317 out of 410 days: Private Commerce at the start of the Hannibalic War

 He further embittered the senate against him by his support of C. Claudius; he alone of all the members was in favour of the measure which that tribune introduced. Under its provisions no senator, no one whose father had been a senator, was allowed to possess a vessel of more than 300 amphorae burden. This was considered quite large enough for the conveyance of produce from their estates, all profit made by trading was regarded as dishonourable for the patricians. The question excited the keenest opposition and brought Flaminius into the worst possible odium with the nobility through his support of it, but on the other hand made him a popular favourite and procured for him his second consulship.  (Livy 21.63.3-4)

This passage not incorrectly gets cited widely as evidence about restrictions on Senators engaging in commerce (exempli gratia).  Nothing wrong with that.  The same chapter of Livy gets discussed most often for the narrative tradition that blames Flaminius for the disaster at Lake Trasimene in the Hannibalic War.  Flaminius brings down divine wrath by not following proper religious procedures in his second consulship, because he’s afraid the nobles angered by his restriction of their potential financial gain will block his leaving for his province by claiming bad auspices.  Thus, he sneaks out to his province as a privatus.   So, by extension the disaster at Trasimene is all a result of a consul supporting popular legislation.  Moral of the story: a factious nobility is a threat to the well-being of the state.  Not a bad Augustan age moral really.

But here’s my question.  Why, oh why, did some tribute or the electorate in general care a rat’s ass about senators engaging in commerce? What the heck made this legislation ‘popular’ in any sense? Why at this moment in time?  The Gauls had been quieted.  The Adriatic shipping ways were strongly in Roman control.  Sicily and Sardinia had standing governors.  The Romans still probably thought at this moment that imminent war with Carthage and the Barcids would be fought in Spain and Africa.  Is this Livy’s interpretation of a list of legislation, elections, and events?  Or someone else’s?  Perhaps restrictions on senatorial commerce could be seen as popular with the equites if there is any grounds for understanding them as a merchant class at this point in time, but I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that reading.

[I got here as I was ruminating on the state of finances at Rome during the early years of the Hannibalic War.]

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