THE STORY OF VIRGINIA
Adapted by Alfred J. Church
It was agreed between the nobles and the commons that, to make an end of disputing about the laws, ambassadors should be sent into Greece, and especially to Athens (which city and its lawgiver, Solon, were held in high repute in those days), to learn what manner of laws and customs they had, and to bring back a report of them. And when the ambassadors had brought back their report, it seemed good to the people that in the following year there should be appointed neither consuls nor any other magistrate, but decemvirs only; that is to say, ten men, who should set in order the laws of Rome. Thus it came to pass in the ninety and first year from the driving out of the kings, that decemvirs were appointed in the stead of consuls, Appius Claudius being the chief of the ten.
For a while these pleased the people well, doing justice equally between man and man. And the custom was that each day one of the ten sat as judge with the twelve lictors about him, the nine others sitting with one minister only. Also they busied themselves with the ordering of the laws; and at last set forth ten tables on which these were written. At the same time they called the people together to an assembly, and spake to them thus: “The Gods grant that this undertaking may turn to the credit of the state, and of you, and of your children. Go, therefore, and read these laws which we have set forth; for though we have done what ten men could do to provide laws that should be just to all, whether they be high or low, yet the understandings of many men may yet change many things for the better. Consider therefore all these matters in your own minds, and debate them among yourselves. For we will that the Roman people should be bound by such laws only as they shall have agreed together to establish.”
The ten tables were therefore set forth, and when these had been sufficiently considered, and such corrections made therein as seemed good, a regular assembly of the people was called, and the laws were duly established. But now there was spread abroad a report that two tables were yet wanting, and that when these should have been added the whole would be complete; and thence there arose a desire that the Ten should be appointed to hold office a second year. This indeed was done; but Appius Claudius so ordered matters that there were elected together with him none of the chief men of the state, but only such as were of an inferior condition and fortune.
After this the Ten began more and more to set aside all law and right. Thus whereas at the first one only on each day was followed by the twelve lictors, each of the Ten came daily into the market-place so attended, and whereas before the lictors carried bundles of rods only, now there was bound up with the rods an axe; whereby was signified the power of life and death. Their actions also agreed with this show, for they and their ministers plundered the goods and chattels of the people. Some also they scourged, and some they beheaded. And when they had so put a man to death, they would divide his substance among those that waited upon them to do their pleasure.