Roman Senate

The Roman Senate (Latin: Senātus Rōmānus) was a political institution in ancient Rome. It was one of the most enduring institutions in Roman history, being established in the first days of the city of Rome, (traditionally founded in 753 BC). It survived the overthrow of the kings in 509 BC, the fall of the Roman Republic in the 1st century BC, the division of the Roman Empire in 395 AD, the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD, and the barbarian rule of Rome in the 5th, 6th, and 7th centuries.

During the days of the kingdom, it was little more than an advisory council to the king. The last king of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, was overthrown following a coup d'état led by Lucius Junius Brutus, who founded the Roman Republic. During the early Republic, the Senate was politically weak, while the various executive magistrates were quite powerful. Since the transition from monarchy to constitutional rule was most likely gradual, it took several generations before the Senate was able to assert itself over the executive magistrates. By the middle Republic, the Senate had reached the apex of its republican power. The late Republic saw a decline in the Senate's power, which began following the reforms of the tribunes Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus.

After the transition of the Republic into the Principate, the Senate lost much of its political power as well as its prestige. Following the constitutional reforms of the Emperor Diocletian, the Senate became politically irrelevant. When the seat of government was transferred out of Rome, the Senate was reduced to a purely municipal body. This decline in status was reinforced when the emperor Constantine the Great created an additional senate in Constantinople.

After Romulus Augustulus was deposed in 476 the Senate in the West functioned under the rule of Odovacer, 476–489 and during Ostrogothic rule, 489–535. It was restored after the reconquest of Italy by Justinian I. However, the Senate in Rome ultimately disappeared at some point after AD 603 (the year in which the last known senator was mentioned). Despite this, the title "senator" was still used well into the Middle Ages as a largely meaningless honorific. However, the Eastern Senate survived in Constantinople, until the ancient institution finally vanished there, c. 14th century.


Senate of the Roman Kingdom

The senate was a political institution in the ancient Roman Kingdom. The word senate derives from the Latin word senex, which means "old man"; the word thus means "assembly of elders". The prehistoric Indo-Europeans who settled Italy in the centuries before the legendary founding of Rome in 753 BC[1] were structured into tribal communities,[2] and these communities often included an aristocratic board of tribal elders.[3]

The early Roman family was called a gens or "clan",[2] and each clan was an aggregation of families under a common living male patriarch, called a pater (the Latin word for "father").[4] When the early Roman gentes were aggregating to form a common community, the patres from the leading clans were selected[5] for the confederated board of elders that would become the Roman senate.[4] Over time, the patres came to recognize the need for a single leader, and so they elected a king (rex),[4] and vested in him their sovereign power.[6] When the king died, that sovereign power naturally reverted to the patres.[4]

The senate is said to have been created by Rome's first king, Romulus, initially consisting of 100 men. The descendants of those 100 men subsequently became the patrician class.[7] Rome's fifth king, Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, chose a further 100 senators. They were chosen from the minor leading families, and were accordingly called the patres minorum gentium.[8]

Rome's seventh and final king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, executed many of the leading men in the senate, and did not replace them, thereby diminishing their number. However, in 509 BC Rome's first and third consuls, Lucius Junius Brutus and Publius Valerius Publicola chose from amongst the leading equites new men for the senate, these being called conscripti, and thus increased the size of the senate to 300.[9]

The senate of the Roman Kingdom held three principal responsibilities: It functioned as the ultimate repository for the executive power,[10] it served as the king's council, and it functioned as a legislative body in concert with the people of Rome.[11] During the years of the monarchy, the senate's most important function was to elect new kings. While the king was nominally elected by the people, it was actually the senate who chose each new king.[10]

The period between the death of one king and the election of a new king was called the interregnum,[10] during which time the Interrex nominated a candidate to replace the king.[12] After the senate gave its initial approval to the nominee, he was then formally elected by the people,[13] and then received the senate's final approval.[12] At least one king, Servius Tullius, was elected by the senate alone, and not by the people.[14]

The senate's most significant task, outside regal elections, was to function as the king's council, and while the king could ignore any advice it offered, its growing prestige helped make the advice that it offered increasingly difficult to ignore. Only the king could make new laws, although he often involved both the senate and the curiate assembly (the popular assembly) in the process.[11]

Senate of the Roman Republic

Representation of a sitting of the Roman senate: Cicero attacks Catiline, from a 19th-century fresco in Palazzo Madama, Rome, house of the Italian Senate. It is worth noting that idealistic medieval and subsequent artistic depictions of the Senate in session are almost uniformly inaccurate. Illustrations commonly show the senators arranged in a semicircle around an open space where orators were deemed to stand; in reality the structure of the existing Curia Julia building, which dates in its current form from the Emperor Diocletian, shows that the senators sat in straight and parallel lines on either side of the interior of the building. In current media depictions in film this is shown correctly in The Fall of the Roman Empire, and incorrectly in, for example, Spartacus.
Togatus Barberini 2392
The so-called "Togatus Barberini", a statue depicting a Roman senator holding the imagines (effigies) of deceased ancestors in his hands; marble, late 1st century BC; head (not belonging): mid-1st century BC.

