January 25, 2007

Rome vs Latium

As Fergus Millar's recent work, reviewed on this blog, demonstrates, the construction of the Roman Republic in many ways conditioned the way that we think about constitutional forms today- its uncontraversial for example to argue that the legal codes of European countries today are heavily influenced by Justinian and Theodosius's Digests of Roman Law. One of the most interesting facets though of Roman history is how little we know- the great figures of the Roman past we see through the eyes of historians who wrote centuries after the events that they describe. The first great historian of Rome, Polybius, lived in the mid second century BC by which time Rome had annexed most of Spain, most of Tunisia, Morrocco, Algeria, all of Italy and was establishing a foothold in Aegean, becoming a major power in the Hellenistic world. Its interesting therefore to look back to early periods in Roman history and try and work out what exactly was going on.

R.S. Howarth's new book on Roman citizenship and what historians have traditionally seen in the early republic as a conflict of classes is therefore timely and interesting. Howarth basically beleives that the conflict we think of as a class conflict between senators and plebs was actually a conflict between the Roman plebiean masses and the Latin aristocracy, a conflict between federal aristocracy and an urban demos. His argument as his reviewer, Thomas C. Rust, points out in this review has its flaws but equally is both interesting and provocative. The review is worth reading and is here. Rust points to some interesting problems in what Howarth says and it does seem to me that his use of evidence has been flexible. The truth is that despite our best imaginative work its very hard to grasp what went on in Early Roman history.

Which means of course it becomes very difficult to say what Roman law, the foundation for our legal and political system, was originally and from where such ideas as the corporation derived.


james higham said...

I've jsut read the review and would like to know where Big Juli fits in with the local government idea.

Gracchi said...

Firstly great to see you back in full commenting splendour old fellow- hope this means that the problem was only temporary.

Yeah old JC- I think he is a later figure than the period with which the article deals- having said that he was reputedly the inheritor of the pleb mantle. He came after the socalled social wars which were about the extension of citizenship to the Italian masses. There's a beggining fo an answer.

edmund said...

there's a lot of dispute abotu the causes of the social war-there's a good case they were fighting for independence not citizenship...

Would be intested to hear more about Romans and the Corporation-know nothing about it.

CityUnslicker said...

You raise good points. Study of earlier historical periods can always show us the difficulty of justifying our current consenssu.

This is a big argument agaist Wikipedia too.

Also if you apply this line of questioning to the bible and koran it can bring up some interesting answers.