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p1016 Senatus

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on pp1016‑1022 of

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

SENATUS. In all the republics of antiquity the government was divided between a senate and a popular assembly; and in cases where a king stood at the head of affairs, as at Sparta, the king had little more than the executive. A senate in the early times was always regarded as an assembly of elders, which is in fact the meaning of the Roman senatus as of the Spartan γερουσία, and its members were elected from among the nobles of the nation. The number of senators in the ancient republics always bore a distinct relation to the number of tribes of which the nation was composed. [Boule, Gerusia.] Hence in the earliest times, when Rome consisted only of one tribe, its senate consisted of one hundred members (senatores or patres; compare Patricii), and when the Sabine tribes or the Tities became united with the Latin tribe or the Ramnes, the number of senators was increased to two hundred (Dionys. II.47; Plut. Rom. 20). This number was again augmented by one hundred, when the third tribe or the Luceres became incorporated with the Roman state. Dionysius (III.67) and Livy (I.35) place this last event in the reign of Tarquinius Priscus; Cicero (de Re Publ. II.20), who agrees with the two historians on this point, states that Tarquinius doubled the number of senators, according to which we ought to suppose that before Tarquinius the senate consisted only of 150 members. This difference however may be accounted for by the supposition, that at the time of Tarquinius Priscus a number of seats in the senate had become vacant, which he filled up at the same time that he added 100 Luceres to the senate, or else that Cicero regarded the Luceres, in opposition to the two other tribes, as a second or new half of the nation, and thus incorrectly considered their senators likewise as the second or new half of that body. The new senators added by Tarquinius Priscus were distinguished from those belonging to the two older tribes by the appellation patres minorum gentium, as previously those who represented the Tities had been distinguished, by the same name, from those who represented the Ramnes (Dionys. II.57). Servius Tullius did not make any change in the composition of the senate; but under Tarquinius Superbus their number is said to have become very much diminished, as this tyrant put many to death and sent others into exile. This account however appears to be greatly exaggerated, and it is a probable supposition of Niebuhr, (Hist. of Rome, I. p526), that several vacancies in the senate arose from many of the senators accompanying the tyrant into his exile. The vacancies which had thus arisen were filled up immediately after the establishment of the republic, by L. Junius Brutus, as some writers state (Liv. I.11), or, according to Dionysius (V.13), by Brutus and Valerius Publicola, and according to Plutarch (Publ. 11) and Festus (s.v. Qui patres) by Valerius Publicola alone. All however agree that the persons who were on this occasion made senators were noble plebeians of equestrian rank. Dionysius states, that the noblest of the plebeians were first raised to the rank of patricians, and that then the new senators were taken from among them. But this appears to be incompatible with the name by which they were designated. Had they been made patricians, they would have been patres like the others, whereas now the new senators are said to have been distinguished from the old by the name of conscripti (Liv. II.1; Festus, s.v. Conscripti and adlecti). Hence the customary mode of addressing the whole senate henceforth always was: patres conscripti, that is, patres et conscripti. There is a statement that the number of these new senators was 164 (Plut. Publ. 11; Festus, s.v. Qui patres); but this, as Niebuhr has justly remarked, is a fabrication, perhaps of Valerius of Antium, which is contradicted by all subsequent history.

Henceforth the number of 300 senators appears to have remained unaltered for several centuries (Liv. Epit. 60). C. Sempronius Gracchus was the first who attempted to make a change, but in what this consisted is not certain. In the epitome of Livy it is expressly stated, that he intended to add 600 equites to the number of 300 senators, which would have made a senate of 900 members, and would have given a great preponderance to the equites. This appears to be an absurdity (Göttling, Gesch. d. Röm. Staatsv. p437). Plutarch (C. p1017Gracch. 5, &c.) states, that Gracchus added to the senate 300 equites, whom he was allowed to select from the whole body of equites, and that he transferred the judicia to this new senate of 600. This account seems to be founded upon a confusion of the lex judiciaria of C. Gracchus with the later one of Livius Drusus (Walter, Gesch. d. Röm. Rechts, p244), and all the other writers who mention the lex judiciaria of C. Gracchus do not allude to any change or increase in the number of senators, but merely state that he transferred the judicia from the senate to the equites, who remained in their possession till the tribuneship of Livius Drusus. The latter proposed, that as the senate consisted of 300, an equal number of equites should be elected (ἀριστίνδην) into the senate, and that in future the judices should be taken from this senate of 600 (Appian. B. C. I.35; Aurel. Vict. de Vir. Illustr. 66; Liv. Epit. 71). After the death of Livius Drusus, however, this law was abolished by the senate itself, on whose behalf it had been proposed, and the senate now again consisted of 300 members. During the civil war between Marius and Sulla many vacancies must have occurred in the senate. Sulla in his dictatorship not only filled up these vacancies, but increased the number of senators. All we know of this increase with certainty is, that he caused about 300 of the most distinguished equites to be elected into the senate (Appian. B. C. I.100), but the real increase which he made to the number of senators is not mentioned anywhere. It appears, however, henceforth to have consisted of between five and six hundred (Cic. ad Att. I.14). Julius Caesar augmented the number to 900, and raised to this dignity even common soldiers, freedmen, and peregrini (Dion Cass. XLIII.47; Suet. Caes. 80). This arbitrariness in electing unworthy persons into the senate, and of extending its number at random, was imitated after the death of Caesar, for on one occasion there were more than one thousand senators (Suet. Aug. 35). Augustus cleared the senate of the unworthy members, who were contemptuously called by the people Orcini senatores, reduced its number to 600 (Dion Cass. LIV.14), and ordained that a list of the senators should always be exhibited to public inspection (Dion Cass. LV.3). During the first centuries of the empire, this number appears, on the whole, to have remained the same; but as everything depended upon the will of the emperor, we can scarcely expect to find a regular and fixed number of them (Dion Cass. LIII.17). During the latter period of the empire their number was again very much diminished.

