The tribuni plebis were the traditional proponents of the plebeian cause in the Roman Republic. For the late Republic (100 – 23 BCE), historians disagree about whose interests they truly promoted.
Recently there has been an increasing debate about the role of the people in Republican politics. In this stalemate, the tribuni plebis are often used as a stick to beat opponents with: cases where the tribunes did support the plebs are used to back up the democracy-scenario, the many instances when they did not are emphasized to argue for oligarchy. Both theories essentially claim that one group (either the plebs or the elite) dominated the political order. This project will not follow this dichotomy, but proposes a more comprehensive analysis of the plebeian tribunate and late Republican politics.
This project aims to investigate the socio-political role of the tribunes with the aid of principal-agent analysis. The benefit of this model over older methodologies is that through its application it becomes clear that the relationship between tribunes and their many principals was not fixed, but fundamentally flexible and disputed, mediated by the ‘costs’ groups in society could and were prepared to bear to secure influence. This projects will address three interrelated questions: (1) which interests of which diverse socio-political groups were advocated the tribunes, and why; (2) why did the tribunate become a central political institution in the late Republic; and (3) how did the tribunes play a part in the fall of the Republic. It will demonstrate that selectively citing particular instances of tribunal activity in support of either a democratic or an oligarchic vision of Republican politics is beside the point and only serves to muddy the waters. Another goal is to propose that the principal-agent model has the potential to allow us many new insights into the power-relations and power-struggles in late Republican Rome.
PhD Project Loonis Logghe, UGent-BOF, 2012-2016, Supervisor: Arjan Zuiderhoek (UGent)