Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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In foro solitudo: Roman Elections and the Time of Cinna

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posted on 2021-11-23, 00:01 authored by Smith, Timothy

The aim of this thesis is to provide a constitutional history of the mysterious years in the 80s B.C. when L. Cornelius Cinna was re-elected to the consulship on four consecutive occasions. Further irregularities abounded in this period, raising the question of how Rome’s annual elections were conducted in this period. A large amount of the surviving literature is either biased or uninformed on such matters. As a direct result, few have attempted to interpret the role of Rome’s comitia, its voting assemblies, in this period in any sufficient detail. This survey aims to fill this lacuna.  From close inspection of the scattered evidence, it may be argued that Rome’s comitia did indeed play a role in the so-called Cinnae dominatio, despite the hoarding of high magistracy by just a handful of individuals. There were laws designed to prevent this domination: men were theoretically allowed to hold the consulship once (at least within a ten-year period); continuatio was forbidden. This study sets out to investigate how Cinna’s continuatio came to be tolerated. Some scholars have attempted to explain away this irregularity as a simple product of the turbulent times. After all, electoral irregularities did indeed increase in frequency during times of existential crisis. But Cinna’s elections do not adequately harmonize with any precedent in Rome’s history.  This study begins with a survey of the Roman constitution in the years leading up to the Cinnae dominatio. The years 91 to 87 were marred by almost continuous warfare in Italy and abroad. However, despite attempts at attaining the consulship by a couple of theoretically ineligible candidates, Rome’s electoral restrictions remained robustly in place. All of this changed in late 87 when Cinna marched on Rome with a large army: many political opponents were murdered or exiled; Cinna assumed the consulship soon after. The process by which he became consul has been the subject of great controversy. Although it would seem that comitia were called, the process was irregular. These irregularities would continue even after Cinna died in 84, coming to an end in the years following Sulla’s restoration of the traditional republic after 81.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Master of Arts

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies


Tatum, W. Jeffrey