Forum Violence In 50 B.C. Essay

2897 words - 12 pages

Forum Violence in 50 B.C.

In modern works on late Republican Rome, the 50's BC are characterised as an age of street gangs, massacres and rampant political violence. Scholars see the battles between Clodius, Milo and Sestius in 57, the electoral and legislative tumults of 55 and the unceasing gang warfare of 53; they read the lurid accounts of Cicero, depicting the sewers clogged with corpses, people feigning death under piles of bodies, and the streets having to be swabbed clean of blood (Pro Sest. 76-77).1 This attitude is somewhat justified: as I will endeavour to demonstrate, the period 58-50 was marked by the use of violence for political ends. However, this general description must be qualified in several ways. The personages of P. Clodius Pulcher and T. Annius Milo dominated the scene; their all consuming feud produced most of the more excessively violent activities. Also, as has been shown in several recent works,2 the political violence of the era was a part of the normal methods of public politics. Lastly, it can be argued that although violence may have been more common during the Ciceronian era, it was more restrained than earlier: one need only think of the massacres of the Gracchi and their followers, the lynchings of Saturninus and Asellio, or the mutual rampages of Cinna and Octavius in 87, to see the extremities of violence in pre-Sullan days.

Roman public life was transacted largely in the Forum and its immediate surrounds. The only major political activity not conducted here was the centuriate assembly, which by the late Republic meant the curule elections. Everything else was in the Forum Romanum, and as such, the topography of Forum is of great importance in understanding the use made of it.3 The most important structure was the speaker's platform, or rostra,4 facing out from the Comitium into the body of the Forum. It is also important to remember that trials took place generally in the lower Forum, and that meetings of the Senate (and access to and from it) took place in this atmosphere; we know that the Senate could easily hear popular expressions from outside.5 One major consequence of this concentration in the Forum was the ideology of publicity that pervaded political life: all measures had to be carried out with the involvement of the People6 and under their scrutiny. Throughout the late Republic the merits of each candidate or legislative proposal were expressed to the People through the medium of contiones, while trials were held surrounded by a corona of spectators. Even meetings of the Senate, the one political activity conducted indoors, were made known to the People through the practice of open-door sessions, through the reports at contiones of interested magistrates, and in our period by the records of senatorial proceedings established by Caesar as consul. This political system required personal presence in order to participate; the legal importance of physical action is shown to...

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