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analogmusicman

voting in Rome

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yes I'm new and haven't studied Rome for all that long but this subject of voting interests the heck out of me.

I mean really, did the plebs have any real say as to what went on or did the rich guys have all the power? did voting mean anything?

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yes I'm new and haven't studied Rome for all that long but this subject of voting interests the heck out of me.

I mean really, did the plebs have any real say as to what went on or did the rich guys have all the power? did voting mean anything?

The voting subject really interests the heck out of a lot of people around here.

 

Being new, there's a lot of stuff that you should study all along UNRV; you may begin

 

- here as an introduction to the Roman voting system itself, and

 

- here for the actual meaning of the patrician: plebeian dichotomy.

Edited by sylla

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Roman voting and the extent of democracy in the Roman Republic is indeed a fascinating and, sometimes controversial subject. To amplify a bit:

 

The curiate assembly had fallen into disuse in the middle and late republic, it's functions were limited to formally conferring imperium on magistrates after their election, and the approval of certain types of adoptions. By the middle republic the curiae were usually represented by the lictors in attendance on the presiding magistrate and their action was a mere formality.

 

The 193 centuries were important in electing the major magistrates and the assembly was weighted in favor of the wealthier and older citizens. The vote was taken by bloc (a majority of each century won the century and each century had one vote) The centuries voted in a strict order (with the wealthiest citizens in centuries with far fewer members voting first) and ended when a candidate won a majority of centuries. However, a reorganization of the assembly took place sometime before 241BCE such that the centuries became subdivisions of the tribes. There is considerable controversy over how this was done and whether it made the centuriate assembly more democratic.

 

The tribal assembly had begun as a revolutionary gathering of the plebians during the struggle of the orders, but had come to include (for purposes other than electing tribunes of the plebs and plebian aediles) all citizens, and, after the Lex Hortensia of 287BCE, its enactments became binding on all. It was the tribal assembly that passed nearly all legislation in the middle and late republic. there were originally 4 (not 1) urban and 17 rural tribes based on geographic districts. Between 495 and 241BCE 14 additional rural tribes were added to represent citizens in newly absorbed regions of Italy. After 241 no new tribes were created, the existing tribes were expanded to include separate districts in different parts of Italy. The extent of democracy in the tribal assembly is even more controversial.

 

Check these for more information: Roman Voting Assemblies- L R Taylor, Voting Districts of the Roman Republic - L R Taylor, The Constitution of the Roman Republic - A Lintott, The Crowd in the Late Roman Republic - F Millar

Edited by Pompieus

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Even if this issue is indeed broad and relatively complex, after Pompeius' succinct introduction we can return to the original questions:

 

... did the plebs have any real say as to what went on ...?
Edited by sylla

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Even if this issue is indeed broad and relatively complex, after Pompeius' succinct introduction we can return to the original questions:

 

... did the plebs have any real say as to what went on ...?

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Even if this issue is indeed broad and relatively complex, after Pompeius' succinct introduction we can return to the original questions:

 

... did the plebs have any real say as to what went on ...?

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Even if this issue is indeed broad and relatively complex, after Pompeius' succinct introduction we can return to the original questions:

 

... did the plebs have any real say as to what went on ...?
Edited by sylla

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Even if this issue is indeed broad and relatively complex, after Pompeius' succinct introduction we can return to the original questions:

 

... did the plebs have any real say as to what went on ...? …did voting mean anything?
Yes; our best evidence is empyrical; The Republican politicians spent immense amounts of effort and money, and sometimes even risked their personal security, just to get the popular support.

 

...did the rich guys have all the power?
Yes; just a scant minority of Patricians and rich Plebeians were eligible; this aristocracy was entirely autodefined, mostly based on hereditary and economic factors (in that order).

 

This seems contradictory. If the "populus" had a real say then rich guys can not have all the power.

Semantics aside, facts speak for themselves; Roman people had a real say, even if a rich aristocracy had essentially all the power.

 

Ultimately, although the aristocracy had the power, the people were instrumental in deciding which of those aristocrats gained the magistracies. You are quite correct in debunking the notion that there is any contradiction in the wealthy holding the real power whilst the people had a real say.

 

We should not flatter ourselves that we are markedly different in modern democracies. Once elections have taken place and the electorate has exercised its 'power', a relatively small number of people will make all the key decisions. Certainly a large amount of financial muscle was neccesary in the Roman Republic but it did not have a system of political parties with campaign funds and sophisticated marketing machines.

 

Whilst the modern government will make decisions with a view to gaining re-election and therefore retain acknowledgement of the electorate's wishes - in theory - the Roman Magistrate would endevour to build his reputation as he climbed the cursus honorum and therefore, with exceptions of course, retain an interest in the opinion of the people thereby affording them constant influence in the political and military affairs of the Republic.

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It's true that the Roman voters could rarely be convinced to vote for a consular or praetorian candidate whose name had not been familiar to them for decades, but they did have a say, and competition for their votes was fierce.

 

The "wild-card" in Roman politics though was the use of the Tribal Assembly to pass legislation and to elect Tribunes, Aediles and other minor magistrates.

 

In the Tribal Assembly every citizens vote counted equally within the Tribe (unlike the Centuries where the votes of the older, wealthier citizens counted more), and it is possible to claim (as Millar does) that laws passed in the Tribal Assembly were the "real expression of the political will of the Roman people." One of Ciceros letters commiserated with a friend from a consular family who had lost an election for aedile to a nobody from a rural town whose friends had all flocked to the city to vote for him.

 

The vote of the Tribes was vital and could, and often did, reverse decisions of the senate on provincial assignments and money matters. There is lots of controversy over how much effect the ruling class had on the voting of the Tribes thru clients and patronage, and who exactly was present in the forum to represent the rural Tribes on voting days? - was it the wealthy landowners who resided in the city? did men of moderate means make the trip from their farms to town to vote on a bill that interested them? were the disposessed farmers who moved to the city to live on the grain dole still voting in the rural Tribes?

Edited by Pompieus

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The rich got the power but the rich got rich by having power in the first place.

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Once again I erred...the reference to Cicero is not a letter but the speech Pro Plancio, but it is to the point. Cicero was defending an equestrian aedile from Atina who was prosecuted by M Iuventius Laterensis (the defeated candidate who was the descendant of consuls on both sides). Laterensis claim was that only bribery would explain the defeat of so noble a candidate by one so base. Cicero says:

 

For it is the nature of any free people, and above all of this

ruling people, which is the master and conqueror of all races,

that it has the power to give or take away by its votes whatever

it wishes with regard to anyone it wishes.

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Once again I erred...the reference to Cicero is not a letter but the speech Pro Plancio, but it is to the point. Cicero was defending an equestrian aedile from Atina who was prosecuted by M Iuventius Laterensis (the defeated candidate who was the descendant of consuls on both sides). Laterensis claim was that only bribery would explain the defeat of so noble a candidate by one so base. Cicero says:

 

For it is the nature of any free people, and above all of this

ruling people, which is the master and conqueror of all races,

that it has the power to give or take away by its votes whatever

it wishes with regard to anyone it wishes.

Offending post deleted

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urban voters were easily outnumbered by the rural voters, no matter how few of them voted in each one of the 31 rural tribes, which were always controlled by the rich Landlords.

 

What's the evidence that the rural tribes "were always controlled by the rich Landlords"? Isn't it just another instance of your general supposition that the rich control everything and that the poor people are perpetually downtrodden by them? Is there any thing in the source material that specifically supports this claim?

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If you really want us to share references on the social distribution of power in the rural Roman Republic, I will be more than happy to contribute to a specific thread, as long as you don

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