Scholia Reviews ns 16 (2007) 34.

K. A. Raaflaub (ed.), Social Struggles in Archaic Rome: New Perspectives on the Conflict of the Orders. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005[2]. Pp. vii + 417. ISBN 1-4051- 0061-3. UK£24.99.

Alex Nice
Willamette University/Reed College, USA

In the current academic publishing market it is refreshing to observe that a place still exists for second editions. Over twenty years have passed since Social Struggles in Ancient Rome was first issued. In that time several key works have added to our understanding of archaic Rome. Outstanding among these are the general works by Cornell and Forsythe.[[1]] Nonetheless numerous other books, articles, conference volumes, and exhibitions have addressed issues of historicity, historiography, and archaeology.[[2]] If one thing is now apparent it is that the traditional nomenclature -- ‘Struggle (or ‘Conflict’) of the Orders’ -- can no longer be utilized usefully to explain the disputes regarding personal status, property, and social relations in archaic Rome.

The original essays dealt with issues central to our understanding of the social tensions that existed in archaic Rome. In this expanded second edition Raaflaub acknowledges the reviewers’ criticisms of the first edition (p. xii) for its lack of archaeological and epigraphic evidence, or information on economic and military issues. Thus there is one wholly new chapter (Chapter 4, pp. 98-106) in which Russell T. Scott examines ‘The Contribution of Archaeology to Early Roman History’. Scott shows that evidence from the sanctuaries at Lavinium, Satricum, and Rome may have something to teach us about patterns of economic activity and social diversity between the sixth and fourth centuries BC.[[3]] They also imply a uniform Latin cultural identity that the Latins, with Rome in a leading role, exploited in spreading their name beyond the borders of Latium. The other essays, with four exceptions,[[4]] have addenda that are intended to bring the author’s original article up-to-date and to reflect their opinions on recent scholarship.

Raaflaub and Cornell revisit the question of the reliability of our sources tradition for this period. The editor is skeptical about the received tradition but acknowledges the importance of Cornell’s work. Conversely Cornell maintains that the ‘Roman historical tradition is based on a solid framework of “structural facts”’ (p. 61), although he too acknowledges the contributions made to our understanding of those works by his detractors (for example, P. Wiseman [p. 66]). Indeed the influence of Cornell’s 1995 work is manifest throughout the volume.

J.-C. Richard is not swayed by Magdelain’s views that the patrician class was not part of the populus preferring to see the curiate assemblies ‘as the linchpin of the collective’ (p. 120). Richard also critiques Cornell’s literal reading of Festus 290L (Praeteriti senatores), and remains convinced (as did Momigliano) that there were patrician senators (patres) and others drawn from outside the patriciate (conscripti, pp. 120-23). In the following chapter R. E. Mitchell goes to some lengths (pp. 151-55) to defend his own ‘heretical’ stance[[5]] that the ‘Conflict of the Orders’ is a narrative event invented by the Roman annalists of the second and first centuries BC. He argues that the patricians of archaic period should be defined in religious and legal terms and not as a social class. As Raaflaub argued in the appendix to Chapter 7 in the first edition, giving absolute priority to these religious aspects distorts the picture (second edition, p. 205). In simple terms possession of priestly offices does not disqualify the patricians from being distinguished socially from the plebeians. Raaflaub adds further observations in his new addendum on the phases of the ‘Struggle’. He argues that the First Secession of 494 BC as described by Cornell is an unlikely event, retrojected from the later secession of 287. This secession, he suggests, must be separated from the military tradition in which it is placed. Why would hoplite farmers place their own lands at risk? And would an emigration of poor people without rights really have alarmed the patricians? M. Toher’s addendum (pp. 282-86) allows him to ‘explain the tenth table and the phenomenon of archaic funerary law’ (p. 282). His original article came to the negative conclusion that the tenth table had nothing to do with the ‘Conflict of the Orders’. Here he suggests that this unique law was passed by an aristocrat intending to limit the exploitation of lavish funerals as status symbols. In contrast J. von Ungern-Sternberg (either for Chapter 3 or 13) has little to add which amplifies his arguments. This, perhaps, is disappointing. To take just one example from the second century BC: in 143 the plebeian praetor Q. Marcius Rex overcame patrician opposition to construct a new water course which would allow plebeian settlement on the Capitoline. The episode, I believe, is best explained in two ways: (1) to preserve certain rights and privileges of the patrician class, in this case by restricting plebeian access to an area traditionally preserved for patrician settlement; (2) to restrict the potential of the plebeian Marcius to enhance his own auctoritas. In either case it hearkens back to the conflicts of the fifth through fourth centuries regarding plebeian rights and privileges and foreshadows the social conflicts of the late-second through first century BC. In short, episodes such as this do indeed suggest that there was an ongoing ‘antagonism between Republican society and constitution’ (p. 324), an antagonism which was more recently discussed by the socialist historian Michael Parenti.[[6]] We should perhaps not be so hasty to propose specific dates for a beginning or an end to the social struggles in archaic and Republican Rome.

I seriously doubt that there have been any college level surveys of ancient Rome since 1986 which do not include Social Struggles on their reading lists. This is a testament to the power of the first edition and a good enough reason for its reissue. Raaflaub’s revised publication should continue to stimulate debate regarding Rome’s social, political and religious organization in the first centuries of the Republic.


[[1]] T. J. Cornell, The Beginnings of Rome, (London 1996) and G. Forsythe (A Critical History of Early Rome (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London 2005).

[[2]] See Raaflaub (pp. ix-xi) and the lengthy bibliography (pp. 333-85).

[[3]] Readers might note here the important work on the religious votives in C. Schultz, Women's Religious Activity in the Roman Republic (Chapel Hill 2006) esp. 95-120, 139-50.

[[4]] The papers by W. Eder and R. Develin have no addendum. There is an editorial note to the paper by Momigliano which details recent work to the rise of the plebeians and Rome’s social structure c. 500 BC. J. Linderski’s paper has revisions in the footnotes which do not affect the substance of his argument.

[[5]] Further developed in R. E. Mitchell, Patricians and Plebeians: The Origin of the Roman State (Cornell 1990).

[[6]] M. Parenti, The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People’s History of Ancient Rome (New York 2003).