The Constitution of the Roman Republic

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The Constitution of the Roman Republic

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* * 8 April 2009

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8 April 2009
The Constitution of the Roman Republic

The constitution of the Roman republic was a stable system of government that lasted from the middle of the republic until the transition to the Empire in the last century BC (Robinson, “The Sources of Roman Law” 3). The constitution consisted of three major elements: Magistrates, the senate and the legislative assemblies of the Roman people. The senate was the prevailing element. The approval and support of the senate was required to carry out the functions of both the magistrates and the legislative assemblies (Mousourakis, “The Historical and Institutional Context of Roman Law” 70). The senate began with approximately 300 chosen members; exclusively patricians. Later the occupants of the higher offices of the state could become a senator. The senators were selected first by the consuls and in later years by the censors. If a senator were to pass away or needed to be removed from the senate for any reason, the censors were responsible for their replacement. During the later republic senators were also chosen from the most prestige citizens. In the third century BC non-plebeian magistrates could be enrolled as a senator. The right to a “lifelong” (Robinson, “The Sources of Roman Law” 8) seat in the senate for ex-magistrates made the censors’ role more negative than positive. By this point the majority of the senate was made up of ex-magistrates, so the censors removed more senators than they enrolled. The majority of day-to-day aspects of the government during the republic were carried out by the senate. It controlled the money, details of foreign policy and the administration of Italy (Lintott, “The Constitution of the Roman Republic” 65). The Senate had no outlined legislative functions, but it advised the magistrates of the state. Resolutions made by the magistrates and assemblies could not acquire full force of the law without passing through the Senate. The Senate was the most important element of the Constitution. Linott stated, “The senate was the true government of Rome, not merely an advisory body like the judicial consilia of magistrates” (66). The Senate answered the questions on war and peace; formally the centuriate assembly played an important role, but it was “the Senate and People of Rome” (Robinson, “The Sources of Roman Law” 8) that authorized peace treaties. During this time the senate did not pass anything legislative concerning private law. Any magistrate who needed to appoint the senate for any reason had to summon it formally to carry out the proceeding. The reasoning for summoning the senate was not necessarily required for the meeting and discussion to be carried out. The meeting of a senate would take place in a templum (Roman Temple). Each meeting, Lintott states, “Was preceded by both sacrifice and the taking of the auspices” (72). Depending on the issues to be discussed in the meetings the location would change. Senators were expected to be available whenever summoned and could not venture to a point past Rome where they would be unable to return in the same day. Only five senators were allowed to be absent from Rome at the same time. The only place in Rome where free political discussion could take place, to an extent and aside from public speeches to an audience, was the senate. The senate held a tightly controlled debate. The magistrate would refer to the senate and share the outlined problem(s) and information. The debate started with the senior senator, who was elected by the censors, and then a senator was required to answer. The senator could simply agree with the previous speaker, or share his own thoughts on the subject. The lower ranked would normally agree with a previous speaker because they had neither the courage nor competence to do otherwise. Lintott noted, “Even before they spoke,...
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