The Ancient Library

Scanned text contains errors.


period of Roman history before the consulship was opened to the Plebeians ; and it is possible that the Patricians may have had the use of Imagines, which those Plebeians afterwards adopted, when the curule magistracies were opened to them. The Patricians carried back their pedigrees (stem-mata) to the remotest historical period and even beyond it. (Tacit. Ann. iv. 9.) It seems probable that the Roman Nobilitas, in the strict sense of that term, and the Jus Imaginum, originated with the admission of the Plebeians to the consulship b.c. 366. The practice of having Imagines, as alieady observed, may have existed and probably did exist before the notion of the Jus Imaginum was established. Indeed, as the object of the Patricians, who were all of equal rank so far as respected their class, would be to attach to them­selves such Plebeians as were elected to Curule magistracies, it seems conformable to the nature of the thing that the family of such plebeians should be allowed or invited to adopt some existing dis­tinction which should separate them from the body to which they properly belonged. Usage would soon give to such a practice the notion of legality; and thus the Jus Imaginum would be established, as many Roman institutions were, by some general conviction of utility or upon some prevailing notion, and it would be perpetuated by custom.

A plebeian who first attained a Curule office was the founder of his family's Nobilitas (princeps nobilitatis ; auctor generis). Such a person could have no imagines of his ancestors ; and he could have none of his own, for such imagines of a man were not made till after he was dead. (Polyb. vi. 53.) Such a person then was not nobilis in the full sense of the term, nor yet was he ignobilis. He was called by the Romans a " novus homo " or a new man; and his status -or condition was called Novitas. (Sail. Jug. 85 ; the speech which is put in the mouth of C. Marius.) The term novus homo was never applied to a Patrician. The first novus homo of Rome was the first Plebeian Consul, L. Sextius ; and the two most distinguished " novi homines " were C. Marius and and M. Tullius Cicero, both natives of an Italian municipium.

The Patricians would ojf course be jealous of the new nobility; but this new nobility once formed would easily unite with the old aristocracy of Rome to keep the political power in their hands, and to prevent more novi homines from polluting this exclusive class. (Sail. Jug. 63.) As early as the second Punic war this new class, compounded of Patricians or original aristocrats, and Nobiles or newly-engrafted aristocrats, was able to exclude novi homines from the consulship. (Liv. xxii. 34.) They maintained this power to the end of the republican period, and the consulship continued almost in the exclusive possession of the Nobilitas. The testimony of Cicero, himself a novus homo, on this point is full and distinct.

The mode in which the Nobilitas continued to keep possession of the great offices in the state, is neither difficult to conjecture, nor to establish by evidence ; but the inquiry does not belong to this place.

; As to the persons who would be included in the stemma of a noble family, it appears that all the ascendants of a man up to the ancestor who first attained a curule office would be comprehended, and of course all the intermediate "ancestors who


had attained a like distinction. The kinsfolks on the mother's side were also included, so that a stemma would contain both Agnati and Cognati. Adoption would also increase the number of per­sons who would be comprised within a stemma ; and if Affines were occasionally included, as they appear to have been, the stemma would become an enormous pedigree.

The word Optimates, as explained by Cicero (pro Sest. 45) is opposed to Populares: he de­scribes the Optimates to be all those " qui ncque nocentes sunt nee natura improbi nee furiosi nee malis domesticis impediti." This is no political definition: it is nothing more than such a name as Conservative or any other like name. The use of it in Livius (iii. 39) shows how he understood it; but Livius is blameable for using the term with reference to those early times. Velleius (ii. 3) describes the Optimates, as the Senatus, the better and larger part of the equestris ordo, and such part of the Plebs as were unaffected by pernicious coun­sels : all these joined in the attack on Gracchus. This opens our eyes to the real meaning of Opti­mates : they were the Nobilitas and the chief part of the Equites, a rich middle class, and also all others whose support the Nobilitas and Equites could command, in fact all who were opposed to change that might affect the power of the Nobilitas and the interests of those whom the Nobilitas allied with themselves. Optimates in this sense are opposed to Plebs, to the mass of the people ; and Optimates is a wider term than Nobilitas, inasmuch as it would comprehend the Nobilitas and all who adhered to them.

The term Populares is vague. It could be used to signify the opponents of the Nobilitas, whether the motives of these opponents were pure and honest, or whether the motives were self-aggran­dizement through popular favour. Of Caesar, who sought to gain the popular favour, it was truly said, that it was not so much what he gave to the people which made him formidable, as what he would expect to get from them in return. A Popularis might be of the class of the Nobilitas, and very often was. He might even be a Patrician like Caesar: his object might be either to humble the nobles, or to promote the interest of the people, or to promote his own ; or he might have all the objects, as Caesar had.

The. Nobilitas is discussed by Becker, Hand-buck der Romischen Altertkiimer., ii. IsteAbth. ; and there is probably little to add to what he has said, and little to correct in it. There are also some re­marks on the Roman Nobiles in Zachariae, Sulla (i. 5). He observes of Sulla that though his family was Patrician, he could hardly be considered as belonging to the Nobiles in the strict sense, as the term Nobilitas implied that some one of a man's ancestors had filled a curule magistracy, and it also implied the possession of wealth. But this is a confused view of the matter. Sulla's an­cestors had filled curule magistracies ; and though his family was poor, it was still Nobilis. A Nobilis, though poor, as Sulla was, was still No­bilis. Want of wealth might deprive a man of influence, but not of the Jus Imaginum. If there was any Patrician whose ancestors had never filled a curule magistracy, he would not be Nobilis in the strict sense. But when the Nobilitas had been formed into a powerful body, which was long be­fore the reforms of the Gracchi, the distinction of

About | First | English Index | Classified Index | Latin Index | Greek Index



page #  
Search this site
All non-public domain material, including introductions, markup, and OCR © 2005 Tim Spalding.
Ancient Library was developed and hosted by Tim Spalding of