Political and Social Distinctions in Rome
The strict conception of the unity and omnipotence of the state in all matters pertaining to it, which was the central principle of the Italian constitutions, placed in the hands of the single president nominated for life a formidable power, which was felt doubtless by the enemies of the land, but was not less heavily felt by its citizens. Abuse and oppression could not fail to ensue, and, as a necessary consequence, efforts were made to lessen that power. It was, however, the grand distinction of the endeavours after reform and the revolutions in Rome, that there was no attempt either to impose limitations on the community as such or even to deprive it of corresponding organs of expression—that there never was any endeavour to assert the so-called natural rights of the individual in contradistinction to the community—that, on the contrary, the attack was wholly directed against the form in which the community was represented. From the times of the Tarquins down to those of the Gracchi the cry of the party of progress in Rome was not for limitation of the power of the state, but for limitation of the power of the magistrates: nor amidst that cry was the truth ever forgotten, that the people ought not to govern, but to be governed.
This struggle was carried on within the burgess-body. Side by side with it another movement developed itself—the cry of the non-burgesses for equality of political privileges. Under this head are included the agitations of the plebeians, the Latins, the Italians, and the freedmen, all of whom—whether they may have borne the name of burgesses, as did the plebeians and the freedmen, or not, as was the case with the Latins and Italians—were destitute of, and desired, political equality.
A third distinction was one of a still more general nature; the distinction between the wealthy and the poor, especially such as had been dispossessed or were endangered in possession. The legal and political relations of Rome led to the rise of a numerous class of farmers—partly small proprietors who were dependent on the mercy of the capitalist, partly small temporary lessees who were dependent on the mercy of the landlord—and in many instances deprived individuals as well as whole communities of the lands which they held, without affecting their personal freedom. By these means the agricultural proletariate became at an early period so powerful as to have a material influence on the destinies of the community. The urban proletariate did not acquire political importance till a much later epoch.
On these distinctions hinged the internal history of Rome, and, as may be presumed, not less the history—totally lost to us—of the other Italian communities. The political movement within the fully-privileged burgess-body, the warfare between the excluded and excluding classes, and the social conflicts between the possessors and the non-possessors of land—variously as they crossed and interlaced, and singular as were the alliances they often produced —were nevertheless essentially and fundamentally distinct.
Abolition of the Life-Presidency of the Community
As the Servian reform, which placed the —metoikos— on a footing of equality in a military point of view with the burgess, appears to have originated from considerations of an administrative nature rather than from any political party-tendency, we may assume that the first of the movements which led to internal crises and changes of the constitution was that which sought to limit the magistracy. The earliest achievement of this, the most ancient opposition in Rome, consisted in the abolition of the life-tenure of the presidency of the community; in other words, in the abolition of the monarchy. How necessarily this was the result of the natural development of things, is most strikingly demonstrated by the fact, that the same change of constitution took place in an analogous manner through the whole circuit of the Italo-Grecian world. Not only in Rome, but likewise among the other Latins as well as among the Sabellians, Etruscans, and Apulians—and generally, in all the Italian communities, just as in those of Greece—we find the rulers for life of an earlier epoch superseded in after times by annual magistrates. In the case of the Lucanian canton there is evidence that it had a democratic government in time of peace, and it was only in the event of war that the magistrates appointed a king, that is, an official similar to the Roman dictator. The Sabellian civic communities, such as those of Capua and Pompeii, in like manner were in later times governed by a "community-manager" (-medix tuticus-) changed from year to year, and we may assume that similar institutions existed among the other national and civic communities of Italy. In this light the reasons which led to the substitution of consuls for kings in Rome need no explanation. The organism of the ancient Greek and Italian polity developed of itself by a sort of natural necessity the limitation of the life-presidency to a shortened, and for the most part an annual, term. Simple, however, as was the cause of this change, it might be brought about in various ways; a resolution might be adopted on the death of one life-ruler not to elect another—a course which the Roman senate is said to have attempted after the death of Romulus; or the ruler might voluntarily abdicate, as is alleged to have been the intention of king Servius Tullius; or the people might rise in rebellion against a tyrannical ruler, and expel him.
Expulsion of the Tarquins from Rome
It was in this latter way that the monarchy was terminated in Rome. For however much the history of the expulsion of the last Tarquinius, "the proud," may have been interwoven with anecdotes and spun out into a romance, it is not in its leading outlines to be called in question. Tradition credibly enough indicates as the causes of the revolt, that the king neglected to consult the senate and to complete its numbers; that he pronounced sentences of capital punishment and confiscation without advising with his counsellors; that he accumulated immense stores of grain in his granaries, and exacted from the burgesses military labour and task-work beyond what was due. The exasperation of the people is attested by the formal vow which they made man by man for themselves and for their posterity that thenceforth they would never tolerate a king; by the blind hatred with which the name of king was ever afterwards regarded in Rome; and above all by the enactment that the "king for offering sacrifice" (-rex sacrorum- or -sacrificulus-) —whom they considered it their duty to create that the gods might not miss their accustomed mediator—should be disqualified from holding any further office, so that this man became the foremost indeed, but also the most powerless in the Roman commonwealth. Along with the last king all the members of his clan were banished—a proof how close at that time gentile ties still were. The Tarquinii thereupon transferred themselves to Caere, perhaps their ancient home,(1) where their family tomb has recently been discovered. In the room of the one president holding office for life two annual rulers were now placed at the head of the Roman community.
