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Hellenistic Monarchy and Roman Political Invective

  • Andrew Erskine (a1)

The origins of the well-known hatred for the nomen regis at Rome are in this way explained by Cicero in the De Republica, written in the late 50s b.c. Tarquinius Superbus, Rome's last king, so traumatised the Roman people that the term rex still had a potent effect almost five hundred years after his downfall. Many modern scholars would accept that the Roman hatred of kings was deep-rooted and intense, and it is often called upon to explain Roman behaviour. This approach finds clear expression in the latest edition of the Cambridge Ancient History, where one scholar in his discussion of the overthrow of Tarquinius writes: ‘Forever after the Romans hated the very idea of a king’. Yet an examination of Latin writings from the Republican period, rather than confirming this, reveals much that is at odds with this interpretation of the Roman attitude towards kings and the concept of kingship. Surprisingly, even their own kings are generally treated favourably. While there is no doubt that there was hostility to kings in the first century b.c., it is necessary to reconsider its origins and nature. I wish to argue that it was neither as long-standing nor as intense as is traditionally assumed. Its origins should be sought not in the distant obscurity of the last years of the regal period, but in Rome's encounters with the hellenistic kings of the East in the second century b.c.

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1 Cic. De Rep. 2.52, cf. 1.62, 2.47.

2 Cornell, T. J. in CAH2 vii.2 (1989), p. 262, cf. also A. Drummond in the same volume pp. 178–9, 190. Others include Cary, M. and Scullard, H. H., A History of Rome (London, 1975 3), p. 56: ‘…the odium which for many centuries to come [after 509 b.c.] attached to the very name of rex in Rome is clear proof that the monarchy ended by becoming deeply unpopular’; Ch. Wirszubski, , Libertas as a Political Idea at Rome During the Late Republic and Early Principate (Cambridge, 1950), pp. 87–8: regnum as a term of political invective ‘no doubt had its roots in the aversion to kingship that prevailed in Republican Rome ever since the expulsion of the last Tarquin’; cf. also Brunt, P. A., Social Conflicts in the Roman Republic (London, 1971), pp. 44–5. The assumption of long–standing hostility underlies Rawson, E., ‘Caesar's Heritage: Hellenistic Kings and their Roman Equals’, JRS 65 (1975), 148–59, esp. 150–1.

3 Their ambiguous attitude is discussed by Ferrary, J.-L., Philhellénisme et Impérialisme: aspects idéologiques de la conquête romaine du monde hellénistique (Rome, 1988), pp. 167–70; Grimal, P., ‘Les éléments philosophiques dans l'idée de monarchie à Rome à la fin de la République’, in Flashar, H. and Gigon, O. (ed.), Aspects de laphilosophie hellénistique, Entretiens Hardt XXXII (Geneva, 1986), pp. 233–73; Rawson, op. cit. (n. 2); Guia, M., ‘La valutazione della monarchia a Roma in età Repubblicana’, Studi Classici e Orientali 16 (1967), 308–29; Classen, J. C., ‘Die Königszeit im Spiegel der Literatur der römischen Republik’, Historia 14 (1965), 385403.

4 Cic. Ad Fam. 12.1.1 (to Cassius), 11.3.4 (from Brutus and Cassius to Antonius), Ad Brut. 1.16 (from Brutus to Cicero), Suet. Iul. 79–80.

5 Ogilvie, R. M., A Commentary on Livy, Books 1–5 (Oxford, 1965), pp. 219, 236.

6 Some held Romulus to have ended his life as tyrant (cf. D.H. A.R. 2.56), but this is probably a post-Sullan interpretation of Romulus' career and death, Classen, C. J., ‘Romulus in der römischen Republik’, Philologus 106 (1962), 174204, esp. 183–6, cf. Rawson, op. cit. (n. 2), p. 157.

7 Numa: Plut. Numa 12.4–9; Hostilius: Cic. De Rep. 2.31; Ancus: Livy 1.32, cf. , R. J., ‘War, Peace and the Ius Fetiale in Livy I’, CP 82 (1987), 233–7.

8 Discussed with examples in Classen, op. cit. (n. 3), esp. pp. 385–91.

9 On the foundation of Rome and the regal period, FGr Hist 809 F 1–12.

10 In Vahlen's edition of Ennius, Romulus: 110–13; Ancus: 149; Numa: 120–4. In Skutsch, O., The Annals of Q. Ennius (Oxford, 1985), they are lines 105–8, 137, 114–18 respectively.