With respect to the eligibility of persons for the senate, as well as to the manner in which they were elected, we must distinguish between the several periods of Roman history. It was formerly a common opinion, founded upon Livy (Liv. I.8) and Festus (s.v. Praeteriti senatores), which has in modern times found new supporters in Huschke and Rubino, that in the early period of Roman history the kings appointed the members of the senate at their own discretion. Niebuhr and others after him have attempted to show that the populus of Rome was the real sovereign, that all the powers that the kings possessed were delegated to them by the populus, and that the senate was an assembly formed on the principle of representation, so that it represented the populus, and that its members were elected by the populus. Dionysius (II.14) also states that the senators were elected by the populus, but the manner in which he describes the election is erroneous, for he believes that the three tribes were already united when the senate consisted of only one hundred members, and that the senators were elected by the curies. Niebuhr (I. p338) thinks, that each gens sent its decurio, who was its alderman, to represent it in the senate; Göttling (p151, comp. p62) on the other hand believes, with somewhat more probability, that each decury (the δεκάς of Dionysius), which contained either a part of one or parts of several smaller gentes, had to appoint one old man by whom it was represented in the senate, and a younger one as eques. This supposition removes the difficulty respecting the decurio, which has been pointed out by Walter (Gesch. d. Röm. Rechts, p23, n12); for the decurio was the commander of a division of the army, and as such could not well have been of the age of a senator. As, according to this theory, each cury was represented by ten, each tribe by one hundred, and the whole populus by three hundred senators, all of whom held their dignity for life. But this theory cannot be accepted, for we must either set nearly all the ancient authorities at defiance, or we must acquiesce in the old opinion that the king appointed the senators. The plebeians as such were not represented in the senate, for the instances in which the plebeians are mentioned as being made senators, as in the reign of Tarquinius Priscus and after the abolition of the kingly power, cannot be regarded in any other light than mere momentary measures, which the government was obliged to accept to adopt for several reasons, and without any intention to appoint representatives of the plebes (Niebuhr, I. p526, &c.). The numbers of such plebeian senators at any rate must have been much smaller than they are stated by our authorities, for there is no instance of any plebeian senator on record until the year 439 B.C., when Spurius Maelius is mentioned as senator. The senate itself appears to have had some influence on the election of new members, inasmuch as it might raise objections against a person elected (Dionys. VII.55). The whole senate was divided into decuries, each of which corresponded to a curia. When the senate consisted of only one hundred members, there were accordingly only ten decuries of senators; and ten senators, one being taken from each decury, formed the decem primi who represented the ten curies. When subsequently the representatives of the two other tribes were admitted into the senate, the Ramnes with their decem primi retained for a time their superiority over the two other tribes (Dionys. II.58, III.1; Plut. Num. 3), and gave their votes first (Dionys. VI.84). The first among the decem primi was the princeps senatus, who was appointed by the king (Dionys. II.12; Lyd. de Mens. I.19), and was at the same time custos urbis. [Praefectus Urbi.] Respecting the age at which a person might be elected into the senate during the kingly period, we know no more than what is indicated by the name senator itself, that is, that they were persons of advanced age (cf. Becker, Röm. Alterth. vol. II. pt. II p385, &c.).

