Excluded Narratives and Sovereignist Ideals at the Lex Exhibit (Ara Pacis Museum, May 27 - September 10, 2023) (15 min)


Bee Candelaria, Carleton College


This paper examines the omission of the Conflict of the Orders from the Lex exhibit at Museo dell’Ara Pacis and argues that this omission is reminiscent of the sovereignist principles championed by the right-wing Fratelli d’Italia (‘Brothers of Italy’) party.

The Lex exhibit is a temporary exhibit at the Museo dell’Ara Pacis (May 27–September 10, 2023) which “introduces the most significant aspects of the concept of Justice in Rome” (Museo dell’Ara Pacis). The absence of the Conflict of the Orders is conspicuous. Overlooking the plebeians’ struggle to secure relief from debt and debt enslavement (nexum), institute a land law, and establish plebeian magistrates, the exhibit emphasizes the Liciniae-Sextiae laws instead.

This omission is reminiscent of the core tenet of sovereignism endorsed by the right-wing Brothers of Italy party. According to political scientist Davide Vampa (Brothers of Italy: A New Populist Wave in an Unstable Party System, [Cham: Springer Nature, 2023]), Sovereignism supports a position of “the people taking back control” and collapses the actions of the state with the will of the people. By omitting the Conflict of the Orders and highlighting the Liciniae-Sextiae laws, the Lex exhibit assimilates the plebeians’ struggle with the state’s actions, ignoring the plebeians’ pivotal role in this development. Museums represent the past while confronted by the present (Lugli, L’educazione estetica, 1978). My analysis examines the exhibit’s didactics to demonstrate that the exclusion of the Conflict of the Orders is political; specifically, the didactics on plebeian magistrates, debt, and the death of Virginia serve as instances where the Conflict of the Orders is disregarded to exalt the state’s actions. This approach, aligned with sovereignism ideals, misrepresents the past, adversely affecting the legacy of ancient plebeians and modern marginalized communities battling impoverishment. In this way, this paper underscores the power of contemporary politics in shaping historical representation.