A Loaf, a Vote

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Many a voter bemoans the current state of election campaigns, wishing they were less vitriolic, less dirty.

Turns out, the ancient Romans probably wished that too, according to Smithsonian Magazine, detailing a discovery in Pompeii that highlights vote-buying and other election shenanigans almost two thousand years ago.

In a new study, archeologists reported the discovery of an election poster encouraging voters to elect Aulus Rustius Verus for the political office of aedile – an elected official who oversaw public infrastructure. “I beseech you to make Aulus Rustius a true aedile, worthy of the state,” according to the Latin translation.

Researchers said the ad, in the form of an inscription, was found inside a home believed to have belonged to one of the candidate’s supporters. The finding was peculiar because the sign was kept inside the home’s shrine, which suggests that the homeowner was hosting an event to help the candidate get elected.

More interesting, however, was the bakery in the supporter’s house and how Verus’ initials were written on a millstone. Researchers say the candidate may have been financially supporting the bakery.

That would be unsurprising because researchers say the practice of “vote buying” was common in Pompeii, where “electoral passion was lived with intensity.”

Even so, the candidate’s machinations “verged on being illegal,” said co-author Maria Chiara Scappaticcio: “Verus may well have realized from the start, when he was scheming to become aedile and at the height of his electoral campaign, that voters (above all else) live on bread.”

Historical records don’t detail what happened to Verus when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE and buried Pompeii and other surrounding areas in volcanic ash.

But researchers already know from prior excavations that Verus went on to secure the more powerful post of duumviri: Duumviris were magistrates appointed in cities across the empire.

That means, researchers say, that he likely won the post of aedile.

Correction: In Thursday’s NEED TO KNOW section, we used the term “Madagascan” in our item, “The Grudge Match,” to refer to the people of Madagascar. The correct term is, in fact, “Malagasy.” We apologize for the error.

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