On the establishment of the republic the election of senators passed from the hands of the p1018kings into those of the magistrates, the consuls, consular tribunes, and subsequently the censors (Liv. II.1; Festus, s.v. Praeteriti senatores). But the power of electing senators possessed by the republican magistrates was by no means an arbitrary power, for the senators were always taken from among those who were equites, or whom the people had previously invested with a magistracy, so that in reality the people themselves always nominated the candidates for the senate. From the year 487 B.C. the princeps senatus was no longer appointed for life, but became a magistrate appointed by the curies, and the patres minorum gentium were likewise eligible to this dignity (Niebuhr, II. p119). It moreover appears, that all the curule magistrates from the quaestors upwards had by virtue of their office a seat in the senate, which they retained after the year of their office was over, and it was from these ex-magistrates that the vacancies occurring in the senate were generally filled up.

After the institution of the censorship, the censors alone had the right to elect new members into the senate from among the ex-magistrates, and to exclude such as they deemed unworthy (Zonar. VII.19; cf. Cic. de Leg. III.12). [Censor.] The exclusion was effected by simply passing over the names and not entering them into the lists of senators, whence such men were called praeteriti senatores (Fest. s.v.). On one extraordinary occasion the eldest among the ex-censors was invested with dictatorial power to elect new members into the senate (Liv. XXIII.22). The censors were thus, on the one hand, confined in their elections to such persons as had already received the confidence of the people, and on the other, they were expressly directed by the lex Ovinia tribunicia to elect "ex omni ordine optimum quemque curiatim" (Fest. l.c.). This obscure lex Ovinia is referred to by Niebuhr (I. p527) to the time anterior to the admission of the conscripti into the senate, but it evidently belongs to a much later period, and was meant to be a guidance to the censors, as he himself afterwards acknowledged (II. p408, n855; cf. Walter, p100, n68). The ordo mentioned in this lex is the ordo senatorius, i.e. men who were eligible for the senate from the office they had held (Liv. XXII.49). The expression curiatim is very difficult to explain; some believe that it refers to the fact that the new senators were only appointed with the sanction of the senate itself (Dionys. VII.55; Cic. Philip. V.17), and in the presence of the lictors, who represented the curies.

From the time that the curule magistrates had the right to take their seats in the senate, we must distinguish between two classes of senators, viz., real senators, or such as had been regularly raised to their dignity by the magistrates or the censors, and such as had, by virtue of the office which they held or had held, a right to take their seats in the senate and to speak (sententiam dicere, jus sententiae), but not to vote (Gellius, III.18; Festus, s.v.  Senatores). To this ordo senatorius also belonged the pontifex maximus and the flamen dialis. The whole of these senators had, as we have stated, no right to vote, but when the others had voted, they might step over to join the one or the other party, whence they were called senatores pedarii, an appellation which had in former times been applied to those juniores who were not consulars (Gell. l.c.; cf. Niebuhr, II. p114; Walter, p144, and more especially Becker, l.c. p431, &c.; F. Hofmann, Der Röm. Senat, p19, &c.). A singular irregularity in electing members of the senate was committed by Appius Claudius Caecus, who elected into the senate sons of freedmen (Liv. IX.29, 46; Aur. Vict. de Vir. Illustr. 34); but this conduct was declared illegal, and had no further consequences.

When at length all the state offices had become equally accessible to the plebeians and the patricians, and when the majority of offices were held by the former, their number in the senate naturally increased in proportion. The senate had gradually become an assembly representing the people, as formerly it had represented the populus, and down to the last century of the republic the senatorial dignity was only regarded as one conferred by the people (Cic. pro Sext. 65, de Leg. III.12, c. Verr. IV.11, pro Cluent. 56). But notwithstanding this apparently popular character of the senate, it was never a popular or democratic assembly, for now its members belonged to the nobiles, who were as aristocratic as the patricians. [Nobiles.] The office of princeps senatus, which had become independent of that of praetor urbanus, was now given by the censors, and at first always to the eldest among the ex-censors (Liv. XXVII.11), but afterwards to any other senator whom they thought most worthy, and unless there was any charge to be made against him, he was re-elected at the next lustrum. The distinction, however, great as it was, afforded neither power nor advantages (Zonar. VII.19), and did not even confer the privilege of presiding at the meetings of the senate, which only belonged to those magistrates who had the right to convoke the senate (Gell. XIV.7; Cic. de Leg. III.4).

