Then he possessed in its entireness that power over the community which belonged to the house-father in his household; and, like him, he ruled for life. He held intercourse with the gods of the community, whom he consulted and appeased (-auspicia publica-), and he nominated all the priests and priestesses. The agreements which he concluded in name of the community with foreigners were binding upon the whole people; although in other instances no member of the community was bound by an agreement with a non-member. His "command" (-imperium-) was all-powerful in peace and in war, on which account "messengers" (-lictores-, from -licere-, to summon) preceded him with axes and rods on all occasions when he appeared officially. He alone had the right of publicly addressing the burgesses, and it was he who kept the keys of the public treasury. He had the same right as a father had to exercise discipline and jurisdiction. He inflicted penalties for breaches of order, and, in particular, flogging for military offences. He sat in judgment in all private and in all criminal processes, and decided absolutely regarding life and death as well as regarding freedom; he might hand over one burgess to fill the place of a slave to another; he might even order a burgess to be sold into actual slavery or, in other words, into banishment. When he had pronounced sentence of death, he was entitled, but not obliged, to allow an appeal to the people for pardon. He called out the people for service in war and commanded the army; but with these high functions he was no less bound, when an alarm of fire was raised, to appear in person at the scene of the burning.

As the house-master was not simply the greatest but the only power in the house, so the king was not merely the first but the only holder of power in the state. He might indeed form colleges of men of skill composed of those specially conversant with the rules of sacred or of public law, and call upon them for their advice; he might, to facilitate his exercise of power, entrust to others particular functions, such as the making communications to the burgesses, the command in war, the decision of processes of minor importance, the inquisition of crimes; he might in particular, if he was compelled to quit the bounds of the city, leave behind him a "city-warden" (-praefectus urbi-) with the full powers of an -alter ego-; but all official power existing by the side of the king's was derived from the latter, and every official held his office by the king's appointment and during the king's pleasure. All the officials of the earliest period, the extraordinary city-warden as well as the "leaders of division" (-tribuni-, from -tribus-, part) of the infantry (-milites-) and of the cavalry (-celeres-) were merely commissioned by the king, and not magistrates in the subsequent sense of the term. The regal power had not and could not have any external check imposed upon it by law: the master of the community had no judge of his acts within the community, any more than the housefather had a judge within his household. Death alone terminated his power. The choice of the new king lay with the council of elders, to which in case of a vacancy the interim-kingship (-interregnum-) passed. A formal cooperation in the election of king pertained to the burgesses only after his nomination; -de jure- the kingly office was based on the permanent college of the Fathers (-patres-), which by means of the interim holder of the power installed the new king for life. Thus "the august blessing of the gods, under which renowned Rome was founded," was transmitted from its first regal recipient in constant succession to those that followed him, and the unity of the state was preserved unchanged notwithstanding the personal change of the holders of power.

This unity of the Roman people, represented in the field of religion by the Roman Diovis, was in the field of law represented by the prince, and therefore his costume was the same as that of the supreme god; the chariot even in the city, where every one else went on foot, the ivory sceptre with the eagle, the vermilion-painted face, the chaplet of oaken leaves in gold, belonged alike to the Roman god and to the Roman king. It would be a great error, however, to regard the Roman constitution on that account as a theocracy: among the Italians the ideas of god and king never faded away into each other, as they did in Egypt and the East. The king was not the god of the people; it were much more correct to designate him as the proprietor of the state. Accordingly the Romans knew nothing of special divine grace granted to a particular family, or of any other sort of mystical charm by which a king should be made of different stuff from other men: noble descent and relationship with earlier rulers were recommendations, but were not necessary conditions; the office might be lawfully filled by any Roman come to years of discretion and sound in body and mind.(4) The king was thus simply an ordinary burgess, whom merit or fortune, and the primary necessity of having one as master in every house, had placed as master over his equals--a husbandman set over husbandmen, a warrior set over warriors. As the son absolutely obeyed his father and yet did not esteem himself inferior, so the burgess submitted to his ruler without precisely accounting him his better. This constituted the moral and practical limitation of the regal power. The king might, it is true, do much that was inconsistent with equity without exactly breaking the law of the land: he might diminish his fellow-combatants' share of the spoil; he might impose exorbitant task-works or otherwise by his imposts unreasonably encroach upon the property of the burgess; but if he did so, he forgot that his plenary power came not from God, but under God's consent from the people, whose representative he was; and who was there to protect him, if the people should in return forget the oath of allegiance which they had sworn? The legal limitation, again, of the king's power lay in the principle that he was entitled only to execute the law, not to alterit.

The Period Anterior to the Abolition of the Monarchy Page 29

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Theodor Mommsen
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