Degree Granting Department
William M. Murray, Ph.D.
Rome, Politics, Constitution, Elections, Augustus
Escalating abuse of elections was a hallmark of the collapse of the Republic that governed at Rome for nearly 500 years before it was swept away and replaced by emperors and Empire. The causes of the Republic's fall are well-explored, but electoral abuse was one of the agencies by which it was brought low - a "how" that helps explain the "why." The abuse of regular electoral form, practiced by all parties, inured the Romans to further and ever-widening abuse. In the end their elections - and the Republic - lost both meaning and independence. This is a controversial claim that falls within the modern debate over the significance of the late-Republican turmoil and just how "democratic" the system was at all. A review of the primary source accounts shows a pattern of abuse that clearly accelerated over the final century, until the turning-point of the 60s and 50s B.C., a morass of elections delayed, canceled, marred by violence, ruined by bribery or prearranged by bargain.
We can categorize these abuses and examine their effect on societal attitudes and subsequent practice. After 50 B.C. control of the state passed to Caesar and then the second triumvirs, who used these precedents to do as they pleased. In the end Augustus "restored" the Republic by restoring its old forms - with an unspoken different meaning. It was no coincidence that Augustus paid showy respect to the Republican voting assemblies, the voting-places and the annual election rituals. The escalating abuse of elections inculcated in the Romans the idea that their constitution and the rule of law had no intrinsic value by themselves, but existed only as tools in the service of power and desired goals. With the rule of law battered into submission, the Republic all the more easily succumbed to the rule of men. The fall was brought about not by external armies or revolution, but by the Romans' own tacit agreement that their rules could be bent and broken as needed.
For the Romans, at least, the argument that "the ends justify the means" proved to be the antithesis and the undoing of constitutional government.
Scholar Commons Citation
Troxler, Howard, "Electoral abuse in the late Roman Republic" (2008). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.