The constitution of the Roman Republic or mos maiorum (Latin for "custom of the ancestors") was an unwritten set of guidelines and principles passed down mainly through precedent.
Concepts that originated in the Roman constitution live on in constitutions to this day. Examples include checks and balances, the separation of powers, vetoes, filibusters, quorum requirements, term limits, and regularly scheduled elections.
Even some lesser used modern constitutional concepts, such as the block voting found in the electoral college of the United States, originate from ideas found in the Roman constitution.
The constitution of the Roman Republic wasn't formal or even official. Its constitution was largely unwritten, and was constantly evolving throughout the life of the republic.
Throughout the 1st century BC, the power and legitimacy of the Roman constitution was progressively eroding. Even Roman constitutionalists, such as the senator Cicero, lost a willingness to remain faithful to it towards the end of the republic.
When the Roman Republic ultimately fell in the years following the Battle of Actium and Mark Antony's suicide, what was left of the Roman constitution died along with the republic.
The first Roman Emperor, Augustus, attempted to manufacture the appearance of a constitution that still governed the empire. The belief in a surviving constitution lasted well into the life of the Roman Empire.
The Romans were believed to have suffered under tyranny during the Roman Kingdom. The tyranny lasted throughout the life of the kingdom.
This tyranny reached its height during the reign of the final king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus.
Tarquin ruled with violence and terror. He destroyed the altars and shrines on the Tarpeian Rock, which infuriated people throughout the city. He repealed many of the earlier reforms that prior kings had enacted.
In 509 BC, the revolt resulted in Lucius Junius Brutus, a partisan of Lucretia's husband, leading an uprising that expelled Tarquin from the city. After Tarquin had been expelled, the senate decided not to elect another king. Instead, they decided to divest all powers of the king into the Roman Senate. And for that first year, both Brutus and Lucretia's widower, Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, would be consul.
In subsequent years, Romans established a complex set of checks and balances, to ensure that Rome would never again suffer under the tyranny that it had lived under when the kings ruled the city.
Power was eventually hedged around, with no one magesterial office holding too much power, always occupied by more than one man, and re-elected annually. A magistrate's colleague in office could veto any of his actions, as could one of the ten tribune of the plebs, who protected the interests of the plebeians
Because of what happened during these early years, Romans throughout the era of the republic were concerned about what might happen if one person accumulated too much power. Therefore, the Roman constitution relied heavily on mechanisms that would prevent any one person from amassing too much unchecked power. During the two consulships, and the dictatorship, of Lucius Cornelius Sulla, laws were passed to strengthen the weakening constitution.
Sulla took power away from the popular assemblies, and transferred that power to the senate.
During the later years of the republic, struggles between the aristocracy, and all other People of Rome, had caused a systemic weakening of the constitution. This struggle had been greatly exacerbated during the decades leading up to Sulla's dictatorship, due to the constant state of warfare Rome was finding itself in. Sulla was aware that a future tyrant would use popularity with the people, in order to seize complete power.
Thus Sulla viewed the senate as the only institution that would stand in the way of such a future tyrant.
The memory of tyranny under the kings lived well into the life of the republic.
It was this fear that enforced the constitution of the Roman Republic. But the constitution was unwritten, and no one was ever given the task of enforcing it.
Thus, it had power and legitimacy only so long as those in power allowed it to have that power and legitimacy. Towards the end of the 2nd Century BC, and into the 1st Century BC, the fear of the kings had been replaced by two new fears. Due to longer, and more protracted warfare, executive power was enlarging beyond its constitutional limits.
Struggles were becoming more violent, between the educated aristocracy, which knew the dangers of tyranny, and the people. The common people were more interested in jobs, and their own livelihood, than they were in abstract constitutional issues.
It was this that lead to the rise of Gaius Julius Caesar. Caesar seized power, using the same popular support that Sulla had feared. Sulla's reforms, meant to strengthen the senate, had been dismantled in the years following his death. Caesar's popular support proved too much for the entrenched aristocracy in the senate.
Caesar overpowered the senate, and seized complete power. Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March, by a Roman who had claimed descent from the senator who had expelled Tarquin.
It was the fear of a return to the tyranny of the kingdom, that motivated Marcus Junius Brutus, and the rest of Caesar's assassins.
The Senate Of Ancient Rome:
The Senate was the chief foreign policy-making branch of Roman government. The higher-ranking magistrates typically made decisions independently. However they usually followed the lead of the senate. All magistrates with imperium powers (the power to command armies) answered to the senate.
