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Not Set in Stone: The Asculum Bronze and the Durability of Political Alliances in the late Republic

Kathryn Steed

Carleton College

This paper argues that a case study of the Asculum Bronze (ILS 8888 = ILLRP 515 = CIL VI.37045 = CIL 1.2.709) provides evidence that political alliances in the late Republic were of short duration and depended on immediate personal interest rather than on enduring personal or familial connections. Its conclusions contribute directly to the ongoing scholarly debate over the nature of political life and of aristocratic political maneuvering in the late Republic. The long-standing interpretation of Roman political life as dominated by aristocratic “parties” composed of family networks and lasting multiple generations, has been thoroughly refuted (see discussion at Hölkeskamp (2010), pp.6-10), but its replacement is far from clear. Already in 1968, E. Gruen noted that political loyalties could be fragile and shifting (Gruen, 1968, 1-7), but in 2007 it was still possible to point to treat amicitia as a controlling force in determining political loyalties and to interpret Labienus’ service with Caesar as the infiltration of Caesar’s camp by a member of the senatorial faction (Canfora, 2007, pp. 159-164). This paper approaches the thorny issue of the durability of political associations among Rome’s elite (and aspiring elite) through a prosopographical study of the Asculum Bronze. This inscription offers a unique window into a single moment of political association: the inscription’s listing of Pompeius Strabo’s consilium in 89 is relatively complete and includes not only established political figures but junior officers starting their careers under the tutelage of one of Rome’s most prominent generals. By following the careers of these men, we can see how initial loyalties change over time and determine the extent to which early associations persist and initial political groupings endure. Of the 59 men named on the Asculum Bronze, we can identify 35 with some level of confidence – in this phase of my argument I follow, with some exceptions, the identifications of Nicola Criniti (Criniti, 1970) – and know something of the later careers of 28. It is these 28 whose careers I follow for evidence of sustained or shifting political loyalties. I look first at their participation in the events of the 80s and the Sullan civil war, then at their activities in the 70s in the conflicts between Pompey (as the representative of the Sullan senate) and those against whom he took up arms. Finally, I look at their involvement on either side of the events of 63, including both the trial of Rabirius and the Catilinarian Conspiracy, before drawing conclusions about the patterns of alliance and interest that emerge from their careers. With the possible exceptions of Strabo’s quaestor, his centurions, and (some of) the military tribunes, the men listed on the Asculum Bronze were all present in Strabo’s camp because they had some personal or familial connection to Strabo himself. If enduring networks of alliance were at work, we might reasonably expect these men to share a community of interests that extended beyond the Social War and even Strabo’s death in 87. Looking carefully at the subsequent careers of the men of Strabo’s consilium, though, it becomes apparent that this was not the case. Far from presenting a pattern of consistent support for one another or for their commander’s son, the members of the consilium at Asculum seem to have gone their separate ways and participated in the events and crises of the next decades in almost every capacity imaginable. In fact, the only real pattern that emerges is that there is no pattern. This provides strong evidence that enduring ties of loyalty did not play a major role in determining political decisions and alliances in the tumultuous last years of the Republic.

Session/Panel Title

Political and Social Relations

Session/Paper Number

17.3

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