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Politics of the Late Republic

2. Optimates and Populares

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the conflict between the optimates and populares, focusing in particular on: (i) the meanings of the terms ‘optimates’, ‘boni’ and ‘populares’; (ii) Cicero’s assessment of the conflict between the ‘optimates’ and ‘populares’, and the extent to which we should believe him; (iii) the key aims of the ‘populares’ – a bigger role for the people in political decision-making, increased transparency of what was going on in the senate, and a fairer distribution of the fruits of empire.

Further reading:
– Fergus Millar, The Crowd in Rome in the Late Republic (1998)
– Henrik Mouritsen, Plebs and Politics in the Late Roman Republic (2001)
– Robert Morstein-Marx, Mass Oratory and Political Power in the Late Roman Republic (2004)


In this course, Dr Ed Bispham (University of Oxford) explores several aspects of the politics of the Late Republic. In the first module, we think about the extent to which structural deficits within the Republican constitution were responsible for its collapse. In the second module, we think about the tension between the optimates and populares – who they were and what they stood for – before turning in the third module to the influence of Sulla on the political culture of the Late Republic. In the fourth module, we consider the role of the (so-called) First Triumvirate in dominating and deforming Republican politics before turning in the fifth module to consider why agrarian reform is such a controversial and emotive topic in this period. Finally, in the sixth module, we think about the importance of Cicero as a historical source and the ways we can look beyond his evidence to gain a wider, more nuanced picture of what’s going on in the Late Republic.


Ed is interested in all areas of antiquity, the classical world and its interlocutors. At Oxford, he teaches most ancient history papers. For the past decade and a bit more he has been thinking about how historians should and can use archaeological data, and vice versa. He has been very lucky to be able to go to the mountains in central Italy and think about this while other people shovel large amounts of soil around. Currently he is chairman of the Sub-Faculty of Ancient History and Classical Archaeology: his present project involves trying to find out what this means in practice.

His research interests fall broadly into three categories at the moment: the history, archaeology and epigraphy of Italy, especially the impact of the Roman conquest; the political and cultural history of the Roman Republic; early Roman historiography. He is Co-Director of the Sangro Valley Project (Phase II), with Prof. Susan Kane, of Oberlin College, Ohio.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Bispham, E. (2020, March 11). Politics of the Late Republic - Optimates and Populares [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Bispham, E. "Politics of the Late Republic – Optimates and Populares." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 11 Mar 2020,

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