Fall of the Roman Republic 78-31 BC & Julius Caesar

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Glossary of Terms

This is a combination of terms from the glossaries of The Politics of Friendship, Beryl Rawson, and Cicero - Selected Letters, D.R. Shackleton

AEDILE (aedilis): Third in rank of the regular Roman magistracies. Four at this time were elected annually, two Curule and two Plebeian. They were responsible for city administration and the holding of certain public Games. The chief magistrates in some municipalities were also so called.

ASSEMBLY (POPULAR ASSEMBLY): The general term used above for the formal body of Roman citizens meeting for legislative, electoral or judicial purposes. According to its functions, the People met in different groupings, e.g. the comitia centuriata (according to 'centuries', originally military group­ings, thus meeting in the Campus Martius and giving preponderance to wealthier citizens; elected consuls and praetors); comitia tributa (according to tribes, i.e. geographically‑based electorates; elected junior magistrates); comitia curiata (according to clans, curiae, one of the oldest divisions of the People, apparently family‑based; confirmed appointment of magistrates and witnessed certain religious ceremonies, e.g. adoptions). The Assembly had ultimate power in the state, but did not debate issues: it simply voted for acceptance or rejection of proposals (or candidates) put before it. Voting was by secret ballot. Magistrates often called together a public meeting (contio: referred to as an 'assembly' by some writers), at which various speakers (at the discretion of the magistrate) could present the course of action they wished the People to adopt.

AUGUR: The priestly College of Augurs were official diviners interpreting signs (mostly from the flight and cries of wild birds or the behaviour of the Sacred Chickens) before major acts of public (and sometimes private) business. The College, like that of Pontiffs, was in practice almost a preserve of the nobility, so that for a 'new man' like Cicero membership was a coveted social distinction.

AUSPICES (auspicia): Divination from birds or other signs was officially necessary as a preliminary to major acts by magistrates, who were said to 'have auspices', i.e., the power of taking them.

BONA DEA (Good Goddess): A goddess whose worship was confined to women. Her yearly festival was held in the house of a Consul or Praetor and supervised by his wife.

CAMPANIAN LAND (DOMAIN - ager Campanus): Fertile land in Campania, originally confiscated by Rome in 211 and leased to small tenants. Caesar as Consul passed a bill (the Campanian Law) to distribute it among Pompey's veterans and the Roman poor.

CAMPUS MARTIUS: The plain adjoining the Tiber on which assemblies of the Centuries were held, often for elections.

CENSOR: Two magistrates usually elected every five years for a tenure of eighteen months. They revised the roll of citizens, with property assessments, also the rolls of Knights and Senators, removing those deemed guilty of misconduct. They further supervised public contracts, including the lease of revenues to the tax-farmers, and issued decrees as guardians of public morals.

CENTURIES, ASSEMBLY OF (comitia centuriata): Form of assembly in which voting took place by 'Centuries', i.e., groups unequally composed so as to give preponderance to birth and wealth. It elected Consuls and Praetors, and voted on legislation proposed by them. The first Century to vote (centuria praerogativa) traditionally had a determining effect on the rest.



COLLEGIA: Clubs or associations, with various kinds of basis, e.g. a religious cult, a common trade or craft, or to ensure proper burial for its members. Some collegia were active in trying to influence elections or legislation, which often led to violence, and a senatorial decree banned most of them in 64 BC. Clodius relicensed them in 58 BC.

COMITIAL DAYS: Days in the Roman calendar on which the popular assemblies (comitia) could legally be held. The Senate was normally not allowed to meet on these days.

COMITIUM: An area north of the Forum where assemblies were held.

CONSUL: Highest of the annual Roman magistrates. Two were elected, usually in July, to take office on the following 1 January.

CONSULAR: An ex-Consul. The Consulars made up a corps of elder statesmen to whom the Senate would normally look for leadership.

CONTIO: A public meeting convened by a magistrate; or, a speech delivered at such a meeting. See Assembly.

CURIATE LAW (lex curiata): A law passed by the Curies (curiae), the oldest form of Roman assembly. In Cicero's time it survived only in form, each of the thirty Curies being represented by a lictor, but still had certain legislative functions, notably the passage of laws to confirm the executive authority (imperium) of individual magistrates; but the precise nature of these laws is much in doubt.

CURSUS HONORUM: 'Course of offices': the order in which magistracies were normally held. From Sulla's time (c. 81 BC) the quaestorship, praetorship and consulship were required to be held in that order, with specified age qualifications and intervals between them. (See 'Magistrates'.) The tribuneship and aedileship, if held, came between the quaestorship and the praetorship. Three years had to elapse between entry on praetorship and entry on consul­ship. The consulship could not be held again until ten years had elapsed.