History of the Senate Of Ancient Rome:
The word senate derives from the word senex, which means "elder". Therefore, senate means "board of elders." According to legend, the Roman Senate was founded by Romulus in the year 753 BC. This was the year that he founded the city of Rome, and became its first king. The Senate under Romulus originally consisted of 100 senators of Latin origin. When Romulus brought the Sabines into the kingdom, following the Rape of the Sabine Women, he increased the size of the senate to 200, by adding 100 Sabine senators. Later, when the king Tarquinius Priscus brought the conquered Etruscans into the kingdom, he added 100 Etruscan senators. The senate continued to consist of 300 members until the final century of the republic, when Lucius Cornelius Sulla increased the membership to 600 around the year 88 BC. Several decades later, Julius Caesar increased the size of the senate to 900. Eventually, the number of senators was brought back down to 600 by Augustus. Romulus called these senators patres ("fathers"). Many years later, a group of plebeians were drafted into the senate (conscripti). The two terms were merged, and senators would eventually be called Patres et Conscripti (Conscript Fathers). During the years of the kingdom, the senate was primarily responsible for the election of a new king (rex). Once a king died, the powers of the king would divest into the senate. The senate would then appoint one of its members as the interrex. The interrex would serve for five days. At the end of the five days, a new interrex would be appointed. This would continue until a new king was elected. When the interrex found an acceptable nominee, he would present this nominee to the senate. If the senate approved, the interrex would convene the Curiate Assembly (which was the only legislative body at the time with any power) to formally elect the new king. After a religious ceremony, to ensure that the nominee was acceptable to the Gods, the Curiate Assembly would meet again. It would grant imperium powers to the king-elect. This would give the new king the ability to command armies. At this point, the process was complete. When the last king, Tarquinius Superbus was expelled in 509 BC, the senate decided not to nominate another king. Since the powers of the king had been divested to the senate, the senate decided to retain these powers. The senate elected two leaders, called praetors. These leaders would eventually come to be called consuls. It was at this point that the Roman Republic was born, and the constitution was created. It was also at this point that the Roman Senate transitioned from being an advisory body of town elders, to a policy-making body of former magistrates. In the middle of the fourth century BC, the Lex Ovinia law passed. This law set the rules for senate membership. It allowed former magistrates to become senators. It also allowed the censors to appoint new senators. Financial requirements were set for membership. As Rome expanded, new magistrates were needed to serve as governors of the new provinces. To fill these new governorships (as well as their staffs), more magistrates (especially praetors) had to be elected. Over time, the resulted was more senators with magisterial experience. As a consequence, it became harder for magistrates to ignore the advice of the senate.
Senatorial powers Of Ancient Rome:
The focus of the Roman Senate was directed towards foreign policy. While its role in military conflict was officially advisory, the senate was ultimately the force that conducted those conflicts. The consuls would have formal command over the armies. However, the consular command of those armies was directed by the senate. In addition, the senate sent and received foreign ambassadors, and appointed provincial governors. It appropriated public funds, and appointed officials who would manage the public lands. It would oversee the religious institutions. And the senate authorized the consuls to nominate a dictator, during an extraordinary emergency. The senate didn't make laws. The assemblies, which were considered the embodiment of the People of Rome, made domestic laws which governed the people.
Structure of the Senate Of Ancient Rome:
The eldest member of the senate, the princeps senatus, was asked to speak by the consul holding the fasces first before any other member of the senate. Throughout the year, one of the two consuls would be superior in rank to the other consul. This ranking would flip every month, between the two consuls. Once a consul's term ended, he would hold the honorary title of consulares for the rest of his time in the senate. During periods when both consuls were absent, another senior magistrate would act as the president of the senate. Often this would be a praetor. Praetors were ranked second only to consuls. In addition, the senate was divided into groups of ten senators. Each group was called a decurie, and would be led by a patrician.
Senate procedure Of Ancient Rome:
The president of the senate would lay any business before the senate. Occasionally, the president would solicit senators for their own propositions. Senators held various ranks. Higher ranking senators always spoke before lower ranking ones. Any patrician would speak before a plebeian who held a similar rank. In the early republic, censors would appoint new senators. In the later republic, this censorial power was eliminated. After these reforms, any person appointed to the office of either consul, praetor, quaestor, or aedile, would usually become a senator. Any senator who had not held an upper magisterial office was referred to as a senator pedarius. These senators often did not have the right to speak before the senate. The Roman Senate had no rules on debate. This led to the common usage of debating a bill until the time allotted for debate expired. This is what is now known as a filibuster. One Roman senator who was known to have filibustered was Cato the Younger. Several countries today have this function embedded in the rules of their own legislative assemblies. It is not believed that the Roman Senate allowed for cloture. Cloture is the right of a specified number of members to vote to end a filibuster. The Roman Senate had various other rules. For example, votes by the show of hands or by voice were permitted. Quorums were necessary, in order for business to be considered. In order for a quorum to be present, a specified number of senators would have had to be present at the session. If a quorum was not present, no business could be considered. Unimportant matters could be voted on by a voice vote or a show of hands. However, important votes resulted in an physical division of the house, with senators voting by taking a place on either side of the house.
Senatorial magistrates Of Ancient Rome:
Four classes of magistrates were appointed by the Century Assembly, and they would serve in the senate. Two of these, consuls and praetors would have imperium powers. With these powers, these magistrates were legally allowed to command armies. One other senatorial magistrate, the aedile, would be responsible for supervising public games and shows. The fourth senatorial magistrate, the censor, would appoint new senators. In addition, the censor would regulate public morality (hence censorship), and conduct a cataloguing of persons (only citizens) and equipment in the republic (hence a census).
