Who has the right to rule Rome? Who should have the right? In this episode, we tackle one of the major developments of the so-called 'Conflict of the Orders' as the plebs push for new laws that would give them greater political power. The archaeology confirms that the mid-fifth century was tough for Rome, so the political unrest may be reflecting this difficult time.

Episode 122 - The Right to Rule Rome

Rome Gets Greedy

In our last episode on the year 446 BCE, Rome was kicking some serious butt. The Aequians and Volscians could not sit down for WEEKS! Sadly, these military victories were undermined by a foolish call by the Roman people. The cities of Aricia and Ardea had been engaged in a dispute over boundaries and appealed to Rome to settle their differences. The Romans got a bit greedy and decided that they had the rightful claim to this land, leaving neither city satisfied.

Their land-lust would come back to haunt them in 445 BCE when revolt brakes out in Ardea. Oh, and did we mention that the Veientes, the Aequians and the Volscians were also attacking Roman territory? With the enemies at every gate, the Romans needed to present a strong, united front and march out to deal with these tiresome foes immediately. At least, that’s what the consuls and patricians want. The plebs have other ideas.

The Tribunes Strike Back

Livy and Dionysius provide different accounts of how the internal politics of 445 played out, but there were seemingly two major sticking points for the plebs and Caius Canuleius before they were willing to let the levy go ahead. Firstly, they wanted the very unpopular law that forbid intermarriage between the patricians and the plebeians overturned. This law was allegedly the brainchild of the second decemvirate, so thanks again Appius Claudius. Secondly, the plebeians wanted a share in the consulship. There were two consuls, so why not have one patrician and one plebeian?

Often in ancient Rome, our depictions of married couples come from funerary monuments. This is a funerary monument of Gaius Volumnius and his wife (name potentially lost based on the remains)Italy, c. 1-50 CE (so much later than our period as well!). Now in the Altes Museum. Photo by Anagoria via Wikimedia Commons

The patricians are HORRIFIED by both suggestions. Intermarriage would pollute the patrician bloodlines and also have dangerous implications for the auspices (reading bird behaviour to interpret the will of the gods). It would also lead to children who belonged to neither the patricians or the plebeians, and yet was somehow both. As for the consulship, it would clearly be a disaster to hand over such power to the plebs. Look at Icilius, or Canuleius himself – troublemakers, the lot of them!

The 'Conflict of the Orders' Enters a New Phase

This is one of the most confusing developments yet in the so-called 'Conflict of the Orders', especially as we can't be sure exactly who the patricians and plebeians really were or when these groups developed! It can be hard to tell when our sources are projecting their own first century BCE understandings back into the early Republic.

With the tribunes and the consuls swearing that they would rather DIE than give in, 445 BCE is shaping up to be a very conflicted year for the Romans….

Our Players

Consuls 446 BCE

* T. Quinctius L. f. L. n.

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