There were no organized political parties at Rome in the modern sense, but from the middle of the second century b.c. at least there were two groups or schools of thought. On the one hand there were the optimates, the propertied classes who stood for the status quo and in particular the rights of property, and supported the senate. They were normally in power, since the senate usually controlled the government. The populares were such politicians, whether dissident nobles or commoners, as tried to pass measures in the interests of the lower classes; they normally, like Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, Saturninus and Sulpicius, operated through the tribunate of the plebs, though a few like Caesar became consuls, and relied on the popular vote. Some of the main elements in their program are picked out by Cicero. One was the secret ballot in the assembly (cf. No. 92). More important were land allotments (cf. Nos. 62, 65–66, 75, 88, 90), cheap corn (cf. Nos. 65–66), and measures in favor of debtors (cf. Nos. 83–85, 90). Cicero does not here mention their defense of the right of appeal in criminal cases (cf. No. 65), their support for the enfranchisement of the Italians (cf. Nos. 65–66, 77), their measures against provincial extortion (cf. No. 67), and their championship of new men (cf. No. 71).


Common People Public Meeting Popular Vote Secret Ballot Great Obligation 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1968

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  • A. H. M. Jones

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