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basis. The controlling influence which the patricians w'ere
able to exercise over this assembly through their cHents
(p. 29) may well have led to the adoption of the tribal
system in 471. Only plebeians could vote in this new Liv.2.56. 2f.
body, and no change was ever made in this regulation.
Down to 312 this privilege was enjoyed by plebeian land-
owners only. The right was extended to landless plebeians
in 312, but after the reaction of 304 they, as well as freed-
men, were restricted to the four city tribes (cf. pp. 54,
56, 247). The Latins had the right also to vote in one



280, n. 4.



2. 60. 4 f.



262 REPUBLICAN PERIOD: DESCRIPTIVE

tribe determined by lot (cf. p. 248). The meetings of
this body were technically concilia plehis (cf. p. 251), and
not cofttitia. Since the assembly was strictly plebeian, the
presiding officer was always a plebeian official — either a
tribune or an aedile.

316. Place and Time of Meeting. The authority of
the tribune did not extend beyond the pomoerium, so that
the concilium plebis met within the city, usually in the
co?nitium, occasionally, however, on the Capitol. There
were no specified dies comitiales, as in the case of the
centuriate comitia (cf. p. 254). Meetings were commonly
held on market days, when large numbers of people were
Hkely to come into the city. The time and place and the
business which was to be taken up were announced some
days before the meeting was held. In fact, from a compara-
tively early period the practice grew up of announcing on
a market day a meeting to be held a trinutn Jiundifiufn, or
seventeen days, later. On the first and second market
days, as well as on the market day when the voting took
place, there were usually contioncs.

317. Auspices and Other Formalities. The lex Aelia
Fufia of the year 155 (cf. p. 160) seems to have subjected
the concilium plebis to the same religious regulations which
applied to the centuriate comitia. After its passage it was

Lange, II. necessary for the tribune to take the auspicia pullaria
'^^^ ' before calling the assembly together, and the meeting was

liable to the same kind of interference on religious grounds

as the other popular assemblies.

Before the concilium a contio met in the comitium ox forum,

and was addressed from the rostra by the presiding officer,

or by speakers whom he allowed to address the meeting.

318. Voting. At the close of the coiitio the people
assembled by tribes, for the purpose of voting, in sections



THE CONCILIUM PLEBIS 263

marked off for the reception of the several tribes. A lot
was first cast to decide in which tribe the Latins were to
vote ; then one of the thirty-five tribes was chosen by lot
to cast its vote first {pfindpiiwi), and as soon as its vote
was announced the others voted simultaneously. The
method of voting was the same as in the centuriate assem-
bly (cf. pp. 255 f.). The assembly was essentially a demo-
cratic body. Certain considerations, however, tended to
increase or diminish the value of an individual vote. The
larger the tribe was to which a citizen belonged, so much the
less influence his vote had. Now the four city tribes were
much larger than the country tribes created before 387, and
the tribes added after 387 were also larger than the early
country tribes, because of the addidons which were made to
the list of citizens by conquest and by the grant of citizen-
ship. Those who belonged to the city tribes or to the new
rural tribes were, therefore, at a disadvantage when com-
pared with the members of the old rural tribes. One factor
tended to diminish still more the value of a vote in one of
the new country tribes, but to increase the importance of an
urban vote. It was easy for those who lived in the city to
attend a concilhan^ but difficult for those at a distance.

319. The Concilium Plebis as an Electoral Body. The
concilium plebis was established primarily for the jDurpose
of electing the tribunes, and those officials were always
chosen by it. The plebeian aediles were chosen in the
same assembly. An interesting extension of the electoral
rights of the body was made during the Gracchan period
when commissioners were elected in the coticilium plebis for
the division of state land. This precedent proved to be of
great importance later, since the Gabinian and Manilian
laws, which conferred extraordinary powers on Pompey,
were passed in this body.



