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Bill Thayer

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p697 Lex Regia

Article by George Long, M.A., Fellow of Trinity College
on p697 of

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

LEX REGIA, properly LEX DE IMPERIO PRINCIPIS. The nature of the Imperium and the mode of conferring it have been explained under Imperium. Augustus, by virtue of uniting in his own person the Imperium, the Tribunitia Potestas, the Censorian power, and the office of Pontifex, was in fact many magistrates in one; and his title was Princeps. These various powers were conferred on the earliest Principes (emperors) by various leges; but finally the whole of this combined authority was conferred by a Lex Imperii or Lex de Imperio (Dion Cass., LIII.18; his remarks on the power of Augustus, and the notes of Reimarus). By this Lex the Imperial authority, as we may call it, was conferred on the Princeps (cum ipse Imperator per legem Imperium accipiat, Gaius, I.5), and legislative power. By this Lex the Princeps was also made "solutus legibus," that is, many restrictive enactments were declared not to apply to him, either in his private or his magisterial capacity (Dion Cass. LIII.18, 28): for instance, Caligula was released by a Senatusconsultum, which was probably followed by a Lex as a matter of form, from the Lex Julia et Papia ( Dion Cass. LIX.15; cf. Ulpian, Dig. 1 tit. 3 s31). This Lex De Imperio was preceded by a Senatusconsultum (Tacit. Hist.I.47, IV.3, 6). A considerable fragment of the Lex De Imperio Vespasiani is still preserved at Rome (Haubold, Spangenberg, Monum. Legal. p221). It is sometimes incorrectly called a Senatusconsultum, but on the fragment itself it is called a Lex. It is true that a Senatusconsultum preceded the Lex, and the enactment of the Lex was a mere form. This Lex empowers Vespasian to make treaties, to originate Senatusconsulta, to propose persons to the people and the Senate to be elected to magistracies, to extend the Pomoerium, to make constitutions or edicts which should have the force of law, and to be released from the same laws from which Augustus, Tiberius, and Claudius were released; and all that he had done before the enactment of this lex (ante legem rogatam) was to have the same effect as for it had been done by the command of the people.

This Lex de Imperio Principis is several times named Lex Regia under the early emperors. Under the later emperors there is nothing surprising in the name Regia being adopted as a common expression. When the emperor was called Dominus, a title which was given even to Trajan, the Lex de Imperio might well be called Regia. To deny the existence of a Lex de Imperio would show a very imperfect knowledge of the history and constitution of Rome and a want of critical judgment (Puchta, Inst. 1 §88).

Thayer's Note:

The text of the Lex de Imperio Vespasiani is online here (as text), and a sort of mix containing it here (as a photocopy image). A fairly large and readable photograph of the actual tablet is online on a different site.

An English translation can be found here.

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Page updated: 15 Apr 09