When the Republic began, the Senate functioned as an advisory council. It consisted of 300–500 senators, who were initially patrician and served for life. Before long, plebeians were also admitted, although they were denied the senior magistracies for a longer period.[15]

Senators were entitled to wear a toga with a broad purple stripe, maroon shoes, and an iron (later gold) ring.[15]

The Senate of the Roman Republic passed decrees called senatus consulta, which in form constituted "advice" from the senate to a magistrate. While these decrees did not hold legal force, they usually were obeyed in practice.[16]

If a senatus consultum conflicted with a law (lex) that was passed by an assembly, the law overrode the senatus consultum because the senatus consultum had its authority based in precedent and not in law. A senatus consultum, however, could serve to interpret a law.[17]

Through these decrees, the senate directed the magistrates, especially the Roman Consuls (the chief magistrates) in their prosecution of military conflicts. The senate also had an enormous degree of power over the civil government in Rome. This was especially the case with regard to its management of state finances, as only it could authorize the disbursal of public funds from the treasury. As the Roman Republic grew, the senate also supervised the administration of the provinces, which were governed by former consuls and praetors, in that it decided which magistrate should govern which province.

Since the 3rd century the senate also played a pivotal role in cases of emergency. It could call for the appointment of a dictator (a right resting with each consul with or without the senate's involvement). However, after 202, the office of dictator fell out of use (and was revived only two more times) and was replaced with the senatus consultum ultimum ("ultimate decree of the senate"), a senatorial decree which authorised the consuls to employ any means necessary to solve the crisis.[18]

While senate meetings could take place either inside or outside the formal boundary of the city (the pomerium), no meeting could take place more than a mile outside it.[19] The senate operated while under various religious restrictions. For example, before any meeting could begin, a sacrifice to the gods was made, and a search for divine omens (the auspices) was taken.[20] The senate was only allowed to assemble in places dedicated to the gods.

Meetings usually began at dawn, and a magistrate who wished to summon the senate had to issue a compulsory order.[21] The senate meetings were public[19] and directed by a presiding magistrate (usually a consul).[6] While in session, the senate had the power to act on its own, and even against the will of the presiding magistrate if it wished. The presiding magistrate began each meeting with a speech,[22] then referred an issue to the senators, who would discuss it in order of seniority.[19]

Senators had several other ways in which they could influence (or frustrate) a presiding magistrate. For example, every senator was permitted to speak before a vote could be held, and since all meetings had to end by nightfall,[16] a dedicated group or even a single senator could talk a proposal to death (a filibuster or diem consumere).[22] When it was time to call a vote, the presiding magistrate could bring up whatever proposals he wished, and every vote was between a proposal and its negative.[23]

With a dictator as well as a senate, the senate could veto any of the dictator's decisions. At any point before a motion passed, the proposed motion could be vetoed, usually by a tribune. If there were no veto, and the matter were of minor importance, it could be put to either a voice vote or a show of hands. If there were no veto and no obvious majority, and the matter were of a significant nature, there was usually a physical division of the house,[19] with senators voting by taking a place on either side of the chamber.

Senate membership was controlled by the censors. By the time of Gaius Marius, ownership of property worth at least one million sesterces was required for membership.[15] The ethical requirements of senators were significant. In contrast to members of the Equestrian order, senators could not engage in banking or any form of public contract. They could not own a ship that was large enough to participate in foreign commerce,[19] they could not leave Italy without permission from the rest of the senate and they were not paid a salary. Election to magisterial office resulted in automatic senate membership.[24]

Senate of the Roman Empire

After the fall of the Roman Republic, the constitutional balance of power shifted from the Roman senate to the Roman Emperor. Though retaining its legal position as under the republic, in practice, however, the actual authority of the imperial senate was negligible, as the emperor held the true power in the state. As such, membership in the senate became sought after by individuals seeking prestige and social standing, rather than actual authority.

During the reigns of the first emperors, legislative, judicial, and electoral powers were all transferred from the Roman assemblies to the senate. However, since the emperor held control over the senate, the senate acted as a vehicle through which he exercised his autocratic powers.

Curia Iulia
The Curia Julia in the Roman Forum, the seat of the imperial Senate.

