Episode 108 – Plague and Politics

It’s 453 BCE and just as Rome seems to be heading towards a legal milestone disaster strikes: it’s a plague!

Now plagues are terrible, of that there is no doubt, but how does this influence the path to codification? We’re here to find out.

Episode 108 – Plague and Politics

The Character of the Plague

It is hard to identify the plague with certainty. What is clear from our later written sources is that the collective memory recalls this plague as highly contagious with the capacity to leap between species. People caught it but so too did some of the animals that people worked closely with.

The origin of the plague and how it eventually came to an end are lost to us. In lieu of strong osteoarchaeological evidence, it is possible to interpret this plague as a shared idea of opposition to the codification of the laws, which the elites likely saw as infringing upon their power.

Both Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus focus on the devastating consequences of the plague. Things to listen out for:

  • The horrific death toll
  • The Aequians!
  • The issue with the harvest

With 453 BCE wholly occupied with pestilence and its effects, everyone still standing is hoping for a better time in 452 BCE…

The Athenian Junket Returns!

Lucky for Rome, the plague does not go so far as Athens. The delegates sent out to find out about the law codes that others have produced return with some new ideas. There are some odd things about our narrative accounts though which Dr Rad delves into. Some pertinent questions:

  • Why would the Romans go all the way to Athens?
  • What are the law codes of the Greeks like? Do the Twelve Tables really suggest a Greek influence?
  • What might our narrative accounts gain by suggesting a connection with Greece at this point?

Rome’s Heading into Uncertain Territory

It’s fair to say that our narrative sources leave us somewhat dissatisfied. Our sources inspire less confidence the further we move into the Struggle of the Orders.

  • Who are the patricians?
  • Who are the plebeians?
  • How were these demarcations understood by the Romans?
  • Do our writers from the late Republican period really have a clear handle on what happened in the past?
  • Will the Twelve Tables live up to the suspense?

Only time will tell…

Plague and Politics

Thomas Cole The Course of Empire. Desolation 1836. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Our Players in 453BCE


  • Publius Curiatus — f. — n. Fistus Trigeminus (Pat)
  • Sextus Quinctilius Sex f. P. n. ‘Varus’ (Pat)

Suffect Consul

  • Spurius Furius Medullinus Fusus (cos. 464 BCE) (Pat)

Flamen Quirinalus

  • Servius Cornelius


  • C. Horatius Pulvillus

Our Players in 452 BCE


  • Gaius/Lucius/Titus (?) Menenius Agripp. f. Agripp. n. Lanatus (Pat)
  • Publius Sestius Q. f. Vibi. n. Capito(linus?) Vaticanus (Pat)

Consular Nominations

  • Appius Claudius Ap. f. M. n. Crassus Inrigillenssis Sabinus (Pat)
  • Titus Genucius L. f. L. n. Augurinus (Pat)

Our Sources

  • Dr Rad reads Livy ab urbe condita 3.32
  • Dr G reads Dionysius of Halicarnassus Roman Antiquities 10.53-54

Sound Credits

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Drs R and G laugh and spar their way through the ancient Roman world!

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