The formation of the comitia centuriata is attributed to the sixth king of Rome Servius Tullius. The original purpose of the assembly is a matter for another time but it was either military in nature and then became political or vice versa; though Last (1945:47) concludes that it was the former. The assembly described by Livy (History of Rome 1.43) and Dionysius of Halicarnassus (Roman Antiquities 4.16-18) is a class based system that divided the population into five groups. The armour and weapons each group were supposedly required to wear is consistent with that of a hoplite; though only the first class were required to have all the hoplite panoply. This suggests that there is a link between the comitia centuriata attributed to Servius and the introduction of hoplite warfare.
The details provided by Livy and Dionysius are complex in nature. It is generally observed that the system described is a much later version than what originally existed (Cornell, 1995:180, Last 1945:43 and Forsythe 2007:29). This assessment seems reasonable as complex political systems invariably evolve over time. Therefore, it is necessary to consider in what form the comitia centuriata took when it was founded. Aulus Gellius (Attic Nights 6.13) provides evidence that there originally existed a system formed of those of a single class (classis) and those who fell below the class (infra classem). Forsythe (2007:32) argues that Gellius’ account demonstrates the original class distinction whereby there were those who could afford to arm themselves and those who could not. On the other hand, Last (1945:44) suggests that Gellius’ work could be interpreted to indicate that a division of five classes existed but only the first class was considered classis and the others were grouped together as being infra classem. I believe that Last’s interpretation is questionable and instead agree with the view of Botsford referred to by Cornell (1995:184) that classis defined those citizens who could afford the weapons and armour of heavy infantry and fought as hoplites. Further to this I would propose that Gellius’ reference to the five class system was likely a means of drawing contemporary comparison with the system that had originally existed.
The discovery of hoplite panoply dating to c. 530 BC in Vulci and in the warrior graves in the Tyrrhenian lowlands dating to c.625 BC, suggest it is likely that hoplite warfare was introduced into Rome in the sixth century BC (Forsythe, 2007:28 and Cornell 1995:184). This dates to the period during which Servius Tullius is attested to have ruled as king in Rome. Forsythe (2007:27) observes that a state using hoplite warfare needed to develop a system of organising its citizens. The Servian reforms brought in during the sixth century BC provided such a system. However, I would argue that initially it would have been the more basic two tier system described by Gellius. This basic reform would have enabled a shift in Roman policy to ensure that all men could be easily registered for military service. Furthermore, the two tier split would have enabled the men who were physically fit and economically able to afford the equipment for heavy infantry, to be distinguished from those who were only able to serve in the light infantry (Cornell, 1995:183).
The comitia centuriata began its development in the sixth century BC but this was not in the form recorded by Livy and Dionysius. I would propose that it is likely later annalists attributed the final form of the comitia centuriata to Servius Tullius as they did not have an account of its original form in the sixth century. I believe that this Servian reform is directly connected with the emergence of hoplite warfare, as the assessment of citizen’s wealth enabled Rome to organise and recruit a larger effective heavy infantry of hoplites and lighter auxiliaries. This has been a consideration of one small area of Servian reform as it cannot be justly treated within a single blog post; for example why did this system evolve into the five classes when there seems to be no military reason? The bibliography provides some relevant articles which explore this and other areas in greater detail.
Livy, History of Rome Translated by Rev. C. Roberts, New York: E. P. Dutton and Co. 1912. Perseus Digital Library http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0026 [Accessed: 9 March 2014]
Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, Loeb Classical Library Translated by E. Cary, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950. LacusCurtius http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/dionysius_of_halicarnassus/home.html [Accessed: 9 March 2014]
Aulus Gelius, Attic Nights Vol. II, Loeb Classical Library Translated by J. C. Rolfe, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1927. LacusCurtius http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Gellius/home.html [Accessed: 9 March 2014]
Cornell, T. The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars, c. 1000 – 264 BC London: Routledge, 1995.
Forsythe, G. ‘The Army and Centuriate Organization in Early Rome’, in P. Erdkamp (ed.), A Companion to the Roman Army Oxford: Blackwell, pp.24-41, 2007.
Last, H. The Servian Reforms, Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 35, pp.30-48, 1945.
Whilst looking through photos on my phone earlier this week I came across a picture of the archaeological site of Paphos. It is amazing that one picture can bring back such good memories. The poor weather and reminder of a summer in Cyprus prompted me to have a look through some other photos and I came across this picture of a model war chariot.
Ray (2009:19-20) observes that by the fifth century the chariot on mainland Greece had disappeared as the rough terrain made it an ineffective weapon. The use of the chariot was superseded by cavalry and hoplite units. In contrast to mainland Greece, the use of the chariot was retained on Cyprus. Herodotus (The Histories 5.113.1) references the involvement of war chariots in the Cypriot revolt against Persian rule in the fifth century. Unfortunately I cannot find any additional literary evidence to support Herodotus’ account. However, there are a number of other chariot figurines within the museum and as such I believe it can safely be assumed that the war chariot was widely used on Cyprus into the Classical period. It is difficult to conclude as to why the chariot remained in use. Ray (2009:20) suggests that it might be attributed to the continuation of the monarchical system of government and honor that the position of charioteer gave a man. The charioteer figurines found in the Royal Tombs of Salamis lend some weight to Ray’s argument.
This chariot was discovered in Ovgoros in 1955 and dates to the sixth century BC. It is a offering to Ares, the God of War. There are no inscriptions on the model so it is not possible to identify what the offering was for. It might be argued that the offering was made to seek the gods aid in the fight against the Persian oppressors, to celebrate a victory or to mark the death of a fallen comrade. Unfortunately there is some damage to the model, for example one of the riders is missing an arm. This model has been produced with great artistic skill evidenced in the detailing such as the horses blinkers, wheels of the chariot and the faces of the warriors.
