Ancient History & Civilisation


Since plebeians had been elected consular tribunes, it would be illogical to exclude them from the consulship if it should be re-established. Yet the plebeian demand for this privilege resulted in the most famous constitutional struggle in Roman history: the ten years’ agitation which produced the Licinian laws. In 376 two tribunes, C. Licinius and L. Sextius, proposed that the consulship should be restored and that one consul should be a plebeian; their economic proposals have already been mentioned. Their eight colleagues blocked the measure. For ten years, it is said, Licinius and Sextius were re-elected to office while the struggle raged. According to Livy no patrician magistrates were elected for five years, though Diodorus reduces the period of ἀναϱχία to one year. Camillus twice was elected dictator. In 368 the patrician resistance began to weaken: the number of commissioners who regulated various religious ceremonies (sacris faciundis) was raised from two to ten, of whom five were to be plebeians. At one point the poorer plebeians were willing to drop the law about the consulship, if only the economic measures were passed: but the plebeian leaders stiffened their backs, until finally in 367 all the measures were passed and became law; L. Sextius himself was elected as first plebeian consul for 366. Many details of this struggle are suspicious, but the passage of the bill in 367 should not be questioned.4

The patricians tried to minimize their loss by depriving the consuls (or praetores consules) of some of their duties. The ordinary civil jurisdiction of the city was handed over in 366 to a regular magistrate with imperium, inferior to that of the consuls; he was named, like them, praetor, but was never called consul, while the consuls themselves retained this part of their title and dropped the additional praetores. This praetor probably was to be patrician, but by 337 the plebeians won admission to the magistracy. In 367 two curule aediles were elected from the patricians, but in the following year it was arranged that this office should alternate annually between the two orders. And thus, notwithstanding attempted patrician evasions, a settlement had been reached. The wealthy plebeians had secured access to the consulship: the other magistracies would be attained in course of time. The Licinian Laws decided the struggle of the orders in every real sense. The final compromise may have been brought about partly through the intervention of the aged Camillus, ‘the second founder of Rome’, who died two years later, but not before he is said to have vowed a temple to Concord (Concordia Ordinum) to commemorate the equalization of the orders.5

When once the principle of equality of office had been established, the plebeians soon reached all the magistracies; a plebeian was dictator in 356 and censor in 351. But the number of plebeian families which held the consulship was small: the Genucii and Licinii were the chief representatives before 361, the Poetelii, Popillii, Plautii and Marcii in the following few years. Sometimes there were apparently no suitable plebeian candidates, or else they were shouldered out by their rivals, since on six or seven occasions between 355–343 two patrician consuls were elected.6 In consequence some legislation was carried in 342, resulting from a mutiny of the army in Campania and from the initiative of a tribune, backed perhaps by a secession. A lex sacrata militarisforbade the degradation of a military tribune and the forcible discharge of a soldier, thus checking the power of the consul on active service. L. Genucius is said to have passed laws (1) prohibiting the taking of interest, (2) forbidding the holding of the same office twice within ten years, and (3) declaring that both consuls might legally be plebeians. Of these measures the first is reasonable; the second, if genuine, was certainly not observed; the third is possible as a theoretical ruling; it was not till 172 BC that two plebeians held the consulship together, yet it is unlikely that two patricians did so after 342.

More important than these Leges Genuciae were the Leges Publiliae of 339. The consul Q. Publilius Philo, who later had a distinguished career, becoming the first plebeian praetor in 337 and the first consul to have his magistracy extended by a prorogatio imperiiin 326 (p. 120), was named dictator by his colleague in 339. In the Comitia Centuriata he carried three laws in favour of the plebeians; two of them strengthened the popular sovereignty. These concessions were obtained perhaps because of the severity of the Latin revolt which emphasized the value of the Roman people on the field of battle. The measures were: (1) That one of the censors must be a plebeian; this ended the patrician monopoly of an office which had been created partly to evade the consequences of admitting the plebeians to the consulship. (2) That the sanction of the patres must be given beforehand to all laws proposed by a magistrate in the Comitia Centuriata. Before this enactment the only exclusive rights left to the patricians were the occupancy of a few priesthoods, the appointment of an interrex, and the patrum auctoritas by which they decided on the form of a law. By this last privilege they could block a law passed in the Comitia Centuriata on the ground of its faulty form; but by Philo’s enactment faults could be corrected before submission to the Comitia and so the power of the patres was weakened. Yet as a magistrate proposing a law now had to discuss it before the Senate, the influence of that body as a whole increased over the magistrates, as it decreased over the people. The patres, however, had been robbed of a useful political weapon. (3) That plebiscita should be binding on the whole populus. This was a reassertion of one of the clauses of the Valerio-Horatian laws of 449, if the latter are considered genuine. It is not, however, probable that plebiscita were recognized as having the force of laws (leges) without some limiting clause until 287.7 But the Publilian legislation was another landmark in the history of the orders, and during the fifty years which followed the Gallic invasion the equalization of the orders had been almost completed.

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