This is all that can be looked upon as historically certain in reference to this important event.(2) It is conceivable that in a great community with extensive dominion like the Roman the royal power, particularly if it had been in the same family for several generations, would be more capable of resistance, and the struggle would thus be keener, than in the smaller states; but there is no certain indication of any interference by foreign states in the struggle. The great war with Etruria—which possibly, moreover, has been placed so close upon the expulsion of the Tarquins only in consequence of chronological confusion in the Roman annals—cannot be regarded as an intervention of Etruria in favour of a countryman who had been injured in Rome, for the very sufficient reason that the Etruscans notwithstanding their complete victory neither restored the Roman monarchy, nor even brought back the Tarquinian family.
Powers of the Consuls
If we are left in ignorance of the historical connections of this important event, we are fortunately in possession of clearer light as to the nature of the change which was made in the constitution. The royal power was by no means abolished, as is shown by the very fact that, when a vacancy occurred afterwards as before, an "interim king" (-interrex-) was nominated. The one life-king was simply replaced by two year-kings, who called themselves generals (-praetores-), or judges (-iudices-), or merely colleagues (consules).(3) The principles of collegiate tenure and of annual duration are those which distinguish the republic from the monarchy, and they first meet us here.
The collegiate principle, from which the third and subsequently most current name of the annual kings was derived, assumed in their case an altogether peculiar form. The supreme power was not entrusted to the two magistrates conjointly, but each consul possessed and exercised it for himself as fully and wholly as it had been possessed and exercised by the king. This was carried so far that, instead of one of the two colleagues undertaking perhaps the administration of justice, and the other the command of the army, they both administered justice simultaneously in the city just as they both set out together to the army; in case of collision the matter was decided by a rotation measured by months or days. A certain partition of functions withal, at least in the supreme military command, might doubtless take place from the outset—the one consul for example taking the field against the Aequi, and the other against the Volsci—but it had in no wise binding force, and each of the colleagues was legally at liberty to interfere at any time in the province of the other. When, therefore, supreme power confronted supreme power and the one colleague forbade what the other enjoined, the consular commands neutralized each other. This peculiarly Latin, if not peculiarly Roman, institution of co-ordinate supreme authorities—which in the Roman commonwealth on the whole approved itself as practicable, but to which it will be difficult to find a parallel in any other considerable state —manifestly sprang out of the endeavour to retain the regal power in legally undiminished fulness. They were thus led not to break up the royal office into parts or to transfer it from an individual to a college, but simply to double it and thereby, if necessary, to neutralize it through its own action.
Term of Office
As regards the termination of their tenure of office, the earlier -interregnum- of five days furnished a legal precedent. The ordinary presidents of the community were bound not to remain in office longer than a year reckoned from the day of their entering on their functions;(4) and they ceased -de jure- to be magistrates upon the expiry of the year, just as the interrex on the expiry of the five days. Through this set termination of the supreme office the practical irresponsibility of the king was lost in the case of the consul. It is true that the king was always in the Roman commonwealth subject, and not superior, to the law; but, as according to the Roman view the supreme judge could not be prosecuted at his own bar, the king might doubtless have committed a crime, but there was for him no tribunal and no punishment. The consul, again, if he had committed murder or treason, was protected by his office, but only so long as it lasted; on his retirement he was liable to the ordinary penal jurisdiction like any other burgess.
To these leading changes, affecting the principles of the constitution, other restrictions were added of a subordinate and more external character, some of which nevertheless produced a deep effect The privilege of the king to have his fields tilled by task-work of the burgesses, and the special relation of clientship in which the —metoeci— as a body must have stood to the king, ceased of themselves with the life tenure of the office.
Right of Appeal
Hitherto in criminal processes as well as in fines and corporal punishments it had been the province of the king not only to investigate and decide the cause, but also to decide whether the person found guilty should or should not be allowed to appeal for pardon. The Valerian law now (in 245) enacted that the consul must allow the appeal of the condemned, where sentence of capital or corporal punishment had been pronounced otherwise than by martial law—a regulation which by a later law (of uncertain date, but passed before 303) was extended to heavy fines. In token of this right of appeal, when the consul appeared in the capacity of judge and not of general, the consular lictors laid aside the axes which they had previously carried by virtue of the penal jurisdiction belonging to their master. The law however threatened the magistrate, who did not allow due course to the -provocatio-, with no other penalty than infamy—which, as matters then stood, was essentially nothing but a moral stain, and at the utmost only had the effect of disqualifying the infamous person from giving testimony. Here too the course followed was based on the same view, that it was in law impossible to diminish the old regal powers, and that the checks imposed upon the holder of the supreme authority in consequence of the revolution had, strictly viewed, only a practical and moral value. When therefore the consul acted within the old regal jurisdiction, he might in so acting perpetrate an injustice, but he committed no crime and consequently was not amenable for what he did to the penal judge.
