The Plebeians would soon unite in their most powerful weapon in combating the unjust economic and social limitations placed on them by the Patrician elite. The secssio. These Plebeian Secessions would be what the Plebeians required to gather the attention of the Patricians and make them listen to their demands.
In response to drastic unjust debt and legal principles the Plebeians deserted their positions in society and left the Army refusing to fight in 494 BC. They moved to a hill beyond the Anio which they called the Sacred Mount (Morey). It was here that the first united as group. They here united together and selected their own leaders to represent them. They sent threats and demands to Rome that they would plan to cut themselves off from the Republic if their matters were not addressed. Their primary concern to address was the burdens they faced from debt-bondage and financial hole that they had fallen into at the fault of the ruling elite.
The Patricians realized what such a threat could constitute if the Plebeians were to actually leave Rome. Not only would Rome be without a good number of warriors but also they would be without skilled workers and farmers that provided for the everyday functions of the Republic. Without the Plebeians Rome would soon cease to exist. Due to this the Patricians agreed to listen to the demands of the Plebs.
The first secessio plebis met with a rather good outcome. The Plebeians demand in terms of debt were met, with the abolishment of debts owed by those in poverty and the release of debt slaves with the promise that such bondage would no longer exist.
One of the largest achievements of the first secession was the establishment of tribuni plebis or Tribune of the Plebs. For the first time the Plebeians would have an opportunity to elect a leader to represent them. Their duty was to be members of the Patrician Magistrate and serve to safeguard the rights of the Plebs against any future infringements by the Patricians. The Tribunes had a very strong ability to complete this. They had the power of the veto. Tribunes had the ability to stop any measure that was deemed to be unjust to the citizens of the Roman Republic. They were in turn assisted by two aediles who were chosen from within the Plebeian population.
Another area of success achieved was with the establishment of the Plebeian Assembly. The concilium plebis was a permanent assembly that could be called upon by a Tribune. The Tribune was allowed to freely address the people and listen to their demands and concerns. The Tribunes were allowed to talk to and discuss interests with the Plebs without the fear of being possibly interrupted or stopped. The assembly also had the ability to pass resolutions (plebiscita) which applied to all plebeians (Morey).
The Plebeians found some help too in their struggle over the use of Public Land. The statesman Spurius Cassius was sympathetic to the people and as a patriotic statesman he saw the abuse of public land as a problem within Rome that he planned to address as consul (Morey). To gain the time and ability to focus on addressing the problem of public land within Rome Cassius first made treaties with neighboring Latin towns to ensure that Rome would have peace. Following this in 486 BC Cassius sought to correct the problem of the dispersion of public land among the grips of the Roman elite. He proposed the first Agrarian Law which sought not to take away the land that was legally the Patricians but instead to reclaim the public land that had been stolen and return it to the people. In a predictable manner the Patricians greatly opposed this bill and when it was presented it failed to pass. When Cassius tenure as consul ended he was tried for treason and beheaded as a traitor. However the people looked to him as a hero and he inspired the Plebs to continue to fight for their rights.
And so the Struggle of the Orders continued. Despite gaining rights through the first secession the Plebeians as a whole still sought to improve their position within the Republic. In 471 BC the Plebeians sought to free themselves from their reliance on their Patrician patrons and through Tribune Volero Publilius a law was passed that allowed Plebeians to organize by tribe rather than curia and the Plebeian Assembly became the Plebeian Tribal Assembly. This same year the Plebeian State was also recognized by the State.
The Plebeians continued to press for equality under the law and in 462 BC the Tribune Gaius Terentilius Harsa proposed that a commission should be appointed that would discuss and establish a system of laws that would be binding among the whole people of Rome. The Patricians eager to prevent such a thing from happening tried to appease the Plebs through smaller concessions to them. However for nearly ten years the Plebs continued the fight for equality under the law (Morey). The Plebs continued their threats and demands until finally the Patricians agreed to compromise.
Finally after the constant agitation by the Plebs the Patricians agreed to establish a decemviri (counsel of ten men) to review the legal system and to establish a new set of laws to govern the Roman people. The counsel was made up of the Patricians consuls and quaestors and the plebeians tribunes and aediles (Morey). The counsel in 450 BC completed Ten Tables which served as law over the whole of Roman people. A Second Decemvirate was formed and added another two tables. In their entirety the laws did not offer anything drastically new. They were mainly as laws had previously been however this did mark an amazing achievement in the ancient world of Rome’s first set of governing decrees.
The Second Decemvirate also refused to step down and was fueled by old disdain of the Plebs. In response to the tyranny the Plebeians retreated to their Second Secession. Once again because of the withdrawal of the Plebs Rome was greatly threatened and the Second Decemvirate stepped down. Two new consuls were elected Valerius and Horatius who would prove to greatly help the Plebeians.
In 448 BC Valerius and Horatius would put into effect the Valerio-Horatian Laws that reaffirm and safeguard the rights of the Plebs. They reaffirmed the rights and powers of Plebeian positions such as their Plebeian Assembly and the power of their Tribunes. Also at around this time in 445 BC the ban on inter-marriage between Plebeian and Patrician was finally removed.
For the Plebeians it finally appeared that they might be beginning to get the change they so greatly had desired and in 367 BC Tribunes named Licinius Stolo and L. Sextius would help the Plebeians to gain back the public land stolen from them. Licinius and Sextius acted both out of seeing that the Plebeians certainly did need some relief but also because of reformation that they deemed necessary within Rome. The saw the plain fact that it was public land and by law should be open to both Plebeians and Patricians and not merely held by the latter.
The Licinian Laws (B.C. 367).—The continuation of distress among the lower classes showed how useless it was to try to abolish poverty by mere acts of charity, or by exciting the populace. A more thorough mode of reform was adopted under the able leadership of the two tribunes, C. Licinius Stolo and L. Sextius.l These men were able and broad-minded statesmen. It was not mere relief, but reformation, which they sought. They therefore provided that the occupation of the public land should be thrown open equally to all classes; that no person should receive and hold more than five hundred iligera (three hundred acres); and limitation on the number of slaves that could be held on public land.
This would be followed by one of the most major impacts on Plebeians’ power. They saw to that one of the consuls from now would (and required) be a Plebeian. While several positions still remained within the control of the Patricians within subsequent years they too would open up to Plebeians and the differences between the political classes would be almost diminished.
The Plebeians struggle came to a conclusion with a Dictator named Quintus Hortensius. Hortensius was a Plebeian that sought to finalize the power and position of the Plebeians. Under him the Hortensian Law was passed which gave the Plebeian Council increased power and withdrew the final Patrician checks of power over the Plebeian officials and assemblies. This marked the final closing of the Struggle of the Orders and the Plebeians’ conquest. However in its ending it did not lead to a new democratic Rome in which all people were equally represented. Instead in the final closing of the Struggle of the Orders the power of Rome fell into the hands of a Patrician-Plebeian aristocracy.