CURULE CHAIR (sella curulis): Ivory chair, or rather stool, of state used by regular ‘curule’ magistrates, i.e., Consuls, Praetors, and Curule Aediles, and certain others.

DICTATOR: A supreme magistrate with quasi-regal powers appointed to deal with emergencies under the early Republic; his second-in-command, the Master of the Horse, was appointed by himself. The office was revived to legitimize the autocratic regimes of Sulla and of Julius Caesar.

EDICT: A public announcement or manifesto issued by a magistrate.

EQUESTRIANS (equites): 'Knights'. Originally, Rome's cavalry, men who could afford to provide their own horse and equipment. Minimum financial qualification was 400,000 sesterces. Many became wealthy through commerce or tax‑farming (see 'Publicani'), but much of their capital was also in land. From 70 BC equestrians and senators together made up the juries for court cases.

FASCES: The bundle of rods, bound with an axe (securis), carried by the attendants (lictors) of a magistrate with imperium. The fasces, symbolized his power to inflict corporal punishment and the death penalty, inherited from the kings of an earlier period. By the late Republic, magistrates inside Rome had long since lost this authority to the Assembly and the courts; and even in the provinces, in peacetime a magistrate would seldom act on his own authority.

GAMES (ludi): Gladiatorial and other shows, some recurring annually and supervised by magistrates, others put on for an occasion by private individuals.

GOWN (toga): Formal civilian dress of a Roman citizen. The gown of boys and curule magistrates (toga praetexta) had a purple hem. At fifteen or sixteen at his father's discretion a boy was given his White (or 'Manly') Gown (toga pura, toga virilis).

GREEKS: In Cicero's time the word was loosely used to include the more or less hellenized inhabitants of Western Asia and Egypt as well as those of Greece proper and the old Greek settlements elsewhere.

IMPERATOR: The holder of imperium in the field, a military commander. Soldiers acquired the habit of acclaiming their commander imperator after a major victory, and this was often one of the criteria which the senate used in granting the commander a triumph.

IMPERIUM: The power of higher magistrates (praetors, consuls, dictators) and promagistrates. It involved the power to impose the death penalty in some circumstances.

INTERREGNUM: If through death or otherwise the consular office stood vacant and no patrician magistrates holding imperium were in office, an Interrex was appointed from among the patrician members of the Senate to exercise consular functions for five days. He was then replaced by another Interrex, and so on until new Consuls could be elected.

LEGATE (legatus): A provincial governor took several Legates, normally Senators, on his staff as deputies. Caesar in Gaul made them commanders of legions. The duties might, however, be purely nominal. The Senate could also appoint its members to 'free' or 'votive' (i.e., to discharge a vow) legationes, thus enabling them to travel abroad with official status. The word can also be used for any kind of envoy.

LEGION: Roman army unit with full complement of 6,000 men divided into ten cohorts. Each legion was officered by six Military Tribunes. Each cohort had six Centurions, the highest in rank being called primi pili (Chief Centurion). The ensign of a Legion was an eagle, and each cohort had its standard (signum).

LICTORS: Attendants on senior magistrates (i.e. those with imperium). They carried the fasces ahead of the magistrate, cleared the way for him, and, when necessary, implemented decisions of corporal punishment and execution. A consul had twelve lictors, a dictator twenty‑four. Some religious officials had lictors although these did not carry the fasces.

MAGISTRATES: The quaestorship was the junior office of the cursus honorum. Minimum age for election was thirty. Duties were financial. There were twenty quaestors at the time of our study. The quaestorship qualified its holder for senate membership.
The four aediles were concerned with city administration (e.g. streets, games, grain supply).
The ten tribunes of the people (tribuni plebis) were originally defenders of the rights of the People, especially the plebs, against the patricians. (The office remained closed to patricians.) They could initiate legislation, call together the senate, and veto proposals before the senate or the People. Unlike other magistrates (who entered office on 1 January), they entered office on 10 December.
The eight praetors presided over the law courts (quaestiones). They held imperium. Minimum age for election was thirty‑nine.
The two consuls (minimum age for election forty‑two) were the supreme executive officers at Rome. They held imperium, and presided over the senate. They originally commanded Rome's armies, but in this period they seldom left the city during their year of office. Ex‑consuls were known as 'consulars' (consulares).
Curule aediles, praetors and consuls had the right to use a special ceremonial chair (sella curulis).
Ex‑consuls and ex‑praetors often became proconsuls and propraetors (see 'Promagistrates').
The censorship was an office of financial and moral supervision, open only to ex‑consuls. Two censors held office jointly (for up to eighteen months) to draw up the census, the list of senators, citizens and property. New censors should have been elected every five years, but the office was not regularly filled in the late Republic.
The dictatorship was an emergency office. A single magistrate was nominated by the senate to hold supreme power for six months or until the end of the emergency, whichever was the sooner. Sulla held the office without time limit. Caesar held it four times in the forties BC, first (49) for eleven days but then (48‑47) for a year and later (46‑45, 45‑44) annually as part of a ten­-year term, before becoming dictator for life in 44 BC.
An interrex was appointed for a period of five days to get elections held when for some reason (e.g. death or delayed elections) no consuls were in office. There might be a series of interreges until the elections were held. This magistrate had to be a patrician.

