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assured, and this is the essential kernel of the imperial authority. It
was symbolised by planting the laui el-trees in front of the door of the
emperor's palace. The name Mmperator' became a kind of imperial

praenomen, preceding the emperor's other designations.
Mm"rSor» ^^^^ pracnomcn of Mmperator' had been already so used

by Caesar and by Octavian himself. ' The law which con-
ferred this military command also probably transferred to its possessor the »
old rights of the 'comitia* to decide on questions of peace and war, but
this privilege may have been given in 23. An important consequence of
the concentration of military authority was the organisation of the * cohortes
praetoriae ' who play such an important part in the imperial drama. This
was a large development of the old * cohors praetoria * which formed the
escort of every Republican general. Until the time of Septimius Severus,
the old principle was maintained that no part of the legionary army could
be stationed in Italy. In the same month of January 27, the celebrated
division of the provinces between the emperor and the Senate was carried
out The Senate retained for the most part the older provinces, where its
rule was familiar to the inhabitants, while the emperor governed in the



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381—383] *IMPERATOR'. AUGUSTUS 287

main the newer and less settled portions of the Empire, which needed the
presence of a military force. All soldiers owed allegiance to the emperor
alone, and Africa was the only senatorial province in which a detachment
of the army was stationed. The grant of power made in 27 was renewed
periodically down to the time of Augustus' death.

381. When the arrangement of 27 was made, the new name of Augustus
was given to Octavian, and it became the special designation

of the emperors ever after. In 23 a new departure was The new
taken. Hitherto Augustus had been consul, year after year. Autuittw.
He had been careful to avoid making any use of the title of
dictator, which Caesar had rendered odious, and which even his lieutenant
Antonius had abolished by law, after the assassination. Augustus found
it inconvenient to rest any part of his authority on the consulship, and
replaced it by the * tribunicia potestas ' which he held for the
remainder of his life. This became a vital part of the J^tM^l!""**^*
imperial authority. All the old powers of the Tribunate
were thereby vested in the emperor. He did not assume the office of
tribune, but all the actual tribunes were subjected to his control. We are
told that the * tribunicia potestas ' had already been conferred on Caesar,
and on Augustus himself in 36; but apparently no attempt had been
made by either to draw direct political consequences from its possession.
It had, however, rendered Caesar and his heir * sacrosancti ', after the pre-
cedent of the tribunes; and the ascendency of the tribunes had in the
main flowed from their personal inviolability. All treason was now treated
as treason against the emperor's person, and all loyalty was loyalty to him.

382. Some authorities relate that the 'proconsulare imperium' was also
granted to Augustus in 23. It was more probably involved in the changes
which were made four years earlier, but it may have been now re-defined.
Its importance was that it gave the emperor a hold on the senatorial, as well
as the imperial provinces. Pompey had exercised a kind of * proconsulare
imperium' under the lex Manilia, which had given him, within certain
territorial limits, equal powers with a number of provincial
governors. But the emperor enjoyed * proconsulare im- proconsulare
perium maius '. Other privileges were conferred on Augustus m^"."°*
during his reign, yet they did not to any great extent add

to the strength of his position, with one exception. On the death of
Lepidus, he obtained the office of * pontifex maximus ', which
remained an appanage of the emperors, and enabled them JJ*'^^'^^*
to keep in close touch with the religion of the State.

383. It is often said that the imperial power consisted of these two
elements, the * proconsulare imperium' and the * tribunicia

potestas'. It is true that every emperor possessed both. The basis of
The first was conferred by the Senate, and the second was poweT.^*
bestowed by a sham assembly of the people. Even at a late
date we hear of the *comitia tribuniciae potestatis*. On this sham rested



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288 CONSTITUTION [VI i

the assumption by which the late lawyers justified absolutism. They said
that the people had surrendered all their rights to the emperor. The '
titles of these two great sources of authority were useful to the founder of
the Empire, as they linked up the new order with the ancient history of
the nation, and so eased the passage from a disorderly liberty to an ordered
subjection. The name 'tribunicia potestas' constituted a claim on the
part of Augustus to be a true representative of the great democratic leaders
of the past, and it was an indication that the welfare of the poorer citizens
was to be a principal object for the new line of rulers. But it is impossible
to trace every imperial act to one or other of these sources. The emperors
themselves seldom troubled to distinguish between the sources of their
authority, and from time to time new enactments added new functions. ,
The power of the emperor was in practice treated as a thing indivisible, and
for it the commonest designation was 'imperium '. The question has been
raised whether the emperor did not possess an 'imperium' which was
distinct from the * proconsulare imperium ' and was indicated by the prae-
nomen 'imperator'. Technically, this view may be correct;
^rinoB*** practically, it is of little importance. The title most com-

monly assumed by Augustus and his early successors was
* princeps ', i.e, * first citizen ', but this did not appear in formal documents.

384. Mommsen introduced the term 'dyarchy' to denote the con-

stitution established by Augustus. The word is deceptive,
^J^^PP?*^ as the new order never, from the first, rested on an equal

division of power between the Senate and the emperor.
Though the emperor could boast that he had destroyed no Republican
institution, yet, at every point in the vast sphere of government, his.
superiority was amply secured. That Augustus regarded himself as a
magistrate bound by law, is true. But Mommsen's dictum that the
emperor was * only one magistrate the more ' is nevertheless misleading.
The course of imperial history shows an inevitable trend towards autocracy,
which was completely established by Diocletian and Constantine. There
was very little in the tyranny of a Gains or a Nero which could be said
to contravene the principles of the constitution. And even wise rulers
like Nerva and Trajan, whose subjects felt their regime to be one of
'liberty', placed the whole government under a personal pressure far
beyond that to which Augustus had subjected it. For the Augustan
constitution a less misleading name is that of * Principate '.

385. We will now show in outline how the changed polity affected the

magistrates, the Senate, the comitia, the citizens, and the
Sc changed Empire at large. With few exceptions, all the functionaries
polity on the of the Republic were retained, but the shadow of the
tribunes, emperor was over them all. From what has been already

said, it will be seen that the tribunes played but a petty r61e in the new
political drama. Their old privileges, excepting that of legislation, were
not taken from them, but could only be exercised by the emperor's



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384—385] INFLUENCE OF THE CHANGED POLITY 289

permission, and they soon ceased to be of any political importance. For
a time their activity in supervising the administration of the law remained.
But in the second century their office was only an antiquarian survival,
and after that nothing but a name, which lasted into Byzantine times, and
was curiously revived by Rienzi. In more than one way the aedileship and
the tribunate were closely connected. One or other of these offices had
to be passed between the quaestorship and the praetorship.
The consulate became more and more of an honorary office, * ^°°*" **
held for the most part on a short tenure of six or even two months. Yet
the consul's sphere of operations was somewhat enlarged. His powers of
jurisdiction were more extensive than they had been under the Republic.
And he shared in the increased business which, as we shall see, was
allotted to the Senate. Ex-consuls and ex-praetors still
supplied the governors for senatorial provinces. The number * phaeton,
of praetors varied from Caesar's time to that of Claudius, and rose to
eighteen. The old business of the praetors was insufficient to occupy so
numerous a body, but many found employment in the imperial service.
The ancient occupations of the praetors were in a good many ways cur-
tailed. The administration of the civil law was encroached upon by the
emperor himself, by the consuls, by a new officer, the 'praefectus urbi',
who had an ancient name (§311) but a new position, and became one of
the most important functionaries in the empire, and also from Hadrian's
time, by *iuridici' who administered justice in the country parts of Italy.
Some new duties were given to the praetors, as, for a short time, the
superintendence of the aerarium and (permanently) the * cura ludorum *,
which had belonged to the aediles. The censors, in the old Republican
sense, ceased to exist, though Claudius and the Flavian emperors bore the
title.

