Executive Magistrates of the Roman Empire

Executive Magistrates of the Roman Empire

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The Executive Magistrates of the Roman Empire were elected individuals of the ancient Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

. During the transition from monarchy
Roman Kingdom
The Roman Kingdom was the period of the ancient Roman civilization characterized by a monarchical form of government of the city of Rome and its territories....

 to republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

, the constitutional balance of power shifted from the executive (the Roman King) to the Roman Senate
Roman Senate
The Senate of the Roman Republic was a political institution in the ancient Roman Republic, however, it was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a magistrate served his term in office, it usually was followed with automatic...

. During the transition from republic to empire, the constitutional balance of power shifted back to the executive (the Roman Emperor
Roman Emperor
The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman State during the imperial period . The Romans had no single term for the office although at any given time, a given title was associated with the emperor...

). Theoretically, the senate elected each new emperor, although in practice, it was the army which made the choice. The powers of an emperor, (his imperium
Imperium
Imperium is a Latin word which, in a broad sense, translates roughly as 'power to command'. In ancient Rome, different kinds of power or authority were distinguished by different terms. Imperium, referred to the sovereignty of the state over the individual...

) existed, in theory at least, by virtue of his legal standing. The two most significant components to an emperor's imperium were the "tribunician powers" (potestas tribunicia) and the "proconsular powers" (imperium proconsulare). In theory at least, the tribunician powers (which were similar to those of the Plebeian Tribunes under the old republic) gave the emperor authority over Rome's civil government, while the proconsular powers (similar to those of military governors, or Proconsul
Proconsul
A proconsul was a governor of a province in the Roman Republic appointed for one year by the senate. In modern usage, the title has been used for a person from one country ruling another country or bluntly interfering in another country's internal affairs.-Ancient Rome:In the Roman Republic, a...

s
, under the old republic) gave him authority over the Roman army. While these distinctions were clearly defined during the early empire, eventually they were lost, and the emperor's powers became less constitutional and more monarchical.

Under the empire, the citizens were divided into three classes, and for members of each class, a distinct career path was available (known as the cursus honorum
Cursus honorum
The cursus honorum was the sequential order of public offices held by aspiring politicians in both the Roman Republic and the early 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...

). The traditional magistracies were only available to citizens of the senatorial class. The magistracies that survived the fall of the republic were (by their order of rank per the cursus honorum) the Consulship
Roman consul
A consul served in the highest elected political office of the Roman Republic.Each year, two consuls were elected together, to serve for a one-year term. Each consul was given veto power over his colleague and the officials would alternate each month...

, Praetor
Praetor
Praetor was a title granted by the government of Ancient Rome to men acting in one of two official capacities: the commander of an army, usually in the field, or the named commander before mustering the army; and an elected magistratus assigned varied duties...

ship
, Plebeian Tribunate
Tribune
Tribune was a title shared by elected officials in the Roman Republic. Tribunes had the power to convene the Plebeian Council and to act as its president, which also gave them the right to propose legislation before it. They were sacrosanct, in the sense that any assault on their person was...

, Aedile
Aedile
Aedile was an office of the Roman Republic. Based in Rome, the aediles were responsible for maintenance of public buildings and regulation of public festivals. They also had powers to enforce public order. There were two pairs of aediles. Two aediles were from the ranks of plebeians and the other...

ship
, Quaestor
Quaestor
A Quaestor was a type of public official in the "Cursus honorum" system who supervised financial affairs. In the Roman Republic a quaestor was an elected official whereas, with the autocratic government of the Roman Empire, quaestors were simply appointed....

ship
, and Military Tribunate
Tribune
Tribune was a title shared by elected officials in the Roman Republic. Tribunes had the power to convene the Plebeian Council and to act as its president, which also gave them the right to propose legislation before it. They were sacrosanct, in the sense that any assault on their person was...

