The Roman Senate 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, 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, the barbarian rule of Rome in the 5th, 6th, 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 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 disappeared at some point after AD 603. Despite this, the title "senator" was still used well into the Middle Ages as a meaningless honorific. However, the Eastern Senate survived in Constantinople, until the ancient institution vanished there, c. 14th century.
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 prehistoric Indo-Europeans who settled Italy in the centuries before the legendary founding of Rome in 753 BC were structured into tribal communities, these communities included an aristocratic board of tribal elders. The early Roman family was called a gens or "clan", each clan was an aggregation of families under a common living male patriarch, called a pater; when the early Roman gentes were aggregating to form a common community, the patres from the leading clans were selected for the confederated board of elders that would become the Roman senate. Over time, the patres came to recognize the need for a single leader, so they elected a king, vested in him their sovereign power; when the king died, that sovereign power reverted to the patres. The senate is said to have been created by Rome's first king, Romulus consisting of 100 men; the descendants of those 100 men subsequently became the patrician class.
Rome's fifth king, Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, chose a further 100 senators. They were chosen from the minor leading families, were accordingly called the patres minorum gentium. Rome's seventh and final king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, executed many of the leading men in the senate, 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, thus increased the size of the senate to 300; the senate of the Roman Kingdom held three principal responsibilities: It functioned as the ultimate repository for the executive power, it served as the king's council, it functioned as a legislative body in concert with the people of Rome. 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 the senate who chose each new king.
The period between the death of one king and the election of a new king was called the interregnum, during which time the Interrex nominated a candidate to replace the king. After the senate gave its initial approval to the nominee, he was formally elected by the people, received the senate's final approval. At least one king, Servius Tullius, was elected by the senate alone, not by the people; the senate's most significant task, outside regal elections, was to function as the king's council, while the king could ignore any advice it offered, its growing prestige helped make the advice that it offered difficult to ignore. Only the king could make new laws, although he involved both the senate and the curiate assembly in the process; when the Republic began, the Senate functioned as an advisory council. It consisted of 300–500 senators, who were patrician and served for life. Before long, plebeians were admitted, although they were denied the senior magistracies for a longer period. Senators were entitled to wear a toga with a broad purple stripe, maroon shoes, an iron ring.
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 were obeyed in practice. If a senatus consultum conflicted with a
The Tribal Assembly was an assembly consisting of all Roman citizens convened by tribes. In the Roman Republic, citizens did not elect legislative representatives. Instead, they voted themselves on legislative matters in the popular assemblies. Bills were proposed by magistrates and the citizens only exercised their right to vote. In the Tribal Assembly, citizens were organized on the basis of 35 tribes: four urban tribes of the citizens in the city of Rome, 31 rural tribes of citizens outside the city; each tribe one after the other. In each tribe, decisions were made by majority vote and its decision counted as one vote regardless of how many electors each tribe held. Once a majority of tribes voted in the same way on a given measure, the voting ended and the matter was decided; the Tribal Assembly was chaired by a magistrate a consul or a praetor. The presiding magistrate who made all decisions on matters of procedure and legality, his power over the assembly could be nearly absolute. The only check on his power came in the form of vetoes by other magistrates.
Any decision made by a presiding magistrate could be vetoed by the plebeian tribunes. The Tribal Assembly elected the quaestors, the curule aediles, it conducted trials for non-capital punishment cases. However, the Roman Dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla reassigned this to special jury courts in 82 BC. There are disagreements among modern historians regarding the number and nature of the tribal assembly; the Romans distinguished between two types of the comitia and the contio. The word comitia, the plural of comitium, referred to assemblies convened to make decisions on legislative or judicial matters or to hold elections; the word contio referred to meetings where'nothing was enacted'. They were convened to hear public announcements and pronouncements and debates, witness the interrogation of someone accused of in a trial and to watch executions. Opinions expressed in a contio did not have any legal validity; the tribal assembly was a comitia. Private citizens who did not hold political office could make speeches in a contio, but not before a comitia or a concilium.
Voters always assembled first in a contio to hear debates or to enable canvassing by electoral candidates before voting. The actual voting took place in a concilium. Gellius wrote about a further distinction between comita and concilium, which he based on a quote from a passage written by Laelius Felix, an early second century AD jurist: He who orders not the entire people but some part thereof to be present ought to proclaim not a comitia, but a concilium. Moreover, the tribunes neither have the power to propose anything to them. Thus, measures which were accepted on the proposal of the plebeian tribunes are not properly called laws but plebiscites. Patricians were not bound by these bills until the dictator Quintus Hortensius carried that law whereby all the Quirites were bound by whatever the plebs had determined; this has been taken as referring to the assembly, reserved for the plebeians, thus excluding the patricians, and, convened by the tribunes of the plebs – see plebeian council. Since the meetings of the plebs excluded the patricians, they were not considered as representing the whole of the Roman people and because of this, according to Laelius Felix, the term concilium applied to them.
