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p843 Orationes Principum

Article by George Long, M.A., Fellow of Trinity College
on p843 of

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

ORATIO′NES PRI′NCIPUM. The Orationes Principum are frequently mentioned by the Roman writers under the Empire; but those which are discussed under this head have reference to legislation only, and were addressed to the Senate. Under the Christian Emperors particularly, these Orationes were only a mode of promulgating Law as constituted by the Emperor; and we have an instance of this even in the reign of Probus ("Leges, quas Probus ederet, Senatusconsultis propriis consecrarent," Prob. Imp. ap. Flav. Vopisc. 13); and in a passage of the Institutes of Justinian (2 tit. 17 s7), the expression "Divi Pertinacis oratione cautum est." Under the earlier Emperors, the Orationes were in the form of propositions for laws addressed to the Senate, who had still in appearance, though not in reality, the legislative power. This second kind of Orationes is often cited by the Classical Jurists, as in the following instance from Gaius (II.285) — "ex oratione Divi Hadriani Senatusconsultum factum est." — "Oratione Divi Marci . . quam S. C. secutum est" (Paulus, Dig. 23 tit. 2 s16).

Many of the Orationes of the Roman emperors, such as are quoted by the Augustae Historiae Scriptores, are merely communications to the Senate; such for instance as the announcement of a victory (Maxim. Duo, a. J. Capitol. 12, 13). These Orationes are sometimes called Litterae or Epistolae by the non-juristical writers; but the juristical writers appear to have generally avoided the use of Epistola in this sense, in order not to confound the Imperial Orationes with the Rescripta which were often called Epistolae. It appears that the Roman jurists used the terms Libellus and Oratio Principis as equivalent, for the passages which have been referred to in support of the opinion that these two words had a different sense (Dig. 5 tit. 3 s20, 22), show that Libellus and Oratio Principis are the same, for the Oratio is here spoken of by both names. These Orationes were sometimes pronounced by the Emperor himself, but apparently they were commonly in the form of a written message, which was read by the Quaestors (Dig. 1 tit. 13): in the passage last referred to, these Imperial messages are called indifferently Libri and Epistolae. Suetonius (Titus, 6) says, that Titus sometimes read his father's orationes in the senate "quaestoris vice." We frequently read of Litterae and Orationes being sent by the Emperor to the Senate (Tacit. Ann. III.52, XVI.7). The mode of proceeding upon the receipt of one of these Orationes may be collected from the preamble of the Senatusconsultum contained in the Digest (5 3). These Orationes were the foundation of the Senatusconsulta which were framed upon them, and the Orationes were drawn up with much regard to detail, they contained in fact the provisions of the subsequent Senatusconsultum. This appears from the fact that the Oratio and the Senatusconsultum are often cited indifferently by the classical jurists, as appears from numerous passages (Dig. 2 tit. 15 s3; 5 tit. 3 s20, 22, 40; 11 tit. 4 s3, &c.). The Oratio is cited as containing the reasons or grounds of the law, and the Senatusconsultum for the particular provisions and words of the law. To the time of Septimius Severus and his son Caracalla, numerous Senatusconsulta, founded on Orationes, are mentioned; and numerous Orationes of these two Emperors are cited. But after this time they seem to have fallen into disuse, and the form of making and promulgating laws by Imperial constitutions was the ordinary mode of legislation.

There has been much discussion on the amount of the influence exercised by the Orationes Principum on the legislation of the Senate. But it seems to be tolerably clear, from the evidence that we have, and from the nature of the case, that the Oratio might either recommend generally some legislative measure, and leave the details of the proposed measure, and so be in substance, though not in form, a Senatusconsultum; and it would become a Senatusconsultum on being adopted by the Senate, which, in the case supposed, would be merely a matter of form. In the case of an Oratio, expressed in more general terms, there is no reason to suppose that the recommendation of the Emperor was less of a command; it was merely a command in more general terms.

(Zimmern, Geschichte des Röm. Privatrechts, I. p79; and Dirksen, Ueber die Reden der Röm. Kaiser und deren Einfluss auf die Gesetzgebung, in Rhein. Mus. für Jurisprudenz, vol. II).


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