A limitation similar in its tendency took place in the civil jurisdiction; for probably there was taken from the consuls at the very outset the right of deciding at their discretion a legal dispute between private persons.
Restrictions on the Delegation of Powers
The remodelling of the criminal as of civil procedure stood in connection with a general arrangement respecting the transference of magisterial power to deputies or successors. While the king had been absolutely at liberty to nominate deputies but had never been compelled to do so, the consuls exercised the right of delegating power in an essentially different way. No doubt the rule that, if the supreme magistrate left the city, he had to appoint a warden there for the administration of justice,(5) remained in force also for the consuls, and the collegiate arrangement was not even extended to such delegation; on the contrary this appointment was laid on the consul who was the last to leave the city. But the right of delegation for the time when the consuls remained in the city was probably restricted, upon the very introduction of this office, by providing that delegation should be prescribed to the consul for definite cases, but should be prohibited for all cases in which it was not so prescribed. According to this principle, as we have said, the whole judicial system was organized. The consul could certainly exercise criminal jurisdiction also as to a capital process in the way of submitting his sentence to the community and having it thereupon confirmed or rejected; but he never, so far as we see, exercised this right, perhaps was soon not allowed to exercise it, and possibly pronounced a criminal judgment only in the case of appeal to the community being for any reason excluded. Direct conflict between the supreme magistrate of the community and the community itself was avoided, and the criminal procedure was organized really in such a way, that the supreme magistracy remained only in theory competent, but always acted through deputies who were necessary though appointed by himself. These were the two—not standing—pronouncers-of-judgment for revolt and high treason (-duoviri perduellionis-) and the two standing trackers of murder, the -quaestores parricidii-. Something similar may perhaps have occurred in the regal period, where the king had himself represented in such processes;(6) but the standing character of the latter institution, and the collegiate principle carried out in both, belong at any rate to the republic. The latter arrangement became of great importance also, in so far that thereby for the first time alongside of the two standing supreme magistrates were placed two assistants, whom each supreme magistrate nominated at his entrance on office, and who in due course also went out with him on his leaving it—whose position thus, like the supreme magistracy itself, was organized according to the principles of a standing office, of a collegiate form, and of an annual tenure. This was not indeed as yet the inferior magistracy itself, at least not in the sense which the republic associated with the magisterial position, inasmuch as the commissioners did not emanate from the choice of the community; but it doubtless became the starting-point for the institution of subordinate magistrates, which was afterwards developed in so manifold ways.
In a similar way the decision in civil procedure was withdrawn from the supreme magistracy, inasmuch as the right of the king to transfer an individual process for decision to a deputy was converted into the duty of the consul, after settling the legitimate title of the party and the object of the suit, to refer the disposal of it to a private man to be selected by him and furnished by him with instructions.
In like manner there was left to the consuls the important administration of the state-treasure and of the state-archives; nevertheless probably at once, or at least very early, there were associated with them standing assistants in that duty, namely, those quaestors who, doubtless, had in exercising this function absolutely to obey them, but without whose previous knowledge and co-operation the consuls could not act.
Where on the other hand such directions were not in existence, the president of the community in the capital had personally to intervene; as indeed, for example, at the introductory steps of a process he could not under any circumstances let himself be represented by deputy.
This double restriction of the consular right of delegation subsisted for the government of the city, and primarily for the administration of justice and of the state-chest. As commander-in-chief, on the other hand, the consul retained the right of handing over all or any of the duties devolving on him. This diversity in the treatment of civil and military delegation explains why in the government of the Roman community proper no delegated magisterial authority (-pro magistrate-) was possible, nor were purely urban magistrates ever represented by non-magistrates; and why, on the other hand, military deputies (-pro consuls-, -pro praetore-, -pro quaestore-) were excluded from all action within the community proper.
Nominating a Successor
The right of nominating a successor had not been possessed by the king, but only by the interrex.(7) The consul was in this respect placed on a like footing with the latter; nevertheless, in the event of his not having exercised the power, the interrex stepped in as before, and the necessary continuity of the office subsisted still undiminished under the republican government. The right of nomination, however, was materially restricted in favour of the burgesses, as the consul was bound to procure the assent of the burgesses for the successors designated by him, and, in the sequel, to nominate only those whom the community designated to him. Through this binding right of proposal the nomination of the ordinary supreme magistrates doubtless in a certain sense passed substantially into the hands of the community; practically, however, there still existed a very considerable distinction between that right of proposal and the right of formal nomination. The consul conducting the election was by no means a mere returning officer; he could still, e. g. by virtue of his old royal prerogative reject particular candidates and disregard the votes tendered for them; at first he might even limit the choice to a list of candidates proposed by himself; and—what was of still more consequence—when the collegiate consulship was to be supplemented by the dictator, of whom we shall speak immediately, in so supplementing it the community was not consulted, but on the contrary the consul in that case appointed his colleague with the same freedom, wherewith the interrex had once appointed the king.
