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BOOK
VI.

The senate

and the elections to public offices.

the elections than upon legislation. The elections had from a very early period been quite free-that is to say, not limited to a list of candidates drawn up by the senate or any other constituted authority. Besides, there was no lack of disputes and personal enmities among the members of the nobility, which occasioned frequent rivalry between those who aspired to public offices. But up to the time of the Gracchi this rivalry was in most cases personal. No conflict between adherents of the old institutions and radical reformers was as yet thought of. The ruling nobles, therefore, could usually agree without difficulty on the claims of the various aristocratic families and the distribution of offices among them, and a list of candidates approved by the senate ran little risk of being rejected by the people. It is not probable that formal consultations were held in the senate concerning such personal questions, still less that resolutions were made; nor was this necessary to obtain a practical understanding in an assembly comparatively so small as the senate. It was, on the whole, rare that candidates opposed to one another carried their enmity so far that to decide their pretensions an appeal to the people in the elective comitia became necessary. Such cases occur more frequently only towards the end of the present period, when, after the victory of Zama, the internal unity of the Roman nobility became gradually weaker, when personal ambition gained ground, and the posts of honour usually afforded more opportunities for acquiring wealth. Yet to what extent the senate even then controlled the elections can be seen most distinctly by the appointments to the tribuneship of the people. This office had been originally created to keep in check the patricians who at that time ruled the state. It had, therefore, more than any other public office the character of a regular and constitutional opposition. But from the time that patricians and plebeians had obtained equal rights, the office of tribune was completely changed in its nature, so that it was now the principal See below, chap. xiv.

instrument with which the senate, as the solid centre of the Roman constitution, held together the centrifugal forces swayed by a great number of annual magistrates.' It is a striking fact that during the entire rule of the nobility, down to the time of the Gracchi, no tribunes were elected who were in principle opposed to the government. This uniform firmness with which the nobility controlled the elections can be explained only by the circumstance that the indirect influence of the senate in them was irresistible.

CHAP.

II.

ance and

of the

Summing up the totality of the action of the Roman General importsenate, we can truly affirm that no political body of equal importance is to be found in the whole range of the character ancient world. Unfortunately, we know too little of the Roman Carthaginian senate to compare it with that of Rome. senate. But as the Carthaginian state broke down at the time when Rome was but beginning to advance with rapid strides to dominion over all the Mediterranean countries, its leading council cannot claim superiority over that of Rome. If we compare the deliberative councils which were intended to embody the political intellect in the various Greek states, we find an immeasurable contrast to the Roman senate, a contrast which by itself alone suffices to establish the superiority of the Roman constitution over that of every republic of Greece. Of all Greek states Syracuse perhaps possessed the most favourable geographical conditions for the formation of a powerful dominion. The fertile island of Sicily, situated in the middle of the Mediterranean, would have been far better suited than the narrow limits of Latium for the centre of an empire over the Græco-Italian, Phoenician, and barbarian countries. Syracuse far exceeded Rome in material resources when it in vain sought to obtain possession of the whole of Sicily, and when Rome established her dominion over Latium. It was not intellectual superiority nor even warlike valour that raised Rome above Syracuse. The superiority of the former lay in the organization and political See below, chap. viii.

BOOK

The

VI.

Roman

of Roman

wisdom of the Roman senate, compared with which the leaders of the state at Syracuse were for the most part adventurers, zealots, and passionate wranglers. The case was similar with regard to Athens. Circumstances, it is true, were far more unfavourable to Athens than to Syracuse. The sterile soil of diminutive Attica was a basis too narrow and weak for the building up of an empire; but the decay of the powerful confederation at the head of which Athens stood between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars was caused principally by the fact that the Athenian council was distinguished by political incapacity, and that the guidance of the state was in the hands of an incompetent multitude, and of leaders thrown up by accident. An Athenian senate organized like that of Rome would have been able to unite even the most stubborn communities of Greece into one permanent league, in which each could have felt secure as a self-governing member of a large and powerful confederate state.