264 REPUBLICAN PERIOD: DESCRIPTIVE

320. As a Legislative Body. The combined effect of
the Valerio-Horatian law of 449, the PubliHan of 339, and
the Hortensian of 287, was to make the aviciliiwi plebis an
independent legislative body (pp. 49 ff.). After 287 the
approval of the patrician element in the senate became
unnecessary, but the senate was still able to control legis-
lation in large measure (cf. pp. 65 ff.). The plebeian assem-
bly seems to have been competent in Cicero's time to legis-
late on any subject, except the declaration of an offensive
war, and such administrative questions as the assignment of
state land to individuals, the appointment of commissions,
and the prorogatio iiuperii, were brought up in the tribal
assemblies, preferably in the conciliiwi plebis, rather than in
the centuriate cotfiitia. In the later period the plebeian
assembly even annulled contracts made by the censor and
in this way encroached on the rights of the magistrate and
the senate. Its enactments were called plebiscita. The
three laws just mentioned, however, gave such measures the
force of kges^ so that the action of the assembly is not
infrequently termed lex plebeh'cscituni.

321. As a Judicial Body. The circumstances under
which the criminal jurisdiction of the tribune developed
have already been mentioned (pp 199 f.). One class of
cases, however, deserves special notice. The lex Aternia
Ta/peia of 454 would seem to have conferred on all magis-
trates the right of imposing a fine not to exceed two sheep
and thirty oxen, or, according to the money valuation of a
later day, 3020 asses. An appeal taken from the decision
of a magistrate was carried to the comitia tributa, but an
appeal from a fine imposed by a tribune or a plebeian aedile
was heard by the concilium plebis. The institution of the
quaestiones perpetuae did away, however, with the judicial
functions of the latter body.



THE CONCILIUM PLEBIS 265

Selected Bibliography'

Citizens and their rights : M. Voigt, Ueber d. Klientel u. Liber-
tinitiit, Ber. d. k. sachs. Ges. d. Wiss., Philol. hist. Kl., 1878, i Abt.
146-219 ; F. Lindet, De I'acquisition et de la perte du droit de cite
romaine, Paris, 18S0; L. Pinvert, Du droit de cite, Paris, 18S5 ;
A. Josson, Condition juridique des affranchis en droit rom., Douai,
1879; L. Pardon, De aerariis, Berlin, 1853. — Division of the
people for political purposes : Pelham, The Roman curiae, Journ.
of Phil. IX. 266-279; Soltau, Entstehung der altromischen Volks-
versammlungen, Berlin, 1881 ; Kubitschek, De rom. trib. origine ac
propagatione, Vienna, 1882; Pliiss, Die Entwicklung d. Centurien-
verf., Leipzig, 1870. — Popular assemblies: Soltau, Altr. Volksver-
sammlungen; Ullrich, Die Centuriatkomitien, Landshut, 1873;
Genz, Die Centuriatkomitien nach der Reform, Freienwalde, 18S2 ;
C. Berns, De comitiorum tributorum et conciliorum plebis discri-
mine, Wetzlar, 1875; Soltau, Die Giltigkeit der Plebiszite, Berlin,
1884; Ihne, Die Entwickelung d. Tributkomitien, Rhein. Mus. (N.F.),
XXVIII (1S73), 353 ff- ; Lange, Die promulgatio trinum nundinum.
Rhein. Mus. (N.F.), XXX (1875), 350 ff. ; E. Morlot, Les cornices
electoraux sous la republique romaine, Paris, 1884; Ch. Borgeaud.
Histoire du plebiscite, Paris, 1887; K. W. Ruppel, Die Teilnahme
der Patricier an den Tributkomitien, Heidelberg, 18S7.

' See also pp. 22, 173, 219, 243.



Part III — Imperial Period



SECTION I — HISTORICAL
CHAPTER XII

THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE EMPIRE

322. Restoration of Order in Italy. When Octavius
returned to Italy in the summer of 29, he was confronted
by a state of things not unhke that which faced him after
the battle of Philippi (cf. p. 143). It was necessary to
relieve the poverty-stricken people of Italy at once, to
provide lands for the veterans, and to decide upon a
policy with reference to the soldiers of Antony. The
prudence and moderation which he had shown on the
previous occasion encouraged friend and foe alike to look
for a wise policy now. This expectation was not disap-
pointed. His very arrival in Italy inspired that confidence
in the future which is the precursor of prosperity, while
immediate financial difficulties were relieved by a liberal
use of the treasures of Egypt. One hundred and twenty
thousand veterans were provided with land, not by con-
fiscation, but by purchase at a total cost of 600,000,000
sesterces, as Octavius himself tells us in the Monumentum
Ancyranum, and in pursuance of the same wise policy a
general amnesty was granted to the followers of Antony
and Sextus Pompeius. The beneficial results of this course

266



ESTABLISHMENT OF THE EMPIRE 267

were apparent at once in the rise of the price of land and
in the revival of trade, and Octavius received immediate
recognition of his ser\'ices in restoring prosperity in the
extraordinary popularity which he enjoyed, — a factor that
helped him in no small degree in making the great political
changes which he had in mind.

