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Enactments of the Roman emperors, in the exercise of their legislative authority, which had statutory force. They comprise the following varieties:


Orationes, by which, in the earlier imperial period, the emperor submitted a “bill” to the Senate ( Inst. ii. 17, 7). They were regarded as law apart from the senatus consulta, by which, in theory, they received the character of “acts,” and are often cited as such in preference to the latter.


Edicta or edictales constitutiones, general rules of law made by the emperor after the analogy of the edicts of the republican magistrates.


Mandata, by which the emperor delegated his authority to other magistrates, such as legati, praesides, and praefecti.


Decreta and rescripta, issued by the emperor in his capacity as praetor, judge, or supreme jurisconsult. Up to the time of Constantine they were by far the commonest kind of constitutio. Decreta were determinations of suits by the emperor either as sitting in a court of first instance or on appeal (Suet. Aug. 33); rescripta (Tac. Ann. vi. 9) were provisional decisions on the legal point at issue (as to which he had been consulted by a magistrate or a private individual), the facts being left to be inquired into, and a final judgment given, by another magistrate or iudex. Technically rescripta were of two kinds: epistolae and subscriptiones or adnotationes. The first are independent replies on consultation (Dig. 1, 4, 1, 1; Inst. iii. 20, 4), many issued by Hadrian, Severus, and Caracalla being extant in the Digest. The second are brief opinions on cases submitted to the emperor by petition, and written at the foot of the latter; this form being most commonly employed in answering private persons (Dig. 1, 4, 1, 1; Cod. 1, 23, 6).

In the Eastern Empire a peculiar kind of rescripts acquired the name of “pragmatic sanctions.” They were drawn up in a peculiar and solemn form, and were more highly taxed than other. Zeno restricted their use to petitions preferred by corporations.

In framing constitutions of any kind the emperor was assisted by the council called consistorium (q. v.).

hide References (2 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 33
    • Tacitus, Annales, 6.9
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