Centuriate Assembly

The Centuriate Assembly (Latin: comitia centuriata) of the Roman Republic was one of the three voting assemblies in the Roman constitution. It was named the Centuriate Assembly as it originally divided Roman citizens into groups of one hundred men by classes. The Centuries originally reflected military status, but later reflected the wealth of their members. The Centuries gathered into the Centuriate Assembly for legislative, electoral, and judicial purposes. The majority of votes in any Century decided how that Century voted. Each Century received one vote, regardless of how many electors each Century held. Once a majority of Centuries voted in the same way on a given measure, the voting ended, and the matter was decided.[1] Only the Centuriate Assembly could declare war or elect the highest-ranking Roman Magistrates: "'Consuls", "Praetors" and "Censors".[2] The Centuriate Assembly could also pass a law that granted constitutional command authority, or "Imperium", to Consuls and Praetors (the lex de imperio or "Law on Imperium"), and Censorial powers to Censors (the lex de potestate censoria or "Law on Censorial Powers").[2] In addition, the Centuriate Assembly served as the highest court of appeal in certain judicial cases (in particular, cases involving perduellio), and ratified the results of a Census.[3]

Since the Romans used a form of direct democracy, citizens, and not elected representatives, voted before each assembly. As such, the citizen-electors had no power, other than the power to cast a vote. Each assembly was presided over by a single Roman Magistrate, and as such, it was the presiding magistrate who made all decisions on matters of procedure and legality. Ultimately, the presiding magistrate's power over the assembly was nearly absolute. The only check on that power came in the form of vetoes handed down by other magistrates. Any decision made by a presiding magistrate could be vetoed by a magistrate known as a "Plebeian Tribune". In addition, decisions made by presiding magistrates could also be vetoed by higher-ranking magistrates.

Assembly procedure

In the Roman system of direct democracy, two primary types of assembly were used to vote on legislative, electoral, and judicial matters. The first was the Committee (comitia, literally "going together" or "meeting place").[4] The Centuriate Assembly was a Committee. Committees were assemblies of all citizens,[5] and were used for official purposes, such as for the enactment of laws. Acts of a Committee applied to all of the members of that Committee. The second type of assembly was the Council (concilium), which was a forum where specific groups of citizens met for official purposes.[5] In contrast, the Convention (conventio, literally "coming together") was an unofficial forum for communication. Conventions were simply forums where Romans met for specific unofficial purposes, such as, for example, to hear a political speech.[4] Private citizens who did not hold political office could only speak before a Convention, and not before a Committee or a Council.[6] Conventions were simply meetings, and no legal or legislative decisions could be made in one. Voters always assembled first into Conventions to hear debates and conduct other business before voting, and then into Committees or Councils to actually vote.[7]

A notice always had to be given several days before the assembly was to actually vote. For elections, at least three market-days (often more than seventeen actual days) had to pass between the announcement of the election, and the actual election. During this time period (the trinundinum), the candidates interacted with the electorate, and no legislation could be proposed or voted upon. In 98 BC, a law was passed (the lex Caecilia Didia) which required a similar three market-day interval to pass between the proposal of a law and the vote on that law.[8] During criminal trials, the assembly's presiding magistrate had to give a notice (diem dicere) to the accused person on the first day of the investigation (anquisito). At the end of each day, the magistrate had to give another notice to the accused person (diem prodicere), which informed him of the status of the investigation. After the investigation was complete, a three market-day interval had to elapse before a final vote could be taken with respect to conviction or acquittal.[9]

Only one assembly could operate at any given point in time, and any session already underway could be dissolved if a magistrate "called away" (avocare) the electors.[8] In addition to the presiding magistrate, several additional magistrates were often present to act as assistants. They were available to help resolve procedural disputes, and to provide a mechanism through which electors could appeal decisions of the presiding magistrate.[10] There were also religious officials (known as Augurs) either in attendance or on-call, who would be available to help interpret any signs from the Gods (omens), since the Romans believed that their gods let their approval or disapproval with proposed actions be known.[10] In addition, a preliminary search for omens (auspices) was conducted by the presiding magistrate the night before any meeting.[11] On several known occasions, presiding magistrates used the claim of unfavorable omens as an excuse to suspend a session that was not going the way they wanted.