Turning from the ancient world to the modern, we senate the find that only the great Council of Venice and the English chief cause Parliament can stand a comparison with the Roman segreatness. nate, in as far, of course, as we look, not upon the form, but upon the spirit and ability of the assemblies, and the share which they severally had in building up the greatness of their respective states. If other nations have been indebted to other agents for their position in the history of the world-Athens, for instance, to the demos; Macedonia, to her kings-Rome owes her internal organization and her commanding position above all to the wisdom and firmness of the senate. This wisdom and firmness will appear no surprising phenc menon if we consider that in the senate the sound intellect of a highly-gifted and strong-willed people reached its highest development and perfection. In all political organizations the material forces and the national character are the primary conditions of success; the outward forms of a constitution, though of great importance, are only a secondary matter, and they adapt themselves naturally

and easily to the wants and necessities of a nation. The Roman senate in any other possible form would still have been the organ by which the political genius of the Roman people could manifest itself. Nevertheless, the form is not a matter of indifference; it reacts upon the substance-it can support, sustain, advance, or keep back national life in proportion as it is more or less adapted to the nature of things. The Roman senate was a political organism of the highest perfection, such as no other state in antiquity ever created or was qualified to create. Just as the Roman people, diversified by classes, age, rank, and residence of its component parts, was made by its subdivisions a more complicated and more perfect organism than a Greek 'ecclesia,' which voted by heads alone, so the Roman senate, by the selection and classification of its members and by its rules of debate, displayed a political wisdom which, as far as we know, was not reached by any national council in the ancient world, and which makes it worthy to rank by the side of modern parliaments.

CHAP.

II.

tion of the

Every senate is by its nature an aristocratic element Composiin the state. The most extravagant democracy cannot senate. entirely deprive it of this character. Even if the line of distinction between the senatorial order and the mass of the people is ever so faint, if all special qualifications are set aside, and if annual elections deprive a senate of its most essential characteristics, pure democracy will still look with suspicion upon such a distinct and eminent body, and will attempt to lower its power by transferring its functions directly to the people, thus trying to make it a sham, and, like tyrants who govern without any controlling council, to sacrifice liberty and the authority of laws to popular caprice.' In Rome the senate was always composed of the most eminent men, and it was by receiving only such men and by excluding none of them on principle that it maintained itself at the height

This is shown by the constitutional experiments recently made in some of the ultra-democratic cantons of Switzerland.

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BOOK
VI.

The senate

clusive nor an hereditary assembly.

of its power, although in strict law it could claim no right either of administration or legislation.

The senate was never limited to certain privileged not an ex- families. At the time when the government was still in the hands of the patricians, and when accordingly no plebeians were admitted, patricians alone, it is true, sat in the senate, but by no means all the patricians, nor only the heads of certain patrician families. No sort of hereditary political office ever existed in Rome, not even in the time of the kings. The legends of that period in the form handed down to us betray the influence of Greek tradition, but yet they speak only of isolated claims to the throne based upon hereditary right.' The strongest proof that the Romans and probably all other true Italians have never known hereditary offices of state is this, that we find no trace even of an hereditary priesthood. We can therefore safely assert that the senate in the regal period was composed, as in the republic, of men who were marked as suitable by their position, experience, and personal qualifications. The title to a seat in the senate was acquired by service rendered to the community: above all, therefore, by military service. The Roman senate was at all times an assembly of experienced warriors, and was on that account admirably adapted to give directions for the conduct of military operations and foreign policy.

Admission of plebeians to the

senate.

After perfect equality had been established between patricians and plebeians the disabilities were set aside which had originally excluded the larger portion of the citizens from the council. As the number of magistrates

Such as the story of the sons of Ancus Marcius, who murdered Tarquinius the Elder because he had deprived them of the succession to the throne (vol. i. p. 61), and the story of the murder of Servius by the younger Tarquin (vol. i. p. 71).

2 There is an apparent exception to this rule. All family rites were transmitted from father to son, and each paterfamilias was priest in his own house. But when several families combined to form a political community, this hereditary priesthood naturally ceased, and when family rites were transferred to the community, as in the case of the worship of Hercules, peculiar to the Potitii, the sacred functions were given to an elected priest as representative of the state. Liv. ix. 29.

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