The first emperor, Augustus, reduced the size of the senate from 900 members to 600, even though there were only about 100 to 200 active senators at one time. After this point, the size of the senate was never again drastically altered. Under the empire, as was the case during the late republic, one could become a senator by being elected quaestor (a magistrate with financial duties), but only if one were already of senatorial rank.[25] In addition to quaestors, elected officials holding a range of senior positions were routinely granted senatorial rank by virtue of the offices that they held.[26]

If an individual were not of senatorial rank, there were two ways for him to become a senator. Under the first method, the emperor manually granted that individual the authority to stand for election to the quaestorship,[25] while under the second method, the emperor appointed that individual to the senate by issuing a decree.[27] Under the empire, the power that the emperor held over the senate was absolute.[28]

The two consuls were a part of the senate, but had more power than the senators. During senate meetings, the emperor sat between the two consuls,[29] and usually acted as the presiding officer. Senators of the early empire could ask extraneous questions or request that a certain action be taken by the senate. Higher ranking senators spoke before those of lower rank, although the emperor could speak at any time.[29]

Besides the emperor, consuls and praetors could also preside over the senate. Since no senator could stand for election to a magisterial office without the emperor's approval, senators usually did not vote against bills that had been presented by the emperor. If a senator disapproved of a bill, he usually showed his disapproval by not attending the senate meeting on the day that the bill were to be voted on.[30]

While the Roman assemblies continued to meet after the founding of the empire, their powers were all transferred to the senate, and so senatorial decrees (senatus consulta) acquired the full force of law.[28] The legislative powers of the imperial senate were principally of a financial and an administrative nature, although the senate did retain a range of powers over the provinces.[28]

During the early Roman Empire, all judicial powers that had been held by the Roman assemblies were also transferred to the senate. For example, the senate now held jurisdiction over criminal trials. In these cases, a consul presided, the senators constituted the jury, and the verdict was handed down in the form of a decree (senatus consultum),[28][31] and, while a verdict could not be appealed, the emperor could pardon a convicted individual through a veto. The emperor Tiberius transferred all electoral powers from the assemblies to the senate,[31] and, while theoretically the senate elected new magistrates, the approval of the emperor was always needed before an election could be finalized.

Around 300 AD, the emperor Diocletian enacted a series of constitutional reforms. In one such reform, he asserted the right of the emperor to take power without the theoretical consent of the senate, thus depriving the senate of its status as the ultimate depository of supreme power. Diocletian's reforms also ended whatever illusion had remained that the senate had independent legislative, judicial, or electoral powers. The senate did, however, retain its legislative powers over public games in Rome, and over the senatorial order.

The senate also retained the power to try treason cases, and to elect some magistrates, but only with the permission of the emperor. In the final years of the western empire, the senate would sometimes try to appoint their own emperor, such as in the case of Eugenius, who was later defeated by forces loyal to Theodosius I. The senate remained the last stronghold of the traditional Roman religion in the face of the spreading Christianity, and several times attempted to facilitate the return of the Altar of Victory (first removed by Constantius II) to the senatorial curia.

Post-Imperial Senate in Rome

Senate in the West

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the senate continued to function under the Germanic chieftain Odoacer, and then under Ostrogothic rule. The authority of the senate rose considerably under barbarian leaders, who sought to protect the institution. This period was characterized by the rise of prominent Roman senatorial families, such as the Anicii, while the senate's leader, the princeps senatus, often served as the right hand of the barbarian leader. It is known that the senate successfully installed Laurentius as pope in 498, despite the fact that both King Theodoric and Emperor Anastasius supported the other candidate, Symmachus.[32]

The peaceful coexistence of senatorial and barbarian rule continued until the Ostrogothic leader Theodahad found himself at war with Emperor Justinian I and took the senators as hostages. Several senators were executed in 552 as revenge for the death of the Ostrogothic king, Totila. After Rome was recaptured by the imperial (Byzantine) army, the senate was restored, but the institution (like classical Rome itself) had been mortally weakened by the long war. Many senators had been killed and many of those who had fled to the east chose to remain there, thanks to favorable legislation passed by Emperor Justinian, who, however, abolished virtually all senatorial offices in Italy. The importance of the Roman senate thus declined rapidly.[33]

In 578 and again in 580, the senate sent envoys to Constantinople. They delivered 3000 pounds (believed to be around 960 kg) of gold as a gift to the new emperor, Tiberius II Constantinus, along with a plea for help against the Lombards, who had invaded Italy ten years earlier. Pope Gregory I, in a sermon from 593, lamented the almost complete disappearance of the senatorial order and the decline of the prestigious institution.[34][35]

It is not clearly known when the Roman senate disappeared in the West, but it is known from the Gregorian register that the senate acclaimed new statues of Emperor Phocas and Empress Leontia in 603,[36][37] and that was also the last time the senate was mentioned.[36] In 630, the house of the Senate, Curia Julia, was transformed into a church by Pope Honorius I, probably with the permission of the Emperor Heraclius.[38]

In later medieval times, the title "senator" was still in occasional use, but it had become a meaningless adjunct title of nobility and no longer implied membership in an organized governing body.

In 1144, the Commune of Rome attempted to establish a government modeled on the old Roman Republic in opposition to the temporal power of the higher nobles and the pope. This included setting up a senate along the lines of the ancient one. The revolutionaries divided Rome into fourteen regions, each electing four senators for a total of 56 (although one source, often repeated, gives a total of 50). These senators elected as their leader Giordano Pierleoni, son of the Roman consul Pier Leoni, with the title patrician, since consul was also a deprecated noble styling.

This renovated form of government was constantly embattled. By the end of the 12th century, it had undergone a radical transformation, with the reduction of the number of senators to a single one – Summus Senator – being thereafter the title of the head of the civil government of Rome. In modern terms, for example, this is comparable to the reduction of a board of commissioners to a single commissioner, such as the political head of the police department of New York City. Between 1191 and 1193, this was a certain Benedetto called Carus homo or carissimo.

Senate in the East

The senate continued to exist in Constantinople however, although it evolved into an institution that differed in some fundamental forms from its predecessor. Designated in Greek as synkletos, or assembly, the Senate of Constantinople was made up of all current or former holders of senior ranks and official positions, plus their descendants. At its height during the 6th and 7th centuries, the Senate represented the collective wealth and power of the Empire, on occasion nominating and dominating individual emperors.[39]

In the second half of the 10th century a new office, proëdrus (Greek: πρόεδρος), was created as head of the senate by Emperor Nicephorus Phocas. Up to the mid-11th century, only eunuchs could become proëdrus, but later this restriction was lifted and several proëdri could be appointed, of which the senior proëdrus, or protoproëdrus (Greek: πρωτοπρόεδρος), served as the head of the senate. There were two types of meetings practised: silentium, in which only magistrates currently in office participated and conventus, in which all syncletics (Greek: συγκλητικοί, senators) could participate. The Senate in Constantinople existed until at least the beginning of the 13th century, its last known act being the election of Nicolas Canabus as emperor in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade.[40]

See also


  1. ^ Abbott, 3
  2. ^ a b Abbott, 1
  3. ^ Abbott, 12
  4. ^ a b c d Abbott, 6
  5. ^ Abbott, 16
  6. ^ a b Byrd, 42
  7. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:8
  8. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:35
  9. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 2.1
  10. ^ a b c Abbott, 10
  11. ^ a b Abbott, 17
  12. ^ a b Abbott, 14
  13. ^ Byrd, 20
  14. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1.41
  15. ^ a b c McCullough, 1026
  16. ^ a b Byrd, 44
  17. ^ Abbott, 233
  18. ^ Abbott, 240
  19. ^ a b c d e Byrd, 34
  20. ^ Lintott, 72
  21. ^ Lintott, 75
  22. ^ a b Lintott, 78
  23. ^ Lintott, 83
  24. ^ Byrd, 36
  25. ^ a b Abbott, 381
  26. ^ Metz, 59, 60
  27. ^ Abbott, 382
  28. ^ a b c d Abbott, 385
  29. ^ a b Abbott, 383
  30. ^ Abbott, 384
  31. ^ a b Abbott, 386
  32. ^ Levillain, 907
  33. ^ Schnurer, 339
  34. ^ Bronwen, 3. "For since the Senate has failed, the people have perished, and the sufferings and groans of the few who remain are multiplied each day. Rome, now empty, is burning!"
  35. ^ Cooper, 23
  36. ^ a b Levillain 1047
  37. ^ Richards, 246
  38. ^ Kaegi, 196
  39. ^ Runciman, 60.
  40. ^ Phillips, 222–226.


Primary sources

Secondary sources

  • Abbott, Frank Frost (1901). A History and Description of Roman Political Institutions. Elibron Classics, ISBN 0-543-92749-0.
  • Brewer, E. Cobham; Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1898).
  • Byrd, Robert (1995). The Senate of the Roman Republic. U.S. Government Printing Office, Senate Document 103-23.
  • Cooper, Kate; Julia Hillner (13 September 2007). Religion, Dynasty, and Patronage in Early Christian Rome, 300–900. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-139-46838-1.
  • Hooke, Nathaniel; The Roman History, from the Building of Rome to the Ruin of the Commonwealth, F. Rivington (Rome). Original in New York Public Library
  • Kaegi, Walter Emil (27 March 2003). Heraclius, Emperor of Byzantium. Cambridge University Press. p. 196. ISBN 978-0-521-81459-1.
  • Levillain, Philippe (2002). The Papacy: Gaius-Proxies. Psychology Press. ISBN 978-0-415-92230-2.
  • Lintott, Andrew (1999). The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford University Press (ISBN 0-19-926108-3).
  • McCullough, Colleen; The Grass Crown HarperCollins (1992), ISBN 0-380-71082-X
  • Metz, David. Daily Life of the Ancient Romans. pp. 59 & 60. ISBN 978-0-87220-957-2.
  • Neil, Bronwen; Matthew J. Dal Santo (9 September 2013). A Companion to Gregory the Great. BRILL. p. 3. ISBN 978-90-04-25776-4.
  • Phillips, Jonathan (2004). The Fourth Crusade and the Siege of Constantinople. Penguin. ISBN 9781101127728.
  • Richards, Jeffrey (1979). The Popes and the Papacy in the Early Middle Ages, 476–752. Routledge. ISBN 9780710000989.
  • Runciman, Steven (1956). Byzantine Civilisation. Meridian.
  • 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).
  • Schnurer, Gustov (1956). Church And Culture in the Middle Ages 350–814. Kessinger Publishing (ISBN 978-1-4254-2322-3).
  • Wood, Reverend James, The Nuttall Encyclopædia (1907) – a work now in public domain.

