Roman Consuls Seized Power Through Intimidation, Bribery And Show Business

Roman Consuls Seized Power Through Intimidation, Bribery And Show Business

Ellen Lloyd – – During the days of the Roman Republic, two consuls were elected. They served one year before they were replaced. If a consul died during his term (not uncommon when consuls were in the forefront of battle) or was removed from office, another would be elected.

Because a consul’s imperium extended over Rome, Italy, and the provinces, becoming a Roman consul was a matter of prestige and power.

So, what qualifying criteria were future consuls expected to have in order to seize power? There is a saying that cheating is often an efficient method to get what you want, and in the case of Roman consuls, this was undoubtedly true.

Roman Consuls Seized Power Through Intimidation, Bribery And Show Business

Credit: Adobe Stock – Massimo Todaro

Intimidation, bribery, and show business were all part of a regular agenda for a Roman who wanted to become a consul and part of the Roman government.

Of course, much more was required to gain the position of a consul. He was expected to have tremendous confidence and the solid education necessary to be a great speaker. He must master the art of rhetoric. In other words, his speaking or writing must be persuasive. ‘

It never hurt to marry into a wealthy family because it was a smart way of quickly getting votes. In ancient Rome, it was common that wealthy and powerful families supported each other through a form of an alliance known as amicitia which can be described as Roman friendship, strongly regulated by ethical norms and social expectations.

Being a showman was a must. The more one could entertain people; the better were the odds of being elected. As Marcus Tullius Cicero once said: “Surround yourself with large numbers of people from every class and rank… Make sure your campaign has plenty of ceremony, brilliance, and entertainment for the people.”

Intimidating rivals was very common in Rome. A man who wanted power was expected to use all necessary means to reach his goal. Intimidating could include inciting riots or hiring gladiators to beat up people.

There were also two forms of bribery common during the early days of the Roman Republic. Direct bribery could be used to pay officials with money in return for votes. Another option was indirect bribery which was based on the provision of free grain, entertainment, and outdoor banquets.


A good way of becoming more powerful was to become a mob favorite and organize a series of gladiator games the public loved.

Once a man became a Roman consul, he was responsible for war, justice, and finance. He was the highest elected political office of the Roman Republic, and the consulship was considered the highest level of the cursus honorum (an ascending sequence of public offices to which politicians aspired).

Yet, it seems strange that a man who seized power through injustice was later responsible for justice. Fortunately, there were also so-called co-consuls whose job was to make sure no individual could abuse the executive power.

Written by Ellen Lloyd –

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Expand for references

Dr Barbara Levick – The Government of the Roman Empire

All About History Magazine, Issue 9

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