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TRIBU´NUS This word seems originally to have indicated an officer connected with a tribe (tribus), or who represented a tribe for certain purposes; and this is indeed the character of the officers who were designated by it in the earliest times of Rome, and may be traced also in the later officers of this name. We subjoin an account of all the Roman officers known under this name.

1. TRIBUNES OF THE THREE ANCIENT TRIBES. At the time when all the Roman citizens were contained in the three tribes of the Ramnnes, Tities, and Luceres, the three divisions of infantry, which together made up the legion, were commanded by three tribuni militum (φύλαρχος, Dionys. A. R. 2.7; Dig. 1, 2, 2, 20; Serv. ad Aen. 5.560). Niebuhr (Hist. of Rome, i. p. 301) supposes that the tribunus celerum was the tribune of the Ramnes, the oldest and noblest among the three tribes, and in this opinion he is followed by Göttling (Gesch. d. Röm. Staatsverf. p. 166), though it is in direct contradiction to Dionysius (2.13) and Pomponius (de Orig. Jur. Dig. 1, 2, 2, 15), according to whom the tribunus celerum was the commander of the celeres, the king's body-guard.

But Mommsen (Hist. 1.78, note) has shown that the term tribuni celerum is used in the plural of the three commanders of the horsemen (Dionys. A. R. 2.64), as contrasted with the three tribuni militum, and that the view of Pomponius, which identifies the tribunus celerum with the Celer mentioned by Valerius Antias (in Dionys. A. R. 2.13), the magister equitum under the Republic, and the praefectus praetorio of the Empire, is due simply to a misconception of the position held by Brutus in the legend (cf. Dionys. A. R. 4.71; Liv. 1.59). The tribunes of the tribes naturally ceased to exist, when the tribes were done away with in the changes ascribed to Servius Tullius. There is no ground whatever for believing that a law was ever passed under the presidency of one of the tribunes (Mommsen, Röm. St. 1.189, note 4); but from the account of Dionysius they appear to have exercised certain priestly functions on behalf of their respective tribes. (Cf. Praen. Fast. for March 19, p. 315, [ad stantibus pon]tificibus et trib[unis] celer[um].

2. TRIBUNES OF THE SERVIAN TRIBES. Under the Servian constitution, each of the four citytribes, and possibly each of the country pagi, which afterwards developed, in a manner as to which we have no definite information, into the [p. 2.871]original 16 country-tribes, had its curator, or φύλαρχος, whose duty it was to keep the register of the tribe, and of the estates belonging to its members, and to collect when necessary the war-tax (tributum), as well as the capitation money (aes), levied upon non-citizens (aerarii). These curatores tribuum were also called tribuni aerarii; but whether the body known in the time of Cicero as tribuni aerarii were their successors and representatives is a question much disputed of recent years. Madvig (Opusc. Acad. ii. pp. 242-263: cf. Verfassung u. Verwaltung, 1.182-185) strongly maintains that they were quite distinct, and that there is no trustworthy worthy reference to the tribuni aerarii before the law of Cotta in B.C. 70, except as an obsolete office, the name of which was then revived. Mommsen, on the other hand (Die Römischen Tribus, pp. 52 sqq.: cf. Röm. St. 3.189 ff.), maintains that they were identical. Madvig's view is that the original tribuni aerarii were not officials of any kind, much less magistrates, but private persons of substance, who were made responsible for the pay of individual soldiers, especially the equites. The chief ancient authorities are an extract from Cato, ap. Gel. 6.10, “pignoris capio ob aes militare, quod aes a tribuno aerario miles accipere debebat, vocabulum seorsum fit;” and Varro, L. L. 5.181, “ab eo quoque, quibus attributa erat pecunia ut militi reddant, tribuni aerarii dicti;” where the past tense debebat shows that the practice had become obsolete in Cato's time, and the expression attributa erat may be taken to indicate that the quaestors assigned to the several contributories the sums which they had respectively to pay. Another argument for Madvig's view is that the tribuni aerarii must have been a numerous class to furnish a select body of at least 300 judices, and that they are represented as fairly numerous, even in unimportant country-places like Atina (Cic. pro Planc. 8, 21), and as an ordo by the side of the equites (cf. Calp. Ecl. 7.29). In Cic. pro C. Rab. ad Quir. 9, 27, we have in a reference to B.C. 100, “quid de tribunis aerariis ceterorumque ordinum omnium hominibus qui turn arma pro communi libertate ceperunt?” Madvig interprets this to mean young men who afterwards became tribuni aerarii when the ordo was revived in B.C. 70, but this interpretation is very forced. Although we nowhere have express authority for identifying the curatores tribuum with the tribuni aerarii of the earlier time, it seems impossible to explain the use of the term tribunus except by such an identification; and the word curator occurs only later on, so that at may well be a descriptive title. B.C. 220 the tribes were divided into centuries, the curatores centuriarum may have popularly retained the name of tribuni aerarii, their number now being 350. They seem to have been elected annually, and were often re-elected.

