Here in the Disunited Kingdom one of the latest squabbles over who’s going to be Prime Minister centres on whether one candidate might have said she’d be better at the job than her rival because she has children. People are rightly asking why this is relevant, while the candidate who’s alleged to have said it insists she’s been misrepresented. BUT… to the ancient Romans this would have seemed an entirely reasonable discussion. I’ve mentioned this before but not, I think, on this blog: in the Roman empire your family circumstances could make all the difference between winning and losing.
Several sets of bronze tablets have turned up in southern Spain over the years, and the engraving on them gives us a fine insight into the way Roman-style towns were run in the first century AD. Some of it was exactly what an ex-council clerk like me would expect: if you take public money you have to account for it, you can’t vote on something when you stand to profit from the result and – more importantly for many of the locals, I suspect – the law pins down exactly who’s responsible for sorting out the drains. But when we reach the rules for elections, we get one of those jolting reminders that even though the Roman mindset seems familiar, their world was very different to ours.
Should two candidates receive an equal number of votes, this is what would happen in the town that’s now Malaga:
- The candidate who is married wins.
- If that doesn’t sort out the winner from the loser – the candidate who has sons wins.
- If they both have sons, the candidate with the most sons wins.
- BUT… in a reminder that our ancestors lived in a tough world, children who have not survived are included in the count. So, two children lost after living long enough to be named, or one son or daughter lost over the age of puberty, are counted as one surviving child (Yes I know there’s a discrepancy here with the son/child thing, but that’s how greater minds than mine have translated the Latin.)
- If all of that doesn’t pick a winner – it’s time to draw lots.
Of course under the Roman system neither of our potential Prime Ministers would be eligible, no matter how many children they did or didn’t have. Each of them has failed the fundamental requirement: neither is a man.
Right. Having sorted that out, I’ll be reverting to book stuff next week, because VITA BREVIS, the next Medicus book, should be out in ebook everywhere next Tuesday – hooray! It’ll also be in print and audio, of course – initially in the USA and Canada.
I’ll also be making a flying visit to Cambridge next Thursday (14th July), so if you’re around in the early evening do come and join us at Heffers for What’s Your Poison? Summer 2016 Crime Fiction Party – there might just be one or two sneaky imported copies of VITA BREVIS for sale!
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