Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

It is a relief that there is one magazine in which one will not be hauled up on a charge of libel or sexual harassment for writing that Barack Obama, the President-elect of the United States, is a novus homo. So too was the 1st-century BC Roman orator, philosopher and politician Cicero, and he never stopped boasting about it, as well he might -- there were only 12 novi homines in the last 300 years of republican Rome.

In strong contrast to our system, Romans sensibly designed their 'constitution' to make it impossible for anyone with no background in or experience of politics to reach a position of power. From the earliest days, it was families who were patrician by birth who held the top jobs. This did not last, but only those families that could boast a consul could call themselves nobiles, and in the very nature of things such people ganged together. By Cicero's time, these ancient families had been in the political game for centuries, inter-marrying and, by ensuring only their 'friends' became consul, expanding networks of obligation and entrenching the system yet further.

But that was not all. To ensure that more than blue blood was required, there was also a cursus honorum ('race for honours') which required candidates to hold a series of age-related political positions before they could reach the top, the final four being quaestor (30), aedile (36), praetor (39) and finally consul (42). …

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