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In the late Roman Republic, politicians who relied on the popular assembly and thus partly invoked the will of the people were called populares (Latin popularis "people-friendly, popular"), in contrast to the optimates . The populars, like the optimates, often belonged to the nobility . They were not a party in the modern sense, but rather combined a certain method of making politics.


The term Popularen first appears in relation to the time of the Gracchian reforms from 133 BC. Chr. On. It can be found in Cicero and Tacitus , among others, and means there both popular and people-friendly and demagogic. Cicero, who himself was one of the Optimates, describes the Populares' approach in a consistently negative way. His rejection resulted from the fact that they apparently granted the people more influence than they were entitled to according to the old order, the mos maiorum , according to which the actual control of the state lay with the elite assembled in the Senate. Cicero was a typical representative of the Roman system, who was characterized by political ambitions and who felt connected to a group, namely the Optimates, because as homo novus he had made it to the consulate with the help of powerful optimatic senators and now the values ​​of his supporters tried to uphold the influence of the Senate and the continued existence of the old res publica . He therefore saw those senators who used the popular method and turned to the people in order to pursue politics against the Senate majority as ruthless ambitions who sacrificed the consensus of the ruling class for their own benefit.

Political orientation

The populares were only a loose grouping of politicians from the late republic who operated with certain practices against the ruling Senate majority , relying on the people's assembly. In doing so, they were not representatives of the people, but often senators and members of the nobility themselves, who relied on the people to achieve their mostly selfish goals - which, however, does not exclude the people from benefiting from them and thus the popular ones Lawyers were. Often they relied on the authority of the tribune of the people . Another, but basically similar definition sees as populares simply those senators whose actions were rejected by the majority of the Senate. The popular method has often been spoken of since around 1965 , on the one hand to prevent the idea of ​​a party , on the other hand to be able to capture politicians that are basically not popular, but who introduced typical popular means and laws. In the era of the Roman Civil Wars, the Populares stood in opposition to the Optimates, the party of the best , the other group of the Senate aristocracy. Remarkably, popular politicians - like the Gracches, Marius, or Caesar - were often particularly powerful or wealthy; For this very reason they came into conflict with the other senators and therefore sought the support of the people.

Popular politics on the whole was not only obstructive or even destructive. The Popularen took on a number of problems that shook the republic particularly hard at that time. Ultimately, that was precisely what was problematic for their peers and the majority faction in the Senate: They terminated the seemingly recognized concordia of the senators and went new, different paths that were viewed more than skeptically. The ancient historian Lukas Thommen sees parallels to the populism of the 21st century, but the populars would not have hounded against social marginalized groups and appealed to lower instincts like this .

Well-known representatives

Among the best-known popular are the two brothers Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and Gaius Sempronius Gracchus , Marius and finally Gaius Iulius Caesar , as well as Appuleius Saturninus and Cinna . In doing so, however, they pursued quite different goals. While the Gracches were concerned not only with their private interests, but also with real reform for the benefit of the middle classes, Caesar was only concerned with increasing his own power. Measures to support the lower classes were, according to this point of view, already represented by Eduard Meyer (against Theodor Mommsen ), among others , only a means to an end.

Another well-known representative of the Populares was Livius Drusus minor , who, however, has a controversial position in the history of the group. The Optimates originally counted him among their own, but he used the popular method for his projects, which quickly brought him into opposition to the Optimates. The Caesarians Marcus Antonius and Octavian can also be attributed to the populares - the latter finally enforced his claim to power against the Senate by force and established the Roman monarchy ( principate ) as Augustus .



Individual evidence

  1. z. B. Cicero, Orationes in Verrem , 2,3,48; 2,1,151.
  2. Tacitus, Dialogus de Oratoribus , 36th
  3. Cicero, De re publica , 1.43.
  4. Doblhofer: The Populares of the years 111-99 before Christ. 1990, p. 111.
  5. Martin: The Populars in the History of the Late Republic. 1965, p. 214.
  6. Lukas Thommen : The people's tribunate in the late Roman Republic (= Historia. Individual writings. Vol. 59). Steiner, Stuttgart 1989, ISBN 3-515-05187-2 , p. 11 (also dissertation, University of Basel, 1987); Meier: Populares. In: Real Encyclopedia of Classical Ancient Science. 1965, col. 210 ff.
  7. ^ Meier: Populares. In: Real Encyclopedia of Classical Ancient Science. 1965, Col. 549, and Ursula Hackl : The importance of the popular method from the Gracches to Sulla as reflected in the legislation of the younger Livius Drusus, tribune 91 v. Chr. In: Gymnasium . Vol. 94, 1987, pp. 109-127.
  8. ^ Meier: Populares. In: Real Encyclopedia of Classical Ancient Science. 1965, col. 551; as well as Burckhardt: Political strategies of the optimates in the late Roman republic. 1988, p. 171.
  9. Lukas Thommen: Populus, plebs and populares in the Roman Republic . In: Richard Faber and Frank Unger: Populism in the past and present. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2008, p. 31–41, here p. 32 f. ( online , accessed March 23, 2018).
  10. Burckhardt: Political strategies of the optimates in the late Roman republic. 1988, pp. 256-267.

Web links

Wiktionary: Popular  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations