The Romans as Dogs

From Paulus

Where the Roman people offended at being compared to dogs by Scipio?  Was the suggestion of the need of collar offensive?  The collar is a real thing:

Varro says this:

To protect them from being wounded by wild beasts, collars are placed on them — the so‑called melium, that is, a belt around the neck made of stout leather with nails having heads; under the nail heads there is sewed a piece of soft leather, to prevent the hard iron from injuring the neck. The reason for this is that if a wolf or other beast has been wounded by these nails, this makes the other dogs also, which do not have the collar, safe.

Wolf Collars are still a thing.  And someone even advocated their introduction by American ranchers back in 2011.

Kangal dog with spikey collar, Turkey.jpg
So is this an insult?  Not really.  The dogs are fierce, loyal protectors in their own right.  The collar only gives them a greater edge.
To access Paulus, this database out of Sienna is the place to go.

Dionysius and Polybius on the Roman Constitution

I’m usually a Derow-vian on all matters Polybius.  So, true to my roots, I don’t talk about a mixed constitution, but a balanced one.    I read his anacyclosis as an unstoppable force with the Roman constitution only being a modified democracy of sorts that has fended off ochlocracy (mob-rule) and demagogury thus far.  I believe the final chapters of Book 6 are written to an eye to the tribunician  politics of the post 146 BC period.

The key passage is as follows:

6.57.7-9: and for this change the populace will be responsible when on the one hand they think they have a grievance against certain people who have shown themselves grasping, and when, on the other hand, they are puffed up by the flattery of others who aspire to office.  For now, stirred to fury and swayed by passion in all their counsels, they will no longer consent to obey or even to be the equals of the ruling caste, but will demand the lion’s share for themselves. When this happens, the state will change its name to the finest sounding of all, freedom and democracy, but will change its nature to the worst thing of all, mob-rule.

What specific tribunician acts? We need not mean the Gracchi:

145BC – C. Licinius Crassus, tr pl, proposes the popular election of members of the priestly colleges. Laelius, pr, Scipio’s buddy, defeats this through a speech that was to become a famous source on Roman religion.

140BC – Claudius Asellus, tr pl, prosecutes Scipio for the infelicitas of his censoral lustrum, revenge for Scipio’s attempt to demote him in the census.

139BC – Aulus Gabinius, tr pl, establishes secret ballot for election of magistrates

138BC – C. Curiatius, tr pl, tries to get the consuls to take action on the soaring price of grain and when that fails imprisons them for a time.

137BC – L. Cassius Longinus Ravilla, tr pl, extends secret ballot to all popular trials excepting  perduellio (according to Cicero, Brut. 97 supported by Scipio).

Nothing new here.  This perspective shares something with Scullard’s 1960 reconstruction of the political thought of Scipio himself.  I would just rather see it as Polybius’ rather that Scipio’s.  The other direction this conversation usually goes is the the degree of accuracy in Polybius’ assessment (See Sommer for summary; Millar‘s many statement is here.).

So where does Dionysius come into this?  Well, I think that the Coriolanus episode in book 7 is written as a rhetorical answer to Polybius book 6 with Coriolanus cast in a Scipionic like role and contemporary history alluded to in the misguided foretelling of the future undertaken by Manius Valerius.  I think Dionysius is, to an extent like Millar, out to prove that Polybius was right and that the republican constitution had no remedy for healing itself, something new was needed.

Dionysius ‘summarizes’ the early themes of his speech, and then begins in earnest with his constitutional argument, an argument based completely on the anacyclosis and that the Senate must introduce a democratic guard against their own power if they wish to retain it, just as they have guarded against tyranny via the nature of the consulship.  Valerius’ speech becomes Dionysius vehicle for rehearsing a Polybian constitutional view.

He then goes on to say that there is no need to fear demagoguery, because the dictatorship will act as the right and proper check against that possibility:


Of course, what Dionysius knows is just how wrong the dictatorship will go through the person of Sulla.  He’s in fact already meditated on its failure in book 4.  The expanding influence of the tribunate will lead to the use of the dictatorship and that in turn will lead to the end of republic.   Dionysius’ uses a few words spoken by Coriolanus to underscore the counterfactual nature of preceding speech:

since the opinion of Valerius prevails, may these measures prove of advantage to you and may I prove a poor judge of future events.

Dionysius the continues his constitutional lesson and firmly aligns his perspective and that of his readers with the Senatorial majority:

the greater part of the senators too were well pleased that he was to be tried upon this charge, for two reasons — first, that to speak one’s mind freely in the senate was not going to render one liable to an accounting, and second, that Marcius, who had led a modest and irreproachable life, would easily clear himself of that accusation.

Senatorial free speech was a key contentious issue in the late republic (I would state the case far more strongly that Raaflaub 2004).  Think of Antony being barred from reading of Caesar’s letters in 49BC to start…

And, we also have hear another false prediction of future, reminding reader to read the whole optimism of the elites towards the masses as counterfactual idealized fantasy.

The constitutional nature of the episode continues with Dionysius playing anthropological participant-observer for his readership, explaining about market days, and trials, and the whole character, structure, and procedures of the comitia centuriata, procedures that are left unfollowed in the narrative itself.

Dionysius then stops the narrative to speak directly to the audience about the tribunate in his own day and the historical importance of the moment he’s just described as a constitutional turning point.

I would speculate that if the whole of Polybius’ Book 6 survived we would see many more concrete intertexts between it and Dionysius’ account of Coriolanus.