By contrast, the term comitia applied to assemblies. Measures passed by assemblies of the whole citizen body were called leges, whereas those passed only by the plebeians were called plebiscites; until the lex Hortensia passed by Quintus Hortensius in 287 BC, the patricians refused to accept the plebiscites as being binding on them on the ground that, because of their exclusion, did not apply to the whole of the people. Andrew Lintott notes that many modern historians follow Theodor Mommsen's view that during the Roman Republic there were two assemblies of the tribes and that the ancient sources used the term comitia tributa with reference both of them. One was the assembly by the tribes, used for plebeian meetings to which the patricians were excluded and, convened by the plebeian tribunes; the other assembly based on the tribes was convened by the Roman consuls or the praetors and was an assembly of the whole of the Roman people. However, the ancient sources did not have a differentiation in terminology for the two of them and used the term comitia tributa for both.
Many modern historians use the term comitia tributa or comitia populi tributa to indicate meetings by the tribes which involved the whole of the Roman people and the term concilium plebis or concilium plebis tributum for assemblies based on the tribes which were for the plebeians. However, they are not found in the ancient Roman literature related to the Roman Republic. Therefore, they denote a distinction, it is based on the text by Gellius quoted above. Lintott notes that some modern historians reject the comitia tributa/concilium plebis distinction and the use of the quote by Gellius as its basis, they argue that this terminology is a convention established by modern historians which ancie
The plebs were, in ancient Rome, the general body of free Roman citizens who were not patricians, as determined by the census. The precise origins of the group and the term are unclear, though it may be that they began as a limited political movement in opposition to the elite which became more applied. In Latin the word plebs is a singular collective noun, its genitive is plebis; the origin of the separation into orders is unclear, it is disputed when the Romans were divided under the early kings into patricians and plebeians, or whether the clientes of the patricians formed a third group. Certain gentes were patrician, as identified by the nomen, but a gens might have both patrician and plebeian branches that shared a nomen but were distinguished by a cognomen, as was the case with the gens Claudia; the 19th-century historian Barthold Georg Niebuhr held that plebeians began to appear at Rome during the reign of Ancus Marcius and were foreigners settling in Rome as naturalized citizens. In any case, at the outset of the Roman Republic, the patricians had a near monopoly on political and social institutions.
Plebeians were excluded from magistracies and religious colleges, they were not permitted to know the laws by which they were governed. Plebeians served in the army, but became military leaders. Dissatisfaction with the status quo mounted to the point that the plebeians engaged in a sort of general strike, a secessio plebis, during which they would withdraw from Rome, leaving the patricians to themselves. From 494 to 287 BC, five such actions during the so-called "Conflict of the Orders" resulted in the establishment of plebeian offices, the publication of the laws, the establishment of the right of plebeian–patrician intermarriage, the opening of the highest offices of government and some state priesthoods to the plebeians and passage of legislation that made resolutions passed by the assembly of plebeians, the concilium plebis, binding on all citizens. During the Second Samnite War, plebeians who had risen to power through these social reforms began to acquire the aura of nobilitas, "nobility", marking the creation of a ruling elite of nobiles that allied the interests of patricians and noble plebeians.
From the mid-4th century to the early 3rd century BC, several plebeian–patrician "tickets" for the consulship repeated joint terms, suggesting a deliberate political strategy of cooperation. Although nobilitas was not a formal social rank during the Republican era, in general, a plebeian who had attained the consulship was regarded as having brought nobility to his family; such a man was a novus homo, a self-made noble, his sons and descendants were nobiles. Marius and Cicero are notable examples of novi homines in the late Republic, when many of Rome's richest and most powerful men—such as Lucullus and Pompeius—were plebeian nobles; some or many noble plebeians, including Cicero and Lucullus, aligned their political interests with the faction of Optimates, conservatives who sought to preserve senatorial prerogatives. By contrast, the Populares, which sought to champion the plebs in the sense of "common people", were sometimes led by patricians such as Julius Caesar and Clodius Pulcher. In the U.
S. military, plebes are freshmen at the U. S. Military Academy, U. S. Naval Academy, Valley Forge Military Academy and College, the Marine Military Academy, the U. S. Merchant Marine Academy, Georgia Military College, California Maritime Academy; the term is used for new cadets at the Philippine Military Academy. Early public schools in the United Kingdom would enrol pupils as "plebeians" as opposed to sons of gentry and aristocrats. In British, Australian, New Zealand and South African English the back-formation pleb, along with the more derived adjectival form plebby, is used as a derogatory term for someone considered unsophisticated or uncultured. Bread and circuses – Figure of speech referring to a superficial means of appeasement Capite censi – The lowest class of citizens of ancient Rome Plebeian Council – The principal assembly of the ancient Roman Republic Proletariat – The class of wage-earners in an economic society whose only possession of significant material value is their labour-power Roman Republic – Period of ancient Roman civilization Plebgate, a 2012 British political scandal involving the use of the word as a slur Jackson J. Spielvogel.
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