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The Laws of the Roman People

Public Law in the Expansion and Decline of the Roman Republic

Callie Williamson

Publication Year: 2005

For hundreds of years, the Roman people produced laws in popular assemblies attended by tens of thousands of voters to publicly forge resolutions to issues that might otherwise have been unmanageable. Callie Williamson's comprehensive new study finds that the key to Rome's survival and growth during the most formative period of empire, roughly 350 to 44 B.C.E., lies in its hitherto enigmatic public lawmaking assemblies which helped extend Roman influence and control. The author bases her rigorous and innovative work on the entire body of surviving laws preserved in ancient reports of proposed and enacted legislation from these public assemblies. Callie Williamson holds a Ph.D. in Roman history from the University of London and is practicing law in North Carolina.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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pp. xxi-xxii

List of Tables

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pp. xxiii-xxiv

List of Maps

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p. xxv-xxv


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pp. xxvii-xxviii

Part One: Patterns and Process

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1. Public Law in Rome

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pp. 3-61

In 81, at the conclusion of a bloody civil war, the Roman people approved a bill sponsored by L. Valerius Flaccus, as interrex, making L. Cornelius Sulla “Dictator for Writing the Laws and Restoring the State” (dictator legibus scribendis et rei publicae constituendae).1 Sulla’s first act as dictator was an innovation....

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2. Presentation: Oratory and Law Drafts

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pp. 62-99

In January of 63, M. Tullius Cicero seized the opportunity of his inaugural speech as consul, a formal occasion shared with other newly elected officials, to denounce a recent land bill sponsored by the tribune P. Servilius Rullus and his colleagues. Over the next few weeks three more public speeches followed, two later published among the triad called De Lege Agraria, in which...

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3. Legitimization: Participants and Procedures

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pp. 100-128

PICTURE A RESOLUTE P. Servilius Rullus in the spring of 63, unmoved by Cicero’s persuasive eloquence some weeks earlier and primed to take his bill to the Roman people. The tribune’s call to assemble on the scheduled day would set in motion a rush of complicated maneuvers intended to satisfy a range of practical, as well as procedural and ceremonial, requirements.1 Baskets...

Part Two: The Expansion of Rome

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4. The Conquest of Italy

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pp. 131-190

Our findings in part 1 raise a number of questions central to any examination of the importance of lawmaking assemblies in Roman history. How do we explain the persistence of such events over the most unsettled centuries of growth in Roman history? What role did public lawmaking assemblies play in making this expansion possible? How did ever increasing numbers of new...

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5. Incorporation: Citizenship and Military Service

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pp. 191-238

Among the most implacable of the Italian allies facing Rome during the Italian War of 91–89 were the Lucani, a federation of Oscan-speaking tribal peoples inhabiting south Italy. Refusing to accept Roman citizenship or peace following the decision of the Roman people to incorporate all inhabitants of Italy into the Roman state, the Lucani like their Samnite kin instead remained in a state of war with Rome, insisting on the restitution of traditional lands. The determination...

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6. Convergence: The City of Rome

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pp. 239-282

Toward the end of the civil war of the 80s, a tribune revealed the secret name of Rome. Soon thereafter the tribune died, to the satisfaction of his contemporaries, expiating his transgression with death. The episode draws attention to the importance of the many unspoken associations and attachments that Rome held for her people. This sometimes mystical respect for Rome probably explains much of the power and functioning of the Romans’ most fundamental...

Part Three: The Decline of the Republic

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7. A Roman Balance

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pp. 285-323

A selection of extant enumerations of Roman males carried out by the Roman censors highlights the principal outcome of incorporating new citizens into the Roman state during the third through first centuries. In 204, 214,000 men were counted; in 154, 324,000 men; and in 115, 394,336 men. The number then increased to 910,000 in the enumeration of 70, following the grant of citizenship to all Italians twenty years before, and almost astronomically to...

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8. Crisis and Restoration, 91–70

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pp. 324-366

Rome had faced a grave crisis in Italy during the Second Punic War, but the Italian War fought between 91 and 89 was far more calamitous. In the only war of record the Romans faced a genuine manpower shortage; two consuls in consecutive years were killed in battle; and for the duration senators in Rome laid aside their togas to wear military dress instead. Roman and Italian armies collided...

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9. The Demise of Public Law, 69–44

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pp. 367-414

Before the start of an ill-fated assembly in 47, during the turbulent civil war years at the end of the Roman Republic, the “master of the horse” (magister equitum), M. Antonius, ordered his soldiers into the Forum to tear down the notice boards advertising a proposal to remit all debts and rents promulgated three weeks earlier by the tribune P. Cornelius Dolabella.1 The removal of the boards precipitated a bloody confrontation between the soldiers and the...

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pp. 415-434

From 350 to 44, hundreds of public lawmaking assemblies—whether dealing with issues urgently important or to modern observers seemingly unimportant, communitywide in scope or narrowly focused on an individual or group—were held in Rome on an apparently infrequent and irregular basis. Culminating a process that was at all times cumbersome and time-consuming, from our twentieth- century perspective, that invariably demanded from its participants knowledge...

Appendix A: Assembling and Processing Evidence

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pp. 435-444

Appendix B: Representativeness of Compilation

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pp. 445-450

Appendix C: List of Reliable Laws and Proposals by Year, Latin Name, and Subject, 350–25 BCE

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pp. 451-473

Cited Works and Select Bibliography

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pp. 475-493


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pp. 495-506

E-ISBN-13: 9780472025428
E-ISBN-10: 0472025422
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472110537
Print-ISBN-10: 0472110535

Page Count: 534
Illustrations: 40 tables, 4 maps
Publication Year: 2005