MANUMISSION: Process of freeing a slave. This could be done either formally or informally ('between friends'), but in the latter case the master could revoke it at will.

NOBILITY: Practically, a noble (nobilis) at this period meant a direct descendant of a Consul in the male line. In the early Republic the Roman community was divided into patricians and plebeians, the former holding a virtual monopoly of political power. But after the Consulship was thrown open to plebeians in the fourth century many plebeian families became 'noble', and the remaining patricians were distinguished chiefly by their ineligibility to hold both Consulships in one year and stand for the plebeian offices of Tribune and Plebeian Aedile. A non‑noble who became consul was a 'new man' (novus homo): in 63 BC Cicero was only the second such in the first century BC.

NOMENCLATOR: A slave whose duty it was to remind his master of the names of clients and acquaintances whom he happened to meet.

OPTIMATES: Literally 'those belonging to the best' – the leading conservatives in the Senate and their supporters throughout the community. Sometimes the term is practically equivalent to the 'honest men' (boni), though more purely political in its implications.

OVATION: A lesser form of Triumph.

PATRICIANS: The early Roman aristocracy (by birth). Their monopoly of offices was gradually broken, so that by our period all regular magistracies were open to plebeians. A patrician could not be tribune of the people. Only a patrician could be interrex, and there were some religious associations still attaching to patricians. Their numbers had declined by the late Republic. Not synonymous with 'nobles' (see 'Nobiles').

PAYMASTER-TRIBUNES (tribuni aerarii): At this time probably a class similar to the Knights but with a lower property qualification. Under the lex Aurelia of 70, juries were composed in equal numbers of Senators, Knights, and Paymaster-Tribunes.


PONTIFF (pontifex): These formed a priestly College in general charge of Roman religious institutions (including the Calendar), presided over by the Chief Pontiff (pontifex maximus), who was Julius Caesar from 63 until his death.

POPULARES: Plural of popularis. Political figures who worked through the Popular Assembly rather than the senate. Tribunes were more likely than most magistrates to act in this way; but Caesar earned the description as consul in 59 BC. Although populares were often associat­ed with 'popular' programmes such as land redistribution, grain laws, and restriction of senatorial powers, the word refers to method rather than programme. It should be remembered that popularis politicians were also senators.

PRAETOR: Second in rank of the annual magistracies. Eight were elected at this period until Caesar increased the number to twenty. The City Praetor (praetor urbanus) was in charge of the administration of justice between Roman citizens, others presided over the standing criminal courts. After his year of office a Praetor normally went to govern a province as Propraetor or Proconsul.

PREFECT: Officer appointed by a magistrate (usually as provincial governor) for military or civil duties. These might be only nominal, the appointment merely conferring official status and privileges. The 'Prefect.of Engineers' (praefectus fabrum) acted as adjutant to his chief - no longer any connection with engineers.

PROMAGISTRATES: Consuls or praetors who had their imperium extended (prorogued) beyond their year of office were known as promagistrates (pro­consuls or propraetors). Their imperium could be exercised only outside Rome. They usually served as governors of provinces and/or commanded armies.

PROSCRIPTION (proscriptio): A procedure first employed by Sulla, then by the Triumvirs in 43. Lists of names were published, the persons thus ‘proscribed’ being declared outlaws and their goods confiscated. Their killers were rewarded, their protectors punished.

PUBLICANI: 'Public contractors'; often translated as 'tax‑farmers'. Members of companies which contracted to collect Rome's taxes in the provinces. They won their contract by bidding at an auction in Rome. They were obliged to provide the treasury with the amount they bid; anything extra collected was profit, any shortfall was loss.

QUAESTIONES: Plural of quaestio. Permanent law courts set up for specific crimes. In the second century BC the quaestio de rebus repetundis was establish­ed to hear charges of extortion against provincial governors. (Res repetundae indicates a claim for restitution.) Sulla added seven to those already existing, and by the end of the Republic there was a quaestio for all the major crimes, e.g. ambitus (electoral bribery), maiestas (treason), ueneficia (poisoning), uis (violence). There was no state prosecutor: private citizens initiated charges. A praetor usually presided. The jury was large (e.g. fifty‑six for the trial of Clodius in 61 BC), chosen from an even larger panel.

