Roman Elections in the Age of Cicero: Society, Government, and Voting

Roman Elections in the Age of Cicero: Society, Government, and Voting

Roman Elections in the Age of Cicero: Society, Government, and Voting

Roman Elections in the Age of Cicero: Society, Government, and Voting


Great debate exists amongst classical historians on the nature of Roman republican government. Some contend that the Roman Republic was governed by a small group of aristocratic families that entrenched their rule by means of long-standing alliances and an intricate network of loyal clients from the lower echelons of society. Others contest the definition of the republican government as oligarchic, maintaining that the Roman elite did not operate in a political vacuum and that Polybius' judgment, which concedes a democratic element in the Roman constitution as embodied in the powers of the popular assemblies, cannot be simply swept aside. This debate has found its way into various scholarly works, but, until now, no single volume has been dedicated specifically to elections and electioneering, a sphere where the people--according to these interpretations--played a central if not a crucial role. Roman Elections in the Age of Cicero provides new and intriguing insights into the nature of Roman republican government and the people's actual powers, but also addresses questions relevant to elections in our own societies today.


This book is an extensively revised and updated version of my book “Elections, Elected and Electors in Late Republican Rome,” which was published in Hebrew by Tel Aviv University Press in 2008. the original version includes a translation into Hebrew of the fragments of Marcus Tullius Cicero’s speech In Toga Candida as preserved by Asconius and of the Handbook of Electioneering (Commentariolum Petitionis) attributed to his brother Quintus Tullius Cicero. Since there are good translations of these texts in English, I did not deem it necessary to provide yet another translation.

Some two and a half decades of teaching courses on the Roman Republic to students who had practically no prior knowledge of this period (and at times no interest either), and yet who evinced lively curiosity whenever we dealt with topics that still have great relevance for societies today—led me to believe that a book designed as a teaching aid, combining the “basics” of Roman history, society and government with an examination of a key feature of the republican political culture that readily lends itself to comparison with modern phenomena, could be useful to both undergraduate and graduate students, as well as appealing to a wider readership.

It was only natural to concentrate on elections, perhaps the most prominent and constant feature of Roman republican politics. For about a half a millennium elections were held every year for the various annual senior magistracies (whose number increased over this period, reaching 44 during the last three decades of the Republic). the designate magistrates, who had been elected only after vigorous canvassing, did not enter office immediately after the elections, but only several months later. Consequently, no sooner had the sounds of campaigning died down and the results of one election announced than the city of Rome began girding itself in preparation for the next one. Thus, for example, Marcus Tullius Cicero, who was elected as consul for the year 63, launched his campaign as soon as the results of the elections for 64 were announced—namely, in July 65.

Although it is evident that the patterns of Roman elections changed over time, the sources that have survived relate to the period chosen for discussion in this book, namely “the Age of Cicero.” the ample Ciceronian corpus together with the writings of Sallust, Plutarch’s biographies of the key . . .

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