Religious significance Of Ancient Rome:
The senate was as much a religious institution, as it was a political institution. When Gaius Octavius became the first Roman Emperor, the senate named him Augustus. Like the senate itself, this name had important religious significance. The word meant venerable, and had the same root as the word Augur. The Augurs were religious officials, who would study natural occurrences (called taking the auspices), in order to determine the will of the Gods. A Roman Priest, or AugurThe senate operated while under various religious restrictions. The senate was only allowed to meet in a building of religious significance, such as the Curia Hostilia. Any meetings on New Year's Day would be held in the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Any war meetings would be held in the temple of Bellona. Sessions could only be held between sunrise and sunset. In addition, a prayer and a sacrifice, were typically made before the beginning of a session. An augur would take the auspices, to ensure that the session had the approval of the Gods. The senate also had the ability to deify people. After their deaths, the senate declared both Julius Caesar and Augustus to be divine.
Senate checks on the legislative and executive branch Of Ancient Rome:
The Roman Senate possessed several checks over both the executive branch (the magistrates) and the legislative branch (the assemblies). The most powerful tool that the senate had, in order to check the actions of the other two branches of government, was the senatus consultum. This was "advice" from the senate to the magistrates. While magistrates officially did not have to follow this advice, they usually did.
Checks over the executive magistrates Of Ancient Rome:
Through the use of senatus consulta, the senate could order the four senatorial magistrates (consuls, praetors, aediles, and censors) to do anything that the senate wished. Since the consuls and praetors had imperium powers and commanded armies, the senatus consultum allowed the senate to control all military actions. By issuing a senatus consultum, the senate could direct the aediles to run public games and shows as it wished. Through the aedile, the senate also controlled the upkeep of the city, the public grain supply, and the marketplace. By directing a senatus consultum toward the censors, the senate could direct the regulation of public morality, the compiling of a census, and the appointment of new senators. In addition, each executive magistrate had at least one colleague of equal rank in the same office. For example, every year, two consuls would be elected. Each magistrate had the power to veto any action of another magistrate of equal or lesser rank. The four highest ranking magistrates reported to the senate, and thus were subject to any senatus consultum which ordered them to veto the action of another magistrate. Thus, through a senatus consultum, the senate could order any action of any magistrate, senatorial or non-senatorial, to be vetoed. In addition, the highest ranking magisterial office was the consulship. And since there were always two people holding this office, the senate could always order the veto of any action of any consul, by issuing a senatus consultum to that consul's colleague.
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Checks over the Comitia Centuriata Of Ancient Rome:
Through the senatus consulta, the senate could control the Comitia Centuriata (Century Assembly or Army Assembly). Either the consul or the praetor would preside over this assembly. Members of this assembly could not propose either bills or other actions to the assembly. Only magistrates had this right. Therefore, typically a presiding consul or praetor would be the officer who would introduce a bill or a proposed action. Thus, through the senatus consulta, the senate could control what bills and what actions came before this assembly. In addition, the presiding consul or praetor would have other duties associated with being the presiding officer. For example, the presiding officer had to call the assembly to order. He would also be the officer who would order a new legislative session to be held. Since the senate could control the actions of the presiding officer, the senate exercised a large degree of control over the entire assembly. In addition, the consuls and praetors commanded the Roman armies. And since the Century Assembly was an assembly of soldiers, the senate had other collateral controls over the members of this assembly.
Checks Over the Comitia Tributa Of Ancient Rome:
Control over the Comitia Tributa (Tribal Assembly or Popular Assembly) was more difficult and indirect than control over the Comitia Centuriata (Century Assembly or Army Assembly). However, the senate did have the power to exercise such control. Typically, a tribune would preside over the Tribal Assembly. Members of this assembly could not propose either bills or other actions to the assembly. Only magistrates had this right. Therefore, typically a presiding tribune would be the officer who would introduce a bill or a proposed action. Through the senatus consulta, the senate could order a higher-ranking magistrate to veto any action of a tribune. Thus, while the senate couldn't force a tribune to do something, it could prevent that tribune from doing something that it didn't approve of. Thus, the senate had indirect control over what bills and what actions came before this assembly. The senate could order a senatorial magistrate to veto a tribune's attempt to bring a bill before the entire Tribal Assembly. In addition, the tribune would have other duties, associated with being the presiding officer. For example, the presiding tribune had to call the assembly to order. He would also be the officer who would order a new legislative session to be held. Since the senate could have any of these actions vetoed, it exercised a large degree of indirect control over this assembly.
Checks over the enforcement of laws passed by the legislative branch Of Ancient Rome:
One particular senatorial magistrate, the praetor, had the task of enforcing laws passed by the assemblies. He had this power over laws passed by both the Century Assembly, and the Tribal Assembly. Likewise, the consul had ultimate authority over the praetor. Therefore, the senate could order that a praetor (or consul) either not enforce a law, or enforce the law in a modified manner.
