This was the beginning of the -provocatio-, which for that reason was especially permitted not to the transgressor who had refused to plead guilty and had been convicted, but to him who confessed his crime and urged reasons in palliation of it. In the ordinary course of law the perpetual treaty concluded with a neighbouring state might not be broken--unless the burgesses deemed themselves released from it on account of injuries inflicted on them. Hence it was necessary that they should be consulted when an aggressive war was contemplated, but not on occasion of a defensive war, where the other state had broken the treaty, nor on the conclusion of peace; it appears, however, that the question was in such a case addressed not to the usual assembly of the burgesses, but to the army. Thus, in general, it was necessary to consult the burgesses whenever the king meditated any innovation, any change of the existing public law; and in so far the right of legislation was from antiquity not a right of the king, but a right of the king and the community. In these and all similar cases the king could not act with legal effect without the cooperation of the community; the man whom the king alone declared a patrician remained as before a non-burgess, and the invalid act could only carry consequences possibly -de facto-, not -de jure-. Thus far the assembly of the community, however restricted and bound at its emergence, was yet from antiquity a constituent element of the Roman commonwealth, and was in law superior to, rather than co-ordinate with, the king.

The Senate

But by the side of the king and of the burgess-assembly there appears in the earliest constitution of the community a third original power, not destined for acting like the former or for resolving like the latter, and yet co-ordinate with both and within its own rightful sphere placed over both. This was the council of elders or -senatus-. Beyond doubt it had its origin in the clan-constitution: the old tradition that in the original Rome the senate was composed of all the heads of households is correct in state-law to this extent, that each of the clans of the later Rome which had not merely migrated thither at a more recent date referred its origin to one of those household-fathers of the primitive city as its ancestor and patriarch. If, as is probable, there was once in Rome or at any rate in Latium a time when, like the state itself, each of its ultimate constituents, that is to say each clan, had virtually a monarchical organization and was under the rule of an elder--whether raised to that position by the choice of the clansmen or of his predecessor, or in virtue of hereditary succession--the senate of that time was nothing but the collective body of these clan-elders, and accordingly an institution independent of the king and of the burgess-assembly; in contradistinction to the latter, which was directly composed of the whole body of the burgesses, it was in some measure a representative assembly of persons acting for the people. Certainly that stage of independence when each clan was virtually a state was surmounted in the Latin stock at an immemorially early period, and the first and perhaps most difficult step towards developing the community out of the clan-organization--the setting aside of the clan-elders--had possibly been taken in Latium long before the foundation of Rome; the Roman clan, as we know it, is without any visible head, and no one of the living clansmen is especially called to represent the common patriarch from whom all the clansmen descend or profess to descend so that even inheritance and guardianship, when they fall by death to the clan, devolve on the clan-members as a whole. Nevertheless the original character of the council of elders bequeathed many and important legal consequences to the Roman senate. To express the matter briefly, the position of the senate as something other and more than a mere state-council--than an assemblage of a number of trusty men whose advice the king found it fitting to obtain--hinged entirely on the fact that it was once an assembly, like that described by Homer, of the princes and rulers of the people sitting for deliberation in a circle round the king. So long as the senate was formed by the aggregate of the heads of clans, the number of the members cannot have been a fixed one, since that of the clans was not so; but in the earliest, perhaps even in pre-Roman, times the number of the members of the council of elders for the community had been fixed without respect to the number of the then existing clans at a hundred, so that the amalgamation of the three primitive communities had in state-law the necessary consequence of an increase of the seats in the senate to what was thenceforth the fixed normal number of three hundred. Moreover the senators were at all times called to sit for life; and if at a later period the lifelong tenure subsisted more -de facto- than -de jure-, and the revisions of the senatorial list that took place from time to time afforded an opportunity to remove the unworthy or the unacceptable senator, it can be shown that this arrangement only arose in the course of time. The selection of the senators certainly, after there were no longer heads of clans, lay with the king; but in this selection during the earlier epoch, so long as the people retained a vivid sense of the individuality of the clans, it was probably the rule that, when a senator died, the king should call another experienced and aged man of the same clanship to fill his place. It was only, we may surmise, when the community became more thoroughly amalgamated and inwardly united, that this usage was departed from and the selection of the senators was left entirely to the free judgment of the king, so that he was only regarded as failing in his duty when he omitted to fill up vacancies.

Prerogatives Of The Senate. The -Interregnum-

The prerogatives of this council of elders were based on the view that the rule over the community composed of clans rightfully belonged to the collective clan-elders, although in accordance with the monarchical principle of the Romans, which already found so stern an expression in the household, that rule could only be exercised for the time being by one of these elders, namely the king.

The Period Anterior to the Abolition of the Monarchy Page 33

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Theodor Mommsen
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