Rome of the Middle Republic.

Lecture 4, Tuesday 30th January 2018

Here comes the Republic…

Cicero, In Defense of Sestius (137, 56 BCE): “When the rule of kings had become intolerable to them, they created magistracies to be held for a year only, with the restriction that the senate was set up as a council over the state for ever, and they ordained that the members of that council should be chosen by the whole people, and that industry and merit should open the way for admission to that exalted order for all citizens. The senate was set up as a guardian, the president, the defender of the state.”

Structure of Roman society (system attributed to Servius Tullius, late 6th c. BCE):
Close interconnection between military + political life

CL 102 Servian Reform LeGlay 2009, pp30-31.jpg[printable pdf] CL 102 Servian Reform LeGlay 2009, pp30-31

Voting + War-making

Images: Top left: Hellenistic or Roman bronze statue wearing cuirass and short cape. 2nd c. BCE — 2nd c. CE?? Image: Metropolitan Museum. Top right: The Sword of Tiberius: iron sword, tinned + gilded bronze sheath. c. 15 CE. Image: British Museum, with great blog post by the BMBottom:  Roman sling bullets found at the Burnswark Hill battle site in Scotland. The two smallest bullets, shown at the bottom of this image, are drilled with a hole that makes them whistle in flight. Image: John Reid/Trimontium Trust via livescience.com.

Roman Politics, Government, Society 

  • comitia centuriata: assembly of people to elect senior magistrates at Rome (consuls, praetors; censors)
    • voting was by centuria in order according to classes established by wealth: wealthiest voted first, poorest last
    • the wealthiest citizens had 98 centuries out of a total of 193
      • LeGlay 2009: 31: “As the centuria was both the military and a voting unit, it is obvious that the first class, with its 98 centuriae, held an absolute majority. The comitia centuriata were thus dominated by the wealthier citizens. Many of these belonged to the patrician order, a kind of hereditary nobility, which reserved for itself the great priestly offices and extensive land ownership. It kept the army supplied with officers and was surrounded by followers and dependents (clientes, or “clients”), whom their patron protected in return for a pledge of loyalty (fides) and support of his political aspirations.”
      • LeGlay 2009: 59: “The vote of the first centuria most frequently influenced that of the following centuriae, and when a majority was obtained, voting stopped.”
  • a different assembly, called the comitia tributa (“tribal assembly”), reflected the interests of the plebs = ‘the common people’
    • this assembly elected the lesser magistrates (curule aediles, quaestors)
    • organized by ‘tribes‘: 4 urban tribes of the citizens in the city of Rome, and 31 rural tribes of citizens outside the city (total 35); the 31 tribes outside of the city less likely to travel for voting
  • a third assembly, the concilium plebis (“plebeian council”) included all plebeian adult male citizens; the difference between this assembly and the comitia tributa is that the concilium plebis could only contain plebeians (no patricians); they elected the aediles and tribunes of the plebs


Census: counting, including, excluding

  • census: national register of citizens prepared at Rome (from Latin censere, “to assess”)
    • every 5 years individuals registered by name, age, name of their father, location of residence, occupation, and the value of their property
      • names of women and children were not included in the census, but parents gave details about families (Dion. of H. 4. 15).
    • from 443 BCE census conducted by the censor, a Roman magistrate who held the post for 18 months; there were always two censors at a time. Censors were elected by the comitia centuriata. Their duties were:
      • to perform the census: classify Roman citizens, their possessions, rights + military duties of each one
      • after the census to perform lustrum: sacrifice of purification
      • list of senators, with the right to expel individuals guilty of infamy
      • managed state’s patrimony: leasing of public land, leasing of tax contracts to publicani, collection of habour-taxes

Depiction of the Roman 
the so-called ‘Altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus’ (Louvre)

800px-Altar_Domitius_Ahenobarbus_Louvre_full, Austin Baird.jpgThe so-called ‘Altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus’, c. 100 BCE. Marble frieze. Height 2ft 8ins (81.3cm); length 18ft 8ins (5.6m). Image: separate images from wikimedia (left, middle, right; see also below).

  • earliest historical relief from Rome = so-called ‘Altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus‘, now in the Louvre, found in 17th century together with a relief depicting marriage of Poseidon + Amphitrite, now in Munich Glyptothek; it is not actually itself an altar but depicts an altar
  • became associated with Domitius Ahenobarbus (“Red-beard” or “Bronze-beard”, consul 122 BCE) because of a passage in Pliny (NH 36.26)
  • both reliefs belong to same monument, thought to be base for group of statues in a temple
  • subject of this relief: reads left to right chronologically
    • census on the left — see the seated figure writing
    • musicians playing prior to sacrifice
    • statue of Mars
    • sacrifice by priest — purification of army (lustrum)
    • levy of army
  • soldiers on both sides + the god Mars in the middle suggests a censorial lustrum related to  ritual enrolment or disbanding of troops
  • the marine theme of the Munich relief has led to identifying the priest in the Louvre relief as Marcus Antonius (censor 97 BCE) who was entrusted with fleet to fight pirates; this association has led to a date of c. 100 BCE