Caesar added two to the number of the aediles, with the title of
* aediles ceriales', to look after the corn supply. Other
arrangements were made for this duty by Augustus, but the
aediles were retained. In the great reorganisation by Augustus of the
police of the city, the aediles found a place. From his time to that of
Hadrian, each of the fourteen regions into which the city was divided had
an administrator who was assigned by lot from among praetors, aediles
and tribunes. But police functions were more and more absorbed by
new officers, the * praefectus urhi ' and the * praefectus uigilum ', and the
aediles disappeared early in the third century. The number
of quaestors was raised by Caesar to forty but again reduced * **"*** °'*'
by Augustus to twenty. The office still continued to be the gate by which
the Senate was entered, but like others, its importance decreased. It
existed still in the scheme of government framed by Diocletian and
Constantine.

The * Vigintisexuiri ' (§ 369) were reduced by Augustus to *Viginti-
uiri', by the suppression of the two commissioners who looked after roads

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290 CONSTITUTION [VI i

outside the city, and of the four *praefecti Capuam Cumas' (§ 369),
Augustus required that one of these twenty offices should

ImM^^^ be held before the quaestorship. As the quaestors were
twenty in number, the normal thing was for a man to pass

straight from the vigintivirate to the quaestorship, and the election to the

first office carried with it election to the second.

386. The emperor had great influence over the composition of the

magistracy, and by consequence, over the membership of
honorom'** the Senate. For all offices excepting the consulship, Au-
wffuUted by gustus enjoyed the right of recommending some candidates
e emperor. ^^^ should be elected without faiL These are the * candi-
dati Caesaris', of whom there is frequent mention in literature. By Nero's
time, the consulship had ceased to be an exception. Further, it lay with
the emperor to test the qualifications of all candidates. A precedent for
the * commendatio ' had been set by Caesar, on whom a law conferred the
right to select half the magistrates, other than consuls. During most of
his reign Augustus followed the ancient practice of going round with his
candidates and requesting personally the votes of the citizens at the
comitia ; later the * commendatio ' was given in writing.

387. The old freedom of election was still further cramped. The

Senate continued to be, as before, a collection of past
Freedom of magistrates. But it became a close corporation, with a high

election _. i-£ ^- / f \ i-x i

restricted. property qualification (1,000,000 sesterces). Only men
whose fathers had been senators, and others who had
received the emperor's permission, could become candidates for the
'vigintivirate'. Thus the whole composition of the *senatorius ordo*
depended on the ruler. The impoverished senator naturally looked to the
emperor to keep him in his seat by largess. Every year the princeps
republished the list of senators and dropped out the names of those who
had become disqualified. Every senator was required to take annually an
oath to observe the laws and to be loyal to all the *acta' of the ruler.
Those emperors who became * censors ', and all emperors after Doniitian,
could draft into the Senate a man who had held no office, denoting at the
same time the brevet rank which he was to hold. Thus a man was

* adlectus inter praetorios ', or * inter tribunicios * and so on. Or an actual
senator could be raised in rank; this process also bore the name of

* adlectio '. The procedure began under Caesar.

388. It will be seen that the domination exercised by the princeps over

the personnel of the Senate was very severe. We proceed
2e*semi!te.*'^ to Consider how the Senate's actual duties were affected by

the new system. After the accession of Tiberius the comitia
ceased to be summoned with rare exceptions, and Tiberius claimed that,
in setting the comitia aside, he was acting on instructions from Augustus.
The electoral functions of the comitia passed to the Senate. More than
once, when impending elections led to disorder, Augustus had superseded



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386— 3M THE SENATE 291

thecomitia and had himself arranged the selection of the magistrates,
and, earlier, the electoral comitia had been completely suspended during the
Triumvirate. Only on a few occasions after the death of Augustus did the
comitia legislate. A few statutes were passed in the reign of Tiberius, and
Claudius passed some so-called *plebiscita\ The latest comitial enact-
ment was the agrarian law of the emperor Nerva. The 'Senatus consultum'
took the place of the * lex ', properly so called, and of the * plebiscitum \
The emperor in practice, and in a continually increasing degree as time
went on, became a legislator, without recourse to the Senate.

