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ROMAN EMPIRE -THE HISTORY... > THE CONSTITUTION OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE

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message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 31962 comments Mod
In advance of the discussion of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Gibbon, we are setting up in advance some supplemental threads for discussion.

These are not non spoiler threads; but supplemental threads focused on the Roman Empire to help augment the discussion. These threads will serve as reference threads when the discussion begins.

The topic of this thread focuses on all aspects of the Roman Empire's Constitution including the following:


Background and History of the Constitution of the Roman Empire
The Constitution of the Kingdom/the Republic/the Empire/the Late Empire
The Roman Senate
The Roman Legislative Assemblies including - (Curiate, Century, Tribal, Plebeian)
The Roman Executive Magistrates


The Roman Constitution was an uncodified set of guidelines and principles passed down mainly through precedent. The Roman constitution was not formal or even official, largely unwritten and constantly evolving. 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, impeachments, the powers of the purse, and regularly scheduled elections.

Even some lesser used modern constitutional concepts, such as the bloc voting found in the electoral college of the United States, originate from ideas found in the Roman constitution.

Over the years, the Roman constitution continuously evolved.

By 510 BC, the Constitution of the Roman Kingdom had given way to the Constitution of the Roman Republic.

By 27 BC, the Constitution of the Roman Republic had given way to the Constitution of the Roman Empire.

By 300 AD, the Constitution of the Roman Empire had given way to the Constitution of the Late Roman Empire.

The actual changes, however, were quite gradual. Together, these four constitutions formed four epochs in the continuous evolution of one master constitution.


Source: Wikipedia

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire 1 by Edward Gibbon Edward GibbonEdward Gibbon


message 2: by Vicki, Assisting Moderator - Ancient Roman History (last edited Jan 25, 2015 01:55PM) (new)

Vicki Cline | 2262 comments Mod
Roman Republican Constitution

As the Romans never had a written constitution it is difficult to neatly fit their government into anything that corresponds to modern systems.

However, especially from the time of the passage of the lex Hortensia (287 BC.), it is similar to that of the American division of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, as the Roman system was the basis for the American one.

The system developed into one of checks and balances with the aristocratic Patrician dominated Senate being counterbalanced by popular elections of chief magistrates and the Plebeian Tribunes. (Source: http://www.unrv.com/empire/roman-repu...)


message 3: by Vicki, Assisting Moderator - Ancient Roman History (new)

Vicki Cline | 2262 comments Mod
Lex Hortensia

In Roman law, Lex Hortensia (284 BC) was the final result of the long class struggle between patricians and plebeians, where the plebeians would periodically secede from the city in protest (secessio plebis) when they felt they were deprived of their rights. After 287 BC, the Comitia Centuriata falls into the background and the tribunes, working with the Senate, make the Lex Hortensia a stage in the development of Senatorial domination in the State. The Lex Hortensia contained similar stipulations of the two earlier laws, the Lex Valeria-Horatia of 449 BC and Lex Publica ut plebei scita omnes quirites tenerent of 339 BC. The statement that set the Lex Hortensia apart was the prelude that ‘olim patricii dicebant plebi scitis se non teneri, quae sine auctoritate eorum facta essent.’ This meant that through their plebeian assembly the plebeians could make laws that were considered binding for the entire Roman people (both patrician and plebeian), but which excluded the patricians of having any say in the legislative process in the plebeian assembly. Patricians tended to be the wealthy upper crust of ancient Roman society. The plebeians were seen as the average citizens. Although many still attained wealth and status, they did not have the ancestral background associated with the patricians. This resulted in the struggle for power between the two classes.

