have him assured, that if he submits to this man's claim of obtaining the custody of her, he must seek another match for his daughter: as for me, in vindication of the liberty of my spouse, I will forfeit my life sooner than my honour."

XLVI. The passions of the multitude were now raised, and there was every sign of a violent contest ensuing. The lictors had gathered round Icilius but proceeded, however, no farther than threats, when Appius said, "that the defence of Virginia was not the motive which actuated Icilius; but, turbulent by nature, and breathing, at that instant, the spirit of the tribuneship, he was seeking an occasion of sedition. He would not however, at that time, give him matter to work on: but, in order to convince him at once that this indulgence was granted, not to his petulance, but to the absent Virginius, to the name of father, and to liberty, he would not then decide the cause, nor interpose any decree; he would even request of Marcius Claudius to depart somewhat from his right and suffer the maiden to be bailed until the next day. But if, on the next day, the father did not attend, he now gave notice to Icilius, and to persons like Icilius, that, as its founder, he would not fail to support his own law; nor, as decemvir, to show a proper degree of resolution: nor should he call together the lictors of his colleagues, to check the efforts of the fomenters of sedition, but be content with his own lictors."

The execution of his iniquitous design being thus deferred, the advocates of the girl having retired, resolved, first of all, that the brother of Icilius and the son of Numitorius, active young men, should set off directly, and with all possible haste call home Virginius from the camp, acquainting him that "the safety of the maiden depended on his being present in time next day to protect her from injury." They set out the instant they received their directions, and, with all the speed their horses could make, carried the account to her father.

In the mean-time, the claimant of the maiden urged Icilius to profess himself a defendant in the cause, and to produce sureties. This, however, Icilius delayed, in order that the messengers despatched to the camp might gain the longer time for their journey, telling him that he was preparing to do so. The whole multitude on this held up their hands, and every one showed himself ready to be surety to Icilius. To them he replied, tears at the same time filling his eyes, "I am thankful for your goodness; tomorrow I will claim your assistance; at present, I have sufficient sureties."

Virginia was then admitted to bail on the security of her relations. Appius, after remaining on the tribunal for a short time lest he should seem to have sat merely for the sake of the present business, and finding that no one applied to him, the general anxiety about Virginia calling their attention from every other subject, retired to his house, and wrote to his colleagues in camp not to allow Virginius to leave it, and even to keep him in confinement. This wicked scheme, as it deserved, was too late to succeed; for Virginius, having already got leave of absence, had set out at the first watch; so that the letter for detaining him, which was delivered in the morning, necessarily produced no effect.

XLVII. In the city, a vast multitude of citizens were assembled in the Forum at day break, full of anxious expectation. Virginius, clad in mourning, and accompanied by a great number of advocates, led his daughter into the Forum, habited in weeds, denoting her distress, and attended by a number of matrons. There he began to solicit each man's favour; and not only requested their aid, as a boon granted to his prayers, but demanded it as his due, reminding them, that, "he stood daily in the field of battle, in defence of their wives and children; nor was there any man who had given greater proof of valour and intrepidity in action than he had done. Yet what did this avail, if, while the city was secure from danger, their children were exposed to calamities as grievous as could be dreaded, if it were taken by an enemy?"

With such discourses, uttered in a manner as if he were addressing a public assembly, he applied to the people individually. Icilius addressed them with like arguments; and the female attendants, by their silent tears, affected them more deeply than any words could do. Appius, whose mind was hardened against all such occurrences, violent madness, rather than love, having perverted his understanding, ascended the tribunal; and when the claimant had just begun to urge, that, "through partiality, he had refused yesterday to pronounce judgment in the cause;" Appius, without allowing him to proceed in stating his claim, or giving Virginius an opportunity of answering, delivered his sentence.

The discourse with which he introduced his decree some ancient writers have set down, perhaps with truth; but as I no where find any one that seems likely to have been used on occasion of such an iniquitous business, I think it best to represent the plain fact, of which there is no doubt; he decreed, that she should be held in bondage until the final decision. At first, all were struck motionless with astonishment at such an atrocious proceeding.