11 Skutsch, op. cit. (n. 10), p. 294.

12 Cato, Orig. 1.24, ed. Chassignet, M. (Paris, 1986).

13 Earlier in the third century b.c. Greeks such as Hieronymus of Cardia and Timaeus of Tauromenion wrote on early Roman history, D.H. A.R. 1.5.4–6.1 = FGrHist 154 F 13 and FGrHist 566 T 9, but little is known of their subject matter, Hornblower, J., Hieronymus of Cardia (Oxford, 1981), pp. 138–44, Brown, T. S., Timaeus of Tauromenion (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1958), pp. 33–6. Alflödi, A., Early Rome and the Latins (Ann Arbor, 1964), pp. 171–2, suggests Greek writers were interested in the foundation of Rome, but not the history of the kings; Timaeus may not even have mentioned any kings apart from Romulus. On early Roman writers, Badian, E., ‘The Early Historians’, in Dorey, T. A. (ed.), Latin Historians (London, 1966), pp. 138, but see also Cornell, T. J., ‘The Historical Tradition of Early Rome’, in I. S. Moxon, J. D. Smart, A. J. Woodman, Past Perspectives (Cambridge, 1986), pp. 6786.

14 As Ogilvie, op. cit. (n. 5), pp. 19–20 and passim, cf. Cornell, op. cit. (n. 13), pp. 83–4.

15 On the nature of oral tradition, see in particular Goody, J. and Watt, I., ‘The Consequences of Literacy’, Comparative Studies in Society and History 5 (1963), 304–45 (= Goody, J., ed., Literacy in Traditional Societies (Cambridge, 1968), pp. 2769), Ong, W. J., Orality and Literacy (London, 1982), esp. pp. 3177. Thomas, R., Oral Tradition and Written Record in Classical Athens (Cambridge, 1989) has examined oral tradition in Athenian history but there is a lack of any such study in the case of Roman history.

16 De Sanctis, G., Storia dei Romani, i (Turin, 1907), pp. 399400.

17 Ogilvie, op. cit. (n. 5), pp. 194–6.

18 Cassius Hemina, Peter HRR 2 F 15. Possibly the assimulation is not properly effected until the archaeologia in Polybius book 6, cf. Derow, P. S., ‘Polybius’, in Luce, T. J. (ed.), Ancient Writers: Greece and Rome (New York, 1982), pp. 534–6, Walbank, F. W., Polybius (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1972), pp. 147–9.

19 It was then that Accius' Brutus (Ribbeck, , TRF 3 pp. 328–31) was written and probably at the same time Brutus' statue was added to those on the Capitol, so argues Weinstock, S., Divus Julius (Oxford, 1971), pp. 145–7. The anti–tyranny theme in Accius' writing may have been influenced by the fact that his patron was D. Iunius Brutus Callaicus (cos. 138, PW 57), opponent of those latterday tyrants, the Gracchi, on which see Bilinski, B., Accio ed i Gracchi (Rome, 1958). For comparison between L. Iunius Brutus and the Greek tyrannicides, Harmodius and Aristogeiton, Pliny, HN 34.17.

20 It could be objected that this argument does not take into account the way in which the institutions of the Roman republic are believed to have been built around the avoidance of concentration of power. Yet such an objection would be dangerously circular. Any constitution which is not a monarchy has to have some form of division of power. But in the case of Rome it is suggested that there was not only a division of power but something more positive, a deliberate avoidance of concentration of power. In order to justify this assumption Rome's hostility to kings is invoked, as most recently Drummond, A., CAH 2 vii.2. 172212, esp. 179–90. Consequently the view that Rome hated kings can hardly be supported by an argument that is itself only an inference from this very premise, i.e. that Rome hated kings. If my denial of an early anti-monarchical tradition seems to raise new difficulties, then that is precisely the point of it. They need to be addressed but they are beyond the scope of this paper.

21 On Plautus' use of rex, see Fraenkel, E., Elementi Plautini in Plauto (Florence, 1960), pp. 178–87, in the earlier German, edition, Plautinisches im Plautus (Berlin, 1922), pp. 188–97, cf. Classen, op. cit. (n. 3), pp. 391–2.

22 Hellegouarc'h, J., Le vocabulaire latin des relations et partis politiques sous la République (Paris, 1963), pp. 560–1.

23 In addition to the examples cited below, see also Cic. Vat. 19, Sul. 48, Mil. 43, 72, Cat. 2.19, Clu. 123.

24 Ver. ii.3.71, 76–7, 4.122, cf. also 3.200 on regna of Apronius and temple slaves, and 5.175 on the regia dominatio of the Sullan aristocracy over the lawcourts.

25 See esp. De Leg. Ag. 2.32–5, cf. also 1.24, 2.8, 15, 20, 24, 32, 33, 43, 57, 75, 93.

26 For instance, Caesar: Phil. 2.34–5, 80, 87, 3.12; Antonius: 2.34–5, 3.9–11, 5.17; use in treatises: De Off. 3.83; letters: see below.

