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Violence in Roman Politics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 September 2012

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To speak of Roman politics in the late Republic without touching on violence would hardly be possible. But my real theme is concerned with methods of interpreting Roman history. We have seen in the last hundred years some three general attitudes or schools of thought about the study of the later Republic. It all begins with Mommsen, of course. First there were those who, following Mommsen, tended to explain Roman history in terms of the nineteenth century. The conflict of Optimates and Populares tended to be assimilated to the forms of conflict in parliamentary countries; parties, programmes, even democrats and conservatives were brought in. Then came a swing away. The stress was laid more and more on the generals and their ambitions. The terminology of parliamentary democracy was discarded as unsuitable, and the history of the late Republic was seen as an inevitable procession of great Imperatores, each foreshadowing the next. Even the Scipios were involved, then Marius, Sulla and so forth. Much less stress was laid on the popular movement. Apart from the Gracchi the tribunes were treated as tools of the Imperators and nothing more. The politics of the generation before the Social War were explained in terms of the Ciceronian age. One might cite the great chapters of the Cambridge Ancient History, and Meyer's Caesars Monarchie as characteristic.

Research Article
Copyright © A. N. Sherwin-White 1956. Exclusive Licence to Publish: The Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies


1 This paper was read at the conference arranged by the Committee of the Joint Greek and Roman Societies at Oxford in August, 1955. The sources are well documented in Greenidge and Clay, Sources for Roman History B.C. 133–70 (Oxford, 1926)Google Scholar, and in Broughton, T. R. S., Magistrates of the Roman Republic (New York, 1951)Google Scholar. Here references have been added to the original text only at places crucial for the argument.

2 On the circumstances of Marius' legateship see Vell. Pat. 11, 11. Plut. Mar., 7. Diod. 35, 38Google Scholar.

3 Compare Sallust, , BJ 27, 30, 31–3, 40.3–5Google Scholar, with 64; 65, 4; 73. For the rift between equestrians and plebes after Gaius Gracchus, ibid. 42, 1.

4 ibid., 73.

5 For the origins of Rupilius see Val. Max. VI, 9, 8. For Billienus, Cic. Brutus 175. Mallius Maximus, consul in 105, was ignobilis but not novus, Cic. pro Plancio 12.

6 Plut. Mar. 12, 1.

7 Sall. BJ 73.

8 Livy, Ep. 67. Sall. BJ 114.

9 Vell. Pat. II, 126. Livy, Ep. 68–9, gives both sides of the picture. Plut. Mar. 28, 5, gives the Rutilius version. Cf. Dio's statement on the ‘consensus omnium’ at the elections of 102, fr. 92.

10 Plut. Mar. 28, 4.

11 App. 1, 30, 3–6. Plut. Mar. 29, 2 and 4. The bias of the source is apparent. Marius could not have known beforehand that Metellus alone of all the senators would refuse to take the conditional oath, Saturninus' trick could only be devised after the final taking of oaths.

12 Plut. Mar. 30, 3. Cic. pro Rab. perd. reo. 20, 27. Cf. Orosius V, 17.

13 Plut. Mar. 30, 4.

14 R. Syme, Roman Revolution, 29. Last, H. M. in CAH IX, 332Google Scholar.

15 App. BC 1, 121. Plut. Pomp. 21, 3–23, 2. Crass. 12.

16 Vell. Pat. 11, 30.

17 Pompey was granted dispensation to hold his triumph in 71 by the Senate, Cic. de Imp. Pomp. 62. The sc. allowing ratio absentis would be at the same time.

18 Livy XL, 43, 4–5.

19 Cic. I in Verr. 44.

20 For the author and date of the Aurelian rogation see o.c. 46, 11; in Verr. II, 174; 111, 223. Plut. Pomp. 22, 3. For Pompey's contio see I in Verr. 45.

21 Dio 38, 5, 1–2. Professor R. E. Smith in a forthcoming article, which he kindly communicated to me, links this with the obscure lex Plotia that formed the model for the agrarian rogation of Flavius in 60 B.C. Cic. ad Att. 1, 18, 6.

22 JRS XLI, 1951, 112.

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