Penelope's Weavings and Unpickings

Iris Project publication: How to win an election in the Roman Republic

Posted by weavingsandunpickings on April 24, 2015

It’s General Election season, and the Iris Project, which promotes Classics to schools and young people, are seizing the opportunity to run some topical articles on how ancient election campaigns compare and contrast with what we do today. I was asked to cover the case of Republican Rome, and my article has gone up online today. I will put the first couple of paragraphs up here as a teaser:

The UK is deep in the grip of election fever. Party leaders are touring the country in battle-buses, shaking hands, announcing policies, and chasing photo opportunities – all in the hope of winning over voters. But what did aspiring politicians need to do to get elected in ancient Rome? To answer this question we first need to understand some of the differences between the Roman political system and our own. While some aspects of campaigning persist across the ages, different systems reward different behaviours. In other words, it took different tactics to win a Roman election than it does a British one.

For one thing, there were no party leaders – or indeed political parties – in ancient Rome. Politicians stood for election as individuals, running largely on the basis of personal reputation rather than any policy platform. This is extremely clear from the Commentariolum Petitionis (‘Little Guide to Electioneering’), an ancient text giving advice to Cicero in his campaign for the consulship of 63 BC. Cicero (figure 1) is told that while a candidate he “must not pursue political measures, either in the senate-house or in public meetings” (Comm. Pet. 13). Instead, he should hold back, and allow himself to be judged on his established reputation and character. To win, then, it was more important to be seen as a good sort, generally capable of running the state, than it was to put forward particular ideas about how this should be done.

And you can read the rest here. I’m really pleased with how it has come out.

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