On the day of the vote, the electors first assembled into their Conventions for debate and campaigning.[7] In the Conventions, the electors were not sorted into their respective Centuries. Speeches from private citizens were only heard if the issue to be voted upon was a legislative or judicial matter, and even then, only if the citizen received permission from the presiding magistrate.[12] If the purpose of the ultimate vote was for an election, no speeches from private citizens were heard, and instead, the candidates for office used the Convention to campaign.[13] During the Convention, the bill to be voted upon was read to the assembly by an officer known as a "Herald". A Plebeian Tribune could use his veto against pending legislation up until this point, but not after.[14]

The electors were then told to break up the Convention ("depart to your separate groups", or discedite, quirites), and assemble into their formal Century. The electors assembled behind a fenced off area[7] and voted by placing a pebble or written ballot into an appropriate jar.[15] The baskets (cistae) that held the votes were watched by specific officers (the custodes), who then counted the ballots, and reported the results to the presiding magistrate. The majority of votes in any Century decided how that Century voted.[1] If the process was not complete by nightfall, the electors were dismissed without having reached a decision, and the process had to begin again the next day.[16]

Roman constitution
Chart Showing the Checks and Balances of the Constitution of the Roman Republic

Presiding magistrate and elections

The presiding magistrate sat on a special chair (the "curule chair"), wore a purple-bordered toga, and was accompanied by bodyguards called lictors. Each lictor carried the symbol of state power, the fasces, which was a bundle of white birch rods, tied together with a red leather ribbon into a cylinder, and with a blade on the side, projecting from the bundle. While the voters in this assembly wore white undecorated togas and were unarmed, they were still soldiers, and as such they could not meet inside of the physical boundary of the city of Rome (the pomerium). Because of this, as well as the large size of the assembly (as many as 373 centuries), the assembly often met on the Field of Mars (Latin: Campus Martius), which was a large field located right outside of the city wall.[17] The president of the Centuriate Assembly was usually a Consul (although sometimes a Praetor). Only Consuls (the highest-ranking of all Roman Magistrates) could preside over the Centuriate Assembly during elections because the higher-ranking Consuls were always elected together with the lower-ranking Praetors. Consuls and Praetors were usually elected in July, and took office in January. Two Consuls, and at least six Praetors, were elected each year for an annual term that began in January and ended in December. In contrast, two Censors were elected every five years. Once every five years, after the new Consuls for the year took office, they presided over the Centuriate Assembly as it elected the two Censors.

Servian organization (509-241 BC)

The Centuriate Assembly was supposedly founded by the legendary Roman King Servius Tullius, less than a century before the founding of the Roman Republic in 509 BC. As such, the original design of the Centuriate Assembly was known as the "Servian organization". Under this organization, the assembly was supposedly designed to mirror the Roman army during the time of the Roman Kingdom, with a division such that the citizen-soldiers had the responsibility of electing the consuls and praetors, and therefore, their leaders. The Roman army was based on units called "Centuries", which were comparable to Companies in a modern army. While Centuries in the Roman army always consisted of about one hundred soldiers, Centuries in the Centuriate Assembly usually did not. This was because the property qualifications for membership in a voting Century did not change over time, as property qualifications for membership in a military Century did.

Soldiers in the Roman army were classified on the basis of the amount of property that they owned, and as such, soldiers with more property outranked soldiers with less property. Since the wealthy soldiers were divided into more Centuries in the early Roman army, with a greater military burden, the wealthy soldiers were also divided into more Centuries in the Centuriate Assembly. Thus, the wealthy soldiers, who were fewer in number and had more to lose, had a greater overall influence.

The 193 Centuries in the assembly under the Servian Organization were each divided into one of three different grades: the officer class (the cavalry or equites), the enlisted class (infantry or pedites) and the miscellaneous class (mostly unarmed adjuncts).[17] The officer class was grouped into eighteen Centuries, six of which (the sex suffragia) were composed exclusively of Patricians.[17] The enlisted class was grouped into 170 Centuries. Most enlisted individuals (those aged seventeen to forty-six) were grouped into eighty-five Centuries of "junior soldiers" (iuniores or "young men"). The relatively limited number of enlisted soldiers who were aged forty-six to sixty were grouped into eighty-five Centuries of "senior soldiers" (seniores or "old men").[18] The result of this arrangement was that the votes of the older soldiers carried more weight than did the votes of the numerically greater younger soldiers. According to Cicero, the Consul of 63 BC, this design was intentional so that the decisions of the assembly were more in line with the will of the more experienced soldiers who arguably had more to lose. The 170 Centuries of enlisted soldiers were divided into five classes, each with a separate property requirement: The first class consisted of soldiers with heavy armor, the lower classes had successively less armor, and the soldiers of the fifth class had nothing more than slings and stones. Each of the five property classes were divided equally between Centuries of younger soldiers and Centuries of older soldiers. The first class of enlisted soldiers consisted of eighty Centuries, classes two through four consisted of twenty Centuries each, and class five consisted of thirty Centuries.[19] The unarmed soldiers were divided into the final five Centuries: four of these Centuries were composed of artisans and musicians (such as trumpeters and horn blowers), while the fifth Century (the proletarii) consisted of people with little or no property.[20]

