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Tribune (Latin : Tribunus) was the title of various elected officials in ancient Rome. The two most important were the tribunes of the plebs and the military tribunes. For most of Roman history, a college of ten tribunes of the plebs acted as a check on the authority of the senate and the annual magistrates, holding the power of ius intercessionis to intervene on behalf of the plebeians, and veto unfavourable legislation. There were also military tribunes, who commanded portions of the Roman army, subordinate to higher magistrates, such as the consuls and praetors, promagistrates, and their legates. Various officers within the Roman army were also known as tribunes. The title was also used for several other positions and classes in the course of Roman history.
The word tribune is derived from the Roman tribes. The three original tribes known as the Ramnes or Ramnenses, Tities or Titienses, and the Luceres, were each headed by a tribune, who represented each tribe in civil, religious, and military matters. ii. 7 Subsequently, each of the Servian tribes was also represented by a tribune. :ii. 14:
Under the Roman Kingdom, the Tribunus Celerum, in English Tribune of the Celeres, or Tribune of the Knights, was commander of the king's personal bodyguard, known as the Celeres . This official was second only to the king, and had the authority to pass law, known as lex tribunicia, and to preside over the comitia curiata . Unless the king himself elected to lead the cavalry into battle, this responsibility fell to the tribune of the celeres. In theory he could deprive the king of his imperium, or authority to command, with the agreement of the comitia curiata. ii. 13:
In the reign of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the last Roman king, this office was held by Lucius Junius Brutus, the king's nephew, and thus the senior member of the king's household, after the king himself and his sons. It was Brutus who convened the comitia and asked that they revoke the king's imperium. i. 59 After the fall of the monarchy, the powers of the tribune of the celeres were divided between the Magister Militum , or Master of the Infantry, also known as the Praetor Maximus or dictator, and his lieutenant, the magister equitum or "Master of the Horse".:
The Tribuni Plebis, known in English as Tribunes of the Plebs, Tribunes of the People, or Plebeian Tribunes, were instituted in 494 BC, after the first secession of the plebs, in order to protect the interests of the plebeians against the actions of the senate and the annual magistrates, who were uniformly patrician. The ancient sources indicate the tribunes may have originally been two or five in number. If the former, the college of tribunes was expanded to five in 470 BC. Either way, the college was increased to ten in 457 BC, and remained at this number throughout Roman history. They were assisted by two aediles plebis , or plebeian aediles. Only plebeians were eligible for these offices, although there were at least two exceptions.
The tribunes of the plebs had the power to convene the concilium plebis , or plebeian assembly, and propose legislation before it. Only one of the tribunes could preside over this assembly, which had the power to pass laws affecting only the plebeians, known as plebiscita, or plebiscites. After 287 BC, the decrees of the concilium plebis had the effect of law over all Roman citizens. By the 3rd century BC, the tribunes could also convene and propose legislation before the senate.
Although sometimes referred to as "plebeian magistrates," technically the tribunes of the plebs were not magistrates, having been elected by the plebeians alone, and not the whole Roman people. However, they were sacrosanct, and the whole body of the plebeians were pledged to protect the tribunes against any assault or interference with their persons during their terms of office. Anyone who violated the sacrosanctity of the tribunes might be killed without penalty.
This was also the source of the tribunes' power, known as ius intercessionis, or intercessio, by which any tribune could intercede on behalf of a Roman citizen to prohibit the act of a magistrate or other official. Citizens could appeal the decisions of the magistrates to the tribunes, who would then be obliged to determine the legality of the action before a magistrate could proceed. This power also allowed the tribunes to forbid, or veto any act of the senate or another assembly. Only a dictator was exempt from these powers.
The tribunicia potestas, or tribunician power, was limited by the fact that it was derived from the oath of the people to defend the tribunes. This limited most of the tribunes' actions to the boundaries of the city itself, as well as a radius of one mile around. They had no power to affect the actions of provincial governors.
The powers of the tribunes were severely curtailed during the constitutional reforms of the dictator Sulla in 81 BC. Although many of these powers were restored in further reforms of 75 BC and 70 BC, the prestige and authority of the tribunes had been irreparably damaged. In 48 BC, the senate granted tribunician powers (tribunicia potestas, powers equivalent to those of a tribune without actually being one) to the dictator Julius Caesar. Caesar used them to prevent the other tribunes interfering with his actions. In 23 BC, the senate granted the same power to Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, and from that point onwards it was regularly granted to each emperor as part of their formal titles. Under the Roman Empire, the tribunes continued to be elected, but had lost their independence and most of their practical power. The office became merely a step in the political careers of plebeians who aspired toward a seat in the senate.
