Optimates and Populares

Optimates and Populares
Ideological positions in ancient Rome that became defined in the early 1st century BC.

Both groups came from the wealthier classes. The Optimates (Latin: "Best Ones," "Aristocrats") promoted the dominance of the Senate and the proper balance of the constitution. The Populares ("Demagogues," "Populists") used and defended the powers of the popular assemblies and the office of tribune and advocated such measures as land distribution, debt cancellation, and subsidized grain allowances. Their polarization led to civil wars
notably those between Julius Caesar and Pompey and between Octavian (Augustus) and Mark Antony
and the fall of the republic with Augustus's accession.

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▪ Roman politics
      (Latin: respectively, “Best Ones,” or “Aristocrats”, and “Demagogues,” or “Populists”), two principal patrician political groups during the later Roman Republic (ancient Rome) from about 133 to 27 BC. The members of both groups belonged to the wealthier classes.

      The Optimates were the dominant group in the Senate. They blocked the wishes of the others, who were thus forced to seek tribunician support for their measures in the tribal assembly and hence were labeled Populares, “demagogues,” by their opponents. The two groups differed, therefore, chiefly in their methods: the Optimates tried to uphold the oligarchy; the Populares sought popular support against the dominant oligarchy, either in the interests of the people themselves or in furtherance of their own personal ambitions. Finally, it is well to remember that the Senate's authority was based on custom and consent rather than upon law. It had no legal control over the people or magistrates: it gave, but could not enforce, advice. Until 133 BC any challenge to its authority was little more than a pinprick, but thereafter more deadly blows were struck, first by such Populares as Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, then by Gaius Marius, and finally by the army commanders from the provinces.

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Universalium. 2010.

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