A Day in Old Rome: A Picture of Roman Life

By William Stearns Davis | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVII
THE SENATE: A SESSION AND A DEBATE

283. Apparent Authority and Importance of the Senate . -- Powerful is the army and powerful its Emperor, yet there is a body to which they both pay lip-service, and which still enjoys a prestige and moral authority that stamps itself upon the imagination of every man in the Roman Empire -- the "venerable Senate."

Theoretically the Senate shares the government with the Emperor, controls the state when there is a vacancy in the palace, selects the new ruler and bestows on him the "proconsular" and "tribunician power," -- the legal bases of his authority. It must be consulted by him in every important act, and when he dies it decides whether he is to be deified as a god, or suffer the awful "damnation of memory" (damnatio memoriæ) branding him for all time as a tyrant. It can also declare him suspended or deposed from office, set a price on his head and order the armies to refuse him obedience. Its formal decrees (senatus consulta) constitute, now that the old public assemblies have been abandoned, the most binding kind of law.

The Senate also governs directly all of those provinces (about half of the whole Empire) which do not require any army for defense or control. It has its own treasury, and it can strike copper money, although gold and silver are reserved to the Emperor, making a considerable profit on the seignorage. It acts as supreme court of appeal on all cases which rise in the provinces under its government. By the vote of its members are elected all those "old Republican" magistrates

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