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Quibus patet curia: Livy 23.23.6 and the Middle Republican Aristocracy of Office

Cary Barber

The Ohio State University

            In this paper, I will reconstruct the three groups of citizens who were eligible for selection into the Senate at the time of the Hannibalic War. In the face of catastrophic senatorial casualties during the war’s opening years, so Livy tell us at 23.22.1, the surviving patres reflected upon the ‘solitudinem curiae’ which had enveloped the Senate House, and deliberated the potential solutions to this urgent political crisis. Eventually, the patres empowered M. Fabius Buteo in 216 BC to hold an emergency adlection. As a result, the dictator-cum-censor enrolled 177 new senators from among three narrow swaths of the citizen body. As Livy 23.23.5-6 suggests, the initial two rank-groupings are relatively clear: the first group comprised the curule magistrates not yet adlected since the last census; and the second included those who had been plebeian aedile, tribune of the plebs, or quaestor, in that order. Buteo’s third group described at 23.23.6, however, has been consistently misidentified for centuries. Sigonius’ emendation of the manuscript at 23.23.6 has left us with ‘tum ex iis qui [non] magistratus cepissent, and his interpolation of [non] has been followed by nearly every modern scholar since the sixteenth century. Consequently, we have supposed that this third group included any Roman who had either won the corona civica or who had enemy armor attached to his home. Unfortunately, the manuscripts clearly indicate otherwise. Selection to the Senate, as I will show, could include only those citizens who had held a magistracy at some point in their lives, and of those holding office below the quaestorship, only those with military accolades could reasonably expect inclusion into the curia.

            Buteo’s unprecedented adlection of new patres marks a critical moment in the Republic’s existential struggle against the Carthaginians. Indeed, as Livy 23.24.1 suggests, it was this irregularly-enrolled Senate which directed the Republic’s response to Hannibal in the days that followed, and their efforts, of course, would eventually succeed in repelling the Carthaginian host. This singular adlection marks a key moment for modern researchers of the Senate as well. Here, we have the rare opportunity to witness senatorial enrollment in action, and with it, the general requirements for membership within the senatorial aristocracy. Determining which groups of citizens were eligible for enrollment in the Senate can tell us a great deal about the degree of permeability of talent into the Republican aristocracy, and this, in turn, can help us tremendously as we seek to understand the Roman political community. Considering the scarcity of evidence for this fundamental feature of the Senate, the correct interpretation of this passage is therefore of paramount importance.

            The implications of all of this are extremely significant. By showing that non-magistrates were ineligible for enrollment even in a crisis as serious as that of 216 BC, it should become clear that under normal conditions, those without an office would have never stood a chance. Thus, we can strengthen the argument that the political elite of the Middle Republic, at least by the Hannibalic War, was a true aristocracy of office, and that only those capable of a political career could have entered the Senate. For the average centurion, there would be no bootstraps to pull up which could lead to the calceus senatorius. Further, not only can we reconstruct a hierarchy of office within this magisterial elite, but we can also use the ordering in Buteo’s list to recreate a specific cursus in the years before the lex Villia Annalis. Buteo’s ordering should reflect, for instance, the roll call of the Senate. Considering the competitive behavior of Romans in all things, we should consequently imagine fierce rivalries among the elite for the tribunate of the plebs, and thus explain the office’s supportive role within the nobilitas. Clearly, we can gain much from restoring Livy’s 23.23.6. A renewed analysis is thus a critical step in improving our understanding of the Roman aristocracy of the Middle Republic. 

Session/Panel Title

Political and Social Relations

Session/Paper Number

17.2

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