Julius Caesar

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Overview of Roman political and social structures


Senatus Populusque Romanus
The Senate and the People of Rome

The Senate

The Senate was an advisory body, though in practice it exerted considerable influence. Its consulta (advice) had the authority of law. Its power increased during the third and second centuries BC, and was based on custom, precedent and the auctoritas (prestige or personal authority) of its individual members.

  • There were originally 100, later 300 members of the Senate (600 after 80 BC).
  • They were drawn from the patrician class.
  • A Senate seat was held for life - unless members were found guilty of serious misconduct.
  • Had the power to veto actions of the assembly if it acted against the Senate’s advice.

Power in Rome was vested in the people through the various assemblies.
Comitia - a meeting of the whole citizen body - patricians and plebeians.

Curiate Assembly (comitia curiata): began during the period of the kings. Rome divided into parishes (curiae) and people voted according to the parish in which they lived.
• During the Regal period had appointed the kings.
• Voted on any issues put to it by the consuls. Could not raise or discuss any issues.

Comitia centuriata: Could be summoned only by a magistrate with imperium and met outside the city on the Campus Martius because it was originally a military assembly.
• Elected magistrates with imperium
• Decided between peace and war
• Acted as a court of appeal in criminal cases

Comitia tributa: Could be summoned by consuls, paraetors or tribunes
• Elected lesser magistrates
• Voted on bills put before it by the presiding magistrate - a law making body
• Acted as a court of appeal in cases not involving capital punishment

Concilium plebis: Admitted only plebeains to membership
• Issued resolutions binding on all citizens after 287 BC
• May have elected tribunes and plebeians aediles

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A magistrate is an elected government official.

The Cursus Honorum
  • Aspiring politicians were expected to proceed up the ladder.
  • This was formalised by the lex Villia Annalis (180 BC).
  • At least ten years military experience before starting political career.
  • Two-year interval between holding consecutive offices.
  • Ten-year interval between holding the same office.
  • Minimum age for holding office:
    • Quaestor - 27 (increased to 30 in 1st C.)
    • Praetor - 33 (increased to 39 in 1st C.)
    • Consul - 36 (increased to 42 in 1st C.)

The purpose of this system was so that no individual could gain too much power and that power was shared among the senatorial families.
The senatorial class was prevented from engaging in commercial activity by the Claudian law (218 BC). A political career was the only alternative for an ambitious young Patrician.
For success in a political career a young man needed a distinguished family background, wealth and important connections.

Novus Homo
Sometimes a man without the right family background could rise through his military brilliance - but he still needed the patronage of senatorial families.

It was very expensive to run for office. The position of aedile required a great amount of wealth to finance the games and festivals. A political career could only be followed by wealthy individuals, or poor patricians who could borrow from equites.

After being consul, one could expect to be made governor of a colony which was very lucrative.

An extension of the imperium of a consul or praetor (proconsul or propraetor)

Supreme authority (including command in war and right to exercise the death penalty)

Power of the magistrates to enforce the law

Inner circle of wealthy Patrician familes. Also some wealthy Plebeians could be Nobiles.

(also known at Equestrian order; Knights)
Wealthy non-senators; upper middle class. This is the class from which a Novus Homo would come.

Conservative senators – wanted to maintain strict senatorial control of government.

Senators who appealed to people and tribunes to gain support.