Appointment of a dictator Of Ancient Rome:
In times of military emergency, the senate had the sole power to evoke the ultimate act. The senate would authorize a consul to appoint a dictator. Upon appointment by the consul, the dictator would have complete and absolute executive, legislative and senatorial power. The dictator's term would (constitutionally) only last for six months.
The decline of the Senate Of Ancient Rome:
During his two consulships and his dictatorship, Lucius Cornelius Sulla attempted to strengthen the senate. This was done so that the senate could stop a future general with popular support from seizing complete power. Most of his reforms were dismantled after he died in 79 BC. Following the sacking of the port of Ostia several years after Sulla's death, the senate gave powers to Pompey Magnus that typically only belonged to a dictator]. This furthered the weakening of the grip that the senate had over the republic. When Julius Caesar attempted to seize power, the senate was the only institution standing in his way. He eventually won the power struggle, but was assassinated shortly after. When his adopted son and heir, the emperor Augustus, became the undisputed ruler of Rome, the senate abdicated all of its powers to Augustus. When Augustus died in 14 AD, through his will he passed these powers to his adopted son and heir, Tiberius. The senate simply acquiesced to this transfer. From this point on, the emperor held all of the power that had been held by the senate, legislative assemblies and executive magistrates. The senate had ceased to be relevant. From this point, until the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD, the senate was little more than an advisory council to the emperor, with no real power. Often the senate ratified the decision to install a new emperor, but this act was purely symbolic. Sometimes, an emperor would be chosen from the ranks of the senate. But after the acquiescence of 14 AD, the senate forever lost its relevance and its power. In the later years of the Roman Empire, the emperor would operate out of another city. Therefore, at times the emperor would operate without even contact with, or the advice of, the senate. The senate itself actually survived at least 100 years after the historical fall of the Roman Empire. A similar institution was established in Constantinople by Constantine I, which became known as the Byzantine Senate.
The legislative branch Of Ancient Rome:
The legislative branch was composed of two major popular assemblies. Two other popular assemblies were used during the days of the Roman Kingdom, and the early republic. However, these two assemblies lost importance during the early years of the republic. Several characteristics of the Roman assemblies made them different from modern assemblies. First, Roman assemblies were not bicameral. That is to say that bills did not have to pass both major assemblies in order to be enacted into law. In addition, no other branch had to ratify a bill in order for it to become law. The Roman assemblies were not deliberative. Members did not debate bills being considered. Members also had no authority to introduce bills into consideration. Only executive magistrates could introduce new bills. Finally, the assemblies had judicial functions, due to the fact that the republic didn't have a formalized court system. The Roman assemblies were not considered bodies of elected representatives. Instead, they were seen as the embodiment of all of the People of Rome. Because of this, the assemblies were seen as having the ultimate legislative authority. Rome was divided into the Senate and the People. Since the assemblies were composed of the people, it was those assemblies that had the ultimate sovereignty over all domestic matters.
Block voting structure Of Ancient Rome:
The assemblies were composed of Roman citizens. Each member of each assembly was grouped into a block of other members (either a century, a tribe or a curia). Each member of a block would vote. The majority vote of the members in each block would determine how the block voted. Only the vote of the entire block would count in deciding the outcome of a proposed action. While each block received one vote, the blocks were not all of equal size, so the votes of some members weighed more heavily than the votes of other members. Also, the majority of blocks would decide the outcome of legislation. Unlike in modern parliamentary systems, the Roman assemblies had no protection for the rights of the minority (such as can be found with the modern filibuster in the U.S. Senate). This block voting structure was copied by the U.S. Constitution in the design of the electoral college.
Comitia Centuriata Of Ancient Rome:
The Comitia Centuriata (Centuriate Assembly) was one of the two major popular assemblies. It was unofficially called the "Army Assembly," as it had power over military and foreign policy matters. Usually, either a consul or praetor presided over this assembly. Both consuls and praetors were higher ranking magistrates than the Tribunes, who presided over the Popular Assemblies. The members of this assembly could be either plebeians or patricians. Since soldiers were not allowed inside the city of Rome, members of this assembly always voted outside of the city. There were 373 blocks in this assembly, called centuriae (centuries). There were six different classes of centuries. Each century corresponded to a different economic class. The first class was made up of senators and equites (knights). Each member of a century would vote, and the majority would determine the vote of the entire block. Century blocks voted by order of class. Therefore, once a majority of centuries voted for or against a given measure, the voting would end. This assembly also had the sole power to declare war, and served as the highest court of appeal in certain judicial cases (in particular, cases involving capital punishment). Its size made voting difficult. So it ultimately gave up most of its legislative duties. However, it still retained the power to enact laws, and did so several times in the later years of the republic.