. If an individual was not of the senatorial class, he could run for one of these offices if he was allowed to run by the emperor, or otherwise, he could be appointed to one of these offices by the emperor. Mark Antony
Mark Antony
Marcus Antonius , known in English as Mark Antony, was a Roman politician and general. As a military commander and administrator, he was an important supporter and loyal friend of his mother's cousin Julius Caesar...

 abolished the offices of Roman Dictator
Roman dictator
In the Roman Republic, the dictator , was an extraordinary magistrate with the absolute authority to perform tasks beyond the authority of the ordinary magistrate . The office of dictator was a legal innovation originally named Magister Populi , i.e...

and Master of the Horse
Master of the Horse
The Master of the Horse was a position of varying importance in several European nations.-Magister Equitum :...

during his Consulship in 44 BC, shortly after Julius Caesar's
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

 assassination. The office of Interrex
Interrex
The Interrex was literally a ruler "between kings" during the Roman Kingdom and the Roman Republic. He was in effect a short-term regent....

was also abolished during the transition from republic to empire. In 22 BC the emperor Augustus
Augustus
Augustus ;23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled alone from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.The dates of his rule are contemporary dates; Augustus lived under two calendars, the Roman Republican until 45 BC, and the Julian...

 appointed P. Aemilius Lepidus and L. Munatius Plancus to the Censorship, and while they began a census that year, they never completed it, and shortly thereafter the office was abolished. The emperor Claudius
Claudius
Claudius , was Roman Emperor from 41 to 54. A member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, he was the son of Drusus and Antonia Minor. He was born at Lugdunum in Gaul and was the first Roman Emperor to be born outside Italy...

 attempted to revive the office by appointing himself and L. Vitellius Censor in 47 AD, but after Claudius, no further attempts were made to revive the office.

Roman Emperor


By virtue of his proconsular powers, the emperor held the same grade of military command authority as did the chief magistrates (the Roman Consul
Roman consul
A consul served in the highest elected political office of the Roman Republic.Each year, two consuls were elected together, to serve for a one-year term. Each consul was given veto power over his colleague and the officials would alternate each month...

s and Proconsul
Proconsul
A proconsul was a governor of a province in the Roman Republic appointed for one year by the senate. In modern usage, the title has been used for a person from one country ruling another country or bluntly interfering in another country's internal affairs.-Ancient Rome:In the Roman Republic, a...

s) under the republic. Since republican Proconsuls had often held their authority for extended periods of time, the prolonged use of this power by the emperor did have precedent. However, the emperor was not subject to the constitutional restrictions that the old Consuls and Proconsuls had been subject to. For example, he was not required to observe collegiality
Collegiality
Collegiality is the relationship between colleagues.Colleagues are those explicitly united in a common purpose and respecting each other's abilities to work toward that purpose...

, since he had no colleague, and he could not have his actions veto
Veto
A veto, Latin for "I forbid", is the power of an officer of the state to unilaterally stop an official action, especially enactment of a piece of legislation...

ed. Eventually, he was given powers that, under the republic, had been reserved for the Roman Senate
Roman Senate
The Senate of the Roman Republic was a political institution in the ancient Roman Republic, however, it was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a magistrate served his term in office, it usually was followed with automatic...

and the Roman assemblies
Roman assemblies
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 new statutes, the carrying out of capital...

, including the right to declare war, to ratify treaties, and to negotiate with foreign leaders. The emperor's degree of Proconsular power gave him authority over all of Rome's military governors. Under the republic, Proconsuls (usually former Consuls) were made governors of the more challenging provinces, and as such, most of the Roman army was under the command of one of the Proconsuls. In contrast, the "Propraetors" (usually former Praetors) were made governors of the more stable provinces. Under the republic, Praetors were the second highest ranking magistrates after the Consuls, which was why Propraetors were given provinces that were more stable. Under the early empire, the emperor commanded these Proconsular provinces, while the senate commanded the more stable Propraetorial provinces. It was by this that the emperor held command authority over most of the Roman army.
The emperor's tribunician powers
Tribune
Tribune was a title shared by elected officials in the Roman Republic. Tribunes had the power to convene the Plebeian Council and to act as its president, which also gave them the right to propose legislation before it. They were sacrosanct, in the sense that any assault on their person was...

