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PDF The Consul at Rome: The Civil Functions of the Consuls in the Roman Republic

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Each lictor held a fasces , a bundle of rods that contained an axe. The rods symbolized the power of scourging, and the axe the power of capital punishment [ citation needed ]. When inside the pomerium, the lictors removed the axes from the fasces to show that a citizen could not be executed without a trial.

Upon entering the Comitia Centuriata, the lictors would lower the fasces to show that the powers of the consuls derive from the people populus romanus. Outside the walls of Rome, the powers of the consuls were far more extensive in their role as commanders-in-chief of all Roman legions. It was in this function that the consuls were vested with full imperium.

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When legions were ordered by a decree of the Senate, the consuls conducted the levy in the Campus Martius. Upon entering the army, all soldiers had to take their oath of allegiance to the consuls. The consuls also oversaw the gathering of troops provided by Rome's allies. Within the city a consul could punish and arrest a citizen, but had no power to inflict capital punishment.

When on campaign, however, a consul could inflict any punishment he saw fit on any soldier, officer, citizen, or ally.

The Roman Senate during the Republic

Each consul commanded an army, usually two legions strong, with the help of military tribunes and a quaestor who had financial duties. In the rare case that both consuls marched together, each one held the command for a day respectively. A typical consular army was about 20, men strong and consisted of two citizen and two allied legions. In the early years of the Republic, Rome's enemies were located in central Italy, so campaigns lasted a few months. As Rome's frontiers expanded, in the 2nd century BC, the campaigns became lengthier.

Rome was a warlike society, and very seldom did not wage war. His soldiers expected to return to their homes after the campaign with spoils. If the consul won an overwhelming victory, he was hailed as imperator by his troops, and could request to be granted a triumph. The consul could conduct the campaign as he saw fit, and had unlimited powers. However, after the campaign, he could be prosecuted for his misdeeds for example for abusing the provinces, or wasting public money, as Scipio Africanus was accused by Cato in BC. Abuse of power by consuls was prevented with each consul given the power to veto his colleague.


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Therefore, except in the provinces as commanders-in-chief where each consul's power was supreme, the consuls could only act not against each other's determined will. Against the sentence of one consul, an appeal could be brought before his colleague, which, if successful, would see the sentence overturned. In order to avoid unnecessary conflicts, only one consul would actually perform the office's duties every month and could act without direct interference. In the next month, the consuls would switch roles with one another. This would continue until the end of the consular term.

Another point which acted as a check against consuls was the certainty that after the end of their term they would be called to account for their actions while in office. There were also three other restrictions on consular power. Their term in office was short one year ; their duties were pre-decided by the Senate; and they could not stand again for election immediately after the end of their office.

Usually a period of ten years was expected between consulships. After leaving office, the consuls were assigned by the Senate to a province to administer as governor. The provinces to which each consul was assigned were drawn by lot and determined before the end of his consulship. Transferring his consular imperium to proconsular Imperium, the consul would become a proconsul and governor of one or several of Rome's many provinces.

As a proconsul, his imperium was limited to only a specified province and not the entire Republic. Any exercise of proconsular imperium in any other province was illegal. Also, a proconsul was not allowed to leave his province before his term was complete or before the arrival of his successor. Exceptions were given only on special permission of the Senate.

Most terms as governor lasted between one and five years. In times of crisis, when Rome's territory was in immediate danger, a dictator was appointed by the consuls for a period of no more than six months, after the proposition of the Senate. After Augustus became the first Roman emperor in 27 BC with the establishment of the principate , the consuls lost most of their powers and responsibilities under the Roman Empire. Though still officially the highest office of the state, with the emperor's superior imperium they were merely a symbol of Rome's republican heritage.

One of the two consular positions was often occupied by emperors themselves and eventually became reserved solely for the Emperor. However, the imperial consuls still maintained the right to preside at meetings of the Senate, exercising this right at the pleasure of the Emperor [ citation needed ].

They partially administered justice in extraordinary cases, and presented games in the Circus Maximus and all public solemnities in honor of the Emperor at their own expense.

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After the expiration of their offices, the ex-consuls proconsuls went on to govern one of the provinces that were administered by the Senate. They usually served proconsular terms of three to five years [ citation needed ]. Roman dates were customarily kept according to the names of the two consuls who took office that year, much like a regnal year in a monarchy. For instance, the year 59 BC in the modern calendar was called by the Romans "the consulship of Caesar and Bibulus", since the two colleagues in the consulship were Gaius Julius Caesar and Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus — although Caesar dominated the consulship so thoroughly that year that it was jokingly referred to as "the consulship of Julius and Caesar".

In Latin, the ablative absolute construction is frequently used to express the date, such as " M. Normally, dictators served for 6 months and acted with the consent of the Senate. They were appointed by the consul or a military tribune with consular powers.

Roman consul

The occasions of their appointment included war, sedition, pestilence, and sometimes for religious reasons. Sulla was appointed dictator for an undefined period and was dictator until he stepped down, but Julius Caesar was officially appointed dictator in perpetuo meaning that there was no set end point to his dominance.

Share Flipboard Email. Gill is a freelance classics and ancient history writer. She has a master's degree in linguistics and is a former Latin teacher. Powers of the Consuls:. Consuls held imperium and had the right to 12 lictors each. Each consul could veto the other. Both consuls had to cooperate in order for the government to act. It was mainly the patricians , the wealthy landowning nobles, who got to vote. As a result, the consuls in the early years of the Republic were always patricians.


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Later, however, at least one consul had to come from the plebeian class, the commoners. Before the Republic, the king had been advised by a Senate. Once the monarchy was gone, the Senate took on more power and ruled Rome alongside the two consuls. On the surface, the consuls seemed to hold more power than senators, but they held office for only a year while the senators served for life.

The founders of the Roman Republic, like the American founding fathers, placed checks and balances on the power of their leaders. The Romans, however, came up with a way to sidestep these checks and balances when strong leadership was needed, such as a time of crisis. The Senate could vote to grant absolute power to one man, called a dictator , for a temporary period. During the first years of the Republic, dictators were often called on when Rome faced an invasion or some internal danger. Unlike the dictators of the 20th century—such as Adolf Hitler in Germany or Augusto Pinochet in Chile—the dictatorship was limited to six months or even less if the crisis passed.

If a dictator refused to step down, he could be forcibly removed. The Roman dictator's power was absolute. He could rule by decree. He could even order executions without a trial.

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For centuries, Roman dictators served when duty called and gave up power when their terms ended. But in 82 B. Sulla's dictatorship was not like those of the past. He bypassed the Senate, which was filled with his enemies, and convinced the citizens' assembly to make him a permanent dictator. Sulla then banished or killed hundreds of his opponents. Sulla became what the ancient Greeks called a tyrant , a man who seizes personal control with military power. When he traveled in public, Sulla was always preceded by 24 guards.

Each guard carried an ax bound by a bundle of rods called fasces. This is the origin of the word fascism —the word the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini used to describe his political movement in the early 20th century. After more than three years of tyranny, Sulla suddenly resigned. For the next 30 years, the Roman Republic stumbled along, sometimes in near anarchy.

Spartacus led a massive slave revolt that almost brought down the Republic. During all this turmoil, new feuds and factions emerged. This would be the last generation of the Roman Republic. By 53 B. The annual consul election degenerated into a contest of who could bribe the most voters. Street riots erupted. In a desperate move to restore order, the assembly elected General Gnaeus Pompey to serve as sole consul for a year. Crassus was the general who had defeated Spartacus. And Caesar was the governor and military conqueror of Gaul. This military committee became known as the First Triumvirate.

Caesar used his money and influence to put supporters like Mark Antony into key positions. Caesar's many enemies in Rome spread rumors that he planned to take power. In 49 B. Foes of Caesar spread the word that Caesar was about to invade Italy with his army. The consul Marcellus declared Pompey the defender of the city. The Senate demanded that Caesar give up his provincial command.

Caesar answered by leading his army across the Rubicon River into Italy.