Comitia Centuriata magisterial appointments Of Ancient Rome:
The Comitia Centuriata would elect magistrates who had imperium powers (consuls and praetors). If both consuls for a given year died, an interrex would preside over the assembly while it choose new consuls. This assembly would also elect aediles and censors. Every person appointed to an office remained in office for the year of their appointment. After they left office, they would have to wait another ten years, before being reappointed to that same office. Also, each magistrate served with at least one equal magistrate holding the same office. Only censors would not serve with an equal colleague. The censors were appointed once every five years. All other officers were replaced every year. The most important role of a censor was the appointment of new senators. However, they also regulated public morality (hence censorship). In addition, they would conduct a cataloguing of all persons and property in the republic (hence a census).
Comitia Tributa Of Ancient Rome:
The Comitia Tributa (Tribal Assembly) was the other of the two major assemblies. The Comitia Tributa met in the Forum Romanum. In order to vote, a member had to physically be in the city of Rome. A roman consul or praetor would usually preside. The presiding officer would propose legislation, and the members could only vote on it. Members could not propose legislation of their own . This assembly was divided into thirty-five blocks known as tribes. It was from the leaders of these tribes that the office of Tribune was created. All Roman citizens belonged to one of these tribes. During the early years, the tribe that a citizen belonged to would correspond to that citizen's geographical location. Four of these early tribes represented the urban population of citizens in the city of Rome itself. Sixteen tribes represented citizens outside of the city of Rome, but from towns in the immediate vicinity of Rome. The other fifteen tribes represented citizens living outside the city of Rome. After the year 241 BC, however, the geographical distinction was largely lost. Due to the fact that it was easier to gather 36 tribes into a single place than 193 centuries, it was the Tribal assembly that ultimately passed most laws. This assembly had the power to try judicial cases. However, after the reforms of Lucius Cornelius Sulla, the ability to try cases was reassigned to quaestiones perpetuae (standing jury courts). Each court would have a specific jurisdiction.
Concilium Plebis Of Ancient Rome:
The Concilium Plebis (Plebeian Council) was a subset of the Comitia Tributa. In 494 BC, the plebeians living in Rome fled the city, due to harsh treatment by the patricians. This event was one of several Secessions of the Plebs in the decades following the founding of the republic. To bring the plebeians back to Rome, the patricians established the Concilium Plebis (Plebeian Council). This council consisted entirely of plebs. It was not considered an official assembly, because it didn't represent all of the People of Rome (it only represented the common people). It was identical to the Comitia Tributa, except for the fact that its membership did not include patricians. The Tribunes of the Plebs would usually call the council to order. The Tribune would also preside, and propose any legislation (called plebiscita) for the council to consider. In its early years, the laws passed by this council only affected plebs. In 287 BC, however, a law was passed (the Lex Hortensia). This law allowed the resolutions of the Concilium Plebis to have the full force of law. As the Concilium Plebis was composed of only plebeians, it was more populist than the Comitia Tributa. Because of this, it was usually the engine behind the more controversial reforms (such as those of the tribunes Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus).
Comitia Tributa magisterial appointments Of Ancient Rome:
The Comitia Tributa would elect lower magistrates. They would elect quaestors, and their own aediles. The most important magistrate that this assembly elected was that of the Tribunes of the Plebs. The Tribune would be elected specifically by the Concilium Plebis. These Tribunes had veto power over the entire senate, as well as over laws purposed to the assemblies. Therefore, the Tribunes were usually the most powerful plebs in the Roman Republic.
Comitia Curiata Of Ancient Rome:
The Comitia Curiata (Curiate Assembly), while not as old as the Comitia Calata, was one of only two assemblies to exist during the early days of the Roman Kingdom. All members of this assembly were patricians. These members were organized into blocks called curiae. The assembly typically had thirty curiae at any given moment. During the Roman Kingdom, and the early Roman Republic, this assembly possessed all legislative powers. It could appoint magistrates, enact laws, and grant powers of imperium to magistrates. During the later republic, this assembly lost most of its powers. Its thirty curiae in these later years were held by thirty individual lictors. Despite its decline during these later years, the Comitia Curiata did retain the power to grant imperium to magistrates.
Comitia Calata Of Ancient Rome:
The Comitia Calata (Calate Assembly) was the oldest of the four Roman Assemblies. Very little is known about this assembly. All members of this assembly were patricians. The Comitia Calata met on the Capitoline Hill. This assembly did not vote or enact laws. Instead, it was used as a gathering place for citizens to hear any announcements. Many of the announcements that were made before this assembly were of a religious nature. The Comitia Calata was organized into blocks called curiae.
Legislative checks on the Senate and executive branch Of Ancient Rome:
The primary function of the assemblies was to make laws, and to check the power of the Senate and the magistrates. The legislative branch also had controls over the ability of the senate to wage wars (which would be fought by the people). As such, a series of checks were developed, from the legislative branch to the senate and executive branch. Many of these checks have been copied in modern constitutions.