During a vote, all of the Centuries of one class had to vote before the Centuries of the next lower class could vote. The seven classes voted by order of seniority: first the officer class, then the first enlisted class, then the second enlisted class, then the third enlisted class, then the fourth enlisted class, then the fifth enlisted class, and then finally the unarmed Centuries. When a measure received a majority of the vote, the voting ended, and as such, many lower ranking Centuries rarely if ever had a chance to actually vote.

Reorganization (241 BC- 27 BC)

Under the Servian Organization, the assembly was so aristocratic that the officer class and the first class of enlisted soldiers controlled enough Centuries for an outright majority. In 241 BC, this assembly was reorganized by the Censors Marcus Fabius Buteo and Gaius Aurelius Cotta, in order to give more weight to the lower ranking Centuries, and thus make the assembly less aristocratic.[21] Under the old system, there were a total of 193 Centuries, while under the new system, there were a total of 373 Centuries. Under the new system, the thirty-five Tribes were each divided into ten Centuries:[22] five of older soldiers, and five of younger soldiers. Of each of these five Centuries, one was assigned to one of the five property classes. Therefore, each Tribe had two Centuries (one of older soldiers and one of younger soldiers) allocated to each of the five property classes. In addition, the property requirements for each of the five classes were probably raised. In total, this resulted in 350 Centuries of enlisted soldiers. The same eighteen Centuries of officers, and the same five Centuries of unarmed soldiers, were also included in the redesign.[21] Now, majorities usually could not be reached until the third class of enlisted Centuries had begun voting.

Sulla Glyptothek Munich 309
Sulla, who attempted to change the power of the Assemblies

Since the lowest ranking Century in the Centuriate Assembly, the fifth unarmed Century (the proletarii), was always the last Century to vote, it never had any real influence on elections, and as such, it was so poorly regarded that it was all but ignored during the Census. In 107 BC, in response to high unemployment and a severe manpower shortage in the army, the general and Consul Gaius Marius reformed the organization of the army, and allowed individuals with no property to enlist. As a consequence of these reforms, this fifth unarmed Century came to encompass almost the entire Roman army.[18] This mass disenfranchisement of most of the soldiers in the army played an important role in the chaos that led to the fall of the Roman Republic in 27 BC.

During his dictatorship from 82 BC until 80 BC, Lucius Cornelius Sulla restored the old Servian organization to this assembly. This reform was one in a slate of constitutional reforms enacted by Sulla as a consequence of the recent Civil War between his supporters and those of the politically-populist then-former Consul Gaius Marius. His reforms were intended to reassert aristocratic control over the constitution, and thus prevent the emergence of another Marius. Sulla died in 78 BC, and in 70 BC, the Consuls Pompey Magnus and Marcus Licinius Crassus repealed Sulla's constitutional reforms, including his restoration of the Servian Organization to this assembly. They restored the less aristocratic organization (from 241 BC by the Censors Marcus Fabius Buteo and Gaius Aurelius Cotta). The organization of the Centuriate Assembly was not changed again until its powers were all transferred to the Roman Senate by the first Roman Emperor, Augustus, after the fall of the Roman Republic in 27 BC.

See also


  • Abbott, Frank Frost (1901). A History and Description of Roman Political Institutions. Elibron Classics (ISBN 0-543-92749-0).
  • Byrd, Robert (1995). The Senate of the Roman Republic. U.S. Government Printing Office, Senate Document 103-23.
  • Cicero, Marcus Tullius (1841). The Political Works of Marcus Tullius Cicero: Comprising his Treatise on the Commonwealth; and his Treatise on the Laws. Translated from the original, with Dissertations and Notes in Two Volumes. By Francis Barham, Esq. London: Edmund Spettigue. Vol. 1.
  • Lintott, Andrew (1999). The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford University Press (ISBN 0-19-926108-3).
  • Polybius (1823). The General History of Polybius: Translated from the Greek. By James Hampton. Oxford: Printed by W. Baxter. Fifth Edition, Vol 2.
  • Taylor, Lily Ross (1966). Roman Voting Assemblies: From the Hannibalic War to the Dictatorship of Caesar. The University of Michigan Press (ISBN 0-472-08125-X).


