Uncovering a “Lost Generation” in the senate
Between 218 and 216 BC, approximately half of the Roman senate perished while serving in the war against Hannibal, the majority of them junior senators. This amounted to a “Lost Generation” of Roman elites. Though no ancient author mentions this “Lost Generation” explicitly, ancient sources combined with modern demographic techniques – including updated model life tables – reveal this phenomenon. Livy indicates that 177 senators died in the early stages of the war. Demographic modeling suggests that this is far more than would be expected from natural causes in a normal five-year census period. It also demonstrates that these deaths probably included nearly every junior senator. To refill the senate, a special adlection was held in 216. The resulting senate would have been “top heavy,” with a disproportionate number of older, more established senators, while new senators would have been drawn from men of relatively lower status. This explains the subsequent political dominance of a few powerful men (e.g., Fabius Maximus) who virtually monopolized high office. Thus, modern demographic techniques help show how elite casualties early in the Second Punic War had a distorting effect on Roman politics for decades to follow.