Origin

Quintus Hortensius was a Roman dictator during the 3rd century BC, when the struggle between plebeians and patricians was at an apex. For two centuries, the classes had been locked in a struggle, in which the patricians tried to control and maintain the ever-growing plebeian privilege. Often in response to the actions of the Senate, the plebs would take composite action and seceded from the city. In 287 BC, the plebeians seceded to the Janiculan hill, and in response Quintus Hortensius was appointed dictator. Shortly thereafter he passed a law to attempt to end the struggle between the plebeian and patrician classes; because the law was sponsored by Quintus Hortensius, it became known as the Lex Hortensia, or "the Hortensian law". Though very little is known about him personally, it has been suggested he died while still dictator.

Lex Hortensia

A law passed in 287 BC, as suggested by appointed dictator, Quintus Hortensius, which made all resolutions passed by plebeians binding on all citizens. What made this law especially noteworthy was that each resolution was binding, regardless of prior approval of the Senate, which made the measures passed just as binding as those passed by the Roman assemblies. It was passed in direct response to the patricians’ denial to identify some of the plebeian decisions as binding upon them. This also allowed for the plebeians to arise to a higher status, where the wealthy now held the same amount of power and voice as the patricians did in the Senate. This also allowed the dominance of the patrician officials to wither. (Source: https://pediaview.com/openpedia/Lex_H...)


message 4: by Vicki, Assisting Moderator - Ancient Roman History (new)

Vicki Cline | 2262 comments Mod
Roman Magistrates

The elected magistrates in the Roman Republic were held in check by the equal distribution of power through multiple officials of the same rank. The one noted exception to this rule was that of the dictatorship which granted supreme imperium to a single authority. All members of each particular office grouping were of equal rank and could veto acts of other members and higher magistrates (i.e. Consuls) could veto acts of lower magistrates (i.e. Quaestors).

As another check on abuse of power, each office was generally a 1 year term with the exception of the Dictatorship which was technically reserved to a 6 month emergency (though this could be extended) and the Censorship (18 months), whose powers were of a managerial nature rather than executive government. The annual term (and varying limits on eligibility for subsequent service) was often a matter of dispute and led to numerous civil disruptions, including the civil war led by Julius Caesar that eventually spelled the end of the Republican system (though its institutional offices remained throughout the imperial period as well).

Consuls (2) (Latin: those who walk together): The chief civil and military magistrates, elected through the assemblies by popular vote. They convened the senate and curiate and centuriate assemblies. Initially the office was only open to Patricians until the Lex Licinia opened it to Plebeian candidates in 367 BC. According to the Lex Villia annalis passed in 180 BC which established minimum age requirements for all magistrate positions within the Cursus Honorum, Consuls had to be 42 years of age. Under normal circumstances, a Roman could only serve in such a capacity only once every ten years. At the end of their annual term of service, Consuls would take the title Proconsul and generally serve as provincial governors. In the case of the death of a serving Consul, a Suffect Consul would be elected as a replacement for the remainder of his term. They were entitled to 12 Lictors as a symbol of their authority (or imperium).

Praetors (2-8): This magistracy was originally designed as a sort of 3rd Consul and was established in 356 BC for Patricians only after they were forced to share the Consulship with Plebes. This however changed by 337 BC when the first Plebeian Praetor was elected. Romans were eligible to be a Praetor at the age of 39. They had imperium with the main functions being administration of civil law in Rome (Praetor Urbanus), military command, judges in courts of law (Praetor Peregrinus created in 246 BC), and finally the governing of provinces. They also assumed administrative duties of consuls when these were absent from Rome. When there were more than 2 Praetors (beyond 197 BC), the additional Praetors were generally assigned as governors of Sicily, Sardinia, and the Spanish provinces (and others as province acquisition continued through the late Republic and early Principate). Like Proconsuls, Praetors could hold the title of Propraetor after their annual term of service and be appointed as provincial governors. They were entitled to 6 lictors..