The Tribuni Militum, known in English as Military Tribunes or literally, Tribunes of the Soldiers, were elected each year along with the annual magistrates. Their number varied throughout Roman history, but eventually reached twenty-four. These were usually young men in their late twenties, who aspired to a senatorial career. Each tribune would be assigned to command a portion of the Roman army, subordinate to the magistrates and promagistrates appointed by the senate, and their legates.
Within each of the legions, various middle-ranking officers were also styled tribune. These officers included:
In the late Roman army, a tribunus was a senior officer, sometimes called a comes , who commanded a cavalry vexillatio. As tribounos, the title survived in the East Roman army until the early 7th century.
From the use of tribunus to describe various military officers is derived the word tribunal, originally referring to a raised platform used to address the soldiers or administer justice.
Military tribunes are featured in notable works of historical fiction, including Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ , by Lew Wallace, and The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas. Both novels involve characters affected by the life and death of Jesus, and were turned into epic films during the 1950s. Messala, the primary antagonist in Ben-Hur , was played by Stephen Boyd, while Marcellus Gallio, the protagonist of The Robe , was played by a young Richard Burton.
In 445 BC, the tribunes of the plebs succeeded in passing the lex Canuleia , repealing the law forbidding the intermarriage of patricians and plebeians, and providing that one of the consuls might be a plebeian. Rather than permit the consular dignity to pass into the hands of a plebeian, the senate proposed a compromise whereby three military tribunes, who might be either patrician or plebeian, should be elected in place of the consuls. The first tribuni militum consulare potestate, or military tribunes with consular power, were elected for the year 444. Although plebeians were eligible for this office, each of the first "consular tribunes" was a patrician. iv. 1–6:
Military tribunes were elected in place of the consuls in half the years from 444 to 401 BC, and in each instance, all of the tribunes were patricians; nor did any plebeian succeed in obtaining the consulship. The number of tribunes increased to four beginning in 426, and six beginning in 405. At last, the plebeians elected four of their number military tribunes for the year 400; others were elected in 399, 396, 383, and 379. But apart from these years, no plebeian obtained the highest offices of the Roman State.
The patricians' monopoly on power was finally broken by Gaius Licinius Calvus Stolo and Lucius Sextius Lateranus, tribunes of the people, who in 376 BC brought forward legislation demanding not merely that one of the consuls might be a plebeian, but that henceforth one must be chosen from their order. When the senate refused their demand, the tribunes prevented the election of annual magistrates for five years, before relenting and permitting the election of consular tribunes from 370 to 367. In the end, and with the encouragement of the dictator Marcus Furius Camillus, the senate conceded the battle, and passed the Licinian Rogations. Sextius was elected the first plebeian consul, followed by Licinius two years later; and with this settlement, the consular tribunes were abolished. xiv. 12 :vi. 35, 36, 38, 42, vii. 1, 2:
The exact nature of the Tribuni Aerarii, or Tribunes of the Treasury is shrouded in mystery. Originally they seem to have been tax collectors, but this power was slowly lost to other officials. By the end of the Republic, this style belonged to a class of persons slightly below the equites in wealth. When the makeup of Roman juries was reformed in 70 BC, it was stipulated that one-third of the members of each jury should belong to this class.
In the early history of the Republic of Venice, during the tenure of the sixth Doge Domenico Monegario, Venice instituted a dual Tribunal modeled on the above Roman institution - two new Tribunes being elected each year, with the intention to oversee the Doge and prevent abuse of power (though this aim was not always successfully achieved).
The "Tribunat", the French word for tribunate, derived from the Latin term tribunatus, meaning the office or term of a Roman tribunus (see above), was a collective organ of the young revolutionary French Republic composed of members styled tribun (the French for tribune), which, despite the apparent reference to one of ancient Rome's prestigious magistratures, never held any real political power as an assembly, its individual members no role at all.
It was instituted by Napoleon I Bonaparte's Constitution of the Year VIII "in order to moderate the other powers" by discussing every legislative project, sending its orateurs ("orators", i.e. spokesmen) to defend or attack them in the Corps législatif, and asking the Senate to overturn "the lists of eligibles, the acts of the Legislative Body and those of the government" on account of unconstitutionality. Its 100 members were designated by the Senate from the list of citizens from 25 years up, and annually one fifth was renewed for a five-year term.
When it opposed the first parts of Bonaparte's proposed penal code, he made the Senate nominate 20 new members at once to replace the 20 first opponents to his politic; they accepted the historically important reform of penal law. As the Tribunate opposed new despotic projects, he got the Senate in year X to allow itself to dissolve the Tribunate. In XIII it was further downsized to 50 members. On August 16, 1807 it was abolished and never revived.
