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p644 Interrex

Unsigned article on pp644‑645 of

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

INTERREX, INTERREGNUM (called by the Greek writers μεσοβασιλεύς, μεσοβασίλειος ἀρχή, μεσοβασιλεία). The office of Interrex is said to have been instituted on the death of Romulus, p645when the senate wished to share the sovereign power among themselves instead of electing a king. For this purpose, according to Livy (I.17), the senate, which then consisted of one hundred members, was divided into ten decuries; and from each of these decuries one senator was nominated. These together formed a board of ten, with the title of Interreges, each of whom enjoyed in succession the regal power and its badges for five days; and if no king was appointed at the expiration of fifty days, the rotation began anew. The period during which they exercised their power was called an Interregnum. Dionysius (II.57) and Plutarch (Numa, 2) give a different account of the matter; but that of Livy appears the most probable. Niebuhr (Hist. of Rome, vol. I p334, vol. II p111) supposes that the first interreges were exclusively Ramnes, and that they were the Decem Primi, or ten leading senators, of whom the first was chief of the whole senate (cf. Walter, Gesch. des Röm. Rechts, § 21, 2nd ed.).

The interreges agreed among themselves who should be proposed as king (Dionys. IV.40, 80), and if the senate approved of their choice, they summoned the assembly of the curiae, and proposed the person whom they had previously agreed upon; the power of the curiae was confined to accepting or rejecting him. The decree of the curiae, by which they accepted the king, was called jussus populi (Liv. I.22; Cic. de Rep. II.13, 21). After the king had been elected, the curiae conferred the imperium upon him by a special law, lex curiata de imperio (Cic. de Rep. II.13, 17, 18, 20, 21).

Interreges were appointed under the republic for holding the comitia for the election of the consuls, when the consuls, through civil commotions or other causes, had been unable to do so in their year of office (Dionys. VIII.90; Liv. IV.43, &c.). Each held the office for only five days, as under the kings. The comitia were, as a general rule, not held by the first interrex; more usually by the second or third (Liv. IX.7, X.11, V.31); but in one instance we read of an eleventh, and in another of a fourteenth interrex (Liv. VII.22, VIII.23). The comitia for electing the first consuls were held by Sp. Lucretius as interrex (Dionys. IV.84), whom Livy (Liv. I.60) calls also praefectus urbis. The interreges under the republic, at least from B.C. 482, were elected by the senate from the whole body, and were not confined to the decem primi or ten chief senators as under the kings (Dionys. VIII.90). Plebeians, however, were not admissible to this office; and consequently when plebeians were admitted into the senate, the patrician senators met together (coiere) without the plebeian members to elect an interrex (Liv. III.40, IV.7, VI.41; Cic. pro Domo, 14; Niebuhr, vol. II p429; Walter, §§55, 131). For this reason, as well as on account of the influence which the interrex exerted in the election of the magistrates, we find that the tribunes of the plebs were strongly opposed to the appointment of an interrex (Liv. IV.43, XXII.34). The interrex had jurisdictio (Liv. X.41; Niebuhr, vol. III p24).

Interreges continued to be appointed occasionally till the time of the second Punic war (Liv. XXII.33, 34); but after that time we read of no interrex, till the senate, by command of Sulla, created an interrex to hold the comitia for his election as DictatorB.C. 62 (Appian, Bell. Civ. I.98). In B.C. 55 another interrex was appointed to hold the comitia, in which Pompey and Crassus were elected consuls (Dion Cass. XXXIX.27, 31); and we also read of interreges in B.C. 53 and 52, in the latter of which years an interrex held the comitia, in which Pompey was appointed sole consul (Dion Cass. XL.45; Ascon. ad Cic. Mil. init. p32, Orelli; Plut. Pomp. 54; cf. Becker, Handbuch der Römischen Alterthümer, vol. II part I. p295, &c.).

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