Skip to main content

Although the Roman boards of three men for the foundation of colonies, tresviri coloniae deducendae, were irregular magistracies during the Middle Republic, they comprised a valuable political tool, which was subject to maneuvering to promote individual magistrates’ ambitions. The composition of these commissions varied widely in the twenty-two cases where Livy mentions the tresviri by name. Instead of a single, prescribed method for the formation of a commission and foundation of a colony, the leges coloniae seem to have been ad hoc measures, a fact which suggests that the magistrate or magistrates who proposed each colonial foundation had a great deal of influence over its stipulations.

Previous approaches to the composition of these boards (Scullard 1973, Cassola 1962), determined no consistent factional alliances among the colonial commissioners. Such prosopographical analyses of rival factions and their motivations are mainly conjectural (Feig Vishnia 1996). On the other hand, personal ambitions and rivalries between magistrates created lively and diverse electioneering throughout the Republic (Feig Vishnia 2012, Yakobson 1999). Thus, where Scullard’s broad factional analysis of the colonial commissions fails, my closer examination of the individual commissioners indicates that many actively sought a position as triumvir in order to fulfill regional, economic, or political ambitions. Focus on the individual, where possible, is crucial in order to remove the imposition of anachronistic political parties and to acknowledge the diversity of personal motivations in Mid-Republican politics.

Gargola (1995) suggests that the magistrate presiding over elections of special commissions, such as those to found colonies, presented a small number of candidates to carry out the provisions of the lex coloniae. While Gargola’s hypothesis fits the election process for the colonial commissions as a whole, I demonstrate that there was considerable flexibility within this process. Sometimes the would-be commissioners cooperated among themselves to determine the composition of the boards of tresviri. Then, they presented their names as a group to the presiding magistrate, who offered the comitia tributa a choice among one or more pre-formed commissions. The membership of the boards for the supplement of Narnia (199) and the foundations of the five maritime colonies of 194, Potentia and Pisaurum (184), Parma and Mutina (183), Aquileia (183-181), and Luca (180) support such an hypothesis. These six boards were comprised of magistrates with known connections to one another, such as P. Aelius Paetus and Cn. Cornelius Lentulus (coss. 201) on the commission to supplement Narnia (199); the third member was S. Aelius Paetus, Publius’s brother (Livy 32.2.6-7). Another indication of cooperation in forming these boards is the election of men, such as M. Fulvius Flaccus and Q. Fulvius Nobilior, tresviri for the foundation of Potentia and Pisaurum (Livy 39.44.10), who had never held an office before. It is unlikely that two untested Fulvii would have been chosen in a general election. The composition of the boards to establish colonies in Northern Italy in the 180s indicates that there could be a stiff electoral competition between such prearranged commissions.

An alternate method for forming commissions was through direct election or appointment of prominent men. For example, the board to supplement Venusia in 200 comprised C. Terentius Varro, T. Quinctius Flamininus, and P. Cornelius Scipio Nasica, who seem to have had no significant links outside of this commission (Livy 31.49.6). Thus, these men probably did not align themselves before the election, but were chosen based on their individual qualities or popularity. In short, due to the ad hoc nature of the leges coloniae and motivations of individual magistrates, there arose several ways to form a commission, including a prearranged board, appointment, or direct election. Thus, the flexibility of elections for this minor magistracy embodied the overall elasticity of the Mid-Republican political system, in which individual ambitions strongly influenced public procedure.