 (potestas tribunicia) gave him power over Rome's civil apparatus, although perhaps the most useful facet of the tribunician power was the prestige associated with the office. The Plebeian Tribune had been the magistrate most responsible for the political enfranchisement of the Plebeian (commoner) class during the early republic. The emperor's tribunician powers also gave him the power to preside over, and thus to dominate, the assemblies and the senate. When an emperor was vested with the tribunician powers, his office and his person became sacrosanct. It became a capital offense to harm, to attempt to harm, or to obstruct the emperor, and in time, this power provided the basis for laws that made it a capital offense, publishable by death, to even speak ill of the emperor. His sacrosanctity also gave him the authority to order the use of capital punishment against any individual. Under the republic, Plebeian Tribunes held these same powers, but what made the emperor unique was that he possessed these powers for life, and thus he could never be held accountable for his actions, did not need to stand for reelection every year, and could not have his actions vetoed.

The emperor also had the authority to carry out a range of duties that, under the republic, had been performed by the Roman Censors. Such duties included the authority to farm out tax collection, to grant public contracts, to regulate public morality (Censorship
Censorship
thumb|[[Book burning]] following the [[1973 Chilean coup d'état|1973 coup]] that installed the [[Military government of Chile |Pinochet regime]] in Chile...

), and to conduct a census
Census
A census is the procedure of systematically acquiring and recording information about the members of a given population. It is a regularly occurring and official count of a particular population. The term is used mostly in connection with national population and housing censuses; other common...

. As part of the census, the emperor had the power to grant citizenship to any individual, and to assign individuals to a new social class (the three imperial classes were the senators, the knights
Equestrian (Roman)
The Roman equestrian order constituted the lower of the two aristocratic classes of ancient Rome, ranking below the patricians , a hereditary caste that monopolised political power during the regal era and during the early Republic . A member of the equestrian order was known as an eques...

, and the plebeians), which, therefore, gave the emperor unchallenged control over senate membership. The emperor also had the power to interpret laws and to set precedents, which he did by issuing either an edicta, decreta, or a rescripta. Edicta usually addressed matters associated with the army, treasury, or food supply. The decreta were judicial decisions. The rescripta were issued in response to important questions asked by private citizens. Under the republic, the aerarium Saturni held the state treasury, but only the senate had control over this treasury. While the imperial senate retained control over the aerarium Saturni, this control declined over time. The emperor Augustus
Augustus
Augustus ;23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled alone from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.The dates of his rule are contemporary dates; Augustus lived under two calendars, the Roman Republican until 45 BC, and the Julian...

 established two new treasuries, which future emperors would always control, called the fiscus Caesaris and the aerarium militare. The fiscus Caesaris replaced the aerarium Saturni, and thus became the principle treasury in Rome. The aerarium militare was of minor importance, and its only significant function was to hold funds that were to be used to pay soldiers. In addition, the emperor controlled the religious institutions
Religion in ancient Rome
Religion in ancient Rome encompassed the religious beliefs and cult practices regarded by the Romans as indigenous and central to their identity as a people, as well as the various and many cults imported from other peoples brought under Roman rule. Romans thus offered cult to innumerable deities...

, since, as emperor, he was always Pontifex Maximus
Pontifex Maximus
The Pontifex Maximus was the high priest of the College of Pontiffs in ancient Rome. This was the most important position in the ancient Roman religion, open only to patricians until 254 BC, when a plebeian first occupied this post...

and a member of each of the four major priesthoods.

Republican executive magistrates under the empire


The first step in a political career was election to the Quaestorship, although candidates for the Quaestorship had to be at least twenty-four years old. After they served as Quaestor, they had to wait for at least one year before they could seek election to a higher office, which was usually either the Plebeian Tribunate or the Aedileship. After this, they had to wait for another year before they could seek election to a higher office, which was typically the Praetorship. Members of Patrician (aristocratic) families could seek election to the Praetorship after serving as Quaestor, and they did not have to serve as Plebeian Tribune or Aedile before this. However, since one had to be at least thirty years old before they could run for the Praetorship, Patricians ultimately had no true advantage over Plebeians. After an individual served as Praetor, they had to wait for another two years before they could seek election to the Consulship, and so, while it was not specifically mandated, candidates for the Consulship usually had to be at least thirty-three years old. After a magistrate's term in office expired, they could run again for the same office almost immediately.
During the transition from republic to empire, no office lost more power or prestige than the Consulship
Roman consul
A consul served in the highest elected political office of the Roman Republic.Each year, two consuls were elected together, to serve for a one-year term. Each consul was given veto power over his colleague and the officials would alternate each month...

