chapter  10
30 Pages

Patricians and Plebeians

The domestic history of Rome during the first two centuries of the Republic is dominated by the conflict between the patricians and the plebeians. Although the surviving sources have a great deal to tell us about this epic struggle, conventionally known as the 'Conflict of the Orders', their accounts conspicuously fail to explain its true character, and do not allow us to reconstruct it with any confidence. The reason for this paradoxical situation is that the main issues of the conflict were resolved long before the first historians of Rome were born, so they themselves had only a hazy idea of the events they were attempting to describe. The problem is aggravated by the fact that the late republican annalists interpreted the events of the struggle in terms of the political divisions of their own day. This procedure is perfectly understandable, and should not be dismissed as frivolous or dishonest; nevertheless, the annalists unwittingly contrived to distort the facts, and the results, which are incorporated in the surviving accounts of Livy, Dionysius, and the rest, are often anachronistic and misleading.!