It has been supposed by Niebuhr (III. p406), that a senatorial census existed at Rome at the commencement of the second Punic war, but the words of Livy (XXIV.11) on which this supposition is founded seem to be too vague to admit of such an inference. Göttling (p346) infers from Cicero (ad Fam. XIII.5), that Caesar was the first who instituted a senatorial census, but the passage of Cicero is still more inconclusive than that of Livy, and we may safely take it for granted that during the whole of the republican period no such census existed (Plin. H. N. XIV.1), although senators naturally always belonged to the wealthiest classes. The institution of a census for senators belongs altogether to the time of the empire. Augustus first fixed it at 400,000 sesterces, afterwards increased it to double this sum, and at last even to 1,200,000 sesterces. Those senators whose property did not amount to this sum, received grants from the emperor to make it up (Suet. Aug. 41; Dion Cass. LIV.17, 26, 30, LV.13). Subsequently it seems to have become customary to remove from the senate those who had lost their property through their own prodigality and vices, if they did not quit it of their own accord (Tacit. Annal. II.48, XII.52; Suet. Tib. 47). Augustus also, after having cleared the senate of unworthy members, introduced a new and reanimating element into it by admitting men from the municipia, the colonies, and even from the provinces (Tacit. Annal. III.55, XI.25; Suet. Vesp. 9). When an inhabitant of a province was honoured in this manner, the province was said to receive the jus p1019senatus. Provincials who were made senators of course went to reside at Rome, and with the exception of such as belonged to Sicily or to Gallia Narbonensis, they were not allowed to visit their native countries without a special permission of the emperor (Tacit. Annal. XII.23; Dion Cass. LII.46, LX.25). In order to make Rome or Italy their new home, the provincial candidates for the senate were subsequently always expected to acquire landed property in Italy (Plin. Epist. VI.19). On the whole, however, the equites remained during the first centuries of the empire the seminarium senatus, which they had also been in the latter period of the republic.

As regards the age at which a person might become a senator, we have no express statement for the time of the republic, although it appears to have been fixed by some custom or law, as the aetas senatoria is frequently mentioned, especially during the latter period of the republic. But we may by induction discover the probable age. We know that according to the lex annalis of the tribune Villius, the age fixed for the quaestorship was 31 (Orelli, Onom. Tull. vol. III p133). Now as it might happen that a quaestor was made a senator immediately after the expiration of his office, we may presume that the earliest age at which a man could become a senator was 32. Augustus at last fixed the senatorial age at 25 (Dion Cass. LII.20), which appears to have remained unaltered throughout the time of the empire.

No senator was allowed to carry on any mercantile business. About the commencement of the second Punic war, some senators appear to have violated this law or custom, and in order to prevent its recurrence a law was passed with the vehement opposition of the senate, that none of its members should be permitted to possess a ship of more than 300 amphorae in tonnage, as this was thought sufficiently large to convey to Rome the produce of their estates abroad (Liv. XXI.63). It is clear however from Cicero (c. Verr. V.18), that this law was frequently violated.

Regular meetings of the senate (senatus legitimus) took place during the republic, and probably during the kingly period also, on the calends, nones, and ides of every month (Cic. ad Q. Frat. II.13); extraordinary meetings (senatus indictus) might be convoked on any other day, with the exception of those which were atri, and those on which comitia were held (Cic. ad Q. Frat. II.2). The right of convoking the senate during the kingly period belonged to the king, or to his vicegerent, the custos urbis (Dionys. II.8; Praefectus Urbi). This right was during the republic transferred to the curule magistrates, and at last to the tribunes also. Under the empire the consuls, praetors, and tribunes continued to enjoy the same privilege (Dion Cass. LVI.47, LIX.24; Tacit. Hist. IV.39), although the emperors also had it (Dion Cass. LIII.1, LIV.3). If a senator did not appear on a day of meeting, he was liable to a fine for which a pledge was taken (pignoris captio) until it was paid (Gellius, XIV.7; Liv. III.28; Cic. de Leg. III.4, Philip. I.5; Plut. Cic. 43 ). Under the empire the penalty for not appearing without sufficient reason was increased (Dion Cass. LIV.18, LV.3, LX.11). Towards the end of the republic it was decreed, that during the whole month of February the senate should give audience to foreign ambassadors on all days on which the senate could lawfully meet, and that no other matters should be discussed until these affairs were settled (Cic. ad Q. Frat. II.13, ad Fam. I.4).

The places where the meetings of the senate were held (curiae, senacula) were always inaugurated by the augurs. [Templum.] The most ancient place was the Curia Hostilia, in which alone originally a senatusconsultum could be made. Afterwards however several temples were used for this purpose, such as the temple of Concordia, a place near the temple of Bellona [Legatus], and one near the porta Capena (Festus, s.v. Senacula; Varro, de Ling. Lat. V.155, 156). Under the emperors the senate also met in other places: under Caesar the curia Julia, a building of immense splendour, was commenced; but subsequently meetings of the senate were not unfrequently held in the house of a consul.