323. Constitutional Position of Octavius from 32 to 27.
It does not seem to be possible to make out with cer-
tainty the authority by virtue of which he made his pre-
liminary arrangements. In the year 32, when he deposed
Antony (cf. p. 146), he probably resigned his own posi-
tion as triumvir, but he would seem to have been vested
at once with extraordinary powers similar to those which
he gave up. This was the basis of his authority down to
29 B.C., when another change took place of which we know
as little. It seems rather probable, however, that in the
year 29 the consular imperium was conferred on him,
together with the control of the army and the provinces,
and the right to hold the census.

324. The Change made in 27 B.C. The problem which
he set himself to solve was to retain his position as master
of the state, yet at the same time to keep intact the old
forms of the constitution. Various methods of accom-
plishing this object seem to have occurred to him, and
to have been tried, before he estabHshed his authority on
the basis on which it finally rested. Two of these attempts
have been mentioned in the preceding paragraph. A third
essay was made in 27 b.c. At a meeting of the senate,
held on the 13th of January in that year, he transferred
the control of the state to the senate and people. As
he himself puts it in the Monumentum Ancyranum, rem
publicam ex mea potestate in senat\us populiqiie Romani
a\rbitriu7n transtuU. This transfer of authority was only



268 IMPERIAL PERIOD: HISTORICAL

a temporary one, and ancient {e.g., Dio, LIII. 3-1 1) as
well as modern historians have not hesitated to characterize
it as a political manoeuvre, since he retained the consul-
ship and the tribunician power, and the senate immedi-
ately conferred on him the hnperium proconsulare for a
period of ten years, and the title of Augustus. It is quite
possible that he wished to make the Roman people feel
the need of his directing hand by bringing them face to
face with the possibihty of his withdrawal from public life,
and to make the extraordinary powers which he received
afresh from them seem their free gift to him.

Modern historians have called attention to the fact,
however, that there is an essential constitutional difference
between his new and his old powers. His old position
was monarchical in some respects. His new authority
was not essentially out of harmony with republican tradi-
tion, and this change was undoubtedly in his mind a great
gain. It was a step also in harmony with his carefully
observed policy. His proconsular power was not radically
different from that which had been exercised at various
times under the republic. Furthermore, it was granted for
a limited period, of ten years, and was exercised only over
the border provinces, where troops were still necessary.
The management of the older provinces was intrusted to
the senate, and the control of Italy was vested in the
senate and the magistrates, as it had been under the
republic. As consul, and in his exercise of the potestas
tribujiicia, which had been conferred on him in the year
36, the principle of collegiality was obser\'ed, and his
incumbency of the consulship, like that of his colleagues
in the office, depended upon an election in the popular
assembly. It is evident that the forms of the old consti-
tution had been preserved with great success. At the



ESTABLISHMENT OF THE EMPIRE 269

same time Augustus had secured the supreme power which
he wished. The proconsular imperium over the unsettled
provinces gave him command of the army and navy, and
the power of appointing indirectly all the governors in the
provinces where legions were stationed. Henceforth, too,
he would have no occasion to fear a rival. In his exer-
cise of the tribunician or consular power he was associated
with colleagues of nominally equal rank, but he was raised
so far above them in the eyes of the people, that inde-
pendent action on their part was scarcely conceivable.

325. The Titles of Augustus and Princeps. The title
Augustus had no direct political meaning, but, like the
laurels which were placed on the doorposts of Octavius'
house on the Palatine, it distinguished him from other citi-
zens, and was a mark of the preeminence which was freely
conceded to him. This preeminence was also well expressed
in the title princeps. It has sometimes been maintained
that this title was first apphed to Octavius in the senate
in the restrictive and traditional sense of princeps senaius,
and came in time to characterize him as the first citizen
in the commonwealth, the princeps civitatis ; but it is more
probable that the title never had this restricted meaning,
and that from the outset it indicated the relation which
the new ruler bore to the whole body of citizens — that
it marked him out, in fact, as the foremost citizen of the
state.

