Political Office in theMid-Late Roman Republic Theresa Cho
Roman Republic Background• The Roman Republic spanned from 509 BCE to 27 BCE.• It began with the overthrow of monarchy led by Lucius Junius Brutus (ancestor of the Brutus who assassinated Julius Caesar).• The government of the Republic was originally dominated by the Patricians (Roman aristocracy), but over time, the plebeians (Romans of non-aristocratic birth) gained more influence and power within the Senate.• The main body of government was the Senate (ran by senators)—which worked with other assemblies with a system of checks and balances. Once a man was admitted as a senator (he automatically became one after holding the most junior magistracy), he was senator for life.• The Senate was responsible for passing decrees (called the Senatus Consultum), which were implemented by magistrates. It also oversaw foreign policy and to some extent, military policy, in the appointment of military commanders.• Roman citizens had two choices when running for political office: 1) Start as a Tribunus Plebis (Tribune of the People) 2) Follow the Cursus Honorum (Course of Honour)—This was a series of steps on the political ladder. One would usually start as a military tribune, then advance as a quaestor, aedile, praetor, and ultimately the consul.• Other offices that one could hold outside the Cursus Honorum were: 1) The Censor 2)Exceptional cases: Dictator and Master of the Horse. - Only Roman men citizens could run for office. Office was usually held for a year, with the exception of a few.
A Note on Legislative During the Roman Republic, there were two types of legislative assemblies: 1) The Comitia (committee)—The comitia included all Roman citizens. Assemblies This was the type of assembly called up to ratify laws, elect magistrates and try judicial cases. The comitia was further divided into two categories: a) The Comitia Tributa (Tribal Assembly)—It arranged citizens based on geographical area. b) The Comitia Centuriata (Centuriate Assembly)—Arranged citizens based on class—wealth and status. 2) The Concilium (Council)—This was just an assembly of a specific group of citizens. e.g.) The Plebeian council— This council was composed of Roman citizens of plebeian heritage who gathered to elect Plebeian magistrates, enact laws only applicable for plebeians and try cases involving plebeians.*Note: Not all families of the ruling class of Rome were Patricians.There were also many powerful noble political families which had plebeian roots, such as theCaecilii Metelli.
Tribunus Plebis (Tribune of theThis was a very powerful political office even though it was not part of the CursusHonorum. The Tribunes of the People) People were not considered magistrates, but rather, officials.The role of the tribune in government was to represent the interests of the common people(the plebs) against the arbitrary power of the Senate and the magistrates (mostly made up ofthe elite ruling class).Each year, ten members were elected by the Plebeian Council. Only a man of plebeian bloodcould be a tribune of the people.In law, the body of a tribune was sacrosanct—no one was allowed to attack him. Whoeverattacked a tribune could be executed.The People’s Tribunes had a special right called the ius auxiliandi, which enabled them toprovide aid to any plebeian from the power of a magistrate. They were also given the right to propose legislation, which could be passed if the proposedlaw was popular. The special power of the tribune lay in his “veto.” He was allowed to veto anyone(including senators, magistrates and other tribunes) except for the dictator (if there was one).Veto means “I forbid.”Because tribunes were regarded as the champions of the common people, it was importantthat people had access to them at all times, so they were not allowed to lock the doors of theirhouses. They were also not allowed to be absent from the city for an entire day.
FamousTribunes ofthe People The Gracchi Brothers: Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus
Tribunus Militum Each year, twenty-four young menTribune) (Military were elected to serve asmilitary tribunes.Military tribunes were elected by the Comitia Tributa (theTribal Assembly of Roman people based on geographical area). By being a military tribune, one could gain militaryexperience.Technically, it was not necessary to be a military tribune inorder to advance on the ladders of the Cursus Honorum.However, military experience was always an asset, so manyyoung men ambitious for political office would start out as amilitary tribune.Of the 24 tribunes, six were distributed to each of the twoconsuls’s two legions. They held the rank of legion officers.
Tribuni Militi (Military Tribunes) Militar y Tribune s in Uniform
Quaestor• The quaestorship was technically considered to be thefirst step of the Cursus Honorum. It was the most junior ofall the magistracies.•Twenty quaestors were elected every year by the Romanpeople through the Comitia Tributa (the same assemblythrough which military tribunes were elected).•Their responsibility was mainly financial—theyadministered the finances of the state treasury. However,they also supervised public games as an extra task.•One quaestor often accompanied a governor to help thegovernor oversee finances of the province given to thegovernor.•Being quaestor automatically enrolled that office holderinto the Senate—he became a senator; however usually asa backbencher who was not allowed to voice his opinionsduring debates.