Silence then prevailed for some time; afterwards, when Marcus Claudius went to seize the maiden, where she stood in the midst of the matrons, and was opposed by the women with lamentable cries of grief, Virginius, stretching forth his hands in a menacing attitude towards Appius, said, "Appius, I betrothed my daughter to Icilius, not to thee; and I have educated her for a wife, not for a harlot. Do you intend that men shall indulge their lust promiscuously like cattle and wild beasts? Whether these present will endure such things I know not: but those who carry arms, I hope, never will."

The claimant of the maiden being forced back, by the crowd of women and advocates who stood round her, silence was commanded by the crier.

XLVIII. The decemvir, whose mind was warped by his ungovernable lust, said, that "the abusive language of Icilius yesterday, and the violence of Virginius, now the whole Roman people were witnesses of, but that he had learned on good authority, that, during the whole night, cabals had been held for the purpose of stirring up sedition. Wherefore being aware of the disputes likely to ensue, he had come down with a band of men in arms, not with a design of injuring any person who should demean himself, but of punishing, in a manner suited to the majesty of government such as should presume to disturb the tranquillity of the state. It will, therefore (said he,) be your better way to remain quiet. Go, lictor, remove the crowd, and make way for the owner to seize his slave."

When, bursting with passion, he had thundered out these words, the multitude of themselves voluntarily separated, and the maiden stood forsaken a prey to injustice. Virginius then seeing no prospect of assistance from any quarter, said "Appius, I entreat you first, to make allowance for a father's grief, if I have made use of too harsh expressions towards you; and next, to allow me here, in the presence of the maiden, to inquire of her nurse the truth of this affair; that, if I have been falsely called her father, I may depart hence with the more resignation."

Permission being granted, he drew the maiden and her nurse aside, to the sheds near the temple of Cloacina, now called the new sheds, and there, snatching a knife from a butcher, plunged it into his daughter's breast, with these words: "In this manner, my child, the only one in my power, do I secure your liberty." Then looking back on Appius, "With this blood, Appius," said he, "I devote thee and thine head to perdition." Appius alarmed by the cry raised at such a horrid deed, ordered Virginius to be seized. But he, clearing a passage with the weapon wherever he went, and protected also by a great number of young men who escorted him, made his way to the gate.

Icilius and Numitorius raised up the lifeless body, and exposed it to the view of the people, deploring the villainy of Appius, the fatal beauty of the maiden, and the necessity which had urged the father to the act. The matrons who followed joined their exclamations: "were these the consequences of rearing children? were these the rewards of chastity?" with other mournful reflections, such as are suggested by grief to women, and which, from the greater sensibility of their tender minds, are always the most affecting. The discourse of the men, and particularly of Icilius, turned entirely on their being deprived of the protection of tribunes, and consequently of appeals to the people, and on the indignities thrown upon all.

XLIX. The passions of the multitude were strongly excited, partly by the villainy of the decemvir, partly by their hopes that the occasion might be improved to the recovery of liberty. Appius now ordered Icilius to be called before him; then, on his refusing to attend, to be seized: at last when the beadles were not suffered to come near him, he himself, with a band of young patricians, pushing through the crowd, ordered him to be taken into confinement.

By this time, there had collected round Icilius, not only the multitude, but persons fit to head that multitude, Lucius Valerius and Marcus Horatius, who, driving back his lictor, told Appius, that "if he meant to proceed in a legal way they would be security for Icilius, against any charge which he, as a private citizen, should bring. If he should attempt to make use of force, in that point too they would not be his inferiors." A furious scuffle ensued. The decemvir's lictor attacked Valerius and Horatius. The fasces were broken by the people. Appius then mounted the tribunal, whither he was followed by Horatius and Valerius; to these the assembly paid attention, but drowned the decemvir's voice with noise.

Valerius now assumed authority to order the lictors to depart from one who was but a private citizen; and then Appius, bereft of courage, and dreading for his life, covered his head, and, unobserved by his adversaries, made his escape into a house near the Forum. Spurius Oppius rushing into the Forum from the other side, in order to assist his colleague, saw their authority overpowered by force. After revolving several expedients, confused by listening to a multitude of advisers on every side, he at last commanded the senate to be summoned.

This step calmed the minds of the populace, by giving them hopes, that as the conduct of the decemvirs seemed displeasing to the greater part of the patricians, their government would be abolished through the means of the senate. The senate gave their opinion, that the commons should not be farther exasperated; and that, above all things, care should be taken to hinder disturbances being excited in the camp on the arrival of Virginius.