Checks over the Senate's war-making powers Of Ancient Rome:
The Century Assembly ("Army Assembly") would appoint magistrates with imperium (consuls and praetors). These magistrates would command armies, and fight wars. The consuls typically commanded entire armies. The praetors typically commanded provincial armies. Thus, the ability of the senate to fight a war depended on the magistrates that the assemblies appointed. There was no confirmation of appointments, by either the senate or executive branch.
Checks over the actions of the entire Senate Of Ancient Rome:
The Tribal Assembly ("People's Assembly") would also appoint a Tribune. This tribune, besides having veto power over the assemblies (by being able to prevent consideration of bills), would have the power to veto any action of the entire senate. Because Tribunes had sacrosanctity, it was considered a capital offense for anyone (even another Tribune) to harm a Tribune.
Checks over the membership of the Senate Of Ancient Rome:
The Century assembly would also appoint censors every five years. These censors would serve terms of a year. While they had many functions, their most important function was to appoint new senators. Thus, membership of the senate was controlled by the legislative branch. In addition, most high-ranking magistrates had to serve as a senator before being appointed to their magisterial office. Therefore, through the censors, the legislature controlled the pool of future magistrates.
Checks over the membership of the executive branch Of Ancient Rome:
Besides appointing magistrates to executive office, the legislative branch could not appoint any person to an office that they had been elected to during the prior ten years. This served to prevent accumulation of uncontrolled power in the hands of a single person, since their office would be taken away from them for at least ten years at the end of their term.
Checks over the power of the executive to fight wars Of Ancient Rome:
Another check on the senate and executive branch pertained to the ability of magistrates to fight wars. The Curiate Assembly had the sole power to grant imperium powers. Imperium was the ability of a magistrate to command armies, and thus to conduct wars. So without this power, a magistrate would not have the constitutional authority to make war. One other check on the ability of a magistrate to fight wars came from the Century Assembly. Only this assembly had the authority to declare war.
Checks over the executive through veto power Of Ancient Rome:
The legislative branch could control the entire senate through the Tribune's veto power. However, the Tribune wasn't the only magistrate with veto power. Any magistrate could veto the actions of any equal or lower-ranking magistrate. Since each magistrate had at least two people occupying the same office, every magistrate was checked by someone. And except for the two consuls (who were the highest ranking magistrates in any given year), every magistrate had more than one person who could veto their actions.
The decline of the popular assemblies Of Ancient Rome:
During the final two centuries of the Roman Republic, tensions began to mount between the Senate and the popular assemblies. The Lex Hortensia of 287 required that all laws passed by the Plebeian Council be binding on all citizens. Conflicts began to arise as the will of the senate conflicted with the will of the (more populist) popular assemlblies. During the second century BC, Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus was elected consul despite opposition by the senate. A few decades later, the Tribune Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus passed land laws through the Plebeian Council despite intense opposition by the senate. Lucius Cornelius Sulla served two consulships, and was Dictator for almost three years. Sulla was of the aristocratic party known as the Optimates, or "best men." Sulla saw the people of Rome growing increasingly hostile towards the aristocracy that controlled the government. So in order to prevent a future popular uprising, Sulla passed a series of laws that were meant to weaken the power of the assemblies. During his first consulship in 88 BC, Sulla passed a series of laws that weakened the Tribal Assembly and the Plebeian Council, by requiring senate approval before any proposed bill could be considered. Sulla then passed another law, which gave the senators and knights (the first class of centuries) almost half of the voting power in the Centuriate Assembly. Finally, Sulla passed a law that stripped all legislative powers from the Tribal Assembly and the Plebeian Council. These powers were given to the Centuriate Assembly. The tribal assemblies retained their powers in the appointment of magistrates. And while they did retain their powers regarding the conduct of trials, those trials had to be authorized by the senate. When Sulla's consulship ended, his reforms were overturned by the popular party, known as the Populares. When Sulla became dictator in 82 BC, his restored his reforms. After Sulla died, Pompey and Crassus overturned Sulla's reforms again. While the reforms were never restored, the assemblies never again regained the level of power that they had possessed before Sulla's first consulship.
The assemblies after the fall of the Republic Of Ancient Rome:
The first Roman Emperor, Augustus, did not abolish the assemblies. Instead, he consolidated many of the powers of the assemblies into his own office. Augustus transferred all legislative powers from the assemblies to the senate. Since Augustus appointed all senators, Augustus effectively had control over the legislative function. The next emperor, Tiberius, transferred the appointment of magistrates to the senate. After the death of the Tiberius' successor, Caligula, the assemblies never again met.
The executive branch Of Ancient Rome:
The executive branch of the Roman Republic was composed of Roman magistrates. Each magistrate would be appointed by one of the two major legislative assemblies. One set of magistrates served the senate. The other set of magistrates served the legislative branch (the popular assemblies). All magistrates were elected annually for a term of a year. The only exception was the office of the censor. The censor was elected once every five years, for an eighteen month term. The terms for all annual offices would begin on New Year's Day, and end on the last day of December.