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The Aristocratic Elite of Republican Rome

  • equites: “knights
    • in early Rome granted a horse at public expense (equus publicus)
    • they wore a golden ring (annulus aureus) and a robe with a smaller purple stripe than senators’ (angustus clauus)
    • served as judges after 123 or 122 BCE (Lintott 1992: 16, 20)
    • after law passed in 67 BCE had a special place to sit at spectacles (Lex Roscia, Cic. Pro Murena 40)
    • served as tax farmers (publicani)
  • senate, senators: assembly of Rome’s elder statesmen (senex = “old man” in Latin)
    • originally 300 members, but expanded over time (600 under Sulla, 900 under Julius Caesar, 600 under Augustus)
    • drawn from former elected officials
      • LeGlay 2009: 59: “Its members (the seniores or patres) were largely former senior magistrates (former censors, consuls, praetors) — later, former curule aediles could also enter, and later still, former tribunes.”
      • seniores = ‘elders’; patres = ‘fathers’
    • list of members drawn up every 5 years by censors (right granted by Lex Ovinia, c. 318-313 BCE)
    • advisory body of government under Republic, though no ability to make laws themselves; under Empire diminished power
    • their wealth traditionally came from land rather than trade or commerce
    • wore a robe with a larger purple stripe than equites’ (latus clauus)


Rome’s elected officials:
Cursus Honorum

  • consuls: always 2, the supreme magistrate at Rome;
    • annual + collegiate; civic + military power (=IMPERIUM);
    • elected by the comitia centuriata;
    • minimum age of consul = 42 y.o.
  • praetors: from Latin praeire ‘to go ahead’, seems to suggest military origin;
    • there were 4 in 201 BCE, 6 by 197 BCE;
    • judges in courts;
    • could command armies;
    • civic + military power (=IMPERIUM);
    • elected by the comitia centuriata;
    • minimum age of praetor = 39 y.o.
  • aediles: from Latin aedes = ‘temple’ (esp. Temple of Ceres on Aventine)
    • 2 curule, elected by comitia tributa
    • 2 plebeian, elected by concilium plebis (‘plebeian council’);
    • care for the city and what went on in it, including the streets of Rome, public order in cult practices, the water supply, and the market.
    • maintenance and distribution of the corn supply.
    • arranged the public games (ludi); growth of wealth + political rivalry in Republic encouraged the aediles to spend an increasing amount of their own money to gain electoral advantage;
    • minimum age of aedile = 36 y.o.
  • quaestor: officers of treasury, money management
    • minimum age = 25 y.o.
    • elected by the comitia tributa
  • tribune of the plebs:
    • traditionally invented in 494 BCE as part of a struggle between patricians and plebeians — the defender of the plebeians
    • there were 10 by 449 BCE
    • power derived from oath sworn by the plebeians to guarantee their sacrosanctitas, or inviolability
    • elected by the concilium plebis
    • tribunes could summon the plebs to assembly + elicit resolutions laws (plebiscita)
    • right of veto (intercessio) against any act performed by a magistrate (or by another tribune), against elections, +  laws  

censors, consuls, praetors = elected by comitia centuriata
curule aediles, quaestors
= elected by comitia tributa
aediles, tribunes of the plebs = elected by concilium plebis


Sarcophagus of Scipio Barbatus

Scipio-tomb wikimedia .jpgSarcophagus of Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus (cos. 298 BCE), from his tomb on the Via Appia, near Rome. c. 200 BCE. Tufa. Height: 4ft 7ins (1.4m); length 9ft 1in (2.77m). Image: wikimedia. Discovered in the Tomb of the Scipios, now in the Vatican Museums. Inscriptions: CIL VI 1284, CIL VI 1285. For the text + translation, see wikipedia.

  • sarcophagus for Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus (‘bearded’, ‘long-beard’, ‘beardy’ —  cos. 298 BCE)
  • uses both Ionic order (curves, or volutes on the lid) and Doric order (square metopes filled with rosettes alternating with triglyphs); letters of the inscription were originally painted red
  • the inscription is in an early Latin rhythm of poetry (metre) called the Saturnian
  • the inscription is the earliest extant use of the word consul
  • Ireland in Henig 1983: 223: the “very roughness [of the letters] becomes eloquent when, in the epitaph of Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus, the crude, uneven capitals, ripped out of the granite with a coarse cutting-edge, combine in a magnificent unity of effect with the text they transmit, proud, simple phrases cast into the “primitive”* Saturnian metre, commemorating the conquests and the piety of the dead Republican.” [*= quotation marks added by Čulík-Baird]
  • Beard 2016: 133-34: “Barbatus was consul in 298 BCE, died around 280 BCE, and almost certainly founded this ostentatious mausoleum, an unashamed promotion of the power and prestige of his family, one of the most prominent in the Republic. His seems to have been the first of more than thirty burials in it, and his coffin-cum-memorial was placed in the most prominent position, opposite the door. The epitaph was composed soon after his death. It is four lines long and must count as the earliest historical and biographical narrative to [p134] survive from ancient Rome. Short as it is, it is one of the major turning points in our understanding of Roman history. For it provides more or less contemporary information on Barbatus’ career…It is eloquent on the ideology and world view of the Roman elite at this period.

