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Tribune (from the Latin: tribunus; Greek form tribounos) was a title shared by several elected magistracies and other governmental and/or (para)military offices of the Roman Republic and Empire. It derived originally from the representatives of the tribes (tribi) into which the Roman people were divided for military and voting purposes.


[edit] Roman magistracies and civilian offices

[edit] Tribune of the Plebs

The magistracy of Tribune of the Plebs or Tribune of the people (Latin tribunus plebis) was established in 494 BC, about fifteen years after the traditional foundation of the Roman Republic in 509. The plebeians of Rome seceded from the city as a group until the patricians agreed to the establishment of an office that would have sacrosanctity (sacrosanctitas), the right to be legally protected from any physical harm, and the right of help (ius auxiliandi), the right to rescue any plebeian from the hands of a patrician magistrate. Later, the tribunes acquired a far more formidable power, the right of intercession (ius intercessionis), to veto any act or proposal of any magistrate, including another tribune of the people (veto is Latin for "I forbid"). As the chief representative of the Roman plebeians, the tribune's house was required to be open to all at all times, day or night. The tribunes of the plebs were elected by the Concilium Plebis.

The tribune also had the power to exercise capital punishment against any person who interfered in the performance of his duties (the favourite threat of the tribune was therefore to have someone thrown from the Tarpeian Rock). The tribune's sacrosanctity was enforced by a solemn pledge of the plebeians to kill any person who harmed a tribune during his term of office. The tribune was the only magistrate that was able to convene the Concilium Plebis and acted as its president, which also gave him the exclusive right to propose legislation before it. Also, the tribune could summon the Senate and lay proposals before it. The tribune's power, however, was only in effect while he was within Rome. His ability to veto did not affect provincial governors, and his right to sacrosanctity and to help only extended to a mile outside the walls of Rome. In about 450 BC the number of tribunes was raised to ten.

Tribunes were required to be plebeians, and until 421 BC this was the only office open to them. In the late Republic the patrician politician Clodius arranged for his adoption by a plebeian branch of his family, and successfully ran for the tribunate.

When Lucius Cornelius Sulla was dictator he severely curtailed the tribunes of the plebs by invalidating their power of veto and making it illegal for them to bring laws before the Concilium Plebis without the Senate's consent. Afterwards, the tribune was restored to its former power during the consulship of Crassus and Pompey.

Throughout the Republic and its fall, powerful individuals used the tribunes for their personal glory and gain. Clodius and Milo were both tribunes who used violence in the courts and government in order to achieve the needs and requests of Pompey and Caesar. When the Senate refused to grant Caesar Pompey's veterans lands and a further governship of Gaul, he turned to the tribunes with his demands and got them.

Because it was legally impossible for a patrician to be a tribune of the plebs, the first Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, was offered instead all of the powers of the tribunate without actually holding the office (tribunicia potestas). This formed one of the two main constitutional bases of Augustus' authority (the other was imperium proconsulare maius). It gave him the absolute right of veto and the authority to convene the Senate. Also, he was sacrosanct, had the authority to veto (ius intercessio), and could exercise capital punishment in the course of the performance of his duties.

Most emperors' reigns were dated by their assumption of tribunicia potestas, though some emperors, such as Tiberius, Titus, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius etc, had already received it during their predecessor's reign. Marcus Agrippa and Drusus II, though never emperors, also received tribunicia potestas.

By extension from the technical Roman governmental usage, some modern politicians have been called "tribunes of the people."

[edit] Roman military officers

[edit] Tribune of the soldiers

Each year the Tribal Assembly elected 24 young men in their late twenties with senatorial ambitions to serve as Tribunes of the Soldiers' (tribuni militum). These 24 were distributed six to each of the consuls' four legions as the legions' commanding officers.

All middle-ranking officers of the legions were also titled tribunes, though they were unelected and junior to the tribuni militum. Messala, the villain in the 1880 novel Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace and its 1959 film, was a military tribune.

[edit] Cohort commander

  • Tribunus Cohortis: commander of military auxiliary unit.
  • Tribunus Cohortis Urbanae: urban cohort commander.

[edit] Tribune of the treasury

The duties of the tribunes of the treasury (tribuni aerarii) are somewhat shrouded in mystery. Originally they seem to have been the legions' paymasters, though this was hardly an onerous job considering that the legionaries of the Early and Middle Republic were paid through booty from their conquests. By the Late Republic, though, even this task had been taken over by the quaestors.

[edit] Various offices

Tribunal: raised platform in front of the HQ used for addressing the troops or administring justice.
Tribunus: senior officer.
Tribunus angusticlavius: "narrow striped officer"; equestrian legionary officer, five to each legion.
Tribunus comitiatus: officer elected as tribunus militum by the comitia.
Tribunus laticlavius: "broadstriped officer"; senatorial legionary officer, second in command of a legion.
Tribunus militum: senior legionary officer.
Tribunus militum a populo: senior legionary officer appointed by popular assembly.
Tribunus rufulus: officer picked by the commander.
Tribunus sexmestris: tribune serving a tour of duty of only six months; note that there is absolutely no evidence at all to identify this officer as commander of the legionary cavalry as sometimes stated in modern literature.
Tribunus vacans: Late Roman unassigned tribune; staff officer.

[edit] French revolutionary tribunat

The "Tribunat", the French word for tribunate, derived from the Latin term tribunatus, meaning the office or term of a Roman tribunus (see above), was a collective organ of the young revolutionary French Republic composed of members styled tribun (the French for tribune), which, despite the apparent reference to one of ancient Rome's prestigious magistratures, never held any real political power as an assembly, its individual members no role at all.

It was instituted by Napoleon I Bonaparte's constitution of the revolutionary year VIII "in order to moderate the other powers" by discussing every legislative project and sending its orateurs ("orators", i.e. spokesmen) to defend or attack them in the Corps législatif. Its 100 members were designated by the Senate from the list of citizens from 25 years up, and annually one fifth was renewed for a five-year term.

When it opposed the first parts of Bonaparte's proposed penal code, he made the Senate nominate 80 new members at once to replace the 100 in office; they accepted the historically important reform of penal law. As the Tribunate opposed new despotic projects, he got the Senate in year X to allow itself to dissolve the Tribunat. In XIII it was further downsized to 50 members. On August 16, 1807 it was abolished and never revived.

[edit] Sources, references, and external links

cs:Tribun lidu de:Volkstribunat es:Tribuno fr:Tribun de la plèbe it:Tribuno della plebe he:טריבון ka:ტრიბუნი la:Tribunus plebis nl:Tribuun ja:護民官 no:Tribun pl:Trybun ludowy pt:Tribuno ru:Трибун sr:Трибун sh:Tribun fi:Tribuuni sv:Folktribun zh:保民官


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