Appius Claudius Crassus
Appius Claudius Crassus Sabinus Regillensis, usually referred to simply as Appius Claudius Crassus or Crassinus, was one of the decemvirs, a committee of ten men chosen in the place of consuls to draw up the tables of Roman law beginning in 451 BC. He was the only member of the college to serve a second term in 450, having appointed himself to the position, together with nine others whose opinions agreed with his or whom he was able to dominate. They continued in office the following year, without bothering to hold elections, but were overthrown in a popular revolt, and the consular government restored.
Claudius is generally supposed to have been the son of Appius Claudius Sabinus Regillensis, consul in 471 BC, and grandson of the Appius Claudius Sabinus Regillensis who first migrated to Rome with his followers in 504 BC, and held the consulship in 495. The Gaius Claudius Sabinus Regillensis who was consul in 460 was his uncle. Claudius had at least two sons: the elder was Appius Claudius Crassus, consular tribune in BC 424; the younger was named Publius.
Some suppose the decemvir to be the same as the consul of 471, based on his filiation, Ap. f. M. n., in the consular fasti. Furthermore, both men were said to have killed themselves before they could be brought to trial for their misdeeds.[i] However, chronology suggests that they were different people; the consul of 471 is supposed to have been a candidate for the consulship eleven years earlier, in 482, and his father was a wealthy and powerful man more than twenty years before that, which would have made the consul an older man at the time of the decemvirate, and when his son, the consular tribune of 424 BC, was born.
Both Livy and Dionysius describe the decemvir and the consul of 471 as different men, and refer to Gaius Claudius as his uncle.[ii] Moreover, the consul had already demonstrated his severity and enmity toward the plebeians, while the decemvir pretended friendship toward the common people, even appointing several plebeians as decemvir, until his true nature was revealed. Nonetheless, the identity of the two Claudii cannot be firmly rejected.
Claudius was elected consul for the year 451 BC, together with Titus Genucius Augurinus. Three years earlier, envoys had been sent to Greece to study Greek law. The envoys, Spurius Postumius Albus, Aulus Manlius Vulso, and Servius Sulpicius Camerinus, returned in 452 and reported their findings. Shortly after Claudius and his colleague took office, it was decided to appoint a committee of ten men (decemviri), all of consular rank,[iii] who would draw up the tables of Roman law, based on both existing traditions and Greek precedents.
The decemvirs were given the same authority as the consuls for their year of office, but as the consuls elected for 451, Claudius and Genucius were appointed decemvirs after resigning the consulship. Their colleagues included the three envoys, as well as Spurius Veturius Crassus Cicurinus, Gaius Julius Iulus, Publius Sestius Capitolinus, Publius Curiatius Fistus Trigeminus, and Titus Romilius Rocus Vaticanus. The decemvirs were seen to coöperate for the good of the state, and drew up the first ten tables of Roman law, winning the general approval of the people. As their task remained unfinished at the end of their year, it was decided to appoint a second college of decemvirs for the following year.
Despite the reputation of his family for cruelty and hostility to the plebeians, Claudius gave the appearance of a fair and noble-minded man, earning the people's trust. His colleagues, however, grew suspicious that he would seek to be reappointed for the following year. They therefore tasked him with choosing the decemvirs for 450, and set an example by resigning their office, expecting Claudius to do the same. To their chagrin, he appointed himself, together with nine entirely new colleagues, five of them plebeians, whom he believed to be like-minded to himself, or easily dominated. The new patrician decemvirs were Marcus Cornelius Maluginensis, Marcus Sergius Esquilinus,[iv] Lucius Minucius Esquilinus Augurinus, and Quintus Fabius Vibulanus; only Minucius and Fabius had held the consulship. The plebeian members were Quintus Poetilius Libo Visolus, Titus Antonius Merenda, Caeso Duilius Longus, Spurius Oppius Cornicen, and Manius Rabuleius.[v]
An ominous sign that the second decemvirate was not as noble-minded as the first came when the insignia of office were changed. In 451, the ten decemvirs had shared a consul's escort of twelve lictors, each receiving the honour in rotation. But the following year, each of the decemvirs was accorded an escort of twelve lictors; and unlike a consul's, these lictors kept the axes attached to their fasces, symbolizing the decemvirs' power over life and death, even within the pomerium, the sacred boundary of Rome. Since the beginning of the Republic, all lictors had removed the axes upon entering the city, in deference to the sovereignty of the people; only the lictors of a dictator retained the axes within the city. Now the city was crowded with lictors.