Change in the Nomination of Priests
The nomination of the priests, which had been a prerogative of the kings,(8) was not transferred to the consuls; but the colleges of priests filled up the vacancies in their own ranks, while the Vestals and single priests were nominated by the pontifical college, on which devolved also the exercise of the paternal jurisdiction, so to speak, of the community over the priestesses of Vesta. With a view to the performance of these acts, which could only be properly performed by a single individual, the college probably about this period first nominated a president, the -Pontifex maximus-. This separation of the supreme authority in things sacred from the civil power—while the already-mentioned "king for sacrifice" had neither the civil nor the sacred powers of the king, but simply the title, conferred upon him —and the semi-magisterial position of the new high priest, so decidedly contrasting with the character which otherwise marked the priesthood in Rome, form one of the most significant and important peculiarities of this state-revolution, the aim of which was to impose limits on the powers of the magistrates mainly in the interest of the aristocracy.
We have already mentioned that the outward state of the consul was far inferior to that of the regal office hedged round as it was with reverence and terror, that the regal name and the priestly consecration were withheld from him, and that the axe was taken away from his attendants. We have to add that, instead of the purple robe which the king had worn, the consul was distinguished from the ordinary burgess simply by the purple border of his toga, and that, while the king perhaps regularly appeared in public in his chariot, the consul was bound to accommodate himself to the general rule and like every other burgess to go within the city on foot.
These limitations, however, of the plenary power and of the insignia of the magistracy applied in the main only to the ordinary presidency of the community. In extraordinary cases, alongside of, and in a certain sense instead of, the two presidents chosen by the community there emerged a single one, the master of the army (-magister populi-) usually designated as the -dictator-. In the choice of dictator the community exercised no influence at all, but it proceeded solely from the free resolve of one of the consuls for the time being, whose action neither his colleague nor any other authority could hinder. There was no appeal from his sentence any more than from that of the king, unless he chose to allow it. As soon as he was nominated, all the other magistrates were by right subject to his authority. On the other hand the duration of the dictator's office was limited in two ways: first, as the official colleague of those consuls, one of whom had nominated him, he might not remain in office beyond their legal term; and secondly, a period of six months was fixed as the absolute maximum for the duration of his office. It was a further arrangement peculiar to the dictatorship, that the "master of the army" was bound to nominate for himself immediately a "master of horse" (-magister equitum-), who acted along with him as a dependent assistant somewhat as did the quaestor along with the consul, and with him retired from office—an arrangement undoubtedly connected with the fact that the dictator, presumably as being the leader of the infantry, was constitutionally prohibited from mounting on horseback. In the light of these regulations the dictatorship is doubtless to be conceived as an institution which arose at the same time with the consulship, and which was designed, especially in the event of war, to obviate for a time the disadvantages of divided power and to revive temporarily the regal authority; for in war more particularly the equality of rights in the consuls could not but appear fraught with danger; and not only positive testimonies, but above all the oldest names given to the magistrate himself and his assistant, as well as the limitation of the office to the duration of a summer campaign, and the exclusion of the -provocatio- attest the pre-eminently military design of the original dictatorship.
On the whole, therefore, the consuls continued to be, as the kings had been, the supreme administrators, judges, and generals; and even in a religious point of view it was not the -rex sacrorum- (who was only nominated that the name might be preserved), but the consul, who offered prayers and sacrifices for the community, and in its name ascertained the will of the gods with the aid of those skilled in sacred lore. Against cases of emergency, moreover, a power was retained of reviving at any moment, without previous consultation of the community, the full and unlimited regal authority, so as to set aside the limitations imposed by the collegiate arrangement and by the special curtailments of jurisdiction. In this way the problem of legally retaining and practically restricting the regal authority was solved in genuine Roman fashion with equal acuteness and simplicity by the nameless statesmen who worked out this revolution.
Centuries and Curies
The community thus acquired by the change of constitution rights of the greatest importance: the right of annually designating its presidents, and that of deciding in the last instance regarding the life or death of the burgess. But the body which acquired these rights could not possibly be the community as it had been hitherto constituted—the patriciate which had practically become an order of nobility. The strength of the nation lay in the "multitude" (-plebs-) which already comprehended in large numbers people of note and of wealth. The exclusion of this multitude from the public assembly, although it bore part of the public burdens, might be tolerated as long as that public assembly itself had no very material share in the working of the state machine, and as long as the royal power by the very fact of its high and free position remained almost equally formidable to the burgesses and to the —metoeci— and thereby maintained equality of legal redress in the nation. But when the community itself was called regularly to elect and to decide, and the president was practically reduced from its master to its commissioner for a set term, this relation could no longer be maintained as it stood; least of all when the state had to be remodelled on the morrow of a revolution, which could only have been carried out by the co-operation of the patricians and the —metoeci—. An extension of that community was inevitable; and it was accomplished in the most comprehensive manner, inasmuch as the collective plebeiate, that is, all the non-burgesses who were neither slaves nor citizens of extraneous communities living at Rome under the -ius hospitii-, were admitted into the burgess-body. The curiate assembly of the old burgesses, which hitherto had been legally and practically the first authority in the state, was almost totally deprived of its constitutional prerogatives. It was to retain its previous powers only in acts purely formal or in those which affected clan-relations —such as the vow of allegiance to be taken to the consul or to the dictator when they entered on office just as previously to the king,(9) and the legal dispensations requisite for an -arrogatio- or a testament—but it was not in future to perform any act of a properly political character. Soon even the plebeians were admitted to the right of voting also in the curies, and by that step the old burgess-body lost the right of meeting and of resolving at all. The curial organization was virtually rooted out, in so far as it was based on the clan-organization and this latter was to be found in its purity exclusively among the old burgesses. When the plebeians were admitted into the curies, they were certainly also allowed to constitute themselves -de jure- as—what in the earlier period they could only have been -de facto-(10)—families and clans; but it is distinctly recorded by tradition and in itself also very conceivable, that only a portion of the plebeians proceeded so far as to constitute -gentes-, and thus the new curiate assembly, in opposition to its original character, included numerous members who belonged to no clan.