  1. ^ a b Taylor, 40
  2. ^ a b Abbott, 257
  3. ^ Taylor, 3, 4
  4. ^ a b Lintott, 42
  5. ^ a b Abbott, 251
  6. ^ Abbott, 252
  7. ^ a b c Taylor, 2
  8. ^ a b Lintott, 44
  9. ^ Lintott, 44-45
  10. ^ a b Taylor, 63
  11. ^ Taylor, 7
  12. ^ Lintott, 45
  13. ^ Taylor, 16
  14. ^ Lintott, 46
  15. ^ Lintott, 46-47
  16. ^ Lintott, 48
  17. ^ a b c Taylor, 85
  18. ^ a b Taylor, 86
  19. ^ Taylor, 87
  20. ^ Abbott, 21
  21. ^ a b Abbott, 75
  22. ^ Abbott, 74

Further reading

  • Ihne, Wilhelm. Researches Into the History of the Roman Constitution. William Pickering. 1853.
  • Johnston, Harold Whetstone. Orations and Letters of Cicero: With Historical Introduction, An Outline of the Roman Constitution, Notes, Vocabulary and Index. Scott, Foresman and Company. 1891.
  • Mommsen, Theodor. Roman Constitutional Law. 1871-1888
  • Tighe, Ambrose. The Development of the Roman Constitution. D. Apple & Co. 1886.
  • Von Fritz, Kurt. The Theory of the Mixed Constitution in Antiquity. Columbia University Press, New York. 1975.
  • The Histories by Polybius
  • Cambridge Ancient History, Volumes 9–13.
  • A. Cameron, The Later Roman Empire, (Fontana Press, 1993).
  • M. Crawford, The Roman Republic, (Fontana Press, 1978).
  • E. S. Gruen, "The Last Generation of the Roman Republic" (U California Press, 1974)
  • F. Millar, The Emperor in the Roman World, (Duckworth, 1977, 1992).
  • A. Lintott, "The Constitution of the Roman Republic" (Oxford University Press, 1999)

Primary sources

Secondary source material

Ballot laws of the Roman Republic

The ballot laws of the Roman Republic (Latin: leges tabellariae) were four laws which introduced the secret ballot to all popular assemblies in the republic. They were all introduced by tribunes, and consisted of the lex Gabinia tabellaria (or lex Gabinia) of 139 BC, applying to the election of magistrates; the lex Cassia tabellaria of 137 BC, applying to juries except in cases of treason; the lex Papiria of 131 BC, applying to the passing of laws; and the lex Caelia of 107 BC, which expanded the lex Cassia to include matters of treason. Prior to the ballot laws, voters announced their votes orally to a teller, essentially making every vote public. The ballot laws curtailed the influence of the aristocratic class and expanded the freedom of choice for voters. Elections became more competitive. Counter-intuitively, the secret ballot also led to an increase in bribery by removing social pressure as a means of obtaining votes.

Conflict of the Orders

The Conflict of the Orders, also referred to as the Struggle of the Orders, was a political struggle between the Plebeians (commoners) and Patricians (aristocrats) of the ancient Roman Republic lasting from 500 BC to 287 BC, in which the Plebeians sought political equality with the Patricians. It played a major role in the development of the Constitution of the Roman Republic. Shortly after the founding of the Republic, this conflict led to a secession from Rome by Plebeians to the Sacred Mount at a time of war. The result of this first secession was the creation of the office of Plebeian Tribune, and with it the first acquisition of real power by the Plebeians.

At first only Patricians were allowed to stand for election to political office, but over time these laws were revoked, and eventually all offices were opened to the Plebeians. Since most individuals who were elected to political office were given membership in the Roman Senate, this development helped to transform the senate from a body of Patricians into a body of Plebeian and Patrician aristocrats. This development occurred at the same time that the Plebeian legislative assembly, the Plebeian Council, was acquiring additional power. At first, its acts ("plebiscites") applied only to Plebeians, although after 339 BC, with the institution of laws by the first Plebeian dictator Q. Publilius Philo, these acts began to apply to both Plebeians and Patricians, with a senatorial veto of all measures approved by the council.

It was not until 287 BC that the Patrician senators lost their last check over the Plebeian Council. However, the Patricio-Plebeian aristocracy in the senate still retained other means by which to control the Plebeian Council, in particular the closeness between the Plebeian Tribunes and the senators. While this conflict would end in 287 BC with the Plebeians having acquired political equality with the Patricians, the plight of the average Plebeian had not changed. A small number of aristocratic Plebeian families had emerged, and most Plebeian politicians came from one of these families.