3. TRIBUNI AERARII. When L. Cotta, the praetor in B.C. 70, carried a law depriving the senators of the exclusive right of serving on juries, which had been restored to them by Sulla, after the reforms of C. Gracchus, he instituted stituted three decuriae,--one of senators, one of knights, and one of tribuni aerarii. Of this last body we know that they were recognised as an ordo; that they were a fairly numerous body, not restricted to Rome, but living also in the municipia; and that they were closely connected with the equites, and indeed appear to have been sometimes loosely included under this name (cp. Cic. Clu. 43, 121; 47, 130). Julius Caesar took away their judicial function (Suet. Jul. 41); but Augustus (Id. Aug. 32) added to the three decuriae a fourth, consisting of ducenarii, i.e. men who had half the equestrian census. From this last fact it seems highly probable that the tribuni aerarii were also required to possess a definite census, though the amount of this is nowhere specified. Mommsen supposes that they had the equestrian census, but not the equus publicus (Röm. St. 3.533); but this is somewhat doubtful: and Mommsen admits that where they are included among the equites by Cicero, the “courtesy of the advocate” (ib. 193, note 2: cf. pro Font. 16, 36; pro Flacc. 38, 96) is partly at least responsible. Still in pro Flacc. 2, 4, he clearly speaks of two-thirds of the jury as belonging to the equites (50 out of 75): and Livy (Ep. xcvii.) even speaks of the reform of Cotta as giving back the judicia to the equites: “judicia per M. (sic) Aurelium Cottam praetorem ad equites Romanos translata sunt.” From Liv. 24.11, 8, it might appear that they had a census of 300,000 asses. Herzog (1.533) thinks that they were ex-officials, but this assumption is needless, if we identify them with the curatores of the centuries. (Cf. Madvig, Verf. und Verw. 1.182-185; Mommsen, Röm. St. l.c.; Heitland on Cic. pro C. Rabirio ad Quir., App. G; Herzog, Gesch. d. Röm. Verfassung, 1.533, 1023-5.)

4. TRIBUNI MILITUM CONSULARI POTESTATE. From the earliest times the Roman infantry had been commanded by tribuni, or “tribe-leaders.” These were nominated by the king, as commander-in-chief, for the duration of the campaign, and were originally three in number. But when the old tribes were divided, each into a prior and a posterior, the number of the tribunes came to be six. At this time legio was the term applied to the whole army. When, at some time in the course of the fourth century, a varying number of legions was raised each year, the practice was still retained of having six tribuni militum for each legion. For their duties and the manner of their appointment, see EXERCITUS But the term tribuni militum came also to be used with a somewhat different application. If the needs of the state required that more than two armies should be sent out, instead of two consuls a larger number of commanders was appointed under the title of tribuni militum consulari potestate. The first recorded instance of When in such an appointment is in B.C. 445, when the plebeians were pressing their claim to be held eligible for the consulship, and the senate in order to avoid a decision upon the point resolved that consular tribunes should be elected. (Liv. 4.6, 8: “per haec consilia eo deducta est res, ut tribunos militum consulari potestate promiscue ex patribus ac plebe creari sinerent, de consulibus creandis nihil mutaretur.” ) But there is no definite evidence that this was the date of the first institution of such an office; and the reference to a law permitting it (Liv. 4.31, 11) may refer to that by which the consulate was substituted for the kingship, as well as to a special law now passed. Another and perhaps [p. 2.872]an earlier account (Liv. 4.7, 2) represents military necessity as the sole reason for the change. Certainly the highest number of consular tribunes was elected in a year (B.C. 405) when the strain of a continuous siege first came upon the state. The fasti show that the number varied between three, four, and six, but there were never five. Where eight are mentioned, two seem to have acted as censors, not as consuls, and probably were not strictly speaking tribunes at all. The number five was evidently avoided, as not admitting of an even division of the fasces for the twelve months of the year.

