Elections were held annually in March so that office could start on the first day of July. Due to Pompeii being a municipality which followed the Lex Iulia Municipalis, its government was based on the Senate of Rome. Therefore officials had to be elected as they were in Rome; in a democratic fashion.


The only people eligible to vote in Pompeii were free-born male citizens. From inside the city walls the overall figure of those eligible to vote was around 2500. From other municipalities we can learn that elections ran with the population divided into ‘tribus’. [1]Each tribe would then vote for the two aediles and duoviri (or duoviri quinquennales if it was a census year). The candidates with the most overall tribal votes would be elected into office.

DID YOU KNOW? ­ – There was the same estimated number of electoral programmata found as the entire Pompeian electorate!

We don’t know exactly how the citizens of Pompeii were divided into groups but we can infer this information from electoral programmata (electoral posters) found around the streets of Pompeii. For example, we can see, from this evidence, that the people of Pompeii were indeed divided into sub-groups, in this case, according to their regions. These groups were being urged to vote in posters around the city; the ‘campanienses, salinenses, forenses and urbulanenses’.[2] Mostly all of these groups refer to one of the gates of the city and therefore they are identified as the voting sub-groups distinguished by the gate closest to the citizens’ homes.


We don’t actually know exactly how elections worked in Pompeii. We are lacking evidence which tells us about where the citizens assembled and the details of how each person would vote. However, some scholars assume similarity with other Roman municipalities and therefore look to municipal charters in the Roman world for insight into the practice of voting.

For example, in most municipalities, the citizens would all assemble at the Comitium which was a place where people would assemble for political or religious reasons. There is debate about which building Pompeii used as its Comitium; for example, Colin Amery and Brian Curran believe this was the Forum. [3]In contrast to this, Greg Woolf believes there was a separate building, now in ruins, to the east of the Forum which was in fact the Comitium of Pompeii.[4] He supports his view with the fact that this building had a large amount of doorways, at least eight, which would have been convenient when gathering the voting population of the City in one place. [5]


There is scholarly debate on how important the elections in Pompeii actually were in regards to the competition between candidates and also the role of the voters. In terms of the voting citizens of Pompeii, they were indeed more important than it seems on the surface. This is because, once aedile, one was a member of the Ordo Decurionem for life (unless deemed unworthy by the duoviri quinquennales) and therefore, not only were the electorate voting the magistrates into office, but also voting for the permanent members of the Ordo Decurionem.

On the other hand, many scholars believe that the elections themselves were not very important due to the lack of competition for positions. There is debate about how many candidates were in fact running for each election and therefore if there was any real need for them (if there was already a guaranteed ‘win’). Modern scholars, such as Mary Beard and Willem Jongman believe that there were, most likely, the same amount of candidates as there were available positions in the Pompeian local government.[6] This suggests that the Pompeian electorate’s vote was artificial unless there were more than two eligible candidates per position every year. [7]  Beard doesn’t believe that this was the case in Ancient Pompeii. As one had to be aedile beforehand, there were a limited amount of men who were even eligible to become a duumvir. She also suggests that not all previous aedilies would be available to become one of the duoviri in a given year, which lessens the amount of candidates further.[8] Her conclusion, therefore, is that some men would have to become duumvir twice in order to fill positions due to the lack of eligible candidates and that high competition would only be seen in a year when the duoviri quinquennales were being elected into office. [9] Jongman supports their shared view with his interpretation on the chronology of electoral programmata. He believes that there is a long chronology of electoral graffiti and therefore the candidate’s names we see are spread across a vast period of time, which restricts the amount of candidates running per yearly election.[10]

However, this is not the only interpretation we have from modern scholars. Both Kathryn Lomas and Mouritsen disagree with the above interpretations. Lomas’ view is the direct opposite to Jongman and she believes that the electoral programmata have only a short lifespan due to the walls being whitewashed and used every year, thus condensing the number of mentioned candidates into a smaller chronological period. [11] Mouritsen also holds this view and he believes the posters that we have found date to the last year of elections and not long before that, which again supports the idea that competition was indeed lively. [12]

Personally, I agree with the latter, that there was in fact competition for positions, but I believe the amount of competition depends on the type of magistracy. For example, I believe that there would have been less competition for the position of duumvir as one had to be aedile beforehand and also had to be available and ready to meet the expected requirements in a given year. In contrast to this, I believe that there would have been far more competition for the position of quinquennial duumvir as it was the highest available position in Pompeian politics and was therefore sought after. As well as this, it is commonly believed that the position of aedile was just as sought after as it granted membership into the Ordo Decurionem for life and therefore it opened a wide political gateway for a wealthy Pompeian wanting to get himself and his family name into Pompeian Politics and also those aiming to become duumvir and/or quinquennial duumvir at some point in their life.

Macrobius,  Saturnalia 2.3.11 

Romae, si vis, habebit: Pompeis difficile est. 

 “Senatorial rank? Well at Rome he shall certainly have it, if you wish, but at Pompeii it isn’t easy.”                                                                                                                                                                                            

One must not forget Cicero’s famous witty comment when deciding how important these elections were and how much competition and difficulty there was to be elected into office. Macrobius is quoting Cicero jeering at Caesar’s readiness to admit people into the Senate of Rome, and his comment here suggests that this would not happen in Pompeii. Therefore we can see that the elections must have had importance as, without the Emperor granting easy-access to the government, they made it difficult to readily become of magisterial rank.


[1]Castren,1975: 78

[2]Beard,2008: 190

[3]Amery,Curran,2002: 61

[4]Woolf,2003: 213

[5]Woolf,2003: 213

[6]Beard,2008: 194, Lomas, 1998: 198

[7]Beard,2008: 194, Lomas, 1998: 198

[8]Beard,2008: 194

[9]Beard,2008: 194

[10]Jongman,1988: 314

[11]Lomas,1996: 198

[12]Lomas,1996: 198