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David Orcutt

About numerous consulships

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Greetings to everyone.

I am new here, and joined specifically to ask a question to which I’ve been unable to find an answer.  I hoped perhaps someone here might be able to lead me in the proper direction.  I am an “amateur” writers - meaning that I’ve written a few books (self published) about Ancient Rome.  That said, I write specifically for the gratification of writing - and not to make money.  I have discovered that in attempting to write, I am forced to look at the most realistic ways events came about, moreso than when I simply read that this happened, followed by that.

I am currently working on a timeline of the rise and fall of Gaius Marius in regards to his liberal fight against the conservative politics of the time and this is what led me to my question.  When Gaius Marius was elected to his second consulship, in 104 BC, at the close of his Numidian war, it was somewhat iconic for him to have been elected consul only 3 years from his first consulship, in 107 BC.  Also, the Mos Maiorum stated that ex-Consuls were expected to wait a period of 10 years before running for the office again.

Of course, Gaius Marius did not run for this second Consulship.  He was not even in Rome to formally enter his candidacy, and was the result of the people of Rome, desperate after the loss of so many armies under the Consuls, Silanus, Longinus, Caepio, Maximus, etc to the migrating Germans.  And then, of course, we all know that Marius continued to be elected for the 103, 102, 101, and even the 100 BC years.

My question is:  why was it such a big deal?  Hadn’t Quintus Fabius Maximus also held multiple Consulships during the Punic Wars?  5 times if I remember correctly, and with 2 dictatorships.  Does anyone know why it was acceptable for Maximus, but controversial for Marius?  Or had the 10-year wait between consulships been written into the Mos Maiorum as a result of Maximus holding so many?

Thank you to anyone who might have some information on this which would clarify the subject for me.


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In 342 BC the tribune L Genucius passed several reforming laws including a lex that required a hiatus of ten years between iterations of the consulship. (Livy vii.42)

In 210 BC during the crisis of Hannibal's invasion, the dictator, tribunes and senate agreed to suspend the law as long as there was war in Italy. (Livy xxvii.6)  This allowed the people to elect proven commanders to oppose Hannibal (viz: Q Fabius Maximus, M Claudius Marcellus, Q Fulvius Flaccus, T Sempronius Gracchus).  When the 2nd Punic War ended in 202 BC, the lex Genucia went back into effect, and iterations of the consulship returned to 10 year intervals (viz: L Aemilius Paullus 182 & 168, M Aemilius Lepidus 187 & 175, Q Marcius Philippus 186 & 169 et al).

However, even before Marius, there were a couple of exceptions.  In 162 C Marcius Figulus and P Cornelius Scipio Nasica were elected consuls, but a fault in religious procedures caused both men to resign.   Marcius was then elected consul in 156, and Nasica in 155.  In 152 BC M Claudius Marcellus(iii) who had been consul in 166 and 155 BC was elected a third time to handle the "Fiery War" in Spain.  Polybius and Appian pass over this event without comment, and Livy's account is lost, so we don't know if suspension of the law in 152 met serious opposition;  but soon after another law was passed precluding second consulships altogether.

Thus there were laws, and a long tradition that only in a crisis should the laws be suspended.  And, of course, there was a political aspect in 107 BC as Marius (a novus homo) was trying to supersede the proconsul Q Caecilius Metellus who had a strong following.

Also...it is anachronistic to use terms like "liberal" or "conservative" in relation to Roman politics (actually it is also probably true NOW!).  Roman political groupings were personal, often temporary and rarely reflected any sort of "ideology".  Mostly they were concerned with who should hold power, and what should be done with it in the short term.

Edited by Pompieus

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