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WHILST the organization of the Roman republic with regard to administration and government was similar in all essential points to those of most other states, it dif- Unique fered from all ancient and modern constitutions known of the tribune


to us, in one peculiar feature which appears specifi- ship. cally Roman. We find elsewhere magistrates for the superintendence of the administration of war, justice, finance, and so forth, corresponding to the Roman consuls, prætors, censors, ædiles, and quæstors. But in no other state do we find an office that bears the slightest resemblance to the Roman tribuneship. And this office was not an unimportant element in Rome, a trifling appendage which might have been removed without altering the character of the organism of the state; on the contrary, it was an essential condition to the life of this organism, whose working depended throughout, and at all times, upon the co-operation of the magistrates who held this office. If, therefore, we wish to understand the nature of the Roman constitution, we must gain some insight into the character of the tribuneship; and this is not easy, because we cannot compare the institution with any other known to us.

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The origin of the tribuneship, as has been explained,' Origin of was due to the peculiar circumstances in which the young buneship. republic was placed by the contrast between the ruling citizens, who enjoyed full privileges, and the large mass of inferior citizens, who, being excluded from the government, were exposed to unjust treatment on the part of

1 Vol. i. p. 142.


Change in the posi


the patrician magistrates. The tribunes were intended to be the official patrons of the plebeians, and in thus taking the position of champions of their class against the patrician magistrates and the patrician senate they formed a uniting link between the two halves of the population, and prevented it from breaking asunder into two separate and hostile parts.

We have seen how the tribunes, starting from a small tion of the beginning, gradually succeeded in obtaining for their plebeian fellow-citizens perfect equality with the patricians, and how with the completion of this equality by the Licinian laws (366 в.C.), and finally by the Hortensian law (287 B.C.), the original object for the appointment of tribunes was fully realised. It might now have been expected that with the removal of all differences which had existed in the political rights of patricians and plebeians, the magistracy which had been established to protect those who were labouring under political disabilities from the abuse of privileges by a superior class would also disappear. The equalisation of the two classes of citizens had, however, taken place so slowly and gradually that the tribuneship lost its bearing upon its original. object, not suddenly, but by slow degrees. In proportion as the plebeians rose more and more to the rights of the patricians; as they took a greater part in the government and conduct of the state; as their interests grew to be identical with those of the patricians, so their champions, the tribunes of the people, found themselves called upon to give up their opposition against the other magistrates and the senate, and personally to take part in the government. Thus a change took place in the character of the tribuneship. It was taken into the service of the nobility, and became the most important instrument with which the senate preserved the unity of the government in the midst of all the difficulties produced by the continual change, frequent opposition, and incapacity of the several magistrates.

The tribuneship was eminently qualified to answer this


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of the

purpose. No department of the actual administration was ever entrusted to them. They were what we should call ministers without portfolios. As they had The trifrom the beginning to watch over the careful execution guardians of the laws by the various judicial and administrative laws. officers so that the laws might be made the means of protection and not of oppression of the weak, they had become naturally the special guardians of the laws in every branch of the administration. Not responsible for the conduct of military, judicial, or financial affairs, they had leisure for general superintendence and for punishment, and could thus help to realise the fundamental principle of the republic, which consisted in the responsibility of the magistrates.



To carry out this object, the tribunes of the people Personal were invested from the first with a special religious sanc- bility tion and inviolability. This gave them, though they of the had no imperium and no lictors at their command, an authority, even in opposition to the highest magistrates, which was absolutely indispensable for the supreme guardians of the law. If, like the plebeian ædiles,' they had lost their personal inviolability, they would have lost a weapon without which they would have been powerless. Hence while the republic was in full vigour the The tritribunes had chiefly the duty of exercising a general the senate.

control in the name of the senate. As the senate was especially the representative and embodiment of the national mind, and conducted the whole government with regard to external as well as internal affairs, it was absolutely necessary that every magistrate should submit to the will of the senate. By the constitution, it is true, the senate


1 Originally the ædiles plebis had been invested with personal inviolability (sacrosanctitas) like the tribunes of the people. But in later times, after the establishment of the office of the curule ædiles, it seems that this privilege of the plebeian ædiles fell into abeyance, though it was not formally abolished. Mommsen, Röm. Staatsr. ii. 1, 445, 455.

* See above, p. 52.