Sulla had given the standing criminal courts (' quaestiones perpetuae')
a practical monopoly of the criminal jurisdiction over citizens, Augustus,
however, established the Senate as a high court of justice side by side with
the * quaestiones '. The offenders who came before it were usually, but not
always, of senatorial rank. Cases were introduced by the consul. The
Senate also became an appeal court in civil cases arising within its own
sphere of government. But neither on the criminal nor on the civil side
of its jurisdiction was the Senate unfettered by the princeps. Gradually
the ^ quaestiones ' with the juries lost importance, and disappeared in the
first half of the third century.

The almost unrestricted power over finance which the Senate had
enjoyed had been infringed by the comitia in the last years of the
Republic (^ 352, 372), and it was continuously undermined after the
establishment of the Empire; until, in the third century, it completely
passed away. There was bitter truth in the gibe which the historian
Tacitus hurled at a senator who proposed to transfer money from the
aerarium to the emperor's treasury: — *as though it made any difference!'
(Ann, vi 2). The control of the aerarium was entrusted to imperial
nominees. The new imperial finance was turned into a powerful instrument
for weakening the hold of the Senate on the provinces allotted to it for
government. And in other ways the influence of the emperor sapped the
independence of the Senate in the sphere of its provincial government

The business of the Senate was conducted under the ancient rules.
But, as the possibility of the imperial veto hovered over every transaction
which was not matter of routine, and as business introduced by the
emperor took precedence, the Senate was naturally anxious to discover the
mind of the ruler before venturing to pass any resolution of consequence,
and his feeling, whether it was made known to the Senators directly or
indirectly, was decisive. The effect of the general timidity and servility of
the Senate was largely to extend the imperial authority, which owed much
of its growth to the accumulation of precedents.

389. Such is a brief sketch of the altered position of the Senate ; but
some details remain to be filled in later. Meanwhile we
tium to other classes of the community. The equestrian The rest of tnc

, .,.,,,-,. iM 1 community,

body, now entirely in the hands of the pnnceps, like the

Senate, came to hold an important place in the new imperial service, as we

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292 CONSTITUTION [VI i

shall see. The citizens lost all political privilege by the destruction of the
comitia. The old ocal tribes finally ceased to exist, excepting as organisa-
tions of persons entitled to receive doles of com in the city. A master on
manumitting a slave would often buy out one of the recipients in favour of
his 'libertus' and he was then said to purchase him it tribe ('emere
tribum '). To the poor citizen in the capital the princeps was an earthly
Providence, who assured him * panem et circenses ', bread and amusement

390. We have hitherto looked at the imperial system from the side of

the ancient institutions which it affected. To complete the

^ survey, we must approach it from the side on which it was

new. It has been seen, in a general way, how thorough was the grip which

the lord of the State maintained on all its departments, but this control must

now be considered rather more in detail The army had,

e army. ^^^^ ^^^ ^.^^ ^^ Marius onward, become more and more the

determining factor in Roman politics. Throughout the imperial period, it
was the only real basis on which authority rested. Even the strongest
emperors were forced to maintain and increase its privileges. A continually
increasing proportion of the revenues was expended on its ordinary main-
tenance, on exceptional largesses, and on providing for the veterans. The
convulsions attendant on the changes of dynasty, which ensued on the
deaths of Nero, Commodus, and Severus Alexander, were struggles between
different sections of the army desirous of seating their own candidates on
the throne; and the subsequent period between the death of the last of the
Severi and the ascendency of Diocletian is one of almost continuous
military disorder, in which the last fragments of the ancient Republican
institutions were destroyed. The concentration of command in the hands
of Augustus had indeed rescued Rome from the chaos in which the
Republican scheme had ended, but the difficulty of reconciling the whole
army to the rule of one and the same person led inevitably to the destruc-
tion of the empire's unity. A frank acceptance of the dynastic prindple
might possibly have checked or delayed the process. But, in theory, each
emperor owed his position to a fresh grant of the imperial powers (§ 383),
and no dynasty lasted long enough to become surrounded with a traditional
reverence sufficiently strong to resist revolution. The fact that Italy and
the older and more setUed provinces of the Empire were more and more
divorced from actual military service placed them at the mercy of the
frontier legions.