27 Cic. Ad. Att. 2.12.1, 13.2 on the first triumvirate and a line from Lucilius is quoted twice, Ad Att. 2.8.1, 6.3.7.

28 E.g. rex: Ad Att. 10.7.1, Ad Fam. 11.8.1; regnum: Ad Att. 10.8.2, Ad Fam. 11.5.1; regius: Ad Fam. 12.1.1, 6.19.2; regnare: Ad Att. 9.10.7, 10.7.1.

29 Cic. De Rep. 2.49, Dom. 101, Phil. 87, 114, Mil. 72, Livy 2.41–2, 4.12–16, 6.14–20.

30 Cf. Ogilvie, op. cit. (n. 5), pp. 337–45, 551, Gabba, E., ‘Studi su Dionigi d'Alicarnasso III: La proposta di legge agraria di Spurio Cassio’, Athenaeum 42 (1964), 2941, Lintott, A. W., ‘The Tradition of Violence in the Annals of the Early Roman Republic’, Historia 19 (1970), 1224.

31 Wirszubski, op. cit. (n. 2), p. 5.

32 Cic. Laelius 41, Sall. Iug. 42.1. An almost complete opposite of Sallust is found in Cic. Brut. 212, where it is said that Scipio Nasica ‘ex dominatu Ti. Gracchi privatus in libertatem republicam vindicavit’, a contrast pointed out by Guia, op. cit. (n. 3), p. 329.

33 All three were called Q. Marcius Rex, RE 90, 91, 92, Broughton MRR ii.589; the name did not go unnoticed, cf. Ad Att. 1.16.10.

34 Ennius, , Ann. 194201 (Vahlen), 183–90 (Skutsch).

35 Polyb. 29.4.9, Livy 44.24.1–6; Walbank, F. W., A Historical Commentary on Polybius, iii (Oxford, 1979), p. 365, argues that this passage of Livy is based on Polybius, but Walbank allows that Polybius may have been elaborated. Fundamental to the passage is the opposition between the free state and monarchy, which is very likely to have been in Polybius; for a similar theme, Polyb. 21.22.8, 36.17.13, both quoted below, also 36.9.9–11.

36 Livy 42.52.16, for similar sentiments, cf. Jugurtha in Sallust, Iug. 81.1, Mithridates in Sall. Hist. 4.69 and Justin 38.7, Demetrius of Illyria in Justin 29.2.1.

37 Gruen, E., The Hellenistic World and the Coming of Rome (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1984), pp. 132–57.

38 For a discussion of monarchy and Roman propaganda, Ferrary, op. cit. (n. 3), pp. 158–70.

39 Polyb. 36.17.13, Walbank, op. cit. (n. 35), pp. 681–2.

40 Livy 45.17.6–18.2, annalistic source according to Walbank, op. cit. (n. 35), p. 681.

41 Wariness on the part of Greeks in their dealings with kings, even those kings favoured by Rome, can be seen in SIG 3 630, esp. lines 7–10, a decree of the pro-Roman Amphictyonic council in honour of Eumenes II in 182.

42 Ennius, , Scenica 404–5 (Vahlen) = 320 (Jocelyn); a familiar theme in Greek writers, cf. Dem. Ol. 1.5, 2.5–10. Polyb. 36.9.9–11.

43 Polyb. 30.19, supposedly this visit by Eumenes was different from the one which brought about Cato's comment, but it might not be; the context given by Plutarch for the remark could have been developed to accommodate it.

44 Cf. De Sanctis, loc. cit. (n. 16).

45 Rawson, op. cit. (n. 2), esp. pp. 152–6, on Roman regal aspirations.

46 Petrochilos, N., Roman Altitudes to the Greeks (Athens, 1974).

47 Ibid., p. 76.

48 Sall. Iug. 31.6, Cic. Laelius 41, Plut. TG 3, cf. 19.3. A similar phrase, ‘regnum petunt’, occurs in a rather obscure fragment of Ennius, , Ann. 268–74 (Vahlen), 247–53 (Skutsch), from the first half of the second century b.c., but its poetic use there is unconnected with the later political invective, see the interpretation of Skutsch, op. cit. (n. 10), pp. 429–37.

49 Classen, op. cit. (n. 3), p. 393.

50 ‘Nemo hoc rex ausus est facere’, ORF 3 Cato F 58, Astin, A. E., Cato the Censor (Oxford, 1978), pp. 59, 326–8.

51 Petrochilos, op. cit. (n. 46), pp. 166–71, Astin, op. cit. (n. 50), pp. 157–81, Cato's hostility was not indiscriminate.

52 Latin of course does have the word tyrannus but as this is simply τραννος latinised it only serves to emphasise the inadequacy of Latin in this area. Early examples of its use include Ennius, , Ann. 109 (Vahlen), 104 (Skutsch), of Tatius, and Pacuvius in Ribbeck, TRF 3, p. 108.

53 I am grateful to Peter Derow, Theresa Urbainczyk and the CQ Editors together with their anonymous referee for help and comments. This article was written with the help of a University of Wales Fellowship at University College Swansea.

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