All the political prerogatives of the public assembly—as well the decision on appeals in criminal causes, which indeed were essentially political processes, as the nomination of magistrates and the adoption or rejection of laws—were transferred to, or were now acquired by, the assembled levy of those bound to military service; so that the centuries now received the rights, as they had previously borne the burdens, of citizens. In this way the small initial movements made by the Servian constitution—such as, in particular, the handing over to the army the right of assenting to the declaration of an aggressive war(11)—attained such a development that the curies were completely and for ever cast into the shade by the assembly of the centuries, and people became accustomed to regard the latter as the sovereign people. In this assembly debate took place merely when the presiding magistrate chose himself to speak or bade others do so; of course in cases of appeal both parties had to be heard. A simple majority of the centuries was decisive.
As in the curiate assembly those who were entitled to vote at all were on a footing of entire equality, and therefore after the admission of all the plebeians into the curies the result would have been a complete democracy, it may be easily conceived that the decision of political questions continued to be withheld from the curies; the centuriate assembly placed the preponderating influence, not in the hands of the nobles certainly, but in those of the possessors of property, and the important privilege of priority in voting, which often practically decided the election, placed it in the hands of the -equites- or, in other words, of the rich.
The senate was not affected by the reform of the constitution in the same way as the community. The previously existing college of elders not only continued exclusively patrician, but retained also its essential prerogatives—the right of appointing the interrex, and of confirming or rejecting the resolutions adopted by the community as constitutional or unconstitutional. In fact these prerogatives were enhanced by the reform of the constitution, because the appointment of the magistrates also, which fell to be made by election of the community, was thenceforth subject to the confirmation or rejection of the patrician senate. In cases of appeal alone its confirmation, so far as we know, was never deemed requisite, because in these the matter at stake was the pardon of the guilty and, when this was granted by the sovereign assembly of the people, any cancelling of such an act was wholly out of the question.
But, although by the abolition of the monarchy the constitutional rights of the patrician senate were increased rather than diminished, there yet took place—and that, according to tradition, immediately on the abolition of the monarchy—so far as regards other affairs which fell to be discussed in the senate and admitted of a freer treatment, an enlargement of that body, which brought into it plebeians also, and which in its consequences led to a complete remodelling of the whole. From the earliest times the senate had acted also, although not solely or especially, as a state-council; and, while probably even in the time of the kings it was not regarded as unconstitutional for non- senators in this case to take part in the assembly,(12) it was now arranged that for such discussions there should be associated with the patrician senate (-patres-) a number of non-patricians "added to the roll" (-conscripti-). This did not at all put them on a footing of equality; the plebeians in the senate did not become senators, but remained members of the equestrian order, were not designated -patres- but were even now -conscripti-, and had no right to the badge of senatorial dignity, the red shoe.(13) Moreover, they not only remained absolutely excluded from the exercise of the magisterial prerogatives belonging to the senate (-auctoritas-), but were obliged, even where the question had reference merely to an advice (-consilium-), to rest content with the privilege of being present in silence while the question was put to the patricians in turn, and of only indicating their opinion by adding to the numbers when the division was taken—voting with the feet (-pedibus in sententiam ire-, -pedarii-) as the proud nobility expressed it. Nevertheless, the plebeians found their way through the new constitution not merely to the Forum, but also to the senate-house, and the first and most difficult step towards equality of rights was taken in this quarter also.
