Marius Speaks to the People: "New Man", Roman Nobility and Roman Political Culture

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Alexander Yakobson


The paper examines a specimen of aggressive populist rhetoric produced by Sallust in Bellum Jugurthinum: Marius as consul 107 BCE addressing the people in a contio on the eve of his departure to Africa. He is said to have spoken in order ʻto encourage men to enlist and at the same time, according to his custom [at that time], to bait the nobility (Sall. Jug. 84.5). How could the Roman nobility be successfully baited by a homo novus like Marius in a speech before the people, whose usual attitude to nobility is usually assumed to have been deferential? The system’s legitimacy and stability is often assumed to have rested on this deference, as a crucial element of a political culture that emphasized tradition, order and hierarchy. The passage shows how it was, nevertheless, sometimes possible to launch an effective attack on the nobility within the same political culture, using notions and motifs that enjoyed wide and traditional legitimacy. There was more to the Republican political culture than deference to hierarchy, and this deference itself was a double-edged sword when the nobility was baited by an elected official – all the more so, by a Roman consul.

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