The public acts and orders of a Roman magistrate possessing the ius agendi
, which, after the expiration of his office, were submitted to the Senate
for approval or rejection (Iul.
19, 23). After the death of Iulius Caesar, the
triumvirs swore, and compelled all the other magistrates to swear (Dio , xlvii. 48), to
observe and maintain all his acta (in acta iurare
), and hence it became
the custom on the accession of each emperor for the new monarch to swear to observe and
respect all the acta of his predecessors from Iulius Caesar downwards, with the exception of
those who had been branded with infamy after death, such as Nero and Domitian (Tac. Ann. iv. 42
; Dio , lvi. 33, etc.). The Senate
also swore that it would recognize the validity of the acts of the new emperor. Every year
all the magistrates upon entering office on the first of January swore approval of the acts
of the reigning emperor (Dio , xlvii. 18; liii. 28; Tac.
Ann. xvi. 22
, with the excursus of Lipsius; Dio , lviii. 17; lx. 25).
Acta Senātus, called also Commentarii Senātus (Tac. Ann. xv.
) and Acta Patrum (
Ann. v. 4
), containing an account of the various matters brought
before the Senate, the opinions of the chief speakers, and the decision of the house. We may
infer from a passage of Suetonius (Iul.
20.) that the proceedings of the
Senate were not usually published till the first consulship of Iulius Caesar, B.C. 59; but
under the direction of the presiding magistrate, assisted by certain senators appointed for
the purpose, the decrees of the Senate had been written down and recorded in the Aerarium
long previously, and the debates on the Catilinarian conspiracy had been widely circulated by
Sull. 14, 15
) from notes taken by some friends of his among the
senators. Iulius Caesar ordered that the proceedings of the Senate, which had been only
occasionally published before, should henceforth be published regularly every day (senatus acta diurna
) under the authority of the government, from the notes
of shorthand writers (Mort. Claud.
9). Augustus forbade the publication of the
proceedings of the Senate, but they still continued to be preserved; and one of the senators,
who received the title ab actis senatus
, was chosen by the emperor to
compile the account (Tac. Ann. v. 4
3; Orelli, Inscr.
No. 2274, 3186). This office was
generally held as an annual one, after the quaestorship (Spart. Hadr.
before the praetorship or aedileship. The persons intrusted with this office must not be
confounded with the various clerks (actuarii, servi publici, scribae;
also the censuales
), who were present in the Senate to take notes of its
proceedings, and who were only excluded when the Senate passed a senatusconsultum tacitum;
that is, when they deliberated on a subject of the greatest
importance, respecting which secrecy was necessary or advisable (Capit. Gord.
12). It was doubtless from notes and papers of these clerks that the acta were compiled by
the senator, who was intrusted with this office. The acta were deposited in the
imperial archives (tabularium
) or in particular departments of the
public libraries, to which access could only be obtained by the express permission of the
They were consulted and are frequently referred to by
the later historians (e. g. Vopisc. Prob.
2; Lamprid. Sever.
56; Capitol. Opil. Macr.
6), and many extracts from them were published in the
Acta Diurna. A gazette published daily at Rome by the authority
of the government during the later times of the Republic, and under the Empire, corresponding
in some measure to our newspapers (Tac. Ann. iii.
; xiii. 31; xvi. 22). In addition to the title Acta Diurna
, we find
them referred to under the names Diurna, Acta Publica, Acta Urbana, Acta Rerum
Urbanarum, Acta Populi
, and they are frequently called simply Acta.
The Greek writers on Roman history call them τὰ ὑπομνήματα, τὰ
δημόσια ὑπομνήματα, τὰ δημόσια γράμματα
, and τὰ
. The nature of their contents will be best seen from the
following passage of Petronius (cap. 53), where an imitation of them is given by the actuarius
of Trimalchio: “Actuarius—tanquam acta urbis
recitavit: vii. Kal. Sextiles in praedio Cumano, quod est Trimalchionis, nati sunt pueri xxx, puellae xl; sublata in horreum ex area
tritici millia modium quingenta; boves domiti quingenti. Eodem die Mithridates servus in
crucem actus est, quia Gai nostri genio maledixerat. Eodem die in arcam relatum est, quod
collocari non potuit, sestertium centies. Eodem die incendium factum est in hortis
Pompeianis, ortum ex aedibus Nastae villici. . . . Iam etiam edicta aedilium recitabantur, et
saltuariorum testamenta, quibus Trimalchio cum elogio exheredabatur; iam nomina villicorum et
repudiata a circitore liberta in balneatoris contubernio deprehensa; atriensis Baias
relegatus; iam reus factus dispensator; et iudicium inter cubicularios actum.” From
this passage, and from the numerous passages in ancient writers in which the Acta Diurna are
quoted (references to which are given by Hübner), it would appear that they usually
contained the following matters:
- 1. The number of births and deaths in the city, an account of the money paid into the
treasury from the provinces, and everything relating to the supply of corn. These
particulars would be extracted from the tabulae publicae. By an
ancient regulation, ascribed to Servius Tullius, all births were registered in the Temple
of Venus, and all deaths in that of Libitina; and we know that this practice was continued
under the Empire, only that at a later time the Temple of Saturn was substituted for that
of Venus for the registration of births.
- 2. Extracts from the Acta Forensia, containing the edicts of magistrates, the
testaments of distinguished men, reports of trials, with the names of those who were
acquitted and condemned, and likewise a list of the magistrates who were elected.
- 3. Extracts from the Acta Senatus, especially all the decrees and acclamations (see
Acclamatio) in honour of the reigning
- 4. A court circular, containing an account of the births, deaths, festivals, and
movements of the imperial family.