Aediles (4) (from the old responsibility of caretaking of the aedes, or the Temple of Ceres): 2 as Plebeian Aediles and 2 Curule Aediles. The Plebeian Aediles were established in 494 BC along with the office of the Plebeian Tribune. Curule Aediles were originally Patrician (and a higher ranking position) and the office was established in 365 BC. Eventually the Curule Aedileship became interchangeable with Patricians and Plebes. Aediles were in charge of of such things religious festivals, public games, temples, upkeep of the city, regulation of marketplaces, the grain supply in the city of Rome while Plebeian Aediles also assisted the Plebeian Tribunes. According to the Lex Villia annalis Aediles had to be 36 years of age. Curule Aediles only were entitled to 2 lictors.

Quaestors (2-40): Quaestors typically had to be 31 years old (requirement lowered by Sulla as were all magistracies and raised back after his death) and could be Patrician or Plebeian (though in the later period this was a matter of major contention because ex-Quaestors were immediately eligible for a Senate seat). The Quaestor magistracy was developed in the time of the kings and the position in the later Republic was an evolution of various earlier positions and responsibilities. There were 2 Quaestores Parricidii, who were responsible for prosecution of criminals, and Quaestores Classici, who were financial officers and administrative assistants (civil and military). They were in charge of the state treasury at Rome and also served as quartermasters and Legionary officers under direct command of Proconsular or Praetorian Legates/Governors.

Tribunes (10) (from the Latin Tribus for Tribes): The position of the Tribune (or Tribuni Plebis) was established after the final Plebeian withdrawal from Rome in 494 BC. Naturally they were a Plebeian only position developed as a counter measure to Patrician domination in law and policy making. They were responsible for protection of lives and property of plebians; they were considered sacrosanct, meaning their bodies were to be free of physical harm. In addition they had the power of veto over elections, laws, decrees of the senate, and the acts of all other magistrates (except a dictator) in order to protect the interest of the people (though this in itself became a powerful and manipulated political tool). They convened tribal assembly and elicited plebiscites which after 287 BC (lex Hortensia) had force of law (essentially meaning that the Tribunes could go directly to the people rather than the Senate and magistracy to propose and adopt policy).

Censors (2) (from the Latin for census): Originally established under the kings, they were elected every 5 years to conduct census, enroll new citizens, review the rolls of senate and equestrians (essentially determing eligiblilty and be sure that all criteria for inclusion were met). They were responsible for the policies governing public morals and supervised leasing of public contracts. They ranked below Praetors and above Aediles in theory and they did not have imperium or entitlement to Lictors, but in practice, this was the pinnacle of a senatorial career. It was limited to ex-consuls carried incredible prestige and dignity and was essentially the "feather in the cap" for elder statesman (at least prior to the development of various prestigious provincial governorships such as Asia Minor). Either Patricians or Plebeians (established in 351 BC) could hold the position. The office was an oddity in that the elections were every 5 years, but that they served terms of 18 months. It was the only office that had notable lengths of time without any serving magistrates and Rome often went for very long periods without a censor. It was done away with as an official magistracy in 22 BC and replaced by the title Praefectura Morum in the Imperial system.

Dictator (1): Created in 501 BC, just 9 years after the expulsion of the kings. In perilous times, typically of military emergency, public unrest or political upheaval a dictator could be appointed by originally the acting Consuls, and later by the overall senate body to have supreme authority. Typically the position was intended for Patricians, but the first Plebeian was appointed in 356 BC (C. Marcius Rutilius). The dictator appointed a Master of the Horse (Magister Equitum) originally as the name implies to lead the cavalry while the dictator commanded the legions (though the position also evolved into an administrative/executive position designed to assist the dictator). The Dictator's tenure was limited to 6 months or the duration of crisis, whichever was shorter. Generally, aside from those of Sulla and Caesar Roman dictatorships rarely lasted the entire 6 month term. Edicts of the dictator were not subject to veto and he was entitled to 24 lictors.