Each magisterial office would be held concurrently by at least two people. In addition, each magistrate could veto (called intercessio) the actions of any magistrate of equal or lesser rank. One magistrate, the Tribune, could veto the actions of the entire senate.
Executive immunity Of Ancient Rome:
While a magistrate was actually serving his term in a magisterial office, he had full immunity from criminal prosecution. Sometimes, a magistrate would commit crimes while in office. These crimes could not be prosecuted until that magistrate left office. Once they did leave office, if they were not immediately elected to another term in any office (thus granting them another year of immunity), they would be subject to full prosecution. This immunity became an issue several times throughout the history of the republic. In 133 BC, the Tribune Tiberius Gracchus attempted to use force against another Tribune. This was illegal, and opened Tiberius to criminal prosecution upon leaving office. Immediately after leaving office, Tiberius attempted to stand for election to a second term. A riot broke out, and Tiberius was killed. In 63 BC, the consul Cicero illegally had the conspirators of Catiline executed without a trial. While he was never prosecuted, he spent the rest of his life living in constant fear of prosecution over these consular executions. And while Julius Caesar was consul, and then governor of Cisalpine Gaul, he committed several crimes. In 50 BC, his term as governor was coming to an end, so he demanded that the senate give him a new proconsular command. He knew that if he did not have such a command, he could be prosecuted for the crimes he had committed. When the senate refused, he crossed the Rubicon River, started a civil war, and overthrew the republic.
Senatorial magistrates Of Ancient Rome:
Five different executive magistrates reported to the senate. These were the consul, praetor, aedile, quaestor and censor. All of these magistrates held varying levels of imperium, except for the censors.
Consuls Of Ancient Rome:
The consul of the Roman Republic was the highest ranking magistrate. The consul would always serve with another consul as his colleague. The consular term would last for one year. If a consul died before his term ended, another consul, called the consul suffectus, would be elected to complete the original consular term. Each consul would be attended by twelve lictors. The leader of the senate was the superior consul for the month. Throughout the year, one consul would be superior in rank to the other consul. This ranking would flip every month, between the two consuls. Regardless of which consul was the superior consul for the month, either consul could veto the actions of his co-consul. Once a consul's term ended, he would hold the honorary title of consulare for the rest of his time in the senate.
History of the consulship Of Ancient Rome:
When the last king was expelled in 509 BC, the power of the king was divested officially to the senate. The senate then appointed two consuls, and granted those consuls this power. By law, the consuls had this power. However, by fact, the senate had retained the power. The consuls were originally called praetors (meaning leader). In 305 BC, the name was changed to consul. During the early years of the republic, a consul would have certain religious duties, such as the reading of the auguries. The annual succession of consuls during these early years was not constant, despite the fact that later generations of Romans believed that it had been. Initially, the consulship possessed vast powers, similar to that of the king. But as the constitution developed, the consulship lost many of its earlier powers. In some cases, functions were removed. In other cases, checks were placed on the power of the consul. For example, most of the consul's original judicial powers were stripped, and given to the praetors. The power to regulate public morality and conduct a census was stripped, and given to the censors. In the early years of the republic, only patricians were allowed to be consul. After the passage of the Lex Licinia in 367 BC, plebeians were allowed to be consul. In the later republic, once a consular term ended, a former consul could be elected to a term as proconsul. These proconsul terms could have durations of more than a year. Often, the new proconsul would be given the command of a province. After the republic fell, the office of the consul survived throughout the years of the empire. However, imperial consuls had few powers. The office was purely honorary, and emperors would appoint themselves or others as consul.
Election to the consulship Of Ancient Rome:
Throughout much of the republic's life, a patrician had to be 41 years old before being elected consul. A plebeian had to be 42 years old before being elected consul. In the early years of the republic, the consuls were elected by the Comitia Curitia. But soon after these early years, the Comitia Centuriata elected the consuls. When the roman assemblies held a vote, the more aristocratic members would cast their vote first. Due to the fact that not everyone would cast their vote at once, in practice the votes of the more aristocratic members had more weight. Because of this, senators who were elected consul tended to be more aristocratic. After a senator was elected consul, imperium powers had to be granted. Throughout the entire life of the republic, the Comitia Curitia would grant the new consuls imperium powers. If a consul was not granted imperium powers, he would not be able to command an army.
Powers of the consulship Of Ancient Rome:
Consuls had supreme power in both civil and military matters. While in the city of Rome, the consul was the head of the Roman government. While components of public administration were delegated to other magistrates, the management of the government would be under the ultimate authority of the consul. The consuls had the ultimate responsibility to enforce laws passed by the legislature, and policies enacted by the senate. All magistrates, other than the Tribunes, were considered to rank below the consul. The consul was the chief diplomat. The consul carried out business with foreign nations. The consul also facilitated interactions between foreign ambassadors and the senate. The consul would usually be the officer who would both convene, and preside over, the Centuriate Assembly and the Curiate Assembly. While abroad, the consul had the ultimate powers of imperator, or commander-in-chief, over all legions. Upon an order by the senate, the consul would be responsible for raising an army. Sometimes, the consul would be forced to levy taxes in order to pay for the army. Other times, the consuls were given adequate resources from Rome's own treasury. The armies that the consul raised would have to swear allegiance to that consul. The senate would give the consul full command over any providence he was in. This authority involved not just military matters, but also civil matters. In the later years of the republic, ex-consuls would typically be given a pro-consular military command. This command would last for a period of between one and five years. During this time, they would have complete civil and military command over a province that the senate assigned to them. They would be given imperium powers, but only over their specified province. It was illegal for them to either take their army, or attempt to exercise authority, over another province. In 49 BC, Julius Caesar took his pro-consular army across the Rubicon, from his province of Cisalpine Gaul into Italy. This action started a civil war which resulted in the overthrow of the republic.