When in the earliest times the king or the custos urbis, after consulting the pleasure of the gods by auspices, had convoked the senate (senatum edicere, convocare), he opened the session with the words: "Quod bonum, faustum, felix fortunatumque sit populo Romano Quiritibus," and then laid before the assembly (referre, relatio) what he had to propose. The president then called upon the members to discuss the matter, and when the discussion was over, every member gave his vote. The majority of votes always decided a question. The majority was ascertained either by numeratio or by discessio, that is, the president either counted the votes (Festus, s.v. Numera), or the members who voted on the same side joined together, and thus separated from those who voted otherwise. This latter method of voting appears in later times to have been the usual one, and according to Capito (ap. Gell. XIV.7), the only legitimate method. [Senatusconsultum.]

The subjects laid before the senate partly belonged to the internal affairs of the state, partly to legislation, and partly to finance; and no measure could be brought before the populus without having previously been discussed and prepared by the senate. The senate was thus the medium through which all affairs of the whole government had to pass: it considered and discussed whatever measures the king thought proper to introduce, and had, on the other hand, a perfect control over the assembly of the populus, which could only accept or reject what the senate brought before it. When a king died, the royal dignity, until a successor was elected, was transferred to the decem primi (Liv. I.17), each of whom in rotation held the dignity for five days. The candidate for the royal power was first decided upon by the interreges, who then proposed him to the whole senate, and if the senate agreed with the election, the interrex of the day, at the command of the senate, proposed the candidate to the comitia and took their votes respecting him (Dionys. II.58, III.36, IV.40, 80; cf. Walter, p25, n28). The will of the gods was then consulted by the augurs, and when the gods too sanctioned the election (Liv. I.18), a second meeting of the populus was held, in which the augurs announced the sanction of the gods. Hereupon the king was invested with the powers belonging to his office.

Under the republic the right of convoking the senate was at first only possessed by the dictators, praetors or consuls, interreges, and the praefectus urbi, who also, like the kings of former times, laid p1020before the senate the subjects for deliberation. The power of the senate was at first the same as under the kings, if not greater: it had the general care of the public welfare, the superintendence of all matters of religion, the management of all affairs with foreign nations; it commanded the levies of troops, regulated the taxes and duties, and had in short the supreme control of all the revenue and expenditure. The order in which the senators spoke and voted was determined by their rank as belonging to the majores or minores (Cic. de Re Publ. II.20; Dionys. VI.69, VII.47). This distinction of rank however appears to have ceased after the decemvirate, and even under the decemvirate we have instances of the senators speaking without any regular order (Dionys. VI.4, 16, 19, 21; Liv. III.39, 41). It is also probable that after the decemvirate vacancies in the senate were generally filled with ex-magistrates, which had now become more practicable as the number of magistrates had been increased. The tribunes of the people likewise obtained access to the deliberations of the senate (Liv. III.69, VI.1); but they had no seats in it yet, but sat before the opened doors of the curia (Val. Max. II.2 §7). The senate had at first had the right to propose to the comitia the candidates for magistracies, but this right was now lost: the comitia centuriata had become quite free in regard to elections and were no longer dependent upon the proposal of the senate. The curies only still possessed the right to sanction the election; but in the year B.C. 299 they were compelled to sanction any election of magistrates which the comitia might make, before it took place (Cic. Brut. 14; Aurel. Vict. de Vir. Illustr. 33), and this soon after became law by the lex Maenia (Orelli, Onom. Tull. vol. III p215). When at last the curies no longer assembled for this empty show of power, the senate stept into their place, and henceforth in elections, and soon after also in matters of legislation the senate had previously to sanction whatever the comitia might decide (Liv. I.17). After the lex Hortensia a decree of the comitia tributa became law even without the sanction of the senate. The original state of things had thus gradually become reversed, and the senate had lost very important branches of its power, which had all been gained by the comitia tributa. [Tribunus Plebis.] In its relation to the comitia centuriata, however, the ancient rules were still in force, as laws, declarations of war, conclusions of peace, treaties, &c. were brought before them and decided by them on the proposal of the senate (Walter, p132).