Otherwise there was no material change in the arrangements affecting the senate. Among the patrician members a distinction of rank soon came to be recognized, especially in putting the vote: those who were proximately designated for the supreme magistracy, or who had already administered it, were entered on the list and were called upon to vote before the rest; and the position of the first of them, the foreman of the senate (-princeps senatus-) soon became a highly coveted place of honour. The consul in office, on the other hand, no more ranked as a member of senate than did the king, and therefore in taking the votes did not include his own. The selection of the members—both of the narrower patrician senate and of those merely added to the roll—fell to be made by the consuls just as formerly by the kings; but the nature of the case implied that, while the king had still perhaps some measure of regard to the representation of the several clans in the senate, this consideration was of no account so far as concerned the plebeians, among whom the clan-organization was but imperfectly developed, and consequently the relation of the senate to that organization in general fell more and more into abeyance. We have no information that the electing consuls were restricted from admitting more than a definite number of plebeians to the senate; nor was there need for such a regulation, because the consuls themselves belonged to the nobility. On the other hand probably from the outset the consul was in virtue of his very position practically far less free, and far more bound by the opinions of his order and by custom, in the appointment of senators than the king. The rule in particular, that the holding of the consulship should necessarily be followed by admission to the senate for life, if, as was probably the case at this time, the consul was not yet a member of it at the time of his election, must have in all probability very early acquired consuetudinary force. In like manner it seems to have become early the custom not to fill up the senators' places immediately on their falling vacant, but to revise and complete the roll of the senate on occasion of the census, consequently, as a rule, every fourth year; which also involved a not unimportant restriction on the authority entrusted with the selection. The whole number of the senators remained as before, and in this the -conscripti- were also included; from which fact we are probably entitled to infer the numerical falling off of the patriciate.(14)
Conservative Character of the Revolution
We thus see that in the Roman commonwealth, even on the conversion of the monarchy into a republic, the old was as far as possible retained. So far as a revolution in a state can be conservative at all, this one was so; not one of the constituent elements of the commonwealth was really overthrown by it. This circumstance indicates the character of the whole movement. The expulsion of the Tarquins was not, as the pitiful and deeply falsified accounts of it represent, the work of a people carried away by sympathy and enthusiasm for liberty, but the work of two great political parties already engaged in conflict, and clearly aware that their conflict would steadily continue—the old burgesses and the —metoeci— —who, like the English Whigs and Tories in 1688, were for a moment united by the common danger which threatened to convert the commonwealth into the arbitrary government of a despot, and differed again as soon as the danger was over. The old burgesses could not get rid of the monarchy without the cooperation of the new burgesses; but the new burgesses were far from being sufficiently strong to wrest the power out of the hands of the former at one blow. Compromises of this sort are necessarily limited to the smallest measure of mutual concessions obtained by tedious bargaining; and they leave the future to decide which of the constituent elements shall eventually preponderate, and whether they will work harmoniously together or counteract one another. To look therefore merely to the direct innovations, possibly to the mere change in the duration of the supreme magistracy, is altogether to mistake the broad import of the first Roman revolution: its indirect effects were by far the most important, and vaster doubtless than even its authors anticipated.
The New Community
This, in short, was the time when the Roman burgess-body in the later sense of the term originated. The plebeians had hitherto been —metoeci— who were subjected to their share of taxes and burdens, but who were nevertheless in the eye of the law really nothing but tolerated aliens, between whose position and that of foreigners proper it may have seemed hardly necessary to draw a definite line of distinction. They were now enrolled in the lists as burgesses liable to military service, and, although they were still far from being on a footing of legal equality—although the old burgesses still remained exclusively entitled to perform the acts of authority constitutionally pertaining to the council of elders, and exclusively eligible to the civil magistracies and priesthoods, nay even by preference entitled to participate in the usufructs of burgesses, such as the joint use of the public pasture—yet the first and most difficult step towards complete equalization was gained from the time when the plebeians no longer served merely in the common levy, but also voted in the common assembly and in the common council when its opinion was asked, and the head and back of the poorest —metoikos— were as well protected by the right of appeal as those of the noblest of the old burgesses.
One consequence of this amalgamation of the patricians and plebeians in a new corporation of Roman burgesses was the conversion of the old burgesses into a clan-nobility, which was incapable of receiving additions or even of filling up its own ranks, since the nobles no longer possessed the right of passing decrees in common assembly and the adoption of new families into the nobility by decree of the community appeared still less admissible. Under the kings the ranks of the Roman nobility had not been thus closed, and the admission of new clans was no very rare occurrence: now this genuine characteristic of patricianism made its appearance as the sure herald of the speedy loss of its political privileges and of its exclusive estimation in the community. The exclusion of the plebeians from all public magistracies and public priesthoods—while they were admissible to the position of officers and senators—and the maintenance, with perverse obstinacy, of the legal impossibility of marriage between old burgesses and plebeians, further impressed on the patriciate from the outset the stamp of an exclusive and wrongly privileged aristocracy.
A second consequence of the new union of the burgesses must have been a more definite regulation of the right of settlement, with reference both to the Latin confederates and to other states. It became necessary—not so much on account of the right of suffrage in the centuries (which indeed belonged only to the freeholder) as on account of the right of appeal, which was intended to be conceded to the plebeian, but not to the foreigner dwelling for a time or even permanently in Rome—to express more precisely the conditions of the acquisition of plebeian rights, and to mark off the enlarged burgess-body in its turn from those who were now the non-burgesses. To thisepoch therefore we may trace back—in the views and feelings of the people—both the invidiousness of the distinction between patricians and plebeians, and the strict and haughty line of demarcation between -cives Romani- and aliens. But the former civic distinction was in its nature transient, while the latter political one was permanent; and the sense of political unity and rising greatness, which was thus implanted in the heart of the nation, was expansive enough first to undermine and then to carry away with its mighty current those paltry distinctions.
Law and Edict
It was at this period, moreover, that law and edict were separated. The distinction indeed had its foundation in the essential character of the Roman state; for even the regal power in Rome was subordinate, not superior, to the law of the land. But the profound and practical veneration, which the Romans, like every other people of political capacity, cherished for the principle of authority, gave birth to the remarkable rule of Roman constitutional and private law, that every command of the magistrate not based upon a law was at least valid during his tenure of office, although it expired with that tenure. It is evident that in this view, so long as the presidents were nominated for life, the distinction between law and edict must have practically been almost lost sight of, and the legislative activity of the public assembly could acquire no development. On the other hand it obtained a wide field of action after the presidents were changed annually; and the fact was now by no means void of practical importance, that, if the consul in deciding a process committed a legal informality, his successor could institute a fresh trial of the cause.