The cursus honorum was the sequential order of public offices held by aspiring politicians in the Roman Republic and the early Roman Empire. It was designed for men of senatorial rank. The cursus honorum comprised a mixture of military and political administration posts. Each office had a minimum age for election. There were minimum intervals between holding successive offices and laws forbade repeating an office.
The legislative assemblies of the Roman Republic were political institutions in the ancient Roman Republic. According to the contemporary historian Polybius, it was the people who had the final say regarding the election of magistrates, the enactment of Roman laws, the carrying out of capital punishment, the declaration of war and peace, and the creation of alliances. Under the Constitution of the Roman Republic, the people held the ultimate source of sovereignty.
A dictator was a magistrate of the Roman Republic, entrusted with the full authority of the state to deal with a military emergency or to undertake a specific duty. All other magistrates were subordinate to his imperium, and the right of the plebeian tribunes to veto his actions or of the people to appeal from them was extremely limited. In order to prevent the dictatorship from threatening the state itself, severe limitations were placed upon its powers, as a dictator could only act within his intended sphere of authority, and was obliged to resign his office once his appointed task had been accomplished, or at the expiration of six months. Dictators were frequently appointed from the earliest period of the Republic down to the Second Punic War, but the magistracy then went into abeyance for over a century, until it was revived in a significantly modified form, first by Sulla between 82 and 79 BC, and then by Julius Caesar between 49 and 44 BC. The office was formally abolished after the death of Caesar, and not revived under the Empire.
The Conflict or Struggle of the Orders was a political struggle between the Plebeians (commoners) and Patricians (aristocrats) of the ancient Roman Republic lasting from 500 BC to 287 BC, in which the Plebeians sought political equality with the Patricians. It played a major role in the development of the Constitution of the Roman Republic. Shortly after the founding of the Republic, this conflict led to a secession from Rome by Plebeians to the Sacred Mount at a time of war. The result of this first secession was the creation of the office of Plebeian Tribune, and with it the first acquisition of real power by the Plebeians.
The magister equitum, in English Master of the Horse or Master of the Cavalry, was a Roman magistrate appointed as lieutenant to a dictator. His nominal function was to serve as commander of the Roman cavalry in time of war, but just as a dictator could be nominated to respond to other crises, so the magister equitum could operate independently of the cavalry; like the dictator, the appointment of a magister equitum served both military and political purposes.
Tribune of the plebs, tribune of the people or plebeian tribune was the first office of the Roman state that was open to the plebeians, and was, throughout the history of the Republic, the most important check on the power of the Roman Senate and magistrates. These tribunes had the power to convene and preside over the Concilium Plebis ; to summon the senate; to propose legislation; and to intervene on behalf of plebeians in legal matters; but the most significant power was to veto the actions of the consuls and other magistrates, thus protecting the interests of the plebeians as a class. The tribunes of the plebs were sacrosanct, meaning that any assault on their person was punishable by death. In imperial times, the powers of the tribunate were granted to the emperor as a matter of course, and the office itself lost its independence and most of its functions. During the day the tribunes used to sit on the tribune benches on the Forum Romanum.
The Concilium Plebis was the principal assembly of the common people of the ancient Roman Republic. It functioned as a legislative/judicial assembly, through which the plebeians (commoners) could pass legislation, elect plebeian tribunes and plebeian aediles, and try judicial cases. The Plebeian Council was originally organized on the basis of the Curia but in 471 BC adopted an organizational system based on residential districts or tribes. The Plebeian Council usually met in the well of the Comitium and could only be convoked by the Tribune of the Plebs. The patricians were excluded from the Council.
A military tribune was an officer of the Roman army who ranked below the legate and above the centurion. Young men of Equestrian rank often served as military tribune as a stepping stone to the Senate. The tribunus militum should not be confused with the elected political office of tribune of the people (tribunus plebis) nor with that of tribunus militum consulari potestate.
The Curiate Assembly was the principal assembly that evolved in shape and form over the course of the Roman Kingdom up until the Comitia Centuriata organized by Servius Tullius. During these first decades, the people of Rome were organized into thirty units called "Curiae". The Curiae were ethnic in nature, and thus were organized on the basis of the early Roman family, or, more specifically, on the basis of the thirty original patrician (aristocratic) clans. The Curiae formed an assembly for legislative, electoral, and judicial purposes. The Curiate Assembly passed laws, elected Consuls, and tried judicial cases. Consuls always presided over the assembly. While plebeians (commoners) could participate in this assembly, only the patricians could vote.