It is pretty plain that the tribuni militum consulari potestate were simply the ordinary six tribunes, holding office with special powers conferred upon them. If the number sometimes fell below six, this was only because, if an insufficient number were elected with the consular authority, there was no constitutional means of filling up the places with others similarly privileged, and those subsequently elected ranked only as ordinary tribunes.

When in B.C. 367 the Licinian law abolished the office of consular tribune and threw open the consulate to the plebeians, the immediate result was to deprive the people of the right of electing the tribuni militum, so that the right had to be restored to them by a special law five years afterwards (Liv. 7.5: cf. O. Lorenz, Das Consulartribunat, Vienna, 1855).

There is no reason to doubt (as has been done by Becker, 2.2, 137; Schwegler, 3.112, and others) that the consular tribunes possessed, as their title indicates, the full consular powers, including judicial as well as military functions, and the right of appointing a dictator (Liv. 4.31). They were elected auspicato in the Comitia Centuriata (Liv. 5.52, 16), and enjoyed all the insignia of the consuls; but they had no right to triumph, nor did they become consulares, so that they did not by virtue of their office enter the higher ranks of the senate. This was the main practical difference between the consular tribunate and the consulship. The office was definitely abolished by the Licinian law ne tribunorum militum comitia fierent consulumque utique alter ex plebe crearetur (Liv. 6.35); and we never hear of it after this date, except in an abortive suggestion of the tribunes of the commons in B.C. 53 (D. C. 40.45). Cf. Mommsen, Röm. St. 2.173-184: the account given by Becker, Röm. Alt. 2.2, 136 if., is in some respects antiquated.

5. TRIBUNI PLEBIS. There can be little doubt that the name of these officers of the commons was derived from that of the tribunes of the soldiers. By the side of the privileged citizens, the patricii, there was a body, recognised as belonging to the community, but at first destitute of all political rights, the plebs. This body, by the constitution ascribed to Servius Tullius, acquired the right of serving in the army and holding positions of command (tribunatus), and at the same time of voting in the assembly of the centuries. Their next step was to constitute themselves into an assembly of their own, the concilium plebis, presided over by magistrates of their own, the tribuni and aediles plebis. According to the generally received tradition, this step was the result of a secession of the plebs to the mons sacer in the district of Crustumeria in the year B.C. 494. Whatever may be the historical value of the details, there is no reasonable doubt that about this time the plebs acquired the right of collective action under leaders of their own choice. At first the, election was made comitiis curiatis (Dionys. A. R. 6.89, 9.41: cf. Cic. pro Corn. ap. Ascon. p. 76): this has been generally taken to mean that the election was made by a purely patrician body; and an attempt has been made to defend this view by assuming that the plebeians, after settling among themselves who their candidates should be, nominated these and no others for the patricians formally to elect, so that they might secure their approval (cf. Bouché--Leclercq, Institutions Romaines, p. 69, note). But it is much simpler to suppose that the plebeians alone assembled by curies for the election (so Mommsen and Willems). The tradition further asserts that the tribunes were in B.C. 494 recognised as inviolable by a lex sacrata (Liv. 2.33). Here, again, disputes have arisen. Lange, representing the school of Niebuhr, holds that this was a formal compact, ratified by the fetiales, between the patricians and the plebeians (cf. Dionys. A. R. 6.84, 89; 7.40). Mommsen, on the other hand, contends that the lex sacrata was only a solemn oath, sworn to by the plebs, that they would regard any wrong done to their tribunes as an inexpiable offence, and would avenge it accordingly. This view is supported by the fact that the plebiscittum of Icilius in B.C. 492 (Dionys. A. R. 7.22), which assured to the tribunes freedom of speech and the jus auxilii, would have been superfluous if the preceding lex sacrata had been a compact between the orders. This view is also in harmony with the definition of sacrosanctus given by Festus, s. v. There is a further discussion as to the number of the original tribunes. The tradition is that they were at first two in number, afterwards raised to five, and then again to ten. But while the oldest authorities speak of B.C. 471 as the date at which the number was raised to five, others represent the two first elected as at once co-opting three others. The increase from five to ten (two from each class) is placed by Livy and Dionysius in B.C. 457 (Liv. 3.30; Dionys. A. R. 10.30), though the former carelessly speaks of ten tribunes in B.C. 480 (2.44, 6), and Die Cassius (cf. Zonaras, 7.15) gives a different account. These statements are open to much doubt, especially that as to the classes from which the tribunes were taken: such a provision would be quite unexampled, and there seems to, have been no reason for it. Probably it was only an illegitimate inference from the number of the tribunes. It seems most probable that there were originally two tribunes and two aediles of the plebs, answering to the two consuls and two quaestors of the community. It is certain that after the decemvirate there were always ten tribunes (Liv. 3.54, 11, &c.)

