How to Run for Office in Ancient Rome? DOCUMENTARY

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Shared October 10, 2020

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With the 2020 election just around the corner in the US we figured it would be a good chance to reflect on what things were like in the past. In this history documentary we examine the process by which ancient Roman politicians ran their election campaigns. The video begins with a discussion of the government of the Roman Republic and its main offices. Next we cover what it took for someone to launch their election campaign. The requirements started with being a male Roman citizen and having at least 10 years of service in the Roman Army, often as a military tribune.

Once these basic requirements were met, a Roman could enter the Cursus Honorum. This was the ancient political career path in the Roman Republic with minimum requirements for eligibility and time between terms. When a politician wanted to run for office they would launch the campaign by raising financial and political support before officially registering with election officials. At this point they would then don the toga candida and become a true candidate.

Just as today, these Roman candidates would then give speeches at rallies, attend public meetings, send out surrogates to spread the word and run ads. We spend some time covering each of these with a particular focus on the political campaign ads known as programatta. In these efforts we talk about what sorts of messaging would appeal to voters and how one might gain support before the people. Often this meant winning military victories with the Roman army and celebrating a triumph but that wasn't the only way.

Finally we conclude the video with an example of how the famous Gaius Marius ran his political campaign for the role of Consul. We stop short of discussing the actual voting process but you can check that out in our other video here:

Bibliography and Suggested Reading
Elections and Electioneering in Rome: A Study in the Political System of the Late Republic, by Franz Steiner and Verlag Stuttgart, 1999.
Roman Elections in the Age of Cicero: Society, Government, and Voting, by Rachel Feig Vishnia, 2012.
"Women and Elections in Pompeii" by Liisa Savunen, 1997.
Roman Pompeii: Space and Society, by Ray Laurence, 2007.
"La Propaganda Elettorale a Pompei: La Funzione e il Valore dei Programmata Nell'organizzazione della Campagna," by Raffaella Biundo, 2003.
Roman Voting Assemblies from the Hannibalic War to the Dictatorship of Caesar, Taylor 1966
"Electoral Campaigning in Pompeii: a Reconsideration" Mouritsen, 1999.