Male-Male Sex in Polybius

From a discussion of military discipline:

ξυλοκοπεῖται δὲ καὶ πᾶς ὁ κλέψας τι τῶν ἐκ τοῦ στρατοπέδου, καὶ μὴν ὁ μαρτυρήσας ψευδῆ παραπλησίως, κἄντις τῶν ἐν ἀκμῇ παραχρησάμενος εὑρεθῇ τῷ σώματι, πρὸς δὲ τούτοις ὁ τρὶς περὶ τῆς αὐτῆς αἰτίας ζημιωθείς. 6.37.9

The punishment of the fustuariumis assigned also to any one committing theft in the camp, or bearing false witness: as also to any one who in full manhood is detected in shameful immorality: or to any one who has been thrice punished for the same offence. (Shuckburgh trans.)

The bastinado is also inflicted on those who steal anything from the camp; on those who give false evidence; on young men who have abused their persons; and finally on anyone who has been punished thrice for the same fault. (Paton trans.)

Walbank commentary:

παραχρησάμενος . . . τῷ σώματι: cf. xiii. 4. 5. The offence of stuprum cum masculo (Digest, xlviii. 5. 9 pr.) was punishable under early republican law, as Val. Max. vi. 1. 10 implies (for an example see Val. Max. vi. 1. 7). But in the former passage (Val. Max. vi. 1. 10) the accused alleges in defence that his partner was one who ‘palam atque aperte corpore quaestum factitasset’, which suggests that such a person, like a registered meretrix, was not guilty of any legal offence. In the army, however, male prostitution was clearly an intolerable breach of military discipline and so a capital offence. Presumably the active partner was liable to the same penalty. Cf. Mommsen, Strafrecht, 703–4.

I doubt Walbank is correct to assume equal justice for both partners in the sex act. The cross reference is to part of the slandering of Philip V’s associate Heracleides of Tarentum:

πρῶτον μὲν γὰρ ἀναφανδὸν τῷ σώματι παρεκέχρητο κατὰ τὴν πρώτην ἡλικίαν,

For he, to begin with, in his early years he had openly prostituted his person, (Paton)

His boyhood had been stained by notorious immorality; (Shuckburgh)

We can also bring into the lens the characteristics that herald the transition from Aristocracy to Oligarchy 6.8.4:

But here again when children inherited this position of authority from their fathers, having no experience of misfortune and none at all of civil equality and liberty of speech, and having been brought up from the cradle amid the evidences of the power and high position of their fathers, they abandoned themselves some to greed of gain and unscrupulous money-making, others to indulgence in wine and the convivial excess which accompanies it, and others again to the violation of women and the rape of boys; and thus converting the aristocracy into an oligarchy aroused in the people feelings similar to those of which I just spoke, and in consequence met with the same disastrous end as the tyrant. (Paton trans.)

οἱ δ᾽ ἐπὶ τὰς τῶν γυναικῶν ὕβρεις καὶ παίδων ἁρπαγάς,






Oratorum romanorum fragmenta: Making Do

One day we’ll all be able to consult the new Glasgow edition of the fragments of the Roman orators (assuming they publish it in a manner that allows for wide access, fingers crossed!).  Right now you need a copy of Malcovati, widely available in libraries, but nearly impossible find for purchase.  And it wasn’t so great anyway and we’re about to get the Glasgow edition so perhaps no point in hunting it down.  (Book hunting?  Try here! Best international aggregator of data I know.)

In the meantime, I’m delighted with the digitization of H. Meyer’s earlier edition of the fragments.  It often give the basics of what one wants from Malcovati.

Here’s the entry on Laelius’ speech on Roman Religion by way of example.

Circumcision in the Greek mind

These are images of Beazley Archive 206325= Athens, National Museum, 9683.  I wanted to think a little more about the myth of Herakles and Busiris and especially what the artistic tradition says about it in contrast with the literary sources (summarized here).  Basically, he’s an evil king of Egypt who sacrifices humans and Herakles puts a stop to it.  His attendants are often represented with stereotypical sub-Saharan African features.

The vases are likely to have strong relationship with the theatrical tradition of the play.  The above image struck me because of its use of facial features to differentiate Greeks and Africans but not skin color.  The other major distinguishing feature is the emphasis on the penis.  Herakles is a ‘proper’ small uncircumcised non-erect phallus.  The African are represented not as ithyphallic like satyrs or other some pygmies, but instead as non-erect and circumcised!  The hitching up of their tunics to reveal this feature is likely to be a borrowing from the stage, but this vase tells us something of the Greek conflation of cultural practices when thinking about ‘The Other’.

Playing with Iconography

What does the imagery on a tomb mean? Meleager of Gadara here plays with the decoding of relatively traditional symbolism and reinvents its meaning to be appropriate for another poet Antipater of Sidon, while at the same time mocking the man and his art.  The joke in this poem turns on the specialized, atypical meanings given to the very typical images. I’ve discussed cocks elsewhere on this blog: they often mean martial Mould-made pottery lamp with a voluted angular-tipped nozzle (broken), a flat shoulder and a broad inward-sloping moulded rim. The discus is decorated with a cock holding a palm-branch. Within the slightly raised base is a faint mould-mark in the form ofprowess and are combined with typical images of victory like the palm or wreath.

Knucklebones are also very common images on funerary monuments especially of children:


Elsewhere, they may symbolize chance or fate.

In a much more general sense this type of joking reading of familiar iconography is helpful to the numismatist because it confirms the visual literacy of the ancient audience.