The Lex Licinia Sextia, also known as the Licinian Rogations, was a series of laws proposed by the tribunes of the plebs, Lucius Sextius Lateranus and Gaius Licinius Stolo. These laws provided for a limit on the interest rate of loans and a restriction on private ownership of land. A third law, which provided for one of the two consuls to be a plebeian, was rejected. Two of these laws were passed in 368 BC, after the two proponents had been elected and re-elected tribunes for nine consecutive years and had successfully prevented the election of patrician magistrates for five years. In 367 BC, during their tenth tribunate, this law was passed. In the same year they also proposed a fourth law regarding the priests who were the custodians of the sacred Sibylline Books.
The tribuni militum consulari potestate, in English commonly also Consular Tribunes, were tribunes elected with consular power during the so-called "Conflict of the Orders" in the Roman Republic, starting in 444 BC and then continuously from 408 BC to 394 BC and again from 391 BC to 367 BC.
Lucius Sextius Lateranus was a Roman tribune of the plebs and is noted for having been one of two men who passed the Leges Liciniae Sextiae of 368 BC and 367 BC. Originally, these were a set of three laws. One law provided that the interest already paid on debts should be deducted from the principal and that the payment of the rest of the principal should be in three equal annual installments. Another one provided restricted individual ownership of public land in excess of 500 iugeras and forbade the grazing of more than 100 cattle on public land. The most important law provided that one of the two consuls be a plebeian. Having been reelected nine times, Lucius Sextius Lateranus and Gaius Licinius Stolo held the plebeian tribunate for ten years. In 368 BC the laws regarding debt and land were passed, but the law regarding the consulship was rejected. In 367 BC this law was passed. In the same year the two tribunes of the plebs proposed a fourth law concerning the priests who were the custodians of the sacred Sibylline Books, and Lucius Sextius Lateranus was elected to serve as consul for the year 366 BC. Livy wrote that he was "the first of the plebeians to attain that honour."
Secessio plebis was an informal exercise of power by Rome's plebeian citizens, similar in concept to the general strike. During the secessio plebis, the plebs would abandon the city en masse in a protest emigration and leave the patrician order to themselves. Therefore, a secessio meant that all shops and workshops would shut down and commercial transactions would largely cease. This was an effective strategy in the Conflict of the Orders due to strength in numbers; plebeian citizens made up the vast majority of Rome's populace and produced most of its food and resources, while a patrician citizen was a member of the minority upper class, the equivalent of the landed gentry of later times. Authors report different numbers for how many secessions there were. Cary & Scullard state there were five between 494 BC and 287 BC.
The Roman magistrates were elected officials in Ancient Rome.
The constitution of the Roman Republic was a set of uncodified norms and customs which, together with various written laws, guided the procedural governance of the Roman Republic. The constitution emerged from that of the Roman kingdom, evolved substantively and significantly—almost to the point of unrecognisability—over the almost five hundred years of the republic. The collapse of republican government and norms from 133 BC would lead to the rise of Augustus and his principate.
The executive magistrates of the Roman Republic were officials of the ancient Roman Republic, elected by the People of Rome. Ordinary magistrates (magistratus) were divided into several ranks according to their role and the power they wielded: censors, consuls, praetors, curule aediles, and finally quaestor. Any magistrate could obstruct (veto) an action that was being taken by a magistrate with an equal or lower degree of magisterial powers. By definition, plebeian tribunes and plebeian aediles were technically not magistrates as they were elected only by the plebeians, but no ordinary magistrate could veto any of their actions. Dictator was an extraordinary magistrate normally elected in times of emergency for a short period. During this period, the dictator's power over the Roman government was absolute, as they were not checked by any institution or magistrate.
The history of the Constitution of the Roman Republic is a study of the ancient Roman Republic that traces the progression of Roman political development from the founding of the Roman Republic in 509 BC until the founding of the Roman Empire in 27 BC. The constitutional history of the Roman Republic can be divided into five phases. The first phase began with the revolution which overthrew the Roman Kingdom in 509 BC, and the final phase ended with the revolution which overthrew the Roman Republic, and thus created the Roman Empire, in 27 BC. Throughout the history of the republic, the constitutional evolution was driven by the struggle between the aristocracy and the ordinary citizens.
The gens Verginia or Virginia was a prominent family at ancient Rome, which from an early period was divided into patrician and plebeian branches. The gens was of great antiquity, and frequently filled the highest honors of the state during the early years of the Republic. The first of the family who obtained the consulship was Opiter Verginius Tricostus in 502 BC, the seventh year of the Republic. The plebeian members of the family were also numbered amongst the early tribunes of the people.
Volero Publilius was tribune of the plebs at Rome in 472 and 471 BC. During his time as tribune, he secured the passage of two important laws increasing the independence of his office.
Gaius Julius S. f. Vop. n. Iulus was a Roman statesman and member of the ancient patrician gens Julia. He was consular tribune in 408 and 405 BC, and censor in 393.