The Tribunate and public opinion in the Roman public sphere, c. 70-49 BC

Salisbury, Ben (2022). The Tribunate and public opinion in the Roman public sphere, c. 70-49 BC. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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Over the last four decades, scholarly interest has grown in topics relating to the democratic nature of Rome’s government in the late Republic (c. 133-49 BC), the relationships between Rome’s governing elite and the city’s inhabitants, the importance of space and movement to the functioning of politics and daily life at Rome, and the plebeian tribunate. Most recently, attention has turned to investigations of public opinion in Rome and to reassessments of the agency enjoyed by Rome’s populace within Rome’s political processes. This thesis advances the debate regarding the democratic nature of late Republican politics and the balance of power between Rome’s inhabitants and governing elite by analysing the communication between the tribunes of the plebs and the population in Rome, in order to improve our understanding of the Roman public sphere and public opinion at Rome in the years c. 70-49 BC.

The thesis’ main objective is achieved through the realisation of four sub-objectives, which correspond to the thesis’ four chapters. Chapter 1 offers a new methodological framework for defining a Roman public sphere, by determining the limitations inflicted on communication within the city of Rome and thus the nature and quality of Rome’s public sphere in the late Republic. Chapter 2 proposes a “Language of Public Opinion” – a collection of related words and phrases used by Rome’s governing elite and inhabitants in order to describe and understand the constituent components of what we know today as public opinion. Chapter 3 situates tribunes of the plebs within Rome’s public sphere in order to understand their role within it and the extent to which these men could participate in communication in Rome. Finally, Chapter 4 identifies the key characteristics of the discursive processes that occurred between tribunes of the plebs and Rome’s inhabitants. Focussed on three case studies, Chapter 4 shows that factors such as continual assessments of public opinion, real-time decision making, and knowledge of the parameters of Rome’s public sphere were vital to and characteristic of the communication between Rome’s politicians and inhabitants.

Ultimately, this thesis contends that tribunes of the plebs were paramount to the functioning of public opinion and to the character of Rome’s public sphere during the period c. 70-49 BC and that the discursive processes between Rome’s inhabitants and governing elite were dynamic and complex, and thus much more than simply ritualistic or symbolic.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of History and Cultures, Department of Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology (CAHA)
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D051 Ancient History
D History General and Old World > DE The Mediterranean Region. The Greco-Roman World
J Political Science > JF Political institutions (General)


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