Thursday, May 29, 2008
The Fruits of a Lifetime of Scholarship
The political arrangements of the Roman republic often appear, to modern eyes, to be an eccentric hodgepodge of institutions collected over time and kept around for their sentimental value rather than for any clear constitutional role they fulfilled. Listening to Garrett Fagan describe one of the more curious of those offices, that of the tribune (ten of whom were attached to the Tribal Assembly of the Plebs at any one time), I was amused by an example he gave as to how puzzling current scholars find the tribunate. He related how, at a conference, he listened to an esteemed, senior figure in the field of Roman history portray the development of his understanding of the office as follows (I quote from memory): "When I was a young scholar, just starting out, I was confident that I knew what the tribunate was all about. By the time I reached middle age, I began to have my doubts. And now, at the close of my career, I have no clue as to its function."