Civil and Military Authority
It was at this period, finally, that the provinces of civil and military authority were separated. In the former the law ruled, in the latter the axe: the former was governed by the constitutional checks of the right of appeal and of regulated delegation; in the latter the general held an absolute sway like the king.(15) It was an established principle, that the general and the army as such should not under ordinary circumstances enter the city proper. That organic and permanently operative enactments could only be made under the authority of the civil power, was implied in the spirit, if not in the letter, of the constitution. Instances indeed occasionally occurred where the general, disregarding this principle, convoked his forces in the camp as a burgess assembly, nor was a decree passed under such circumstances legally void; but custom disapproved of such a proceeding, and it soon fell into disuse as though it had been forbidden. The distinction between Quirites and soldiers became more and more deeply rooted in the minds of the burgesses.
Government of the Patriciate
Time however was required for the development of these consequences of the new republicanism; vividly as posterity felt its effects, the revolution probably appeared to the contemporary world at first in a different light. The non-burgesses indeed gained by it burgess-rights, and the new burgess-body acquired in the -comitia centuriata- comprehensive prerogatives; but the right of rejection on the part of the patrician senate, which in firm and serried ranks confronted the -comitia- as if it were an Upper House, legally hampered their freedom of movement precisely in the most important matters, and although not in a position to thwart the serious will of the collective body, could yet practically delay and cripple it. If the nobility in giving up their claim to be the sole embodiment of the community did not seem to have lost much, they had in other respects decidedly gained. The king, it is true, was a patrician as well as the consul, and the right of nominating the members of the senate belonged to the latter as to the former; but while his exceptional position raised the former no less above the patricians than above the plebeians, and while cases might easily occur in which he would be obliged to lean upon the support of the multitude even against the nobility, the consul—ruling for a brief term, but before and after that term simply one of the nobility, and obeying to-morrow the noble fellow-burgess whom he had commanded to-day—by no means occupied a position aloof from his order, and the spirit of the noble in him must have been far more powerful than that of the magistrate. Indeed, if at any time by way of exception a patrician disinclined to the rule of the nobility was called to the government, his official authority was paralyzed partly by the priestly colleges, which were pervaded by an intense aristocratic spirit, partly by his colleague, and was easily suspended by the dictatorship; and, what was of still more moment, he wanted the first element of political power, time. The president of a commonwealth, whatever plenary authority may be conceded to him, will never gain possession of political power, if he does not continue for some considerable time at the head of affairs; for a necessary condition of every dominion is duration. Consequently the senate appointed for life inevitably acquired—and that by virtue chiefly of its title to advise the magistrate in all points, so that we speak not of the narrower patrician, but of the enlarged patricio-plebeian, senate—so great an influence as contrasted with the annual rulers, that their legal relations became precisely inverted; the senate substantially assumed to itself the powers of government, and the former ruler sank into a president acting as its chairman and executing its decrees. In the case of every proposal to be submitted to the community for acceptance or rejection the practice of previously consulting the whole senate and obtaining its approval, while not constitutionally necessary, was consecrated by use and wont; and it was not lightly or willingly departed from. The same course was followed in the case of important state-treaties, of the management and distribution of the public lands, and generally of every act the effects of which extended beyond the official year; and nothing was left to the consul but the transaction of current business, the initial steps in civil processes, and the command in war. Especially important in its consequences was the change in virtue of which neither the consul, nor even the otherwise absolute dictator, was permitted to touch the public treasure except with the consent and by the will of the senate. The senate made it obligatory on the consuls to commit the administration of the public chest, which the king had managed or might at any rate have managed himself, to two standing subordinate magistrates, who were nominated no doubt by the consuls and had to obey them, but were, as may easily be conceived, much more dependent than the consuls themselves on the senate.(16) It thus drew into its own hands the management of finance; and this right of sanctioning the expenditure of money on the part of the Roman senate may be placed on a parallel in its effects with the right of sanctioning taxation in the constitutional monarchies of the present day.
The consequences followed as a matter of course. The first and most essential condition of all aristocratic government is, that the plenary power of the state be vested not in an individual but in a corporation. Now a preponderantly aristocratic corporation, the senate, had appropriated to itself the government, and at the same time the executive power not only remained in the hands of the nobility, but was also entirely subject to the governing corporation. It is true that a considerable number of men not belonging to the nobility sat in the senate; but as they were incapable of holding magistracies or even of taking part in the debates, and thus were excluded from all practical share in the government, they necessarily played a subordinate part in the senate, and were moreover kept in pecuniary dependence on the corporation through the economically important privilege of using the public pasture. The gradually recognized right of the patrician consuls to revise and modify the senatorial list at least every fourth year, ineffective as presumably it was over against the nobility, might very well be employed in their interest, and an obnoxious plebeian might by means of it be kept out of the senate or even be removed from its ranks.
