Early Rome: The Republic and Aristocratic Competition

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Early Rome: The Republic and Aristocratic Competition

POLITICAL INVECTIVE

Sources

POLITICAL INVECTIVE

In fourteen orations known as Philippics, Cicero attacked Mark Antony following the assassination of Julius Caesar.

How many days you held your sickening orgy in that house! From ten in the morning there was drinking, fooling around, and vomiting. … Once you and your crew of squatters took over, the halls echoed with the voices of drunks, the floors were swimming with wine, even the walls were soaked, free boys were mixed up with rented ones, matrons with hookers. … You took on a man’s toga and turned it into a whore’s. At first, you were a common prostitute and your price was fixed (and not small either). But soon Curio turned up, drew you away from your meretricious trade and, as if he had given you a matron’s robe, established you in lasting and stable matrimony.

Source: Cicero, Philippics, translated by D. R. Shackleton Bailey (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986).

Controlling Elite. One consequence of the way the government was organized was that a small elite could exercise considerable control, especially negative control, as long as it presented a relatively united front. However, this control was not always the case. Consider the elections. Romans did not call political “offices” by the Latin word officia (“duties”); they called them honores (“honors”). For the aristocrats engaged in

politics, much of it was about the search for honors and, in particular, competition with their peers. This situation could lead to considerable disunity. How were political battles conducted? Most of the same devices aristocrats used to separate themselves from the masses could also be used against political foes. Superiority could be claimed by a bigger gift to the people or a better speech. If positive approaches such as this did not work, Roman politicians were quick to “go negative” and attack each other personally in a type of speech known as “invective.” If the opportunity presented itself, one could sometimes have one of his opponents prosecuted in the public courts. Doubtless many Roman politicians also held genuine policy positions, but they are often difficult to separate out of the struggles for individual supremacy. Moreover, there were at least a couple of factors that helped keep the elite together. First, their own material interests were similar. All were wealthy landowners. They also shared an interest in the notion of inherited right to rule. Most families relied on this notion directly, and the few upstarts could use it to pull the ladder up after them once they had entered the Senate. Second, the Senate itself was a moderating influence. Even a wildly successful politician was likely to hold office for less than ten years out of a career of decades. For most of his career he would be a senator giving advice, not a magistrate receiving it. Thus, it was in his long-term best interest to advance the institutional authority of the Senate.

Sources

Mary Beard and Michael Crawford, Rome in the Late Republic (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1985).

Fergus Millar, The Crowd in the Late Roman Republic (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998).

Lily R. Taylor, Party Politics in the Age of Caesar (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1949).

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Early Rome: The Republic and Aristocratic Competition