Quaestor Since quaestors were official magistrates, they were entitled to wear the toga praetexta (the toga reserved for magistrates only).
Aedilis (Aedile)• Four aediles were elected each year (two of which had to be of plebeian heritage [the PlebeianAediles], while the other two could be either Plebeian or Patrician—these were called the CuruleAediles.•The Plebeian Aediles were elected by the Concilium Plebis (the Plebeian Council).•The Curule Aediles, on the other hand, were elected by the Comitia Tributa (the assembly thatarranged all Roman citizens based on geographic area). Unlike the Plebeian Aediles, CuruleAediles were vested with imperium (in this case, it was the executive power given to them by theSenate which enabled the Curule Aediles to do anything that they considered would be beneficialto the state.)• The aediles looked after the dreary aspects of city management—corn supplies, municipalregulations, sewage treatment, maintenance of buildings, street sanitation etc.•Another important responsibility of the aedile was to provide public entertainment foreveryone—in the form of public games, feasts, mock battles or gladiatorial shows. The gameswere often very, very expensive, and a lot of aediles ran into debt while in office.• It was not necessary to be an aedile to run for Praetor (the next rung on the political ladder);however, many ambitious Romans would still run for aedile in order to make themselves well-known and to shore up public support for the future.- People were more likely to remember and vote for those who provided good games and food.
PraetorEight praetors were elected each year by the Comitia Centuriata (the assembly of all the Romanpeople organized by wealth and status.)Praetors were mostly responsible for presiding over law courts; they served as judges.It was the job of the praetors to take on the duty of the consuls if the consuls were absent from Rome.It was the praetors’ responsibility to make sure that people obeyed the laws. In Rome, the PraetorUrbanus (Urban Praetor) was responsible for hearing cases in the city—he was not allowed to be awayfrom Rome for more than 10 days.The Praetor Peregrinus was responsible for hearing cases for foreigners living in Italy. The otherrespective praetors were assigned to their own provinces.Outside the city, Praetors were entitled to six bodyguards, called lictors, who carried ceremonial rodswith axes fixed to them. Within Rome, Praetors could only have two lictors.Praetors had imperium (in this case, slightly different from the imperium given to the Curule Aediles;praetorial imperium was also a state-conferred power, but it allowed the Praetors to command and raisearmies legally.)After serving a year as a praetor, the magistrate could become pro-praetor (having all the powers of apraetor) and be sent by the Senate to govern foreign provinces and become governors.- Many ambitious Praetors who ran into debt while being an aedile looked forward to becominggovernors, because becoming governors supplied them with wealth from their provinces.
*Consul* Only two consuls were elected each year. This office was considered as the most prestigious ofall the magistracies. Many old Roman families would boast of the number of family memberswho had held the office of consuls in order to enhance the family name and prestige. The consulship was the highest rung on the political ladder. Consuls were elected by theComitia Centuriata (the same assembly that elected the Praetors). Their responsibility included convening and presiding over discussions in the Senate. Theycould also introduce legislation, and they often represented Rome in foreign policy. Duringtimes of conflict, the two consuls also became generals—each one in charge of two legions.To run or serve as consul, one had to be at least 42 years old and had to have held the office ofpraetor.A senator was allowed to run for consul again after being consul; however, ten years had tohave elapsed before they do so—this was to prevent corruption and power-grabbing. Like praetors, consuls were allowed lictors as body-guards (since they also had imperium).However, instead of having just six lictors, they had twelve.After their term of office was over, consuls could also become proconsuls (similar to pro-praetor except with powers of the consul) and be sent out to govern a province.Since years during the Roman Republic were referred to as “The Year of the Consulship of ...and...,” being consul ensured that one’s name became ingrained into Roman history forposterity.