Constitution of the Roman Empire

The Constitution of the Roman Empire was an unwritten set of guidelines and principles passed down mainly through precedent. After the fall of the Roman Republic, the constitutional balance of power shifted from the Roman Senate to the Roman Emperor. Beginning with the first emperor, Augustus, the emperor and the senate were theoretically two co-equal branches of government. In practice, however, the actual authority of the imperial Senate was negligible, as the emperor held the true power of the state. During the reign of the second emperor, Tiberius, many of the powers that had been held by the Roman assemblies were transferred to the Senate.The powers of an emperor existed by virtue of his legal standing. The two most significant components to an emperor's power were the "tribunician powers" Latin: tribunicia potestas and the proconsular imperium, or the power to command. The tribunician powers gave the emperor authority over Rome itself and the civil government, while the proconsular powers gave him authority over the provinces and the army. While these distinctions were clearly defined during the early empire, eventually they were lost, and the emperor's powers became less constitutional and more monarchical. The traditional magistracies that survived the fall of the republic were the Consulship, Praetorship, Plebeian Tribunate, Aedileship, Quaestorship, and Military Tribunate. Any individual of the senatorial class could run for one of these offices. If an individual was not of the senatorial class, he could run for one of these offices if he was allowed to run by the emperor, or otherwise, he could be appointed to one of these offices by the emperor.

Constitution of the Roman Republic

The constitution of the Roman Republic was a set of unwritten norms and customs, which together with various written laws, guided the procedural governance of the Roman Republic. The constitution emerged from that of the Roman kingdom, evolved over the almost five hundred years of the Republic, and was transformed into the constitution of the Roman Empire.The Roman republican constitution can be divided into three main branches:

the Assemblies, composed of the people, which served as the supreme repository of political power and had the authority to elect magistrates, accept or reject laws, administer justice, and declare war or peace;

the Senate, which advised the magistrates and the state, acting primarily not on legal authority per se, but rather with its influence, and

the magistrates, elected by the people to govern the Republic in their name, holding religious, military, and judicial powers, along with the right to preside over and call upon the assemblies.A complex set of checks and balances developed between these three branches. For example, the assemblies theoretically held all power, but were called and governed by the magistrates, who, controlling discussion, exercised dominating influence over them. Similarly, to check the power of the magistrates, each magistrate could veto one of their colleagues and the plebeians elected tribunes who could intercede and veto the actions of a magistrate.The Republic's constitution slowly evolved over time. Starting from a period of patrician domination, the Conflict of the Orders eventually granted plebeian citizens equal political rights, while also creating the tribunate to check patrician power and empowering the Plebeian Council, an assembly composed of the plebeians of Rome, with full legislative authority.The late Republic saw an increase in the centralisation of power into the hands of provincial governors, the use of military power to enforce political changes (e.g. the Sullan dictatorship), and the use of violence, combined with exploitation of the suitably bribed or intimidated "sovereign" assemblies, to grant supreme authority to victorious commanders. The increasing legitimisation of violence and centralisation of authority into fewer and fewer men would, with the collapse of trust in the Republic's institutions, put it on a path to civil war and its transformation by Augustus into an autocratic empire cloaked with nothing more than the veneer of Republican legitimacy.

Constitutional reforms of Sulla

The constitutional reforms of Lucius Cornelius Sulla were a series of laws enacted by the Roman Dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla between 82 and 80 BC, which reformed the Constitution of the Roman Republic.

In the decades before Sulla had become dictator, a series of political developments occurred which severely weakened aristocratic control over the Roman Constitution. Sulla's dictatorship constituted one of the most significant developments in the History of the Constitution of the Roman Republic, and it served as a warning for the coming civil war, which ultimately would destroy the Roman Republic and create the Roman Empire. Sulla, who had witnessed chaos at the hands of his political enemies in the years before his dictatorship, was naturally conservative. He believed that the underlying flaw in the Roman constitution was the increasingly aggressive democracy, which expressed itself through the Roman assemblies, and as such, he sought to strengthen the Roman Senate and reduce the power of the plebeian tribunes. He retired in 79 BC, and died in 78 BC, having believed that he had corrected the constitutional flaw. His constitution would be mostly rescinded by two of his former lieutenants, Pompey Magnus and Marcus Licinius Crassus, less than ten years after his death. But what he did not realize was that it was he himself who actually had illustrated the underlying flaw in the Roman constitution: that it was the army, and not the Roman senate, which dictated the fortunes of the state. The precedent he produced would be emulated less than forty years later by an individual whom he almost had executed, Julius Caesar, and as such, he played a critical early role in the transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.

