Roman assemblies

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The Roman assemblies were the Comitia Calata, the Comitia Curiata, the Comitia Centuriata, and the Comitia Tributa. They possessed ultimate legislative and judicial powers in the Roman Republic and were also responsible for the election of magistrates.

Unlike legislatures in countries such as the United States, the Roman assemblies were seen to embody the People of Rome, not merely being an appointed body of representatives, and thus possessed ultimate legislative powers, including the ability to pass ex post facto laws and bills of attainder. They were also not deliberative assemblies: normal citizens neither debated nor proposed legislation (only magistrates could propose legislation). The assemblies also possessed judicial powers, some of which were transferred to permanent courts later in the Republic. The absence of modern separation of powers did not mean that checks and balances were absent from Roman government (they were in fact remarkably elaborate).

In the later Republic, a subset of the Comitia Tributa, the Concilium Plebis, gained the legislative powers of the assemblies and became the favored legislative mechanism.

The honoured expression Senatus Populusque Romanus (abbreviated as SPQR), often used as an indication for the Roman state, clearly testifies to the general perception that Rome was legitimately ruled by the will of the people (in the assemblies) guided by the Senate, and under their authority by the magistrates. Only when the principate was established—within the republic, which was never abolished—did a single person, the Roman emperor, start to embody the state politically and hence incarnate the maiestas of Rome.


[edit] Constitution

[edit] Comitia Calata

The Comitia Calata was the most ancient and least-known of the comitia. By the time accurate historical records began its significance and use had both greatly declined. The Comitia Calata was different from the other assemblies because there was no voting or other active participation by the people. It was called for the people to hear announcement and witness certain acts.

The Comitia Calata was held under the presidency of the pontifex maximus. The meeting probably took place in the Capitoline Hill in front of the Curia Calabra. The Comitia Calata and the Comitia Curiata were the only assemblies recognised before the time of Servius Tullius. The assembly consisted entirely of patricians, organized into curiae, and performed the following functions:

  • Announcements of the pontiffs concerning time keeping and nature of certain dates,
  • Inauguration of Flamines and the Rex Sacrorum, and
  • Witnessing testaments of patricians in order to avoid any disputes following the death of the person in question.

[edit] Comitia Curiata

The Comitia Curiata (Curiate Assembly) was the oldest Roman assembly after the Comitia Calata. It consisted entirely of patricians organized in 30 curiae, which were voting units that each cast one collective vote. This assembly originally was the only assembly which transacted business, electing all magistrates, granting their imperium, and enacting laws. Later, though, it only retained the right to grant the imperium through the lex curiata de imperio, acting as a power to confirm those elected by the Centuriate Assembly. By the late Republic, the Curiate Assembly was thought to be composed only of thirty lictors, each representing one of the curiae.

[edit] Comitia Centuriata

The Comitia Centuriata (Centuriate Assembly) was composed of all citizens. It was split into 193 centuriae (centuries), which were arranged into six classes according to collective economic status. The first class, made up of senators and equites, was made up of 98 centuries and therefore was more powerful than all the other classes combined. "Centuries" were not actually limited to one hundred men, allowing all the men below a certain economic status to belong to a single century, which made up the sixth class.

Voting was not according to each citizen but by century. Each century voted internally to determine how the century would cast their collective vote. Centuriate votes were cast by order of class, and halted once a majority of 97 centuries had been acquired, meaning that the poorest centuries rarely got to cast their vote.

Armies were forbidden within the pomerium (the traditional legal and religious boundary of Rome), so the Comitia Centuriata, which was originally a military assembly, could not meeting inside the pomerium. The Assembly was generally called to the Campus Martius, which was large enough to accommodate the full male citizen population of Rome. The Assembly was presided over by a consul or praetor, or by an interrex conducting an emergency consular election.

The sheer size and difficulties in conducting a vote of the Comitia Curiata meant that it lost its status as the main law-making body of the Roman Republic. In the Late Republic it was generally only used to elect censors, praetors and consuls, although it retained legislative powers. Notably, it passed a law to recall Cicero from exile. It also sat to try cases of high treason (perduellio), although this latter function fell into disuse after Lucius Appuleius Saturninus introduced a more workable format (maiestas).

[edit] Comitia Tributa

The Comitia Tributa (Tribal Assembly) included both patricians and plebeians distributed among the thirty-five tribes into which all Roman citizens were placed for administrative and electoral purposes. The vast majority of the urban population of Rome was distributed among the four urban tribes, which meant that their votes were individually insignificant. Like the Centuriate Assembly, voting was indirect, with one vote apportioned to each tribe. The voting was therefore heavily slanted in favor of the thirty-one rural tribes. The Tribal Assembly met in the well of the Comitia in the Forum Romanum, and elected the aediles curulis, the quaestors, and the military tribunes (tribuni militum). It conducted most trials until the dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla established the standing courts (quaestiones).

A subset of the Tribal Assembly, called the Plebeian Council, legislated for the plebeians and lower classes and elected the plebeian tribunes and aediles. Their plebiscites only had the force of law for the entire Republic after 287 BC.

[edit] Reform and abandonment

[edit] Sulla's Changes

During his consulate in 88 BC, Lucius Cornelius Sulla passed a series of three laws impeding the Tribal Assembly and the Plebeian Council from considering any law unless it was sent to them by senatus consultum with a favorable "do pass" recommendation. His fourth law restructured the Centuriate Assembly such that the First Class — the senators and the most powerful knights — had nearly fifty percent of the voting power. His fifth law stripped both popular assemblies — the Tribal Assembly and the Plebeian Council — of their legislative functions, leaving all legislation in the hands of the restructured Centuriate Assembly. The tribal assemblies were left with the election of certain magistrates and the conduct of trials — but no trials could be held unless authorized by senatus consultum.

These reforms were overturned by the populares led by Marius and Lucius Cornelius Cinna, restored by Sulla during his dictatorship rei publicae constituendae, and were again overturned after his death. They represent one of the most wide-ranging and direct shifts in the constitutions of the Roman state during both the Republic and the Empire.

[edit] Under the Empire

Augustus maintained the forms of republican government while he and his successors concentrated more and more power in their own hands by having themselves elected to various magistracies for life. Augustus transferred the legislative functions of the popular assemblies to the Senate and the senators were appointed by the emperor. Tiberius transferred the election of magistrates to the Senate as well. The assemblies, apart from the Senate, did not meet again after the reign of Caligula. When Constantine founded Constantinople he established a Senate in the new city which existed, in vestigial form, until 1453.

[edit] Miscellanea

  • If any person in a comitia became epileptic, the assembly was immediately dissolved: this being deemed an evil omen. Thus, the ancient term for epilepsy was morbus comitialis.<ref>This article incorporates content from the 1728 Cyclopaedia, a publication in the public domain.</ref>

[edit] References

<references/>ca:Comicis romans bg:Комиция de:Concilium Plebis es:Asambleas romanas fr:Comices it:Assemblee romane he:אספות העם ברומא העתיקה ka:კომიცია nl:Concilium plebis no:Folkeforsamlingene pl:Concilium plebis pt:Assembléias romanas ru:Комиции sr:Римске скупштине sh:Rimske skupštine zh:羅馬會議

Roman assemblies

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