, which was due, in part, to the fact that the substantive powers of republican Consuls were all transferred to the emperor. In addition, the fact that one had to be nominated by the emperor before they could run for any office weakened the independence, and thus the prestige, of the Consulship. In addition, the Consulship lost further prestige from the fact that Consuls usually resigned before their terms ended. Imperial Consuls could preside over the senate, could act as judges in certain criminal trials, and had control over public games and shows. In general, Consular authority did not extend beyond the civil administration of Italy or the senatorial provinces.

Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

 had increased the number of Praetors to sixteen, but Caesar's successor, the emperor Augustus, reduced this number to twelve. The number of Praetors reached its maximum of eighteen under the emperor Claudius
Claudius
Claudius , was Roman Emperor from 41 to 54. A member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, he was the son of Drusus and Antonia Minor. He was born at Lugdunum in Gaul and was the first Roman Emperor to be born outside Italy...

. The chief Praetor in Rome, the Urban Praetor (praetor urbanus), outranked all other Praetors, and for a brief time, they were given power over the treasury. Praetors also presided over the "permanent jury courts" (quaestio perpetua). The irrelevancy of the Praetorship became obvious when the emperor Hadrian
Hadrian
Hadrian , was Roman Emperor from 117 to 138. He is best known for building Hadrian's Wall, which marked the northern limit of Roman Britain. In Rome, he re-built the Pantheon and constructed the Temple of Venus and Roma. In addition to being emperor, Hadrian was a humanist and was philhellene in...

 issued a decree (the edictum perpetuum), which robbed the Praetors of their authority to issue edicts and transferred most of their judicial powers to either the Consuls or to district court judges.

Under the empire, the Plebeian Tribunes remained sacrosanct, and, in theory at least, retained the power to summon, or to veto, the senate and the assemblies. The emperor, who held tribunician powers, dominated the College of Tribunes, and while technically any member of the college could veto any other member, no Tribune dared to oppose the emperor. The Tribune's power over the assemblies meant almost nothing, since the assemblies themselves had no real power, and thus the only real influence that a Tribune had come in the form of the occasional veto over the senate. The Tribunes did also have the power to impose fines, and citizens retained a theoretical right to appeal criminal and civil decisions to a Tribune.

When Augustus became emperor, forty Quaestor
Quaestor
A Quaestor was a type of public official in the "Cursus honorum" system who supervised financial affairs. In the Roman Republic a quaestor was an elected official whereas, with the autocratic government of the Roman Empire, quaestors were simply appointed....

s were elected each year, but Augustus reduced this number to twenty. Augustus then divided the college of Quaestors into two divisions, and assigned one division the task of serving in the senatorial provinces, and the other the task of managing civil administration in Rome. The Quaestors who were assigned to the provinces (quaestores pro praetore) managed funds given to the province by the senate or the emperor. The two Urban Quaestors (quaestores urbani) had authority over the treasury in Rome (aerarium Saturni), which functioned as a depository for both state funds and official documents. In 56 AD the Quaestors lost their authority over state funds, but retained their authority over official documents. Julius Caesar had increased the number of Aedile
Aedile
Aedile was an office of the Roman Republic. Based in Rome, the aediles were responsible for maintenance of public buildings and regulation of public festivals. They also had powers to enforce public order. There were two pairs of aediles. Two aediles were from the ranks of plebeians and the other...

s to six, and while Augustus retained this number, he also transferred control of the grain supply from the Aediles to a board of commissioners. It wasn't until after they lost the power to maintain order in the city, however, that they truly became powerless, and the office disappeared entirely during the third century.

See also



Primary sources


Secondary source material