Barbatus Mary Beard 2016, 134.png

CIL VI 1285 Barbatus .png


The face of Republican Rome

Capitoline “Brutus”. Part of a Roman honorific bronze, c. 300 BCE. Now in the Vatican Museums. Images: Steven Zucker via Flickr.

What do art historians say?

  • Zanker 2010: 4: “the maker simplified both the facial forms and the transitions, thereby creating the severe, fixed expression that has particularly fascinated modern viewers. Due to the portrait’s severity, it came to be considered typically ‘Roman’ and indeed was soon identified with L. Junius Brutus, regicide and hero of Republican liberty.”
  • Pollini 2012: 47: “As Pliny (NH 34.15) suggests, one of the reasons that bronze was the favored material for portrait statues was its ability to impart great realism to the likeness (similitudo expressa) of an individual…Representative of bronze craftsmanship from this period is the head of the so-called Capitoline Brutus, possibly from an equestrian statue, which stylistically appears to date between 350 and 250 BCE. The unknown Roman portrayed in this sculpture wears a beard, which Varro tells us (Rust. 2.11.10) began to go out of fashion in Rome around 300 BCE.”
  • Ramage-Ramage 2015: 90-91: “VERISM. The tradition of making portraits, already firmly established in Italy, continued among the Roman artists of the 1st century BCE. Their patrons had a taste for realism, or “verism,” as it is called, where the artist depicted even the smallest details of the surface of the skin with all its imperfections, including warts, wrinkles, and furrows. These details were combined with an interest in bone structure and musculature. Thus, verism is not only realistic, but it zeroes in on the minute details of structure and surface of the human head. [p91]…verism grew out of an old Italic custom, going back at least to the 2nd century BCE, of venerating masks representing the family ancestors.”


“Verism” and the cult of the dead

Cicero, Topics 45: “It is permitted to orators and philosophers that the mute should speak and the dead be evocated from the lower world.”

Polybius (6.53): “Whenever one of their illustrious men dies, in the course of his funeral, the body with all its paraphernalia is carried into the forum to the Rostra, as a raised platform there is called, and sometimes is propped upright upon it so as to be conspicuous, or, more rarely, is laid upon it. Then with all the people standing round, his son, if he has left one of full age and he is there, or, failing him, one of his relations, mounts the Rostra and delivers a speech concerning the virtues of the deceased, and the successful exploits performed by him in his lifetime. By these means the people are reminded of what has been done, and made to see it with their own eyes,—not only such as were engaged in the actual transactions but those also who were not;— and their sympathies are so deeply moved, that the loss appears not to be confined to the actual mourners, but to be a public one affecting the whole people. After the burial and all the usual ceremonies have been performed, they place the likeness of the deceased in the most conspicuous spot in his house, surmounted by a wooden canopy or shrine. This likeness consists of a mask made to represent the deceased with extraordinary fidelity both in shape and colour. These likenesses they display at public sacrifices adorned with much care. And when any illustrious member of the family dies, they carry these masks to the funeral, putting them on men whom they thought as like the originals as possible in height and other personal peculiarities. And these substitutes assume clothes according to the rank of the person represented: if he was a consul or praetor, a toga with purple stripes; if a censor, whole purple if he had also celebrated a triumph or performed any exploit of that kind, a toga embroidered with gold. These representatives also ride themselves in chariots, while the fasces and axes, and all the other customary insignia of the particular offices, lead the way, according to the dignity of the rank in the state enjoyed by the deceased in his lifetime; and on arriving at the Rostra they all take their seats on ivory chairs in their order. There could not easily be a more inspiring spectacle than this for a young man of noble ambitions and virtuous aspirations. For can we conceive any one to be unmoved at the sight of all the likenesses collected together of the men who have earned glory, all as it were living and breathing? Or what could be a more glorious spectacle?

Pietas man

pietas man 2 Lehmann

Statue of a Roman patrician carrying two portrait busts of his ancestors. So-called Barberini Togatus. Marble. End of 1st c. BCE or 1st c. CE. Image: Christian Lehmann on twitter.

Further reading: