The Romans' early government was a monarchy that mirrored the structure of Roman households, with a patriarchal king who exercised power that was checked only by a council of elders, the Senate. Initially, the overthrow of the monarchy had resulted in only moderate changes; instead if king, the government was headed by two elected officers called consuls. Although the consuls of the infant republic were supposedly chosen by all citizens, the Roman assembly of this period actually voted in affiliated blocs with shared interests, economic or territorial. And since groups consisting of the wealthiest citizens voted first, a majority could be reached even before the before the votes of the poorer groups were cast. Consequently, the consuls were inevitably members of aristocratic families, known in Rome as patricians because they traced descent from a famous ancestor or “father”. During his term of office, which lasted for one year, each consul exercised essentially the same power as a king. The only limit on consular power was the right of each consul to veto the actions of the other which often led to stalemate or violent conflict.
Within a generation after the establishment of the republic, patrician dominance of the government began to be challenged by the plebs. This was the first stage in a centuries- long contest known as the Struggle of the Orders. In 287 B.C.E, the plebeians succeeded in passing a law that made decisions enacted in their own assembly, the concilium plebs, binding on the Roman government-whether the senate approved them or not. It was at this time that the phrase Senatus Populusque Romanum came into regular use, abbreviated SPQR and designating any decree or decision made by "the Roman Senate and People".
There reforms had several important consequences over the long term. Successful plebeians could now work their way... [continues]
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