The Roman Government

The Roman Government, under which the Roman Empire, Roman Republic, and the Roman Kingdom ran, remained fairly consistent in form and function throughout these three eras. The form of government that they had adopted came as a result of the various different ways of ruling that existed throughout the world at that time. The Romans themselves had already been through a monarchy and realized its drawbacks. Thus, they turned to the Greeks, who had established an aristocracy and a democracy. Utilizing the advantages of each of these three systems, the monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, the Romans created a government that they felt would best help them govern the land.

Although no written constitution exists, writings and stories of Roman citizens and scholars have been preserved. The system that they designed consisted of three basic branches: the Monarchial branch, the Aristocratic branch, and the Democratic branch. For comparison, the Aristocratic and Monarchial branch would be equivalent to the Executive Branch, while the Democratic branch would be the equivalent to the Legislative Branches. Each of the three branches had an influence in judicial matters of the Empire.

The Aristocratic Branch, which is similar to the U.S. executive branch, consisted of the senatus. Consisting of about 300 Roman citizens, the senatus was originally made to be an advisory board to the monarchial branch. However, it soon turned into the most powerful branch of the Roman Government, as it was the only branch that was able to enact long term laws and policy. It should be noted that the senatus enacted senatus consulta or decrees of the senate. Also, the senatus had a role in all public policy, but focused on foreign policy (including military policy) and monetary policy. Most of the members of the senatus were originally meant to be the head of patrician families, but as time went on and the branch became more powerful, new members took charge. Most of these members were former military officers and consuls. They also had life-long terms.

The Democratic branch, which is similar to the Legislative Branch, is really the senate of the current governmental system. It consists of three citizen assemblies: the comitia curiata, comitia centuriata, and comitia plebis tributa . Unlike our current senate, each of the three assemblies consisted of various voting units. Each voting unit, consisting of various members had one vote. Thus, each man in the voting unit voted, and the vote that received the majority, was the vote for the voting unit. The first assembly, the comitia curiata was derived from the 30 curiae that rose from the 3 early Romalan Tribes. These curiae originally consisted of the heads of the 10 leading families of the three tribes. However, the comitia curiata of the democratic branch, consisted of elected citizens over the age of 50 that were elected for life. Also, it should be noted that this assembly was effectively controlled by patricians (later the power shifted to the aristocracry). The second assembly, the comitia centuriata , was the most important assembly and was based on wealth and age. This assembly was also responsible for responsible for declaring war. Often, this assembly passed laws and served as the court of appeals with the highest power when dealing with capital punishment. They even tried cases of major crimes against the state, including treason, electoral corruption, embezzlement, extortion, murder of elected officials, and forgery. The final assembly was the comitia plebis tributa , which consisted of elected common people. This assembly was used to pass legislation that dealt with the common people. Also, the assembly played a role in civil litigation. Arbiters from the assembly served as the judges and heard cases, gave judgments, and decided the penalties. Also, later, even though this house was supposed to be of the common people, it soon landed into the power of the aristocracy.

The final branch of the republic was the Monarchial Branch. This branch consisted of various elected magistrates. It should be noted that each office, except dictator, was held collegially. This meant that each office was held by two or more men. Each member in an office had equal rank and could veto lower magistrates. Also, each office had a one year term, except dictatorship censorship. The first office was the office of consuls. This consisted of civil and military magistrates who convened the curiate and centuriate assembles of the democratic branch. The praetors served as governors, gave military commands, and administered civil law in Rome. The aediles was an office of the common people. This office was in charge of religious festivals and temples, as well as the upkeep of city. The Quaestors were financial officers and also served as civil and military assistants. The tribunes served to protect the lives of the people and could veto laws and acts to do so (similar to current day policemen). Censors, who are elected for five year terms and had great influence, had numerous roles, from inducting new citizens to reviewing public contracts. The final and highest office that one could hold was that of dictator. This office had tenure of six months and was given a Master of the Horse to lead the cavalry.