This paper offers a close analysis of the usage of the term circulus to refer to groups of Romans gathered together for various reasons. I identify such groupings as primarily non-elite in character and suggest that examination of their representation in our sources offers insight into popular sociability and communication at Rome. While circuli and the related figure of the circulator are often associated with what is considered to be a debased popular culture, they can also be seen as part of a more general culture of popular sociability which is politically threatening to a Roman governing class that desired to monopolize and control speech and communication and in whose interest it was to channel popular political participation into the official political institutions of the city. This paper also looks at some of the strategies developed by Roman elites to maintain, in response to such unauthorized activity, their moral, intellectual, and political hegemony over the rest of the population.

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