Classics Homo novus/New man
Henriette van der Blom
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0277


The concept homo novus (literally “new man”) and its derivative novitas (“newness” or “the quality of being a new man”) were used by politicians and authors writing about political life in the late Roman republic (c. 133–131 BCE). There is no ancient definition of the term, and modern scholars disagree on the precise meaning. However, ancient usage suggests that homo novus was a political term used to describe a politician from outside the senatorial elite in Rome, who was successfully elected to a political magistracy, especially the higher magistracies of praetor and consul. The existence of the term indicates an attempt to maintain exclusivity in the political elite of senatorial families and that this attempt was directed not at the lower classes but mainly at members of the equestrian class, who were their equals in socioeconomic terms. The term was used pejoratively by elite Roman politicians to scorn newcomers competing for the limited number of magistracies; in response some homines novi tried to present their background as advantageous: their lack of politically active ancestors made their own candidacy for office untainted by established networks and corruption. The term and its underlying political and social dynamics is crucial for understanding the rhetoric of the politician and author Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 BCE) in particular, but also the historical monographs of his near-contemporary Gaius Sallustius Crispus (86–c. 35 BCE), and the works of biographers and historians writing about the late republic. Cicero is the largest exponent of the term, but his speeches suggests that other new men dipped into the rhetoric of novitas. Understanding the political and social dynamics behind this concept is also important for any study of late Roman republican politics and the major sociopolitical changes taking place during the civil war and triumviral period (c. 49–31 BCE) and the early imperial period (c. 31 BCE–100 CE).

Homo Novus and Nobilis

There is no ancient definition of the term homo novus. Modern scholars have tried to explain homo novus as the opposite of the concept nobilis, though this dichotomy has been disputed. Nevertheless, an understanding of what nobilis may have meant to republican Romans (see Nobilis in Modern Scholarship) will prove useful for understanding the meaning of homo novus (see Defining Homo Novus).

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