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Bill Thayer

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 p1076  Suffragium

Unsigned article on pp1076‑1077 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

SUFFRA′GIUM, a vote. At Athens the voting in the popular assemblies and the courts of justice was either by show of hands or by ballot, as is explained under Cheirotonia and Psephus. It is commonly supposed that at Rome the people were always polled in the comitia by word of mouth, till the passing of the Leges Tabellariae about the middle of the second century before Christ [Tabellariae Leges], when the ballot by means of tabellae was introduced. [Tabella.] Wunder (Codex Erfurtensis,º p. clxvii &c.) however has shown, that the popular assemblies voted by ballot, as well as by word of mouth, long before the passing of the Leges Tabellariae, but that instead of using tabellae they employed stones or pebbles (the Greek ψῆφοι), and that each voter received two stones, one white and the other black, the former to be used in the approval and the latter in the condemnation of a measure. The voting by word of mouth seems to have been adopted in elections and trials, and the use of pebbles to have been confined to the enactment and repeal of laws.​a That the latter mode of voting was adopted in early times is proved by many passages of Dionysius, and especially by X.41: ὡς ὁ δῆμος ἀπήλτει τὰς ψήφους, οἱ νεώτατοι τῶν πατρικίων — τὰ ἀγγεῖα τῶν ψήφων τοὺς ἔχοντας ἀφῃροῦντο; and by XI.52: ἐκέλευσαν καδίσκον τεθήναι ὑπὲρ τῆς πόλεως Ῥωμαίων, καθ’ ἑκάστην φυλὴν, εἰος ὃν ἀποθήσονται τὰς ψήφους. It is also confirmed by the common expressions used with respect to voting, as suffragium ferre, mittere in suffragia, inire, or ire in suffragia, which lead us to suppose that the suffragium probably signified something which was put by the hand from one place into another. For if the Romans had from the first been polled only by word of mouth, it is scarcely possible that such an expression as suffragium ferre would have been used, when they had nothing to carry; but on the contrary, some such  p1077 word as dicere would have been employed, more especially as it is certain that in the most ancient times those who voted by word of mouth did not go up one by one to the officer who received the votes, but remained in their places, and were asked for their votes by the Rogatores, who thence derived their name. Besides which the word suffragium can scarcely signify the same as sententia or vox. The etymology is uncertain, for the opinions of those who connect it with φράζεσθαι or fragor do not deserve notice. Wunder thinks that it may possibly be allied with suffrago, and signified originally an ankle-bone or knuckle-bone. On the passing of the Leges Tabellariae the voting with stones or pebbles went out of use. For further particulars with respect to the voting in the comitia, see Comitia, p336; Diribitores; Situla; Tabella; Tabellariae Leges.

Those who had the Jus Suffragii or the right of voting in the comitia, as well as the capacity of enjoying magistracies, were citizens optimo jure. Civitas, p291B.

Thayer's Note:

a I wouldn't be too sure of that. Ovid (Met. XV.41) writes:

Mos erat antiquus niveis atrisque lapillis,

His damnare reos, illis absolvere culpa.

In Greece, pebbles were used in elections as well, or at least the word for pebble, ψῆφος, was routinely used to mean a vote in all kinds of contexts; and though it might be argued this was a figurative use, sometimes it seems clear that actual physical pebbles were meant, as in Hdt. VIII.123.

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