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Vocal expressions of approval and good wishes in ritual form were an important part of Roman life, both private (e.g. at weddings) and public (for actors and the presiding magistrate at public performances, and above all at a triumph). The title of imperator was based on the soldiers' acclamation. A magistrate leaving for his province was escorted by crowds shouting ritual acclamations, and his return was received in a corresponding way. (see provincia §2.) Under the empire, these rituals were magnified, but confined to the emperor and approved members of his family. They were also ritually greeted at public appearances, especially at games and on their birthdays. By the 4th cent. ce such greetings had been made mandatory for certain high officials (Cod. Theod. 1. 6. 6, 6. 9. 2). By the late republic, rhythmical shouting at games, sometimes organized, expressed approval or disapproval of politicians. Cicero takes it very seriously, as expressions of public opinion (which of course counted only in the city of Rome), and P. Clodius Pulcher organized such shouting at contiones to simulate public opinion. Under the empire, such acclamations, especially at games, became the only expression of public opinion and they could rarely be suppressed. They were normally combined with ritual greetings of the emperor to express approval or disapproval of prominent persons and demand rewards or punishments for them. Ritualized acclamations spread to recitations and declamations and claques could be collected and even paid for this. Nero formed a large claque for his performances, importing the Alexandrian tradition of musical accompaniment to their chants.

In the senate ritual shouts of greeting and approval for the emperor appear very early. They were used to attract the emperor's notice by demanding punishment of ‘traitors’ (see maiestas), and at the death of a hated emperor would demand (probably with more spontaneity) his damnatio memoriae and punishment for his creatures (see e.g. Tac. Hist. 1. 72. 3; Suet. Dom. 23. 1). On Trajan's accession the acclamations welcoming him were first recorded on published documents (Plin. Pan. 75. 2) and that practice spread. By this time acclamations also greeted (e.g.) the announcement of the names of designated consuls (ibid. 95. 2). But senate procedure was not basically affected. As the Historia Augusta frequently attests (showing at least what was taken for granted), recorded acclamations increased in length and frequency. By the 4th cent., discussion and traditional procedure had lapsed and they provided an appearance of senatorial expression of opinion. The development was naturally imitated at the local level and ultimately reached the Church.


A. Pauly, G. Wissowa, and W. Kroll, Real-Encyclopädie d. klassischen Altertumswissenschaft 1 ‘acclamation’.Find this resource:

    A. Alföldi, Mitteilungen des deutschen archäologischen Instituts: Römische Abteilung 1934, 79 ff.Find this resource:

      A. Cameron, Circus Factions (1976), esp. ch. 9.Find this resource:

        R. J. A. Talbert, The Senate of Imperial Rome (1984), 297 ff.Find this resource:

          C. Roueché, Journal of Roman Studies 1984, 181 ff.Find this resource:

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