A selective prosographical study of marriage in the Roman elite in the second and first centuries B.C.: revisiting the evidence
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 10:48 authored by Patrick Tansey
One cannot hope to understand Roman politics or the successes and failures of the Romans without first coming to grips with Rome's remarkably durable and resilient governing class. The thousands of prosopographical entries in the Real-Encyclopadie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft and the Prosopographia Imperii Romani remain therefore an indispensible resource for any serious student of Roman history, but there is a growing need to bring them up-to-date by correcting errors of fact and omissions, by taking account of subsequent discoveries and more recent historiographical developments, and by revisiting the evidence to verify some basic assumptions. Moreover, ever since the publication of Matthias Gelzer's ground-breaking treatise on the Roman nobility many scholars have been working towards a more precise and sophisticated taxonomy of the Roman elite: witness, for instance, the work of C. Nicolet and M. Stemmler on the equestrian order, T. P. Wiseman's New Menin the Roman Senate and the studies of the nobilitas by Keith Hopkins and Graham Burton,and K.-J. Holkeskamp, or the research on the broader Italian aristocracy and its interactionwith the Roman elite by the likes of G. Camodeca, M. Torelli, and M. Cebeillac-Gervasoni, as well as the multitude of prosopographical studies devoted to specific individuals and families by many different hands. My aim is to make a contribution towards this goal by documenting marriage patterns in the Roman elite in order to gain a clearer understanding of the composition and evolution of the Roman aristocracy. As an aristocracy of office subject to the constraints of popular suffrage, the Roman Republican elite was not the sole arbiter of its own destiny, for despite its electoral influence, it did not exercise unfettered control over who was admitted to the senate and to the nobilitas. But marriage, and to a lesser extent adoption, gave established elite families an important say in elite recruitment because the rates of endogamy and exogamy in elite families determined whether bloodlines and property were concentrated within established families, or were more widely dispersed. What is more, in the ethos of the Roman elite and in the milieu which they inhabited an individual's maternal and paternal ancestry, and their relations by blood and marriage (adfines) were vitally important. They were intrinsic to the elite's own sense of identity and inseparable from their rank and popular standing, they influenced an individual's expectations and opportunities in life (especially when seeking the approval of the status-conscious Roman electorate), and helped shape their outlook and their actions. The first step therefore is to accurately map the Roman elite in as much detail as the surviving evidence allows.