Praetors Of Ancient Rome:
The praetorship was originally similar to the consulship, but evolved over time to administer civil law, acting as chief judges over the courts. Originally, only two praetors would be elected in a given year. However, over time, the total number of praetors elected in a given year increased to six or eight or more. In the absence of both senior and junior consuls from the city, the urban praetor, would govern Rome.
History of the praetorship Of Ancient Rome:
When the last Roman king was expelled in 509 BC, the powers of the king officially devolved into a new office. This office would become the consulship. However, for the first 150 years after the founding of the republic, this office was called the praetorship. Over time, the powers of this office were stripped, and given to other magistrates. Around the year 366 BC, the praetorship was renamed the consulship. The judicial functions of the consulship were given to a newly created office, the new praetorship. In its early years, the praetorship could only be held by patricians. However, later in the 4th century BC, plebeians were allowed to be praetors. Over time, the powers of praetors expanded from their original judicial functions.
Election to the praetorship Of Ancient Rome:
Praetors would usually stand for election with the consuls. As was the case with consuls, praetors would be formally elected by the Centuriate Assembly. The praetors and consuls would both together formally have their imperium powers granted by the Curiate Assembly.
Powers of the praetorship Of Ancient Rome:
Some praetors administered civil law and acted as chief judges over the courts. These praetors were called the praetor urbanus. Other praetors had foreign affairs-related responsibilities. These praetors were called praetor peregrinus. Often these praetors would act as governors of the provinces. The preators would also preside over the Century Assembly. When both consuls were away from Rome, a praetor would often preside as the acting president of the senate.
Censors Of Ancient Rome:
The censorship was a magisterial office that served the senate. Two censors would always serve together. The term of the censors would last for eighteen months. A term would typically begin once every five years. Censors did not have imperium powers, and they did have any lictor (axe-carrying bodyguards). Unlike other magistrates, one usually had to be a consul before being elected censor. Therefore, the censorship was the only office (other than the dictatorship), that was more prestigious than that of the consulship.
Senatorial aedile Of Ancient Rome:
Aediles had wide ranging powers over day-to-day affairs inside the city of Rome, and the maintenance of public order. They had power over public games and shows, as well as the power to repair and preserve temples, sewers and aqueducts. They were responsible for the management of dangerous animals, and for the prevention of foreign religions from being practiced inside the city. They also had various powers to enforce public morals, including the right to punish gamblers and usurers (those who charge illegally high rates of interest on loans). The office was created in response to the secession of 494 BC, along with the tribunate. During most years, only two aediles would be elected. The office was not on the cursus honorum, and therefore did not mark the beginning of a political career. Election to this office also did not result in membership in the senate. However, the office was often held by a citizen who had political ambitions, and was a means with which to prepare for higher office.
Legislative magistrates Of Ancient Rome:
The three legislative magistrates were the Tribune, quaestor and aedile. These offices reported to the Tribal Assembly, rather than the senate. The tribunate was the highest ranking of these three. The tribunate had vast powers over the entire Roman government. The questorship was a common route that many took when they began their political careers. The aedileship was the lowest ranking, and was not considered on the same level as the other magisterial offices.
Tribune Of Ancient Rome:
The Tribunes of the Plebs (or People's Tribunes) were the highest ranking plebeians. They were considered the embodiment of the plebeians, and thus of most of the People of Rome. Unlike other higher magisterial office, election to the tribunate did not result in automatic membership in the senate. However, Tribunes were the only magistrates who could not only veto actions of higher magistrates, but who could veto actions of the entire senate.
Quaestor Of Ancient Rome:
The office of the quaestor originated during the Roman Kingdom. A quaestor would be elected for an annual term, starting in January. Election to this office was the way that many political careers started. Election to this office also resulted in membership in the senate. Over time, the number of quaestors elected each year varied, from between two and forty.
Quaestors had administrative and financial roles Of Ancient Rome:
They were responsible for the financial affairs of the state, or of the general whom they served under. Some quaestors were responsible for the maintenance of the public treasury in Rome. Some quaestors were assigned to the city, and others were assigned to the staffs of various generals in the field.
Aedile Of Ancient Rome:
The Tribal Assembly also had their own aediles. These aediles had similar functions as senatorial aediles.
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