Herodotus The Histories Translated by A. D. Godley Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1920. Perseus Digital Library http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0126 %5BAccessed: 5 March 2014]
Ray, F. Land Battles in 5th Century BC Greece: A History and Analysis of 173 Engagements London: McFarland, 2009.
I have written about Heracles and the Lernian Hydra before. You can read my previous post about the myth of this second labor of Heracles here. This is one of my favourite pieces of Athenian red-figure pottery in the British Museum. This stamnos was made in Athens in 480/470 BC and is attributed to the Geras Painter.
The shape of the vase indicates its use or purpose. The Athenian stamnos was used as a container for the storage and mixing of wine. The term red figure refers to the original colour retained by the people, creatures and patterns represented. The size, shape and position of the handles on a stamnos allowed for two large decorative spaces, front and back. Unfortunately I only have a photo of the one side and no detail is provided by the museum as to what is on the other side. I would be interested to hear if someone knows what is on the opposite side. This is a particularly well preserved stamnos as it is completely intact including it’s original lid. This truly is a beautiful piece of Athenian pottery with an iconic mythological scene depicted.
I missed the opportunity to write about this around Valentines Day. However, as the Valentines cards are still up, I thought I had a good excuse to post about Cupid and Psyche today. Thank you for the suggestion for this post Annie.
Psyche was born an exceptionally beautiful mortal. Venus jealous of her beauty ordered her son Cupid to make Psyche fall in love with a monster. However, Cupid upon seeing Psyche fell in love with her and stole her away for himself. Cupid told Psyche that she can never look upon his face and as such he would only come to her at night. Psyche spent many years with Cupid not knowing who he was but having become homesick convinced him to let her sisters visit. Psyche’s sisters jealous of the luxury in which she lived convinced her to look upon Cupid’s face. Cupid abandoned Psyche for having violated his trust, but she had fallen in love with him. Searching for Cupid without success Psyche eventually came to Venus who charged her with a number of trials before she would assist her. After completing a final trial in the underworld Cupid and Psyche finally married. Following Psyche’s marriage she became an immortal goddess and the personification of the human soul.
Graves (1996:62) observed that the representation of Cupid was initially an abstraction. However, in later portrayals Cupid became a beautiful youth whose antics were an interesting subject for poets. The story of Cupid and Psyche is a late myth, described most fully in Apuleius The Golden Ass written in the 2nd century AD. There are similarities to other myths; Psyche like Pandora opens a receptacle that she should not, she undertakes labours like Heracles and is abducted by Cupid as is Ganymede by Zeus. There are a number of themes and messages within the work but I would argue that Psyche’s decent into the underworld and subsequent accent to Olympus represents the enduring spirit of the soul and it’s divine origin.
Graves, R. The Greek Myths Volume I The Folio Society, 2000.
I heartily wish those venerable odes were still extant, which Cato informs us in his Origins, used to be sung by every guest in his turn at the homely feasts of our ancestors, many ages before, to commemorate the feats of their heroes.
(Cicero Brutus 75)
I have recently been studying the literary sources for Roman history. One of the concepts I found particularly interesting was the possible oral transmission of ancient Roman history. Cicero (Brutus 75, Tusculan Disputations 1.3 and On The Orator 3.197) provides the majority of evidence for the oral tradition. I certainly appreciate how this evidence might support an argument for the transmission of ancient Roman history. However, I would suggest that Cicero’s reliance on one source, Cato’s Origines, limits its usefulness. There are other references to the oral tradition such as Valerius Maximus’ Memorable Doings and Sayings (2.1.10) but these are few in number. The oral tradition is criticised by Wiseman (1994:11) who observes that the accurate transmission of a story can only occur over one generation. Instead, Wiseman (1994:12) considers that dramatic performances with historical themes transmitted Roman history, these developed into a written form by the third century. Wiseman’s observations are criticised by Flower (1995:173) who considers that there is a ‘lack of ancient evidence to support [his] wide-ranging and speculative theories’. Flower then notes that information, such as the exploits of famous people, were shared between generations in a number of ways; including funeral eulogies, monuments and inscriptions. Wiseman (1994:21), however, makes a strong case to support his argument that ‘historiography grew out of…celebratory performances’, concluding that drama was a source of information and that the historian’s material was dramatic in origin. The complex nature of the debate makes it difficult to draw any firm conclusions. I would suggest that the evidence of Cicero and the other authors does not sufficiently demonstrate that history was transmitted through the oral tradition. However, I note that some form of history must, at some point, have been transmitted orally. Wiseman (1989:133) considers that, for example, the history of the house of Tarquin like Troy was passed through story telling for centuries before it became literature.
Cicero Brutus Translated by Jones, E. (1776) Attalus http://www.attalus.org/old/brutus1.html [Accessed: 15 February 2014]
Cicero On The Orator Translated by Sutton, E. Loeb Classical Library Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1942.
Cicero Tusculan Disputations Translated by King, J. Loeb Classical Library London : Heinemann, 1927.
Valerius Maximus Memorable Doings and Sayings Translated by Shackleton Bailey, D. Loeb classical library Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000.
Flower, H. Fabulae Praetextae in Context: When Were Plays on Contemporary Subjects Performed in Republican Rome? The Classical Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 45, No. 1, 1995, pp. 170-190 Available from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/639725 [Accessed: 10 February 2014]
Wiseman, T. Historiography and Imagination Exeter: University of Exter Press, 1994.
Wiseman, T. Roman Legend and Oral Tradition, The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 79, 1989, pp. 129-137. Available from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/301184 [Accessed: 10 February 2014]