The powers of the senate after both orders were placed upon a perfect equality may be thus briefly summed up. The senate continued to have the supreme superintendence in all matters of religion (Gellius, XIV.7); it determined upon the manner in which a war was to be conducted, what legions were to be placed at the disposal of a commander, and whether new ones were to be levied; it decreed into what provinces the consuls and praetors were to be sent [Provincia], and whose imperium was to be prolonged. The commissioners who were generally sent out to settle the administration of a newly conquered country, were always appointed by the senate (Liv. XLV.17; Appian. de Reb. Hisp. 99, de Reb. Pun. 135; Sallust. Jug. 16). All embassies for the conclusion of peace or treaties with foreign states were sent out by the senate, and such ambassadors were generally senators themselves and ten in number (Polyb. VI.13; Liv. passim). The senate alone carried on the negotiations with foreign ambassadors (Polyb. l.c.; Cic. c. Vatin. 15), and received the complaints of subject or allied nations, who always regarded the senate as their common protector (Liv. XXIX.16, XXXIX.3, XLII.14, XLIII.2; Polyb. l.c.). By virtue of this office of protector it also settled all disputes which might arise among the municipia and colonies of Italy (Dionys. II.1; Liv. IX.20; Varro, de Re Rust. III.2; Cic. ad Att. IV.15, de Off. I.10), and punished all heavy crimes committed in Italy, which might endanger the public peace and security (Polyb. l.c.). Even in Rome itself the judices to whom the praetor referred important cases, but public and private, were taken from among the senators (Polyb. VI.17), and in extraordinary cases the senate appointed especial commissions to investigate them (Liv. XXXVIII.54, XXXIX.14, XL.37, 44, &c.); but such a commission, if the case in question was a capital offence committed by a citizen, required the sanction of the people (Polyb. VI.16; Liv. XXVI.33, &c.). When the republic was in danger the senate might confer unlimited power of the magistrates by the formula, "videant consules, ne quid respublica detrimenti capiat" (Sallust, Cat. 29; Caes. B. C. I.5, 7), which was equivalent to a declaration of martial law within the city. This general care for the internal and external welfare of the republic included, as before, the right to dispose over the finances requisite for these purposes. Hence all the revenue and expenditure of the republic were under the direct administration of the senate, and the censors and quaestors were only its ministers or agents. [Censor; Quaestor.] All the expenses necessary for the maintenance of the armies required the sanction of the senate, before anything could be done, and it might even prevent the triumph of a returning general, by refusing to assign the money necessary for it (Polyb. VI.15). There are, however, instances of a general triumphing without the consent of the senate (Liv. III.63, VII.17, IX.37).

How many members were required to be present in order to constitute a legal meeting is uncertain, though it appears that there existed some regulations on this point (Liv. XXXVIII.44, XXXIX.4; Cic. ad Fam. VIII.5; Festus, s.v. Numera), and there is one instance on record, in which at least one hundred senators were required to be present (Liv. XXXIX.18). The presiding magistrate opened the business, and as the senators sat in the following order, — princeps senatus, consulares, censorii, praetorii, aedilicii, tribunicii, quaestorii, — it is natural to suppose, that they were asked their opinion and voted in the same order (Suo loco sententiam dicere, Cic. Philip. V.17, XIII.13, &c., ad Att. XII.21). Towards the end of the republic the order in which the question was put to the senators, appears to have depended upon the discretion of the presiding consul (Varro, ap. Gell. XIV.7), who called upon each member by pronouncing his name (nominatim, Cic. c. Verr. IV.64), but he usually began with the princeps senatus (Cic. pro Sext. 32), or if consules designati were present, with them (Sallust, Cat. 50; Appian, B. C. II.5). The consul generally observed all the year round the same order in which he had commenced on the first of January (Suet. Caes. 21). A p1021senator when called upon to speak might do so at full length, and even introduce subjects not directly connected with the point at issue (Cic. de Leg. III.18; Gellius, IV.10; Tacit. Ann. II.38, XIII.39; cf. Cic. Philip. VII). It depended upon the president which of the opinions expressed he would put to the vote, and which he would pass over (Polyb. XXXIII.1; Cic. ad Fam. I.2, X.12; Caes. B. C. I.2). Those men who were not yet real members, but had only a seat in the senate on account of the office they held, or had held, had no right to vote (Gellius, XIII.8). When a Senatusconsultum was passed, the consuls ordered it to be written down by a clerk in the presence of some senators, especially of those who had been most interested in it or most active in bringing it about ( Polyb. VI.12; Cic. de Orat. III.2, ad Fam. VIII.8). [Senatusconsultum.] A meeting of the senate was not allowed to be held before sunrise or to be prolonged after sunset (Varro, ap. Gell. l.c.): on extraordinary emergencies, however, this regulation was set aside (Dionys. III.17; Macrob. Sat. I.4).

