The Two Consuls.When the kingdom came to an end, the power of the kings was put into the hands of two consuls (at first called praetors), elected by the people. The consular power, though derived from the old kingly power, was yet different from it in many respects. In the first place, the power of the king had been a lifelong power; but the power of the consuls was limited to one year. Again, the royal power had been held by one person; but the consular power was held by two persons, so that each was a restraint upon the other. Moreover, the power of the king had been absolute, that is, it had extended to life and death over all citizens at all times; the power of the consuls, on the other hand, was limited, since they could not exercise the power of life and death, except outside of the city and over the army in the field. The consuls retained the old insignia of the king; but when in the city, the ax was withdrawn from the fasces. In this way the chief authority, which was placed in the hands of the consuls, was shorn of its worst features. It must also be noted that the priestly power of the king was not given to the consuls, but to a special officer, called king of the sacrifices (rex sacrorum); and the management of the finances was put in charge of two quaestors elected by the people.
The Dictatorship.The Romans were wise enough to see that in times of great danger the power of the consuls might not be strong enough to protect the state. To meet such an emergency a dictator was appointed, who was a sort of temporary king. He had entire control of the city and the army. He was even given the power of life and death over citizens; and his lictors retained the ax in the fasces. But this extraordinary power could be held for only six months, after which time the consuls resumed their regular authority as chief magistrates. With the dictator there was generally appointed another officer, who was second in authority, called the master of horse; but over him, as over everyone else, the dictator was supreme.
The New Senators.When the consuls were elected, it is said that one of their first acts was to fill up the senate to the number of three hundred members. The last king had practically ruled without the senate, and he had no reason to fill the vacancies when they occurred. But the new consuls wished the help of the senate, and therefore desired to keep its numbers complete. The new senators who were enrolled were called conscripti; and the whole body of senators became known as patres conscripti.
The Popular Assemblies.With the establishment of the republic, the two assemblies with which we are already acquainted, the comitia curiata and the comitia centuriata, both remained. But the former lost a great deal of its old power, which became transferred to the latter. The assembly of the centuries was therefore the body in which the people generally expressed their will. Here they elected the officers, and passed the most important laws. It was this assembly which became the chief legislative body during the early republic.
The Laws of Valerius Poplicola.It is said that after the death of Brutus, his colleague Valerius (who had succeeded Collatinus) did not call an assembly to elect another consul. This aroused the fear that Valerius wished to make himself king. But it was soon found that instead of aiming to be king, he was preparing a set of laws which would prevent any one from becoming king, and would also protect the people from the arbitrary power of their magistrates. One of these laws declared that any person who assumed the chief power without the people’s consent should be condemned as a traitor. Another law granted to every citizen the right of an appeal to the people, in case he was condemned for a crime. These laws, known as the Valerian laws, may be called the “first charter of Roman liberty,” because they protected the people from the exercise of arbitrary power. So highly honored was Valerius that he was surnamed Poplicola, or the People’s Friend.
The Loss of Roman Territory.We remember how extensive were the lands which were acquired by the Romans under the kings. But they had lost many of these lands during the struggles against the last Tarquin. They had lost their conquests in Etruria, and much of their land in Latium; and the thirty Latin cities had reasserted their independence. So that the authority of the new government was now reduced to a comparatively small strip of territory south of the Tiber, together with the Janiculum on the Etruscan side.
SELECTIONS FOR READING
Arnold, Hist., Ch. 7, “Banishing of King Tarquinius” (2).1
Shuckburgh, Ch. 6, “Expulsion of the Kings” (1).
Pelham, pp. 45-51, “Foundation of the Republic” (1).
Liddell, Ch. 6, “Decline of Roman Power” (1).
Mommsen, abridged, Ch. 6, “Change of the Constitution” (2).
Taylor, Ch. 2, “Foundation of the Republic” (1).
Plutarch, “Poplicola” (11).
Livy, Bk. II., Chs. 9-14, Wars of Lars Porsenna (4).
THE OFFICE OF CONSUL.Gow, p. 174 (8); How and Leigh, pp. 47-50 (1); Shuckburgh, pp. 203-205 (1); Ihne, Early Rome, pp. 117-122 (5); Mommsen, Vol. I., pp. 323-329 (2); Ramsay and Lanciani, pp. 166-174 (8) ; Harper’s Dict. Antiqq., “Consules” (8).
1 The figure in parenthesis refers to the number of the topic in the Appendix, where a fuller title of the book will be found.