The increase in the number of magistrates to be elected by the people falls, to some extent, under this head; it is an especially significant fact that from 392 the military tribunes of one legion, and from 443 four tribunes in each of the first four legions respectively, were nominated no longer by the general, but by the burgesses. During this period the burgesses did not on the whole interfere in administration; only their right of declaring war was, as was reasonable, emphatically maintained, and held to extend also to cases in which a prolonged armistice concluded instead of a peace expired and what was not in law but in fact a new war began (327). In other instances a question of administration was hardly submitted to the people except when the governing authorities fell into collision and one of them referred the matter to the people--as when the leaders of the moderate party among the nobility, Lucius Valerius and Marcus Horatius, in 305, and the first plebeian dictator, Gaius Marcius Rutilus, in 398, were not allowed by the senate to receive the triumphs they had earned; when the consuls of 459 could not agree as to their respective provinces of jurisdiction; and when the senate, in 364, resolved to give up to the Gauls an ambassador who had forgotten his duty, and a consular tribune carried the matter to the community. This was the first occasion on which a decree of the senate was annulled by the people; and heavily the community atoned for it. Sometimes in difficult cases the government left the decision to the people, as first, when Caere sued for peace, after the people had declared war against it but before war had actually begun (401); and at a subsequent period, when the senate hesitated to reject unceremoniously the humble entreaty of the Samnites for peace (436). It is not till towards the close of this epoch that we find a considerably extended intervention of the -comitia tributa- in affairs of administration, particularly through the practice of consulting it as to the conclusion of peace and of alliances: this extension probably dates from the Hortensian law of 467.

Decreasing Importance Of The Burgess-Body

But notwithstanding these enlargements of the powers of the burgess-assemblies, their practical influence on state affairs began, particularly towards the close of this period, to wane. First of all, the extension of the bounds of Rome deprived her primary assembly of its true basis. As an assembly of the freeholders of the community, it formerly might very well meet in sufficiently full numbers, and might very well know its own wishes, even without discussion; but the Roman burgess-body had now become less a civic community than a state. The fact that those dwelling together voted also with each other, no doubt, introduced into the Roman comitia, at least when the voting was by tribes, a sort of inward connection and into the voting now and then energy and independence; but under ordinary circumstances the composition of the comitia and their decision were left dependent on the person who presided or on accident, or were committed to the hands of the burgesses domiciled in the capital. It is, therefore, quite easy to understand how the assemblies of the burgesses, which had great practical importance during the first two centuries of the republic, gradually became a mere instrument in the hands of the presiding magistrate, and in truth a very dangerous instrument, because the magistrates called to preside were so numerous, and every resolution of the community was regarded as the ultimate legal expression of the will of the people. But the enlargement of the constitutional rights of the burgesses was not of much moment, inasmuch as these were less than formerly capable of a will and action of their own, and there was as yet no demagogism, in the proper sense of that term, in Rome. Had any such demagogic spirit existed, it would have attempted not to extend the powers of the burgesses, but to remove the restrictions on political debate in their presence; whereas throughout this whole period there was undeviating acquiescence in the old maxims, that the magistrate alone could convoke the burgesses, and that he was entitled to exclude all debate and all proposal of amendments. At the time this incipient breaking up of the constitution made itself felt chiefly in the circumstance that the primary assemblies assumed an essentially passive attitude, and did not on the whole interfere in government either to help or to hinder it.

The Magistrates. Partition And Weakening Of The Consular Powers

As regards the power of the magistrates, its diminution, although not the direct design of the struggles between the old and new burgesses, was doubtless one of their most important results. At the beginning of the struggle between the orders or, in other words, of the strife for the possession of the consular power, the consulate was still the one and indivisible, essentially regal, magistracy; and the consul, like the king in former times, still had the appointment of all subordinate functionaries left to his own free choice. At the termination of that contest its most important functions --jurisdiction, street-police, election of senators and equites, the census and financial administration --were separated from the consulship and transferred to magistrates, who like the consul were nominated by the community and occupied a position far more co-ordinate than subordinate. The consulate, formerly the single ordinary magistracy of the state, was now no longer even absolutely the first. In the new arrangement as to the ranking and usual order of succession of the public offices the consulate stood indeed above the praetorship, aedileship, and quaestorship, but beneath the censorship, which--in addition to the most important financial duties --was charged with the adjustment of the rolls of burgesses, equites, and senators, and thereby wielded a wholly arbitrary moral control over the entire community and every individual burgess, the humblest as well as the most prominent.

From the Abolition of the Monarchy in Rome to the Union of Italy Page 29

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