Ancient and modern

The fake names on the Remain petition are nothing new

30 March 2019

9:00 AM

30 March 2019

9:00 AM

The petition calling on the UK to remain in the EU has garnered 8,000 votes from Jacob Rees-Mogg and 700 from Idi Amin. Ho-ho, what wits these Remainers are, could be one response. But Romans knew all about this sort of game-playing, and there could be a different explanation.

We have records of about 180 jobs of one sort or another across the Roman world. These include tinkers, tailors, soldiers, sailors, entertainers, artists, designers, clerks, lawyers, engineers, cobblers, shoemakers, weavers, lace-makers, porters, dye-sellers, launderers, plasterers and butchers to teachers, builders, cooks, farmers, merchants, fish-sellers, goldsmiths, muff-makers, labourers, carters, hairdressers, and more. What united them all was the person appointed to the post of aedile annually up for grabs in a town council’s elections. The reason was very simple: the aedile was responsible for street order, public buildings, water supplies, positions in the main town market, local taxes and leasing municipal properties.


To this end the tradesmen formed themselves into associations to lobby for the candidate of their choice. As we know from Pompeii, they painted red or black electoral notices, clustering along the streets, proclaiming their desire for X to win the aedileship. They took the form ‘The fruit-pickers ask/urge you to select X as aedile’ or ‘All the fishermen say “Elect X as aedile” .’ Among the lobbyists we find mule-drivers, goldsmiths, carpenters, cloth-dyers, innkeepers, bakers, barbers, muleteers, cleaners, millers, chicken-sellers, mat-makers, onion-sellers, apple-sellers, farmers, grape-pickers and hatters. But there were also the jokers, posting ‘The late drinkers all ask you to vote for Vatia as aedile’, as did ‘the sleepers’, ‘the runaway slaves’ and ‘the little thieves’. Were these simply Roman quips? Might they not be ‘spoilers’ from workers hostile to Vatia?

The point is this: Remainers are not known for their paralysing wit on this matter anyway, but are they so dim as to imagine that it helps their cause to vote under the name of their Leave enemies? Maybe they are: but it is surely more likely that they are ‘spoilers’ from Leavers, demonstrating (as if that were needed) how unsafe such random polls are. Win-win for the spoilers, then.

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