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Mots. Les langages du politique, n°132/2023

Les mots du vote de la Rome antique à la Révolution française

Mots. Les langages du politique

Words describing voting, from Ancient Rome to the French Revolution

Since no comprehensive study has yet been devoted to the Latin vocabulary describing voting, this issue proposes to approach the analysis of these ancient political realities from the lexicological angle, which is often neglected in historical approaches. Although the Romans did have a rich vocabulary to describe the practices of appointing people to public offices, the strictly technical aspect of this vocabulary are not obvious; and so it is necessary to study the historical, political and literary contexts in which the principal Latin terms covering elections, like creare, facere, suffragium (among others) are used. Even during the ancient period alone, the lively and changing lexicon covering voting – between Latin and Greek, Republican and Imperial times – enjoyed a considerable richness, and during the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Classical Age, as the words were read, interpreted and sometimes translated by the commentators of the classical texts and the political actors of these periods. Consequently, it was important to offer analyses in the context of the various settings where this vocabulary could be reused, or even made more popular. Turning to Latin words to refer to voting is not the same in municipal Italy of the 13th-14th centuries, during the debates on the notion of sovereignty in the 16th century, or those on citizenship in the 18th century. The translation of these terms implies ideological choices, conscious or unconscious, whether it be Pierre Bersuire (c. 1350), the first translator of the works of Livy and of the word suffragium into French, or antiquity enthusiasts of the contemporary period.