The Roman Republic - Vol. 1

By W. E. Heitland | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX THE CONSTITUTION, 509-449 B.C.
70. 70. WHETHER the revolution by which the Roman Kingship came to an end, and the new government was set up, was so sudden a movement as the tradition makes it appear, it is not possible to say. We must take the tradition for whatever it may be worth: it is at least not inconsistent with the sequel. The first point to notice is that, while the King was driven out, the kingly 'power of command' (imperium)1 was not destroyed. Two Magistrates were appointed, in each of whom the full imperium was understood to reside. But the use of the imperium was really limited in practice. First, the equal powers of the two rulers could lead to a deadlock: each could block the action of the other. Secondly, they held office for a year only. True, there was no actual means of turning them out of office at the year's end, other than the moral pressure of their fellow-citizens' disapproval. But the fall of Tarquin had shewn that even Roman patience had its limits; and, by the time that this event had become a mere memory, the force of custom was established. The liability to impeachment 2 after retirement from office was a possible danger that very rarely found effect: indeed it was until the days of the Empire very seldom possible to punish retired officials for official acts. Thirdly, while the King was able, but not obliged, to allow a condemned man to appeal to the People (provocare ad populum) from the royal sentence, in the very first year of the Republic we hear of a law compelling the magistrate to allow appeals in all cases. The fourth limitation was that of the establishment of the Tribunate of the Commons in 494 B.C. Thus we see that, while the regal imperium was in appearance retained, its effective force was materially weakened even in the first years of the Republic. This contrast between appearance and reality should be attentively remarked; for it illustrates the method of progress observable throughout Roman
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1
The power of appointing a deputy (praefectus urbi) during absence in war or at the Latin festival remained to the consuls.
2
The impeachments of ex-consuls of which tradition speaks are acts of vengeance for opposition to Plebeian claims. These form part of the struggle of the Orders rather than of a scheme of official responsibility.

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