What is the Mos Maiorum to be the Roman Republic?

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What is the Mos Maiorum to be the Roman Republic?

Postby Publius Sextius Laevus » Wed Jan 04, 2017 4:08 pm

Salvete Cives RePublici

What is the Mos Maiorum? And how are we to incorporate it into the Roman Republic?

In the Comitia Curia Session IV we were confronted with what the Mos is to us. Can the Mos Maiorum, which is 'unwritten' wisdom of the ancients, be appended?

If the Mos Maiorum is the inheritance of wisdom and manner that has come down to us, has it been entrusted to each of us, not individually complete, but to the corporate, whole. We each have a sense of that part that is closest to us, but can one individual fathom the full depths of the Mos? Much of it comes to us as we reflect on the history of Rome and Romanitas, but a lot of it comes to us through the culture in which we have lived our lives, the living culture emanating from ancient Rome, ex urbe orbisque.

Is the Mos Maiorum retrievable to us in 2770 auc, was it lost with the conversion of the Empire, or has its living legacy come down to us in our culture(s)?

P. Sextius Laevus
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Re: What is the Mos Maiorum to be the Roman Republic?

Postby Gaius Florius Lupus » Thu Jan 05, 2017 12:53 pm

Salvete omnes!

The Mos Maiorum are the traditions by which the ancient Roman Republic was governed. It was not fully codified (The Twelve Table Law was however.), but every citizen knew its rules.
At the end of the third century CE it was discontinued. Roman traditions were replaced by oriental traditions, which is visible in the authoritarian style of Diocletian's Dominate, in Christianity becoming state religion and in the capital being moved from Rome to the East. Nothing that came afterwards was Roman in nature. Nothing afterwards can be Mos Maiorum.

Attempts were made to revive the ancient Roman way, the most famous one being the Renaissance movement, but the mindset of this time was distinctively different and heavily influenced by more than 1000 years of judaeo-christian/oriental thinking. I would nothing coming from the Renaissance or even the later Age of Enlightenment consider genuine Roman and worthy of being called 'Mos Maiorum".

In our times there is this urge to codify everything legal. If it is not written down in a law, it is not considered law at all, but somehow an arbitrary opinion. We firmly believe that we only have to follow written law. If it is not written it is null and void.
But this view is dillusional. Fact is that in our time we have such a huge amount of written laws that nobody can possibly know them all, not even after graduating in law at the university. Even professional lawyers have to specialize in a particular field of laws and do not know them all. Even in their supposed field of exercise they have to look them up in their books.
So when nobody actually knows what the law is due to the huge amount of laws, which laws are we actually following in our daily life? It is not the written law, because we never read it. It is actually what we believe the law to be, because we know in our culture this is forbidden and that is allowed. Therefore we assume that somewhere it must have been codified as a written law. We know that stealing is not allowed and that contracts with others have to be fulfilled, but almost nobody knows the exact letters of the corresponding law or in which paragraph of the penal code it can be found.
Therefore writing down everything in a law is actually an exercisd in futility. No citizen will ever read it or even know where to find it (without using Google).
The Romans were - like always - wiser than we are today. They knew very well that writing down laws that no citizen would ever read was pointless. Therefore they skipped this useless step entirely. The Roman lawyers relied on what was common knowledge of every citizen about what was right and what was wrong. They built their case on the traditions and customs according to which the entire Republic worked. To make sure that these traditions were applied in a way as they were understood by the majority, the decision in a trial was not made by a single person who presided the trial, a praetor or an appointed iudex, but by a jury of Roman citizens. These juries could sometimes be more than 100 citizens depending on the importance of the case in order to reduce the possibility of bribery. Bribing would get very expensive to influence the decision of such a crowd and very difficult to conceal from the public. And such a jury made sure that the Mos Maiorum was interpreted in the way that the majority understood it. Nobody needed to study laws in order to understand what the Mos Maiorum was. Every citizen was competent to make a judgment, not only graduated lawyers.

This shows the advantage of the Roman system. If we had tried to codify, what is not supposed to be codified, it would have been against the Roman spirit following the obsession of our current time with producing huge amounts of paper.
Without a codified Mos Maiorum we are now encouraged into historical research, how the ancient Romans did things. And we will not scare new members away by huge numbers of leges that we have all written ourselves and which he would have to learn first in order to understand our Republic.
It was a wise decision of our magistrates to withdraw the proposal, which would have allowed us to write our own Mos Maiorum. I would like to express my gratitude to the wisdom of our government.

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