326. Final Modifications of the Year 23. It is not per-
fectly clear why Augustus introduced into his system the
changes which he made in the year 23. Very likely the
four years' test which he had given to the new constitution
had brought out its weakness at certain points, and the
illness which threatened his hfe in the year mentioned
made him feel the necessity of strengthening it at once.



270 IMPERIAL PERIOD: HISTORICAL

His objection to the old system probably lay in two
facts. In the first place, he shared the administration of
Rome and Italy with his colleagues in the consulship, and,
although his prestige removed in large measure the dan-
ger of opposition from them, that danger existed in theory,
and might at a critical moment become a serious matter
in reality. At all events, the traditional etiquette existing
between the two members of the consular college may well
have hampered him in carrying out his plans. To have
himself made sole consul would have been too violent a
departure from tradition to be poUtic. He, therefore, gave
up his practice of holding the consulship every year, and
cast about him for a solution which would better meet the
needs of the case. Such a solution he found by modify-
ing and extending his proconsular imperiiim, and by giving
importance to the tribunician power. Not all the points in
which the proconsular imperiiim was extended by Augustus
and his successors are clear. However, the extant fragment
of the lex de imperio Vespasiani, the statements of Dio
Cassius, and an examination of the functions actually exer-
cised by the emperor, make it plain that, although he held
his imperhwi as a proconsul, a series of measures passed
in the year 23 and in subsequent years allowed him to
retain it within the city, and gave him a position equal in
rank and authority to that of the consul.

In giving a prominent place to the tribunician power,
he hit upon a happy idea. The associations connected
with the tribunate made it a popular office. In its early
history it had been the organ of the plebeians in their
struggle for civil and political rights. In its later history
it had protected the individual against the encroachments
of the state. Furthermore, the tribune had acquired posi-
tive and negative powers touching almost every field of



ESTABLISHMENT OF THE EMPIRE 2/1

administrative activity. He could summon the senate or
the popular assemblies for the transaction of business, and
he could veto the action of almost any magistrate. We
have seen one reason why Augustus turned from the con-
sulship to the tribunate. Another may perhaps be found
in the fact that the duties of the consul were exercised
within a certain sphere limited by tradition. The tribunate,
on the other hand, from its very nature and history, was
capable of indefinite extension in all directions. Poten-
tially Augustus had held the tribunician power ever since
the year 36. From this time, however, as an indication
of the new importance attaching to it, although he took
the title for life, he assumed it anew each year, and, after
23 B.C., in official documents indicated the year by setting
down the number of times he had held the tribunician
power. This practice his successors followed. The signifi-
cance attaching to this power is also indicated by the fact
that the assignment of it was accepted as marking out a
successor in the principate.

The system of Augustus was now essentially complete.
He accepted no other permanent extraordinary office, even
at the solicitation of the people. The proconsular impe-
riiim gave him command of the legions, and his supremacy
in civil administration rested securely on his right to exer-
cise the imperiinn \\ithin the city and on his possession of
the potestas trihunicia. The few emergencies of a later
date which required the exercise for a brief time of powers
which he did not have were provided for by special legis-
lation, or by the natural extension of his tribunician or pro-
consular authority ; and when the ten years of his procon-
sular imperimn expired, he secured a formal renewal of the
power for another period. The position of Augustus in
religious matters was almost as preeminent as it was in



2/2 IMPERIAL PERIOD: HISTORICAL

political affairs. He was made a member of the four great
priesthoods, and in the year 12, after the death of Lepidus,
he was elected poutifex viaximus.