- 5. Curious and interesting occurrences, such as prodigies and miracles, the erection
of new edifices, the conflagration of buildings, funerals, sacrifices, a list of the
various games, and especially amatory tales and adventures, with the
names of the parties. (Cf. Ad Fam. ii. 15.) News of private affairs seems to
have been communicated to the official editor by way of advertisement. (Cf. Quint.ix. 3, 17, where a widower speaks of himself as saucius pectus.) The fragments of some Acta Diurna have been published by Pighius
and Dodwell, but their genuineness is more than doubtful. (Cf. Heinze, De Spuriis
Diurnorum Act. Fragmentis, Greifswald, 1860.)
It is certain that these acta were published under the authority of the government, but it
is not stated under whose superintendence they were drawn up. It is probable, however, that
this duty devolved upon the magistrates, who had the care of the tabulae
, namely, the censors under the Republic (Liv.iv. 8
xliii. 16), and sometimes the quaestors, sometimes the praefecti aerarii
under the Empire (Tac. Ann. xiii. 28
actual task of compiling them was committed to subordinate officers, called actuarii
, who were assisted by various clerks, and
by reporters (notarii
), who took down in shorthand the proceedings in
the courts, etc. After the acta had been drawn up, they were exposed for a time in some
public place in the city in albo
, where persons could read them and take
copies of them. Many scribes, whom Cicero speaks of under the name of operarii
, made it their business to copy them or make extracts from them for the use
of the wealthy in Rome, and especially in the provinces, where they were eagerly sought after
and extensively read (Ad Fam.
viii. 1; xiii. 8; Tac.
Ann. xvi. 22
). After the acta had been exposed in public for a
certain time, they were deposited, like the Acta Senatus, in some of the record offices or
the public libraries.
The style of the acta, as appears from the passage in Petronius, was very simple and
concise. They contained a bare enumeration of facts, without any attempt at ornament.
Hübner has proved against Becker (Handbuch
, i. pp. 30 and 32) that
these acta were first published in the first consulship of Iulius Caesar. Previous to this
time it was common for a MS. chronicle of public events at Rome to be compiled by scribes,
and forwarded along with private letters to friends at a distance (Ad Fam.
viii. 1, 2, 8, 11; ii. 8; xii. 22; xv. 6. Cf. Hübner, p. 39; Mommsen,
Hist. iv. 606
The Acta Diurna are last mentioned by Vopiscus (Prob.
cap. 2), and probably
continued in use to the downfall of the Western Empire. They were never published in
Acta Forensia. These were of two kinds. (a
The Romans kept their private accounts with so much accuracy that their books (accepti et expensi
), bonds (chirographa
), and contracts (syngrapha
) were admitted as legal evidence. Frequently witnesses (pararii
, Sen. Ben. ii.
) were employed to establish their authenticity. At a later date notaries (tabelliones
) who had offices (stationes
) in the public
streets drew up these documents, which were ratified by the signature (subscriptio
) of the parties. A senatus consultum passed under Nero (Suet. Ner. 17
; Quint.xii. 8,
; Sent. Recept.
v. 25, 6) prescribed the legal form of such
documents. See Codex Accepti et
(b) Acta iudiciorum
contained the record of all proceedings of the
magistrates, alike in contentious and in non-contentious business. The latter included such
matters as adoptions, cessio in iure
, manumissions, the
appointment of guardians, and the like. Such magisterial functions could be discharged
anywhere, even in the baths or in the streets (Instit. Iust.
i. 5, 2). Under
the Republic there is no evidence of the method of legal attestation in these cases; but
under the Empire it was customary for the parties to have a formal statement drawn up by a
public official (acta
), and confirmed by
the magistrate (Instit. Iust.
i. 11, 2, and 12, 8). In the case of contentious
business, so long as the legis actiones
were in use, there was no need
of a written record, for the litis contestatio
was attested by
witnesses. On the other hand, when formulae
came into use, these were
necessarily in writing, though the decision of the iudex
was given viva voce.
There was a special form of action (iudicati
) against a defendant who denied the existence of a decision given against him.
There is evidence of the existence of a record (acta, Fragm. Vat. Iur.
under the Empire. The cognitiones extraordinariae
importance of this. But the existence of a written decision was not compulsory before the
constitutions of Valentinian, Valens, and Gratian.
Acta Militaria contained an account of the duties, numbers, and
expenses of each legion (Veg. ii. 19), and of the amount of property possessed by each
soldier (peculium castrense
). They were probably preserved among the
official papers of the several legions. The soldiers who drew up these acta are frequently
mentioned in inscriptions and ancient writers under various titles, as librarius legionis, actuarius
or actarius legionis, tabularius
(Cf. Renier, Inscriptions Romaines de l'Algérie
343, 551, 799.)
See Lipsius, Excursus ad
Tac. Ann. v. 4
; Ernesti, Excursus ad
20; Schlosser, Ueber die Quellen der spätern latein.
Geschichtschreiber, besonders über Zeitungen
, etc., in the Archiv
, 1830, pp. 80-106; Prutz, De Fontibus, quos in
conscribendis rebus inde a Tiberio usque ad mortem Neronis gestis auctores veteres secuti
videantur (Halle, 1840)
; Zell, Ueber die Zeitungen der
Alten (Freiburg, 1834)
; Le Clerc, Des Journaux chez les
Romains (Paris, 1838)
; Lieberkühn, De Diurnis Romanorum
Actis (Weimar, 1840)
; especially Hübner, De Senatus
Populique Romani Actis (Lips. 1860)
; Schmidt, Zeitschr. für
, I. (1844)
, 303; Renssen, De
Diurnis Aliisque Rom. Actis (1857)
; and the article in the Pauly-Wissowa