L. Accordingly some of the younger patricians were sent to the camp, which, at that time, was on mount Vecilius, to caution the decemvirs to use their utmost efforts for preventing a mutiny among the soldiers. Here, Virginius caused greater commotions than he had left in the city: for, besides the notice which he attracted, by coming attended by a band of near four hundred men; who, incensed at the scandalous injustice done him, had accompanied him from the city; the unsheathed weapon, and himself being besmeared with blood, engaged the general attention, while gowns [= civilian dress] being obeserved in many different parts of the camp, made the number of people from the city appear much larger than it was.

Being asked the reason of all this, grief for a long time prevented Virginius from uttering a word. At length, when the crowd grew still, and silence took place, he related every circumstance in order as it passed. Then raising his hands towards heaven, besought his fellow-soldiers "not to impute to him the guilt which belonged to Appius Claudius, nor to abhor him as the murderer of his child. Declaring, that the life of his daughter was dearer to him than his own, could she have lived with honour and liberty. When he saw her dragged as a slave to violation, he thought it better that his child should be lost by death than by dishonour. Actuated by compassion, he had fallen under the appearance of cruelty: nor would he have survived his daughter, had he not looked to the aid of his fellow-soldiers, with hopes of revenging her death: for they also had daughters, sisters, wives; and the lust of Appius Claudius was not extinguished by the death of Virginia, but would be encouraged, by impunity, to rage with less restraint. They had now warning given them, in the calamity of another, to guard themselves against the like injury. As to what concerned himself, his wife had been torn from him by fate; his daughter, because she could not longer preserve her chastity, had fallen by an unfortunate but honourable death. There was now in his house no object for Appius's lust; and from any other kind of violence which he could offer he would defend his own person with the same spirit with which he had rescued that of Virginia. Let others take care of themselves and of their children."

To these representations, uttered by Virginius in a loud voice, the multitude replied, with shouts, that they would not be backward in vindicating either his wrongs or their own liberty. At the same time, the gown-men intermixed with the crowd of soldiers relating with sorrow the same circumstances and observing how much more shocking they appeared to the sight than hearing, acquainting them also that the affairs of the decemvirs at Rome were desperate; while some, who came later, averred that Appius, having with difficulty escaped with life, was gone into exile.

All this had such an effect on the soldiery, that they cried out, to arms! snatched up the standards, and marched towards Rome. The decemvirs, exceedingly alarmed, as well by the transactions which they saw, as by those which they heard had passed at Rome, ran to different parts of the camp, in order to quell the commotion. While they acted with mildness, they received no answer. If any of them offered to exert authority, he was answered, that they were men; and besides, had arms. The soldiers proceeded in a body to the city, and posted themselves on the Aventine, exhorting the commons, whenever they met any of them, to reassume their liberty, and create plebeian tribunes. No other violent expression was heard.

Spurius Oppius held the meeting of the senate, when it was resolved, that no harsh measures should be used, because themselves had given occasion to the insurrection. Three consulars were sent as deputies to the mount, Spurius Tarpeius, Caius Julius, and Servius Sulpicius, to ask, in the name of the senate, by whose orders they had quitted the camp; or what was their intention in posting themselves, in arms, on the Aventine; in changing the direction of their hostile operations from the enemy, and by seizing a strong post in their native country.

The revolters were at no loss what to answer; but they were at a loss for a person to give the answer, having not yet appointed any particular leader, and individuals not being very forward to take on themselves the invidious, and perhaps dangerous, office. The multitude only called out with one voice, that Lucius Valerius and Marcus Horatius might be sent, and to them they would give their answer.

LI. When the deputies were dismissed, Virginius reminded the soldiers, "how much they had been embarrassed in a case of no extraordinary difficulty, in consequence of their being a multitude without a head; and that the answer given, though not inexpedient, was the result rather of an accidental concurrence, than of a concerted plan: he recommended to them, therefore, to elect ten persons, who should preside in the direction of their affairs, and, in the style of military dignity, be called tribunes of the soldiers."

This honour being offered, in the first place, to himself, he said, "Reserve to a juncture more happy, both to you and me, such expressions of your good opinion of me. It is neither possible for me, while my daughter is unrevenged, to reap satisfaction from any honour, nor is it expedient for you, in the present disordered state of the commonwealth, to have those at your head who are most obnoxious to party malice. If I can be of any service, my remaining in a private capacity will in no degree prevent it."