The decemvirs did not hesitate to make an example of those who criticized them, subjecting their opponents to beatings and summary execution, and confiscating the property of anyone who offended their dignity. Unlike the first decemvirs, the second college permitted no appeal from their judgment, ignoring the people's right of provocatio. Young men from aristocratic families joined the decemvirs' retinue, and it came to be whispered that the decemvirs had already agreed among themselves not to hold elections for the following year, but to remain in office indefinitely.
The time for elections came and passed, and the decemvirs remained in power. They published two more tables of Roman law, bringing the total to twelve; among the most onerous were those restricting the rights of the plebeians, and in particular one forbidding the intermarriage of patricians and plebeians.[vi] When news arrived of incursions by the Sabines and Aequi, the decemvirs attempted to convene the Senate, which assembled only with difficulty, as many of the senators had left the city rather than suffer the decemvirs, or refused to obey their summons, on the grounds that the decemvirs now held no legal office.
When the Senate had gathered, two of the senators openly and vocally opposed the decemvirs. Lucius Valerius Potitus and Marcus Horatius Barbatus argued that the decemvirs' term of office had expired, and that they held no legal authority; the decemvirs were worse than kings; for now the Roman people suffered under ten Tarquins. Claudius' uncle, Gaius, spoke on his behalf, urging that no action be taken against the decemvirs for the time being. Appius ordered one of the lictors to arrest Valerius, but he appealed to the people, and escaped punishment when Lucius Cornelius Maluginensis, the brother of one of the triumvirs, seized hold of Appius, ostensibly to protect him from the crowd, but in fact to distract him.
End of the decemvirs
The Senate appointed a military command to the decemvirs, but they were defeated on both fronts, and their armies quickly retreated behind sturdy defenses. Meanwhile, two crimes occurred which proved to be the decemvirs' undoing. First, a soldier named Lucius Siccius, who had proposed the election of new tribunes, and that the soldiers should refuse to serve until the decemvirs were replaced, was murdered on the orders of the decemvirs' commanders, who attempted to cover up the deed by claiming that he had been ambushed and killed by the enemy, despite putting up a brave fight. The truth was discovered when his body was found surrounded only by Romans, with no enemy corpses.
The second, and more famous misdeed concerned a young woman named Verginia, the daughter of a centurion, Lucius Verginius. She was betrothed to Lucius Icilius, tribune of the plebs in BC 456. Desiring her for himself, Appius sent his servant, Marcus Claudius, to kidnap Verginia, on the pretext that she was Appius' slave. When her plight became known, Appius consented to release her pending a trial of his claim, but maintained steadfastly, and over the objections of Verginia's father and Icilius, that she was his slave. Rather than have his daughter dishonoured by the decemvir, her father seized a knife from a butcher in the marketplace, and stabbed Verginia to death.
Claudius ordered the arrest of Icilius, but the lictor was blocked by Valerius and Horatius; before they could be arrested, the crowd came to their aid, and Claudius fled for his life. The Senate gave the military command to Valerius and Horatius, who were duly elected consuls after the decemvirs were forced to resign. Once the threat from the Sabines and Aequi was dealt with, the decemvirs were brought to trial. Gaius Claudius again pleaded on behalf of his nephew, but Verginius demanded that Appius face justice; according to Dionysius, Appius was said to have hanged himself in prison before he could be tried, but the popular suspicion was that he was put to death at the orders of the plebeian tribunes. Livy reports that Appius killed himself before his trial. The other decemvirs went into exile, except for Spurius Oppius, who was tried, condemned, and put to death on the same day, for the crime of cruelly beating an old soldier.[vii]
From his father, Claudius inherited the surnames Sabinus and Regillensis (sometimes given as Inregillensis). Crassus, which must have been a personal cognomen, means "thick" or "stout", and could apply equally to a large man or a dullard; although if the latter were intended, it was probably given ironically, for Claudius was by all accounts a very clever schemer. The name is found in both this form and its diminutive, Crassinus, and was inherited by his descendants, who no longer used Sabinus or Regillensis. In the consular fasti for 451, Claudius' name is given as Ap. Claudius Ap. f. M. n. Crassin. Regill. Sabinus II. The reason why Sabinus and Regillensis are inverted in this case is not known.
