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Roman Magistrates and the Finance of Ludi in the Mid-Republic

James Alexander Macksoud

Stanford University

The role of Roman magistrates, particularly aediles, in administering ludi associated with civic festivals is well attested. However, questions remain regarding the financing of ludi during the Mid-Republic. This paper argues that the practice of magistrates using their personal wealth to supplement the funds allocated by the senate for ludi, well attested in the Late Republic, operated during the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE as well.

Our sources are unambiguous that magistrates in the Late Republic spent large sums from their personal fortunes to finance ludi. As Plutarch and Suetonius relate concerning Caesar, magistrates incurred financial debts and accrued political capital in the process. Many scholars consequently assumed that such practices were likely to have existed in earlier periods (Beare 1968, Duckworth 1952, Scullard 1981, Veyne 1990). However, assumptions about magistrates in the Mid-Republic, relying primarily on material concerning later periods, were challenged by a model in which the Roman aristocracy of the Mid-Republic viewed ludi as a venue for articulating state and collective aristocratic power rather than an opportunity for individual aggrandizement (Gruen 1992). Subsequent work on the development of Roman comedy (Leigh 2004, Manuwald 2011, Marshall 2006) has not refuted this claim, instead striking an ambiguous tone on this issue of magistrates subsidizing civic ludi. However, more recent work on both comedy (Richlin 2017) and state finance in Republican Rome (Tan 2017, Taylor 2017, Beck et al. 2016) requires a more focused consideration of the issue of ludi finances in order to evaluate claims about the nature of Roman comedy and the political and social structures of the Mid-Republic.

This paper stresses that assumptions about the practice of magistrates financing civic ludi in the Mid-Republic have rested on what is essentially comparative historical evidence. By recognizing this fact, and structuring a review of the ancient texts accordingly, it is possible to make a probabilistic argument concerning Mid-Republican practices. This paper surveys the relevant evidence in stages, beginning with material from the didascaliae and comedies of Plautus and Terence. This is followed by a review of Livy and other Roman antiquarians writing about practices in the Mid-Republic. This paper analyzes separately the richer material concerning practices in the Late Republic. Further, in line with the comparative nature of the project, this paper is also able to marshal evidence concerning the finance of civic festivals in other contexts across the ancient Mediterranean, including epigraphic attestations from Roman municipia, earlier Greek precedents, and the festivals of late antiquity. The paper then combines the weight of evidence from the various contexts reasonably compared to Mid-Republican Rome with a review of Republican state and elite finances in order to construct a model of incentives governing a Mid-Republican magistrate’s financial behavior. The results strongly suggest that Roman magistrates would have utilized their own fortunes to enhance civic ludi. The paper concludes by showing how this issue has implications in discussions about the development of the genre of Roman comedy, the nature of the Mid-Republican state, and elite networks of power and patronage.

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Roman History

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