But the struggles of the plebeians against the patricians were not by any means over. The Roman land—Agri (acre), it was called—had at first been divided in equal shares—at least so it was said—but as belonging to the state all the time, and only held by the occupier. As time went on, some persons of course gathered more into their own hands, and others of spendthrift or unfortunate families became destitute. Then there was an outcry that, as the lands belonged to the whole state, it ought to take them all back and divide them again more equally: but the patricians naturally regarded themselves as the owners, and would not hear of this scheme, which we shall hear of again and again by the name of the Agrarian Law. One of the patricians, who had thrice been consul, by name Spurius Cassius, did all he could to bring it about, but though the law was passed he could not succeed in getting it carried out. The patricians hated him, and a report got abroad that he was only gaining favor with the people in order to get himself made king. This made even the plebeians turn against him as a traitor; he was condemned by the whole assembly of the people, and beheaded, after being scourged by the lictors. The people soon mourned for their friend, and felt that they had been deceived in giving him up to their enemies. The senate would not execute his law, and the plebeians would not enlist in the next war, though the senate threatened to cut down the fruit trees and destroy the crops of every man who refused to join the army. When they were absolutely driven into the ranks, they even refused to draw their swords in face of the enemy, and would not gain a victory lest their consul should have the honor of it.
[Illustration: SENATORIAL PALACE.]
This consul’s name was Kaeso Fabius. He belonged to a very clever, wary family, whose name it was said was originally Foveus (ditch), because they had first devised a plan of snaring wolves in pits or ditches. They were thought such excellent defenders of the claims of the patricians that for seven years following one or other of the Fabii was chosen consul. But by-and-by they began either to see that the plebeians had rights, or that they should do best by siding with them, for they went over to them; and when Kaeso next was consul he did all he could to get the laws of Cassius carried out, but the senate were furious with him, and he found it was not safe to stay in Rome when his consulate was over. So he resolved at any rate to do good to his country. The Etruscans often came over the border and ravaged the country; but there was a watch-tower on the banks of the little river Cremera, which flows into the Tiber, and Fabius offered, with all the men of his name—306 in number, and 4000 clients—to keep guard there against the enemy. For some time they prospered there, and gained much spoil from the Etruscans; but at last the whole Etruscan army came against them, showing only a small number at first to tempt them out to fight, then falling on them with the whole force and killing the whole of them, so that of the whole name there remained only one boy of fourteen who had been left behind at Rome. And what was worse, the consul, Titus Menenius, was so near the army that he could have saved the Fabii, but for the hatred the patricians bore them as deserters from their cause.