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The play opens in Rome shortly after the expulsion of the Tarquin kings. There are riots in progress, after stores of grain were withheld from ordinary citizens. The rioters are particularly angry at Caius Marcius, a brilliant Roman general whom they blame for the loss of their grain. The rioters encounter a patrician named Menenius Agrippa, as well as Caius Marcius himself. Menenius tries to calm the rioters, while Marcius is openly contemptuous, and says that the plebeians were not worthy of the grain because of their lack of military service.