Lictors: Though technically not a magistrate office, the Lictors were a representation of the power of the elected magistrates over the people. Originally selected form among the plebes, they were eventually limited to freedmen, but were definitely citizens as a toga was a required uniform. The lictor's main task was to attend their assigned magistrates who held imperium: 12 lictors for consuls, 6 for Praetors abroad and 2 within Rome, dictators (24 lictors, (12 before Sulla) and curule aediles (2 lictors); the dictator's magister equitum ("Master of the Horse") was also escorted by six lictors. Men of Proconsular or Propraetorian governer rank were also entitled to lictors (the number of lictors being equal to their degree of imperium). The lictors carried rods decorated with fasces and with axes that symbolized the power to execute. They accompanied the magistrates wherever they went. If there was a crowd, the lictors opened the way and kept the magistrate safe. They also had to stand beside the magistrate whenever he addresses the crowd. Magistrates could only dispense their lictors if they were visiting a free city or addressing a higher status magistrate. Lictors also had ancient police duties: they could, at their master's command, arrest Roman citizens and punish them. (Source: http://www.unrv.com/empire/executive-...)


message 5: by Vicki, Assisting Moderator - Ancient Roman History (new)

Vicki Cline | 2262 comments Mod
Roman Senate

The Roman Senate (Senatus) from the latin Senex (for elder or council of elders) was a deliberative governing body. Its important to note the difference between deliberative and legislative, in that the Senate itself didn't propose legislation; though magistrates with the Senate, such as Consuls, did.

The body of the senate deliberated these proposals, and along with the later Tribunes of the Plebs, approved or vetoed the various laws. The Senate and the Roman People (SPQR, or Senatus Populusque Romanus), described the distinction in class between the Senate and common people. The Roman People consisted of all citizens who were not members of the Senate.

Domestic power was vested in the Roman People, through the Committee of the Hundreds (Comitia Centuriata), the Committee of the Tribal People (Comitia Populi Tributa), and the Council of the People (Concilium Plebis). Actual legislation was secured in the various assemblies. They acted on the recommendations of the Senate's deliberations and also elected the magistrates.

Despite its lack of actual law making power, the Senate held considerable authority in Roman politics. As the representative figurehead of Rome, it was the official body that sent and received ambassadors on behalf of the city, appointed officials to manage and govern provinces, declared war and negotiated peace, and appropriated funds for various projects such as public building construction. Appointments of military Legates, and the overall oversight of Roman religious practices remained in the control of the Senate as well. It was also the Senate who held the authority to nominate a dictator (a single leader who acted with ultimate authority and without fear of reprisal) in a state of emergency, usually a military one. In the late Republic, and in attempts to stop the spiraling pattern of dictatorships, the Senate attempted to avoid the dictatorate by resorting to a senatus consultum de republica defendenda, or the senatus consultum ultimum. This was the declaration of martial law, and empowered the 2 Consuls, essentially, with dictatorial power in defense of the Republic.

The number of senators in Rome was initially a direct correlation to the number of tribes represented. In the earliest days of Rome traditionally under Romulus, when Rome consisted only of one tribe, the Ramnes, the senate consisted of one hundred members. Further incorporation of various tribes, such as the Tities and Luceres, increased accordingly the number of Senators to 300. Proposals throughout the Republic by various magistrates such as Gracchus, Livius Drusus, Sulla and Marius altered the membership from between 300 and 600. At times, prominent equestrian plebes were added en masse, or even common soldiers and freedman, as when Julius Caesar increased the senate roles to 900. With the accession of Augustus, the permanent foundation for senate numbers appears to have been fixed at 600, but this number also fluctuated throughout the empire at the whims of the emperors.

The initial 100 senators or advisory council, traditionally instituted by the mythical Romulus, were composed of the heads of leading families, the patricians (Patres=Fathers). The later drafted Plebeian senators were called Conscripti (Conscripted men), as they had no choice but to take a senate seat. The eventual nomenclature to describe Senators, Patres et Conscripti (Conscript Fathers), soon left out any distinction between Patrician and Plebeian and came to be an all encompassing term.

