Civic sortition in republican and imperial Rome: Physical instruments and technical logistics

1. The ancient world
By Julie Bothorel

The drawing of lots—called sors or sortitio in Latin—was a technical practice commonly used in Republican and Imperial Rome by city magistrates to allocate specific tasks to senators and magistrates, divide up plots of land, and organize voting procedures, among other functions. Drawing on literary, epigraphic, iconographic, and archeological sources, this article seeks to better understand the instruments that were used to draw lots in public contexts (sitella, hydria, urna versatilis, sortes, and pilae), as well as the manner in which these tools were handled. Between 100 and 70 BC, the transition from manual sortition conducted with a sitella and sortes to the use of mechanical sortition using a rotating sortition vessel (urna versatilis) and pilae corresponds to a number of significant changes in the contemporary aristocratic and political regime.


  • election by lot
  • Republican Rome
  • Principate
  • aristocracy
  • sortitio
  • sitella
  • urna versatilis
  • sors
  • pila
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