Further reading

  • Cameron, A. The Later Roman Empire, (Fontana Press, 1993).
  • Crawford, M. The Roman Republic, (Fontana Press, 1978).
  • Eck, Werner. Monument und Inschrift. Gesammelte Aufsätze zur senatorischen Repräsentation in der Kaiserzeit (Berlin/New York: W. de Gruyter, 2010).
  • Gruen, Erich, The Last Generation of the Roman Republic (U California Press, 1974).
  • Hoеlkeskamp, Karl-Joachim, Senatus populusque Romanus. Die politische Kultur der Republik – Dimensionen und Deutungen (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2004).
  • 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.
  • Krieckhaus, Andreas, Senatorische Familien und ihre patriae (1./2. Jahrhundert n. Chr.) (Hamburg: Verlag Dr. Kovac, 2006) (Studien zur Geschichtesforschung des Altertums, 14).
  • Millar, Fergus, The Emperor in the Roman World, (London, Duckworth, 1977, 1992).
  • Mommsen, Theodor. Roman Constitutional Law. 1871–1888
  • Talbert, Richard A. The Senate of Imperial Rome (Princeton, Princeton Univerversity Press, 1984).
  • 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.
Ariarathes VIII of Cappadocia

Ariarathes VIII Epiphanes (Ancient Greek: Ἀριαράθης Ἐπιφανής, Ariaráthēs Epiphanḗs; reigned c. 101–c. 96 BC and in 95), King of Cappadocia, was the second son of Ariarathes VI of Cappadocia and wife Laodice of Cappadocia. Ariarathes VIII had an older sister called Nysa and an older brother called Ariarathes VII of Cappadocia.

Ariarathes ascended to the throne when the Cappadocian nobleman rebelled against his maternal uncle, King Mithridates VI of Pontus and his son, the puppet King Ariarathes IX of Cappadocia. He was speedily driven out of the kingdom by Mithridates VI, and shortly afterwards died a natural death.

The death of both sons of Ariarathes VI meant that the Cappadocian royal family was extinct. So Mithridates VI placed upon the Cappadocian throne his own son Ariarathes IX, who was only eight years old. However, King Nicomedes III of Bithynia sent an embassy to Rome to lay claim to the Cappadocian throne for a youth, whom, he pretended, was a third son of Ariarathes VI and Laodice. According to Justin, Mithridates VI also, with equal shamelessness, sent an embassy to Rome to assert that the youth, whom he had placed upon the throne, was a descendant of Ariarathes V of Cappadocia, who fell in the war against King Eumenes III of Pergamon. The Roman Senate, however, did not assign the kingdom to either but granted liberty to the Cappadocians and, in 95, ordered to depose Ariarathes IX. After a short period of direct Pontic rule and a brief restoration of Ariarathes VIII, an attempt to restore a Cappadocian republic was made by the Roman Senate. As the people wished for a king, the Romans allowed them to choose whom they pleased, and their choice fell upon Ariobarzanes I.

Byzantine Senate

The Byzantine Senate or Eastern Roman Senate (Greek: Σύγκλητος, Synklētos, or Γερουσία, Gerousia) was the continuation of the Roman Senate, established in the 4th century by Constantine I. It survived for centuries, but even with its already limited power that it theoretically possessed, the Senate became increasingly irrelevant until its eventual disappearance circa 14th century.

The Senate of the Eastern Roman Empire originally consisted of Roman senators who happened to live in the East, or those who wanted to move to Constantinople, and a few other bureaucrats who were appointed to the Senate. Constantine offered free land and grain to any Roman Senators who were willing to move to the East. When Constantine founded the Eastern Senate in Byzantium, it initially resembled the councils of important cities like Antioch rather than the Roman Senate. His son Constantius II raised it from the position of a municipal to that of an Imperial body but the Senate in Constantinople had essentially the same limited powers as the Senate in Rome. Constantius II increased the number of Senators to 2,000 by including his friends, courtiers, and various provincial officials.

Collegium (ancient Rome)

A collegium (plural collegia, "gathered together"; English "college") was any association in ancient Rome with a legal personality. Such associations had various functions.