327. The Question of the Succession. It remained for
Augustus to complete his work by securing the succession
to the man of his choice. The question presented itself in
a definite form at the time of his severe illness in the year
23. At that time he wisely passed over his only male rela-
tive, Marcellus, the son of his sister Octavia, because he felt
that the young man was not old enough for such a responsi-
ble position, and, by giving his signet-ring to Agrippa, indi-
rectly designated him as his successor. Although he turned
to Marcellus on his recovery, the death of Marcellus caused
him to revert to his former plan, and in 2 1 B.C. he married
Agrippa to his daughter Julia, the widow of Marcellus, and
three years later had the tribunician power conferred on
him for a period of five years. The method which Augus-
tus had found for settling the question of the succession
was clear at once. His own powers were given to him for
a fixed term of years or for life. He could not transmit
them, therefore, to any one else at his death. He could,
however, during his own lifetime invest the man of his
choice with powers independent of his own and thus do
much toward securing the succession for him. This was
the plan which he adopted in the case of Agrippa. The
birth of two children to Julia from her marriage with Agrippa
involved a slight modification in the plan of Augustus. He
designated these two grandsons, Gaius and Lucius Caesar,
as his heirs, and made Agrippa their guardian. Upon the
death of the latter in 12 b.c. this guardianship was trans-
ferred to Tiberius, the stepson of Augustus, and in 6 B.C.
the tribunician power was conferred on him for a period
of five years. But Tiberius was aggrieved at his failure to



ESTABLISHMENT OF THE EMPIRE 273

be designated as the successor of Augustus, and retired to the
island of Rhodes. To the bitter disappointment of Augustus
both of his grandsons died, and he was at last forced to rec-
ognize the eminent ability of Tiberius, and his services to
the state, by adopting him as his heir and by conferring on
him again the tribunician power. The question of the suc-
cession was finally settled in a.d. 13 beyond the possibility
of change by the passage of a lex consularis associating
Tiberius with Augustus in the government of the prov-
inces. Henceforth his authority was independent of that
of Augustus, and also rested on a legal basis. Augustus
died the year after this arrangement was made.

328. Social Reforms. Nothing has been said up to this
point about the social and financial reforms of Augustus.
They were almost as far-reaching as his political changes.
His most important legislation on these matters was in-
tended to restore the integrity of the marriage relation and
to prevent a decrease of the native population. The influx
of foreigners, the development of luxurious tastes, the long-
continued civil wars, the public games, and a host of similar
influences had undermined public morality and subverted
the old idea of the family. Adultery and divorce were
not uncommon, and the number of the unmarried and of
childless married couples had increased in an alarming
way. A series of laws was directed against these evils.
The lex de adulteriis imposed severe penalties on those
convicted of adultery, while, under the lex de mariiandis
ordinibies, restrictions were put on divorce, and the unmar-
ried and childless married were placed under disabilities in
the matter of inheriting property and suing for office.

This method of attacking the evil failing of effect, Augus-
tus approached the subject from the other direction. The
celebrated lex Papia Poppaea, instead of laying penalties



274 IMPERIAL PERIOD: HISTORICAL

on the unmarried and childless, encouraged child-bearing
by granting sums of money or privileges in canvassing for
office to the father, and certain exceptional property rights
to the mother of a family. An attempt was made to check
the growth of extravagant tastes, which kept many from
marriage, by the passage of sumptuary laws. The demor-
alizing influence of the pubHc games was somewhat lessened
by placing restrictions on the attendance of women. In
particular the emperor strove to restore the Roman religion
to its old position of dignity by rebuilding the temples, by
celebrating religious festivals with great pomp, and by taking
certain priestly offices himself, and in no one of his social
reforms were the results of a more permanent character.

329. Financial Reforms. The restoration of peace, the
suppression of piracy, and a more equitable and inteUigent
government of the provinces did much to restore prosperity
to Italy and the provinces. These beneficent reforms were,
however, supplemented by a systematic revision of the
financial system. The provinces profited in particular by
this change. The personal acquaintance which he made
with the condition of the provinces in the period from 27
to 24 B.C., and the census which he took in several of
them gave Augustus trustworthy information on which to
base his financial reforms. In place of the extortionate
requisitions made by provincial governors and the taxes,
many in number and oppressive in character, of the repub-
lican re'gime, he substituted a land tax and a personal tax.
Trade was relieved from harassing restrictions, and public
improvements were made. The burden of the provinces
was still further lightened by the imposition in Italy of a
legacy duty and a tax on the sale of slaves.

330. The Princeps and the Other Branches of Govern-
ment. In our discussion of the political institutions of



ESTABLISHMENT OF THE EMPIRE 275

previous periods it has been found convenient to consider
them from the point of view of the magistracies, the senate,
and the people. That division of the subject will be
adopted now, although it has less significance for the period
under consideration, since, in consequence of the subordi-



Online LibraryFrank Frost AbbottA history and description of Roman political institutions → online text (page 21 of 34)