Curiate Assembly

The Curiate Assembly (comitia curiata) was the principal assembly during the first two decades of the Roman Republic. During these first decades, the People of Rome were organized into thirty units called "Curiae". The Curiae were ethnic in nature, and thus were organized on the basis of the early Roman family, or, more specifically, on the basis of the thirty original Patrician (aristocratic) clans. The Curiae formed an assembly for legislative, electoral, and judicial purposes. The Curiate Assembly passed laws, elected Consuls (the only elected magistrates at the time), and tried judicial cases. Consuls always presided over the assembly. While Plebeians (commoners) could participate in this assembly, only the Patricians (the Roman aristocrats) could vote.

Since the Romans used a form of direct democracy, citizens, and not elected representatives, voted before each assembly. As such, the citizen-electors had no power, other than the power to cast a vote. Each assembly was presided over by a single Roman Magistrate, and as such, it was the presiding magistrate who made all decisions on matters of procedure and legality. Ultimately, the presiding magistrate's power over the assembly was nearly absolute. The only check on that power came in the form of vetoes handed down by other magistrates, and decisions made by presiding magistrates could also be vetoed by higher-ranking magistrates. In addition, after 493 BC, any decision made by a presiding magistrate, including one concerning the Curiate Assembly, could be vetoed by a magistrate known as a plebeian tribune, or tribune of the plebs.

Executive magistrates of the Roman Republic

The executive magistrates of the Roman Republic were officials of the ancient Roman Republic (c. 510 BC – 44 BC), elected by the People of Rome. Ordinary magistrates (magistratus) were divided into several ranks according to their role and the power they wielded: censors, consuls (who functioned as the regular head of state), praetors, curule aediles, and finally quaestor. Any magistrate could obstruct (veto) an action that was being taken by a magistrate with an equal or lower degree of magisterial powers. By definition, plebeian tribunes and plebeian aediles were technically not magistrates as they were elected only by the plebeians, but no ordinary magistrate could veto any of their actions. Dictator was an extraordinary magistrate normally elected in times of emergency (usually military) for a short period. During this period, the dictator's power over the Roman government was absolute, as they were not checked by any institution or magistrate.

History of the Constitution of the Roman Kingdom

The History of the Constitution of the Roman Kingdom is a study of the ancient Roman Kingdom that traces the progression of Roman political development from the founding of the city of Rome in 753 BC to the overthrow of the Roman Kingdom in 510 BC. The constitution of the Roman Kingdom vested the sovereign power in the King of Rome. The king did have two rudimentary checks on his authority, which took the form of a board of elders (the "Roman Senate") and a popular assembly (the "Curiate Assembly"). The arrangement was similar to the constitutional arrangements found in contemporary Greek city-states (such as Athens or Sparta). These Greek constitutional principles probably came to Rome through the Greek colonies of Magna Graecia in southern Italy. In the centuries before the legendary founding of the city of Rome, Greek settlers had colonized much of the Mediterranean world. These settlers carried Greek ideals with them, and often kept in contact with the Greek mainland. Thus, the superstructure of the Roman constitution was ultimately of Greek origin.

History of the Constitution of the Roman Republic

The history of the Constitution of the Roman Republic is a study of the ancient Roman Republic that traces the progression of Roman political development from the founding of the Roman Republic in 509 BC until the founding of the Roman Empire in 27 BC. The constitutional history of the Roman Republic can be divided into five phases. The first phase began with the revolution which overthrew the Roman Kingdom in 509 BC, and the final phase ended with the revolution which overthrew the Roman Republic, and thus created the Roman Empire, in 27 BC. Throughout the history of the republic, the constitutional evolution was driven by the struggle between the aristocracy and the ordinary citizens.

The Roman aristocracy was composed of a class of citizens called Patricians (Latin: patricii), while all other citizens were called Plebeians (Latin: plebs) . During the first phase of political development, the Patrician aristocracy dominated the state, and the Plebeians began seeking political rights. During the second phase, the Plebeians completely overthrew the Patrician aristocracy, and since the aristocracy was overthrown simply through alterations to the Roman law, this revolution was not violent. The third phase saw the emergence of a joint Patricio-Plebeian aristocracy, along with a dangerous military situation that helped to maintain internal stability within the republic. The fourth phase began shortly after Rome's wars of expansion had ended, because without these wars, the factor that had ensured internal stability was removed. While the Plebeians sought to address their economic misfortune through the enactment of laws, the underlying problems were ultimately caused by the organization of society. The final phase began when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon river, and ended with the complete overthrow of the republic. This final revolution triggered a wholesale reorganization of the constitution, and with it, the emergence of the Roman Empire.

