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I've read about the archaic Roman practice of killing 60-year-olds by pushing them off a bridge, in a book by historian Eva Cantarella, namely Perfino Catone scriveva ricette - I greci, i romani e noi ("Even Cato wrote recipes - The Greeks, the Romans and us"). It wasn't translated in English however.

The proverb sexagenarios de ponte deici oportet (it is necessary to push 60-year-olds off the bridge) seems to confirm the existence of the ritual. However, after some research, I've found sources claiming that the debate on the existence of this ritual hasn't ended yet. Interestingly, already during the Late Republic, it seems the Romans weren't sure about the origin of the proverb, and some authors tried (unsuccessfully) to prove the ritual never existed.

Is there a general consensus today? If so, when is it believed that the Romans started replacing the then-elders with the Argei, a kind of dummies?

  • Here is an excerpt of a work by historian Ubaldo Lugli, in Italian. He shows evidence for the existence of this ancient ritual, and proceeds to discuss the reasons for it. Eventually, I may find the time to recollect the most important pieces of this and write an answer here, in English, but I'd be glad if someone else wanted to do it. @sempaiscuba: I don't know how well you understand Italian, but I thought you may be interested in that link. – Vincenzo Oliva Sep 6 '17 at 17:09
  • My Italian is ... poor at best!. I've downloaded the paper, but it will take me a while to translate. If i read the introduction correctly, Lugli agrees that the origins of the ritual had already been lost to history by the time of the late Republic? – sempaiscuba Sep 6 '17 at 17:44
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    @sempaiscuba: Yes, he states that its origins were debated at least by that time, and in particular he gives the earliest reference of this debate. – Vincenzo Oliva Sep 6 '17 at 18:13
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There is certainly a consensus that the proverb existed. It is mentioned by Catullus, and was used (to humorous effect) by Cicero in his first speech in a criminal case.

The existence and extent of the ritual is more problematic. It is clear that the origins of the proverb had already been forgotten by the time of the late Roman Republic. A number of suggestions were made by Pompeius Festus in the late 2nd century AD, but the manuscript is fragmentary and he was writing even further from the events in time than Catullus and Cicero.

As far as I am aware the lack of evidence means that modern historians are unlikely to ever come to a consensus about the origin of the ritual.

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If the translation (it is necessary to push 60-year-olds off the bridge) is at all accurate, then this seems much more likely to be a metaphor than a recommendation for actual physical assault. In any large bureaucracy (or other organization) there is a tendency for experienced individuals to sit on their positions; and a need to clear those same individuals in order to train younger talent. Some sort of forced retirement is necessary in order to overcome the first and achieve the second.

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    No, in the comments to the OP I posted a paper which provides evidence for the existence of the ritual. It is in Italian, but there are references to English works in it. Anyway, the proverb is so old that the two options would be equally likely in principle. – Vincenzo Oliva Sep 11 '17 at 9:12

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