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p172 Auctor

Article by George Long, M.A., Fellow of Trinity College
on pp172‑173 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

AUCTOR, a word which contains the same element as aug-co, and signifies generally one who enlarges, confirms, or gives a thing its completeness and efficient form. The numerous technical significations of the word are derivable from this general notion. As he who gives to a thing that which is necessary for its completeness, may in this sense be viewed as the chief actor or doer, the word auctor is also used in the sense of one who originates or proposes a thing; but this cannot be viewed as its primary meaning. Accordingly, the word auctor, when used in connection with lex or senatus consultum, often means him who originates and proposes, as appears from numerous passages (Liv. VI.36; Cic. Pro Dom. c30). When a measure was approved by the senate before it was confirmed by the votes of the people, the senate were said auctores fieri, and this preliminary approval was called senatus auctoritas (Cic. Brutus, c14).

The expressions "patres auctores fiunt," "patres auctores facti," have given rise to much discussion. In the earlier periods of the Roman state, the word "patres" was equivalent to "patricii;" in the later period, when the patricians had lost all importance as a political body, the term patres signified the senate. But the writers of the age of Cicero, when speaking of the early periods, often used the word patres, when they might have used patricii, and thus a confusion arose between the early and the later signification of the word patres.

The expression "patres auctores fiunt" means that the determinations of the populus in the comitia centuriata were confirmed by the patricians in the comitia curiata. To explain this fully, as to the earliest periods, it is necessary to show what the lex curiata de imperio was.

After the comitia curiata had elected a king (creavit), the king proposed to the same body a lex curiata de imperio (Cic. De Rep. II.13, 17, 18, 20). At first it might appear as if there were two elections, for the patricians, that is the populus, first elected the king, and then they had to vote again on the imperium. Cicero (de Leg. Agr. II.11) explains it thus — that the populus had thus an opportunity to reconsider their vote (reprehendendi potestas). But the chief reason was that the imperium was not conferred by the bare election, and it was necessary that the king should have the imperium: consequently there must be a distinct vote upon it. Now Livy says nothing of the lex curiata in his first book, but he uses the expression "patres auctores fierent," "patres auctores facti" (Liv. I.17, 22, 32). In this sense the patres were the "auctores comitiorum", an expression analogous to that in which a tutor is said to be an auctor to his pupillus. In some passages the expression "patricii auctores" is used, which is an additional proof that in the expression "patres auctores," the patrician body is meant, and not the senate, as some have supposed.

Cicero, in the passages quoted, does not use the p173expression "patres auctores fiunt," nor does Livy, in the passages quoted, speak of the lex curiata de imperio. But they speak of the same thing, though they use different expressions. This explains why Dionysius sometimes uses an expression equivalent to "patricii auctores fiunt," for patricii of course means the curiae, and not the senate (Antiq. Rom. II.60, VI.90).

Till the time of Servius Tullius there were only the comitia curiata, which, as already explained, first elected a king, and then by another vote conferred the imperium. The imperium could only be conferred on a determinate person. It was, therefore, necessary to determine first who was to be the person who was capable of receiving the imperium; and thus there were two separate votes of the patres. Servius Tullius established the comitia centuriata, in which the plebs also voted. When his constitution was in full force after the exile of the last Tarquin, the patres had still the privilege of confirming at the comitia curiata the vote of the comitia centuriata, that is, they gave to it the "patrum auctoritas" (Cic. De Repub. II.30); or, in other words, the "patres" were "auctores facti" (Cic. Pro Plancio, c3). That this was the practice under the early Republic, we see from Livy (IX.38, 39).

In the fifth century of the city a change was made. By one of the laws of the plebeian dictator Q. Publilius Philo, it was enacted (Liv. VIII.12) that in the case of leges to be enacted at the comitia centuriata, the patres should be auctores, that is, the curiae should give their assent before the vote of the comitia centuriata. If we take this literally, the comitia curiata might still reject a proposed law by refusing their previous sanction; and this might be so: but it is probable that the previous sanction became a matter of form. By a lex Maenia of uncertain date (Cic. Brutus, c14), the same change was made as to elections, which the Publilia lex had made as to the enacting of leges. This explains the passage of Livy (I.17). Accordingly, after the passing of the lex Maenia, the "patrum auctoritas was distinct from the lex curiata de imperio, while, before the passing of the lex Maenia, they were the same thing. Thus the lex Maenia made the lex curiata de imperio a mere form, for the imperium could not be refused, and so in the later Republic, in order to keep up a shadow of a substance, thirty lictors exhibited the ceremony of holding the curiata comitia; and the auctoritas patrum, which was the assent of the senate, appears as the mode in which the confirmation of the people's choice, and the conferring of the imperium, were both included.

This explanation which is founded on that of Becker (Handbuch der Röm. Alterthümer), and appears to be what he understands by the phrase "patres auctores," is at least more consistent with all the authorities than any other that has been proposed.

In the imperial time, auctor is often said of the emperor (princeps) who recommended any thing to the senate, and on which recommendation that body passed a senatus-consultum (Gaius, I.30, 80; Suet. Vesp. 11).

When the word auctor is applied to him who recommends, but does not originate a legislative measure, it is equivalent to suasor (Cic. ad Att. I.19; Brutus, c2527). Sometimes both auctor and suasor are used in the same sentence, and the meaning of each is kept distinct (Cic. Off. III.30).

With reference to dealings between individuals, auctor has the sense of owner (Cic. Pro Caecin. 10), and is defined thus (Dig. 50 tit. 17 s175): Auctor meus a quo jus in me transit. In this sense auctor is the seller (venditor), as opposed to the buyer (emtor): the person who joined the seller in a warranty, or as security, was called auctor secundus, as opposed to the seller or auctor primus (Dig. 19 tit. 1 s4, 21; tit. 2 s4, 51). The phrase a malo auctore emere (Cic. Verr. 5 c22); auctorem laudare (Gell. II.6)º will thus be intelligible. The testator, with respect to his heir, might be called auctor (ex Corp. Hermogen. Cod. tit. 11).

Consistently with the meanings of auctor as already explained, the notion of consenting, approving, and giving validity to a measure affecting a person's status clearly appears in the following passage (Cic. Pro Dom. c29).

Auctor is also used generally to express any person under whose authority any legal act is done. In this sense, it means a tutor who is appointed to aid or advise a woman on account of the infirmity of her sex (Liv. XXXIV.2; Cic. Pro Caecin. c25; Gaius, I.10, 195): it is also applied to a tutor whose business it is to approve of certain acts on behalf of a ward (pupillus) (Paulus, Dig. 26 tit. 8 s3).

The term auctores juris is equivalent to jurisperiti (Dig. 1 tit. 2 s2 § 13; Gellius, II. c10): and the law writers or leaders of particular schools of law were called scholae auctores. It is unnecessary to trace the other significations of this word.


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