King of Rome

The King of Rome (Latin: Rex Romae) was the chief magistrate of the Roman Kingdom. According to legend, the first king of Rome was Romulus, who founded the city in 753 BC upon the Palatine Hill. Seven legendary kings are said to have ruled Rome until 509 BC, when the last king was overthrown. These kings ruled for an average of 35 years.

The kings after Romulus were not known to be dynasts and no reference is made to the hereditary principle until after the fifth king Tarquinius Priscus. Consequently, some have assumed that the Tarquins and their attempt to institute a hereditary monarchy over this conjectured earlier elective monarchy resulted in the formation of the republic.

Legislative assemblies of the Roman Empire

The legislative assemblies of the Roman Empire were political institutions in the ancient Roman Empire. During the reign of the second Roman Emperor, Tiberius, the powers that had been held by the Roman assemblies (the comitia) were transferred to the senate. The neutering of the assemblies had become inevitable for reasons beyond the fact that they were composed of the rabble of Rome. The electors were, in general, ignorant as to the merits of the important questions that were laid before them, and often willing to sell their votes to the highest bidder.

Legislative assemblies of the Roman Republic

The legislative assemblies of the Roman Republic were political institutions in the ancient Roman Republic. According to the contemporary historian Polybius, it was the people (and thus the assemblies) who had the final say regarding the election of magistrates, the enactment of Roman laws, the carrying out of capital punishment, the declaration of war and peace, and the creation (or dissolution) of alliances. Under the Constitution of the Roman Republic, the people (and thus the assemblies) held the ultimate source of sovereignty.

Since the Romans used a form of direct democracy, citizens, and not elected representatives, voted before each assembly. As such, the citizen-electors had no power, other than to cast a vote. Each assembly was presided over by a single Roman Magistrate, and as such, it was the presiding magistrate who made all decisions on matters of procedure and legality. Ultimately, the presiding magistrate's power over the assembly was nearly absolute. The only check on that power came in the form of vetoes handed down by other magistrates.

In the Roman system of direct democracy, two primary types of gatherings were used to vote on legislative, electoral, and judicial matters. The first was the Assembly (comitia), which was a gathering that was deemed to represent the entire Roman people, even if it did not contain all of the Roman citizens or, like the comitia curiata, excluded a particular class of Roman citizens (the plebs). The second was the Council (concilium), which was a gathering of citizens of a specific class. In contrast, the Convention was an unofficial forum for communication. Conventions were simply forums where Romans met for specific unofficial purposes, such as, for example, to hear a political speech. Voters always assembled first into Conventions to hear debates and conduct other business before voting, and then into Assemblies or Councils to actually vote.

List of censors of the Roman Republic

This list of Roman censors includes all holders through to its subsumption under that of Roman emperor in 22BC.

Censors were elected by the Centuriate Assembly and served as a duo. Censors were elected to take an account of all citizens and their property value before performing a rite of religious purification. Roman taxes were levied based on the censors' account, and the censors could punitively tax citizens who failed to present at the census or falsely accounted for their property.

Whilst having no right to uphold law or command in war, the office of censor was the highest honour. Unlike the office of consul, which deteriorated over the Roman Republic period, most censors were men of exceptional standing and character. Censors were known also as castigatores (English: chastisers) for their duty as the regulators of public morality. For instance, in 92 BC censors Domitius Ahenobarbus and Crassus condemned the teaching of rhetoric in Latin (as opposed to the customary Greek):

Initially, censors were chosen exclusively from among Roman citizens of patrician birth. In 332 BC, Quintus Publilius Philo was elected the first Pleb censor after legislation – that he introduced while dictator – providing one censor of each two must be a plebeian.


The proletariat ( from Latin proletarius "producing offspring") is the class of wage-earners in an economic society whose only possession of significant material value is their labour-power (how much work they can do). A member of such a class is a proletarian.

In Marxist theory, a dictatorship of the proletariat is for the proletariat, of the proletariat, and by the proletariat. On the Marxist view, this will endow the proletarian with the power to abolish the conditions that make a person a proletarian and, thus, build communism.

Publilian laws

Publilian Laws refers to a set of laws meant to increase the amount of political power the plebeian class held in the Roman Republic. The laws are named for Volero Publilius and Quintus Publilius Philo, the two tribunes responsible for the law's passing.


