Citizens of Rome

A megalopolis of a million inhabitants, the capital of the Empire was home to a plbe diversified whose political role was important. His emotions took place at neighborhood festivals, theaters and the Grand Cirque.

In the foreword, Nicolas Tran indicates that his book is a counterpoint to a conception of history that is still very much alive recently and is reduced to famous characters. On the contrary, he declares that he wants to give the leading role, no longer to the ruling classes, but to the inhabitants ordinary of the imperial capital at the time when it is best documented by different types of sources, from the beginning of the Ier century BC BC the end of the IIe century AD AD

The author intends to present, beyond a restricted academic circlethe synthesis of research carried out in recent decades on the plebs by different specialists, notably J. Andreau, C. Virlouvet, C. Courrier and himself.

Head of the world And universal city

The first of four parts, which total twelve chapters, The city of the plbe, aims to present not only the historical, but also the topographical and demographic framework that constituted the capital of the Empire, one of the most populous megalopolises of the pre-industrial era. Next to the monuments erected by the leaders, it was the space where the material conditions of existence and the different activities of these inhabitants who formed the plebs, as opposed to the aristocracy (which brought together the knights and Roman senators), took root.

Rome was born on the left bank of the Tiber, on a site of more than seven hills around sixty meters high, arranged in an arc around the Palatine. Under real domination VIIe And VIe centuries BC BC, its 426 hectares were surrounded by a wall attributed to King Servius Tullius, reinforced in IVe century, so much so that its 11 km route has persisted as a legal limit even if, from the start of the Ier century BC BC, the inhabited areas extended well beyond the rampart. The institutions of the free republic established in 509 established the domination of the richest.

The homothetic relationship between the progressive conquest of the Mediterranean basin and the increase in the population of theVrbs, which led to a century of civil wars. It only ended with the establishment of the principality by Augustus, who considered himself both the first and legal of all citizens.

Rome is then at the same time the caput mundi, there head of the world in Latin, and the cosmopolisthere universal city in Greek, reaching perhaps one million inhabitants, including more than 250,000 adult citizens before the epidemic known as Antonine plagueunder the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180).

The consciousness of the plebians

Nicolas Tran highlights the contrast in population density and living conditions, between the monumental and aristocratic city (center and large gardens) and the increasingly sprawling working-class neighborhoods on the outskirts, even if the different social spaces were close, or even intertwined (p. 41).

If the number of collective housing units built in opus craticium were very vulnerable to fire and if nuisances abounded (dirt, noise, odors), a certain social diversity could reign in the buildings. It is appropriate to question the misrabilistic vision of a deadly city described by literary sources.

The concept of plbe is related to the Greek word plthosTHE greater numberthere multitudeboth the legal status of all citizens not belonging to the patriciate (hereditary aristocracy reputed to descend from the first senators) and a heterogeneous social group from several points of view.

During a century and a half of tensions, the plebians obtained the creation of their own annual magistrates, the ten tribunes of the plebs, embodying the protection available to every citizen, and the most fortunate among them at the end of the patrician monopoly of magistracies, thus integrating the senatorial nobility of government. From then on, the plebs were themselves crossed by social hierarchies; its unity and the awareness that the plebians had of it were therefore relative and moving (p. 63).

Popular needs and motions

The second part, Citizens facing power, underlines the intrinsic link between the people and the city of Rome. Unlike those who did not reside there, the plebians living in the capital could benefit from distributions of wheat and exercise their political rights by participating in assemblies, the comitia, which voted on laws and elected magistrates.

This role has often been minimized by historians, who see in the inhabitants of ancient Rome an assistist population, depoliticized under the republican period as well as under the principality. But the plebs of Rome were real political actors expressing themselves by means ofpopular motionscollective actions of varying intensity, from applause or whistles to bloody mobs, spectacle buildings (notably the circus) becoming during the imperial period the privileged place of popular expression.

How did those in power manage these emotions and respond to the expectations and needs of the people?? With the creation of the urban and Praetorian cohorts, Augustus then Tiber gradually installed an armed force in Rome to maintain order in the city.Vrbs and suppress the uprisings.