Members of the Senate were chosen from among eligible equites, and selected by Consuls, Tribunes and later by Censors. Alternatively, they were selected from those who were elected to previous magistracies, such as quaestors. If not previously a member of the Senate, a magistrate ending his year of service in one these offices would then be eligible for an immediate seat. Not all Senators held equal status, however. Those selected by censors or other magistrates to fill seats from among the equites had no right to vote or to speak on the Senate floor. Senators earned the proper dignity and nobility to vote and speak on the floor by virtue of holding various offices such as Consul, Praetor, Aedile, etc., Such dignified offices as the Pontifex Maximus, head of the Roman Religion, or the Flamen Dialis, chief priest of Jupiter, were categorized as non voting and non speaking with the exception of various religious rituals.

The 2 elected consuls alternated monthly as the primary director of the Senate and held the right to propose his own agenda. The Princeps Senatus, who was chosen generally from among ex-censors for a term of 5 years, held the prestigious position of leader of the house. He was in control of such things as opening and closing meetings as well as setting meeting times and places, reading documents before the members, meeting with dignitaries and imposing order on other Senators, including the Consuls. Among the senators with speaking rights, a strict order defining who could speak and when was established, with a patrician always preceding a plebeian of equal rank. The speaking order was similar to that of the seating arrangement, in which the princeps senatus held the first chair, followed by the consuls, censors, praetors, aediles, tribunes and finally, the quaestors. There were no limits to debating and various methods of delay and subversion were employed. Among these, the practice of the filibuster, or speaking at incredible lengths to derail the opposition and delay voting, was a popular one.

Voting in the Senate could be taken by voice or show of hands in unimportant matters, but important or formal motions were decided by a quorum, or an actual physical division of the house to either side of the floor. In these cases even non-voting members were allowed to take places on either side of the issue, lending their support to a particular cause or motion, or to fulfill their client obligations.

There were also age requirements for admission into the senate. While no written record of the actual age exists for the early Republic, the Lex Annalis clearly indicates that a Quaestor is immediately eligible for inclusion at the end of his 1 year term of office. As questors had to be 31 at election, it stands to reason, that 32 would be the minimum required age for selection for a Senate seat. Later, in the early Empire, Augustus fixed the age of entry at 25; an age which seems to have held up throughout the remainder of the Senate's history.

Senators also carried certain privileges and were subject to accompanying restrictions. All senators were entitled to wear a senatorial ring (originally made of iron, but later gold)) and a tunica clava, a white tunic with a broad purple stripe five inches wide (latus clavus) on the right shoulder. A senator pedarius (or a non voting senator) wore a white toga virilis (also called a toga pura) without decoration. A senator who had held a curule magistracy, and thus the right to speak and vote was entitled to wear the toga praetexta, a white toga with a broad purple border. Additionally all senators wore closed maroon leather shoes, but senators who had held curule magistracies also added a crescent-shaped buckle. All were forbidden to engage in mercantile activities outside of the the ownership of land and natural resources. After the Punic Wars a law was passed to prevent Senators from owning a ship of more than 300 amphorae in tonnage, to prevent shipping of goods for trading purposes. These laws, however, as cited from numerous sources, were frequently disregarded, as it was easy to mask such activities through various non senatorial clients.

Additionally, the Senate, both Patricians and Equestrian Plebes, were largely responsible for seating the 50 to 75 man criminal juries, as well as acting as the prosecution and defense attorneys in the various cases. (Source: http://www.unrv.com/empire/the-senate...)


message 6: by Vicki, Assisting Moderator - Ancient Roman History (new)

Vicki Cline | 2262 comments Mod
The Three Citizen Assemblies

The three citizen assemblies or Comitia, were called the Comitia Curiata, Comitia Centuriata and the Comitia (Plebis) Tributa (or Concilium Plebis or Populi Tributa). These were composed of all Roman male citizens, requiring individuals to attend in person, in order to vote. No debate from the floor was possible, and votes were counted in groups, not individually (the vote of each group was determined by the vote of the majority of individuals in that group). All 3 assemblies included the entire electorate of citizens, but each had a different internal organization (and therefore differences in the weight of an individual citizen's vote). In essence, each voting citizen had 3 potential votes, but each carried a different weight or responsibility.