They accordingly elected ten military tribunes. Nor was the army in the country of the Sabines, inactive. There also, at the instance of Icilius and Numitorius, a secession from the decemvirs was made; men being no less strongly agitated by having the murder of Siccius recalled to their memory, than by the recent account of the barbarous attempt against the chastity of Virginia.

When Icilius heard that tribunes of the soldiers had been elected on the Aventine, he feared lest the assembly of election in the city might follow the lead of the military assembly, and choose the same persons tribunes of the commons. Being well versed in popular intrigues, and aiming himself at that office, he took care that, before they proceeded to the city, the same number of soldiers, with equal powers, should be elected by the party then with him. They entered the city, in military array, through the Colline gate, and continued their march in a body through the middle of the city to the Aventine. There, in conjunction with the other army, they give directions to the twenty tribunes of the soldiers to choose two out of their number, who were to hold the command in chief; they chose Marcus Oppius and Sextus Manilius.

The senate were alarmed for the general safety, but though they sat every day, they spent more time in wrangling than in deliberation: the decemvirs were upbraided with the murder of Siccius, the lust of Appius, and the disgraces which they had incurred in war. It was resolved, at length, that Valerius and Horatius should proceed to the Aventine: but they refused to go thither, on any other terms than those of the decemvirs resigning the badges of office, their title to which had expired a year before. The decemvirs, remonstrating against the severity of degrading them to the common level, declared that they would not resign their authority, until the purpose of their election should be fulfilled, by the ratification of the laws.

LII. The commons, on being informed by Marcus Duilius, who had been plebeian tribune, that the time was passed by the patricians in continual disputes, and no business done, removed from the Aventine to the sacred mount: for Duilius had assured them, that "the senate would never attend seriously to the business, until they saw the city deserted; that the sacred mount would remind them of the firmness of the commons, and that they would then discover, that the reestablishment of concord was impracticable, without the restoration of the tribunitian office."

Marching along the Nomentan road, then called the Ficulnean, they encamped on the sacred mount, imitating the moderation of their fathers, in refraining from every act of violence. The army was followed by the commons, not one, whose age would permit him, refusing to go. Their wives and children attended their steps, asking, in melancholy accents, to whose care they were to be left, in such a city, where neither chastity nor liberty was safe? So general a desertion beyond what was ever known, left every part of the city void, not a creature being even seen in the Forum, except a few very old men, when the senators were called into their house.

Thus the Forum appearing entirely forsaken, many others, with Horatius and Valerius, began to exclaim, "Conscript fathers! how long will ye delay? If the decemvire will not desist from their obstinacy, will ye suffer every thing to sink into ruin? And ye, decemvirs, what is this power which ye so positively refuse to part with? Do ye intend to administer justice to bare walls and empty houses? Are ye not ashamed, that the number of your lictors should exceed that of all the other citizens in the Forum? What do ye propose to do, should the enemy advance to the city? What, if the commons, finding that we are not moved by their secession should presently come in arms? Do ye choose that your command should be terminated by the fall of the city? The case stands thus; either we must lose the commons, or they must have their tribunes. We would sooner part with our patrician magistrates, than they with the plebeian. The office of tribunes, when it was a thing unknown and untried, they extorted from our fathers; and it is much more improbable that, after having tasted the sweets of it, they will put up with its loss, especially as we do not exercise authority with such moderation, as to prevent their standing in need of protection."

Assailed by such arguments from every quarter, and overpowered by the united opinions of all, the decemvirs declared, that since it was judged necessary, they would submit to the orders of the senate. This only they requested, that they would afford them protection from the rage of the opposite party: warning them at the same time, not to suffer the commons, by the spilling of their blood, to come into the practice of inflicting punishment on patricians.

Llll. Valerius and Horatius were then deputed to invite the commons to return, on such conditions as they should judge proper, and to adjust all matters in dispute. They were ordered also to take measures, for securing the decemvirs from the rage and violence of the populace. On their arrival at the camp, they were received with excessive joy, as having evidently proved themselves the patrons of liberty . . .


From The History of Rome by Titus Livius, tr. George Baker, New York, 1823, Vol I (of VI) [Widener Lo 16 412]. Paragraphing has been added.


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