6Quo diutius trahebatur bellum et variabant secundae adversaeque res non fortunam magis quam animos hominum, tanta religio, et ea magna ex parte externa, civitatem incessit ut aut homines aut dei repente alii viderentur facti. 7nec iam in secreto modo atque intra parietes abolebantur Romani ritus, sed in publico etiam ac foro Capitolioque mulierum turba erat nec sacrificantium nec precantium deos patrio more. 8sacrificuli ac vates ceperant hominum mentes; quorum numerum auxit rustica plebs, ex incultis diutino bello infestisque agris egestate et metu in urbem compulsa; et quaestus ex alieno errore facilis, quem velut concessae artis usu exercebant.
9Primo secretae bonorum indignationes exaudiebantur; deinde ad patres etiam ac publicam querimoniam excessit res. 10incusati graviter ab senatu aediles triumvirique capitales quod non prohiberent, cum emovere eam multitudinem e foro ac disicere apparatus sacrorum conati essent, haud afuit quin violarentur. 11ubi potentius iam esse id malum apparuit quam ut minores per magistratus sedaretur, M. Aemilio praetori urbano1 negotium ab senatu datum est ut eis religionibus populum liberaret. 12is et in contione senatus consultum recitavit et edixit ut quicumque libros vaticinios precationesve aut artem sacrificandi conscriptam
The longer the war dragged on, with success and failure changing people’s morale as much their fortunes, the greater the superstition—and mostly of the foreign kind—that permeated the state, so great, in fact, that either men or gods seemed to have suddenly become different. Roman ritual was falling into disuse, not just in private and within the home but also in public and in the Forum and on the Capitol, with crowds of women following traditional practice neither in sacrifice nor prayer to the gods. Oracle-mongers and priests had taken possession of people’s minds, their numbers swollen by the rustic proletariat forced into the city by poverty and fear from fields that were left untilled and insecure; and easy money was to be made from other people’s delusions through an occupation they practiced as though it were legitimate.4
At first, angry comments from decent people could be heard in private; then the matter also reached the senate and became the subject of public complaint. The aediles and triumviri capitales5 were harshly criticized by the senate for not suppressing the practices, but when they tried to remove the crowd from the Forum and dismantle their ceremonial apparatus they were almost physically assaulted. When the malaise appeared too great to be effectively restrained by junior officials, the city praetor Marcus Aemilius6 was assigned responsibility by the senate for freeing the people of such superstitions. At an assembly of the people he both read out the senatorial decree and also issued an edict that anyone possessing books of oracles, prayer formulae, or a documented procedure
- 4Roman aversion to nontraditional religion is later amply illustrated by the similar reaction to the “Bacchanalian Conspiracy” in Book 39.
- 5Minor magistrates responsible for prisons, punishments, and executions, they appear later in the Bacchanalian affair (39.14.10), again with the aediles.
- 6The identity of this praetor urbanus is an error on Livy’s part; it was M. Atilius rather than M. Aemilius (cf. MRR 263).