See Rogation days for usage pertaining to the Christian calendar of the Western Church.In Roman constitutional law, rogatio is the term (from Latin rogo, "ask, place a question before") for a legislative bill placed before an Assembly of the People in ancient Rome. The rogatio procedure underscores the fact that the Roman senate could issue decrees, but was not a legislative or parliamentarian body. Only the People could pass legislation.A magistrate with the right to summon the assembly could propose a bill (rogatio legis); the proposed laws themselves were leges rogatae. A bill's proposer was its lator; a supporter was an auctor. Discussions in the senate would contribute to the drafting of a bill, which would be published (promulgare rogationem, that is, promulgatio) three weeks or more before it was formally submitted to the assembly. During this period, citizens could discuss the bill and propose changes, or more rarely ask for its withdrawal, at informal sessions (contiones). After the bill had been brought before the assembly for the vote, it could no longer be modified.The legislator who introduced the bill asked Velitis iubeatis, Quirites? ("Citizens, are you going to approve and order?") and the people responded yea or nay without discussion. If a bill was withdrawn after the rogatio but before the vote was taken, it was usually because a tribune threatened to use his veto power against it, or less frequently because it proved unpopular among the plebs. If a bill was passed (rogatio lata est), it became a law (lex) after the presiding magistrate made a formal announcement (renuntiatio) of the assembly's decision.

In the Early Republic, the senate had to approve the constitutionality of a law before it was enacted; after the passage of the Lex Publilia Philonis in 339 BC, which required that at least one of the two censores be a plebeian, this approval (patrum auctoritas) was required before the bill was put to a vote in the assembly. With controversial popularist measures, however, the senate was sometimes bypassed.

If a bill was proposed for the purpose of declaring war, it had to be brought before the Centuriate Assembly.A bill that became law was inscribed on copper or marble tablets and kept in the state treasury (aerarium populi romani) under the supervision of the quaestors.In 63 BC, Cicero managed to obstruct a rogatio Servilia by making a speech before the people; this appears to be the only time in the Late Republic when oratory blocked a popular piece of legislation, which in this case had provided for the distribution of land to the poor. Or so Cicero claims; the bill's sponsor, the tribune Servilius Rullus, more likely withdrew it because of the threat of veto from one of his fellow tribunes, and it never reached the comitia.

Roman assemblies

The Roman Assemblies were institutions in ancient Rome. They functioned as the machinery of the Roman legislative branch, and thus (theoretically at least) passed all legislation. Since the assemblies operated on the basis of direct democracy, ordinary citizens, and not elected representatives, would cast all ballots. The assemblies were subject to strong checks on their power by the executive branch and by the Roman Senate. Laws were passed (and magistrates elected) by Curia (in the Curiate Assembly), Tribes (in the Tribal Assembly), and Centuries (in the Centuriate Assembly).

When the city of Rome was founded (traditionally dated at 753 BC), a senate and an assembly, the Curiate Assembly, were both created. The Curiate Assembly was the principal legislative assembly during the era of the Roman Kingdom. While its primary purpose was to elect new kings, it also possessed rudimentary legislative powers. Shortly after the founding of the Roman Republic (traditionally dated to 509 BC), the principal legislative authority shifted to two new assemblies, the Tribal Assembly ("Citizen's Assembly") and the Centuriate Assembly. Eventually, most legislative powers were transferred to another assembly, the Plebeian Council ("Assembly of the Commoners"). Ultimately, it was the Plebeian Council that disrupted the balance between the senate, the legislative branch, and the executive branch. This led to the collapse of the republic, and the founding of the Roman Empire in 27 BC. Under the empire, the powers that had been held by the assemblies were transferred to the senate. While the assemblies eventually lost their last semblance of political power, citizens continued to gather into them for organizational purposes. Eventually, however, the assemblies were ultimately abandoned.

Roman censor

The censor was a magistrate in ancient Rome who was responsible for maintaining the census, supervising public morality, and overseeing certain aspects of the government's finances.The power of the censors was absolute: no magistrate could oppose their decisions, only another censor who succeeded them could cancel it.

The censors' regulation of public morality is the origin of the modern meaning of the words censor and censorship.

Status in Roman legal system

In Roman law, status describes a person's legal status. The individual could be a Roman citizen (status civitatis), unlike foreigners; or he could be free (status libertatis), unlike slaves; or he could have a certain position in a Roman family (status familiae) either as head of the family (pater familias), or as a lower member (filii familias).

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