Election and sortition in Ancient Rome: Was there such a thing as a Roman democracy?

1. The ancient world
By Virginie Hollard

The draw—a symbol of Athenian democracy—was significantly present in the Roman magistrates’ election process, both under the Republic and the Augustan Principate. Understanding the political meaning of the draw is a somewhat complex matter. The Roman Republic has always been regarded as an aristocratic regime; the transition from one regime to the next—which underlines the “auctoritas principis,” if not the “arbitrium principis”—seems to mean that the Roman people were doomed to disappear from political life, the election process included. To clarify the political meaning of the draw, we will examine it through the lens of three key episodes of Roman political life: the setup of the Roman Republic’s institutions, the political crisis of the first century B.C., and the advent of the Augustan Principate.


  • sortition
  • elections
  • vote
  • religion
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