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Abstract: The Legal Status of Plebiscita 494-287 BC

 

This article explores the problems arising from the apparent similarity between the leges Valeriae Horatia (449), the leges Publiliae Philonis (339) and the Lex Hortensia (287). According to our primary sources, all three groups of leges contained an identical clause providing that the resolutions of the plebs (plebiscita) would become binding on the whole populus (Gaius. Inst.1.3; Livy. 3.55.3; 8.12.15; Dion. Hal. 11.45). Over the last century, modern scholars have offered a number of hypotheses attempting to reconcile this problem but these hypotheses have often raised more questions than they have answered (Greenidge (1901); Schiller (1977); Scullard (1980); Cornell (1995); Oakley (1998); Forsythe (2005)).Through a comprehensive re-examination of the contexts in which these laws were passed, I propose a new interpretation of the three leges that seeks to explain, and thus suggest a solution to, the problem of a repeated clause. The re-examination conducted within this article is based upon a tabulation of plebiscita (accompanying the article as an Appendix) that identifies the nature of each plebiscitum and whether or not it was successfully passed. From this, I propose that prior to 449, plebiscita unopposed by the patres (“patrician senators”) were afforded the status of quasi-leges which possessed a de facto legality and were yet to be recognised by statute law. Furthermore, I suggest the leges Valeriae Horatiae of 449 provided legal validity to existing plebiscita which had previously held the status of quasi-leges whilst also establishing a precedent for the acquisition of legal validity for the plebiscita that followed, up until 339. I will demonstrate that the leges Publiliae Philonis had a similar effect on the legal status of plebiscita but were enacted sensitively to increasing patricio-plebeian cooperation and thus facilitated the process by which plebiscita became leges.

 

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Issue 1 - Ben Salisbury

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