391. The subject of imperial finance is, in its details, obscure and
Finance difficult. But it is clear that the new finance was a powerful

engine for advancing the emperor's power. The revenues
from the two new imposts, established by Augustus, the * uicesima heredi-
tatum', payable by Roman citizens only, and the *centesima rerum
uenalium', were ear-marked for his new military exchequer, the *aerarium
militare \ The resources of Egypt were entirely at the emperor's disposal ;
he stepped into the place of the Ptoltmics. The new arrangements in



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390— 393] THE ARMY. FINANCE. LEGISLATION 293

taxation were such that the emperor had financial interests in every
province, senatorial as well as imperial. His financial agent (* procurator')
became a concurrent power with the governor in all the provinces and, in
fact, a political agent of the ruler, and through him the collection of the
old senatorial revenues could be checked and watched, greatly to the
benefit of the provincials at the outset The old system of farming the
taxes was restricted and ultimately abolished The general scheme of
finance was such as to place the aerarium at a disadvantage compared with
the fiscus, and the discrepancy grew till, under the mconarchy of Diocletian
and Constantine, the aerarium was little more than the municipal chest of
the city of Rome. The claims of the fiscus were, of course, easily made
subservient to the worst oppression by the bad emperors. The main evil
of * delatio ' was concerned, not with politics, but with taxation. A con-
tinuous change in financial administration proceeded from the time of
Augustus, and Diocletian completed the process, so that a unified system of
taxation was imposed on the empire, and taxes were collected under super-
vision of the government An important financial power of the emperor was
the direction of the gold and silver coinage, the copper coinage being left
to the Senate. The continuous debasement of the currency contributed
powerfully to the disorder which Diocletian and his successors endeavoured
to amend. (On Finance, see further in Part 3 of this Chapter.)

39a. One of the great supports of the imperial system was what is known
as 'emperor-worship', but it concerns our subject only in an
indirect manner. Its oriental and unrepublican character, ^^^iS**""
when Caesar made his precipitate attempt to establish it, was ^^'^ ^*
the chief cause of his assassination. Augustus went more cautiously to
work, and soon the new cult of the *diui imperatores* spread throughout
the Empire, and became a force which helped to weld together the popu-
lations and to secure their loyalty to the ruling power. The cult gave a
new semblance of dignity to the Senate. At the end of every reign it sat
in judgment and decided whether the dead emperor was to be enrolled
among the 'diui* or whether his memory was to be reckoned accursed
(*damnatio memoriae'). As the decision really depended on the new
monarch, the Senate was forced to deify rulers who, like Commodus and
Hadrian, had been odious to it. The cult of the living emperor's * genius '
had also political importance. The oath by the * genius ' became regular in
official matters, and a breach of it became a kind of treason, or * maiestas '.
By these new religious or quasi-religious institutions, the conflict between
Christianity and the Empire was prepared.

393. The relation of the emperors to the making of law and its
administration needs further consideration. The emperor's
supreme power of initiating business in the Senate enabled ' " * *'°*
him to legislate through the Senate to any extent he pleased. And here
it may be noted that action of a kind that was likely to be unpopular,
whether legislative or administrative, was in many cases naturally thrown



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294 , CONSTITUTION [VI



upon the Senate, who helped to screen the ruler from odium. It has been
explained that the emperor's independent decisions on all kinds of matters
obtained the force of law, and that this was but the extreme development
of the old *ius edicendi' of the Republican magistrates. Ultimately this
became the sole source of law. Different names are given to the authori-
tative pronouncements of the monarch. The most general title is 'con-
stitution, under which the lawyer Gaius ranks *edictum', * rescriptum ',
and * epistula'. The word 'edictum ' naturally applies to a general order,
not called forth by a particular case; the 'rescriptum' and the less formal
•epistula' would originate in a request for an imperial decision in a
particular case. These decisions would profess to interpret law, but would
often re-make it, as it has been re-made by judges in all ages. The annual
oath taken by the senators to treat as valid all * acta ' of the emperor gave
every imperial pronouncement, whatever its character, in some sort the



Online LibrarySir John Edwin SandysA companion to Latin studies → online text (page 39 of 112)