- However, Dionysius reports that the decemvir was put to death in prison.
- Livy even refers to Claudius as the youngest of the decemvirs.
- Men who had served as consul.
- Or perhaps Lucius; different sources disagree on his praenomen.
- At one time it was generally believed that all of the decemvirs were patricians. Dionysius says that Poetilius, Duilius, and Oppius were plebeians, implying that Antonius and Rabuleius were patricians; but Broughton notes that all of the other Antonii and Rabuleii known are plebeians (Quintus Antonius Merenda, the son of Titus, was consular tribune in 422, and implied to have been a patrician, but that office was open to plebeians), and proposes that the second decemvirate was composed equally of patricians and plebeians. A Vestal named Oppia was put to death in 483 BC, from which it might be inferred that some of the Oppii were patricians, but her name is very uncertain, and all of the other Oppii known to history seem to have been plebeians.
- The twelve tables may also have codified the law preventing plebeians from holding the consulship; several consuls elected before 451 have names that were later regarded as plebeian (although it is possible that they belonged to families that were originally patrician, but later known only through plebeian branches), but all of the consuls from 449 to 367, when the lex Licinia Sextia opened the consulship to the plebeians, were certainly patricians.
- According to Livy, Oppius took his own life before his trial.
- Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, vol. I, p. 767.
- Livy, ii. 16, 21.
- Suetonius, "The Life of Tiberius", 1.
- Dionysius, v. 40, vi. 23.
- Livy, iii. 35, 40, 58.
- Dionysius, xi. 7–11.
- Livy, iv. 35, 36, vi. 40.
- Niebuhr, vol. ii, note 754.
- Broughton, vol. I, pp. 30, 45.
- Livy, iii. 31–33.
- Dionysius, x. 52, 54–56.
- Livy, iii. 33–35.
- Dionysius, x. 57, 58.
- Broughton, vol. I, pp. 46, 47.
- Dionysius, x. 58, 59.
- Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, vol. III, p. 34 ("Oppia" no. 1, "Oppia Gens").
- Broughton, vol. I, p. 23.
- Livy, iii. 36.
- Dionysius, x. 59, 60.
- Livy, iii. 37.
- Livy, iii. 38.
- Dionysius, x. 60, xi. 2, 3.
- Livy, iii. 39–41.
- Dionysius, xi. 4–21.
- Livy, iii. 41–43.
- Dionysius, xi. 22–27.
- Livy, iii. 44–48.
- Dionysius, xi. 28–37.
- Livy, iii. 49–58.
- Dionysius, xi. 46.
- Dionysius, 38–46.
- Traupman, p. 122 ("crassus").
- Titus Livius (Livy), Ab Urbe Condita (History of Rome).
- Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, De Vita Caesarum (Lives of the Caesars, or The Twelve Caesars).
- Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Romaike Archaiologia.
- Niccolò Machiavelli, The Discourses (1531), Leslie J. Walker, trans., Penguin Books, London (2003), ISBN 0-14-044428-9.
- Barthold Georg Niebuhr, The History of Rome, Julius Charles Hare and Connop Thirlwall, trans., John Smith, Cambridge (1828).
- "Appius Claudius Crassus (or Crassinus) Regillensis Sabinus" (no. 4) in the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, William Smith, ed., Little, Brown and Company, Boston (1849).
- T. Robert S. Broughton, The Magistrates of the Roman Republic, American Philological Association (1952).
- John C. Traupman, The New College Latin & English Dictionary, Bantam Books, New York (1995).