The complex relationship between the patricians and plebeians is central to our appreciation of the 460s BCE. In this episode we’ll get to consider the complexities first hand with the entrance of Caeso Quinctius (remember this name, he’s going places!).
We jump back into the narrative history of c. 461 BCE with our guides of the moment, Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Both are writing long after these events, which means that their accounts leave a lot to be desired at times. Nevertheless, both are interested in presenting a narrative on the theme of power. How is it distributed? Who has it and who doesn’t? And what are the mechanisms of political power in this system of armies, consuls, patricians, and plebeians?
Young Versus Old?
Livy makes mention of the some generational differences in attitude of the elder patricians and their scions. These simmering tensions influence the way politics plays out in the forum. Dionysius is more interested in discoursing upon the variety of patrician attitudes towards the tribunes, including trying to undermine their legitimacy by noting that they have no connection to the gods. It’s at this point that the young patricians start to emerge with a reputation for public violence…
Enter Caeso Quinctius
Young, handsome, dangerous, and patrician – he not only has a reputation for words, but he seems like the kinda man who’d back himself in a fight. As a ringleader amongst the young patricians, Quinctius has earned himself a bit of a reputation. Things start to get rough for this youthful specimen of Roman masculinity when Aulus Verginius, tribune of the plebs, seeks to bring charges against him…
Our Key Players
- Publius Volumnius M. f. M. n. Amintinus Gallus (pat.)
- Servius Sulpicius – f. Ser. n. Camerinus Cornutus (pat.)
Tribune of the Plebs
- Aulus Verginius
- Marcus Volscius
- Caeso Quinctius
- Lucius Quinctius “Cincinnatus”
Lintott, A. W. 1970. ‘The Traditions of Violence in the Annals of the Early Roman Republic’ Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte 19.1.12-29
I’ve been listening for the past two weeks to all of your episodes. I find them informative, witty and humorous, excellent work, thank you.
Something has been really baffling me though. The entire land distribution issue, or battle of the orders. There are obviously many more Plebs than Patricians and those Plebs have both arms and the training to use them, so why haven’t they been able to impose their demands on the Patricians? One of the thoughts that I had regarded the patronage system. In the episode where the Fabii establish their fortress its noted that they took their friends and clients with them, to the number of 4000, a quite substantial number. It appears these clients did as their patrons would wish. This likely would include supporting their stands on land, troop call ups and law reforms.
My questions then are, do we know how many Patrician families there were at the time? How many clients each had on average and what percentage of the Pleb population does that represent? This information would help in explaining the inability of the Plebs to achieve change.
thanks for any light you can shed on this issue,
These are great questions, Scott! The issue of land distribution is really the sore point amidst the struggle of the orders so far. There’s concern about the redistribution of the ager publicus which has been off-again on-again for years by this point in the narrative. Part of the problem seems to be the lack of legal transparency. The plebs are locked out of clear knowledge of the laws and how they work. While the tribunes are working on their behalf to change this, the patricians are generally suspicious of all attempts at progressive governance, including any that might reveal they themselves haven’t been following the laws…
Rising up against the patricians is maybe not as easy as it looks. Part of our trouble is the source material. The annalists, like Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus are writing a retrojected history of Rome based on their understanding of their own time plus the research possible through examining archives. But the archives available to them are generally lists of names and positions, not narrative and earlier writers survive only in parts. What this boils down to is that there’s a huge question of trust regarding the material – how many plebeians were there in this period (we don’t really know!), what’s the percentage of patricians to plebeians (again, numbers are incredibly difficult to pin down). It’s worth thinking about this is analogy to our own epoch of history. Why doesn’t the average citizen today rise up against their government? There seems to be a tipping point for revolt. The last we saw from the plebeians was when they formally seceded and the patricians put a lot of effort into persuading them to return, including the lure of land reform! Our earlier episodes on this could be just the ticket here 🙂
In terms of clients, it’s super important for a client to demonstrate their loyalty by following the bidding of their patron. The patricians are famously (infamously) conservative, so if it comes to a vote it’s in your interests as a client to support your patron. Voting was largely public in this period, so your voting preferences would be known and the topic of discussion. Thinking about population structure is a great way to get into this topic, so you might be interested in considering works that examine the demography of Rome. This recent collection is worth a look – Demography and the Graeco-Roman World
All the best and happy listening!
~ Dr G on behalf of The Partial Historians