Collegia could function as guilds, social clubs, or burial societies; in practice, in ancient Rome, they sometimes became organized bodies of local businessmen and even criminals, who ran the mercantile/criminal activities in a given urban region, or rione. The organization of a collegium was often modeled on that of civic governing bodies, the Senate of Rome being the epitome. The meeting hall was often known as the curia, the same term as that applied to that of the Roman Senate.

By law, only three people were required in order to create a legal collegium; the only exception was the college of consuls, which included only the two consuls.

The Roman Emperor Aurelian imposed state control over collegia in the late 3rd Century AD.There were four great religious colleges (quattuor amplissima collegia) of Roman priests, in descending order of importance:

Pontifices (also known as College of Pontifices), headed by the Pontifex Maximus,




Crossing the Rubicon

Julius Caesar's crossing the Rubicon river was an event in 49 BC that precipitated the Roman Civil War, which ultimately led to Caesar becoming dictator for life and the rise of the imperial era of Rome. Caesar had been appointed to a governorship over a region that ranged from southern Gaul to Illyricum (but not Italy). As his term of governorship ended, the Roman Senate ordered Caesar to disband his army and return to Rome. He was explicitly ordered not to bring his army across the Rubicon river, which was at that time a northern boundary of Italy. In January of 49 BC, Caesar brought the 13th legion across the river, which the Roman government considered insurrection, treason, and a declaration of war on the Roman Senate. According to some authors, he is said to have uttered the phrase "alea iacta est"—the die is cast—as his army marched through the shallow river.

Today, the phrase "crossing the Rubicon" is an idiom that means to pass a point of no return.


Curia (Latin plural curiae) in ancient Rome referred to one of the original groupings of the citizenry, eventually numbering 30, and later every Roman citizen was presumed to belong to one. While they originally likely had wider powers, they only came to meet for a few purposes by the end of the Republic: in order to confirm the election of magistrates with imperium, to witness the installation of priests, the making of wills, and certain adoptions.

The term is more broadly used to designate an assembly, council, or court, in which public, official, or religious issues are discussed and decided. Lesser curiae existed for other purposes. The word curia also came to denote the places of assembly, especially of the senate. Similar institutions existed in other towns and cities of Italy.

In medieval times, a king's council was often referred to as a curia. Today, the most famous curia is the Curia of the Roman Catholic Church which assists the Roman Pontiff in the hierarchical government of the Church.

Curia Hostilia

The Curia Hostilia was one of the original senate houses or "curia" of the Roman Republic. It is believed to have begun as a temple where the warring tribes laid down their arms during the reign of Romulus (r. c. 771–717 BC). During the early monarchy, the temple was used by senators acting as council to the king. Tullus Hostilius (r. 673–641 BC) is believed to have replaced the original structure after fire destroyed the converted temple. It may have held historic significance as the location of an Etruscan mundus and altar. The Lapis Niger, a series of large black marble slabs, was placed over the altar (known as the Volcanal) where a series of monuments was found opposite the Rostra. This curia was enlarged in 80 BC by Lucius Cornelius Sulla during his renovations of the comitium. The building burned down in 53 BC when the supporters of the murdered Publius Clodius Pulcher used it as a pyre to cremate his body.

Curia Julia

The Curia Julia (Latin: Curia Iulia, Italian: Curia Iulia) is the third named Curia, or Senate House, in the ancient city of Rome. It was built in 44 BC, when Julius Caesar replaced Faustus Cornelius Sulla's reconstructed Curia Cornelia, which itself had replaced the Curia Hostilia. Caesar did so to redesign both spaces within the Comitium and the Roman Forum. The alterations within the Comitium reduced the prominence of the Senate and cleared the original space. The work, however, was interrupted by Caesar's assassination at the Theatre of Pompey, where the Senate had been meeting temporarily while the work was completed. The project was eventually finished by Caesar's successor, Augustus Caesar, in 29 BC.The Curia Julia is one of a handful of Roman structures that survive mostly intact. This is due to its conversion into the basilica of Sant'Adriano al Foro in the 7th century and several later restorations. However, the roof, the upper elevations of the side walls and the rear façade are modern and date from the remodeling of the deconsecrated church, in the 1930s.

Damnatio memoriae

Damnatio memoriae is a modern Latin phrase meaning "condemnation of memory", i.e., that a person is to be excluded from official accounts. There are and have been many routes to damnatio, including the destruction of depictions, the removal of names from inscriptions and documents, and even large-scale rewritings of history.

It was a form of dishonor that could be passed by the Roman Senate on traitors or others who brought discredit to the Roman State. The term can be applied to other instances of official scrubbing; the practice is seen as long ago as the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Hatshepsut in the fourteenth century BC.