QUAESTOR: The first stage in the regular ‘course of offices’, election to which carried life-membership of the Senate. Since Sulla’s time twenty were elected annually. The two City Quaestors (quaestores urbani) had charge of the Treasury and the Quaestors assigned to provincial governors (usually by lot) were largely concerned with finance.

ROSTRA: The speakers’ platform in the comitium, so called from the beaks (rostra) of captured warships which decorated it.

SENATE: In theory it was an advisory body. (Sovereignty lay with the Popular Assembly.) In practice, it had great influence as the only body with continuity of experience. It acquired de facto powers especially in foreign affairs (e.g. allocation of provinces, reception of foreign embassies). Legislation was often debated here first, before being taken to the Assembly. Senatorial decrees often had the force of law, although the validity of the emergency decree (senatus consultum ultimum) was being challenged during the period of this study. Tribunes could veto senatorial decrees. Senate sessions were chaired by one of the consuls. The senate met either in the senate house (curia) in the forum or in any other public consecrated place in the city or its environs. Temples in which the senate met in the late Republican period included those of Jupiter Capitolinus, Jupiter Stator, Apollo (in Campus Martius) and Concord. From c. 81 BC, the senate comprised about six hundred members, recruited from ex‑magistrates. The quaestorship gave automatic entry to the senate. Censors could expel members for serious misconduct. Senators (together with equestrians, from 70 BC) made up the juries for court cases. Senators were not allowed to take part in trade or commerce. Their wealth was largely in landed property, and they were expected to have capital of at least the equestrian qualification value (400,000 sesterces: Augustus made 1,000,000 sesterces the minimum financial qualification for senate membership).

SENATUS CONSULTUM ULTIMUM: 'The ultimate decree of the senate', i.e. a declaration of a state of emergency. Often abbreviated s.c.u. The senate instructed the consuls to 'see that the state suffer no harm' and suspended normal civil rights.

STOICISM: Philosophical school, named from the portico (stoa) in which its founder, Zeno of Citium (c. 300), taught. Cato was its most prominent Roman adherent in Cicero's time.

SUMPTUARY LAW: A series of laws during the Republic attempted to impose restrictions on luxury spending, especially on food. One was enacted by Julius Caesar in 46.

SUPPLICATION (supplicatio): A thanksgiving ceremony decreed by the Senate in honour of a military success, the number of days varying according to the importance of the victory. It was generally regarded as a preliminary to a Triumph.

TAX-FARMERS see publicani

TREASURY (aerarium): The Roman state treasury was in the temple of Saturn in the Forum, managed by the City Quaestors with the assistance of Secretaries.

TRIBE (tribus): A division, mainly by locality, of the Roman citizen body. The number had risen over the centuries from three to thirty-five (four of them 'urban', the rest 'rustic'). Assemblies voting by tribes (comitia tributa) elected magistrates below Praetor and could pass legislation proposed by Tribunes.

TRIBUNE: (1) Of the Plebs. A board of ten, originally appointed to protect plebeians from patrician high-handedness. They had wide constitutional powers, the most important being that any one of them could veto any piece of public business, including laws and senatorial decrees. They could also initiate these. They took office on 10 December. (2) Affilitary: See LEGION. (3) See PAYMASTER-TRIBUNES.

TRIUMPH: A highly prized honour, awarded by the senate to Roman generals for important victories. The returning general entered Rome in a chariot, in ceremonial garb, in an elaborate procession, accompanied by his soldiers, prisoners and spoils. He skirted the city on the western side, then made his way through the forum along the Sacred Way (Via Sacra), up the Capitoline hill to the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, where he laid aside his imperiwn and showed his gratitude to the god by making sacrifice. Various rules applied, e.g. the general must have been in command in person when the victory was won and the victory must have been over foreign enemies. In 62 Cato sponsored legislation to require a stricter count of numbers involved in the relevant battle.
An 'ovation' (ovatio) was a less honorific form of the triumph.

VENUS A goddess cultivated in several guises by the Romans. As Venus Genetrix she was the mother of the Roman people (being the mother of Aeneas, the Trojan founder of the Roman nation). Julius Caesar claimed her as the ancestor of the Julian family especially, and she became an important part of Augustus' imperial propaganda. Venus Victrix was the protectress of generals and brought them victory. She was cultivated by Sulla, Pompey incorporated a shrine to her in his theatre in 55 BC, and Julius Caesar used her name as his watchword at the battle of Pharsalus.

VESTAL VIRGINS: Priestesses of the cult of Vesta, the Roman goddess of the hearth, in whose temple burned an eternal flame that signified Rome's continuing welfare. The Vestals held high public position at Rome. They took office in childhood and served for thirty years under vows of chastity. They were under the guardianship of the Pontifex Maximus, and any infringe­ment of their honour or position was a matter of serious public concern.