The Roman Republic - Vol. 1

By W. E. Heitland | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIII

THE CONSTITUTION, 448-367 B.C.

(a) The Magistracy.
108 . THE great crisis of the Decemvirate was over: the Valerio- Horatian laws had strengthened the Plebs and its leaders the Tribunes. But the Roman government at the beginning of the period 448- 367 B.C. was still a very simple machine. Positive power to perform the acts of state rested almost wholly with the two consuls. Checked in the city by the negative power of the tribunes, in the field they were supreme. They were in fact an Executive with general undefined powers; a common form of primitive government. The written laws of the Twelve Tables doubtless gave a body of known and fixed rules and did away with many judicial vagaries, but the Consuls were still at the head of the judicial system, such as it was. Administration in all departments was still directed by them. Wars often kept them at the head of armies. They had in fact too much to do, and it must surely have happened in any case that a specializing process would detach various functions from this great office, and create new offices for the discharge of those functions. In other words, the scope of the imperium must be reduced. This at least is what happened. But at Rome this movement was complicated by its connexion with the struggle of the Orders. The Patricians were not inclined to lessen the importance of an office to which they alone were eligible: but, when it became clear that their prerogative was seriously threatened, this reluctance was exchanged for a desire to hand over to the Plebeians as little as possible.
109 . The first sign of the narrowing of the scope of the imperium occurred probably in 447, as a sequel of the Valerio-Horatian reform. It seems that the Quaestors, hitherto each appointed by a Consul as his assistant, were ordered to be elected by the people (populus), and from later indications it is thought that this means the Assembly of the Tribes. A Consul presided at the election, and the Quaestors chosen were to be the assistants, not of himself and his colleague, but of the Consuls of the next year. One can see that this step tended to make the Quaestorship into an independent office, as it did. But the office never became one of high rank. Its original connexion

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