Florianus (Latin: Marcus Annius Florianus Augustus; died 276), also known as Florian, was Roman Emperor in 276, from July to September. He was the maternal half-brother of Tacitus, who was proclaimed emperor in late 275, after the unexpected death of Emperor Aurelian. After Tacitus died in July 276, allegedly assassinated as a consequence of a military plot, Florianus proclaimed himself emperor, with the recognition of the Roman Senate and much of the empire. However, Florianus soon had to deal with the revolt of Probus, who rose up shortly after Florianus ascended the throne, with the backing of the provinces of Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and Phoenicia. Probus took advantage of the terrain of the Cilician Gates, and the hot climate of the area, which Florianus' army was unaccustomed to, to chip away at their morale. Because of this, in September 276, Florianus' army rose up against him and killed him.

Primus inter pares

Primus inter pares (Ancient Greek: Πρῶτος μεταξὺ ἴσων, prōtos metaxỳ ísōn) is a Latin phrase meaning first among equals. It is typically used as an honorary title for someone who is formally equal to other members of their group but is accorded unofficial respect, traditionally owing to their seniority in office. Historically, the princeps senatus of the Roman Senate was such a figure and initially bore only the distinction that he was allowed to speak first during debate. Also, Constantine the Great was given the role of primus inter pares. However, the term is also often used ironically or self-deprecatingly by leaders with much higher status as a form of respect, camaraderie, or propaganda. After the fall of the Republic, Roman emperors initially referred to themselves only as princeps despite having power of life and death over their "fellow citizens". Various modern figures such as the Chair of the Federal Reserve, the prime minister of parliamentary countries, the Federal President of Switzerland, the Chief Justice of the United States, the Chief Justice of the Philippines, the Archbishop of Canterbury of the Anglican Communion and the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church fall under both senses: bearing higher status and various additional powers while remaining still merely equal to their peers in important senses.


Princeps (plural: principes) is a Latin word meaning "first in time or order; the first, foremost, chief, the most eminent, distinguished, or noble; the first man, first person". As a title, "princeps" originated in the Roman Republic wherein the leading member of the Senate was designated princeps senatus. It is primarily associated with the Roman emperors as an unofficial title first adopted by Augustus in 23 BC. Its use in this context continued until the reign of Diocletian at the end of the third century. He preferred the title of dominus, meaning "lord" or "master". As a result, the Roman Empire from Augustus to Diocletian is termed the "principate" (principatus) and from Diocletian onwards as the "dominate" (dominatus). Other historians define the reign of Augustus to Severus Alexander as the Principate, and the period afterwards as the "Autocracy".The medieval title "Prince" is a derivative of princeps.

Princeps senatus

The princeps senatus (plural principes senatus) was the first member by precedence of the Roman Senate. Although officially out of the cursus honorum and owning no imperium, this office brought conferred prestige on the senator holding it.

Roman magistrate

The Roman magistrates were elected officials in Ancient Rome.

During the period of the Roman Kingdom, the King of Rome was the principal executive magistrate. His power, in practice, was absolute. He was the chief priest, lawgiver, judge, and the sole commander of the army. When the king died, his power reverted to the Roman Senate, which then chose an Interrex to facilitate the election of a new king.

During the transition from monarchy to republic, the constitutional balance of power shifted from the executive (the Roman king) to the Roman Senate. When the Roman Republic was founded in 509 BC, the powers that had been held by the king were transferred to the Roman consuls, of which two were to be elected each year. Magistrates of the republic were elected by the people of Rome, and were each vested with a degree of power called "major powers" (maior potestas). Dictators had more "major powers" than any other magistrate, and after the Dictator was the censor, and then the consul, and then the praetor, and then the curule aedile, and then the 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 since they were elected only by the plebeians, and as such, they were independent of all other powerful magistrates.

During the transition from republic to the Roman empire, the constitutional balance of power shifted from the Roman Senate back to the executive (the Roman Emperor). Theoretically, the senate elected each new emperor; in practice each emperor chose his own successor, though the choice was often overruled by the army or civil war. The powers of an emperor (his imperium) existed, in theory at least, by virtue of his legal standing. The two most significant components to an emperor's imperium were the "tribunician powers" and the "proconsular powers". In theory at least, the tribunician powers (which were similar to those of the plebeian tribunes under the old republic) gave the emperor authority over Rome's civil government, while the proconsular powers (similar to those of military governors, or proconsuls, under the old republic) gave him authority over the Roman 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. Mark Antony abolished the offices of dictator and Master of the Horse during his Consulship in 44 BC, while the offices of Interrex and Roman censor were abolished shortly thereafter.


SPQR (Latin: Senātus Populusque Rōmānus, "The Roman Senate and People", or more freely as "The Senate and People of Rome"; Classical Latin: [sɛˈnaː.tʊs pɔpʊˈlʊs.kᶣɛ roːˈmaː.nʊs]) refers to the government of the ancient Roman Republic. It appears on Roman currency, at the end of documents made public by inscription in stone or metal, and in dedications of monuments and public works.