Famous ConsulsMarcus Tullius Cicero(Consul of 63 BCE—exposed the Catiline Gaius MariusConspiracy) Consul for Seven Times (Unconstitutional; however, he was also well-known for his military reforms)
Gold Coin of a Roman Consul Walking with Lictors
Censor part of theThe office of a censor was not reallyCursus Honorum; however, this was also a muchesteemed, prestigious office.Two censors were elected and occupied the office fora term of five years (called a lustrum).To be a censor, one had to be a consul first and bevoted in by the Comitia Centuriata.Censors had the right to expel or induce anyone intothe Senate. If they thought a senator was unfit to be asenator, they could expel him.Their responsibilities also included governing themoral life of the Roman people and conducting thecensus to gain information about the number of allRoman citizens (important for conscription) living inItaly and abroad.It was also part of their job to manage and fund public
Cato the Censor Marcus Porcius Cato the Elder— He was also well known for his manuals on farming.
Princeps SenatusThe Princeps Senatus was a title given to a senator rather than a political office.The senator who was the Princeps Senatus had no imperium whatsoever, exceptfor an extra degree of respect and some privileges accorded to him.If translated, Princeps Senatus means “First Citizen or Leader of the Senate.”Whoever held the title was deeply respected, and in any discussion or debatewithin the senate, the Princeps Senatus was always invited to be the first one to voicehis thoughts. The Princeps Senatus was not voted in, but rather chosen by the pair of censors.Since the censors changed every five years, the holder of “Princeps Senatus” alsochanged every five years.- However, the new censors could accord him another five years to hold the title ifthey wished.Only Patrician Senators could be the Princeps Senatus—whoever held the titlealso had to have an impeccable political record, untarnished reputation andcommanded a lot of respect from his peers.
Notable Principes SenatusPublius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Marcus Aemilius Lepidus- A general best known for defeating - He established the colonies of Parma andHannibal during the Second Punic War. Modena as well as constructed the Via Aemilia (a really important road in Northern Italy).
Dictator•The office of the dictator was very special, andonly implemented in very specialcircumstances—mostly during times of crisis(war).• Since consuls could be very competitive witheach other (if they were elected from differentfactions) they were not that effective inmanaging major crises; they would havedisagreed on policies and ideologies.•An elected dictator was a Senate-appointedman who could only hold his office for sixmonths or less—if the state emergency wassolved in a short time.•A special thing about the dictator was that he
Notable Dictators Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus --An early Republican dictator who was CLICK HERE TO regarded as a virtuous Roman hero. Click ADD TEXT —Unlike later• here to add text. Click Republicanhere to add text. dictators, Cincinnatus was not power-hungry;• Click here to add text. Click he willingly relinquishedhere to add text. his dictatorial powers after sixteen days and• Click here to add text. Click returned to his farm tohere to add text. plow his fields.• Click here to add text. Clickhere to add text.• Click here to add text. Clickhere to add text.
NotableDictators Lucius Cornelius Sulla —Sulla was an unconstitutional dictator who made the Senate give him a dictatorship without time limit. He simply retired after he grew tired of politics. Under his dictatorship, Rome underwent a reign of terror.
Notable Dictators Julius Caesar —He was proclaimed “Dictator Perpetuo” (Dictator in Perpetuity). This was probably a factor that contributed to his assassination in 44 BCE.
Magister Equitum (Master of the The Master of the Horse was appointed bythe dictator. Horse) His term expired along with the dictator’s.The Master of the Horse was granted someimperium—typically equivalent to that of aPraetor’s.If the dictator was absent, the Master of theHorse assumed the powers of the dictator andgoverned in his stead.Generally, one should have held the office ofa praetor previously, in order to be appointedMaster of the Horse, but this was not
A Notable Master of the Horse Marcus Antonius (Marc Antony)While Julius Caesar was dictator, he appointed Marc Antony as hisMaster of the Horse. Antony was in charge of Rome while Caesarwas off fighting his enemies during the civil war. As a Master of theHorse, Antony was not very effective; he often resorted to violenceto put down conflicts and the city descended into a state of anarchy.
Political Factions During the Roman Republic, there were no recognizable politicalparties; however, many powerful senatorial families usually alliedthemselves into factions—either with the populares or the optimates. The populares appealed to the interests of the people, and their powersupport stemmed from tribunes and the common people. The optimates (also known as the boni [good men]) belonged to theultra-conservative faction, whose power came from the support of thewealthy and the old aristocratic families. Their interests lay in preservingthe old privileges of the nobles.
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