During the latter part of the republic the senate was degraded in various ways by Sulla, Caesar, and others, and on many occasions it was only an instrument in the hands of the men in power. In this way it became prepared for the despotic government of the emperors, when it was altogether the creature and obedient instrument of the princeps. The emperor himself was generally also princeps senatus (Dion Cass. LIII.1, LVII.8, LXXIII.5), and had the power of convoking both ordinary and extraordinary meetings (Dion Cass. LIV.3; Lex de imperio Vespas.), although the consuls, praetors, and tribunes, continued to have the same right (Tac. Hist. IV.39; Dion Cass. LVI.47, LIX.24, LX.16, &c.). The ordinary meetings according to a regulation of Augustus were held twice in every month (Suet. Aug. 35; Dion Cass. LV.3). A full assembly required the presence of at least 400 members, but Augustus himself afterwards modified this rule according to the difference and importance of the subjects which might be brought under discussion (Dion Cass. LIV.35, LV.3). At a later period we find that seventy or even fewer senators constituted an assembly (Lamprid. Al. Sever. 16). The regular president in the assembly was a consul, or the emperor himself, if he was invested with the consulship (Plin. Epist. II.11, Panegyr. 76). At extraordinary meetings, the person who convoked the senate was at the same time its president. The emperor, however, even when he did not preside, had by virtue of his office of tribune, the right to introduce any subject for discussion, and to make the senate decide upon it (Dion Cass. LIII.32; Lex de imperio Vespas.). At a later period this right was expressly and in proper form conferred upon the emperor under the name of jus relationis, and accordingly as he obtained the right to introduce three or more subjects, the jus was called jus tertiae, quartae, quintae, &c. relationis (Vopisc. Prob. 12; J. Capitol. Pertin. 5, M. Antonin. 6; Lamprid. Al. Sev. 1). The emperor introduced his proposals to the senate in writing (oratio, libellus, epistola principis), which was read in the senate by one of his quaestors (Dion Cass. LIV.25, LX.2; Suet. Aug. 65, Tit. 6; Tac. Annal. XVI.27; Dig. 1 tit. 13 s1 §§2 and 4). [Orationes Principum.] The praetors, that they might not be inferior to the tribunes, likewise received the jus relationis (Dion Cass. LV.3). The mode of conducting the business, and the order in which the senators were called upon to vote, remained on the whole the same as under the republic (Plin. Epist. VIII.14, IX.13); but when magistrates were to be elected, the senate, as in former times the comitia, gave their votes in secret with little tablets (Plin. Epist. III.20, XI.5). The transactions of the senate were from the time of Caesar registered by clerks appointed for the purpose, under the superintendence of a senator (Suet. Caes. 20, Aug. 36; Tacit. Annal. V.4, &c.; Spart. Hadrian, 3; Dion Cass. LXXVIII.22). In cases which required secrecy (senatusconsultum tacitum), the senators themselves officiated as clerks (Capitol. Gord. 12).ºa

As the Roman emperor concentrated in his own person all the powers which had formerly been possessed by the several magistrates, and without limitation or responsibility, it is clear that the senate in its administrative powers was dependent upon the emperor, who might avail himself of its counsels or not, just as he pleased. In the reign of Tiberius the election of magistrates was transferred from the people to the senate (Vell. Pat. II.124; Tacit. Annal. I.15; Plin. Epist. III.20, VI.19), which, however, was enjoined to take especial notice of those candidates who were recommended to it by the emperor. This regulation remained, with a short interruption in the reign of Caligula, down to the third century, when we find that the princeps alone exercised the right of appointing magistrates (Dig. 48 tit. 14 s1). At the demise of an emperor the senate had the right to appoint his successor, in case no one had been nominated by the emperor himself; but the senate had in very rare cases an opportunity to exercise this right, as it was usurped by the soldiers. The aerarium at first still continued nominally to be under the control of the senate (Dion Cass. LIII.16, 22), but the emperors gradually took it under their own exclusive management (Dion Cass. LXXI.33; Vopisc. Aurel. 9, 12, 20), and the senate retained nothing but the administration of the funds of the city (arca publica), which were distinct both from the aerarium and from the fiscus (Vopisc. Aurel. 2045), and the right of giving its opinion upon cases connected with the fiscal law (Dig.49 tit. 14 s15 and 42). Its right of coining money was limited by Augustus to copper coins, and ceased altogether in the reign of Gallienus (Eckhel, D. N. Proleg. c13). Augustus ordained that no accusations should any longer be brought before the comitia (Dion Cass. LVI.40), and instead of them he raised the senate to a high court of justice, upon which he conferred the right of taking cognizance of capital offences committed by senators (Dion Cass. LII.31, &c.; Suet. Calig. 2; Tacit. Annal. XIII.44; Capitol. M. Antonin. 10), of crimes against the state and the person of the emperors (Dion Cass. LII.15, 17, 22, LX.16, LXXVI.8; Suet. Aug. 66; Tacit. Annal. III.49, &c.), and of crimes committed by the provincial magistrates in the administration of their provinces. The senate might also receive appeals from other courts (Suet. Nero, 17; Tacit. Annal. XIV.28; Capitol. M. Antonin. 10; Vopisc. Prob. 13), whereas, at least from the time of Hadrian, there was no appeal from a sentence of the senate (Dion Cass. LIX.18; Dig.49 tit. 2 s1 § 2). The princeps sometimes referred cases which were not contained p1022in the above categories, or which he might have decided himself, to the senate, or required its co-operation (Suet. Claud. 14, 15, Nero, 15, Domit. 8, &c.). Respecting the provinces of the senate see Provincia.

