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Literally “a going about,” and cannot, perhaps, be more nearly expressed than by our word canvassing. After the plebs had formed a distinct class at Rome, and when the whole body of the citizens had become very greatly increased, we frequently read, in the Roman writers, of the great efforts which it was necessary for candidates to make in order to secure the votes of the citizens. At Rome, as in every community into which the element of popular election enters, solicitation of votes, and open or secret influence and bribery, were among the means by which a candidate secured his election to the offices of state.

Whatever may be the authority of the piece entitled Q. Ciceronis de Petitione Consulatus ad M. Tullium Fratrem, it seems to present a pretty fair picture of those arts and means by which a candidate might lawfully endeavour to secure the votes of the electors, and also some intimation of those means which were not lawful, and which it was the object of various enactments to repress.

A candidate was called petitor, and his opponent, with reference to him, competitor. A candidate (candidatus) was so called from his appearing in the public places, such as the fora and Campus Martius, before his fellow-citizens, in a whitened toga. On such occasions, the candidate was attended by his friends (deductores), or followed by the poorer citizens (sectatores), who could in no other manner show their good-will or give their assistance. The word assiduitas expressed both the continual presence of the candidate at Rome and his continual solicitations. The candidate, in going his rounds or taking his walk, was accompanied by a nomenclator, who gave him the names of such persons as he might meet: the candidate was thus enabled to address them by their names—an indirect compliment which could not fail to be generally gratifying to the electors. The candidate accompanied his address with a shake of the hand (prensatio). The term benignitas comprehended generally any kind of treating, as shows, feasts, etc.

That ambitus, which was the object of several penal enactments, taken as a generic term, comprehended the two species, ambitus and largitiones (bribery). Liberalitas and benignitas are opposed by Cicero, as things allowable, to ambitus and largitio, as things illegal. Money was paid for votes; and in order to insure secrecy and secure the elector, persons called interpretes were employed to make the bargain, sequestres to hold the money till it was to be paid, and divisores to distribute it. The offence of ambitus was a matter which belonged to the iudicia publica, and the enactments against it were numerous. Of these the best known are the Lex Aemilia Balbia (B.C. 182); the Lex Cornelia Fulvia (B.C. 159); the Lex Acilia Calpurnia (B.C. 67); the Lex Tullia (B.C. 63); the Lex Aufidia (B.C. 61); the Lex Licinia (B.C. 58); and the Lex Iulia de ambitu under Augustus. The penalties prescribed by these laws varied from exile, and exclusion from the Senate, to money fines. The Lex Licinia made sodalicium, or “treating,” an offence. By the time of Augustus, ambitus in its proper sense had disappeared, in consequence of the transfer of the elections from the Comitia to the Senate. A list of trials for ambitus under the Republic is given by Rein in his Criminalrecht der Römer.

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