The phrase commonly appears in the Roman political, legal, and historical literature, such as the speeches of Cicero and Ab Urbe Condita Libri ("Books from the Founding of the City") of Livy.


A senate is a deliberative assembly, often the upper house or chamber of a bicameral legislature. The name comes from the ancient Roman Senate (Latin: Senatus), so-called as an assembly of the senior (Latin: senex meaning "the elder" or "old man") and therefore allegedly wiser and more experienced members of the society or ruling class. Thus, the literal meaning of the word "senate" is Assembly of Elders.

Many countries have an assembly named a senate, composed of senators who may be elected, appointed, have inherited the title, or gained membership by other methods, depending on the country. Modern senates typically serve to provide a chamber of "sober second thought" to consider legislation passed by a lower house, whose members are usually elected. Most senates have asymmetrical duties and powers compared with their respective lower house meaning they have special duties, for example to fill important political positions or to pass special laws. Conversely many senates have limited powers in changing or stopping bills under consideration and efforts to stall or veto a bill may be bypassed by the lower house or another branch of government.

Senate of the Roman Empire

The Senate of the Roman Empire was a political institution in the ancient Roman Empire. 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 technically 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. As such, membership in the Senate became sought after by individuals seeking prestige and social standing, rather than actual authority. During the reigns of the first Emperors, legislative, judicial, and electoral powers were all transferred from the "Roman assemblies" to the Senate. However, since the control that the Emperor held over the senate was absolute, the Senate acted as a vehicle through which the Emperor exercised his autocratic powers.

Senate of the Roman Republic

The Senate of the Roman Republic was a political institution in the ancient Roman Republic. It was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a Roman magistrate served his term in office, it usually was followed with automatic appointment to the Senate. According to the Greek historian Polybius, our principal source on the Constitution of the Roman Republic, the Roman Senate was the predominant branch of government. Polybius noted that it was the consuls (the highest-ranking of the regular magistrates) who led the armies and the civil government in Rome, and it was the Roman assemblies which had the ultimate authority over elections, legislation, and criminal trials. However, since the Senate controlled money, administration, and the details of foreign policy, it had the most control over day-to-day life. The power and authority of the Senate derived from precedent, the high caliber and prestige of the senators, and the Senate's unbroken lineage, which dated back to the founding of the Republic in 509 BC. It developed from the Senate of the Roman Kingdom, and became the Senate of the Roman Empire.

Originally the chief-magistrates, the consuls, appointed all new senators. They also had the power to remove individuals from the Senate. Around the year 318 BC, the "Ovinian Plebiscite" (plebiscitum Ovinium) gave this power to another Roman magistrate, the censor, who retained this power until the end of the Roman Republic. This law also required the censors to appoint any newly elected magistrate to the Senate. Thus, after this point in time, election to magisterial office resulted in automatic Senate membership. The appointment was for life, although the censor could impeach any senator.

The Senate directed the magistrates, especially the consuls, in their prosecution of military conflicts. The Senate also had an enormous degree of power over the civil government in Rome. This was especially the case with regards to its management of state finances, as only it could authorize the disbursal of public monies from the treasury. In addition, the Senate passed decrees called senatus consultum, which was officially "advice" from the Senate to a magistrate. While technically these decrees did not have to be obeyed, in practice, they usually were. During an emergency, the Senate (and only the Senate) could authorize the appointment of a dictator. The last ordinary dictator, however, was appointed in 202 BC. After 202 BC, the Senate responded to emergencies by passing the senatus consultum ultimum ("Ultimate Decree of the Senate"), which suspended civil government and declared something analogous to martial law.

Senatus consultum

A senatus consultum (Latin – decree of the senate; plural senatus consulta) is a text emanating from the senate in Ancient Rome. It is used in the modern phrase senatus consultum ultimum.

Translated into French as sénatus-consulte, the term was also used during the French Consulate, First French Empire and Second French Empire.

Veni, vidi, vici

Veni, vidi, vici (Classical Latin: [ˈweː.niː ˈwiː.diː ˈwiː.kiː]; Ecclesiastical Latin: [ˈvɛni ˈvidi ˈvitʃi]; "I came; I saw; I conquered") is a Latin phrase popularly attributed to Julius Caesar who, according to Appian, used the phrase in a letter to the Roman Senate around 47 BC after he had achieved a quick victory in his short war against Pharnaces II of Pontus at the Battle of Zela. The phrase is used to refer to a swift, conclusive victory.

The phrase is attributed in Plutarch's Life of Caesar and Suetonius's Lives of the Twelve Caesars: Julius. Plutarch writes that Caesar used it in a report to Amantius, a friend of his at Rome. Suetonius states that Caesar displayed the three words as an inscription during his Pontic triumph.

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