Curiate Assembly (Comitia Curiata):
The oldest unit of organization within the Roman system. The 30 curiae of the early city (10 for each of the 3 early tribes), were based on clan and family associations. The Curiate was limited to Patricians as it reflected the oldest and most distinguished of the tribes. Each member had a single vote and the majority victor within each Curiate had 1 vote. Meaning, there were 30 separate votes with in each Curiate and the the Curiata as a whole would then have 1 vote to support its majority opinion. The Curiata became obsolete as a legislative body with the rise of Plebeian assemblies and further classifications of the nobility, but preserved its functions of endowing senior magistrates with imperium and witnessing religious affairs. The head of each curia was at least 50 years in age and elected for life.

Centuriate Assembly (Comitia Centuriata):
The most important of the Comitia units of organization within the Roman political system. There were 193 centuries, divided into 6 classes based on wealth and age which were originally reflective of military units. Membership in the classes was based on the capability to furnish armed men in groups of 100 (hence century). This group was controlled by the Patrician and Equestrian as the votes were weighted in favor of land owners and wealthy. The Centuriate elected censors and magistrates with imperium (consuls and praetors), was the proper body for approving the declaration of war; passed some laws (leges, sing. lex); and served as highest court of appeal in cases involving capital punishment.

Tribal Assembly (Comitia Plebis Tributa):
The Plebeian assembly was originally intended for the election of tribunes and deliberation of plebeians. The organization consisted of 1 urban tribe and 31 rural tribes, in which the membership was based on place of residence until 241 BC. From that date on local significance was largely lost and membership was based mainly on heredity. The Tributa (and later a subassembly, the Concilium Plebis) elected the lower magistrates (tribunes, aediles, quaestors). As it was simpler to convene and register 35 tribes than 193 centuries, it was more frequently used to pass legislation (plebiscites). Voting in favor of 31 less densely populated rural tribes; with presence in Rome required to cast a ballot, the assembly was controlled by landed aristocracy. Eventually became chief law-making body, as the laws of the Tribal assembly became binding on the entire state. (Source: http://www.unrv.com/empire/legislativ...)


message 7: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 31962 comments Mod
Thank you Vicki


message 8: by Vicki, Assisting Moderator - Ancient Roman History (new)

Vicki Cline | 2262 comments Mod
The Development of the Roman Constitution

The Development of the Roman Constitution by Ambrose Tighe by Ambrose Tighe (no photo)

Synopsis:

Published 1889. Many of the earliest books, particularly those dating back to the 1900s and before, are now extremely scarce and increasingly expensive. We are republishing these classic works in affordable, high quality, modern editions, using the original text and artwork.


message 9: by Vicki, Assisting Moderator - Ancient Roman History (new)

Vicki Cline | 2262 comments Mod
The Constitution of the Roman Republic

The Constitution of the Roman Republic by Andrew Lintott by Andrew Lintott (no photo)

Synopsis:

There is no other published book in English studying the constitution of the Roman Republic as a whole. Yet the Greek historian Polybius believed that the constitution was a fundamental cause of the exponential growth of Rome's empire. Knowledge of Rome's political institutions is essential both for ancient historians and for those who study the contribution of Rome to the republican tradition of political thought from the Middle Ages to the revolutions inspired by the Enlightenment.


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Books mentioned in this topic

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Volume I (other topics)
The Development of the Roman Constitution (other topics)
The Constitution of the Roman Republic (other topics)

Authors mentioned in this topic

Edward Gibbon (other topics)
Ambrose Tighe (other topics)
Andrew Lintott (other topics)