The tribuni plebis were naturally always plebeians; the only case of a patrician holding the office is when two were co-opted in B.C. 448 (Liv. 3.65); and this seems doubtful (cf. Mommsen, Röm. St. 2.265, 4). They were elected, perhaps when chosen by the curies, and certainly when chosen by the tribes, under the, presidency of the outgoing tribunes. At first, if the number of tribunes elected was not equal [p. 2.873]to the vacancies, the one or more elected had the power of co-optation; but in B.C. 448 this was done away with by the law of Trebonius (Liv. 3.65), which enacted that the election should be continued until the full number had been chosen. There was no interregnum allowed, as in the case of the consuls: the plebs was never to be left without its tribunes (Liv. 3.55; cf. 64, 9). The office was held only for a year; and just as in the case of the consulship, all the tribunes were colleagues, in the sense that each separately could exercise the full power of the office, but could be prevented from acting by the interposition of any of the others.

The functions of the tribunes varied with the legal position of the plebs, of which they were the representatives. Originally the plebs was only a voluntary combination of unenfranchised citizens, and so had no political rights. During this period, of which we have no trustworthy accounts, the tribunes were non populi sed plebis magistratus: any powers conceded to them were possessed simply as attaching to the organs of popular force. Next the plebs was recognised as an organised body within the community, and the magistrates of the community were bound by certain restrictions in their action towards the representatives of the commons: that is to say, the tribunes acquired the right of veto, and all that followed from it. Finally, the plebs was so far identified with the community, that its action was regarded legally as the action of the community. This is the stage reached in the Hortensian law of B.C. 287. The tribunes now become magistrates of the community, with positive as well as negative powers, and especially with the right to transact business directly with the senate.

As the tribunes did not originate as magistrates of the community, they had none of the insignia of magistracy, no lictors, fasces, or purple border to their togas; nor had they the curule chair. They had, however, the right of sitting on the subsellium, which became a kind of token of their office. As not being magistrates they further had no right of consulting the gods (auspicia impetrativa) on behalf of the Roman people, though there may have been a kind of quasi-private plebeian auspices, so that the place where the plebs met was called a templum (Liv. 2.56, 10; 3.17, 1;--Cic. pro Sest. 29, 62; 35, 75). But the plebeian magistrates were all created inauspicato (Liv. 6.41, 5), at least after they were elected by the tribes, and a plebiscitum was a lex inauspicata. On the other hand, they were not at liberty to neglect omens sent by the gods (auspicia oblativa), and a storm broke up a concilium plebis as much as the Comitia: hence, too, the obnuntiatio held good in the case of plebeian assemblies. But perhaps the latter doctrine was put forward only for the political convenience of the nobles, and never really admitted by the commons (cf. Mommsen, Röm. St. 2.275).

The tribune's duties, again, never included what was understood by the imperium: he never had either military command or civil jurisdiction; and his powers did not extend beyond the first milestone from the city. If we distinguish the time before the Hortensian law from that which followed it, we find that for the former the tribunician power consisted essentially in three functions.

