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p357 Conventus

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on pp357‑358 of

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

CONVENTUS (σύνοδος, συνουσία, or συναγωγή) is properly a name which may be given to any assembly of men who meet for a certain purpose (Paul. Diac. p42, ed. Müller). But when the Romans had reduced foreign countries into the form of provinces, the word conventus assumed a more definite meaning, and was applied to the meetings of the provincials in certain places appointed by the praetor or proconsul for the purpose of administering justice (Cic. in Verr. II.20, 24, 30, IV.29, 48; Cic. ad Fam. XV.4; Horat. Sat. I.7.22; Caes. Bell. Civ. II.21; Hirt. Bell. Afr. 97). In order to facilitate the administration of justice, a province was divided into a number of districts or circuits, each of which was likewise called conventus, forum, or jurisdictio (Cic. in Verr. II.8, 66; Plin. Ep. X.58; Plin. H. N. III.1, IV.22, V.29). Roman citizens living in a province were likewise under the jurisdiction of the proconsul, and accordingly all that had to settle any business at a conventus had to make their appearance there. The towns which had the Jus Italicum, had magistrates of their own with a jurisdictio, from whom there was no doubt an appeal to the proconsul. At certain times of the year, fixed by the proconsul, the people assembled in the chief town of the district. To hold a conventus was expressed by conventus agere, peragere, forum agere, ἀγραίους (sc. ἡμέρας) ἄγειν, &c. p358(Caes. Bell. Gall. I.54, V.1, VIII.46; Act. Apost. xix.38). At such a conventus litigant parties applied to the proconsul, who selected a number of judges from the conventus, generally from among the Romans residing in the province, to try their cases (Cic. in Verr. II.13, &c.; Niebuhr, Hist. Rom. vol. III p732). The proconsul himself presided at the trials, and pronounced the sentence according to the views of the judges, who were his assessors (consilium or consiliarii). As the proconsul had to carry on all official proceedings in the Latin language (Val. Max. II.2.2), he was always attended by an interpreter (Cic. in Verr. III.37, ad Fam. XIII.54). These conventus appear to have been generally held after the proconsul had settled the military affairs of the province; at least when Caesar was proconsul of Gaul he made it a regular practice to hold the conventus after his armies had retired to their winter-quarters. In the time of the emperors certain towns in each province were appointed as the seats of standing courts, so that the conventus were superseded (Cod. Just. I. tit. 40 s6). The term conventus is lastly applied to certain bodies of Roman citizens living in a province, forming a sort of corporation, and representing the Roman people in their district or town; and it was from among these that proconsuls generally took their assistants. Such corporations are repeatedly mentioned, as, for example, at Syracuse (Cic. in Verr. II.13, 29, III.13, IV.25, 31, V.36, &c.), Capua (Caes. De Bell. Civ. I.14; Cic. p. Sext. 4), Salona (Caes. De Bell. Civ. III.9), Puteoli (Cic. in Vat. 5), and Corduba (Caes. De Bell. Civ. II.19; cf. Provincia).


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