When Constantinople was made the second capital of the empire, Constantine instituted also a second senate in this city (Sozomen, II.3; Excerpt. de gest. Const. 30), upon which Julian conferred all the privileges of the senate of Rome (Zosim. III.11; Liban. Orat. ad Theodos. II. p383, ed. Morell.). Both these senates were still sometimes consulted by the emperors in an oratio upon matters of legislation (Cod. Theod. 6 tit. 2 s14; Symmach. Epist. X.2.28; Cod. 1 tit. 14 s3): the senate of Constantinople retained its share in legislation down to the ninth century (Nov. Leon. 78). Each senate also continued to be a high court of justice to which the emperor referred important criminal cases (Amm. Marc. XXVIII.1.23; Symmach. Epist. IV.5; Zosim. V.11, 38). Capital offences committed by senators, however, no longer came under their jurisdiction, but either under that of the governors of provinces, or of the prefects of the two cities (Walter, p367, &c.). Civil cases of senators likewise belonged to the forum of the praefectus urbi (Cod. 3 tit. 24 s3; Symmach. Epist. X.69). The senatorial dignity was now obtained by descent (Cod. Theod. 6 tit. 2 s2; 12 tit. 1 s58; Cassiodor. Variar. III.6), and by having certain offices at court, or it was granted as an especial favour by the emperor on the proposal of the senate (Cod. Theod. l.c.; Symmach. Epist. X.25. 118). To be made a senator was indeed one of the greatest honours that could be conferred, and was more valued than in the times of the republic; but its burdens were very heavy, for not only had the senators to give public games (Symmach. Epist. X.25, 28), to make magnificent presents to the emperors (Cod. Theod. 6 tit. 2 s5), and in times of need extraordinary donations to the people (Zosim. V.41; Symmach. Ep. VI.14, 26, VII.68), but in addition they had to pay a peculiar tax upon their landed property, which was called follis or gleba (Zosim. II.32; Cod. Theod. 6 tit. 2; Symmach. Epist. IV.61). A senator who had no landed property was taxed at two folles (Cod. Theod. 6 tit. 2 s2, 6 tit. 4 s21). It was therefore only the wealthiest persons of the empire, no matter to what part of it they belonged, that could aspire to the dignity of senator. A list of them, together with an account of their property, was laid before the emperor every three months by the prefect of the city (Symmach. X.66, &c.). Down to the time of Justinian the consuls were the presidents of the senate, but from this time the praefectus urbi always presided (Cod. Theod. 6 tit. 6 s1; Nov. Instit. 62).

It now remains to mention some of the distinctions and privileges enjoyed by Roman senators:

1. The tunica with a broad purple stripe (latus clavus) in front, which was woven in it, and not as is commonly believed sewn upon it (Acron. ad Horat. Sat. I.5.35; cf. I.6.28; Quinctil. XI.3).

2. A kind of short boot with the letter C on the front of the foot (Juv. VII.192; Cic. Phil. XIII.13). This C is generally supposed to mean centum, and to refer to the original number of 100 (centum) senators.

3. The right of sitting in the orchestra in the theatres and amphitheatres. This distinction was first procured for the senators by Scipio Africanus Major, 194 B.C. (Liv. XXXIV.54; Cic. pro Cluent. 47). The same honour was granted to the senators in the reign of Claudius at the games in the circus (Suet. Claud. 21; Dion Cass. LX.7).

4. On a certain day in the year a sacrifice was offered to Jupiter in the capitol, and on this occasion the senators alone had a feast in the capitol; the right was called the jus publice epulandi (Gellius, XII.8; Suet. Aug. 35).

5. The jus liberae legationis [Legatus, sub finem.]


Thayer's Note:

a While plausible, this may not be true. In all of Roman literature, the term and its explanation appear only once, in the passage referenced; and the Historia Augusta is notoriously unreliable, with a tendency to intentional falsification of just this type of colorful detail.


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