CHAPTER V. THE ROMAN CONSTITUTION.
Allusion has already been made to the tribunes, in connection with the development of the plebeian power. At first they were only two, then in creased to five, and finally to ten. It was their business to protect the plebs from the oppression of nobles, but their authority was so much increased in the time of Julius Caesar that they could veto an ordinance of the Senate. [Footnote: Caesar, De Beil Civ., 1, 2.] They not only could stop a magistrate in his proceedings, but command their viatores to seize a consul or a censor, to imprison him, or throw him from the Tarpeian rock. [Footnote: Liv. ii. 56, iv. 26; Cicero, De Legibus, iii. 9.] The college of tribunes had the power of making edicts. After the passage of the Hortensian law, there was no power equal to theirs, and they could dictate even to the Senate itself. In the latter days of the republic, the tribunes were generally elected from among the senators. It was the vast influence which the people had obtained through the tribunes which led to the usurpation of Caesar; for he, as well as Marius, rose into power by courting them against the interests of the aristocracy.
The last of the great magistrates whose office entitled them to a seat in the Senate were the quaestors, who had charge of the public money. Originally only two in number, they were raised by Sulla to twenty, and by Caesar to forty, for political influence. As the Senate had the supreme direction of the finances they were merely its agents or paymasters. The proconsul or praetor, who had the administration of a province, was attended with a quaestor to regulate the collection of the revenues. The quaestors also were the paymasters of the army.
Such were the great executive officers of the state, having a seat in the Senate, and belonging to the noble class by their official position as well as by birth. No one could be consul until he had passed through all these offices successively, except the censorship.
There was, however, another great Roman dignitary who held his office for life, which was one of transcendent importance. He was at the head of the college of priests, which had the superintendence of all matters of religion. The college of pontiffs, of which, under Julius Caesar, there were sixteen, were not priests, but stood above all priests, and regulated the worship of the gods, and punished offenses against religion. The chief pontiff lived in a public palace in the Via Sacra, and might also hold other offices. It is a great proof of the talents of Caesar and of the estimation in which he was held, that, at the age of thirty-seven, he was chosen to this high dignity, against the powerful opposition of Catulus, prince of the Senate, and when he had only reached the aedileship.
[Assemblies of the people.]
[The Comitia Cenuriata.]
In regard to the assemblies of the people, where they voted for the great officers of state, it must be borne in mind that they were not made up of the rabble, but of the populus or the patricians till nearly the close of the republic. Each of the thirty curia had its building for the discussion of political and legal questions. They had also collectively an assembly, called Comitia Curiata, where the people voted on the measures proposed by the magistrates. The votes were given by the curiae, each curia having one collective vote. The assembly originated nothing, but decided upon the life of Roman citizens, upon peace and war, and the election of magistrates. This was the primitive form under the kings. But Servius Tullius instituted the Comitia Centuriata, and hence divided the populus into six property classes, and one hundred and ninety-three centuriae. The first class was composed of ninety-eight centuriae, with a property qualification of one hundred thousand asses; the second of twenty-two centuriae with seventy-five thousand asses; the third of twenty, with fifty thousand asses; the fourth of twenty-two, with twenty-five thousand asses; the fifth of thirty, with eleven thousand asses; and the sixth of any one of those below twelve and a half minae. Yet this class was the most numerous. The wealthier classes voted first, and when a majority of the centuries was obtained the voting stopped. Hence the power was virtually in the hands of the rich; for, united, they made a majority before the poorer classes were called upon to vote. The Comitia Centuriata elected the magistrates and made laws, and formed the highest court of appeal, but all its decisions had to be sanctioned by the curiae, although in course of time the curia was a formality. The centuries met in the Campus Martius, and were presided over by the consuls, who read the names of the candidates. In the assemblies by centuries, the vote of the first class prevailed over all the others; in the comitia by curiae the patricians were supreme.
[The Comitia Tributa.]
[Decline of power of the comitia.]