    1. They had the right to summon meetings of the plebs, and to take votes on resolutions proposed to them. Mommsen finds the basis of their power to lie in the plebiscitum passed by Icilius in 472, which was a general oath that they would tolerate no interference with this; right on the part of the magistrates. Private-persons also interrupting a tribune while speaking were liable to punishment (V. Max. 9.5, 2; Plin. Ep. 1.23, 2).
    2. The right of intercessio, or “veto,” as it is called (by a term which has little or no ancient authority), was a right within due limits assigned to every magistrate in relation to a colleague or an inferior magistrate. But it acquired an importance in practice with the tribunes, which transcended anything to be found elsewhere. It is very doubtful whether it can have been acquired in its full extent all at once, and the common opinion that it was at first limited to the jus auxilii is not based on any good authority. It seems more probable that it was only the outcome of a series of struggles, which our materials do not allow us to trace in detail. But it. acquired special importance in the case of the tribunes, partly because they were so destitute of more active functions, and partly because circumstances tended to call forth the exercise of the veto by the tribunes, rather than by any other magistrates. Undoubtedly it was mainly employed for auxilium, i. e. for the protection of any citizen (patrician as well as plebeian: Liv. 3.13, 9; 56, 5; 8.33, 7; 9.26, 16) against a magistrate's sentence. To secure that this should be always accessible, the tribunes were forbidden to sleep out of the city during their time of office (the Latin feast alone being an exception), and required to leave their house-doors open night and day. But we find one or two instances where tribunes were exempted from this law by the senate, and sent on special business of importance to generals in the field (Liv. 9.36, 14; 29.20). Their official duties were always discharged in public, and at a later time the regular place for them was the Porcia Basilica. But the right of veto extended also to proposals brought before the people in the Comitia, as well as to those brought before the plebs. In the latter case this was merely an application of the right to stop a colleague's action: the former seems more surprising, but it probably arose from the need of hindering resolutions which would have interfered with the rights of the commons. We find it employed in a consular election as early as B.C. 483 (Dionys. A. R. 8.90), and in a prosecution by the quaestors in B.C. 459 (Liv. 3.24, 7). The right of vetoing a resolution of the senate, or rather the action of the magistrate needful for its passing, is mentioned first in B.C. 445 (Liv. 4.6, 6), but not as any new thing. At this time the tribunes. had no right to enter the senate, but sat on their subsellia before the doorways, and did not; interfere in the debate, but only during or after the voting. The veto can hardly have been exercised so long as the resolution of the senate was in theory simply advice to the magistrates as to their action. It is probable therefore that [p. 2.874]it was not employed until the senatus auctoritas became constitutionally necessary, in order that a resolution of the commons should be binding on the whole community. If a tribune vetoed the act of any magistrate beforehand, and it was still done, it was not therefore invalidated, but the magistrate was liable to punishment; but if the act was vetoed afterwards, it became legally of no effect. One tribune could impose the veto, and all the others could not remove it; but any one of the tribunes by his veto could stop a colleague from carrying out any threatened punishment for disregard of the veto.

    The threat of punishment could naturally only be directed against private persons when discharging some public function (Cic. Clu. 27, 74; cf. Sall. Jug. 34). We find, however, numerous instances in which the tribunes summoned persons to appear before a contio, and there answer questions (Cic. in Phil. vi.; ad Att. 1.14, 1; 14.20, 5; in Vet. 10, 24: cf. Gel. 13.12, 6).

    3. The right of intercessio would have been meaningless without the support given to it by the right of coercitio, or enforcing obedience, and the latter was a necessary result of the claim of the commons to self-defence. Every action, which was regarded as threatening to the commons or their representatives the tribunes, was exposed to punishment by fine, by seizure of goods, or even by death. The only limits set to this power of the tribunes were those resulting from the interposition of another colleague or from an appeal to the people (provocatio). At first the appeal lay solely to the commons; but as it was manifestly unfair that a patrician should have to appeal to a body of which he was not a member (cf. Mommsen, Rom. Forsch. 1.209), the Twelve Tables provided that in capital cases the tribunes should prosecute a citizen before the centuries; and that it should be only in cases of fine that the tribes should hear the appeal. If we are right in regarding, with Mommsen, the sacrosancta potestas of the tribunes as based upon a revolutionary movement of self-defence, it ought properly to have ceased when the tribuneship, after the fall of the decemvirs, was recognised as a permanent part of the constitution by the Valerio-Horatian law. As a matter of fact both law and oath were employed (Liv. 3.55) in the re-establishment of the tribuneship; and the two conceptions of “legitimate” and “sacrosanct” power continued to exist side by side, so that both Julius and Augustus were able to make use of the latter for their own purposes.