The Plebeian Opposition
It is therefore quite true that the immediate effect of the revolution was to establish the aristocratic government. It is not, however, the whole truth. While the majority of contemporaries probably thought that the revolution had brought upon the plebeians only a more rigid despotism, we who come afterwards discern in that very revolution the germs of young liberty. What the patricians gained was gained at the expense not of the community, but of the magistrate's power. It is true that the community gained only a few narrowly restricted rights, which were far less practical and palpable than the acquisitions of the nobility, and which not one in a thousand probably had the wisdom to value; but they formed a pledge and earnest of the future. Hitherto the —metoeci— had been politically nothing, the old burgesses had been everything; now that the former were embraced in the community, the old burgesses were overcome; for, however much might still be wanting to full civil equality, it is the first breach, not the occupation of the last post, that decides the fall of the fortress. With justice therefore the Roman community dated its political existence from the beginning of the consulate.
While however the republican revolution may, notwithstanding the aristocratic rule which in the first instance it established, be justly called a victory of the former —metoeci— or the -plebs-, the revolution even in this respect bore by no means the character which we are accustomed in the present day to designate as democratic. Pure personal merit without the support of birth and wealth could perhaps gain influence and consideration more easily under the regal government than under that of the patriciate. Then admission to the patriciate was not in law foreclosed; now the highest object of plebeian ambition was to be admitted into the dumb appendage of the senate. The nature of the case implied that the governing aristocratic order, so far as it admitted plebeians at all, would grant the right of occupying seats in the senate not absolutely to the best men, but chiefly to the heads of the wealthy and notable plebeian families; and the families thus admitted jealously guarded the possession of the senatorial stalls. While a complete legal equality therefore had subsisted within the old burgess-body, the new burgess-body or former —metoeci— came to be in this way divided from the first into a number of privileged families and a multitude kept in a position of inferiority. But the power of the community now according to the centuriate organization came into the hands of that class which since the Servian reform of the army and of taxation had borne mainly the burdens of the state, namely the freeholders, and indeed not so much into the hands of the great proprietors or into those of the small cottagers, as into those of the intermediate class of farmers—an arrangement in which the seniors were still so far privileged that, although less numerous, they had as many voting- divisions as the juniors. While in this way the axe was laid to the root of the old burgess-body and their clan-nobility, and the basis of a new burgess-body was laid, the preponderance in the latter rested on the possession of land and on age, and the first beginnings were already visible of a new aristocracy based primarily on the actual consideration in which the families were held—the future nobility. There could be no clearer indication of the fundamentally conservative character of the Roman commonwealth than the fact, that the revolution which gave birth to the republic laid down at the same time the primary outlines of a new organization of the state, which was in like manner conservative and in like manner aristocratic.
Notes for Book II Chapter I
1. I. IX. The Tarquins
2. The well-known fable for the most part refutes itself. To a considerable extent it has been concocted for the explanation of surnames (-Brutus-, -Poplicola-, -Scaevola-). But even its apparently historical ingredients are found on closer examination to have been invented. Of this character is the statement that Brutus was captain of the horsemen (-tribunus celerum-) and in that capacity proposed the decree of the people as to the banishment of the Tarquins; for, according to the Roman constitution, it is quite impossible that a mere officer should have had the right to convoke the curies. The whole of this statement has evidently been invented with the view of furnishing a legal basis for the Roman republic; and very ill invented it is, for in its case the -tribunus celerum- is confounded with the entirely different -magister equitum- (V. Burdens Of The Burgesses f.), and then the right of convoking the centuries which pertained to the latter by virtue of his praetorian rank is made to apply to the assembly of the curies.
3. -Consules- are those who "leap or dance together," as -praesul- is one who "leaps before," -exsul-, one who "leaps out" (—o ekpeson—), -insula-, a "leap into," primarily applied to a mass of rock fallen into the sea.
4. The day of entering on office did not coincide with the beginning of the year (1st March), and was not at all fixed. The day of retiring was regulated by it, except when a consul was elected expressly in room of one who had dropped out (-consul suffectus-); in which case the substitute succeeded to the rights and consequently to the term of him whom he replaced. But these supplementary consuls in the earlier period only occurred when merely one of the consuls had dropped out: pairs of supplementary consuls are not found until the later ages of the republic. Ordinarily, therefore, the official year of a consul consisted of unequal portions of two civil years.
5. I. V. The King
6. I. XI. Crimes
7. I. V. Prerogatives of the Senate
8. I. V. The King
9. I. V. The King
10. I. VI. Dependents and Guests
11. I. VI. Political Effects of the Servian Military Organization
12. I. V. The Senate as State Council
13. I. V. Prerogatives of the Senate
14. That the first consuls admitted to the senate 164 plebeians, is hardly to be regarded as a historical fact, but rather as a proof that the later Roman archaeologists were unable to point out more than 136 -gentes- of the Roman nobility (Rom, Forsch. i. 121).
15. It may not be superfluous to remark, that the -iudicium legitimum-, as well as that -quod imperio continetur-, rested on the imperium of the directing magistrate, and the distinction only consisted in the circumstance that the -imperium- was in the former case limited by the -lex-, while in the latter it was free.
16. II. I. Restrictions on the Delegation of Powers