Roman Nobility

By Robert Hamilton

The Roman nobility, during the period of the Roman Republic (200-101BC), valued:  military achievement through exemplary warrior like behaviour;  leadership within the various arms of Rome’s civil service; and devotion to family. The Roman noble aspired to Gloria, and Roman Senator and historian, Cicero (106-43BC), defined this as:

“praise given to right actions and the reputation for great merits in the service of the Republic which is approved not merely by the testimony of the multitude but by the witness of all the best men” [1]

This reference to ‘the best men’ is important to note, as this suggests an elitist value system. Cato the Elder (234-149BC)[2], described as one of ‘the new men,[3]’ can be seen as a representative of the ‘other side,’ not originating from a patrician[4] family but rather making his way on merit. Ultimately, however, all members of the Senate were part of an elite body, though there existed an advantageous environment for those with a glorious family history. The real ‘other,’ within the system, were the common people within the Concilium Plebis[5].

Examples of the noble ethos are seen throughout the primary historical sources, which are the contemporary ancient histories of Rome, and the epitaphs inscribed on the extant tombs of those nobles[6] who lived at this time. A fine illustration of these noble aspirations, Nobilitas, is contained within the funerary inscriptions of Lucius Cornelius Scipio[7] and his descendants, inside their family tomb. The inscriptions list both their military and civil achievements, clearly defining the criteria, upon which their lives were judged within the Roman nobility. Polybius, an ethnic Greek Roman historian, was an intimate of P. Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus (185-129BC)[8], who was an adopted member of the Scipio clan and perhaps their brightest star within the Roman firmament. Plutarch, another Greek born historian (46-120AD), said of him, “by far the most noble and influential Roman of his day. ”[9]

Continued in Roman and Greek History by Robert Hamilton

©Robert Hamilton

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Appian, Punic Wars, (trans H. White), Loeb Classic library, 1912.

Astin, A. E. “P. Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus” Clarendon Press, Oxford , 1967.

Cicero, On Duties, (trans W. Miller), Harvard University Press, Loeb Classic library, 1913.

Earl, Donald. The Moral and Political Tradition of Rome , Thames & Hudson, 1967.

Lintott, Andrew, The Constitution of the Roman Republic, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1999.

Lowenstein, Karl, The Governance of Rome, Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, 1973.

Millar, Fergus, The Journal of Roman Studies, Political Power in Mid-Republican Rome: Curia or Comitium, Oxford.

Pliny, Natural History, (trans H. Rackham), Loeb Classic library, 1940.

Plutarch, Makers of Rome (trans. I. Scott-Kilvert) Penguin Books, London, 1965.

Polybius, The Rise of the Roman Empire (trans. I. Scott-Kilvert) Penguin Books, London, 1980.

Plutarch, The Parallel Lives (trans. Loeb) Loeb Classical Library, Vol 6, 1918.

Sallust, (trans J.C. Rolfe), Loeb Classic library, 1921.

Taylor, Lily Ross, Party Politics In the Age of Caesar, University of California Press, The Roman nobility, during the period of the Roman Republic (200-101BC), valued:  military achievement through exemplary warrior like behaviour;  leadership within the various arms of Rome’s civil

 



[1] Cicero, Pro Sestio, 139; Phil. I, 29; cf. Tusc. Disp. III, 2, 3

[2] Plutarch, Life of Cato section 1 (in The Makers of Rome)

[3] Cicero, On the Agrarian law 2.1-3

[4] Lintott, Andrew, The Constitution of the Roman Republic, Oxford, 1999, V1 The Senate, p-67 –Interregnum- ‘the auspices returned to the patres’

[5]  Taylor, Lily Ross, Party Politics In the Age of Caesar, Berkeley, CA, 1966, Chpt 1, Personalities and Programs,

p-14 ‘tribal assembly’ – politically represented by tribunes.

[6] Taylor, Lily Ross, Party Politics In the Age of Caesar, Berkeley, CA, 1966, Chpt 1, Personalities and Programs,

p-3 – ‘the families which had held the consulship formed the hereditary nobility.’

[7]  The Scipionic Epitaphs (from the translation of E.H. Warmington, Remains of Old

Latin, Vol. IV, Loeb Classical Library)

[8] Polybius 31.23-24 (Penguin trans.)

[9] Plutarch, Life of Aemilius Paullus 22. 2-4 (Loeb trans.)

[10] Polybius 31.25 (Penguin trans.)

[11] Appian Punic Wars 71 (Loeb trans.)

[12] Livy, Periochae 49, 51 (59 BC-AD 17)

[13] Velleius Paterculus 1.12.2-13.1 (beginning of the 1st century AD)

[14] Appian Punic Wars 54 (Loeb trans.)

[15] A.E. Astin, Scipio Aemilianus, Oxford, 1967, p 242-243.

[16] A.E. Astin, Scipio Aemilianus, Oxford, 1967, p 242-243.

[17] Taylor, Lily Ross, Party Politics In the Age of Caesar, Berkeley, CA, 1966, Chpt 1, Personalities and Programs,

p-15 You had to be elected to all these positions: magistrate/senate, tribune, consul etc so popularity within    the right groups was vital to success.

[18] Lowenstein, Karl, The Governance of Rome, The Hague, 1973, Chpt 3, p 47 – ‘college of official seers’

[19] Lowenstein, Karl, The Governance of Rome, The Hague, 1973, Chpt 3, p 53 “upper four hundred” – the ruling elite.’

[20] D. Earl, The Moral and Political Tradition of Rome, London, 1967, p 13.

[21] Polybius 31. 23-24 (Penguin trans.)

[22] Polybius 6.53-54

[23] Sallust The Jugurthine War 4.5 (Loeb trans., modified)

[24] D. Earl, The Moral and Political Tradition of Rome, London, 1967, p 30.

 

[25] Sallust The Jugurthine War 85 (“The Speech of Marius”). 23 (Loeb trans.)

[26] Polybius 31. 23-24 (Penguin trans.)

[27] Pliny, Natural History 35.6

[28] Lowenstein, Karl, The Governance of Rome, The Hague, 1973, Chpt 3, p 43 -“magistratus, derived from magister denoting director or supervisor”

[29] Cicero On Duties (addressed to his son) 2.44 (Loeb trans.)

[30] Livy 8.40.3-5

[31] Cicero, Brutus 62

[32] Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Hispanus (probably son of Hispallus), praetor peregrinus in 139 B.C.

The Scipionic Epitaphs (from the translation of E.H. Warmington, Remains of Old

Latin, Vol. IV, Loeb Classical Library)

 

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