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The technical term for this was in auctoritate senatus [or patrum] esse.' Liv. iii. 21, 1; 52, 10; iv. 56, 10; v. 9, 4; ix. 10, 1. Or senatus auctoritati se dedere,' Liv. vi. 19, 4. See Brisson, De Formulis, ii. c. 115.

bunes and


had no authority to issue commands to the magistrates.
In strict law the senatus consulta were but counsels for
the magistrates, which the latter could accept or reject
as they thought proper.' But in the ordinary course of
events, it became a rule for the magistrates to consider
these counsels as injunctions which, feeling their general
dependence upon the ruling body, they did not venture
to disregard. But from selfwill or arrogance a magistrate
might pursue a policy at variance with the advice of the
senate; and in such cases it was possible with the help
of the tribunes to compel the magistrates to obey.
senate might always be sure of the services of at least
one tribune out of ten, and one tribune sufficed to inter-
cede against the orders of refractory magistrates.3 But
the influence of the senate in the annual elections was so

1 See above, p. 44.


2 Liv. ix. 33. Not only the other magistrates, but also tribunes themselves, if they were bent on measures disapproved by the senate, could be restrained by tribunician intercession. Livy, xxxviii. 36, relates an occurrence which is very instructive with regard to this constitutional practice. In the year 188 B.C. the tribune C. Valerius Tappo brought forward a motion to confer the full right of citizenship on the municipia of Formiæ, Fundi, and Arpinum, in place of the civitas sine suffragio, which they had possessed up to that time, and to receive them into the Roman tribes. Four tribunes opposed this motion, because it had not been made ex auctoritate senatus; but they withdrew their opposition on being told that it was the privilege of the people, not of the senate, to confer the right of suffrage on whom they pleased.' The alleged reason for withdrawing the tribunician intercession, it is true, was not in point; for the senate did not claim a privilege which belonged to the people; it did not wish to confer or withhold the franchise, but to give its opinion as to the advisability of the measure at that particular time. Yet the incident shows that, as a rule, the senate took the initiative in legislative measures. Differences of opinion among the body of tribunes, and between tribunes and the senate, were generally settled in an amicable manner by debate in the senate. Liv. xxxix. 4; xxxix. 39, 13.

Intercessions could be resorted to only for the purpose of stopping positive motions or orders; they could not be directed against intercessions. If, therefore, a tribune wished to nullify the intercession of a colleague, he could do it only in an indirect way by threatening that he would intercede against any or all the administrative measures of the executive, whereby the whole machinery of the government would have come to a standstill. By such a threat he might hope to force his colleague to withdraw his intercession. This was of course an extreme measure, resembling a vote against supply in a modern parliament; but it was applied in 184 B.c. Compare the interesting case, Liv. xxxix. 38, 8.

complete, that usually the whole number of ten tribunes CHAP. unanimously supported the senatorial policy.


cian intercession.

Instances of tribunician intercession in the service of Tribunithe senate are not rare, but they would have been far more frequent if the dread of them had not kept the magistrates in dependence upon the senate. How far the senate dared to extend its power of controlling the magistrates by means of the tribunes is shown most plainly in a case towards the end of the Hannibalic war, when, in the year 204 B.C., it actually despatched two tribunes to Sicily to arrest the commanding proconsul Publius Scipio, at the head of his army, and to convey him to Rome if he should refuse to comply with its orders.' This, it is true, was an exceptional case, perhaps an unconstitutional stretch of power on the part of the senate, for the privileges of the tribunes did not extend beyond the precincts of the town. In the field, where the imperium of the general was unlimited, not even the inviolability of the tribunes would have been respected. But even under these circumstances the obstinate Publius Scipio found it advisable to give way and to submit to the will of the senate. How much more effective must the power of the tribunes have been in ordinary cases, when they were called upon to enforce on the magistrates compliance with the decrees of the supreme council of state in acts of internal administration and government!

The tripublic

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As a last resort for maintaining the authority of the senate and defending it against self-willed or incapable magistrates, the tribunes directed the public prosecution proseand punishment of the refractory after the expiration of their year of office. Here again the tribuneship displayed its full importance in the organism of the state; for by

1 See vol. ii. p. 423. Liv. xxix. 20. Even as early as 310 B.C., according to Livy, ix. 36, 14, the senate despatched tribunes to Q. Fabius to order him not to cross the Ciminian mountains with his army. But, as has been shown (vol. i. p. 418 f.), the stories of the great military exploits of Q. Fabius Maximus in Etruria deserve little credit. The narrative only shows what the annalist thought of the relations between the senate, the tribunes, and the consul.

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