A. Lintott (Oxford), Violence in the Conflict of the Orders

There are two fundamental problems in relation to the violence of the early Roman Republic – first and foremost inevitably, the reliability of the sources, secondly, in the light of the aspects of the tradition that we choose to privilege, the importance of this violence for the evolution of Roman society. In my discussion today I will concentrate on the first problem, but I hope that this will support my conclusion, that is, that the violence of the Conflict of the Orders should still be treated as influential not only for the development of the Roman constitution but also for the political ideas both of the aristocracy and the plebs.
Although the principal sources belong to the Augustan era, they contain fragments of republican authors and find further confirmation in the speeches of the late Republic. Nevertheless, these latter texts do not guarantee the truth of the material in Livy and in Dionysius of Halicarnassus inasmuch as the speeches were obviously politically tendentious and the historical accounts were the subject of a process of ornatio. The plebeian violence of the early Republic, especially the plebeian secessions, was an important element of popular rhetoric in the late Republic. Similarly, the resistance of the patricians and their partisans contributed to the rhetoric of the optimates in the late Republic. That can be clearly seen in the stories of the three demagogic ‘tyrants’ and of the young nobles. Elements in these accounts go back to the earliest annalists, fitting neatly into a tradition, according to which the early Republic would have been destroyed by stasis if it had not been threatened by foreign enemies. One cannot exclude, theoretically, that this tradition was a fiction of enormous and almost heroic proportions created by the earliest annalists. However, without the Conflict of the Orders it is difficult to explain the peculiarity of the Roman constitution. If we wish to maintain, like Livy and Dionysius, that the Conflict existed but was not violent, we should remember how Cicero, writing from an optimate point of view in De Re Publica, sought to minimise the violence in the Conflict as a malum exemplum, while in pro Cornelio he had spoken to the opposite effect.