3 Branches of Government in the Roman Republic

The Curia Hostilia, in the Roman Forum. Original senate house of Rome.
The Curia Hostilia, in the Roman Forum. Original senate house of Rome. Leemage / Getty Images

From the Founding of Rome in c. 753 B.C. to c. 509 B.C., Rome was a monarchy, ruled by kings. In 509 (possibly), the Romans expelled their Etruscan kings and established the Roman Republic. Having witnessed the problems of the monarchy on their own land, and aristocracy and democracy among the Greeks, the Romans opted for a mixed form of government, with 3 branches of government.

Consuls - Monarchical Branch of Roman Government in the Roman Republic

Two magistrates called consuls carried on the functions of the former kings, holding supreme civil and military authority in Republican Rome. However, unlike the kings, the office of consul lasted for only one year. At the end of their year in office, the ex-consuls became senators for life, unless ousted by the censors.

Powers of the Consuls

  • Consuls held imperium and had the right to 12 lictors each.
  • Each consul could veto the other.
  • They led the army,
  • Served as judges, and
  • Represented Rome in foreign affairs.
  • Consuls presided over the comitia centuriata.

Consulship Safeguards

The 1-year term, veto, and co-consulship were safeguards to prevent one of the consuls from wielding too much power.

Emergency Contingency: In times of war a single dictator could be appointed for a 6-month term.

Senate - Aristocratic Branch

Senate (senatus = council of elders [related to the word "senior"]) was the advisory branch of the Roman government, early on composed of about 300 citizens who served for life. They were chosen by the kings, at first, then by the consuls, and by the end of the 4th century, by the censors.

The ranks of the Senate, drawn from ex-consuls and other officers. Property requirements changed with the era. At first senators were only patricians but in time plebeians joined their ranks.

Assembly - Democratic Branch

The Assembly of Centuries (comitia centuriata), which was composed of all members of the army, elected consuls annually. The Assembly of Tribes (comitia tributa), composed of all citizens, approved or rejected laws and decided issues of war and peace.

Dictators

Sometimes dictators were at the head of the Roman Republic. Between 501-202 B.C. there were 85 such appointments. Normally, dictators served for 6 months and acted with the consent of the Senate. They were appointed by the consul or a military tribune with consular powers. The occasions of their appointment included war, sedition, pestilence, and sometimes for religious reasons.

Dictator for Life

Sulla was appointed dictator for an undefined period and was dictator until he stepped down, but Julius Caesar was officially appointed dictator in perpetuo meaning that there was no set end point to his dominance.

References

  • Religious Dictators of the Roman Republic
    Arthur Kaplan
    The Classical World, Vol. 67, No. 3 (Dec., 1973 - Jan., 1974), pp. 172-175