(1) Ten commissioners appointed (B.C. 451) to frame a code of laws for the Roman State at a time when the feuds between the patricians and plebeians were continuing with unabated animosity. Occasionally one of the consuls favoured the plebeians, and proposed some mitigation of the hardships under which they were labouring, or some increase of their privileges, but generally with little success. The Agrarian Law, brought forward by Spurius Cassius, continued to be the main demand of the commons and their supporters, but its passage was, on every occasion, either directly or indirectly prevented. At last the commons became convinced that they need hope for no complete redress of grievances until they should have previously secured the establishment of some constitutional principle, from which equal justice would, of necessity and from its very nature, emanate. Accordingly, Terentillus HarsaGaius , one of the tribunes, proposed a law (B.C. 462) for a reform of the existing state of things. Its purport was that ten commissioners should be chosen, five by the patricians and five by the plebeians, to draw up a constitution, which should define all points of constitutional, civil, and criminal law; and should thus determine, on just and fixed principles, all the political, social, and civil relations of all orders of the Roman people. After much opposition on the part of the patricians, the law was passed, and three commissioners were at length sent to Greece, to collect from the Grecian States such notices of their laws and constitutions as might be serviceable to the Romans. After the absence of a year they returned; and the plebeians, finding it in vain to insist upon five of their own body forming part of the reviewers of the laws, yielded the point, and ten of the most distinguished of the patrician and senatorial body were chosen to form an entirely new and complete code of laws by which the State should be governed. They were named Decemviri, the ten men (Decemviri Legibus Scribendis), and during their office they were to supersede every other magistrate. Each in his turn was to administer the government for a day, or, according to others, for several days, till they should complete their legislative labours. After the careful deliberation of a few months, the result was laid before the people in the form of ten tables, fully written out, and exhibited in a conspicuous place where all might read them. Various amendments were proposed, and the ten tables again laid before the Senate, the curiae, and the centuries, and, having received the sanction of both orders of the State, were recognized as the very fountain of the laws, public and private. The Decemvirs had conducted matters so much to the satisfaction of the community that when, at the expiration of their year, they requested a renewal of their office, on the ground that they had still two more tables to form in order to complete their task, an election of new Decemvirs was ordered. (See Twelve Tables.) The patrician Appius Claudius, who took the leading part in the whole affair, was nominated to preside over this election. He acted in concert with the plebeians, by receiving votes for plebeian candidates, and for himself likewise, though it had been declared contrary to law that any functionary should be re-elected immediately after holding office. By dint of intrigue, however, Appius was reelected, and along with him nine others, half of whom were patricians, half plebeians.
The new commission soon showed itself very different from the first. Each of the Decemvirs had twelve lictors, whereas the previous commission had the lictors only by turns, and a single accensus or officer preceded each of the rest. The lictors, too, now bore amid the fasces the formidable axe, the emblem of judgment on life and death, which the consuls, since the time of Valerius Publicola, had been obliged to lay aside during their continuance in the city. The Decemvirs seemed resolved to change the government of Rome into a complete oligarchy, consisting of ten, whose power should be absolute in everything. They assumed the right of superseding all other magistracies; and, at the conclusion of their second year, they showed no intention of resigning their offices or of appointing their successors. Matters had nearly reached a crisis when a war arose, the Sabines and the Aequi having united their forces and being desirous of availing themselves of the distracted state of Rome. The Decemvirs assembled the Senate, obtained its authority to raise an army, at the head of which they placed three of their number, and sent it against the Sabines. Another was raised and sent against the Aequi, while Appius Claudius remained at Rome to provide for the safety of the city and for the maintenance of the power of the Decemvirs. Both armies were defeated, and retired nearer to the city, dissatisfied rather than discomfited. Then occurred the affair of Virginia, and the decemviral power was at an end. See Claudius
(4); Virginia; Liv.iii. 32 foll.; and Mommsen, Hist. of Rome, vol. i. pp. 345-371 (Eng. trans.).
(2) There were also military decemviri; and, on various emergencies, decemviri were created to manage and regulate certain affairs, after the same manner as boards of commissioners are now appointed. Thus there were decemviri for conducting colonies; decemviri who officiated as judges in litigated matters under the praetor; decemviri for dividing the lands among the veteran soldiers; decemviri to prepare and preside at feasts in honour [p. 475]
of the gods; decemviri to take care of the sacrifices (Decemviri Sacris Faciundis) and to guard the Sibylline Books. With regard to the last of these, however, it must be observed that the number, after having been originally two, and then increased to ten, was subsequently still further increased to fifteen and sixteen.