The creation of frumentation, reduced price and then free distributions of wheat to the poorest plebians residing in Rome, the number of beneficiaries of which was to be set at 150,000 by Augustus, was not a charitable operation. Without dispensing this plebs frumentaria to work, it aimed to protect the citizens of the people-king from want, the supply of the inhabitants of Rome having always been a concern of the authorities. Under the principality, the Roman plebeians could also benefit from occasional largesse during triumphal celebrations or events (congiaries) and from dilitary policies (construction of thermal baths).

In return, the people of Rome demonstrated their adhesion to the holders of power through a participation that was more supervised than spontaneous, during the solemn return to theVrbs magistrates or victorious emperors or aristocratic then imperial funerals. Under the principality, it publicly testified to its loyalty through the cult paid in the neighborhoods to the protective deities of the emperors or through the omnipresence of imperial images in the public or private sphere.

Social diversity

The third part, A contrasting social worldreturns to the diversity of plebian conditions attested by the texts.

The author underlines the divides by wealth between the poor, sometimes forced to sell themselves or their children to slave traders, and the ease of average weight identified by Paul Veyne, but also by free birth between the Ingenus and the freedmen, under the influence of prohibitions which however did not apply to their descendants. These lines of cleavage do not exactly overlap and do not prevent, between innocent and freed plebians, coexistence and interactions which could go as far as marriage.

The weight of migrants, which made the population of Rome a reflection of theimperium romanum, explains the different levels of roots and the existence, within the plebs of theVrbsaround the native hard core of the plebs frumentariafrom various communities, including that of the Jews.

Plebian work in the City is also very diversified: daily laborers, precarious employees hired in one sector or another depending on needs and seasons, prostitutes, street vendors, but also owners of tabernae specialized in different trades, but which were only one facet of economic exchanges. Finally, at the top of the population, we find entrepreneurs and big traders.

The social mobility of the plebians, upward or downward, could be accompanied by a geographical mobility consisting of leaving Rome.

The festivals and their places

The last part, Plebian sociabilitiesstudies the multiple relationships which constituted the social life of the plebians: the family, more frequently of a nuclear type than in the aristocracy or the countryside, whose affection is exalted in the funeral inscriptions, the clientele of the rich, within whom the relationships with the boss were always ambivalent, but which made it possible to integrate a community, friendships between plebians based on common affinities or devotions.

The places of this sociability are varied: residential buildings, taverns, meeting rooms of professional associations or funeral colleges, but also public spaces of popular convergence such as the aedules of the cult of the Lares Augustes in each of the 265 uhere the occasion of Compitalia or festivals instituted by Augustus, the Champ-de-Mars, suitable for walks or all physical exercises or, more occasionally, large spectacle buildings like the oldest, the Grand Cirque, which could accommodate at least 150,000 spectators, is –say one in seven inhabitants of Rome, the theaters or the Coliseum built by the Flavians.

In a final chapter, Nicolas Tran evokes the popular festivals of Rome, in particular, the plebian festivals registered in the civic calendar, at the sanctuary of Anna Perenna, on the uia Flaminia on March 15 and that of Fors Fortuna on June 24, downstream of the Tiber, but also the public festivals where the plebians played a role, such as the fishermen's games on June 7 or the feast of the tibicins six days later. The plebs also illustrated the presence of the entire civic body in all the major festivals which the emperor and the nobles were also required to attend.

In conclusion, the concept of plebs appears polysmic, covering very diverse realities. Dominated by power, but dominant because they were part of the civic body of the people-king, the plebs of Rome brought together social categories differentiated by birth, origin, wealth and activity. These also formed neighborhood communities living in contact with each other, in common places on a daily basis or during festive or religious events organized by the authorities.

This nuanced and rich book, which will interest all history buffs, belongs to a new historiographical movement which has the undeniable merit of approaching the history of the Roman world through the study of lower social categories, through the examination of individual experiences documented by the sources.