previous next



1. Signified the public acts and orders of a Roman magistrate possessing the jus agendi cum populo, which after the expiration of his office were submitted to the senate for approval or rejection. (Suet. Jul. 19, 23; Cic. Phil. 1.7, 16, &c.) After the death of Julius Caesar, the triumvirs swore, and compelled all the other magistrates to swear (Dio, 47.48), to observe and maintain all his acta (in acta jurare: cf. Tac. Ann. 1.72; Suet. Tib. 67); 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 Julius Caesar downwards, with the exception of those who had been branded with infamy after death, such as Nero and Domitian (Tac. Ann. 4.42; Dio, 56.33, &c.). The senate also swore that it would recognise the validity of the acts of the new emperor. Every year all the magistrates upon entering office on the 1st of January swore approval of the acts of the reigning emperor: this oath was originally taken by one magistrate in each department on behalf of his colleagues, but subsequently it was the usual practice for each magistrate to take the oath personally. (Dio, 47.18, 53.28; Tac. Ann. 16.22, with the Excursus of Lipsius; Dio, 58.17, 60.25.)

2. ACTA SENATUS, called also COMMENTARII SENATUS (Tac. Ann. 15.74) and ACTA PATRUM (Ann. 5.4), contained 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 ( “Inito honore primus omnium instituit, ut tam senatus quam populi diurna acta confierent et publicarentur,” Jul. 20), that the proceedings of the senate were not usually published till the first consulship of Julius Caesar, B.C. 59; but under the direction of the presiding magistrate, assisted by certain senators appointed for the purpose (qui scribendo adfuerunt), 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 Cicero (p. Sull. 14, 15) from notes taken by some friends of his among the senators. Julius 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 government, from the notes ,of shorthand writers taken inter loquendum (Sen. de 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. 5.4; Spart. Hadr. 3; Orelli, Inscr. No. 2274, 3186.) This office was generally held as an annual one, after the quaestorship (Spart. Hadr. 3), but before the praetorship or aedileship. The persons entrusted with this office must not be confounded with the various clerks (actuarii, servi publici, scribae; see also CENSUALES), who were present in the senate to take notes of its proceedings, and who were only excluded when the senate passed a senatusconsultum iacitum; 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 entrusted 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 praefectus urbi. They were consulted and are frequently referred to by the later historians (Vopisc. Prob. 2; Lamprid. Sever. 56; Capitol. Opil. Macr. 6), and many extracts from them were published in the Acta Diurna.

3. 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. 3.3, 13.31, 16.22.) In addition to the title Acta Diurna, we find them referred to under the names of 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 κοινὰ ὑπομνήματα. The nature of their contents will be best seen from the following passage of Petronius (100.53), 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 . . . Jam etiam edicta aedilium recitabantur, et saltuariorum testamenta, quibus Trimalchio cum elogio exheredabatur; jam nomina villicorum et repudiata a circitore liberta in balneatoris contubernio deprehensa; atriensis Baias relegatus; jam reus factus dispensator; et judicium 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 (Dionys. A. R. 4.15), 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. (Jul. Cap. M. Aurel. 9.) (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 [p. 1.13]the decrees and acclamationes [ACCLAMATIO] in honour of the reigning emperor. (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. (Comp. Cic. Fam. 2.1. 5) News of private affairs seem to have been communicated to the official editor by way of advertisement (cf. Quint. 9.3, 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 (Hübner, p. 65). It is probable, however, that this duty devolved upon the magistrates, who had the care of the tabulae publicae, namely, the censors under the republic (Liv. 4.8, 43.16), and sometimes the quaestors, sometimes the praefecti aerarii under the empire (Tac. Ann. xiiii. 28). By a regulation of Alexander Severus, seven of the fourteen curatores urbis, whom he appointed, had to be present when the acta were drawn up (Lamprid. Alex. Sev. 33). The actual task of compiling them was committed to subordinate officers, called actuarii or actarii, who were assisted by various clerks, and by reporters (notarii), who took down in shorthand the proceedings in the courts, &c. 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 (Cic. Fam. 8.1, 13.8; Tac. Ann. 16.22). 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 Julius 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 (Cic. Fam. 8.1, 2,8, 11, 2.8, 12.22, 15.6: cp. Hübner, p. 39; Mommsen, Hist. 4.606).

There is no evidence to support an opinion adopted by many modern writers, that the publication of the acta first commenced in B.C. 133, to supply the place of the Annales Maximi, which were discontinued in that year (Cic. de Orat. 2.12), while on the contrary the great difference of their contents renders it improbable that such was the case. The Annales Maximi dealt with the affairs of the republic generally, especially wars, &c.; but the Acta Urbana, as their name implies, were restricted to the news of the city. The Acta Diurna are last mentioned by Vopiscus (Prob. 100.2), and probably continued in use to the downfall of the Western empire, or at least till the removal of the seat of government to Constantinople, but they were never published at the latter city.

4. ACTA FORENSIA. These were of two kinds. (1) The Romans were accustomed to keep 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. de Ben. 2.23.2) were employed toestablish 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. Nero 17; Quint. Inst. 12.8, 13; Paul. Sent. Recept. 5.25, 6) prescribed the legal form of such documents.

(2) Acta judiciorum 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 jure, manumissions, the appointment of guardians, and the like. Such magisterial functions could be discharged anywhere, even in the baths or in the streets (Instit. Just. 1.5, 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 or gesta), and confirmed by the magistrate (Instit. Just. 1.11, 2, and 12, 8). In the case of contentious business, so long as the legis actiones were in use [ACTIO], 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 judex was given viva voce. There was a. special form of action (judicati actio) against a defendant who denied the existence of a decision given against him. There is evidence of the existence of a record (acta, Frag. Vat. Jur. 112) under the empire. The cognitiones extraordinariae increased the importance of this. But. the existence of a written decision was not compulsory before the Constitutions of Valentinian,, Valens, and Gratian (100.213, Cod. Just. de sent. ex peric. recitandis, 7.44, &c.). From this date, the acta judiciorum prepared by the officials of the courts (officiales) become extremely numerous (cf. Rudorff, Röm. Rechtsgesch. i. p. 299).

5. ACTA MILITARIA contained an account of the duties, numbers, and expenses of each legion. (Veget. 2.19), 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 castrensis (cf. Renier, Inscriptions romaines do l'Algérie, 343, 551, 799).

(Lipsius, Excursus ad Tac. Ann. 5.4; Ernesti, Excursus ad Suet. J. Caes. 20; Schlosser, Ueber die Quellen der spätern latein Gesclhichtschreiber, [p. 1.14]besonders über Zeitungen, &c. in the Archiv für Geschichte, 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, Friburg, 1834; Le Clerc, Des Journaux chez les Romains, Paris, 1838; Lieberkühn, De Diurnis Romanorum Actis, Wiemar, 1840; and especially Hübner, Doe senatus populique Romani actis, Lips. 1860.)


hide References (20 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (20):
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 13.8
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 8.1
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 8.2
    • Cicero, Philippics, 1.16
    • Cicero, Philippics, 1.7
    • Suetonius, Divus Julius, 19
    • Suetonius, Divus Julius, 23
    • Tacitus, Annales, 16.22
    • Tacitus, Annales, 3.3
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.42
    • Tacitus, Annales, 5.4
    • Tacitus, Annales, 13.31
    • Tacitus, Annales, 15.74
    • Tacitus, Annales, 1.72
    • Cicero, On Oratory, 2.12
    • Suetonius, Nero, 17
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 67
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 43, 16
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 4, 8
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book 12, 8
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: