The History of Rome - Republican Government

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"Now we trace the history in peace and war, of a free nation, governed by annually elected officers of state, and subject not to the caprice of individual men, but to the overriding authority of law" -Livy

The Roman Republic

In 509 BC. the Romans rebelled against their Etruscan overlords replacing kingship with a republic (A country governed by the elected representatives of its people) and the Patricians organized the government of the republic into an executive branch and legislative branch. (see Rome's Development of a Constitution)

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The Consuls

Two patrician officials known as the consuls (because they had to consult each other before acting), were the chief executive officers and ran the cities daily affairs. They were elected to serve in office for one year terms. Each consul could veto (Latin word meaning "to forbid") the others decisions. The consuls maintained order among the executive officials (praetors, judges, censors, tax collectors, etc.). They presided over the Senate and were commander in chief during wartime. They were also supreme judges.

The Dictator

When Rome was in a time of crisis they would temporarily appoint a dictator (one whose word was law), and only he could override the decision made by the consuls.

The Senate

The Senate were also a body of patricians, 300 citizens from the wealthiest families of Rome.They also maintained the treasury as well as foreign policy and they served for life. They outweighed the Assembly of Centuries and advised the consuls, proposed laws, and approved new construction of roads, temples and military defenses. They were supposedly an advisory body but in actuality they were the center of all policy decisions concerning foreign affairs, military matters, finances, public land, and state religion.

Checks and Balances

The consuls were in charge of government and also of the army. The 300 citizen Senate advised them at all times. In the history of the Roman Republic the Senate was always the most powerful group. Only the Assembly could approve or disapprove of one of their laws and only the assembly elected Candidates for the office of consul. There was always a basic concept of checks and balances.

The modern US constitution is based on these basic concepts of checks and balances within the ancient government of the Roman Republic. Whether it be the President, the Congress, or the courts, none can dominate the government. Each branch has a way to check the actions of the other and the actions of each branch balance the others.

The Middle Class and Poor

The middle class and poor were represented in 2 assemblies:

The Assembly of Centuries

There was also a body of patricians within the legislative branch known as the Assembly of Centuries (named for a military formation of 100 men "centum") and these were elected into office. They could declare war.

The Assembly of Tribes

A legislative assembly of elected officials called tribunes and questors who passed laws and conducted minor trials.

The Censors

There were also 2 Censors (ex-consuls) who took the census, assessed the taxes, named senators, etc.

Aediles and Quaestors

4 Aediles served as mayors of the city and 8 Quaestors acted as treasurers.

The plebeians felt that they did not have any real power in the new republic and in 494 BC they went on strike, threatening to leave the army and start a new republic of their own. The patricians then agreed to hear the voice of the Tribunes.

The Tribunes

The 10 Tribunes, elected by the Plebeians, protected the rights of the people from the decisions made by the senate. They had power to veto any government decision. The Plebeians' demanded that the patricians would hear the tribunes and because of the fear of losing their military and labor forces the patricians agreed. They became so protected that anyone injuring a Tribune could be put to death.

The Judiciary Branch of Government

The judiciary branch of government were the 6 Praetors (elected for 2 years) who were the high judges.

The 12 Tables of Law

The Plebeians still felt inferior because they really never knew exactly what the laws were. The laws had never been put into writing and were only known by the patricians. The Plebeians insisted that the government write down the laws. Finally in 451 BC the patricians agreed to engrave the laws on 12 bronze tablets and to set them in the Forum for all to see. These 12 Tables became the basis for all future Roman law.

The Plebeians had soon won the right to serve in some public offices and in 287 BC they won a great victory, they were given the right to make laws for the republic in the Assembly of Tribes. Rome was close to becoming a true democracy. But by the 2nd Cent. BC. more power was in the hands of the senate and they were becoming corrupt. (see Moving Toward Democracy)

 The History of Rome - Table of Contents






The History of Rome - From Her Dawn to the Third Punic War

The History of Rome - Part One. 743 - 136 B.C. Glossary | Timeline

Also see Roman Emperors - Photos, information , coins and more to come.

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