chapter  6
52 Pages

Politics and Public Life

In the colony of Pompeii, magistrates were elected for a period of one year to lead the town council. An anecdote about the Roman author and politician Cicero (F1) represents him commenting favourably on democracy at Pompeii. The point of Cicero’s comment was that in the 40s BC, Julius Caesar as dictator appointed men directly to the Senate at Rome, whereas no such direct patronage operated at Pompeii; someone wishing to become a councillor had to stand for democratic election, although exceptions did occur later (see C5, D16, F90). The members of the town council (equivalent of the Senate at Rome), were all freeborn male citizens, of good character and reputable profession (e.g. not gladiators, actors, or public executioners). Councillors had to live in the town or its immediate surroundings. A minimum level of property was required, but we do not know what this was at Pompeii. Membership of the council was for life. Councillors enjoyed various privileges, including the best seats at public shows in the theatres and amphitheatre. As in all Roman towns, politics and religion were closely allied; the leading men among the elite would serve both as the town’s magistrates and as its priests. The council as a whole controlled civic finances and public religion, and had authority over areas of public space (notably the Forum, but also streets of tombs and religious spaces – E5, E12, E15, E41-43, E50). It would grant honorific tombs and statues to the town’s most important benefactors in specific areas of public space (B15, E46, E54; D8-9, D56-57, D82) as well as other forms of honours (D16, E31, E65). It supervised the construction of new public buildings and any other modifications to them (B9-11, B13-14, D1-3, D5, D122, E1), and also the implementation of standard weights and measures (F88, H98). For evidence of individual magistrates’ activities, see F86. In the case of Herculaneum, by contrast, wax tablets (G2-3, G12) and one of the rare painted inscriptions to have been preserved in the town give us a vivid picture of the legal duties of local magistrates (F87).