The cessation of all strife between the orders, to which the Hortensian law bore witness, marked the stage at which the tribunes became magistrates of the community. From this time down to the end of the Republic their power was practically always on the increase, except for a very short period. In B.C. 81 Sulla greatly reduced it by depriving them of all power of proposing laws, and by enacting that any one who had held the tribuneship should thereby be disqualified from standing for any other office, so excluding all men of energy and ambition (Liv. Ep. lxxxix.; Veil. 2.30; Appian, App. BC 1.100, 2.29). But in B.C. 70 Pompeius restored to the tribunes all their old powers and. rights (Liv. Ep. 97, &c.). Their right of addressing the centuries remained limited to the cases where they appeared as prosecutors, but their freedom of action in relation to the tribes was unrestricted. Their right of veto was restricted only in a few cases, as by the law of Gaius Gracchus in B.C. 123 in relation to the consular provinces, and in trials by the quaestiones perpetuae (cf. Mommsen, Röm. St. 1.262); practically it became a mere implement of political warfare, as often used against as in the interests of the popular party. It was a result of their magisterial position that they now frequently presided at the election of magistrates, especially in the case of extraordinary appointments. Whether the consul or the tribune presided was doubtless generally determined by the law under which the appointment was made. With regard to their legislative powers, after the Hortensian law there was nothing to prevent legislation upon any matter being brought forward before the tribes by the tribunes, though usage left some questions, especially that of declaring war, to the centuries. Now, too, the plebiscitum was described as lex sive id plebi scitum est, whence it came naturally to be often called simply a lex, as we see from the fragments of the lex de repetundis and de agris dividundis. As for their power of coercitio, this developed into a general right to prosecute for offences against the community, especially in the case of offending magistrates upon the expiry of their term of office (cf. Liv. 9.26, 12; 41.7, 10). Most of the numerous instances of their action which are recorded, have to do with consuls, prosecuted for neglect of their duties in the field, or for gross instances of misuse of their powers. But there are cases of the prosecution of private citizens for offences against the state. When the law imposed upon the magistrates the duty of punishing by fine a definite offence, it is generally the aediles, not the tribunes, who take action. Sulla took away from the tribunes their power of prosecuting, and conferred it upon the quaestio majestatis: and this continued to exist after the tribunes had had their powers restored to them, so that after this date their action occurs rarely and exceptionally. Finally, as magistrates, the tribunes acquired the right not only of sitting and speaking in the senate, but also of convening and consulting it. But when and how this came to be the practice, we cannot definitely determine. The authorities are inconsistent and self-contra-dictory. Dionysius (10.31) represents Icilius as attempting to summon the senate in B.C. 456, but he nowhere indicates that the tribunes really had this power. Livy represents a tribune as present in the senate in B.C. 462 (3.9, 11), and as speaking there in B.C. 420 (4.44, 7). But the first trustworthy instance is in B.C. 216 (Liv. 22.61); and it is most reasonable to suppose that the power of independent legislation given by the Hortensian law was accompanied by the right to consult the senate beforehand as to proposed measures. It never, however, became usual for a tribune to convene the senate instead of the consuls or the praetor urbanus. Under the Empire the right was retained (Tac. Ann. 6.18), but rarely exercised. Besides these definite powers, the tribunes often appear as joining in the common action of the magistrates in times of national danger, or meeting special emergencies [p. 2.875]by their independent authority (cf. Cic. in Verr. 2.41, 100; de Off. 3.20, 80; Tac. Hist. 2.91; Plin. Ep. 9.13, 19).

Under the Empire the tribuneship became a mere shadow of its former self, the emperor exercising all its functions by virtue of his tribunicia potestas. Pliny (Plin. Ep. 1.23) gives a very interesting account of the manner in which it was regarded in his own day. It appears on the roll of magistracies in the early part of the third century; but disappears after Alexander Severus allowed candidates to proceed from the quaestorship to the praetorship. The name is only retained in the superscription of formal addresses to the senate as late as A.D. 423. Perhaps the title was still formally conferred on a certain number of the senators. (Cf. Mommsen, Röm. Staatsrecht, 2.261-318.)


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